February 28, 2011

Monday Giggles: Tiny Ball of Light Version

Just in case you were wondering (though I can't imagine why you would be), this was far and away my favorite moment of last night's Oscars presentation:
Runners up were, well, anytime Colin Firth was on screen. 
How about you? 

February 21, 2011

Bibliocrack Review: Unsticky by Sarra Manning

I'm still just a little bit protective of my feelings over this book. Do you ever feel that way after finishing a book that completely threw you for a loop (in the very best way)? I feel distinctly protective of our relationship, the book and I. I'm still mulling over the way things ended on my lunch break and as I lie in bed waiting to fall asleep. Because it took me by such surprise, and because I fell in love with it so fast and hard, I'm just not at all sure I'm ready to talk about the experience. But enough of my book reviewing eccentricities. I've held onto my feelings long enough and it's time to let them see the light of day. Because Unsticky did a bit of a number on me. This is my first foray into Sarra Manning's body of work and I'm kicking myself for waiting so long to find out for myself what the rest of you have been going on about. For those of you not familiar with her work, Ms. Manning is known for her contemporary young adult titles, which have been published on both sides of the pond. This is her first contemporary adult title and, unfortunately, it's only available in the UK. I ordered my copy from Awesome Books after reading Sabrina's excellent review over at About Happy Books. I seriously ordered it that very day and looked forward to its arrival in my mailbox each day after that. 


A side note: I do love reading a novel that's never been edited for an American audience. I get lost in the wonderful wording and in the different sensibility that seems to pervade the whole. Definite bonus factor here.


Grace is having a bad 23rd birthday. Make that a very bad birthday. Her boyfriend decides it's a good idea to dump her in the handbag section of her favorite department store on her birthday and then storm out in a huff of seriously dubious righteous indignation when she doesn't handle it with the utmost grace and decorum. But things get even weirder when she is shortly spirited out of the shop by an unidentified male who seems both appalled at her tears and bent on absconding with her to have a drink. Monumentally confused and emotionally wrung out, Grace gets as far as sitting down at a table with the mysterious Vaughn before her common sense kicks in like a champ and she beats a path out of there. But it's not the last she's heard of Vaughn. He has a proposition for her that involves a six-month stint of playing the role of his girlfriend at a series of high-profile art soirees  in exchange for, well, cold hard cash. Appalled and offended, Grace has no intention of accepting his outrageous offer. But then she gets to thinking. Her life hasn't exactly been coming up roses lately. She's massively, massively in debt due to a pesky habit of binge shopping whenever things get too grim. And things get grim pretty often, what with soaring credit card bills, her demeaning and thankless job in the fashion industry she loves, and her inability to extend a meaningful relationship beyond the three-month mark. And so it is with much trepidation and not a little bit of terror that she accepts Vaughn's offer, signs a contract, and enters a whole new world.


There's no denying it. I just . . . I just could not tear my eyes away from this story for the entire 448 pages of the book. Something about Grace and Vaughn immediately dug into my character pleasure center and made a home there. They were so real, so horribly, horribly isolated from the world around them. And it was incredibly gratifying to watch them come to grips with both the extremely unpleasant and the achingly beautiful aspects of their own realities, when forced to see them through the lens of the other's perspective. Especially as they hailed from diametrically opposite worlds and there is little to no incentive to be anything other than brutally honest when your "relationship" is built on the most unsentimental and mercenary of contractual terms. Honestly, there was just so much pain, possibility, and ruthlessly reined in emotion lying between these two that I was an absolute goner. All I could do was watch in exquisite agony as they hurt each other and misunderstood each other and loved each other over and over again until something had to give. I was so involved it almost didn't matter to me what that something was or how it ended. Almost. Of course it mattered to me. But the ride itself was such a pleasure, I would have loved Unsticky for that alone. Happens that I love it for its ending as well. Though I (as always seems to be the case) could have done with a teensy bit more in the way of declarations. But that's me. Part modern-day Pretty Woman, part up close and personal, present-day Pygmalion, it's a winner in my book. If you're a sucker for immeasurably flawed characters, blistering romance, and vintage clothing, then this is the book for you. Unsticky rocked my little bookish world and instantly transformed me into a card-carrying member of the Sarra Manning fan club. 


Linkage
About Happy Books Review
Emily and Her Little Pink Notes Review
Paper Back Novel Review

February 16, 2011

Tragic Pretties

Just the two pretties for you today, but how very pretty they are. You know how much I love retellings. Bu these aren't just any old retellings. These are epic tragedy retellings. I am so there! I've read a couple of Mette Ivie Harrison's books before, but Josephine Angelini is a newcomer and I'm anxious to see how they both take on the age-old Tristan & Isolde and Helen of Troy myths respectively.

Tris & Izzie by Mette Ivie Harrison
A modern day retelling of Tristan & Isolde. As if that weren't enough to recommend it. That cover. Oh, that cover. It gives me the feelings. A young witch named Izzie makes a love potion for her best friend and then accidentally ends up drinking it herself and falling in love with the new boy at school--Tristan--and, well, you know the rest. The somewhat slim 272-page count makes me a little nervous, but I'm eager to get my hands on it just the same.
Due out October 11th.

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini
The only thing I wish they'd changed about this one is the title. I realize the inherent appropriateness of it, given that this is a modern retelling of the Helen of Troy myth. But it will also be the honest-to-goodness fourth book I've read with that exact title. Ah, well. Set in Nantucket, Helen Hamilton has dreams of three women weeping tears of blood and slowly realizes that she, like Helen of old, is on a path to start a war.
Due out May 31st.

There are going to be . . .

. . . not one, but two new Sword-Dancer books! I am, quite simply, wild with delight. In Ms. Roberson's words:
If you have been waiting patiently for the last two Karavans novels, I do apologize. But Tiger and Del are calling to me. Loudly. It's time to answer them.
That right there, my friends, is music to my ears. I ♥ Tiger & Del in rather a big way.

Then she went and topped the good news off by stating that she's also planning on writing two to three more historicals in the vein of her wonderful Robin Hood retellings Lady of the Forest and Lady of Sherwood. Bust out the party hats! I can hardly wait.

February 14, 2011

Darkest Mercy by Melissa Marr

I have my sneaky friend Alicia to thank for slipping me her ARC of Darkest Mercy--the final installment in Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely series featuring the many wily courts of faerie. I've been looking forward to some desperately needed closure on this series for awhile now. I still remember running across Wicked Lovely what seems like so long ago and loving it. I fell even more in love with the darker Ink Exchange, which cemented my fascination with and unhealthy substantial interest in His Uber Dark Lordliness Irial. And the fabulous short story "Stopping Time" sort of pushed me over the edge as far as my admiration for Marr's storytelling skills and my love for some of these characters went. The other two installments in the series fell a bit flat for me for various reasons. And so I held my breath as I opened up the last one, hoping it would resolve things in both a satisfactory and suitably complex way. High expectations much? Who me?

Nobody is where they should be. Keenan is missing by his own choice. Aislinn is grasping at straws trying to keep the Summer Court afloat in his absence. Seth is floating between this world and that, courting disaster with his various alliances. Niall is losing is grip on the Dark Court with every ragged breath Irial draws. And Bananach is ranging free, inciting death and destruction wherever she goes. Too much discord, too much uncertainty haunts the courts of the fae as their regents struggle to retain power and protect their people. Donia and Aislinn have taken to meeting on a semi-regular basis to discuss their options, though summer and winter have never been pleasant bedfellows. Seth and Niall dance dangerously around their loyalties. And the Gabriel Hounds are out in force as Bananach's trail becomes more littered with bodies. Then a stranger shows up in Hunstdale, full of foreboding and guile. And he seems to know more about each of the main players than should be possible. But one thing is clear, he is just one more unknown quantity in the path toward conflagration they all seem to be walking.

I really had no clue as to how things were going to pan out. I had hopes. Of course I had hopes. For Irial/Niall/Leslie most of all. And Donia. I have always loved Donia. Though I'm pretty sure she deserves better than Keenan--she loves him. And I wanted her happy. And, as long as we're confessing, I may have been harboring a few leftover leanings with regards to Seth and Ash. Because they were great in Wicked Lovely, and what happened to them could not strictly have been avoided. Though there are always choices. And you can choose happiness. And those are my two favorite messages from this series. Ones I won't forget soon. But, overall, this last installment was a letdown in so many ways. Everything played out expediently and essentially along the lines of what I was expecting. But, somehow, it did so with an utter lack of the feeling and emotion that characterized the previous books in the series. There were scenes and particular moments which elicited a smile or a sigh from me, but they were just too few and far between to balance out the strange sense of rote apathy that pervaded the rest of the story. I ended it very puzzled by this, as the strongest emotion I felt at the close was gratitude that this character or that hadn't died. That was it. No joy or relish in the way it came about or in the sacrifices people made. I guess it just wasn't my book. And the ending doesn't taint my love for my favorites of the others. I'm not angry or even too sad. I closed it with a vague feeling of regret at its low impact, and I moved on. Mine is rather an unusual reaction, though, it should be stressed. By and large, I feel certain fans of the series will think this last book closes things out with a bang. See reviews below.

Darkest Mercy is due out March 1st.

Reading Order: Wicked Lovely, Ink Exchange (my review), "Old Habits,"  Fragile Eternity (my review), "Stopping Time" (my review), Radiant Shadows (my review), and Darkest Mercy


Linkage
The Book Swarm Review
Buried in Books Review
The Daily Harrell Review
Makeshift Bookmark Review
Novel Novice Review
The Sassy Librarian Review

February 11, 2011

Retro Friday Review, Valentine's Day Edition: The Last Summer (of You & Me) by Ann Brashares

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time! I include roundups from participating bloggers in my weekly post.
In anticipation of Valentine's Day, I cast around for a good Retro Friday book to review. I wanted one with a compelling romantic storyline, but not one that was necessarily primarily focused on the romance. You know me. Then I remembered this beautiful book I read, oh, almost four years ago, and it struck me as the perfect one to highlight today. I never hear very many people talk about it as anything other than a beach read (at best) and I wonder if it just flew under the radar a fair bit or if only I thought it was meaningful.  I do have to say that I haven't read any of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books and I haven't seen the movie. But when I read about Ann Brashares' first adult foray, it sounded like the right time to give her a shot. It was the right choice. I worried a little bit about the title--quite a bit of potential for the overwrought what with the parenthetical subtitle, etc. But it doesn't really bother me after the fact. And, though I'm still not too interested at all in reading her YA books, I've been eying her second adult novel, My Name is Memory, for awhile now. Given how much I enjoyed this one, I figure I'd better give it a try sometime in the near future.


Alice and her big sister Riley share a beach home on Fire Island. Twenty-one and ready for something to happen in her life, Alice stands on the dock waiting for their childhood friend Paul to arrive for the summer. It's been awhile since they've seen him, though they grew up spending summers next door to each other in the island. Chasing waves and waiting tables at the local night spot, the three of them were inseparable and they're very much looking forward to picking up where things left off. But, as close as they are, there is one thing Alice has never had the courage to tell Riley. For Alice, Paul is more than a best friend, more than a fellow childhood daredevil. And once Paul arrives on the island, it looks as though the same may be true for him as well. But neither of them want to tell Riley and thereby unbalance, perhaps disastrously, the old triumvirate. And things go on quietly that way for some time. Family issues come to the forefront and occupy much of their time and discussions. And, in the end, it's Riley who surprises them with the something they never suspected or ever would have seen coming. 


The Last Summer is lovely. It really is. The writing tripped along as pleasantly as waves washing up on Fire Island. Main trio Alice, Paul, and Riley try to navigate their post-adolescent years while holding their difficult three-way relationship intact. I didn't know what to expect of Brashares' writing going in and I was a bit taken aback at how unobtrusive it was, at how nostalgic the tone felt, and yet appreciated how it cautiously steered clear of too much sentiment. I liked the way the characters could struggle to differentiate between the murky miasma of that was then and this is now, but I as the reader never fell into such a quandary. This lent what could have been a too-sappy story a nice cleanliness of line and substance. I fell in love with Alice and Paul. Alice is a somewhat less forceful heroine than I often like, but she's the lodestone around which Riley and Paul orient themselves. And her silent search for love and independence felt earnest to me and reminded me how difficult it can be to exist in the shadow of more assertive and dominant personalities. It's a bit of a heartbreaking story, but full of crystal moments and sure characterization. The quiet, clean writing fit the way the characters were moving into adulthood. Slowly. Reluctantly. If they must. The way we all do. 


Retro Friday Roundup
Chachic's Book Nook reviews Angel-Seeker by Sharon Shinn

A Girl, Books and Other Things reviews Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

See Michelle Read reviews Sword-Dancer by Jennifer Roberson


Linkage
The Book Girl Review
Emily and Her Little Pink Notes Review

February 10, 2011

Heroes at Odds Cover

Ooh, speaking of books I've been looking forward to with an unholy yearning . . . Moira J. Moore has just posted the cover for Heroes at Odds--the upcoming fifth installment in her most excellently wonderful Source & Shield series. And I have to say, this is my favorite cover since book three. It really is. Even if Taro is manfully gripping a sword. I like it, I love this series, and I cannot wait to get my hands on this book. Heroes at Odds is due out July 26th.

The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton


I ran across my first reference to The Tapestry of Love over on The Zen Leaf and immediately wanted to read it after coming across Amanda's comment:
It was warm, comforting, and homey, and the prose was beautiful without ever jarring me.
That described exactly the kind of book I was in the mood for at the time. By a new-to-me UK author. And set in the French countryside? I wanted it. I wanted it now. Unfortunately, it somehow slipped through the cracks and I didn't end up ordering a copy immediately. But it wasn't long before I received Rosy Thornton's previous novel, Crossed Wires, as a gift and figured I may as well start there. I immediately liked Ms. Thornton's writing style and the so-very-real way her characters went about living their lives. So it was with great pleasure I opened up a package in the mail a little while later to find my very own copy of The Tapestry of Love. Falling into this story was as easy as pie.


Catherine Parkstone has just made one of the biggest decisions of her life. At the age of 48, she's been divorced for a while now and is fairly certain she's ready to move on with her life. In this case, moving on entails picking up her tomato plants and her threads and using almost all of her modest savings to purchase a cottage in an infinitesimally small village in France's Cevennes mountains. Yes, it shocks her kids. And her ex-husband. And basically anyone who ever knew her. But to Catherine it just feels right. And she doesn't regret it for a moment. Though her French isn't exactly up to par and sometimes the solitude can creep in unawares, it is with a lightening of the heart and a surge of hope that she takes to her new home and its curious denizens. Hanging out her shingle as a professional seamstress, Catherine sets about getting to know the locals and her easy way with people and quiet independence wins her a place in their hearts, though her nearby neighbor Patrick Castagnol is a bit of an enigma. Even if he does brew his own beer and cook her dinners like a master chef. Then one day, out of the blue, Catherine's sister Bryony arrives in need of a holiday, and the fragile balance Catherine has achieved threatens to crumble under the weight of her sister's forceful personality.


Okay. Favorite thing about this book, hands down? Catherine is so unapologetically herself and the rest of the characters are so exquisitely fraught with shades of grey. No villains. No angels. Just life in all its messy glory. And the beautiful, beautiful French countryside, French food, and Catherine's careful hands and rainbow of threads binding it all together. It sounds strange, but I am often so very gratified to be neatly foiled in my attempts to hate certain characters. You see, Catherine is a very likable character. And a couple of other characters (who should seriously know better, in my opinion) get in the way of her happiness. And such things can try my patience with them. But Rosy Thornton did an excellent job of presenting these actions in the context of their complicated history together, their individual fears, wants, and needs. And I could see it all laid out. The way it inevitably came together in just the way it did, like Catherine's tapestry of the saint in his boat, sailing for the shore. It was lovely in its imperfection. And I was so very happy with the way it ended. This is a quiet book and, like Patrick (and Catherine, for that matter), it is not given to effusion. But also like those two characters, it is wonderfully mature, full of hidden depths and shades of beauty. The Tapestry of Love is a book I could easily hand anyone, knowing they will likely fall for its simple, eloquent charms just as I did. Recommended for fans of Linda Gillard's Emotional Geology

Linkage