February 28, 2013

Stephanie Perkins Pretties

Do you kind of want to die of the awesome in these repackaged Stephanie Perkins covers? I do. With today's EW reveal of the cover of Isla and the Happily Ever Afterthe much-anticipated third installment in Perkins' adorable companion novels, Dutton unveils a dramatically new look for the series. I am a fan. The new covers are sophisticated without losing the life, light, and charm of the books themselves. I re-read Anna (for the first time) not long ago and it held up incredibly well the second time around. It also left me very intrigued to read Isla's story and get to spend some in-depth time with her (and Josh). September's a long way off, but in case you hadn't run across it, Ms. Perkins released a deleted chapter of Anna to help tide everyone over. Happy pining!

February 26, 2013

No Questions Asked, or Angie's Top Ten Auto-Buy Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish

I've never taken part in this meme before, but come on! Your top ten auto-buy authors? That's a list worth making. In the interest of keeping it real, I'm going to limit myself to living authors who, you know, have the potential to actually publish a new book. So. In alphabetical order:

Sarah Addison Allen - I have read and loved all four of her magical realism novels. Favorite: The Peach Keeper
Kristin Cashore - I feel as though Ms. Cashore holds her writing to the highest of standards. And it shows. Favorite: Fire
John Green - It's to do with the awesome. Favorite: The Fault in Our Stars
Juliet Marillier - Because everything is always gorgeous when she has anything to do with it. Favorite: Son of the Shadows (if pressed . . . but only if pressed)
Robin McKinley - She's kind of where it all began. Girls Who Do Things-wise. Fairy Tale Retelling-wise. Speaks to Angie's SOUL-wise. Favorite: I . . . can't. 
Meg Rosoff - Every book she writes is different. And every time I read one my reading muscles get stretched out and noodly. Favorite: How I Live Now
Sharon Shinn - I don't know. I guess I just get the way Shinn sees her worlds. She always surprises me. And her characters are dear friends. Favorite: Archangel. No, Mystic & Rider. No, Archangel. No, wait! I'm sorry, could you please repeat the question?
Maggie Stiefvater - Most people fell when they read The Scorpio Races. Utterly understandably. But I've been on board from her very first book. Favorite: The Scorpio Races (it's just THAT good)
Megan Whelan Turner - I'm a big believer in authors requiring something of their readers. In Ms. Turner's case, it is intelligence, mischief, and heart. Favorite: The Queen of Attolia (see above Marillier comment)
Ellen Emerson White - I have a problem with White's books. I track down used copies of her out of print ones at the slightest provocation and send them around the world to homes where they will be loved. Favorite: The Road Home
Markus Zusak - He does things with words no one else does. Favorite: The Book Thief

That's right. That's eleven. What of it? Couldn't possibly whittle it down one author more. And just because you gave me grief, I'm handing out an honorable mention, too:

Mary Stewart
Still living (96 and going strong!), but her last book came out 16 years ago. She earns a mention here because I own every book she's ever written and because if she did publish a new one, I would go out of my bookish little mind. So there.

February 25, 2013

Review: This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

Jennifer E. Smith gets the cutest covers in the world, doesn't she? I  picked up The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight almost entirely on the merits of its adorable cover alone. And when I saw the cover for This is What Happy Looks Like, I immediately began daydreaming about how happy they would look next to each other on my shelves--an activity I engage in all too often when it comes to books of a feather. And given how much I loved The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, I felt that my feelings for her next novel were sort of a foregone conclusion. Especially when you take into account the much-billed You've Got Mail meets Notting Hill premise. I ask you--who can resist the wild potential of that setup? No one. That is who. But one of the things I loved the most about The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight was how it packed so much more of a punch than its name or cover suggested. It was deeper and wider than its slim-ish page count and 24-hour time period foretold. I don't think I realized going into this one how much I was counting on the same thing being true of it.

Ellie O'Neill and Graham Larkin don't know each other at all. Ellie is the daughter of an ex-waitress turned shop owner in the backwoods town of Henley, Maine. Graham is an all American kid turned movie star from California. The two have nothing at all in common (except perhaps a love for Charlotte's Web) until Graham mistypes a single email address, hits send, and it winds up in Ellie's inbox way on the other side of the country. His misplaced missive ignites what evolves into a lively correspondence in which the two teenagers exchange jokes, detail their day-to-day goings on, their hopes, their dreams, and ruminate on what "happy" looks like. Neither of them quite realize how much the burgeoning virtual friendship means to them until the location for Graham's upcoming rom-com falls through, and he finds himself suggesting Henley as a possible alternative. And with that one act, he somewhat wittingly, somewhat unwittingly sets the two of them on a collision course. The results are both enlightening and unexpectedly fraught as Graham finds a kind of home in the most unlikely of places and Ellie grapples with a secret she promised never to tell. Soon Graham's time in Henley will be up. And where will they go from there?

This is What Happy Looks Like has a great deal of charm going for it. Graham and Ellie are eminently likable. The lovable happenstance of their "meeting" is difficult to resist. And the small-town Maine setting is one I've enjoyed in the past and that is once again used to great effect here. Smith's writing is capable and occasionally lovely, if not as consistently so as it was in The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. One of the lovelier observations here (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
No matter how long it's been or how far you've drifted, no matter how unknowable you might be, there were at least two people in the world whose job it was to see you, to find you, to recognize you and reel you back in. No matter what.
I feel that one of Jennifer E. Smith's real strengths is the upfront, sensitive way in which she depicts families. Her characters' romantic entanglements are not resolved in place of their familial relationships, but as a result of their dealing with them first. Sometimes the one unfolds along with the other, and often they help one another work through their baggage. What I'm saying is their priorities are generally in order, and I dig that about Smith's characters (and her books). Like Hadley, Ellie struggles with father issues. These issues are, in fact, meant to be pivotal to the story. But where Hadley's felt incredibly real and meaningful to me, Ellie's rarely cross the border from the tepid into the profound. So when the plot takes a turn to explore that vein, I felt ambivalent when I should have been riveted. As for Ellie and Graham, I liked them all right. But I never truly fell for them in a way that made me unable to look away. They are both good people. They're good and they're well-intentioned and they're dedicated to achieving their goals for the future. I was happy that they found one another. I wanted them to find a way to be together. I just didn't feel compelled to stick around and watch it happen. They "looked" like happy to me, if you will, but they failed to inspire the real emotion behind the exterior. In the end, This is What Happy Looks Like has all the key elements of a competent, if somewhat bland romantic comedy, but it lacks that certain spark that makes it a keeper.

This is What Happy Looks Like is due out April 2nd.


February 18, 2013

Review: A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

Have you ever seen Out of Africa? It's this old Sydney Pollack film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, and it is sort of loosely based on Isak Dinesen's (pseudonym of Danish author Karen Blixen) autobiographical book of the same name. I ask because it (and its soundtrack) was a staple in my house growing up, and when I first read the brief synopsis for Deanna Raybourn's latest standalone novel, A Spear of Summer Grass, it was literally the first thing that popped into my mind. They just sounded fairly similar what with the same setting, though the time period is a good decade later in Raybourn's novel than in Pollack's film. Since I have fond memories of the movie as a girl, this only upped my eagerness to read the book. I get all excited when an author I love changes things up on her readers. I am a devoted fan of Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey Victorian mystery series and I thoroughly enjoyed her standalone Gothic novel, The Dead Travel Fast. As far as I was concerned 1920s Africa complete with a British/American flapper fish out of water could only spell bliss.

Delilah Drummond is a household name among the London and Paris socialite sets. Daughter of an infamous society wife in her own right, Delilah has worked her way through a few marriages of her own. Unfortunately, the latest crashed and burned so luridly that her mother and current stepfather have called Delilah home for a little Come to Jesus. In fact, they're packing her off to Kenya so she can cool her heels a bit while the scandal back home runs its course. It so happens her stepfather (the best in a long line of her mother's spurious husbands) has an estate called Fairlight on the Kenyan savanna. Accompanied only by her cousin and sometime maid Dodo, Delilah arrives at Fairlight to find the place crumbling around her feet. Determined not to let the man (or men) in her life get her down, she immediately starts issuing orders, procuring help from the local Africans in setting the manor to rights. It doesn't take long for the European expat social life to find Delilah and she is more than happy to dive into the swirling politics and pandering that involves. She even runs across a few old friends in the process, as well as encountering some new ones. Most notably a Canadian transplant by the name of Ryder White--a man as wild as the African wilderness he inhabits and one who just might be larger than life enough to measure up to Delilah herself.

I do love this setting and time period. And what a master Deanna Raybourn is at capturing the sights, tastes, and sounds of the worlds her characters inhabit. The descriptions of everything from the scrumptious clothes to the sweeping landscape positively drip with vibrancy. And the writing, as always, is exquisite. Where I ran into trouble was, oddly, with the characters. Delilah is hard as nails. She's as bright and devil-may-care as they come, and she has zero interest in anything that does not involve pleasure. Interestingly, that was not always the case. We are given a few meager hints that indicate a more sedate and driven past, one in which she married for love (for once) and worked as a nurse during the war. All that was smashed to smithereens, of course, and she is who she has become--a woman who barely resembles the girl she once was. Now doesn't that back story sound intriguing? Add to that the truly crushing details of her last marriage and the fallout it must have left somewhere inside her, and we have got ourselves a recipe for some serious character depth and development! The thing is . . . it never happens. I mean it rather dismayingly never happens. The bits of depth we get are distributed seemingly at random, in too small quantities, and in entirely the wrong places to maintain the thread and drive of Delilah's story. The result being that she is by and large wholly unsympathetic. Sort of monumentally callous and insipid, as a matter of fact. She dashes about her story taking pleasure where she will, heedless of the consequences, lifting her hand for a dubious good deed here or there, but more often intentionally risking her neck and courting destruction by toying with the caged lion that is Ryder. Who, by the way, I found little better than Delilah as far as his ability to secure any scrap of my affection goes. The potential was there on the grand scale. But somehow the decadence of Delilah's life and that of almost every other person around her completely overwhelmed the more subtle possibilities of her story. Her relationship with Dodo remained distressingly unexplored. The unfolding of the plot continued flat and unsurprising. And the crisis, when it came, failed to incite my sympathy given how little I cared for anyone affected by it. I finished it feeling tired out and sad. It could have easily gone so very differently. It's worth pointing out that while I can't recommend this one, it is the only misstep I've had from Raybourn, and I wholeheartedly recommend her other books, all of which are on my Beloved Bookshelf.

A Spear of Summer Grass is due out April 30th.

Buy: Amazon B&N The Book Depository

February 14, 2013

A Love Letter to Romance (& its Readers)

I read my first romance on a dare. The Ana-half of the Book Smugglers was the instigator and the results were fair to middling at best. But then I went into it not expecting very much, so part of the blame rests squarely on my shoulders. I've always been aware of the romance genre. Ever since I was a little girl, my mom's bookshelves were lined with Kathleen Woodiwiss and Judith McNaught right alongside the Dickens and Shakespeare. I knew they were close to her heart and that she reread them often. And since she has always had excellent taste in literature, I'm actually somewhat surprised I never picked one of them up. I think I just assumed they weren't my thing. I always trended scifi and fantasy and never found myself curious enough to find out what was behind the . . . pinker . . . covers on the family shelves.

And then somewhere within the last year or two my awareness of the genre became more focused. Thanks to the tireless efforts of smart ladies like Jane and Sarah, the powerhouses behind Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, I became intrigued by all things romance--without ever actually reading them. I became a romance-adjacent lurker, if you will. As I frequented these larger sites regularly, my online reading expanded to include so many lovely, talented romance bloggers. And you know what? They impressed the hell out of me. I love their joie de vivre. I love not only their reviews, but their insights on the book business, the representation of women in fiction, and their preferred genres (and sub-genres--there are so many!). Their thoughts and reactions informed and entertained me even though I hadn't read any of the books they were talking about. And honestly, those are my favorite traits in book reviewers no matter the genre.

In a recent article for Kirkus, Sarah celebrates finding the familiar in romance. She makes the point that, unlike so many other genres,
Familiarity does not always breed contempt in our literary circle. 
I read that single sentence and it was like a light bulb went on. I thought--this is true. And what's more, it is my favorite thing about the genre! These people are not ashamed of their books. Rather, they harbor an uncommonly large affection for their books. They don't judge. They read widely and with such wonderful abandon. They are smart and curious and open and fun and, at this point, I'm kind of nursing a crush on the entire readership. It's what every community of readers should be. Of course, a few of these choice bloggers induced me to go beyond that first dare and see if I couldn't find the romances that are for me. And I have had such fun exploring. Which is why you've seen (and will likely continue to see) the occasional romance review pop up here. As with any genre, there is plenty that doesn't suit. But when I find a volume or author or series that does? It is the purest kind of literary enjoyment. So if you're looking for something in the way of a good love story and aren't sure where to look, might I direct you to a few of the blogs and authors that currently make up my go-to list? Feel free to return the favor with your own recommendations in the comments!


Romance All the Time
Romance Around the Corner
The Book Barbies
The Book Binge
Smexy Books

Romance Some of the Time
Giraffe Days
Clear Eyes, Full Shelves
Medieval Bookworm


Sarra Manning, Where to start: Unsticky (my review)
Kristan Higgins, Where to start: Catch of the Day (my review)

Courtney Milan, Where to start: The Governess Affair (my review)
Sarah MacLean, Where to start: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake (my review)
Rose Lerner, Where to start: A Lily Among Thorns (my review)

Oh, and by the way--

Happy Valentines/Galentines/Anna Howard Shaw/Pan-Universal Be Who You Are Day to you all!

February 12, 2013

The Dream Thieves Cover

I kind of have to post this because it is Ronan. On the cover! It's crazy Ronan. And Chainsaw. And it has "thieves" in the title. And it is due out September 17th. And oh my goodness I don't know if I can take it.

February 11, 2013

Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi

I'm relieved the Cover Gods decided to repackage this series. The "I'm gonna eat you for breakfast" model photo from the original cover of Shatter Me was seven different kinds of wrong. The only thing I loved about that original cover was the slashed title. I do miss that and kind of wish they'd ported it over in the repackaging. And while I'm not a huge fan of the sky blue and pink they've opted for in the new covers, I applaud the general direction and the nod to some of the overarching themes of the series. Most of all, I hope it reels in new readers for Tahereh Mafi, because she (and her books) really deserve them. Not long back, I caved and read Destroy Me, the e-novella Ms. Mafi wrote from Warner's perspective. It takes place in between the first and second books, and I finished it even more crazy devoted to that crazy psycho than I was before (and that is saying something). And, of course, I've spent the last handful of months impatiently waiting to see what insanity he would perpetrate next in this the second full novel. And I can tell you now, as far as Warner goes? I was not disappointed.

I do apologize, but beyond this point there be unavoidable spoilers for the first book. Proceed with caution.

Juliette is not adjusting to Omega Point. Not even a little bit. Of course, it's pretty hard to relax and let your guard down when every single unusual inhabitant of the secret haven stares at her askance, afraid they'll accidentally brush up against her and pay the price with their lives. Her reputation, as always, precedes her. And so life at Omega Point is, in many respects, not so different from life at the compound. With Warner. No one is actively trying to kill her, and that is a definite plus. But no one is telling her anything either. And, as the days go by, even Adam grows more and more remote, preoccupied with something he won't can't tell her. The ever-boisterious Kenji tries to bridge the gap by sitting with Juliette in the cafeteria and trying to teach her a little of what they do there and why they need her to get over her inhibitions and put her unparalleled powers to work on their behalf. But she's spent 17 years distancing herself from those around her. It's going to take more than irreverent humor and overtures of friendship to break down the barriers she's erected. It's not until she's allowed out on her first mission that a crack appears in her armor. She comes face to face with Warner once more, and the resulting emotions (on both sides) are . . . not what she expected them to be. It seems he is to play a part in her life whether she likes it or not. The question is, will either of them survive the encounter, whether Warner can touch Juliette or not?
Sticks and stones keep breaking my bones but these words, these words will kill me.
My love for this book is entirely tied up in my love for Warner. This should come as no surprise to any of you. And I fully own up to my inexplicable attachment to this scary, broken antihero. I referred to him as a villain in my review of Shatter Me. But I no longer think of him as such. No, he pretty much singlehandedly slides into antihero territory in this installment. Which is exactly what I was hoping would happen and which just complicates my mess of feelings, all of which mirror Juliette's. But I'm telling you, the scenes in this book that crackle are the scenes in which Warner is in the room. That's all there is to it. It's almost as though he consciously wraps himself in the most urgent and beautiful language Ms. Mafi has at her disposal. And it works like a spell to draw Juliette (and the reader) to him and to his explosive existence. When he's not in the room, the whole thing dims a bit. One of my favorite moments comes when Juliette looks into Warner's face and realizes,
It's the kind of face no one believes in anymore.
And she's right. There's something hesitant and fine about him here and I, for one, was mesmerized. Don't get me wrong. Adam and Juliette's relationship is as sweet as ever, but I did feel as though it relied a bit too much on its portrayal in the first book. That their connection wasn't as present and tangible as it was then. Oh, who are we kidding? It's all about Warner and Juliette for me. Poor Juliette. She doesn't have an easy time of it this go round. I love her. I feel for her and the lot she's been given. Her constant internalization and self-flagellation didn't bother me as I gather it has some other readers. She felt as consistent to me as ever, and I understood and sympathized with her at every turn. Interestingly, I did miss the sweeping, throbbing language of Shatter Me. There are smatterings of it throughout, of course, but it is decidedly dialed down in this sequel. And I missed it. This is ameliorated to a degree by the added humor present in the form of Kenji. The larger-than-life rebel is a razor wit and an utterly welcome addition to the we-take-ourselves-so-seriously-we-can-barely-crack-a-smile duo of Adam and Juliette. They need him. Every nutty denizen of Omega Point needs him. And I giggled helplessly at every arrogant, hysterical word that comes out of his mouth. Humor aside, though, I was a bit bothered by a couple of key plot points, a couple of manipulative moves that took the wind out of the book's sails right when it needed the most momentum. They felt unnecessary to me, too rich for a book already wealthy with words and angst and impossibility. But where Shatter Me wound up to a crazy, out of left field ending, Unravel Me kicks butt and takes names with an ending that shot me to the moon and back. No joke, chapter 62 is enough to lay you out flat. And so I'm gonna leave you with my favorite bit from that most excellent of chapters and hope it gets under your skin enough to send you running to the bookstore to get your own copy.
He's holding me like I'm made of feathers.

He's holding my face and looking at his own hands like he can't believe he's caught this bird who's always so desperate to fly away.His hands are shaking, just a little bit, just enough for me to feel the slight tremble against my skin. Gone is the boy with the guns and the skeletons in his closet. These hands holding me have never held a weapon. These hands have never touched death. These hands are perfect and kind and tender.

And he leans in, so carefully. Breathing and not breathing and hearts beating between us and he's so close, he's so close and I can't feel my legs anymore. I can't feel my fingers or the cold or the emptiness of this room because all I feel is him, everywhere, filling everything and he whispers


He says, "Please don't shoot me for this."

Buy: Amazon B&N The Book Depository

Babbling About Books, and More - "Team Warner fans, rejoice."
Book Nerd Reviews - "Tahereh Mafi’s writing does something to me."
Gone With the Words - " The anticipation for the final book in this series might kill me."
Into the Hall of Books - "I feel so strongly about everything that happened in this book."
Just a Lil' Lost . . . - "I knew this book was going to be epic, and the more I kept reading the more I was thankfully proven right."
Love is Not a Triangle - "Unravel Me solidified how much I love Tahereh Mafi's writing and these characters."
Refracted Light - "Unravel Me was beautifully delivered and made me absolutely crave the next book."

February 7, 2013

Grace Grows by Shelle Sumners

I received a pitch for this book a few months back and dithered around on it a bit before deciding to give it a shot. But I had to wait, of course, for the right moment. And that moment came the other night after putting everyone to bed and coming off a rather unsatisfying read the night before. It helped that I haven't really read any true chick lit for awhile. What didn't help was the cover and the title. Nope. Not representative of the book at all, as far as I'm concerned. So if you're put off by either, don't leave yet. Because I settled in with Grace Grows and did not surface again until I had finished it. The thing is it made me laugh right off the bat. In fact, I'd read a passage aloud to my husband before I was three chapters in--a sure sign I'm enjoying a book immensely. If he has to hear a bit of it aloud as I am reading it, then he knows I'm in it for the long haul. Turns out Grace Grows is so readable and engrossing that the "long haul" felt very short indeed. That's not to say that it's without its problems. On the contrary, it has it's fair share. But I haven't been able to get it out of my head since finishing. So let's discuss the highs and lows and see where we wind up, shall we?

Grace Barnum (yes, like the circus) is comfortable. She has a live-in boyfriend she's been with for awhile now. She has a job that keeps her busy and a pleasantly distant relationship with both of her parents (who have been estranged ever since she was a little girl). She has friends to go out with on the weekends and time to herself to sit in the Cloisters and recharge her batteries, so to speak. Everything's fine. Really. But then one morning on her way to work, she meets a dog walker outside her building who changes everything. Or wrecks everything. It all depends on your point of view. But one thing is for sure, this sometime dog walker, full time up-and-coming musical sensation has no intention of exiting Grace's life. Which presents problems on several levels for peace-and-quiet-loving Grace, because she can't seem to let go of their . . . friendship . . . either. And it's messing with her mojo, seeing as Ty is as chaotic and charismatic and fun-loving as Grace is steady and quiet and set in her ways. But Tyler Wilkie is dead set on two things in his life: getting famous and getting Grace. Which presents a problem for her nice, normal boyfriend who suddenly seems to be heading toward fiance territory. And so time passes and the two of them circle and reach out to each other and drift away and come together again in a kind of excruciating cycle neither of them know how to break. Until the strength of their connection forces them to act, that is. And then things get even more complicated.

Like I said, I started laughing immediately and didn't stop. Shelle Sumners has a wonderfully dry and lively wit and it sparkled in Grace's interactions with Tyler, with her friends and co-workers, and with her inexplicable parents. I cared for her right away. In fact, I cared about every single character in this book. They are each of them delineated carefully and thoughtfully, and while the bulk of my emotions were tied up in Grace and Ty's relationship, I was attached to each of the secondary characters as well. Which is why the whole messy, beautiful thing meant so much to me, I think. And why it was so clenchingly painful when the course of true love did not run smooth. And let me tell you, it really, really doesn't. I can understand why some reviewers want to kick Grace to the curb about two-thirds of the way through. She brings the pain, this girl does. She's been the recipient of her fair share of it as well, and for that (and her parents' dysfunction) I cut her some slack. But that doesn't mean it isn't difficult to watch her sabotage Tyler's happiness (and her own, of course) in such desperate ways. And since Tyler is about as adorable as a basket of puppies, it's . . . well, it's hard to watch. But the dream of them is so compelling, I did. I watched it right through to the very end.
I reached up and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned.

"Hi," I said.

"Hey!" he said. "It's you!"

He gave me that radiant smile and the gawk factor inexplicably transferred from him to me. Suddenly he was grace, and I wasn't.

"You're shorter than this morning," he said.

"Oh, yes." My face was getting warm. Annoying! "I had on those tall shoes."

"Yeah, they were pointy."

"Yes, I was trying to--well, I don't usually dress like that."

He nodded. "It looked hot, but painful."
This, their second meeting, is an incredibly simple passage, I know. But it really does give you a feel for Ty's easy charm and Grace's awkward honesty when she's around him. There's no denying their chemistry. This is one of those protracted relationships. It develops over years. And nothing, but nothing, resolves when you want it to. Honestly, I did come to tire of the never ending passing like ships in the night. Similarly, I wish the plot point that finally forces them to act was not what it was. It took away from the payoff for me. I wish Grace had found the courage to take control of what lay between them without it, and I wish we'd been allowed to spend a little more time with Grace-and-Tyler before their fragile little entity was overwhelmed by life and the consequences of the long string of decisions (both bad and good) that brought them where they are. That said--I really cared, you guys. I really cared. It hurt reading this book. It hurt and tickled and irritated and delighted. Recommended for fans of Liza Palmer and Kate Saunders.

Buy: Amazon B&N The Book Depository

The Allure of Books - "I was SO INVESTED in this story that it might have been a little unhealthy."
Dear Author - "This is a book that I didn’t want to put down or stop reading. But it’s also a book that I wanted to like more than I actually did."
The Readers Den - "I have to give a high rating to a story that claims my attention so absolutely."

February 5, 2013

Falling for You by Lisa Schroeder

A couple of years ago I stumbled across a new-to-me book by new-to-me author Lisa Schroeder. I cracked open Chasing Brooklyn with  what you might describe as less than high expectations, with the result that I was utterly blindsided by the reality. I am a decided fan of well-executed novels in verse. Have been for awhile now. And this was just such a one--an expertly crafted study of grief and its aftermath, on survivors reaching out to each other. I read it in a single evening and looked forward to more from Ms. Schroeder. Somehow I never made good on that resolution, though. I think it was that I was nervous her others wouldn't live up to the perfect moment that was Chasing Brooklyn. Like maybe I shouldn't go out on any more dates with her books for fear none of them would quite match that heady first date. So I held back. But when the early buzz for Falling for You began to swirl so enticingly around me, it wasn't long before my resolve dissolved in the face of a pretty, pretty cover and the potential for such pretty, pretty words.

Rae needs someone to want her. Someone to care about her and for her to care about in return. It's been years since she's gotten any of that from her mother, let alone whichever man they're currently dependent on for money, food, and shelter. That's why the arrival of Nathan Sharp seems so timely. Nathan is almost immediately into her, and it's difficult for Rae to see past his flattering, affectionate manner. Encouraged by her two best friends who've quietly watched her avoid meaningful relationships in the past, Rae decides to give something with Nathan a shot. And, boy, do sparks fly. The undeniable physical connection between them makes itself both felt, seen, and heard. And before Rae knows it, she has a full-fledged boyfriend, complete with obligatory hand-holding and locker-kissing. Unfortunately, Nathan also appears to come with a monstrously large load of jealousy and neediness. So much, in fact, that she finds herself avoiding him in order to catch her breath. Trouble is, Nathan doesn't really do breathers very well. Any separation at all fills him with despair. And what with her home life being about as bad as it can be, and her need for time and space in which to work and write and avoid her increasingly unstable stepfather, Rae realizes she needs to break things off before she gets in too deep and Nathan's need for her becomes more than she can handle.

I wasn't too fussed when I found out Falling for You was not in verse. I mean, I had kind of hoped it would be, but I was also eager to see how Ms. Schroeder fared in prose. I enjoyed the initial structure and set-up, starting out at the end and then interspersing Rae's account of the past six months with short bursts of the crisis that is to come. I liked Rae fine. She was smack dab in the middle of a nightmare and yet she kept on getting up and going to school and work and fixing an endless string of dinners for her worthless stepfather. But I never really got inside her skin, you know? I understood what made her tick, but it never went beyond skin deep emotion for me. The writing was fine as well. But I quickly found myself missing the wonderful poetic turns of phrase I know Schroeder is capable of. Since Rae is a poet herself, there are excerpts from her poetry journal, but none of them lifted me off the ground. They never felt as genuine or revealing as I was looking for. I also liked the idea of exploring a relationship with one utterly co-dependent partner and one increasingly disaffected one. But Nathan and Rae never surprised me. I could see the turns they were going to take several steps ahead. And minus a deeper emotional investment in Rae, it was hard to stay as present in her predicament as I'd like to have been. And while I liked Leo (it's impossible not to like Leo), I wished I'd gotten more of his perspective. He remained a sort of innocuously good presence in Rae's life, never quite crossing over into vital or vibrant enough to fully inhabit his place in the story. He has a couple of elegant moments that gave me cause for hope. But they (and Rae's journey) were overshadowed by the heavy messages that permeated the novel. Where such themes were delivered subtly and impressed me deeply in Chasing Brooklyn, here they felt too overt, too . . . simple and monochrome and easily swallowed, if you will. I rather suspect I shall sit on this underwhelmed bench alone. And that is just fine. I hope Falling for You finds the readers it's meant to.

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Basia's Bookshelf - "I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it while I was reading it, but when I was done, I was left feeling like I wanted something a little more balanced and real."
Born Bookish - "It was emotional. It was mysterious. It was hopeful. It was wonderful."
Clear Eyes, Full Shelves - " . . . it’s a gentle book that in the end left me feeling enveloped by a spirit of goodness."
Good Books and Good Wine - "My heart cracks wide open for Rae."
Novel Days - "There were scenes that took my breath away."
Pure Imagination - "I can't recommend it enough."