June 27, 2011

The Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan

Does this book need any introduction? Really? You've read my blathering about how adamantly I love this series and how much I was looking forward to this--the final book in the trilogy--and how difficult it is for me to accurately convey my love for one Alan Ryves. It had to be in my top three most anticipated novels of the year, and I was pestering my local bookstores shamelessly for weeks before it was due to come out. Two books in, and I already feel as though Sarah Rees Brennan is one of those authors I can trust with my literary heart and expectations. She delivers, and that's all there is to it. So I can honestly say I had no qualms whatsoever going into The Demon's Surrender. Not a one. I feared for loss of life and limb (and love) on several fronts, but I had no worries that the story would not be absolutely awesome or that the characters would not get exactly the ending they deserved. And how many times can you say that going into the final book in a beloved series? That's right. Not that many. If you haven't had the chance to pick up The Demon's Lexicon yet, I really urge you to give it a go. Because this? This is just fantastic storytelling.

Warning: There will undoubtedly be a few unavoidable spoilers in this here review, so if you have not read the previous two books, proceed at your peril. Okay? Okay.

In this third and final volume, all the chickens are coming home to roost. With the state of the union being what it was at the end of The Demon's Covenant, the Ryves brothers, the Market folk, the Crawford siblings, and the Aventurine Circle have all come to London for what will undoubtedly be the final showdown between the magicians, the demons, and the not-so-mere mortals. In the case of Sin Davies, the stakes have been raised immeasurably as Merris Cromwell--the outgoing leader of the Goblin Market--has set a brutal contest for the role of her successor. Sin must reluctantly face her sometime friend, now rival Mae to keep the life she's always assumed would be hers. Meanwhile, she has to take care of her two little siblings, maintain her low profile at school, and struggle to make heads or tails of the infuriating Alan Ryves. Because it quickly becomes clear that Alan and his little brother are at the very heart of the conflict between the power-hungry magicians and the demons they strive to master. And the normally savvy Sin must use every wile in her considerable arsenal to parse out the real loyalties lurking behind the carefully crafted facades surrounding her.

I'm absolutely gutted that it's over. I may even be in a bit of denial over it, replaying the odd scene in my head while driving down the street, chuckling to myself at Alan's sheer audacity and Nick's dry-as-sandpaper humor. How many times exactly is it possible for one book to break your heart? More than I thought, it turns out. More than I thought. My eyes filled with tears numerous times while reading The Demon's Surrender, surprising even me with the strength of my affection for these kids. Sin's point of view gives the reader fresh insight into the twisted, painful, always always loyal relationship between Alan & Nick, which has ever been the strongest and best part of this remarkably entertaining trilogy. It was like Sophie's choice for me trying to pick one single passage to quote. But, again, I hate to spoil your own experience reading them for the first time, so I--somewhat painfully--settled on a favorite scene early on. The first one to make me laugh out loud, actually, and a perfect example of what I'm talking about:
"Time for our dance?" Nick asked.

"Yes," said Sin. "And I wondered if Alan might like to sing for us."

Alan stared. Sin widened her eyes at him, schooling her face into a picture of innocent inquiry.

"Are the dancers going to play nice?"

"If you are," Sin said. "Maybe."

She didn't know what she expected, but it wasn't for things to be easy, after years of being at daggers drawn, as if all she'd needed to do was reach out once.

She reached out and Alan took her hand. She was startled by how that felt: Alan's hand strong and gun-calloused, but holding hers rather carefully, as if he was worried he might hurt her.

It was ridiculous to be startled. She knew Alan was usually gentle. She'd been watching him play with children for years. And she'd seen Alan kill whoever got in his way, whenever he had to.

She'd just never really thought about the contrast of how he presented himself and who he actually was. Not until he'd stepped between two armies and taken her brother and a magician's mark.

Sin looked away as he levered himself up from the log--surely he didn't want her to see him struggling--but she didn't let go of his hand when he was up. She led Alan to where the dancers were talking, Nick stalking in their footsteps like a jungle cat on bodyguard detail.

"Alan's going to sing," she announced.

"Cool," said Chiara, who knew a cue when she heard one.

"I can't tell you how pleased I am," Matthias told Alan.

Alan slid his fingers easily out from between Sin's, watch glinting in the firelight under the frayed edge of his shirt cuff. He hesitated briefly and then curled his fingers around one of the belt loops on his jeans, as if he felt he should do something with his hand.

"Didn't you try to throw me to the magicians last time we met?" he asked Matthias.

"Sure," Matthias replied, flashing his skull-like grin. "But I didn't mean anything personal by it."

"That's all right then," Alan said, sounding truly amused. He smiled by degrees, like a stage curtain being opened by someone who knew how to do it, making you wait just long enough.

Most of the dancers thawed enough to smile back, and Sin was startled to realize that she had been wrong all this time when she'd assumed Alan was winning over all the old guard of the Market just by being an enormous nerd. He had charm.

He'd just never bothered to use it on Sin.

"We have the exact right guitar for you," Matthias said, trying to usher Alan away to the other pied pipers. "Don't ask me how I know. I always know. I've been watching your hands."

"I feel very reassured," said Alan. "Also a little violated. There is that."
Ah, Alan. You and the crafty way you wield all that understated charm. It was perfectly delicious watching Sin's opinion of Alan, Nick, Mae, and Jamie evolve over the course of their adventures together. Looking at each of them from her "outsider" perspective was enlightening, even as it was difficult to see some of their greater flaws brought out into the harsh light of day. Which brings me to Jamie. Because if we're talking most flawed, Jamie gives even my beloved Alan a run for his money. I missed Jamie. He didn't get quite as much page time as I would have liked, though I understand why. And, given that the scenes he was in were almost unutterably painful, I probably couldn't have handled too many more. Which, of course, only enriched the overall experience. But, wow. Cue the heartbreak I referred to earlier. But the lack of Jamie is balanced to a certain degree by the presence of Sin. Sin who is so incredibly strong and unwavering that she brought a fierce smile to my face over and over again. Because she never apologized for being strong, for not needing saving, for not being ashamed to make the first move, for baldly declaring her feelings on a subject, or for refusing to alter her loyalties because it would make things easier. Yeah. My love for Sin is as unapologetic as she is. And these beloved characters of mine? They all of them needed Sin, whether they realized it or not. She brought some non-psychotic humanity to the group, and she managed to flap the unflappable Alan. For which she earns my undying affection. Two such talented liars should definitely know each other. Be partners in crime, even. It was funny and moving and wickedly enjoyable watching them size each other up, surprise each other, toy with each other, and eventually come to terms with each other. Truth? The Demon's Surrender was everything I hoped it would be--filled to bursting with magic, wit, danger, love, and awesome weaponry--a spectacular ending to one of my very favorite series.

Reading Order: 
The Demon's Lexicon - my review
The Demon's Covenant - my review
The Demon's Surrender

The Book Smugglers Review
Bookaholics Anonymous Review
The Crooked Shelf Review
Not Enough Bookshelves Review
Planet Print Review
The Secret Life of a Bibliophile Review

June 20, 2011

I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

I don't know. I just don't know how any self-respecting book lover can see this book and not have to buy it immediately. I mean, look at that cover. It's gorgeous and haunting and somehow bursting with meaning all at once. As I mentioned before, it reminds me very much of the exquisite cover of Marcelo in the Real World--a book I loved without reserve. All that put together had me on the edge of my seat to read it, and I had a lovely copy all ready and waiting for me on the nightstand in the nursery when I got home from the hospital. I tend to go through a massive rereading binge after having a baby. Like my battered body and mind need the comfort of intensely familiar stories and friends as part of the recovery process. But this was the first new book I read once I felt sufficiently rejuvenated to take on a whole new world. The physical book itself really is put together perfectly. The dust jacket has a matte finish that just calls out to be stroked. It was quite literally a tactile as well as a cerebral pleasure reading this beautiful debut novel by Holly Goldberg Sloan.

It all starts with a song. A song sung badly in church by a reluctant girl by the name of Emily Bell. But the song meets the ears of one Sam Riddle. A boy who doesn't believe in anything anymore but who sits in the back of church pews whenever he gets the chance. Just to hear the music. And though the song is sung so very badly, something in Emily's voice reaches out to Sam. They come from very different worlds and have next to nothing in common. Sam and his unnaturally quiet little brother Riddle have been on the run with their con man father as far back as they can remember. Never allowed to go to school, always expected to take care of themselves, they are used to being uprooted from whatever hovel they're currently living in whenever their father gets the itch. Emily has a loving father and mother, a perfectly normal younger brother, and they've lived in the same place as far back as she can remember. There's so much they can't tell each other, even if they did have the words, but the peace they feel together feels like enough to bridge the gap. But the past catches up with Sam and Riddle, even as these two lonely boys begin to imagine a different kind of life surrounded by the warmth and welcome of the Bell family.

I should just start by telling you to go buy this book. Go buy it now. It is so very worth it. If you've ever read Meg Rosoff's Just In Case, the prose reminded me a fair bit of that lovely, unique book. There's the same smooth flow of narration, coupled with a magical and inevitable sense of destiny and mingled hope and despair surrounding the characters and the paths they follow throughout the course of the novel. The point of view shifts between all of the characters in the book--a tricky feat that Ms. Goldberg Sloan pulls off effortlessly. Some voices are wistful, some pragmatic, while others are scheming and downright terrifying. But I dare you to read Sam and Riddle's thoughts and not fall hard for these two brothers who have survived against all odds. It's impossible not to sink all your heart and soul into hoping for their escape and it's breathlessly painful to watch the predator in their lives stalk that slim chance of happiness with a single minded urge to destroy. Here's a favorite passage early on when Sam and Emily first meet:
She could not really sing.

That was just a fact.

But it was also a fact that she was riveting. She was raw and exposed and not really hitting the notes right. But she was singing to him.

Why him?

He wasn't imagining it.

The girl with the long brown hair had her small hands held tight at her sides and, maybe because of how bad she was, or because she was staring right at him and seemed to be singing right to him, he couldn't look away.

She was saying she'd be there.

But no one was ever there. That's the way it was. Who was she to tell him such a thing?

It was intimate and suddenly painful.

Not just for her.

But now for him.

Very painful.
And just a few moments later:
Sam watched her flee.

He understood completely.

Hadn't he spent his whole life running? The girl with the off-key voice and the glossy sheet of brown hair and the watery eyes was now gone.

The choir continued, seamlessly moving on to another song. But Sam was up on his feet as well. He didn't care that the big wooden doors made noise. He pushed down on the brass bar and was outside.

In moments he was around the back of the church and standing next to the girl who was in some kind of distress. He put one hand on her shoulder. Her eyes were all watery. He didn't want her to cry. If she cried, he might cry. Why would they go to that place?

But he'd learned how to make emotions go away. He was an expert at that. So why was he back here behind the church right now? He was supposed to be invisible. Right?


And then he found himself saying:

"You're going to be okay. Really . . . It's all right. . . ."

He was comforting her. The girl who couldn't sing and who had been so exposed. Her choir robe parted, and she shook it off and he could see she had on black pants that fit over her perfect little legs and a crisp white shirt that clung to her now small, sweaty body.

Sam suddenly wanted to scoop her up and maybe get on a motorcycle and drive away with her. Except he didn't know how to ride a motorcycle, but he'd seen that in a movie once on TV and the guy was wearing a military uniform and the girl knew him and she wanted to be scooped up.

And then, as she stared at him, it was all too much. She abruptly turned away.

And that's when her breakfast of toast, eggs, and bacon made its second appearance of the morning.

Because this girl didn't know him and, if she did, she would never want to have anything to do with him. This girl had taken once long, intense look at him and that, combined with her singing, had made her sick. He reached out and instinctively took hold of her long hair to keep it from the next retch.

He wished he had a rag or a towel or something she could use to wipe off her mouth. But he didn't and then the side door of the church suddenly opened and a woman was standing there. She said:

"Emily, are you all right?"

Sam dropped his hands and released her hair and stepped away and it was over.



He turned on his heel and took off, moving fast but without running.


Away from her.
And, really, it just gets better and more intense from there. It's a quietly riveting book that makes you feel as though the world is somehow both much larger and much smaller than you thought it was. And the minutely thoughtful and caring ways in which some of the characters look out for each other are beautiful to read, especially as they are related through such thoughtful and caring prose. I'll Be There had me at hello, filled my mind with the sights and senses of these characters, and had me playing the title song over and over in my head for days after.


June 15, 2011

Mastiff Cover

Ooh. A cover. Finally! And a release date to go with it. How nice. Cover first: I love the mountains and the dogs and the manacles hanging threateningly from Beka's hand. But is it just me or is there something wrong with Beka's head? Or her arms. One of the two is not exactly right. Right? Moving on. Truth? I've been a bit worried about this book. It's been a long time coming and, while I really love Beka and the Tortall of two hundred years before Alanna roamed it, the last book left me underwhelmed. And I've been worried ever since. I am a Pierce fan of the highest order, and I would dearly love to see this trilogy close out in fine Pierce style. So fingers crossed, I can't wait to get back to Beka and Co. (I love you, Rosto). Mastiff is due out October 25th.

June 14, 2011

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

With the arrival of a baby imminent on the horizon, most women begin thinking about packing a bag for the hospital, making sure the nursery is in order, washing those few last baby clothes in preparation. Me? I began making a list of books to read as soon as we got home from the hospital. And one of the top books on my list was What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. I've seen this title and author batted about recently, and Chachic's recommendation bumped it up to the top of the list of post-baby reads. With its June 2nd U.S. release date, it seemed the perfect one to start with. My excitement to read it even managed to penetrate the fog of sleep deprivation that exists around my mind these days. I've read Liane's sister Jaclyn Moriarty's work and enjoyed a few of them, and I love the idea of writerly sisters. So I was eager to see what Liane Moriarty's writing was like, especially when I found out this one was about a woman who lost her memory. I'm beginning to think I may have sort of a thing for amnesia stories. So much potential therein. For both humor and pain. Especially the pain. But more on that later.

Alice wakes up on the floor of a gym unable to figure out just exactly how she got there. It becomes apparent that she fell off her bike during spin class, bumped her head rather hard, and awoke to find herself being rushed off to the hospital by a couple of handsome paramedics, while people she does not know call out to her and wish her well. Poor Alice becomes more and more confused at the doctor's insistence that it is a different year from the one she knows it is, at the inexplicable workout clothing she's wearing, at the disturbing  lack of an appearance on her husband's part. What she doesn't want to accept--but what seems to have actually happened--is she lost the last ten years of her life when she bumped her head. And unspeakable changes have taken place in Alice's life in those last ten years. She and her devoted sister Elizabeth have somehow grown apart. Very far apart indeed. Her best friend is consumed with work and sounds actually shocked when Alice calls her to say hi. Her mother has changed inside and out and has taken up with a man she would never have pictured her mother with, not in a thousand years. And, worst of all, she and her husband Nick have split up and are in the midst of a messy custody battle over their three kids. Three kids they didn't even have when Alice last remembers. She was just barely pregnant with their first back then, and she (understandably) finds it unfathomable that that tiny unborn baby is now a 10-year-old girl who is angry at the world because her parents are divorcing. Desperate to find her way back home, Alice sets about trying to pick up the reins of a life she finds utterly alien.

You know how you can become so involved in a book that you actually feel anxiety on behalf of the characters? Your shoulders tense up, your brow furrows, and you turn the pages with trepidation for fear what follows will be more than they can bear. That feeling is nothing new to me. And it's usually the mark of a story I'm enjoying immensely. But do you ever read a book that fills you with anxiety on your own behalf? And your concern and the tension in your shoulders and brow are for the characters, certainly, but even more for yourself. And you're up at night imagining the ways in which your life might fall apart were something similar to happen to you. Yeah. What Alice Forgot filled me with anxiety. I was up at night (granted I was up anyway with baby Finn). But even when I stopped reading I couldn't turn off the anxiety of ten years lost. Of a husband you loved yesterday who absolutely hates your guts today. Of having been on the brink of motherhood for the very first time and then being thrust forward into a franticly speedy life full of taking care of little people you've never met before. And doing it all alone. My post-pregnancy hormones may have been completely out of whack, you guys, but wow. This book did not help. Not one little bit. That said, I couldn't put it down. I immediately felt an affinity for Alice and wanted so very much for her to be able to put the pieces of her fragmented memory together along with the shattered pieces of her fragmented family. Cue the pain I was talking about earlier. And the humor as well. Twenty-nine-year-old Alice is a delightful woman, with a great sense of humor and a love for laughter and life. Her observances on the ridiculous predicament she finds herself in are chuckle-worthy and spot-on. Thirty-nine-year-old Alice is a different creature entirely. She is extremely difficult to like. And Ms. Moriarty does a wonderful job of making each supporting character sympathetic, especially Alice's once-carefree and charming husband Nick and her now-careworn and bitter older sister Elizabeth. I loved them all and wanted to wrap my arms around them and just hug them into loving each other again. Of course, it's nowhere near that easy. Unfortunately, the story takes its incredibly sweet time getting around to anything happening, to Alice solving the mystery of her past and actively trying to form her future into one she can live with. She was such a strong character, I thought her perfectly capable of doing just that. And Nick was a fascinating and complicated character in his own right, but we rarely saw him in the present. There were quite a few reminiscences of him ten years ago, but the scenes in which Alice and Nick of today actually communicate are few and far between. As they were my favorites and were so well done, I really wished there were more. In fact, I needed a few more to make the ending truly satisfactory. As it was, it felt abrupt after the lengthy path it took to get there. So overall, a very absorbing read that fell somewhat short for me in its pacing and final execution. For similar and enjoyable reads, I recommend Bachelor Boys by Kate Saunders and Seeing Me Naked by Liza Palmer.

At Home with Books Review
Chachic's Book Nook Review
Chick Lit Reviews
Inkcrush Review
S. Krishna's Books Review