Lady of the Forest by Jennifer Roberson

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted 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. 

Okay, so everybody knows the story of Robin Hood, right? I guarantee you've seen at least one cartoon or film adaptation based on the story but to my knowledge, there really aren't a ton of books out there (besides Robin McKinley's Outlaws of Sherwood) that adequately tell the story of how a nobleman turned thief, gathered a loyal band of 'merry men' and fell in love with that stunner, Maid Marian. Jennifer Roberson does just that (and does it really well) in her stunning tale, Lady of the Forest - which lays the foundation for all the lawless adventures of Robin Hood to come. Thanks to Angie, who highlighted Lady of the Forest one Retro Friday a while back, I've had this retelling on my list ever since and was just waiting for the right mood to strike.

Switching back and forth from a variety of perspectives of Robin, Marian, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Will Scarlett, Alan of the Dales, and even fat Friar Tuck, Lady of the Forest beautifully unfolds the story of the young Marian, orphaned after the death of her father in the Crusades, and the much-heralded Robert of Locksley, recently returned from the same conflict. Broken and battered in soul and body, Robin is struggling to simply remain functioning when the beautiful Marian steps forward, bringing his mind suddenly to the present and to his duties in England. What follows is a brilliantly complete tale of the couple's legendary story of love at first sight amidst the tyrannical rule of Prince John and his lackey, the evil Sheriff of Nottingham while King Richard remained a prisoner of war.

I simply cannot recommend Lady of the Forest enough. The language alone was enough to send me into giddy fits of excitement. But coupled with the slight tweaking of the character's personalities and I was a goner. Take Robin for example - traditionally cock-sure, brash, and witty, Roberson's Robin is in turn a broken man. BROKEN! He's been to war, witnessed its horrors first-hand and cannot seem to find his way back. From our very first glimpse of Robin, you immediately get a sense of something not being quite right with our hero.
Robert of Locksley, heir to vast wealth, an ancient title, and his father's brand-new castle, sat very quietly on the edge of the chair, holding himself perfectly still. If he didn't move, if he did not so much as twitch, the chair wouldn't break.

And neither will I.
From that point on I knew this was a tale worth sticking around for. Never once was I bogged down by its' heftiness (600+ pages); the political maneuverings and intrigues were fascinating and Roberson never stooped to overly glamorizing life in medieval Britain. All the gritty details were there, unjust as they were. Lady of the Forest has something to offer any fan of historical fiction, romance, epic retellings, or just lovers of the written word.

series reading order:
~ Lady of the Forest
~ Lady of Sherwood

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review 
The Book Lover review
That's All She Read review

book source: purchased

See Michelle Laugh: Famous Inboxes

Today I stumbled upon this awesome site - Famous Inboxes - that features a collection of email inboxes for various famous people from history and literature. A few, I found to be truly hilarious. Truly.

Like Gandalf's

Or Snape's 
But that's not all! Check out entries for Elizabeth Bennet, Mozart, Peter Rabbit, and even Santa Claus.

It's okay, you're supposed to laugh

I'm not really a fan of book trailers and it seems as if Ilona Andrews is of the same opinion. BUT she has crafted this excellent spoof of a trailer for the next Kate Daniels book, Magic Slays, which is just too awesome not to share.

Neil Gaiman goes Yellow

Neil Gaiman is a genius. An evil genius to be sure but still, a genius.

I just finished Anansi Boys a few days ago and I must tell you that it rocked my socks and then some. Loved it to little bits. Especially these few lines when Fat Charlie and Spider are discussing Rosie's mum:
"I really, really never liked her."

"I didn't know her as well as you did. But given time, I'm sure I would have really, really disliked her too."
The cleverness kills me.

After finishing up, I started poking around his journal (a very fun place to be btw) and discovered this little tidbit: Neil Gaiman is going to be a guest star on an episode of The Simpsons called "The Book Job" which will air sometime next year. My favorite bit from his blog however is describing how the director wanted his character to sound:
Him: "Can you do an American accent that would sound to Americans like Dick Van Dyke's English accent sounded to you?" Me: "Er..."
Must watch that episode.

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Orphaned at an early age and doomed to grow up in a world where death for girls comes at age twenty and boys at twenty-five, Rhine Ellery has tried to carve out a life with her twin brother Rowen. That is until she is kidnapped at age sixteen by Gatherers and sold as a teen bride to the wealthy and young Governor Linden. Even though they are marrying Linden, Rhine and her sister wives, Jenna and Cecily, quickly discover it is their controlling father-in-law Housemaster Vaughn who will ultimately decide their fate. Unwilling to accept life in the gilded cage she has been confined to, Rhine begins to plan her escape - part of which is crafting a mask of happiness that will fool Linden and hopefully even sinister Housemaster Vaughn.

It seems that recently several dystopian novels (Matched, Delirium) have been published which center around the idea of a predetermined or forced marriage in a futuristic setting. While similar in concept, Wither seems to take the concept once step further by actually portraying a teenager in a polygamous marriage. That little tidbit alone initially kept me from sinking into Rhine's story from the beginning. I was turned off by all the inherent implications of such a storyline but once I got further into the story, I found myself very impressed by Lauren DeStefano's careful handling of the topic. Yes, it does read a bit like The Handmaid's Tale but the terrifying bits are kept to a young adult level.

I was especially impressed with DeStefano's rendering of the human conflicts inherent in a polygamous marriage - aspects I was truly nervous about. Rhine's dealings with her two sister-wives, Jenna and Cecily, became a highlight while reading as both characters brought their own unique viewpoints and experiences to the situation. I cannot imagine being thrown into such a situation with two other teenage girls and Ms. DeSefanto does an admirable job of underscoring the unsteady nature of that crazy relationship. And just like her attitude towards Jenna and Cecily, Rhine's role as wife to Linden often winds up becoming blurred as well. None of Rhine's relationships in Wither are simple and that is what really kept me reading until the end.

Despite the readability of Wither, one thing I never quite understood was Rhine's constant aversion to Housemaster Vaughn dissecting bodies in order to better comprehend the genetic alteration responsible for early death. Isn't that what's done in order to develop a cure? Especially since Rhine's parents had been scientists too, I find her unwillingness to see the scientific benefits of performing autopsies unbelievable. Maybe it was simply because it was Housemaster Vaughn doing the dissections? I could tell Lauren DeStefano tried to style him as someone subtly menacing and creepy a la President Snow, yet he never quite reached that level of villain in my book. Otherwise however, Wither proved to be an unnerving and well-thought out debut, with lots of promise for the rest of The Chemical Garden series.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Brittany the Book Slayer review
The Compulsive Reader review
Confessions of a Bookaholic review

book source: ARC provided by the publisher

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

At the beginning of 2011, I resolved to try my hardest to begin reading all those lovely books sitting on my shelves that for one reason or another I've never gotten around to before. At the top of my list was Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith which I purchased way back in July '10 primarily due to the constant pimping of my good friend and blogger Chachic. She continually has good things to say about this book and of course, I was curious to see what goodies it held in store for me. It wasn't until after I arrived home with my used copy however that I discovered I had actually bought a signed copy - even though it had been dedicated to one Ruthie. Maybe I can start telling everyone that's my middle name...

Originally published as two separate books, Crown Duel and Court Duel - but handily combined in my edition, Crown Duel begins with a promising portrayal of the penniless brother and sister duo Meliara and Branaric who swear on their father's deathbed to do whatever it takes - even if it means going to war - to ensure that the king is removed from his throne. As joint rulers of a small province, Mel and Bran don't exactly have the means or resources to defeat the royal army in an uprising, but that doesn't stop them from trying. And despite the highly unfavorable odds Mel and Bran actually seem to be making progress until the arrival of the famed Marquis of Sheraveth, Lord Vidanric. Determined not to let this foppish lord best her on the battle-field or in the high courts, Mel vows to make things right for her beloved country even if it means working together with her worst enemy.

It's no surprise to me now why Sherwood Smith is beloved by many readers. Meliara's world of Hill Folk and court politics is extremely intriguing with hints of magic and full of complex characters. Even though she is stubborn and often blind to a fault, I still could not get enough of Mel's first-person narrative whether running for her life on a broken ankle(!) from royal soldiers or trying to navigate the equally treacherous yet more subtly dangerous parties and teas of court life. I did cringe on numerous occasions as Mel made yet another blunder, but each time, she simply dusted herself off and drove straight back into the fray. That, my friends, is my kind of heroine. As an added perk, running throughout both Parts I and II are Mel's run-ins with the famed Marquis, Lord Vidanric which gave me no end of pleasure. What a great foil these two characters are with their many differences! I do wish we could have seen more development from Vidanric, but I'll be the first to admit that his silences make him that much more compelling. Overall, Crown Duel was a wonderful book and one I'm glad is now sitting on my shelves. Your loss is very much my gain, Ruthie.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Avid Book Reader review
Book Harbinger review 
The Book Nest review
Bookshelves of Doom review
Chachic's Book Nook review

book source: purchased

Perfect Fifths by Megan McCafferty

******You've been warned: Spoilers contained herein!!

And now finally, we come to the fifth and final book in Megan McCafferty's Jessica Darling series. Jessica hasn't seen or heard from Marcus Flutie after finally breaking things off three years earlier when he asked her to marry him. As she is hurrying to catch a flight for Bridget and Percy's wedding(!), Jessica literally runs smack into Marcus. Utterly unprepared for any such meeting, Jessica and Marcus both find themselves questioning their past relationship and if fate truly had a hand in bringing them together once again or if it was just plain dumb luck.

Alrighty then. Y'all all know how I've gone back and forth on this series and Perfect Fifths is no different. Basically, I am divided right down the middle regarding this fifth and final book in the Jessica Darling series. On the one hand, I loved how Megan McCafferty tied up all of Jessica and Marcus' loose ends. The shift from Jessica's first-person tell-all narrative to a third person narrator expertly showcased the idea that this them was telling 'their story.' And unlike the previous novels, I never felt like we were missing out on details since the entire novel only spans about a day. It was a very subtle yet effective way of underscoring the differences in their current relationship. And really, I don't know if there is anyone out that who wasn't thrilled to finally (FINALLY) get a glimpse into Marcus' head after all these years. His insecurities and left-over feelings for Jessica made him so much more human (and therefore likable) than anything else he had done previously as the Game Master.

And how refreshing it was to see Jessica become this confident, if not overworked, responsible grown up. Imagine my surprise to discover that she now went out of her way to try to make others feel better during conversations rather than the 'say anything and to heck with the consequences' method of her youth. It's about time you learned a little thing called compassion honey.

On the flip side, there were numerous details about this book that grated my nerves to no end.

1. The pretentious dialogue. Man, oh man. I get it that Jessica and Marcus are geniuses or something, but did it really have to get beaten over our heads every second of their entire conversation? After a while even I got pretty fed up with having to turn to wikipedia to sort out their latest esoteric reference.

2. Marcus as the ultimate desirable man. Frankly, his unthinkable antics in the previous books pretty much sealed my ambivalence for this guy. Also, I really didn't need the near constant reminders on his incredible sexiness. Seriously. Is there a breathing female that Megan McCafferty writes that doesn't drool over and/or shed her clothes after only a glimpse of him? And that shower scene did nothing to help. Totally awkward and borderline icky.

3. Jessica's breakdown after Sunny's accident. Okay -- rewind. I am so crazy happy that Jessica has finally found a 'calling' in life - something she could put all that passion and extra brain-power towards yet her whole reaction to Sunny's accident was very odd and never quite developed to its fullest potential. Not to mention her utter unwillingness to talk about it with anyone. And I'm not even going to go into Sunny's far-fetched miraculous recovery.

4. Jessica's freaky dream sequences. I can't really even begin to explain these besides to say...whaaaaat?!?

So overall, am I glad I finished reading this series? Yes. I was glad to finally have some closure for Jessica and to actually see her turn into a mature, responsible adult (sometimes I truly worried folks). But there were still many, many moments of sheer frustration. So there you have it. Die-hard Jessica (and Marcus) fans will probably love this one, but I'm okay with returning it back to the library.

series reading order:
~ Sloppy Firsts - my review
~ Second Helpings - my review
~ Charmed Thirds - my review
~ Fourth Comings - my review
~ Perfect Fifths

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Great Books and Fresh Coffee review (a clever review in haiku format)
S. Krishna's Books review 
The Story Siren review
The Reading Zone review
Wondrous Reads review
Write Meg! review

book source: my local library

Printz Winners!

This past week the Printz award winners (along with a slew of other winners) were announced. I usually always end up absolutely loving whatever books the award committee selects and this year will probably prove to be no different. Out of all five books chosen however, I'm a little embarrassed to admit I haven't read a single one. Yet. Although I've heard many, many good things about each.
 2011 Winner: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

2011 Honor Books:
Stolen by Lucy Christopher
Please Ignore Vera Dietz  by A.S. King
Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick
Nothing by Janne Teller

Also in other book award news, the Cybils also recently announced their 2010 finalists a few weeks ago - if you haven't had time to check out their lists (especially the YA and YA fantasy picks), I recommend you do so.

Seeing as I am woefully behind on both lists, I think I have some major catching up to do. Have you read any of these winners/nominees? Any recommendations on where to start?

See Michelle Read in 2010

Happy New Years everybody!!

Unbelievable as it may seem, I'm currently sitting here in my California desert home watching the SNOW fall and feeling very ready to curl up and remember some of my favorite reads from 2010. This past year saw some incredible books come my way - some old, some new and many leaving me in a puddle of squealing girlie-fandom. And so now, here are my Best Of's for 2010...

Best Debut ~ Split by Swati Avasthi
One of the best male POV teen books I've ever read, Split is a gripping yet heartbreaking story. Jace's voice stayed with me for days afterward and I just want to shove this book into every single persons hand.

Best Retelling ~ Jane by April Lindner
I think I've made my undying love for this book perfectly clear but I'll say it again: this modern retelling of Jane Eyre is pitch perfect. Jane falling in love with rockstar Nico Rathburn is simply stunning. Haunting prose, soul mates, and chemistry practically oozing off the page. Read it.

Best Urban Fantasy ~ Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews
Magic Bleeds packs some serious sizzle friends. This latest installment basically cemented Kate's status as my top UF heroine. Kate is tough yet freaking hilarious and her relationship with Curran... oh boy.

Best YA Fantasy ~ The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan
Mae truly is something else. Pink hair and no magic except for her razor sharp wits. And those Ryves' brothers? Um yes. Their dynamic, volatile relationship is never, ever boring and the twists just keep on coming.

Best Fantasy ~ The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Thank heavens that Ana over at The Book Smugglers gushed incessantly over this one. Day one of Kvothe's tale had me riveted. I just know The Wise Man's Fear (or day two) will be just as astounding.

Best Throwback ~ The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman
I had never yet experienced the awesomeness that is Sally Lockhart until this year but I'm so glad I finally did. This entire series is fantastic, but Sally's first adventure is truly heart-pounding unforgettable.

Best Dystopian YA ~ The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Yeah, yeah. I know this one came out in 2009 so I'm a cheating a bit here folks but I did call it back in January and nothing has even come close to changing my mind. Brilliant and compelling - the complete unravellling of Todd's entire world blew my mind. And Manchee broke my heart.

Best New Author Discovery ~ Jacyln Moriarty
And to think my latest crush all started with a little book called The Ghosts of Ashbury High. I had no idea what awesomeness I'd be jumping into when I first picked this one up but I couldn't help searching out Feeling Sorry for Celia, The Murder of Bindy MacKenzie, and The Year of Secret Assignments right away. Jaclyn Moriarty is flawless in her depictions of friendships and the trials of being a teen. Also, she's side-splitting funny.

So if anyone's keeping track that's about 163 books read this year - not as many as 2009, but still respectable nonetheless. All in all, 2009 was a banner year for sure. What were some of your favorites from 2010?