August 30, 2011

Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay

What a beautiful cover. I remember when I first saw it my initial thought was, Oh, please don't let it suck. I know that sounds harsh, but sometimes a cover just calls out to you and you know when you finally hold a physical copy of the book itself you'll just want to stroke it and love it and tell it it's found its home on your shelves. Unfortunately, the innards (as my boy is fond of saying) don't always match the outtards. And then I am forced to cry. Because . . . so pretty. So when a review copy of Stacey Jay's Juliet Immortal came my way, I held my breath. Just a bit. Okay, maybe for the first five pages or so. Thankfully, that's all it took. Because this innovative retelling (of sorts) of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet has teeth. And they sank into me with delicious ferocity. This was my first foray with Stacey Jay, though I know she has a handful of books already out. After this encounter, I look forward to checking out her other work.

Juliet Capulet's nightmare is never going to end. No one knows what really happened to her. Murdered by her true love, Juliet is saved at the last minute by powerful but nebulous forces of good (known as the Ambassadors), who recruit her immortal soul in their timeless battle against the powers of evil (known as the Mercenaries). Filled with grief and hate at Romeo's unforgivable action, Juliet accepts the offer and finds herself pitted against Romeo, who essentially sold his soul to the Mercs for promised immortality. And the two of them face one another over and over and over again. For seven hundred years, they've been racing against the clock and each other to save (in Juliet's case) or damn (in Romeo's) pairs of soul mates, literally slipping into human bodies (in Juliet's case) and dead ones (in Romeo's) in order to sway their charges for good or ill. Each and every time Romeo tries to kill Juliet and Juliet fights back and escapes, though she is forbidden from taking his life as part of her mission for the Ambassadors. But this time--this mission--something is different. And they can both tell. This time more seems to be riding on the outcome than just a point scored for one side or the other. This time it's difficult to tell just who exactly are the soul mates, just who loves who. This time Juliet may not escape with her immortal soul intact.

Juliet Immortal wins because it is both a competent retelling and re-envisioning of the most famous star-crossed lovers of all time, while managing not to forget the ruthlessness, violence, and eerie inevitability of the original. In fact, I thought Stacey Jay's clever explanations went a long way toward fleshing out the characters and events of the play. I certainly loved the life and depth she breathed into both leads. How brave Juliet is. And evil Romeo? Where have you been all my life? There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. This Romeo is evil, he's out for Juliet's blood, and the enmity between them is real. The story starts off with a bang, literally, as Juliet is flung into the body of a girl who has just decided to end it all and drive the car she's in off a cliff, taking her shoddy date with her. It's one of my favorite scenes in the book and the first one to give me real chills. Right after the crash (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
Dylan's eyes flutter open.

Even in the moonlight shining through the ceiling they look dark, peculiar. There's something strange about this boy, something warped inside him. I'm not surprised that he played a cruel trick on Ariel, but I'm curious to see what he'll do next. How will he deal with the fact that she nearly killed them both?

"Ariel?" he asks, his voice slurred. "Are you okay?"

"Ye-yes, I think so." Maybe he doesn't remember how the car crashed? If so, I won't be helping him with his recall. I keep my expression carefully blank. "Are you okay?"

"I think I'm fine. I . . . think I might be . . ." His words fade as he leans closer. He's staring at me. I can feel it, though his chin is tipped down, creating hollows the light through the roof can't touch.

The roof! I look up, and a sigh of relief escapes my lips. Glass. It's made of glass! Thank goodness. Getting out of this car seems like a better idea with every passing second. If Dylan is this disturbing at eighteen, he'll be a serial killer by the time he's twenty.

"We'll be fine. We just need to get out." I lift blood-slicked fingers to pry at the latch, ignoring Dylan when he leans even closer.

The sunroof is manually operated. I see that the glass panel can pop out, but the mechanism gives me a bit of trouble. Still, I'll get it open and there will be plenty of room for us to fit through the hole. Me first, of course.

"I'm sorry, could I--" He exhales, his breath hot on my neck. I fight the urge to shudder. "Could I ask you something?"

He wants to talk. Lovely.

I sigh. "Sure." I pull on the hinges, then realize I should have been pushing and sigh again.

"Has anyone told you your hair looks silver in the moonlight?"

I glance in the rearview mirror. My new hair does look silver, like something from a fairy tale. And the rest of what I can see of myself is equally haunting--shocking, really.

Why does Ariel think herself so repulsive? Huge blue eyes dominate my new face, dwarfing my small nose and thin lips. The scars on my cheek and jaw are visible, but they aren't as terrible as Ariel thinks. The face looking back at me is attractive, compelling. There's something about it that makes you want to look twice.

So I do, staring a little too long, giving myself away.

Dylan laughs, his lips suddenly far too close to mine. "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?"

No. It can't be. We've never-- He's never--

"Did you miss me, love?" He kisses me on the cheek, a rough, playful kiss that leaves a bit of wet behind.

Dylan has died after all. And Romeo has found a corpse. It's my last thought before his hands are around my throat.
Yep. Chills. There's also a pretty sweet love story going on within the pages. I was delighted with who Stacey Jay chose for Juliet and how she updated him for a contemporary take. Their initial encounter is another of my very favorite scenes in the book, and my affection for them lasted for the duration the story. So much so that I actually could have done with a little more connection between the modern boy and the one from the play as it would have enriched the bond for me. That part, along with one section in which Juliet sort of uncharacteristically fails to make a few connections, are the only instances that bothered me a bit. Otherwise, the novel's strengths stood out, particularly older-and-wise Juliet herself. She's such a strong character, able to contain a plethora of rich and complex emotions. She is clawing her way toward revenge or peace, whichever comes first. I loved her fire, and I loved how the writing reflected her rage and pain, without marring that original, first love between the two kids from Verona. Rather, it supports its authenticity in all its breathless perfection. Which then only highlights the atrocious betrayal and the loss she feels. It's all very affecting and enjoyable. As is Juliet's foray in young Ariel's body. Her interactions with Ariel's well-nigh estranged mother and her problematic best friend Gemma are nuanced and gripping. Lastly, I do have to say that my favorite thing about this book is that it scared me. There are a couple of scenes in particular that gave me the cold shivers, and I just love it when that happens. All in all, Juliet Immortal is an unexpectedly visceral read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to handing it around.

Linkage
All Things Urban Fantasy Review
A Backwards Story Review
A Blog About Nothing Review
A Book Obsession Review
The Book Smugglers Review
Good Books and Good Wine Review
A Jane of All Reads Review
The Reader Bee Review

August 26, 2011

New Year's Pretties


I'm quite excited for these three, you guys. They hail from two favorite authors of mine and one newcomer. They each look rather dark in their own way and just like excellent ways to start off next year's reading.

The Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn
Ever since I heard the fabulous Sharon Shinn was working on an urban fantasy, I've been walking around with a tingle of anticipation running down my spine. Then I ran across the cover the other day and that tingle got upgraded to a full-fledged shiver. Love the girl's pose on the log, love the creepy wolf who seems to be channeling Gmork--the werewolf from The Neverending Story. Given how I love her take on angels, I can hardly wait to read her take on werewolves. Due out April 3rd.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
The first in the Lunar Chronicles, this futuristic debut novel is also the first in a quartet. Don't you love quartets? They put me in mind of the Alanna books and, therefore, all good things. On top of that this cover is slowly killing me with its awesome and as far as I can tell, the book itself needs little introduction. All I really feel the need to say is: Cyborg. Cinderella. Are you with me? Due out January 3rd.

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale
And it would seem we're heading back to Austenland for another visit. This time with a new and different Austen addict and an added mystery for good measure. Charlotte Kinder is addicted to Jane Austen, recently divorced, and in need of a good vacation. So off to Pembroke Park she heads and hi jinks, one would assume, ensue. Though it's not my favorite of her books, I liked Ms. Hale's Austenland just fine and find myself up for this companion novel. Due out January 31st.

August 22, 2011

A Lily Among Thorns by Rose Lerner

I've had A Lily Among Thorns on my list ever since I read Rose Lerner's debut novel--In for A Penny--more than a year ago. In fact, I actually reread it a couple of weeks ago to see if the character and writing were as lovely as I remembered. They were and it was. So I practically bounced in my seat when I saw the tweet pop up stating that A Lily Among Thorns was available on NetGalley. Click, click, click. And I sat down with it that night. Personally, I think this cover is nowhere near as nice as the cover of In for a Penny, which I thought both represented the tone of that novel as well as the "lighter" romance found within. These two look nothing like how I picture Serena and Solomon, particularly as he seems about to eat her nose and, honestly, Solomon would never do that. And even if he did give it a go, Serena would most certainly never let him get that close. Ah, the woes of cover art. On to the tale!

Serena Ravenshaw and Solomon Hathaway have A History. And they don't even know it. Ever since that one fateful night, years ago, when Solomon inadvertently provides Serena with the means to change her life, she's thought of him and wondered. Who was he? Why did he give her that money? Where is he now? And most importantly--does he have any idea what that inexplicable act meant to her? And while Serena has been carving out a new life for herself, Solomon has been quietly watching his fall apart. After the death of his twin brother in the Napoleonic Wars, Solomon can hardly summon the will to go on. A gifted chemist and tailor, he spends his days and nights working in his uncle's shop and fending off the aching loneliness and despair. Then his sister announces her marriage and the family jewels go missing. And when his sister announces she cannot be wed without the precious heirloom, Solomon seeks out the famed Black Thorn--the one woman in town who is rumored to be able to find anything that is lost. When Serena sees the one man she thought she'd never see again walk through her door, she is at once panicked, thrilled, and suspicious. Whether or not Solomon will survive the encounter is another matter entirely.

What a talent Rose Lerner has for making her characters essential to your happiness in such a short period of time. And not in a superficial way either. I genuinely care about them, believe in their fears, and grin affectionately at their quips and quarrels. By the end of the shattering prologue, I simply had to find out what in the wide world was going to happen to these characters after the intervening years had their way with them. A favorite scene early on (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
"After Elijah died, I moved my laboratory into the back of the shop for awhile."

"How kind of him, to allow you to use his space in your work for his business. I'll wager he doesn't pay you enough either."

"Did you tell him that?"

"Maybe."

The corner of his mouth quirked up. "Anyway, that's not what I meant. I moved it there because I--well, I caught myself eyeing the bottle of arsenic. And I didn't think I would, but I knew I wouldn't if my cousin Clara might find the body."

The oyster Serena has just eaten transformed itself into a brick in her stomach.

"I couldn't sleep and I'd show up there at all hours to work. Uncle Hathaway took to waking at three or four in the morning and coming downstairs. He'd bring in tea, and then he'd go into the other room and work. He didn't try to talk to me, but I could hear him through the door and it--it helped."

Serena leaned back against a tree. "I--"

"I said I didn't want to discuss it."

"I know. I just wish I could have been there."

Solomon looked at his hands. "So do I."
It was incredibly fun watching mild-mannered Solomon court death and heartbreak (not necessarily in that order) by renewing his association with Lady Serena Ravenshaw. Hard-hearted, calculating, and about as remote as formerly renowned courtesans turned underworld mavens come, Serena has vowed no one will ever have control over her again. But since she is determined to repay Solomon, she agrees to find the Hathaway rubies and call it good. Unfortunately for both of them, there are larger forces brewing outside the Ravenshaw Arms. Within the space of 24 hours, Serena's former partner returns with unexpected demands, her imperious father threatens her life, and this thing between she and Solomon threatens to break the choke hold she has on control. This book lived up to its promise from the first page to the last. Charming and intriguing, I never tired of it. The secondary characters were excellent as well, and all the threads tied up satisfactorily in the end. My favorite things about Ms. Lerner's books are the sly humor that weaves its way through the stories and the wonderful, endearing protagonists she creates. Like Penny and Nev, Serena and Solomon are . . . well, they're good. And by good I don't mean they're above reproach or without their fair share of flaws. But they are people I would want to know and keep in my life. Witness my favorite passage in the book:
"You're right," he said again. "I haven't been fair. I was afraid, too. Afraid of being alone, I suppose. Afraid of being without you. But--you know, I--" His voice cracked. Damn.

"Solomon--" she said, and he loved the way she said his name so much that he had to keep talking or he might do something selfish like tell her that.

"I never believed, before I met you, that I could go my own way," he said. "That I could deserve more than someone was willing to give me. That love might not be worth the sacrifices we have to make for it. You've taught me that. What I mean is--I do understand, if you decide you don't want--" He waved a hand between them, as if in a moment the word that would describe all that lay between them would pop into his head. As if such a word existed. He shook his head. "This."

She stared up at him, the shadows making her eyes look huge.

"You're giving up?"

He stood up. "That's exactly the problem. This has turned into some kind of tug-of-war. I'm not giving up. I'm just saying that I won't push you anymore. I won't ask for anything. I've been torturing you, and it's not fair. If nothing's changed when we go back to London on Sunday, I'll leave. Just please--make a decision that will make you happy. Take good care of yourself." She looked as lost as he felt. He went to the bed and stood looking down at her: at her perfect face and her perfect body that suddenly, for the first time, looked ordinary.

She wasn't a goddess, or an angel, or a harpy. She was a woman, a frightened, unhappy, determined, beautiful woman, and he loved her so badly that just leaning down and brushing his lips across her left temple, where her birthmark was, brought tears to his eyes. "Thank you for everything," he said, and left.
You see? All that and an ending that will make you smile, too.

A Lily Among Thorns is due out September 15th.

Linkage
The Allure of Books Review

August 15, 2011

Bibliocrack Review: All I Ever Wanted by Kristan Higgins

Calling all Julie James fans! Calling all Jennifer Crusie fans! Have I got a book for you. Of course, most of you have probably heard of Kristan Higgins before and are, in fact, already aware of the delectable treat that is her books. But just in case you haven't, I'm here to clue you in. I first discovered her as part of Sarah Rees Brennan's summer reading recommendations and (because I trust her so) I just went ahead and picked up a copy of All I Ever Wanted along with The DUFF. I am so very glad I did. Because this was the perfect book to read on the heels of The DUFF. And I'll admit I've gone on a bit of a Kristan Higgins binge after finishing it. And I don't regret a moment of it. What a wonderful find! And such an eminently recommendable one at that. I seriously feel I could hand this one to anyone. It makes me a bit giddy--the possibilities of passing this one on. It really does.

Callie (short for Calliope--ha!) Grey's life is reaching critical mass. And not in a good way. About to turn thirty, she's in some serious unrequitable love with her boss Mark. They had that one weekend a few years ago, but that's all it was. He's moved on (though he insists on flirting with her shamelessly in the office), but Callie just . . . can't. At least she doesn't live in her family's funeral home anymore, though they are holding her birthday party there this year. In the Tranquility Room, to be precise. And at night, Callie goes home to her curmudgeonly old grandfather and her beloved dog Bowie. Enter Ian McFarland, the new veterinarian in town. Despite looking rather unnervingly like a Russian assassin, he fits the bill as eligible bachelor, and Callie decides he just might be perfect for helping her move on from Mark. Unfortunately, eligible bachelors are few and far between in tiny Georgebury, Vermont. Add to that the fact that Dr. McFarland is about as tense and forbidding as they come, and things go south pretty fast for poor, well-intentioned Callie.

Perfectly delightful--that's what All I Ever Wanted is. I was giggling within the first few pages, and I immediately liked Callie because she is unashamedly herself. She's bright and bubbly and, well, honestly she's not my typical favorite kind of heroine. But she is also overtly honest with her emotions, and she gives as good as she gets when those around her chide her for being overly emotional or slow to recover from her lifelong crush. Her interactions with her insane-with-a-capital-I family are hysterical. Her parents are estranged, and her mother waltzes around the funeral home she runs, followed by the uber-creepy Louis, who insists on hitting on to Callie every time he sees her, heaping on the funereally sensual overtones with gag-inducing results. But it's her halting relationship with Ian that takes the cake for me. Whenever they're in the same room together, he spends most of the time being quietly appalled. Usually at Callie's constant effervescence, her ginormous hound, or some combination of the two. Callie, on the other hand, does her best to lure him out of his fortress of solitude by offering to do some PR for his new practice. These two together are just stellar. As Sarah Rees Brennan said, "I love people who are staggering around being staggeringly crazy in love." Just so. Callie and Ian's catastrophically awesome combination of sparkles and prickles filled me with joy. If you haven't had a chance yet, I do hope you'll give this one a shot. And believe you me, you'll be hearing more from me about Kristan Higgins in the very near future.


Linkage
The Allure of Books Review
Alpha Heroes Review
The Book Pushers Review
Dear Author Review
Lusty Reader Review
Luxury Reading Review
Monkey Bear Review
My Overstuffed Bookshelf Review
S. Krishna's Books Review

August 9, 2011

Bet Me Reissue

How much do I love this new trade paperback reissue of Bet Me
So. Very. Much.

August 5, 2011

Retro Friday Review: Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

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.
It's been around five years since I first ran across Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman. And, honestly, when I think about it, I'm fairly certain I got this recommendation from Stephenie Meyer's website way back in the day. I believe she had it on her list of recommended reads and I picked it up based on that and the fact that it had a Jane Austen angle. It seems like there are so many of those these days, but at the time I hadn't read many. I'm very glad I did pick it up, as this is a perfectly delightful, perfectly quick read that entertains and leaves a grin on your face. I still don't see it around very much, but I'm happy to see Ms. Shulman has a new book that came out last year. Definitely need to go check that one out since I read this one in a single sitting. As far as the covers go, what do you think? I'm always interested to see where they go when they change it between hardback and paperback releases. I think it's interesting the slight shift they took on the paperback, lightening the background and adding the Austen figures to highlight that aspect of the story. Probably a good idea, but I do find myself sort of preferring the bright, simple colorblock of the hardback. 


This sweet, smart little novel follows 15-year-old Julia Lefkowitz who loves Jane Austen. Enter her best friend Ashleigh the Enthusiast. 
"There is little more likely to exasperate a person of sense than finding herself tied by affection and habit to an Enthusiast."
Ashleigh moves from one obsession to another like they're going out of style. But she always, always devotes her whole self, heart and soul, to whatever the obsession of the day is. And most recently, rather unexpectedly, Ashleigh has decided to follow her less enthusiastic friend Julie's lead and adopt Austen as her latest obsession. Specifically Pride and Prejudice. In short order, she's talking like Elizabeth Bennet, dressing like Elizabeth Bennet, and dragging poor Julia off to crash an all boys school cotillion in search of a Darcy and a Bingley apiece. Suitable young men are found (naturally), the charming Ned and Parr, but which one is which and just who is actually in love with who? 


Delightful and quirky, full of sly Austen references, and even a play within a play, Enthusiasm is easy to fall for. In fact, I stayed up late in the closet reading this one after a particularly long and trying day. This was back when I lived in a room with a walk-in closet. Don't you love those for reading in late at night, or is that just me? I remember I had one as well when I was around 14 years old and, let me tell you, I spent many a night cozied up in that space, surrounded by hemlines, shoes, and a good book. In this case, I really liked these two girls. The reserved one and the vivacious one, together they are the real deal when it comes to being friends. So much so that when misunderstandings arise, they stick it out, even if it means (as it does here) one of them swallowing a rather hefty helping of disappointment for much of the book. But I loved their friendship and I loved the swoony romance that develops between Julie and one of the young lads (not telling which one). Complete with first kisses, climbing in and out of windows, and sonnets pinned to trees. Be still my heart. Genuine and sweet, Enthusiasm has stayed on my shelf over the years, for whenever I need a little modern-day Austen in my life. 


Linkage
The Hiding Spot Review
Janicu's Book Blog Review
Tempting Persephone Review


Retro Friday Roundup
Good Books & Good Wine reviews The Wild Orchid by Cameron Dokey
One Librarian's Book Reviews reviews These is My Words by Nancy E. Turner
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August 1, 2011

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

The DUFF was one of the buzzingest books around when I was at BEA last year. I sat and listened to Kody Keplinger on a panel of YA authors and was impressed, yet somehow I didn't manage to pick up a copy while I was there. I kicked myself at first and then sort of forgot about it, subconsciously relegating the book to the realms of every other contemporary YA I may never get around to reading. Add that to the fact that the cover wasn't doing much for me and that was that. Until a couple of weeks ago when Janice reviewed Keplinger's upcoming second novel Shut Out, and I thought--wait, didn't Janice say The DUFF was one of her very favorite reads from last year? She did! So what am I waiting for then? And off to my local Borders I went, quickly before it closes its doors for good. *sob* And boy am I glad I did. Because this one was worth the wait and is going on the best of list for sure, you guys.

Bianca Piper is stuck again. Disinclined to shake her groove thing out on the dance floor with her two best friends, Casey and Jessica, she finds herself holding down a bar stool at their favorite hangout on a near nightly basis. And while her outgoing and popular friends dance the night away, Bianca chats up the 40-something bartender and slurps down another in a long series of cherry cokes. Then Wesley Rush approaches and, amid an oozing amount of charm and predatory good looks, informs Bianca that she is, in fact, the DUFF. The Designated Ugly Fat Friend. She's the female equivalent of the wingman. There to provide a venue in which interested males can prove their good hearts to her better-looking and eligible friends. The insult is monumental and Bianca's response is appropriately vitriolic. But little does she know she hasn't seen the last of young master Rush. Because things at home are beginning to fall apart for Bianca. And when she finds herself desperately searching for distraction, Wesley's taunting face is suddenly right there in front of her. But while he may be game for being used, and he is indeed shaping up to be the perfect distraction from her disintegrating home life, their mutual loathing is bound to get in the way of anything . . . real.

I get the sense people go violently one way or the other with this book (see linked reviews below). Some of my very favorite reviewers are divided over it. Which is always intriguing and pretty much guaranteed I couldn't pass it up. Bianca isn't for the faint of heart. She's smart, mouthy, and almost paralyzingly angry. All reasons why you will either love her or hate her. I loved her with a capital L. But I can see why she could rub you wrong in such a way that it ended up a deal breaker. I loved her because she was smart. And while she leaped headfirst into some pretty monumental mistakes, she was completely aware she was doing it the entire time. That meant I had to stick it out to see why! And to find out if she ever got her head above water. Then there was Wesley. And the thing is, he was smart, too. And a self-admitted "man-whore," as Bianca repeatedly reminded herself and us and anyone around who would listen. Which made him . . . different. And compelling to me. And these two people--one prickly as hell, one the ultimate schmoozer--end up drawn to each other. And, yes, there is a large quantity of invective. And, yes, there are serious amounts of questionable motives. And, yes, there are moments when you're not sure you like either of them. But there are more moments when your heart breaks for them. When you love them. When their need calls out to you. At least it did to me. I couldn't put it down. There were true friends, a few perfect lines, and I freaking loved the ending. I cannot wait to get my hands on Shut Out. Well played, Kody Keplinger. I will definitely be back for more.


Linkage
Book Lungs Review
Chasing Words Review
The Crooked Shelf Review
Good Books & Good Wine Review
The Hiding Spot Review
Janicu's Book Blog Review
Letters Inside Out Review
Persnickety Snark Review
Steph Su Reads Review