November 27, 2012

Bibliocrack Review: The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

This is the part where I tell you I have secretly become a Courtney Milan fangirl. That's right. I've been rather callously reading up a storm of Milan behind your backs. But it's okay. Because now I'm coming clean. The thing is, they're just so readily available for download to my Nook. And I had heard such positive feedback--kind of across the board. But more importantly, I love Milan's blog. I love it. She writes about things. About the industry and about her experience self-publishing after already establishing herself as a traditionally published author. Her take on writing and publishing is always incisive and insightful. So I was a regular reader of her blog long before I ever thought of picking up one of her books. That's actually not the first time I've found myself in such a situation. But in this case, it took quite awhile before I decided to go ahead and see if her fiction was as good as her non. So far I've only torn a path through her Turner Brothers series. But I was excited to hear she had a brand new one in the works, and I downloaded the introductory novella as soon as it became available.

Serena has gone about as long as she can without gainful employment. With a reclusive sister to support and a secret or two she'd rather keep under wraps, she does the only thing she can think of to do. She goes to the doorstep of the man responsible for the loss of her last position as governess and demands her due. The only problem is, the duke in question won't see her. He doesn't see anyone it seems. Rather, he delegates the whole of his affairs to a man known to all and sundry as the Wolf of Clermont. The Wolf has a secret or two of his own, but these days he makes his living (and his reputation) on the strength of his abilities as a formidable businessman. He cares for no one and nothing but burnishing his intimidating reputation and brooking no refusal when it comes to the duke's affairs. And so when faced with a single governess demanding a paltry payment, Hugo Marshall doesn't  break stride moving to get rid of her. But Serena won't go. Doggedly focused, she returns every day to the duke's residence and waits. And as he becomes more acquainted with Miss Barton and her situation, somehow, something in Hugo balks at destroying her. And so he must weigh his plans for the future against offering the help this woman so clearly needs.

What a marvelous find Courtney Milan was. Not only is she a remarkably consistent writer, but her prose is buttery soft. It goes down so smooth, you find yourself downing a hundred pages without even realizing it. In a very short period of time, I have come to be able to count on Courtney Milan for delightful historical romances about smart women I respect and men who are both complicated and kind. They may be in a bit of denial when it comes to the kindness, but it is there and it is real. Even better, her novellas are as meaty and satisfying as her full-length novels--a rare skill and one I heartily admire. Serena and Hugo have to be two of my very favorite Milan protagonists. Serena's earnest, quiet drive and Hugo's single-minded determination and reluctant sympathy immediately appealed to me. Here, a favorite snippet in which they both show a little of their mettle:
Hugo reached down and plucked a spare twig from the ground and set it on the bench between them. "This," he said, "is a wall, and I will not cross it."

Her eyes fixed on that piece of wood, a few scant inches in length.

"I don't believe in hurting women," he said.

She did not respond.

"I do a great many things, and I'm not proud of many of them. But I don't swear. I don't drink. And I don't hurt women. I don't do any of those things because my father did every one." He held her eyes as he spoke. "Now I've told you something that nobody else in London knows. Surely you can return the favor. What is it you want?"

She shook her head slowly. "No, Mr. Marshall. I will not be browbeaten, however nicely you do it. I am done with things happening to me. From here on out, I am going to happen to things."
I love them. I love them both. I think this is the quietest of Milan's books that I've read, and I am so fond of it because of that. Because it, it's characters, and it's author resisted being flashy, opting for still, deep waters instead. I said her novellas are surprisingly satisfying, but that doesn't mean I couldn't have read about Serena and Hugo for many more pages. Because I could have. And would have. As always, I'm a bit sad the first full-length novel in the series won't be about them. But Ms. Milan's backlist has taught me she comes through. And so it is with the surest anticipation that I look forward to encountering the Brothers Sinister in the very near future.

Buy: Amazon | B&N

The Bookpushers - "All in all, this was a damn good read with intelligent characters and writing that leaves you wanting more."
The Brazen Bookworm - "Courtney Milan creates a relationship and set of circumstances that provides for what promises to be a stunning set of books."
Dear Author - "I loved how smart both Serena and Hugo were."
Feminist Fairy Tale Reviews - "These two people admire and respect each other's intelligence and personality."
Medieval Bookworm - " . . . a fantastic way to spend an hour or two."
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books - "' Well written' does not begin to describe this story."
Smexy Books - "This was not a good story for a novella, it was a fantastic story - period."

November 12, 2012

Moonshifted by Cassie Alexander

You'll remember my excitement upon discovering Cassie Alexander and Nightshifted--her fabulous urban fantasy debut. I loved everything about it, from the killer cover to the hard-working, conflicted protagonist inside. When I realized the sequel was set to be published just a few months later I was, well, over the moon. Go on. Raise your hands. I know I'm not the only one who waits (with barely concealed ill grace) a year for each new installment in her favorite series. It can be a hard wait. I understand why, and I am nothing if not extremely grateful for everything that goes into the writing and publishing processes. But it can be a hard wait. That's why two in one year? Such a treat. That said, the closing events of Nightshifted were portentous to say the least. And I was pretty anxious about where Edie would be (and in what condition) when I found her next, who would be around to help her, and who . . . would not.

Edie Spence isn't fresh off the shelf on the Y4 ward of her county hospital anymore. She's earned her stripes and is even approaching tenuous friendships with her fellow seasoned nurses. It's been months now since her cringe-worthy induction into life as a nurse for the undead (and every other supernatural creature that comes their way) and Edie is still rattled by the fallout. Indebted to powers she'd really rather not name and struggling to define her unwanted role in local vampire politics, she's less than pleased to find herself holding vigil over a werewolf alpha in a coma. Edie was on the scene when he was attacked and soon  every wolf in the pack is banging down her door looking for clues. This includes a wolf by the name of Lucas who stands to inherit the alpha mantle should the old man not pull through. Lucas is a bundle of contradictions and Edie is 99.9% sure she should keep her distance. But when her home is attacked and the vampires become involved, there is little she can do to stay removed from the action.

Edie is nobody's fool and I love her for that. With the possible exception of her brother, she has very few blind spots. She does her best to avoid disaster scenarios. She really does. Unfortunately, her world has teeth and seems to be supremely uninterested in cutting her a break. That's not to say that she's without her share of foibles. But even when she's making a clear mistake, she remains fully cognizant that it is her choice and that she is making it. Usually to fend off something even darker, for which I can rarely fault her even as it fills me with concern for her and the bleakness that surrounds her. Edie is flawed and lonely and allergic to asking for help for herself and I am incredibly fond of her. Witness a couple of reasons why (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
"I introduced him to my parents, Edie. I thought he was the one."

I didn't know what to say. I didn't think I'd ever felt like that. I'd stood on the edge of The Oneness before, and maybe peeked into the valley below, but I'd never made the final jump. I'd learned that if you thought of people as disposable, it hurt less when they disposed of you.
Her heartrending frankness hits me every time.
Asher met me at the door, looking like the Asher I knew best. Olive skin, dark hair, dark brown eyes. He took one look at me, and then past me at Gina, still slumped over in my passenger seat. "You want to put her in a spare room, or a spare bathroom?"

"Someplace with a lot of tile."

He followed me out to my car, and we retrieved her. Gina kept murmuring things that sounded sad, while Asher helped me help her down his entry hall. We made it up the stairs together, and I arranged her inside a claw-foot tub while Asher went to get extra towels. I sat on the toilet beside her, petting her hair, and Asher returned to lean against the wall.

"Do I want to know what happened?"

"Girl meets were-bear, girl falls for were-bear, were-bear says if you love me you'll let me bite you, girls says good-bye." I wished I had an IV start kit and a banana bag--IV fluids with vitamins and minerals--right about then. We could've set her impending hangover straight in no time.

Asher's eyebrows rose high up his forehead. "I meant at your house."
Alexander graces this novel with the perfect amount of humor and horror. Edie's life is awash in gray. Worn down by her relentless job, her succubus of a brother, and the demands of the paranormal, she's acutely wary of any scraps of happiness that float her way. I understand her caution, especially given how she's been burned in the past. But I can't help but hope for her, too. I enjoyed her interactions with the her fellow nurses (Gina in particular) and the local weres (Lucas in particular) immensely. And her encounters with the elusive Asher fill me with alternating glee and uncertainty. I choose to view these tentative forays as harbingers of the hope she deserves. My concerns and hopes aside, Moonshifted absolutely shone in the sequel department, extending my affection for the characters, while introducing new angles to sink my teeth into. It also possesses one humdinger of a climax. I was swept away in the force with which it built and the raging rush to the finish. I'm more attached to Edie than ever. This is urban fantasy of the highest order. However will I survive the wait for book three?

Moonshifted is due out November 27th.

Buy: Amazon B&N The Book Depository

November 11, 2012

Warm Bodies Trailer

I went back and forth on this a bit, because Mr. Marion's kind of outrageous meltdown re: YA lit left me with a very bad taste in my mouth. But you know what? I really liked this book. And I am totally going to see the movie. What do you think? Zombies, anyone?

November 3, 2012

Saturday Giggles: Song of the Lioness Version

I'm pausing mid-fit of laughter to link you over to the source of my mirth. If you haven't heard of Mark Reads yet, you should possibly go check it out. Today (thanks to Li), I ran across his take on Chapter 2 of The Woman Who Rides Like a Man--book two in my beloved Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce. I can't handle the awesome. Enjoy and have a good weekend!

November 2, 2012

Retro Friday Review: The Book of Atrix Wolfe by Patricia A. McKillip

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 anytime!
It was my friends at Readerville who convinced me to give Patricia McKillip a try. This I remember very clearly. I'd never read any of McKillip's books, though I'd run across them plenty of times what with her books being shelved right next to Robin McKinley's on all the shelves ever. And then there was the matter of her covers. Somewhere along the line, they paired her up with Kinuko Craft and decided it was a match made in heaven. For the most part, I think it is. Craft's luscious, romantic dreaminess blends perfectly with McKillip's sort of stream of consciousness fantasy. Occasionally, I long for something a bit more solid and grounded on one of her covers. But they do fit the bill in the What You See is What You Get department. I started off with The Riddlemaster trilogy and was instantly enamored. Where had this writer been all my life? I loved Morgan of Hed with the three stars on his forehead and the High One's Harper at his side. I could not get enough of that trilogy and still wander into my library from time to time to stroke the pretty omnibus edition I own. Utterly epic in scope, the Riddlemaster books set the bar high. And while I was a bit surprised to find her standalone volumes somewhat quieter affairs, I was no less impressed with the writing and reach. The second book of hers I read was this one. The Book of Atrix Wolfe
Sorrow is a word that means nothing until it means everything.
In a world where the mortal and the magical exist side by side, a young mage killed his king. Desolate from what he'd done, Atrix Wolfe retreats to the woods. Living as a wolf, he hides from the horror of what he wrought. But the Queen of the Wood is not about to let him disappear completely. Not until he performs a task for her. Find her daughter who disappeared into the world of men at the same time as the massacre. Meanwhile, in that very world of men, a kingdom is at war. Terrorized by a horned Hunter, the beleaguered land of Pelucir struggles to survive. Until their orphaned prince Tallis unearths a book without a name. A book whose spells do not always mean what they seem. And behind it all, a girl named Saro scrubs pots in the kitchen below the castle. They called her Saro because she cannot speak. Because her eyes are full of sadness and she has no words to tell them where she came from. But Saro hears everything that goes on in the castle as the swirling parade of rich foods and savory concoctions make their way from her domain up to the feasting tables above. And her part to play in the raging conflict between mages and armies, between mortal and immortal, will not be a small one. 
There are no simple words. I don't know why I thought I could hide anything behind language.
The Book of Atrix Wolfe is one of Ms. McKillip's headiest designs. From the decadent descriptions of castle cuisine to the throbbing lyric of losing your voice and finding it once more, I was buffeted about by beauty. I may be something of a sucker for books titled after an actual book within the book, if you follow me. Ever since The Book of Three and The Neverending Story. Which is probably what prompted me to pick this one up after The Riddlemaster to begin with. What landed it on my keeper shelf its layers upon layers of meaning. A book about a book. Beautiful words used to explore the value and power of language itself. The spiderweb of horrific events that creep out from one moment of impossible hubris. It doesn't hurt that there are living trees and shapechangers and medieval mythology galore. But it's the tapestry of words, in the end.
Someone living, he realised early, who had not been scarred by the siege or haunted by memory, was valuable to the storytellers. Having no memories of his own, he became their receptacle for memory, and, with his untroubled past, for hope.
Being a living receptacle for memory and hope. That is imagery worth your while. McKillip books are always worth your while. But this one is special. I hope that you read it one day, not only because the words are wondrous and the magic is tangible, but because reading it is like falling into a bed of soft linen and waking the next day to find you've dreamed, oh, the most beautiful dream. 

Buy: Amazon B&N | The Book Depository

Retro Friday Roundup
Michelle @ See Michelle Read reviews Westmark by Lloyd Alexander

November 1, 2012

Vampire + Batgirl + SuperFinn

 The vampire and the Batgirl are mine, here with their cousins Alice & Minnie
 My three rascals
Me & SuperFinn