October 31, 2009

Blogiversary + Giveaway!

So guess what? Today is my blogiversary! That's right, the very first post here at Angieville went up on Halloween of 2005. I'm even posting this at about the same time in the evening as that one was. I can't believe it, really. Things have changed a lot, including focus, layout, posting frequency, and (best of all) all of you who stop in to say hi and share your thoughts. I love this blog. I honestly get sad imagining my life without it and I hope I can keep it going for as long as we're all game.
But this does seem to call for a celebration, does it not? So, in honor of the occasion, I'm giving away an anniversary mega-pack to one lucky commenter. The pack will include one brand new, signed paperback copy of Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, one brand new paperback copy of Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols, one brand new hardback copy of Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins with accompanying limited edition T-shirt and mockingjay pin, one brand new paperback copy of Bright Star: the Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne by John Keats, and one brand new copy of the Bright Star soundtrack. That's four books and one CD to a randomly selected commenter!














If you haven't read these three excellent young adult novels yet, I highly recommend you do. They are each quite different and I thoroughly enjoyed all three. You can read my reviews of them here, here, and here. I've already gone on about how much I loved the spectacular film Bright Star, although I failed to mention the gorgeous soundtrack that went with it. Even if you have not seen the film, I know you will enjoy the music. And if you haven't seen the film yet, you really must. To whet your appetite, here is a video clip with director Jane Campion:
Now, all you need to do to enter is comment and share your favorite (or funniest) anniversary memory. This can be absolutely any kind of anniversary: wedding, birthday, blog, death, or other significant event! One extra entry if you become a follower, two for current followers. Unfortunately, given the state of the Angieville coffers, this giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. It will be open for a week and will close at midnight on Saturday, November 7th. I'll announce the winner the next day. Please make sure to leave me a way to contact you.

October 30, 2009

Apparently, I Want It All

It's Halloween tomorrow and everyone's dressing up. If you're my boy, you get to dress up for the school Halloween parade and class party today as well as tomorrow night for the actual trick-or-treating. I'll be walking around with him, carrying babygirl in my arms. Any of you out there dressing up and/or attending Halloween parties?
As I was making the rounds, I came across Carolyn's hilarious Reading Personality Quiz: Cinderella vs. Little Red Riding Hood over at The Thrillionth Page (link via See Michelle Read). Not a pairing you see very often. I highly recommend you head over and answer the questions to see which one you are. You probably think you already know, but the result may surprise you. I was leaning LRRH but I ended up with my answers split right down the middle. Of which Carolyn has to say:
You want it all! Drama, conflict, crazy devotion, HEA, heroines who can take care of themselves...extra points for a cool outfit.
Yep. That pretty much sums it up, actually.
As I was looking for images I came across these killer versions of Red Riding Hood by artist Jerry Cai:

Seriously cool, no? That's my kind of girl. You can see more of Jerry Cai's artwork here. Happy Halloween!

October 28, 2009

Eyes Like Stars: Theatre Illuminata, Act I by Lisa Mantchev

Awhile back I won an ARC of Lisa Matchev's Eyes Like Stars. I was even more excited to read it when the book arrived and I saw the tagline: Theatre Illuminata, Act I. Loved it. Love the whole title, the lush, edgy cover, and the main character's incredibly apt name--Beatrice Shakespeare Smith--known to the inhabitants of the Theatre Illuminata as Bertie. So I was happy to see Eyes Like Stars nominated for a Cybils award in the YA Scifi/Fantasy category so that I could kick my panelist reading off with a book I'd already been looking forward to reading. That it was about the stage and included numerous references to Shakespeare was icing on the cake.

Bertie lives in the Theatre Illuminata. Eighteen years ago she was left on the doorstep as a baby and taken in by the Wardrobe Mistress and adopted by nearly every denizen of this most unusual theater. You see, every character in every play ever written lives in the Theatre Illuminata. And in the Theater Manager's office there is "The Book." Spoken of in hushed tones and never really approached, "The Book" contains the script of every play ever written. Something of a charming rebel, Bertie loves her adopted home. She love sleeping in her bedroom on stage. She loves getting into mischief with her four fairy friends: Moth, Peaseblossom, Cobweb, and Mustardseed. And she loves just hanging around with dreamy pirate Nate and, just occasionally, watching him climb the rigging or swing his cutlass about. Then one day the Stage Manager, who's always been out to get Bertie, announces before the entire company that she's out on her ear come end of day. Bertie is shocked, refusing to believe it. Turns out, it's true. She's caused one too many catastrophes and the Theater Manager is sending her packing--back into the real world where she came from. Terrified of leaving and determined to stay in her home, Bertie mounts an unheard of production of Hamlet in order to prove her worth. What she doesn't count on is Ariel, the airy spirit of The Tempest fame, who longs to claim his freedom and sees Bertie as his ticket out.

Lisa Mantchev's debut novel jumps right into the fray with an endearingly devil-may-care attitude. This attitude is reflected note perfectly in its protagonist. Bertie of the blue dye job, slouching striped socks, and penchant for sticking her fingers in every pie. It took me several pages to figure what in the world was going on and, as I've mentioned here before, I like that. It makes me feel like I'm immersing myself in a fully-formed world that's exists independent of myself. The entire premise of Eyes Like Stars is full of potential and very fun indeed. An orphan girl who grows up literally on the stage. An impossibly sexy air spirit hell bent on freedom. A host of familiar characters flouncing around being dramatic. A couple of chapters in and I was all set to pull up the chair and break out the popcorn. But I ran into problems after that. It turns out that in a story peopled with famous (and infamous) characters, it's pretty dang hard to flesh those familiar faces out. I loved Ophelia, constantly wandering the theater looking for puddles to drown in. I liked Ariel and his smooth-talking, butterfly-ridden ways. But they never leaped off the page at me. They remained two-dimensional and vaguely uninteresting. Now if Bertie herself had been dynamic and compelling, I might have been okay with this. But she, too, wore thin for me over time. I couldn't understand her insistence in demonizing Ariel. His motivations and actions, though underhanded at times, felt true to me. Though I enjoyed Bertie's antics with the sprites, they felt forced and couldn't maintain my attention for the near 400 page count. Her opinions changed at the drop of a hat and for inexplicable and underdeveloped reasons, which bothered me repeatedly. Overall the pace remained frenetic and uneven, the characterization flat and uninteresting, and I finished feeling apathetic at best. With the way it ended, I am interested to see where she takes the sequel, but sadly not enough to pick it up when it comes out.

October 26, 2009

A Halloween Treat

Just when I was all set to sulk the day away, this little package shows up on my doorstep. I am having difficulty containing my glee. Then I thought of something, went and checked, and sure enough, a surprisingly similar package showed up on my porch a year ago almost to the day! I believe this constitutes the making of a new tradition. A Shinn/Marillier Halloween package tradition. I'll take one every year, thanks! Now the only question is....which one first?

Fiery

So I'm trolling around, minding my own business, when I stumble across the little detail that Kristin Cashore and Suzanne Collins will be doing a signing together at one of my favorite bookstores in the whole wide world--Books of Wonder! That's right, the author of Graceling and Fire and the author of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire will be double teaming the crowd on the evening of Tuesday, November 10th. Truly it is the height of injustice that I live so very far from New York City...Anyone out there going to be able to make it to this night of awesome?
To cheer myself up, here's the fun Fire widget in which you can cast your favorite characters in a hypothetical movie of the book. Having browsed through the options, can I just say Gael Garcia Bernal as Brigan FTW!

October 23, 2009

Retro Friday Review: The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman

I remember buying my copy of The Ruby in the Smoke at a B. Dalton bookstore in San Antonio, Texas. I liked the cover with the young girl in the cape holding something mysterious in a white handkerchief for a slightly creepy old woman to inspect. But, in the end, this was yet another example of a book I bought for the opening lines alone.
On a cold, fretful afternoon in early October, 1872, a hansom cab drew up outside the offices of Lockhart and Selby, Shipping Agents, in the financial heart of London, and a young girl got out and paid the driver.
She was a person of sixteen or so--alone, and uncommonly pretty. She was slender and pale, and dressed in mourning, with a black bonnet under which she tucked back a straying twist of blond hair that the wind had teased loose. She had unusually dark brown eyes for one so fair. Her name was Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man.
Yeah, there was sort of no way my 12-year-old self wasn't going to make a beeline to the cash register with that one. All I knew was that it was set in Victorian London, it was a mystery, and it clearly featured a girl I wanted to get to know better. I had no idea it was the first in a trilogy, or how involved I would become in the incredibly intricate plot that stretches out over all three books. It should be noted that Pullman published a fourth volume almost ten years after The Ruby in the Smoke, but it is less of a direct sequel and more a companion novel to the original trilogy.

Sally Lockhart is so very far from your average 16-year-old. Even your average 16-year-old in 19th century London. Her father has recently been murdered and she is intent on uncovering the identity of his killer and bringing the villain to justice. As such, she comes to his offices in London to meet with his partner and find out if he knows anything about Mr. Lockhart's demise or the phrase, "Beware the seven blessings," which she came across in a fragment of a letter sent to her from Singapore. Shortly after her arrival she becomes embroiled in another murder, the vagaries of the opium trade, and the mystery of the disappearance of the fabled Ruby of Agrapur. Along the way she encounters a few associates who become true friends, including a young scarecrow of an errand boy named Jim Taylor and an amiable photographer by the name of Frederick Garland. She will have need of her friends before the game is played out and she races against the clock to make sense of her convoluted past and discover just who is behind the strange web of betrayal and deceit that has taken over her life.

Everyone is familiar with Philip Pullman's much more famous His Dark Materials trilogy. I snatched up the first book when it came out because I was already a huge Pullman fan because of the Sally Lockhart books. And I enjoyed The Golden Compass just fine. But I got halfway through The Subtle Knife and the whole thing just...petered out for me. I'm still not exactly sure what happened except that I kept wishing the entire time I was reading about Sally instead. But in my experience few people have read this set of excellent mysteries. They are dark, dire, and grim, to be sure. But they are also absolutely delightful. And bite-your-nails-to-the-quick intense. Sally herself is such a strong character--a perfect blend of independence, diffidence, integrity, and intelligence. Following her growth and development over the course of the trilogy is an absolutely moving experience. Each book matures in both subject matter and length. The Ruby in the Smoke reads like Dickens meets Arthur Conan Doyle meets Lloyd Alexander and that combination proved too charming for me to resist. I could not put it down until I finished it and I immediately went out and bought the next two books. They did not disappoint, but rather ratcheted up the stakes with each passing page. Pullman somehow manages to create the atmosphere of a vintage penny dreadful, while peopling it with fully fleshed out characters who work their way seamlessly into the reader's heart and affections. In fact, I vividly remember breaking down sobbing while reading a certain scene in the second book--Shadow in the North. It is one of my very first memories of connecting with a set of characters so much it was physically painful to me to watch them suffer. An engrossing series highly recommended, particularly for fans of Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy and Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series.
Linkage

October 22, 2009

Reissued Pretties

It can't be just me, right? These reissues Square Fish has done of Madeleine L'Engle's Austin Family Chronicles are simply beautiful. Enough so that I'm actually pretty impressed at my unusual display of self control at not having purchased them the day they came out! I love the title font, the simple, solid colors, and the detail of the window box art on each one.














I love this series and have done so for a long time now. My copies of The Young Unicorns and A Ring of Endless Light are extremely worn well-loved from having been read so many times. I love the way the siblings grow up and change and love each other across the arc of this five-book series. I love emotional Vicky and precocious Rob, tragic Zachary and grey-eyed Adam. And the music. The way the Austins love and play and appreciate music. They are happy books for me.

Are there series you love so much and over such a period of time that they're reissuing them? And do you find yourself with the urge to own multiple copies just for the beautiful covers alone? Or is that just me?

October 21, 2009

Unexpected Moments

The other night DH surprised me with tickets to see the movie Bright Star. He knew I'd been quietly languishing to see this movie about the relationship between Romantic poet John Keats and the young Fanny Brawne. I was certain we'd never find the time to go and I just knew it was one I'd want to see on the big screen, sitting in the dark, surrounded by other Keats readers. Then at the end of a long Friday I walked in to see tickets in his hand. *love* Now I know that with a master's in British literature I was predisposed to enjoy this film. But "enjoyed" is too tame a word. I absolutely loved it. And there's a particular scene that has stuck in my mind ever since. In this scene Keats is visiting Brawne's family at Christmas and, when asked for a poem, begins reciting the first lines of "When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be." Folks, I literally burst into tears the moment he started speaking. And it took me completely, utterly by surprise. Up until then I'd certainly been enjoying the film, but I wasn't emotionally invested yet. Then somehow, in that quiet moment on screen, they seemed to capture how it would have been sitting there as the young poet composed that beautiful poem. It was breathtaking, both for its beauty and for its unexpectedness.

Naturally, I came home and started thinking about those passages in the books I've read that hit me in the gut. They come out of nowhere, steal the breath from my lungs with their beauty, and leave me dazed. They may come in the form of a debut book by a new author. They may come in the middle of the seventh book by an author whose style I'm so familiar with I wouldn't have thought she could surprise me again. Either way, they create in me an immediate and visceral reaction. Sometimes tears, sometimes awe, sometimes simply a smile of perfect contentedness. The truth is I don't often cry reading books. I'm much more likely to tear up watching a film and I'm not really sure why that is. Of course, poetry does seem to be the most effective way to get my tear ducts going and so in retrospect I didn't stand a chance at a movie like Bright Star. Which I highly, highly recommend. And whatever you do, don't even think about leaving before the credits are through, as sitting there with the rest of the audience listening to Ben Whishaw's beautiful rendition of "Ode to a Nightingale" is one of the highlights of the entire production.

Natasha over at Maw Books Blog wrote a post on crying while reading awhile back and the discussion in the comments was fascinating. Markuz Zusak's masterpiece, The Book Thief, came up on a number of people's lists of books they sobbed over. I, too, shed several tears over that gorgeous novel. The Harry Potter series, The Time Traveler's Wife, and Tess of the D'Urbervilles were a few others that popped up repeatedly. But this isn't really a post on whether or not you cry while reading. It's about those unexpected moments that give you pause, the passages, the words, the emotions they evoke. These are the passages that become favorites, that you go back and re-read to savor. Even if you're not re-reading the whole book, you'll pull it off the shelf and open to that certain page and let your eyes run over the words as you smile. Recently, I ran across one of these unexpected passages while reading Heroes at Risk. This is the fourth book in a series I'm very fond of. It's a funny, unique series and I'm attached to the characters. But I don't necessarily go in expecting big Wow moments, you know? And yet, I read this one paragraph at the end of a chapter and was, well, moved. It reminded me, in a way, of possibly my most memorable of these moments which occurred when I first read Middlemarch. I was going along, thoroughly enjoying myself, when bang! Eliot felled me in one clean sweep:
"You approve of my going away for years, then, and never coming here again till I have made of myself some mark in the world?" said Will, trying hard to reconcile the utmost pride with the utmost effort to get an expression of strong feeling from Dorothea.
She was not aware how long it was before she answered. She had turned her head and was looking out of the window on the rose-bushes, which seemed to have in them the summers of all the years when Will would be away.
Tears, awe, the perfectly contented smile. I was wearing them all in that moment and I have never forgotten it. Mostly I think it's a matter of kairos--when the words, the writer, the reader happen to come together in a single, serendipitous moment of oneness. I live for these moments. I never know when they will happen, with what authors, what characters, in what seasons of my life. But I live for them just the same. Do you?

October 19, 2009

Nice Guys

You knew it was coming. After the much-debated Bad Boys post, I felt it was only fair to follow in Persnickety Snark's footsteps and do a Nice Guys one as well. After all, I did publicly admit to falling for one every now and then, and doing so instilled in me the undeniable urge to explain just what's involved in the complex equation that determines whether or not I fall for a Nice Guy. As you can see from the above image, and as some friends have already stated, Gilbert Blythe pretty much takes the cake as far as Nice Guys go in my book. He encompasses all the essential qualities necessary to make him an irresistible Nice Guy and there's no doubt in your mind that you wouldn't want Anne to be with anyone else.
So let's break it down. Gilbert's the best friend. Now, I know, Diana is without a doubt the best friend. But so is Gilbert. I'll tell you why. They grow up together, for all intents and purposes. They know each other's strengths, weaknesses, quirks, flaws. They compete, they tease, they are there for and challenge each other. And so, bearing that model in mind, my personal list of important ingredients that make up the perfect Nice Guy:

Best Friends/Boy Next Door--This isn't a deal-breaker but I will say that when done right it's the opposite of boring. Rather it feels like home. And it has the added advantage of putting me instantly on his side if he's put in the time and/or recognized a long time ago just how cool she is.
Capable of a little wickedness--Just ask Anne Shirley. As an old friend of mine used to say, "Sometimes you just need to know your man's capable of swinging from a chandelier should the situation require it." I like to think of this quality as being nice in a lethal way.
Sense of humor--This one's non-negotiable, I'm afraid.
A guy who Does Something--And by "something" I'm not referring to some grand gesture. He has to Do Something, as in have interests and passions of his own beyond our girl. This, too, is utterly non-negotiable.
Loves her but doesn't put up with her crap--Instead he calls her on it. A lot.
A certain insecurity/vulnerability--As someone who's drawn to the tortured Bad Boys, if I'm gonna fall for a Nice Guy he's gonna have to have some complexity to him, some flaws, something that makes him imperfect. For the record, I have the same requirement for my heroines. See Kristin Cashore's awesome lead characters from Graceling and Fire.
For the love of all that is holy, he doesn't cling--This may be the only-child-hello-you're-in-my-personal-space in me, but I start to get twitchy when they start to get clingy.

It's a delicate balance, my friends. Omit a couple or three of these ingredients and you end up with this:
Ashley Wilkes of Gone with the Wind, also known as The Most Annoying Nice Guy in the History of Nice Guys. I spent the majority of the 1000+ page book praying someone would shoot the poor guy and put us both out of our misery. Gah.

On the other hand, mix in five or more of these ingredients together and voila! You get this:
The all kinds of awesome Jim Halpert. Card carrying Nice Guy member but in no way boring, annoying, or cavity-inducingly sweet. He's the ultimate prankster and yet he's emotionally mature and he Does the Right Thing.

Last of all, the triangle issue. This is key. When there is a love triangle involved I will almost always go for the guy with the darker edge. Plenty of documented data to show for that one. In seems as though there are so few triangles in which both boys are drawn equally well. And it's invariably the Nice Guy who suffers (for me) when it all shakes out. Take out the triangle and I'll follow the Nice Guy to the ends of the earth if he can swing from that chandelier with gusto. Leave it in and I lean sadder, but wiser nine times out of ten.

Once more, some favorite Gilbertesque Nice Guys from the vault. Each one of these nice guys makes me swoon. Every single time. But then they've all got pretty much all of the qualities listed above.

Michael Jennings, The Road Home
Brigan, Fire
Jeff Greene, the Tillerman Cycle
Colonel Brandon, Sense And Sensibility

So there you have it. Am I missing any essential qualities? What are some of your favorites? And can you think of some good love triangles in which all three characters involved are equally dynamic?

October 16, 2009

Retro Friday Review: The Road to Damietta by Scott O'Dell

I'm stretching pretty far back here for Retro Fridays this week. I think I was eleven or twelve when I read The Road to Damietta for the first time. I was in the middle of a serious Scott O'Dell binge and had just moved back to the States after living in Italy for a few years. So it had the added attraction of taking place in that country I loved at a time when I was having a fair bit of trouble transitioning back to the American culture and pace of living. I'd already burned through Sarah Bishop, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Serpent Never Sleeps, The Spanish Smile, and Streams to the River, River to the Sea by the time I came across a copy of The Road to Damietta in a narrow, dusty bookstore in West Yellowstone. My copy had the cover you see above on the left. I have always liked it. Though the French cover in the middle is also quite nice. I have to be honest and say that the current cover on the right kind of scares the crap out of me. Don't think I would ever have picked it up based on that cover alone, which would be a shame as it's really a beautiful book and one of the first young adult historical fiction novels I ever read. O'Dell was great for introducing me to so many time periods I was unfamiliar with as a young teen.

Ricca di Montanaro is thirteen years old and irrevocably in love. The object of her affections is Francis Bernardone--the son of a wealthy merchant and general bad boy about town in Assisi. Though most of the men look down on Francis, most of the women in town follow him with their eyes and stay up at night whispering word of his exploits to one another. Ricca and her best friend Clare di Scifi are no exception. But when Francis publicly renounces his father's fortune in favor of a life of poverty and spirituality, Ricca's hopes are shattered. Over the next several years, Ricca determinedly follows Francis, alarming her parents and family with her single minded pursuit of a man who has left behind all things worldly. When the fifth Crusade marches to Damietta, Ricca joins the march because Francis is there. It is at the fateful walls of Damietta that she sees firsthand the horrifying depths that violence and passion can reach when employed in the name of God. Disillusioned, his health ruined, Francis returns to Assisi and Ricca, as ever, follows him home one last time.

I have always found the history of St. Francis a fascinating topic. This is a fictionalized account told through the eyes of a young woman who decides she will love this young man for the rest of her life. It is an interesting specimen as Ricca herself is not very likable. She has many qualities I admire, including her doggedness and determination to remain true to herself. And she clearly recognizes something in Francis very early on that others do not. At the same time, she can be petty and unbelievably blind to realities, and these flaws persist to the end of the story. Normally, I might dismiss her out of hand. But for some reason her story (and particularly Francis') still resonate with me. I'm not sure if Ricca ever truly understands the man who became a saint. She and he are different kinds of creatures entirely. But in the end she does come to understand herself. And thus she achieves a kind of peace, I think. This is a novel about transformation and unrequited love, of human suffering and divine faith. It is haunting and real, never dipping into a cloying, romanticized take on the historical events it fleshes out. It is probably my favorite of O'Dell's many novels and, when I had the opportunity to travel to Assisi a few years ago, it came back to me with a vengeance as I walked the rose and white cobblestones of that hilltop town and remembered Francis and Ricca.
Retro Friday Roundup

October 15, 2009

Graceling/Fire Giveaway! (and Nice Guy Po)

So, first off, Diana Peterfreund is giving away two signed copies of Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore over on her blog today! The little minx had the opportunity to attend the last stop on Ms. Cashore's Fire book tour and snagged these lovely copies while there. Why, no, I'm not jealous at all...









To enter all you need to do is leave a comment on her post telling her what your Grace would be (if you had one) or what color hair you'd have if you were a human-shaped monster like Fire.
But she adds one additional way to enter that made me laugh out loud. She states that if you are Angie you can publicly admit that Po is the very nicest of nice guys and yet you love him madly...apparently my reputation for crushing on the bad boys precedes me! At first I thought she was referring to Poe-with-an-e and I was like, noooooo! I can't! I WON'T! My beloved Poe is not and will never be a Nice Guy. Bad Boy to the core. Though certainly the "good" kind of Bad Boy. The kind with an undeniable darkness but a good heart buried under all that hostility. Then I realized she was, of course, referring to Po-without-an-e from Graceling and I settled right down.
Now Diana and I may differ on Bad Boys vs. Nice Guys. Gale vs. Peeta comes to mind (though we agree neither of them are actually bad), Spike vs. Riley, etc. But we are one on Po. And Brigan--I think...am I right, Diana? Kristin Cashore writes such wonderful characters (male and female), that I cannot help but fall in love with them. None of her guys are Bad Boys and yet they do have a certain edge, a certain bleakness or ruthlessness that echoes what I generally love so much about my Bad Boys. But they combine this with an incredibly endearing affability and innate goodness--the best of both worlds, if you will. And so I love them--Brigan possibly more than Po!
So here it is, Diana, and I hope you enjoy it: Po (and Brigan to an even larger degree) is the very nicest of Nice Guys and yet it's absolutely true--I do love him madly.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

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 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.

October 13, 2009

Just Excellent News











After much hoping against hope and crossing of fingers on my part, I was completely delighted to read that Dennis Lehane is working on a sequel to his beloved Patrick Kenzie/Angela Gennaro mystery series. This is huge news, people. Particularly since the last book in the series--Prayers for Rain--was written ten years ago! I've been crazy about this series for a few years now, ever since DH introduced me to them. I love Patrick and I love Angie and I love crazy, psycho Bubba. Die hard fans of the hardboiled P.I.s were afraid the series was over for good, but with this news there is so much to look forward to as Lehane has said the new installment will be a direct sequel of sorts to Gone, Baby, Gone and will take place eleven years after that devastating case. No word yet on a title or release date but this is just excellent news.

Thanks to Keishon over at Avid Book Reader for the heads up! For a rundown on the series and where to start, head over there to check out her great post on Lehane.

October 12, 2009

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber

This book has made the rounds and no mistake. I started seeing early reviews awhile back and read a few delightful interviews with Leanna Renee Hieber and found myself intrigued to read her first novel--The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. I was, therefore, tickled to receive a copy for review from Ms. Hieber and quickly set about settling in. I knew it was a Gothic paranormal mystery of sorts, featuring (among other things) a group of loyal comrades, a private London academy, a bit of magic, an albino, and a swoon-worthy broody professor a la Richard Armitage in North & South. *moment of silence for the awesomeness of The Armitage* And that was the extent of my pre-reading knowledge. That and the fact that I loved the cover with its simple yet moody, midnight blue and its slightly off-kilter, scripty title.

Miss Percy Parker is about to embark on an adventure, albeit a much larger one than she imagines. Leaving the convent--the only home she's ever known--and dipping her toes in the deep waters that are the Athens Academy in London, Percy is as timid as a church mouse. But with good reason. All her life she's hidden her face and skin from the outside world. Wrapped in layers of linen, eyes shielded behind smoky spectacles, this sixteen-year-old albino woman can speak language upon language and quote Shakespeare all the day long, yet she shudders at the thought of exposing her face to the world so certain is she it will be judged repulsive and unworthy. Still. She dares to hope her career at Athens Academy will be a new start. When she meets her intimidating mathematics Professor Alexi Rychman, it certainly feels like the start of something new. She's just not at all sure what that something might be. In the meantime, Professor Rychman has little time for noticing strange young women watching him with haunted eyes. He is supremely busy combing the dirty streets of London for the legendary Ripper--a nightmarish monster who has long been terrorizing the city's lost and lonely. Along with his five companions--the members of The Guard--Alexi is determined to eradicate the Ripper and at last unlock the key to their mysterious past and ancient past.

I loved describing this charming little book to everyone who asked me what I was reading that week. I'd start with the title and when I got that little mouthful out and still met with blank stares, I'd launch into the, "Well, it's a Victorian mystery and a Gothic romance and it's definitely a paranormal, with a little mythology thrown in for good measure." Hard to categorize, but easy to love is The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. It took me about 100 pages to really get a feel for the characters. But, once I hit that 100 page mark, things suddenly got intensely fun. I loved the prologue with its swirling spirits and the back story of how the six members of The Guard originally filled their callings. But I'll admit I spent the early part of the book worried about Percy. She was so very timid. So very prone to swooning and thinking herself unworthy or any notice or care. I am not often drawn to such passive heroines and I wanted to like her as much as I liked the complicated world Ms. Hieber created and the strong personalities surrounding Percy in the guise of Alexi and his powerful companions. But every time I thought I might lose my interest in Percy, she asserted herself in some small, but important way so that my interest was piqued once more and I kept on reading. An example:
"Have I rattled you so very much?" he pressed, his voice like faraway thunder.
She paused. Then, in a moment of fleeting bravery she removed her glasses and stared into his eyes. "Always."
The professor almost smiled.
"Finally, you are honest with me."
She was quick to reply. "I've never been dishonest."
"Be of good cheer, faint heart, you are too easily hurt," he chided.
"My heart is fortified with passions, Professor; it is my confidence that is too easily undone."
Then, as I said, all the various elements of the story coalesced in a key scene where Alexi is tutoring Percy and we were off to the races. From there on out I was behind her and I knew, just as Alexi was to find out, just how important this young woman was and how he shouldn't let her go. In this tale there is much of murder and mayhem, love and longing, overwrought emotion and ultimate evil. As well as one exquisitely beautiful scene of dancing in an empty corridor that will charm the pants right off of you. I had a lovely time reading it and recommend it for anyone who loves all things Victorian, Gothic, mythological, and sweet, for The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is all of these things.