January 25, 2012

Queen's Thief Week

Today I'm over at Ch-ch-ch-Chachic's place losing my crap over Eugenides and Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series in general. Chachic invited me to talk a little bit about how I've gone about convincing others to read this wonderful series, and I happily accepted. I mean, talking about talking about books? Count me in! Bibliovangelizing is one of my very favorite pastimes and these books have caused me to indulge in quite a lot of it. This is one spectacular event Chachic's organized and the posts so far have been top notch. Do drop in and say hi, won't you?

January 19, 2012

Bibliocrack Review: Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis

I'm pretty sure I ran across Jill Shalvis as part of a list of recommendations for people who enjoy Kristan Higgins books. As that would very much be me, I decided to investigate the matter. And you know what? The woman has written an absolute crap ton of books! Where to start, where to start? I finally settled on the first book in the Lucky Harbor series, Simply Irresistibleas a nice little point of entry. I was encouraged by the fact that the covers and titles for this series feel like they hail from the chick lit end of the romance spectrum, and I still feel like I'm getting my feet wet, so to speak, when it comes to those genres. Several people I trust on Goodreads seemed to be keen on it, which is always a plus and an excellent indicator of where I'll fall, so hello Lucky Harbor it was. Well, I made short work of the three books currently out in this series, and I'm happily awaiting the next three on the horizon. In retrospect, I think this series is definitely a good fit for Kristan Higgins  fans, if a bit higher up on the heat scale.

Maddie Moore is on the road to the small coastal town of Lucky Harbor, Washington and not at all sure how she feels about it. Recently sprung from both a relationship that was demolishing her and a job that was keeping her afloat, she is understandably torn over recent developments. Breaking it off with her "boyfriend" (I use the term with extreme disdain) was the hardest thing she's ever done. Leaving L.A. was a close second. But when the news came that she (along with her two half-sisters Tara and Chloe) had inherited a moldering old inn up in Lucky Harbor when their mother passed away, Maddie thought it just might be a sign. That her life had a new direction. That perhaps she might be able to reinvent herself after all. That is if she can convince her somewhat estranged sisters that they shouldn't sell the place on the spot, pocket their thirds, and head for the hills. Fortunately, she runs into a general contractor on her way into town who might be able to help with the major rehabilitation the inn will need in order to convince her sisters it's worth their time and money spending a little more of both in Lucky Harbor than they planned. Maybe even putting down some roots and see if they take.

Cute. Very cute is the way I'd describe Simply Irresistible. Maddie and I got on right off the bat. She forms the sensible, forthright center of the trio of sisters, and she made me feel grounded while I laughed and shook my head at Tara and Chloe's respective charisma and antics. I enjoyed mapping their widely disparate histories, as Maddie and Tara both grew up with their fathers, leaving Chloe the only daughter to actually spend any time at all with their wild and inconstant mother. Sandwiched in between her livelier, more colorful half-sisters, Maddie often gets overlooked and shunted to the side. But she is definitely the heart of the girls and the story. And I was pleased to see her push her way to the fore from time to time, carve out a little place for herself, and face up to her past. With the help of a little added purpose in the form of the inn and the admiring eye of Jax Cullen. Jax is a general contractor, among other things. He has his hand in a lot of Lucky Harbor pies, a past to match Maddie's for pain, and a good eye when it comes to character. Jax and I got on just fine. Here's one of the exchanges between Maddie and Jax that, well, it made me giggle:
"Sorry," he said. "Let me drop the belt--"

"No." She held on when he would have pulled away. "Dont. I like it."

Again, he lifted her face, and he smiled. "The tool belt turns you on."

"No." She closed her eyes and thunked her forehead to his chest. "Little bit."
So basically I waltzed my way through this introduction to Jill Shalvis and ended our first encounter with a heart as light as one of Tara's muffins.

For what it's worth, after reading (and enjoying) all three books, Simply Irresistible remains my favorite. I think that's because, while I really liked Tara and Chloe, Maddie and Jax remain the ones with the kind of gravitas that works for me. It's the one that I want to have on my shelf for those nights when something cozy is in order. For what it's worth.

Reading Order
Simply Irresistible
The Sweetest Thing
Head Over Heels

About Happy Books review
Book Binge review
Book Obsessed review
Ex Libris review
Fiction Vixen review
Gone with the Books review
Smexy Books review
Smokin' Hot Books review

January 10, 2012

Icy Pretties

The good news is these are all due out in the spring. So, not really that far away at all. The bad news is one of them is only coming out in Australia. When, oh when, will the American publishers tune in to the awesome that is Kirsty Eagar? I refer you to my review of Raw Blue. All three look interesting to me, and I'll be searching them out come springtime for sure.

Night Beach by Kirsty Eagar
After falling hard and fast for Raw Blue, I am quivering with anticipation over this upcoming release. As with its predecessor, this one looks like it involves surfing and a girl finding solace in the sea. Unlike its predecessor, it also has Gothic mystery elements. Uh-huh. Where do I sign?
Due out (in Australia) April 26th.

The Selection by Kiera Cass
Another pretty dress, I know. Apparently I am still prey to the allure of the ruffles and the endless reflections. Ah, well. You can only grow up so fast. This is a dystopian. And though it does sound a bit like Princess Academy meets The Bachelor, I'm intrigued by the caste system and the selected living in a palace under rebel assault.
Due out April 24th.

Pure by Julianna Baggott
This one is popping up under post-apocalyptic, steampunk, and young adult labels alike. It's also garnering rave reviews from the likes of Richard Russo and Justin Cronin. Featuring mechanical butterflies and a society of the damaged versus the pure, I'm cautiously optimistic.
Due out February 8th.

January 9, 2012

Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie

In the mood for a cozy, post-holiday read? I suggest you give Maybe This Time a try. I first discovered Jennifer Crusie through the insanely entertaining Bet Me. I then immediately went on a Crusie binge. And though I enjoyed several of them, none quite matched up to that first one. So I'd been kind of avoiding another Crusie read, even after hearing very positive reviews of her newest. The fact that it was categorized as a mystery/romantic suspense piqued my interest, but when I received it as a gift awhile back, I placed it on my nightstand and promptly forgot about it. Sometimes you have to wait until the right time for a certain book rolls around, you know? I've made my mistakes trying to force a book at the wrong time, and it never accomplishes anything but driving a rift between us. So I waited on this one. And the right time rolled around (as it almost always does) a few nights back. I'd been bouncing around from book to book for awhile, searching for the one I needed. What a relief and a surprise to find it was the unassuming little ghost story that had been patiently sitting on my nightstand lo these many months.

Andie Miller is trying to do the right thing. Walking into her ex-husband North Archer's law office to sever all remaining ties seems to be, by all accounts, the right thing to do. Even if it is almost impossibly hard. After all, they have been divorced for ten years. And the single torrential year they were married ended so spectacularly badly it almost crushed Andie. They've both moved on since, and it's time for some closure. But when she sits down with North, the man who never asked anything of her while they were married now has a favor to ask. Will she travel down to one of the family estates where his two young wards are living? Their aunt died not long after their parents did, and it seems there's some trouble keeping a reliable caregiver in the house. Could she possibly go down and check on them, see if she can get them ready to attend school? Then in just a few weeks' time they'll be done with each other for good. She can go off and marry her fiance and start that calm and peaceful life she's been looking for. In the face of the hefty wad of cash North is offering her in exchange for her efforts, Andie agrees, overrules her own doubts as well as her fiance Will's objections, and packs her bags. Of course, circumstances at the old house are far grimmer than North suspected. Twelve-year-old Carter and six-year-old Alice are unusual, to say the least. And desperately unhappy. Creepy old Mrs. Crumb, the housekeeper, seems to encourage Alice's tantrums and Carter's increasing isolation. And the longer Andie stays there, the more convinced she becomes that the whole place is haunted. She tries to convey the extent of the weird in her sporadic calls to North, but it's clear that saving these children from whatever dark force is lurking will be up to her and her alone.

I started making a list of my favorite things about Maybe This Time on page one, and I quickly lost count. A retelling of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw complete with all my favorite Gothic trappings and a leading lady and man with a history with a capital H? I was instantly in heaven. From the first page, which has just two lines on it:
This book takes place in 1992.

And you know the slightly odd, not-so-very-far in the past setting is perfectly suited to this wacky, atmospheric, romantic tale. I was charmed by the sartorial, cultural, and musical references throughout. In fact, the song "Somebody's Baby" plays a significant role in the book, and I could not get it out of my head (in a good way) the entire time I was reading it. I love it when that happens, when an author successfully accesses a specific cultural artifact that I as the reader have experience with. And so we both bring a set of emotions to the table, creating a wholly new, vibrant experience through the act of reading. I hadn't thought of or heard that song in years. But suddenly I'm singing it in the shower and humming it while I'm driving. And from now on I will associate it with this story and these characters. Speaking of these characters, here's a representative phone conversation between Andie and North which shows a hint of why I keyed into this thing going on between them so quickly:
She sounded worried, and North tried to think of a way to make her feel better and then realized that was ridiculous. She was doing a job for him, she hadn't called for comfort, they weren't married anymore no matter what lies she was telling down there, he had Mrs. Nash waiting, and there was nothing he could do anyway . . . "Do you need me to come down there?"

"No, I can handle this," she said, her voice as confident as ever. "It's the kids I'm worried about. I don't know if I can make things normal for them. I think I can make things better."

"You always make things better."

The silence stretched out at the other end of the phone as he thought, Dumb thing to say, and then she said, "Thank you." Her voice was softer than it had been, and it brought the past rushing back again.

"You're welcome," he said, thinking, Get off the damn phone. "I'll get you your cable and your contractor and somebody to fix the phones."

"I know you will. You always come through."

Jesus. "Call me if there's anything else," he said briskly, trying to find his way back to normal.

"I thought we weren't supposed to talk to each other."

"I was going through an independent phase," North said, and then closed his eyes as her laugh bubbled through the phone.

"That was a helluva long phase. I'll call if there's anything else. You have a good day."

She hung up, and he sat there with the phone in his hand for a minute, trying to find his way back to normal.
There's a lot going on behind those words, and one of the highlights of this book was tracking down those hidden histories, following the progress of this relationship that ignited, flared out, and is trying to find its way back to normal. Another highlight was far and away Andie's relationship with the two kids. Alice and Carter are just barely hanging on. I loved them immediately, and if North did nothing else admirable in this book, I would love him for sending them Andie. She's strong and mouthy, and without blinking an eye she sets herself up as their protector, promising she won't leave until she sets things right. I lapped it up right along with them. Truthfully, I was glad she was there, because this book effectively creeped me out. The roaming spirits and the eerie, bloody history of the house's inhabitants slipped their icy fingers under my skin. And, while the last third of the story got a little too crazy, and I started wishing it had gone back to the restrained tension it mastered in the first two-thirds, I thoroughly enjoyed it for taking me away from it all, giving me characters I could root for, and sending chills down my spine.

Alpha Heroes review
Books from the Addict review
La Deetda Reads review
Medieval Bookworm review
S. Krishna's Books review
Smart Bitches Trashy Books review
Smexy Books review

January 6, 2012

Friday Evening Stops

It's still just the first week in January and already all kinds of things are going on around the blogosphere. It's these kinds of things that remind me it's okay that the holidays are over and good things will certainly come this year. Starting with these three:

First off, I wanted to be sure to point out that today is the last day to download Magic Gifts--the free Kate Daniels novella that Ilona Andrews gave as a Christmas gift to the fans. Best idea in the world, if you ask me. I've read it and loved it and you will, too. So scoot on over and download it before it's gone!

Next up, I would be remiss if I didn't direct you to the screamingest Kindle book deal around. Linda Gillard's fabulous Emotional Geology is now available on Kindle for a mere 99 cents! This is my favorite of all of Linda's wonderful books. Previously out of print, you do not want to miss this one. My review here.

Lastly, I'm going to be taking part in an exciting event in just a couple weeks. Chachic's Book Nook is hosting The Queen's Thief Week as a way of celebrating and spreading the word on that wonderful series. I had my own meltdown over its awesomeness almost exactly two years ago now, and the awe has yet to fade. I'll be guest posting (along with several other awesome authors and bloggers), so be sure to check it out then. 

Have a good weekend!

January 3, 2012

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

I read The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Christmas tree light in one blissful chunk. I fell in love with the cover awhile back, because, well, love the font and the red on black and white, and the blessed not-a-single-word title. Honestly, they're few and far between these days, and they always snag my attention as a result. But I knew very little about it otherwise. Nevertheless, when it became available on NetGalley, I went ahead and downloaded it to my nook. I figured it looked to be a nice, sweet way to kick off the new year. A light romance about two  kids who meet in an airport? I tend to get a bit anxious, a bit maudlin come the end of the holidays and the beginning of a new year. So it sounded like a perfect January read to me. Of course, I let it sit there for a bit, trying to finish up a few end-of-year reads. And then one late afternoon I found myself with a couple of hours to kill. I'm not sure what combination of stars aligned to create that little event, but I immediately plopped down on the couch in front of my Christmas tree and opened up this little baby. I didn't look up once until I was done.

Hadley is on her way to her father's wedding. Against her will. To a woman she's never met. Despite the fact that he left her and her mother for a position at Oxford, England in general, and a woman named Charlotte, both her parents think she ought to attend his wedding. And so after much mutiny, she finds herself on her way to the airport. But as happened so many times in her dreams, she's late and misses her plane. Unfortunately, that poses as many problems as it solves. Now she's stuck in the airport waiting for the next flight to London, and she has that much more time to hash the whole painful debacle out in her head. Terrified of flying, she has both the wedding and the mode of transportation to dread. And then a small kindness. The boy across the way offers to watch her suitcase for her while she makes a trip to the bathroom. In fact, he does her one better and comes with her. They get a bite to eat and start talking about why they're both headed across the pond. Turns out Oliver is actually British. Studying at Yale, he's on his way back for a similar command performance. And an unlikely friendship is struck up on the one night of the year Hadley was most afraid of confronting alone. Of course, the flight only lasts a finite number of hours. And all too soon they touch down at Heathrow and must say goodbye. Just when they were beginning to really get to know one another.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight stuck with me long after I finished reading. I mentioned how cute the cover and premise made it seem, but I actually find myself in the position of saying that it is so much more than the cover (which I really do like) makes it seem. I expected short and sweet. What I didn't expect was wonderfully mature characters and thought-provoking situations. Hadley may be putting up a fight over attending a wedding, but I can't fathom someone blaming her. Her dad left them. He left them, and nothing has been right since. Her mother went into a spiral of depression, and for awhile there it was Hadley keeping the two of them afloat. And when all the adults seem to have risen above things to put on a good show, it's pretty clear that no one gave Hadley enough time to marshal her own emotions and do the same. So she's forced to do it on the fly. Anyone would be a wreck. And then there's Oliver. Oliver reminded me of one Cricket Bell. Cute in a gangly, smart way. He's got his own demons breathing down his neck, but he doesn't prance about wearing them on his sleeve. In fact, he's able to reach out to someone else--a total stranger--in distress. The way he manages to distract Hadley literally in her hour of need was charming and understated and won me over so that I, too, was pained at the thought of parting just after meeting him. The lovely bit is that Jennifer E. Smith allows the story to continue beyond the parting, and we get to follow Hadley as she confronts her fears and all the water not-so-far under the bridge between herself and her father. I felt folded into the simple beauty of this story of a girl coming to terms with her father being so deeply fallible, and whether or not his very real failures negated the years of love and care he gave her growing up. Setting her struggle against the unexpected possibility of a fledgling relationship was the perfect touch on Ms. Smith's part. As was the wonderful incorporation of a love for Dickens and a certain copy of Our Mutual Friend. Here, my favorite passage, which shows you what I mean about the thoughtful writing and the emotion it wrung from me. It's long, but worth it:
When she was little, Hadley used to sneak into Dad's office at home, which was lined with bookshelves that stretched from the floor to the ceiling, all of them stacked with peeling paperbacks and hardcovers with cracked spines. She was only six the first time he found her sitting in his armchair with her stuffed elephant and a copy of A Christmas Carol, poring over it as intently as if she were considering it for her dissertation.

"What're you reading?" he'd asked, leaning against the doorframe and taking off his glasses.

"A story."

"Yeah?" he asked, trying not to smile. "What story?"

"It's about a girl and her elephant," Hadley informed him matter-of-factly.

"Is that right?"

"Yes," she said. "And they go on a trip together, on a bike, but then the elephant runs away, and she cries so hard that someone brings her a flower."

Dad crossed the room and in a single practiced motion lifted her from the chair--Hadley clinging desperately to the slender book--until, suddenly, she was sitting on his lap.

"What happens next?" he asked.

"The elephant finds her again."

"And then?"

"He gets a cupcake. And they live happily ever after."

"That sounds like a great story."

Hadley squeezed the fraying elephant on her lap. "It was."

"Do you want me to read you another one?" he asked, gently taking the book from her and flipping to the first page. "It's about Christmas."

She settled back into the soft flannel of his shirt, and he began to read.

It wasn't even the story itself that she loved; she didn't understand half the words and often felt lost in the winding sentences. It was the gruff sound of her father's voice, the funny accents he did for each character, the way he let her turn the pages. Every night after dinner they would read together in the stillness of the study. Sometimes Mom would come stand at the door with a dish towel in her hand and a half-smile on her face as she listened, but mostly it was just the two of them.

Even when she was old enough to read herself, they still tackled the classics together, moving from Anna Karenina to Pride and Prejudice to The Grapes of Wrath as if traveling across the globe itself, leaving holes in the bookshelves like missing teeth.

And later, when it started to become clear that she cared more about soccer practice and phone privileges than Jane Austen or Walt Whitman, when the hour turned into a half hour and every night turned into every other, it no longer mattered. The stories had become a part of her by then; they stuck to her bones like a good meal, bloomed inside of her like a garden. They were as deep and meaningful as any other trait Dad had passed along to her: her blue eyes, her straw-colored hair, the sprinkling of freckles across her nose.

Often he would come home with books for her, for Christmas or her birthday, or for no particular occasion at all, some of them early editions with beautiful gold trim, others used paperbacks bought for a dollar or two on a street corner. Mom always looked exasperated, especially when it was a new copy of one that he already had in his study.

"This house is about two dictionaries away from caving in," she'd say, "and you're buying duplicates?"

But Hadley understood. It wasn't that she was meant to read them all. Maybe someday she would, but for now, it was more the gesture itself. He was giving her the most important thing he could, the only way he knew how. He was a professor, a lover of stories, and he was buildng her a library in the same way other men might build their daughters houses.
The most important people in our lives elicit the strongest emotions and the broadest array of them. Sometimes we love them. Sometimes we hate them. Sometimes the love and hate are so inextricably intertwined, it's easier to give up than stick it out and find your way to peace. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight explores these themes of love and anguish in such unassuming and meaningful ways that I found myself pressing my hand to my chest the emotions were that true and close to the surface. What a beautiful way to start of a new year of reading. I do hope you seek it out.

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