December 31, 2011

Best of 2011

It's New Year's Eve, and I've managed to compile my best of 2011 list. I've come to realize I don't really believe in top tens. They're so limiting. When have I ever been able to fit anything I love into an even ten? So here are my top 14 favorite books of the year.

Best of 2011
(in order of publication)

FYI, that's 3 urban fantasies, 4 contemporaries, 2 historicals, 1 fantasy, 1 mystery, 1 magical realism, 1 post-apocalyptic, and 1 scifi.

Best New Discovery of 2011
Sarra Manning
I took Sabrina of About Happy Books' word for it and ordered both Unsticky and You Don't Have to Say You Love Me on a whim. I waited impatiently for them arrive from across the pond, and I literally did not resurface for days after. And now? Now I will read anything she writes. Just . . . anything.

Biggest Character Crush of 2011
Alan Ryves

So maybe he was my crush from last year. So what?

Biggest Author Crush
Sarah Rees Brennan
I can't tell you how many laughs I've had this year because of this woman. She is active on all my favorite social media sites, and she could write cereal box copy that would have me in stitches. Not only does she write books and characters that fill me with the feelings, but she is also the dispenser of wicked good book recommendations. What more can a devoted reader ask?

Best Books I Read in 2011, Which Were Published a Different Year

Bachelor Boys by Kate Saunders

Happy New Year!

December 30, 2011

Retro Friday Review: Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here @ 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!
Do we have time for one last Retro Friday review for the year? I figured it ought to be a good one. And since I reviewed Daughter of the Forest a few weeks back, it seemed only right to close the year out with the sequel. Just another one of those perfect books I read before I started reviewing books and then sort of shied away from reviewing because it's well nigh impossible to do justice to a book you have all the feelings for, you know? It also happens that this is not only one of my very favorite books of all time but one of my favorite winter reads, as the night of Midwinter's Eve plays rather a large role in the story. Son of the Shadows is one of those unexpected wonders and another example of how to absolutely kill it with a sequel. If you asked me if it was possible for Juliet Marillier to write a sequel as good as the first book, I would have immediately laughed out loud and uttered a resounding no. I truly didn't believe it was possible to follow Daughter of the Forest with anything that would even remotely measure up. Well, I was never happier in my life to eat my words. Because Son of the Shadows blew me out of the water. I finished it ready to say that it was not only as good as but better than its predecessor. I'm pretty sure I still think it is. It's hard because they're both stunning, and while Liadan is different from her mother Sorcha in many ways, she shares the strength and determination and goodness that made me fall in love with her mother. I love them both unreservedly, as I do both of these dear, dear books. If you haven't read this one, perhaps this winter is the perfect time to sink back into the world and family of Sevenwaters once more. 
My mother knew every tale that was ever told by the firesides of Erin, and more besides. Folks stood hushed around the hearth to hear her tell them after a long day's work, and marveled at the bright tapestries she wove with her words. She related the many adventures of Cu Chulainn the hero, and she told of Fionn mac Cumhaill, who was a great warrior and cunning with it. In some households, such tales were reserved for men alone. But not in ours, for my mother made a magic with her words that drew all under its spell. She told tales that had the household in stitches with laughter, and tales that made strong men grow quiet. But there was one tale she would never tell, and that was her own. 
Liadan has grown up surrounded by the love of her family and the peace and safety of the forest of Sevenwaters. The younger daughter of the beloved Sorcha--the young woman who sacrificed everything for her brothers and won them back from the clutches of the powerful sorceress Lady Oonagh--Liadan has tried to emulate her mother in every way. A talented healer, she spends her days making salves and medicines and taking care of the people of the keep. She is also a twin, an unexpected third child to her parents. And because she was unforeseen, her mother feels certain Liadan's path will be her own, that she is outside the pattern, and that her choices may have the power to change things for good or for ill. But Liadan has no idea just how outside the pattern her path will take her, until she is abducted on the road while on a journey to visit her sister. Taken by the band of the Painted Man, she is forced to offer her services as a healer or pay the price of failure with her life. From the tales whispered around firesides at home, Liadan knows the kind of ruthless killer the Painted Man is. And so she is determined to use her skills to save the man in question, and then return home to her family as soon as is humanly possible. But just as the Fair Folk took an interest in her mother's fate, an even deeper magic is at work in Liadan's. And though the outlook is bleak, and the people around her may not be entirely what they seem, the light of hope still burns as does Liadan's formidable will to survive.

To say that Son of the Shadows holds a special place in my heart is a bit of an understatement. Okay, it's a massive, massive understatement. I love it when an author shows you just how much she has in her arsenal by exceeding every expectation you had and then some. Where Daughter of the Forest was a retelling of a fairy tale, this one is all her own, and the places she takes it are incredible. I think about these characters on a regular basis, they've become so much a part of my consciousness. I fell in love with Liadan first, because she refused to give up on on those she loved. When she was backed into a corner, she pushed back with everything she had. Like her uncle Finbar, she wants more than the rules of her world will allow. And when she comes up against those constraints, she devises ways of holding onto those she has called hers. There is much of darkness in this book. Each character is forced to deal with the pain of their past and the shortcomings of their present. Some of them succumb to their faults and some rise above. But what I love best of all is the ways in which they reach out to each other, across the barriers of time, gender, race, and space. Across even the margins between this world and the next. As with its predecessor, the love story is second to none. I think I fell even harder for these two for how hard they had to work to keep their happiness. Amid the harshness and the violence surrounding them, their bond was doubly precious for its ability to outlast adversity and to mend that which is broken. Here is one of the passages closest to my heart. It comes early on and it just encapsulates Liadan (and the lovely writing):
I sat there and made my breathing slow and calm, and told myself what I had told others many a time: Breathe, Liadan, the pain will pass. The night was very quiet; the darkness a living thing, creeping in around the two of us. I felt how tight strung his body was; I sensed his terror, and how he fought to conquer it. I could not hope to touch his mind, nor did I wish to see more of the dark images it held. But I could still speak, and it seemed to me words were the only tool I had for keeping out the dark.

"Dawn will come," I told him quietly. "The night can be very dark, but I'll stay with you until the sun rises. These shadows cannot touch you while I am here. Soon we'll see the first hint of gray in the sky, the color of a pigeon's coat, then the smallest touch of the sun's finger, and one bird will be bold enough to wake first and sing of tall trees and open skies and freedom. Then all will brighten and color will wash across the earth, and it will be a new day. I will stay with you until then."
The color of a pigeon's coat. One bird brave enough to sing of tall trees and open skies and freedom. That is Liadan. That is the power of her hope and her incomparable will. In this beautiful book of light and shadow, of choosing who you will be and protecting those you love, hers is the light that shines the brightest. You could do far worse than give your heart to her and to her story. It will be safe in her hands. 

See Michelle Read review

December 22, 2011

Anna's Beauty, Or Reason #265 Why My Niece is Awesome

Last night we went up to my sister-in-law's house to meet our newest niece. And in between oohing and ahhing over her indisputable adorableness, I got to take a peek at my oldest niece's bookshelves. Anna's twelve and a reader. The real deal. And I'll admit that I got a little thrill when I saw that she owns not one but two copies of Robin McKinley's BeautyI had to take a pic of the one edition, because I've never actually seen a copy in real life, and, because, really, it's too spectacularly 80s for words:
I feel compelled to point out how appalled this particular Beauty would be at this representation of herself. But otherwise? Yup. Too spectacularly 80s for words.

The Hobbit Trailer

Watching and rewatching this is making me incredibly happy. Especially the part where Richard Armitage sings. *quietly fangirls*

December 15, 2011

Untying the Knot by Linda Gillard

I love this cover. It has all kinds of interpretations once you've read the book, and I've enjoyed contemplating all of them after the fact. Linda Gillard's novels have become comfort reads for me when I'm looking for quietly moving stories with a hefty amount of substance to match the touching moments. I would not categorize any of them as "cozy" reads. There's far too much pain and history in them for that. Rather they are meaningful and full of thoughtful explorations and characters whose feet are a bit more rooted to the ground than you sometimes find in similar novels of a lighter nature. Having read and loved Ms. Gillard's first self-published novel House of Silence, I was nothing but excited when I heard she had another coming out just a few short months later. On an only slightly related note, do you ever bemoan the fact that you've never had the chance to run hell bent for leather through a field in a wedding dress? It just never occurred to me on my actual wedding day, and now I'll never know if it's as headlong and romantic as it looks on covers such as this one. Alas.

Fay left her husband. But then he left her first. And so sometime around about the hour of his greatest need, Fay checked out. Unfortunately for the two of them, it turned out to be the hour of her greatest need as well. They neither of them were up for supporting the other through their particular trials. Not anymore at least. And after more than a decade of marriage as an army wife, Fay can barely hold herself together, let alone her husband Magnus who suffers from severe PTSD after being invalided out of his career in bomb disposal. And so she calls it quits, saying farewell to the guilt, the bewilderment, the talking her husband off a ledge on a regular basis. And she moves into their apartment in Glasgow and starts a career as a textile artist. Their daughter Emily chooses to stay with Magnus in the crumbling tower he purchased with the lofty intention of restoring it to its former glory. And life goes on. Then several years later, Magnus attends one of Fay's exhibits and the whole messy business rears its ugly head. Emily is getting married. So the estranged couple is forced to act polite and attend the requisite functions. Despite her reservations about Emily's choice, Fay believes she's up to the task of playing mother-of-the-bride. What she may not be up to is the task of watching Magnus get married, too. But then Magnus may not be either . . .

Linda Gillard's books always make me feel. They make me feel more than I expect to and in very different ways than I think I will. In short, they're more than meets the eye in the very best kind of way, and they surprise you even when you think you have a handle on the author's style. I absolutely loved where Untying the Knot began. Two people in a room with such back story between them it fills the air with so much regret and uncertainty you could choke on it. Then it goes and unfolds so very slowly that you're half in love with Fay and Magnus before you even realize just how exactly and in what particular order the components of their marriage came apart at the seams. But by that time you love them, and you're not willing to condemn either party for what happened. Not until you find out the cold, hard facts. And, of course, even as you're waiting, you hope against hope they'll be able to reconcile, that they'll wake up and realize they're still in love with each other and can somehow live together again. It's a tall order, all those feelings. And Ms. Gillard admirably resists the easy path. And the cold, hard facts. Because though the ancient stones of Tullibardine Tower are both cold and hard, what lies between Fay and her ex-husband is not. It fairly seethes with life, messy and unfinished. The road to redemption is painful at best, and I felt a bit wrung out by the final pages, almost wishing it had resolved a bit sooner. The ending felt just a bit off. Both slightly overdone and anticlimactic at the same time, as if it were trying to atone for making its appearance so late in the game. This may just be my own lack of stamina, because it was the only complaint I had of a novel filled with beautifully thorny relationships, true love, not a little bit of hysterical humor, and that lovely writing I've grown so fond of from Linda. The truth is I will read anything she writes, and that's all there is to it.

Book Harbinger review
The Book Jotter review
I Prefer Reading review
Views from the Countryside review

December 12, 2011

Cinder Audiobook Giveaway Winner!

And the winner is . . . Sarah (Escaping Through Books)!

Congratulations! Sarah's favorite fairy tale has always been Sleeping Beauty. That was definitely a favorite of those who entered the giveaway, including a shout-out for Spindle's End--my favorite version of it. More favorites included Cinderella (appropriately), The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid. And one mention of The Seven Swans--a personal favorite of mine. So if you could send me your contact info, Sarah, we'll be happy to get your package on its way. Thanks to Macmillan Audio for hosting the giveaway and to all of you for stopping in and sharing your favorites!

Christmas Couples Countdown

Today you can find me over at Not Enough Bookshelves guest posting on my favorite couple from 2011. I know! How did I narrow it down? It was agonizing. But I think I landed on the two that really set my pulse permanently racing this year. If you've got a minute, be sure to drop in and see who it was. This is the third year running Alexa has hosted her Christmas Couples Countdown and it's always a blast, especially as we usually have several favorite duos in common. Happy holiday reading, everyone!

December 2, 2011

Cinder Audiobook Giveaway!

I'm pleased to host a giveaway today of the audiobook of Cinder by Marissa Meyer. This cyberpunk/scifi retelling of Cinderella has a lot going for it (you can read my review here). The book and audiobook are due out January 1st. But Macmillan Audio is letting us in on a sneak peek of the audio version below. If you like what you hear, please leave a comment with your favorite fairy tale and your contact information, and you'll be entered to win the audiobook! This giveaway is open to U.S. addresses only and will end at midnight on December 9th. 

December 1, 2011


Today you can find me over at The Book Smugglers kicking off their annual Smugglivus celebrations! The usual awards will be given out. Think you can guess who I picked for Best Declaration? Villain? Ridiculously Charming Hero? Be sure to stop on by to see who and say hi!