November 29, 2011

Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins

It's taken me forever to get around to reviewing this one, and I feel bad about that, because I don't want that lag time to be a reflection of my reaction to it. At all. This is actually the second Kristan Higgins book I read immediately after inhaling All I Ever Wanted a few months back. It's also her newest publication, and I was interested to see if I liked her new stuff as well. You know how sometimes you really connect with an author's work from a certain "period," if you will? And then some of their other works don't quite do it for you? I really hoped this wouldn't be the case with Higgins. Given how blissfully I fell into my first of her books, I had all sorts of appendages crossed for more of the same. I knew she had a huge fan following, but I also knew that (much like Jennifer Crusie or Julie James) people seem to really have their favorites and the ones they just didn't like much at all. Case in point, I thought All I Ever Wanted was the freaking bee's knees, but not everyone feels the same. Which is just dandy. I'm glad of it, in fact, as I'm always drawn to authors where that is the case. Which camp will I fall in? Which bench will I plop down on and feel at home? The anticipation is excellent.

Posey (short for Cordelia--sort of) Osterhagen has asserted control over her life. At thirty-four years old she's no longer living with her adoptive parents, working in their German restaurant, invisible to one and all. She owns and runs a salvage company. She's even got a handful of employees of her own. And she's moved out of her folks' house and into a converted church bell tower. It's drafty. And the enormous old bell may crash down and kill her at any given moment. But it's home. It's hers. And life is looking pretty good for Posey. Until Liam Murphy moves back into town. When she was 16 years old, Posey had the mother of all crushes on the bad boy biker from the wrong side of town. No one knew, of course. And Posey herself didn't realize until now that she never quite got over Liam when he left Bellsford, New Hampshire for college in California. Of course, he didn't go alone. And he hasn't returned alone, either. His wife (and hometown girl) Emma Tate passed away in the intervening years, and Liam has brought their 15-year-old daughter Nicole home to Bellsford, where he's set up a custom motorcycle shop. And, unwittingly, sent one Posey Osterhagen's well-ordered life into a tailspin. As you can imagine, mayhem, snark, and sizzle ensues. Not necessarily in that order.

Posey is my favorite Higgins heroine, and that's all there is to it. Not only is she the most complex, in my opinion, she also exhibits the largest growth as a character. Also in her favor--she never bored me or drove me crazy with her inability to call a spade a spade. I always sympathized with her plight, and I admired her drive to stand up for herself and be stronger than she used to be, no matter how many times her past rose up and tried to squeeze the life out of her. She did this, over and over, throughout the course of the book and in the face of parents and various and sundry town denizens who seemed hell bent on refusing to recognize her as an adult. Also in the face of Liam Murphy's considerable charisma. All in all, no mean feat. When she succumbed to her weaknesses, I understood why. When she called Liam out on his arrogance and assumptions, I applauded. Kristan Higgins is able to infuse her ostensibly quite light stories with an incredible amount of warmth and heart. I just buy the connections between her characters because they're laid out clothed in so much genuine emotion. In this case, I was particularly enamored of Liam's struggle with his overwhelming guilt, fear, and love for his daughter. His insecurities as a single father with a checkered past rang true for me and pleasantly balanced out what vestiges of his cocky teenage self remained. I also felt my heart thump in my chest for Posey and her struggle being so different from her adopted family as well as her sensitivity to Liam and Nicole's fragile little family. The emphasis on being seen for who you really are, despite the name you're given, the shape you hold, or the nature of your roots was decidedly a highlight. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, you guys. Gobbled it up, in fact. Until There Was You is right up there with All I Ever Wanted for my favorite. It's sweet, funny as hell, and everything I've come to expect from Kristan Higgins.

Linkage
The Allure of Books Review
Book Binge review
Book Harbinger Review
The Book Pushers review
A Girl, Books and Other Things Review
Lauren's Crammed Bookshelf review
thelibrarianreads review
My Guilty Obsession Review
S. Krishna's Books Review
Smexy Books review

November 22, 2011

Watery Pretties


I feel a bit like I'm drowning looking at these three watery covers. But I'm kind of drawn to them as well. I love the font on New Girl and the other two are creepy and grand in their own way. I've never read anything by any of these authors. All three due are out in the first half of next year, and I'm interested to find out more.


When the Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellison
Eerie cover, no? And the contents sound fairly grim as well, but in a most intriguing way. Arranged marriages, fake deaths, vampires, magic from the ocean, and washing dishes in the slums. As Abed would say, "Cool. Cool, cool, cool, cool."
Due out February 28th.

New Girl by Paige Harbison
This one caught my eye because it's a contemporary retelling of Rebecca. I know! The mind boggles at the possibilities. Set at the prestigious Manderley Academy (lol) where the "new girl" is trying to fit in in a world where the name Becca Normandy is on everybody's lips. Awesome.
Due out January 31st.

Of Poseidon by Anna Banks
Emma is on vacation in Florida when a dangerous encounter with a shark results in the opening up of an entirely unknown world. An ocean kingdom and a prince in need of saving are suddenly at the forefront of Emma's mind. That and her hitherto unknown ability to communicate with fish. Count me in.
Due out May 22nd.

November 21, 2011

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

This cover. This cover is in the running for my favorite cover of the coming year! I love it that much. And I love the title. And, even more than both of those put together, I love the premise of a sci-fi/cyberpunk retelling of Cinderella with a cyborg as the main character. You should have seen my face when I first found out about Cinder. It's like Marissa Meyer asked me for my list of all that is good and then slapped them together into this book. Add to that the fact that it's the first in a quartet (oh, how I love quartets, see this one, and this one, oh, and this one over here), and the name of the series is the Lunar Chronicles. I don't know . . . it kind of seemed like this book and I were a match made in heaven. I've been reading sci-fi for as long as I can remember, and I feel like we don't get enough of it these days in young adult fiction. So I would have been on board for that aspect of the book alone. But a sci-fi/fairy tale mashup? Fuggedabout it. And so it was with much relief that I started it and found out it was legitimate on both counts.

Linh Cinder is a mechanic and a cyborg. Orphaned as a child in a terrible accident, her life was saved when doctors intervened, replacing her missing hand and foot with metal ones. Now she works long hours in her stall at the market in New Beijing, and she goes home to a loveless household headed by her evil stepmother. There's certainly no love lost between these two. But while her older stepsister Pearl takes after her mother in every respect, her younger stepsister Peony is as innocent and sweet as Pearl and her stepmother Adri are cynical and conniving. Unfortunately, Cinder also has the question of class working against her. Cyborgs are second-class citizens in every way. Looked down on, and often outright loathed, by the people of New Beijing, cyborgs are the first to be offered up for medical testing and the last to be invited to social events such as, oh, say--a ball. Incredibly, our girl Cinder is headed for both, though she has no idea yet. Then one day the emperor's son Prince Kai shows up at her stall with an android in need of repair. The emperor himself is dying of the deadly plague letumosis, which has been decimating the population for the past decade. And before she knows it, Cinder is caught up in  both the fight against the disease and an unlikely friendship with a young man who has his own set of problems.

Cinder is quite a serious book, both in the sense that it takes itself seriously and that it deals with serious issues, such as death, disease, class conflict, and war. I think I was expecting something lighter, but the whole taking-itself-seriously and the fascinating world building quickly set me at ease. I loved the attention to detail with which Ms. Meyer depicted the grimness of Cinder's life and her world. She's a mechanic and an outcast. She wears castoff coveralls and a worn-out work belt in place of the flouncy dresses and jewels other girls her age are flaunting. And her outlook matches her clothes. Cinder is a realist, and that is my favorite thing about her. She knows the way things work. And mechanics with steel appendages do not make good with emperors' sons. No matter how charming they may be. As a result, there is very little of the lovelorn teenager about this girl. As much as she slowly allows herself to enjoy the prince's company, not once does she fool herself into forgetting the horror that would blossom on his face were he to discover what she is. Instead, she reserves the majority of her emotional energy for fixing up an old car she finds in the junkyard, harboring the long-shot hope that it just might serve as an escape vehicle when the time comes that she can no longer stand her abysmal home life. Then when the plague strikes close by, Cinder taps already flagging reserves of strength to help and support the ones who are stricken. She's tough and pragmatic. We like Cinder, yes we do. Then there's Kai. Prince Kaito. What you need to know about Kai is he's . . . very cute actually. Determined to do right by his own obligations, he won me over as he did Cinder for being more than he seemed. At the same time, this is the aspect of the novel that needed more development, in my humble opinion. I liked that the story took its time, but with all that time, there wasn't actually much of it devoted to these two developing their relationship. What was there was good. I just needed a little more. Perhaps a better way of putting it would be, I wish that the relationships between characters had benefited from the skill applied to the world building and the awesomely creeptastic villain. There's quite a buildup by the end (the end is possibly the best part). But just when things finally get going, it ends. On one big, fat doozy of a cliffhanger. Which is fine. I'm not opposed to cliffhangers, per se. But I did expect just a hint more in the way of resolution depth for such a slow cycling climax. I was left wanting. My needs aside, I thought the characters deserved to have it out. I realize there are three more books in the series, and there is clearly more to come. I just could have done with a little more emotional payoff to keep me believing, if you will. That said, I loved each of Marissa Meyer's clever sci-fi tips of the hat to the elements of the original fairy tale. Word is the next books will incorporate more fairy tales, including Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, and Snow White. Color me intrigued (and hopeful) for more development in future installments.

Cinder is due out January 3rd.

Linkage
Bibliopunkk Review
The Book Lantern Review
Fluidity of Time Review
Karin's Book Nook Review
Nice Girls Read Books Review

November 18, 2011

Retro Friday Review: A Woman of the People by Benjamin Capps

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.
I first read A Woman of the People for an assignment in my 7th grade English class in San Antonio as part of our Texas literature unit. I loved it then. I really did. And I wasn't expecting to. I had recently moved to the Lone Star state from the island of Sicily and things were . . . a little different. Which is a really understated way of saying I was hopelessly unequal to the task of handling the differences between living in Italy and living in Texas. On top of that it was 7th grade, and 7th grade, as you know, is hell. I wasn't comfortable in my own skin. I wasn't comfortable back in the states. And I certainly wasn't comfortable at the middle school with its walls that felt as though they were closing in on me a little closer and a little tighter every day. So a book set on the Texas frontier didn't exactly have my engines racing, you know? Fortunately, I started it anyway. And that was all it took. Just starting it. I've re-read it a couple of times over the years since. For awhile there at work, I was conducting quite a bit of research on the history of Native American tribes and their interactions with early settlers. That research reminded me of this book and I discovered my old copy had gone walkabout. But I couldn't shake the urge to pick it up again, so I managed to find a copy to reread. It was as wonderful and heartbreaking as I remember it being. I feel like I say this more than I'd like, but I don't think I've talked to a single soul (outside of that 7th grade class) who's read this book and that's a shame. It deserves a wider readership than a handful of reluctant 7th graders.

Helen Morrison is nine years old and her little sister Katy is five. Living with their parents and their older brother George near the Brazos River on the Texas frontier, Helen and Katy's lives are practical but airy. They play and work and dream, and when Helen can't sleep at night she keeps herself up with stories of the scariest thing she can imagine--the Comanches. But while she believes they're real (even though she's never seen one), her young mind cannot really conceive of the terrible warriors her Aunt Melinda whispers of so threateningly. Then one fall day the Comanches come. The tribesmen destroy the Morrison homestead, killing the parents and older brother and carrying the two young girls off captive. In shock, angry, and determined to escape and return back home, Helen puts all her energy into taking care of Katy and not giving an inch to the people who have shattered her life. She soon becomes known among the tribe as Tehanita, or Little Girl Texan, and over the course of the next fourteen years she slowly (almost unbeknownst to herself) becomes assimilated into the Comanche tribe, finding family, companionship, and love among the people she once feared and distrusted.

I love Helen's story. I think my 12-year-old self, struggling to bridge two different cultures, found a lot to resonate with in her anger, fear, and uncertainty. I had read several traditional captivity tales around that time (Calico Captive comes to mind), and this one held the allure of being based on a true story. Interestingly, re-reading it as an adult, I relate to the story just as well as I did then, albeit this time more along the lines of the pain associated with actually being a grown up, leaving the world of childhood and home behind, and the wonder and joy of finding family where you didn't expect to and people who take you in and love you when they don't have to. I especially appreciated the emphasis on transformation and the many different roles we fill over the course of our lives, whether we go in willingly or not. Helen goes from scared young girl to Tehanita to a woman of the people, but her final role as Story Teller for her people may be my favorite. And I will always love the ways in which she is loved and taught by her adopted family Lance Returner and Come Home Early, Old Woman and Blessed. And of course by one unusual young man who falls in love with the outsider and the grand gesture he makes. I was and remain enchanted by the beautiful chapter titles: Mountains That Wander Away, The Winter of Living in Graves, and West Toward the Setting Sun. Strong and bittersweet, A Woman of the People is a beautiful narrative and one that should not be forgotten.

Retro Friday Roundup
Good Books and Good Wine reviews Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
One Librarian's Book Reviews reviews Alanna: the First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

November 11, 2011

Retro Friday Review: Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell

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.
I ran across Carpe Diem around four years ago in the Feiwel & Friends catalog. They had the excellent good sense to reprint the wonderful President's Daughter series by Ellen Emerson White, and I wondered what other YA titles they had on the docket at the time. My eye was drawn to this cover right off the bat, and I still think it's just perfect for the book. I love the slightly faded parchment look of it. With the silhouette and the hair and the style it could be anything really. In this case, it's a contemporary novel about a girl who goes on the trip of a lifetime and who's priorities are rearranged a bit as a result. I never hear very much about the book around the blogosphere and I wonder if it just sort of flitted and floated its way by or if others picked it up for its pretty outsides and enjoyed the insides as much as I did. I haven't seen anything else from Autumn Cornwell after this debut, but I would certainly be interested in more from her.
 

Vassar Spore's parents just went ahead and named their only daughter after one of the most prestigious women's colleges in the country. Unsurprisingly, she grows up a goal-oriented perfectionist intent on winning a Pulitzer Prize and marrying an MIT grad. Yawn. In steps Vassar's bohemian grandma who demands she spend the summer with her backpacking across Southeast Asia. Blackmailed to within an inch of their lives, Vassar's parents give in and off she goes to a region of the world she never thought she'd see. And it's all bugs and dirt and complications from there on out. She encounters a myriad of people and pests from different walks of life and vastly different outlooks from her own. And the girl who thought she was so open-minded and so adaptable discovers she has just a few more things to learn about life before she heads off to college to save the world.
 

Okay. So I think we can all agree that this plot line could have easily slipped into the predictable too-serious-girl finds there's more to life than book learning . . . but somehow it just . . . doesn't. I kept waiting to succumb to that familiar jaded feeling and it never came. And even though I did predict one key surprise correctly, Cornwell absolutely won me over with her genuine love for her character and the region of the world she was exploring. You could tell the author had traveled herself (and loved it) as there's just that certain kind of wanderlust and experience with being immersed in something wholly other that's difficult to manufacture. It was here in spades and I was suffused with memories of living abroad growing up and studying abroad later in college. Precious memories, every one. This wonderful sense of adventure lent the story a freshness I wholly enjoyed. Vassar's voice is a strong one, one that changes and grows over time, which I always appreciate. Lastly, if none of this has induced you to read the book, all I have to say is you might want to meet the handsome young man Vassar encounters on her sojourn. Because Hanks the Malaysian Cowboy Bodyguard alone is enough reason to read the book. "Hanks plural, not singular." Man, I love that cowboy.


Retro Friday Roundup
Chachic's Book Nook reviews The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope
A Girl, Books and Other Things reviews The Accidental Vampire by Lynsay Sands
Good Books and Good Wine reviews Esio Trot by Roald Dahl
A Jane of All Reads reviews Miss Suzy by Miriam Young

Linkage
bookshelves of doom review
Fields of Gold review
Over my Head review
The YA YA YAs review

November 9, 2011

Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen

Okay. I'm not saying that this blog is necessarily going to become a repository for all things Robin Hood. Not as such. But you are all familiar with my . . . what's the word . . . thing . . . for thieves. And Robin is perhaps the thief I've loved the longest. So it should come as no surprise when I say that I was filled with glee when I first heard about A. C. Gaughen's upcoming retelling--Scarlet. I liked the cover and, without running down too many spoilery details, I looked forward to the focus on Will Scarlet and the fact that it hailed from a debut author. All of these things add up to that most wonderful of things--possibility. I've reviewed both my favorite Robin Hood retellings for past Retro Friday reviews. And I've read quite a few more. They have all been interesting reads aimed at a variety of types and ages of readers. This particular one is being marketed YA, and I wondered idly, as I anticipated the book, what form my beloved characters would take in this incarnation.

Scarlet is a thief. And a liar. She's a thief and a liar and about twenty different kinds of deadly with her knives. And she's loyal to one person on this earth and one person only--Robin Hood. Also known as Robin of Locksley or (less commonly now) the Earl Huntingdon, Robin gave her a place and a hood to hide behind when Scarlet needed it the most, and now she forms an integral member of his band in Sherwood Forest. Standing up to the ruthless Sheriff of Nottingham, Robin, Scarlet, and the lads (Little John and Much) are determined to spare the good folk of Nottinghamshire from the sheriff's wrath for as long as it takes. Outside of her three comrades, few folk have any idea Scarlet is a girl. The boys refer to her as Will, and she has no intention of disobliging anyone of that particular notion. You see, Robin is not the only one with demons in his past. And when the sheriff goes and hires the dreaded Guy of Gisbourne to hunt down the Hood and his band, Scarlet knows her days may at last be numbered. It's only a matter of time before her past catches up with her, and then even Robin's protection may not be enough to keep her from the hangman's noose.

Scarlet is massively entertaining. I was caught up in this unusual thief's story from the first page. At the point in which we meet her, Scarlet herself is eighteen years old. The same age as John and just a couple or three years younger than Rob (I love that she calls him Rob). This age spread worked nicely as Robin is home from the crusades--an old man in a young man's body--and Scarlet herself is an old soul, having prowled the streets of London before Rob hauled her off to Sherwood to join his noble cause. These two broken youths find something akin to hope in each other despite the harshness of their previous lives, and I can't tell you how many times my heart contracted with sympathy for them. The characters in Scarlet like to keep their secrets. Every one of them is holding onto something they'd prefer not come out into the light of day. Nobody more than Scarlet herself, of course, but I appreciated the various histories and enjoyed the ways in which A. C. Gaughen incorporated the many traditional threads of the tale. I'm always a fan of girls in disguise, and this one has the bite to match her bark, if you will. She has few soft spots--possibly just the one--and that one is so rife with impossibility and unspoken hope that it hardly warrants the name. But I happily plunged into those impossible hopes with her and adopted them as my own. Which is to say, Scarlet had my affections from the get go. The boys I liked at first and grew to love (and sometimes hate) as the game unfolded. I like that Robin isn't portrayed perfectly. Don't get me wrong. He's a hero through and through. But he has his fair share of shortsightedness. And ghosts. And I wasn't always sure he deserved the ending I wanted for him. I also wished for a bit more complexity on the part of the villain. There was so much potential for Gisbourne in this retelling, and I felt as though he came off  a bit, well, ridiculous at times, when he should have been terrifying. But despite these smallish quibbles, I stayed up hours past my bedtime devouring the final chapters in this delightful debut. If you're at all a fan of Robin Hood and women who know their way around a weapon, you won't want to miss it.

Scarlet is due out February 14th.

November 3, 2011

For Darkness Shows the Stars Cover

It's covertastic around these parts lately! This time in a very good way. Here you have the absolutely gorgeous cover for Diana Peterfreund's upcoming novel For Darkness Shows the Stars. My excitement for this post-apocalyptic retelling of Persuasion (yes, you have my permission to swoon from the sheer awesome) has been building for some time now, and I am thrilled to finally see the actual cover. I love it. Love the sweep of the dress, the stars, the font, her hair. Love it all. Your thoughts?

For Darkness Shows the Stars is due out June 12th.

November 2, 2011

Coverfail, or How to Make Angie Cry

So I was prowling the shelves of my local bookstore, and I found myself (as I often do) trailing my fingers along the spines of Tamora Pierce's Alanna books. When what to my wondering eyes did appear but a new set of covers on my beloved old books. I pulled them out quickly, eager to see what kind of artwork they'd gone with this time. For the record, I own three different editions of this series: my original copies from way back when, the interesting mini-hardcovers they put out several years ago, and the somewhat more recent, fun black paperbacks Simon Pulse published. But I am nothing if not open to a possible fourth set.

These are the new covers of the first two and fourth books:

Not too bad, right? A little generic. I mean, the halo thing is all right, and she has a kind of Peter Pan quality on the first one that is charming and will hopefully bring in some new young readers. So not too bad overall. Unfortunately, this is the cover of the third book:
Whaaa . . . ? I'm sorry. Have I unwittingly slipped into some alternate universe in which Bella Alanna loses her spine, dresses in flutter-sleeve tees, and dithers between two brooding alpha males? I understand we're trying to appeal to new readers here, but this is so misleading and reductionist that I don't know where to start. I couldn't get it out of my hands fast enough. This book (and series) is so not a paranormal romance. And that is most definitely not Jon or George on that cover. This is traditional fantasy, not some contemporary love triangle with a token sword thrown in for some flair. The whole thing makes me want to cry. If you haven't read these books before, don't be deterred and/or confused by the new packaging. They are so much more than these coverfails make them out to be.