July 23, 2012

Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols

I can't quit Jennifer Echols. Not that I really try that hard, but I read her new ones and often feel as though I'm still searching for that one in possession of that certain something that will make me feel the way Going Too Far did. Like I couldn't put it it down. And definitely like I didn't hate either of the main characters after the fact. Well, I found it with Such a Rush. I read this 300+ pager in a single night, which clears up the question of whether or not I couldn't put it down. And I finished it definitely not hating either of the main characters. I didn't finish it loving them both unreservedly, though. I loved Leah with my whole heart from page one and that never changed. My feelings regarding one of the Hall brothers remain complicated. More to come on this in a bit. On a side note, I'm delighted that Such a Rush is Ms. Echols' hardcover debut. It's a meticulously designed book, a pleasure to hold in my hands as I stayed up way too late finishing Leah's story.

Leah Jones has lived her entire life in an endless series of trailer parks, all of them situated next door to an airbase or small town airport. She and her shiftless mother moved to their most recent abode at Heaven Beach when Leah was 14 years old. Shortly thereafter she bullies the owner of nearby Hall Aviation to give her a job in the front office, fielding calls and basically doing anything that needs doing around the private airport. From afar, she watches Mr. Hall's twin sons Alec and Grayson follow in their father's footsteps, first learning to fly and then taking on jobs flying advertising banners around the North Carolina coastline. Leah watches and she longs and she saves her money against the day she is able to scrabble together enough courage to ask Mr. Hall for a flying lesson. Sure he will laugh in her face, she is stunned when he takes her up on it, provided she give up smoking like a chimney stack. It's not even a contest for Leah, and before she knows it she's up in the air and never looks back. Until tragedy strikes and threatens to make the one good thing in Leah's life disappear overnight. Suddenly, Alec and Grayson are back in her life and she's forced to learn to work with these mercurial young men if she wants to keep being a pilot in her future.

Leah rocked my socks off. She is the kind of character I can't get enough of: toughened by life, uncertain, determined, quiet, hopeful, and edgy. Basically, she's a heady amalgam of battle-tested strength and fledgling individuality. I love the way she loves flying. She explains it in a scene that quite simply floored me with how restrained and potent it was, with how much was going on below the surface of things. I won't quote that here, because you deserve to come to it organically and on your own. I will share one bit to give you an inkling of why I feel so attached to these characters:
"When I'm with you," he began again, "it's like . . . I still don't feel normal. But I can see normal at twelve o'clock on the horizon." He pointed past me through the windshield of an imaginary airplane. "At least I know normal is still out there."
This tiny snippet of dialogue encapsulates the kind of exquisite tension, filled with so much more than heat, between two characters that Jennifer Echols excels at. The scope of this novel is much greater than I was expecting, and every bit of that is down to the gorgeous descriptions of flying. These characters, they love flying. They love it with every fiber of their being, and it binds them together when anger, betrayal, and the almost unbreachable gulf of experience threaten to separate them. These kids are all forced to be adults long before they're ready. They make mistakes, bad choices, engage in the occasional excess of drama. One of them persists in his particularly bad choice so long I'm still not sure I can forgive him for it. But they are all of them laid out in such layers of gray that I wanted to. In fact, I ended the novel on that note--wanting to forgive him, wanting the ending to be enough because it was what I wanted for them. Sometimes that desire is enough in and of itself, especially as the journey itself was such a satisfying one, filled with the swoops and the heights and the glorious dangers of aviation. My stomach dropped out beneath me on multiple occasions, and I relished every time it did because it meant I was with Leah in that cockpit. I was with her every time she let the pressure constantly building inside of her out to pelt the people around her who needed a rude awakening to reality. I was with her when she took the controls to chart her own course, to find it somewhere out there on the horizon. Well done, Ms. Echols. Such a Rush indeed.

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A Book and a Latte - "A must read for contemporary romance fans!"
The Book Scoop - "I was so freaking satisfied with everything that I'd read that I sighed myself to sleep."
Clear Eyes, Full Shelves - "Such a Rush is probably my new favorite of her novels because the character growth from everyone is just so deft."
Gone with the Words - "Never have I read a book whose book title delivered in spades. Such a Rush: you betcha!"
GReads! - " . . . the best of the best in YA contemporary."
Pirate Penguin's Reads - "Jennifer Echols knocked it out of the park with Such a Rush."

July 20, 2012

Retro Friday Review: Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn

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 discovered Sharon Shinn through the fabulous Archangel--the first book in her Samaria series. I was instantly smitten and plowed my way through that series quick like a bunny. I'm pretty sure I picked up Summers at Castle Auburn while waiting for the fifth Samaria book to come out. I knew it was YA and much more traditional fantasy (also no sci fi), but honestly I was just sort of making time, if you will. I wasn't expecting that much. You know how you find a new author via a series that just steals your heart, and after devouring it in its entirety you're simultaneously dying for more but so afraid the author's other books won't hold the same shine that those first ones do? Sometimes your fears bear out. But sometimes you end up eating humble pie, quite happily and deservedly so. That was the case here. That is to say nothing, of course, of the prejudice I am occasionally guilty of when it comes to one of my favorite adult authors crossing over and writing YA. So often I feel like they come off as just lite versions of themselves, and I'm left longing for the depth and emotional intensity of their adult titles. Thankfully, Summers at Castle Auburn is a gem of an exception--a beautifully told coming of age tale set in a deceptively idyllic fantasy realm.

Corie inhabits a fairly unorthodox space in her world. The illegitimate daughter of a deceased lord, she spends the majority of the year learning how to be a village healer with her grandmother. But she spends summers at Castle Auburn. Her father's brother, Lord Jaxon, convinced her grandmother to let him foster Corie at Auburn just for the summers, so that she can get to know her half sister Elisandra and learn to be a lady in the hopes that she might make a good marriage one day and rise from the obscurity her father's dying left her in. Jaxon is hearty and hale and full of life and fourteen-year-old Corie loves her summers at his home. She also loves her beautiful half sister Elisandra who is betrothed to the debonair Prince Bryan. Corie harbors something of a crush on Prince Bryan, secretly hoping he will notice her one of these summers, even though she knows he will eventually wed Elisandra. As Corie grows up, however, she begins to understand the darker machinations at work behind these lovely facades. Bryan is more than he appears to be. Elisandra is not as calm and quiescent as she seems. And the fabled Aliora, the fey creatures who are hunted and forced into slavery to the nobility, are far more complex than Corie has been led to believe. She must decide who she will be and what she will do with her new-found knowledge.

Corie is very much an impressionable young girl at the novel's start. Her goals and crushes and ambitions are small ones, shaped by her limited experience and perception of the world and the people that surround her. Initially, I wondered how far Ms. Shinn would take her as such. But this is one of those wonderful stories where the characters evolve and reveal their depth--all of them--and the reader is privileged to witness their various and sundry transformations. The fascinating bit is that the world undergoes the same unveiling process. At first glance, it's prettily medieval, full of charming hunts, dashing young men, and mystical faery beings. But the gloves come off, so to speak, as the scales fall from Corie's eyes. Even Uncle Jaxon has things he'd rather keep hidden. Themes of despair, doubt, and disillusionment run like ribbons throughout the story. But they are balanced by a cautiously and skillfully written love story, which even I didn't see coming and which isn't fully revealed until Corie has accepted herself and made her decisions about her world and her place in it. I love how her voice changes as she matures. I love how several characters managed to surprise me. And I love where things end. Always retaining that fairy tale feel, Summers at Castle Auburn reminds me of the novels of the wonderful Patricia McKillip, especially The Book of Atrix Wolfe. When you find yourself in need of something new, I suggest tracking down a copy of Summers at Castle Auburn. It's sweet and comfortable, with a surprisingly dark and gooey center. In other words, one of the ones I can (and do) hand anyone.

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Retro Friday Roundup
Heidi @ Bunbury in the Stacks reviews Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones

Bookworm Nation - "This is my favorite Shinn book."
Finding Wonderland - " . . . totally immersing and the world-building was believable and fantastic."
The Reader's Refuge - "Lovers of young adult fantasy will love Summers at Castle Auburn."
The Sleepless Reader - "Summers at Castle Auburn continues to be my ultimate comfort-book."

July 9, 2012

Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

Once again I fall prey to the hype monster. Coming off the high of Easy and the complicated mess of the aptly-named Beautiful Disaster, I ran smack-dab into Pushing the Limits. Fairly ecstatic reviews on GoodReads piqued my interest, and before long the little click button on NetGalley was calling my name. I think I was hoping for something along the lines of the fun that I had reading Perfect Chemistry for the first time. Maybe Going Too Far. Upon further perusal, it certainly looked like there would be added personal drama on both sides and that hinted-at mystery aspect encouraged me even more. Perhaps it would be a touch . . . complicated. This is Katie McGarry's first novel, and so I had no idea what the writing would be like. These expectations in mind, I downloaded it to my Nook and dug right in.

Echo Emerson is back at school and thinking she should possibly be anywhere but. After the "incident," she dropped off the face of the planet. Now, after countless social workers and counseling sessions, she's decided to give finishing high school a go. This means weekly meetings with the newfangled guidance counselor who seems to have several motives behind helping Echo. Which means she's forced to sit in a room with her impatient father, her clueless (and pregnant) stepmother, and her nosy guidance counselor and talk about feelings, memory, her mother. All things she's working hard to keep to herself. Noah Hutchins also has weekly meetings with Miss Collins. Noah's consultations are of a different nature entirely. Having lost his parents in a fire, Noah's been through hell in the form of a string of foster homes. Separated from his younger brothers, his one goal is to graduate high school and get custody. Then the three of them will be a family again, independent and free of the abuse and interference that seem to run rampant through the social care system. It's when Echo is assigned the task of tutoring Noah that they begin to find some common ground. And soon a plan hatches to get out of their intolerable sessions and set them both on the path to emancipation.

It really was a nice setup. I liked the possibilities. I definitely wanted to find out (along with Echo) just exactly what happened to her that night at her mother's apartment. And I rooted for Noah to get his family back together again in the most intact form possible. But I'm sad to say that the writing was a far cry from what it needed to be to engender any emotion or affection in me as a reader. Where Perfect Chemistry handily straddled the line between swoontastic and cheesy (at least for me), Pushing the Limits tried painfully hard for that balance and just couldn't manage it. It ran headlong over the cheese precipice and coughed up a side of empty heart for good measure. I could not get over the stumbling block that was the uninspired writing and lackluster plot construction. The whole buildup to Echo's missing memories was drawn-out and fraught with tension, only to fall flat upon the big reveal. Together, Echo and Noah were fun enough (Noah's truly cringeworthy internal dialogue aside). But separately they were given little depth to flesh out their incredibly complex backgrounds. I felt inundated with manufactured emotion and went ahead and finished it just in case the whole thing righted itself in the end. It didn't. It is certainly worth pointing out that I seem to be in the decided minority. Not the first time. Won't be the last. Check it out for yourself if the premise leaves you at all curious. As for me, I'm off for a palate cleanser. Suggestions?

Pushing the Limits is due out July 31st.

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Dazzling Reads - " . . . a fabulous and brilliantly written story."
Good Choice Reading - "There isn't a single thing I can think of to complain about."
Obsession with Books - "I loved every moment of it."
Reading After Midnight - "Keep an eye on this book when it comes out."
Tina's Book Reviews - "Katie McGarry delivers the goods and it's not all pretty."

July 5, 2012

Magic Dreams by Ilona Andrews

Though I read and very much enjoyed the Ilona Andrews Andrea & Raphael novella in Must Love Hellhounds, I somehow never got around to reading the Hexed anthology. This was tragic on several levels, mainly because the Andrews novella included in that volume was the Jim and Dali story. I have been salivating over those two for what feels like forever now, anxiously crossing my fingers they would get their own book. And yet its inclusion in that antho somehow escaped my knowledge. This is why I got all giddy when Magic Dreams was re-released last week, this time as an e-special. My nook and I clasped our hands in joy and then set about curling up together with one seriously gruff werejaguar and one smartypants weretiger. I've been extremely curious as to Jim's actual feelings on the small-package-good-things-come-in Dali, so it was with absolute relish that I devoured this 86-page treat.

The alpha of Clan Cat and leader of the Beast Lord's security force is a force to be reckoned with, albeit a strong silent one. That's why Dali tends to opt in favor of flying under his radar whenever she possibly can. The hydra-sized crush she's been nursing doesn't even come into it. Even if she wasn't almost legally blind, Dali can see from his actions Jim has little interest in her professionally and even less romantically. Why would he? She doesn't eat meat. She can't see properly. She's scrawny, ugly, and disobedient. And so like any self-respecting weretiger, she drowns her sorrows in fast cars and dusty magic. Until one day Jim comes in search of help. From Dali. Fast falling under what appears to be a grave curse, Jim is in need of some serious magical aid. The kind Dali is uniquely equipped to provide. The two set out to find what or who is behind the force sapping Jim's formidable strength. Dali knows how smart she is, but she has no illusions as to her strength. And if Jim is out of commission, she may be crushed like a tiny bug before she has a chance to outwit the villain.

Okay, first things first, who knew Jim had a last name? Shrapshire?! I love it. I love all the last names in this series. They are always at once surprising and perfectly fitting. I mean, Jim Shrapshire and Dali Harimau? Genius. What's even more genius are the paces Ilona Andrews puts these two myopically challenged characters through. Having spent five books' worth of time with Jim, it would be an understatement to say that I was eager to peel back a few of the layers surrounding him. Ever since his merc days with Kate, Jim's taken himself so seriously he can hardly unclench long enough to appreciate a good sandwich let alone a girl like Dali. But he's been through a lot, has Jim. He doesn't allow himself breaks. There's little of peace or beauty in his life. As for Dali, it was impossible not to like her from her first appearance in the series. She burst onto the scene all erratic and intelligent. Her cursework saved the Pack's bacon in the Midnight Games. And she's refreshingly different from both Kate and Andrea. I love her for how unapologetically smart she is and for how willing she is to walk into fire for those she cares about. The notion that the buttoned up, lethal chief of security and the booksmart, loveblind white tigergirl might find some common ground tickled me down to my toes. A favorite passage early on showing just how awesome Dali is:
Kasen nodded at the Mustang. "That's your second crash in three weeks."


"Didn't Jim forbid you to race?"

Jim was my alpha. The shapeshifter Pack was segregated into seven clans, by the family of the animal, and Jim headed Felidae with a big Jaguar paw hiding awesome claws. He was smart, and strong, and incredibly hot--and the only time Jim noticed my existence was when I made myself into a pain in the ass or when he needed an expert on the ancient Far East. Otherwise, I might just as well have been invisible.

I raised my head to let Kasen know I meant business. "Jim isn't the boss of me."

"Actually yes, yes he is."

It's good that I wasn't a wereporcupine, or his mouth would be full of quills. "Are you going to snitch on me?"

"That depends. When you die, can I have your car?"


Kasen sighed. "I'm trying to make a point here. I've been watching this race for six years now and I've never seen anyone crash as much as you. You're my number-one customer. You can barely see, Dali, and you take stupid chances. No offense."

No offense, right. "No offense" stood for "I'm going to insult you, but you can't be mad at me." I bared my teeth at him. When it came down to it, he was a rat and I was a tiger.
Their first official story was everything I hoped it would be. Magic Dreams really brought to my attention how fond of Jim and Dali I had become just following them as side characters in someone else's story. And that, I believe, is the mark of a superior storyteller--that ability to nurture your readers' affections for not only the larger-than-life protagonists, but for the supporting cast as well, from integral cog to maverick nut or bolt. My affections were engaged, my attention riveted. Magic Dreams satisfies on every level. More, please.

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Bunbury in the Stacks review - "Magic Dreams easily captured the roll of my favorite novella thus far in this series."
Yummy Men & Kick Ass Chicks review - "I was in a bit of a funk after a particularly tough day and picked this up and read it in one sitting."

Scarlet Cover

Despite being underwhelmed by Cinder's ending (or utter lack thereof), I am interested to see where Marissa Meyer goes with Scarlet--the next installment in the Lunar Chronicles. It's hard for me to stay away from some good young adult scifi. Pair that with a fairy tale retelling (this time Little Red Riding Hood), and I'm gonna be picking up that book. I mean, the character of Wolf is a street fighter. How cool is that?! This cover is also sort of delightful. I love how it matches the cover of Cinder, and I love the font, swirling cape, smoke, etc. The skinny arm is creeping me out a little bit, but all in all I'm excited to read this sequel. Scarlet is due out February 5th.