Twofer: Blade Song & Night Blade by J. C. Daniels

Like many of you I often find myself reading books based on the reviews of others. There are, however, a few reviewers I trust implicitly, so when I received a recommendation from one of my favorite book pusher friends Angie, strongly suggesting I pick up Blade Song and Night Blade by J. C. Daniels like, right now, well, you can be sure I sat up and took notice. And since I read both books in a matter of days (really, you could probably count it in hours), I'm gonna post this review as a twofer. Because I'm thoughtful like that.

As a private investigator serving the supernatural community of East Orlando, Kit Colbana takes on all sorts of jobs -- well, at least until business gets better she does. Delivering messages, a little light spying, missing persons; her half-human blood and her own brand of magic enables her to do it all even if some cases suit her tastes more than others. But from the moment a particular shapeshifter strolls into her office, all charm and assurances of easy money, she wants nothing to do with this particular case. That is until she learns it's about a missing shifter teen -- Kit has a soft spot for runaways -- and that someone might be targeting such runaways does she reluctantly agree. And like everything else Kit dives into, trouble is hot on her heels as she fights to simply get the kid -- and herself -- out of it all alive.

Whew. That rather generic cover (ho hum...another scowling girl with a sword) for Blade Song did not prepare me in the slightest for what J. C. Daniels had in store for Kit or myself. Kit Colbana is a force to be reckoned with. She is brash and damaged but not cliched, her demons are absolute but Kit just. doesn't. quit. Ever. She's scrappy and mouthy and she can freaking hear her sword singing to her. I'm quite partial to women whose favorite accessory is a sharp sword. Combine that with a bitingly smart tongue, Kit is no push-over. Which is exactly what she needs to be to hold her own against the more powerful shapeshifters and vampires headed her way. All that rigorous training as an assassin she endured as a teenager coupled with her expertise with an enchanted sword proves that Kit is more than a match to those deemed of 'superior' strength. Throw in some seriously witty dialogue and terrifyingly non-stop action and I admit to falling fast and hard for this first installment of the Colbana Files. I couldn't wait to return to this gritty world and thankfully was able to jump right back in with Night Blade, already queued up and waiting for me.

***SPOILERS FOR BLADE SONG*** I wouldn't do this to you normally, but go read the first book already. Then we can discuss Night Blade. Trust me, you aren't going to want to miss this one.

Time has passed since Kit rescued the missing shifter teens and Damon (the charming cat shapeshifter mentioned above) became the alpha of clan of cats. Still settling into their new and thrillingly serious relationship, Kit is starting to find a small bit of peace and even happiness with Damon. Not without bumps of course, but they wouldn't be Kit and Damon without bumps. Still, she'd do anything for Damon which is why when a former flame turned government worker drops a case into her lap she can't refuse, Kit is faced with the terrifying prospect of having to clear Damon's name -- or else. To make matters worse she can't talk to anyone about the case -- again, or else.

If I only had one word to describe Night Blade to you it would be gutting. Seriously J. C. Daniels is a genius for penning a book so filled with layered emotions and the complicated consequences of fighting for those you love that it simply left me reeling. I mean, Blade Song was good but Night Blade? Night Blade is freaking dinner. So much happens in this book that it boggles the mind how deftly J. C. Daniels was able to juggle all the threads with equally strong results. And unlike my first gut reaction to all the secrecy involved, Kit's inability to come clean with Damon just made the story all the more compelling - not less so, as I would have predicted.

One thing I adore about these books is the assortment of friends Kit collects along the way (in addition to the one man force of nature known as Damon Lee): Damon's ward Doyle, the scarily helpful witches, Damon's best friend - the shadowy Chang, not to mention all the misfits from Wolf Haven. All combined, this motley collection gives Kit support when she least expects it but when she typically needs it the most. But the heart and soul of Night Blade really is Kit and Damon's complicated relationship. She's half-human, he's an alpha shapeshifter and when their worlds collide it's of the supernova variety. That said, they work so well together -- charming and overly protective on both ends, just expressed in their own explosive way. Which is why I'm going to be purposefully vague and simply say: I was so so so not prepared for that ending. I year is an awful long time to wait for Broken Blade. But you better believe I'll be there all the way.

series reading order:
~ Blade Song
~ Night Blade
~ Broken Blade (January 2014)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review (book one & two)
Fiction Vixen review (book one & two)
The Romanceaholic (book one & two)
Tynga's review (book one & two)

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Well I knew it was going to take a spectacularly unforgettable book to bring me out of my reviewing stupor and I am here to say that Fangirl is it. It seems to me that Rainbow Rowell is trying to outdo herself with each subsequent book. Attachments had great promise but lost me around the three-quarters mark, Eleanor & Park was pretty dang spectacular but this book...this book just caught me. Caught me up in its characters and its life now all I want to do is tell every single person I know about it.

Cath Avery is not your typical college freshmen. True, she's got all her books ready and is all set up in a perfectly good dorm room (complete with one sarcastic roommate) but Cath is not pleased at being separated from her twin sister Wren. Her much more outgoing, prettier twin sister (in Cath's mind) Wren. But that's okay. She's got special permission to take an upper-level fiction writing course, boxes of protein bars to sustain her, and her Simon Snow fanfiction to occupy her time. So what if the majority of her friends are either online or only live in books? She can handle this split from her sister and her scatterbrained dad. She can. Only what happens when life really starts to come crashing down on Cath? Can she figure it all out without losing herself?

Fangirl is something special. Okay, Cath is something special. I can't remember falling so hard for a character in such a long time. How can I even quantify it? Cath is neurotic in the best way possible. She's a genius that could have just moldered away her entire freshman year if it weren't for her world-wise roommate Reagan whose mission in life (alongside the smiling Levi) it is to drag Cath out into wide world. And it goes without saying that anytime Levi graced the pages you can be sure I sat up just a bit straighter. Take this scene where he (and Reagan) meet Wren for the first time.
"Hey, Cath," he said, already smiling, "are you--?" He looked at the bed and stopped.
"Levi," Cath said, "this is my sister, Wren."
Wren held out her hand.
Levi's eyes were wide as Cath'd ever seen them. He grinned at Wren and took her hand, shaking it. "Wren," he said. "Such fascinating names in your family."
"Our mom didn't know she was having twins," Wren said. "And she didn't feel like coming up with another name."
"Cather, Wren..." Levi looked like he'd just now discovered sliced bread. "Catherine."
Cath rolled her eyes. Wren just smiled. "Clever, right?"
"Cath," Levi said, and tried to sit next to Wren on the bed, even though there wasn't enough room. Wren laughed and scooted toward Cath. Cath scooted, too. Reluctantly. If you give Levi an inch...
"I didn't know you had a mother," he said. "Or a sister. What else are you hiding?"
"Five cousins," Wren said. "And a string of ill-fated hamsters, all named Simon."
Levi opened his smile up completely.
"Oh, put that away," Cath said with distaste. "I don't want you to get charm all over my sister -- what if we can't get it out?"
Reagan walked back through the open door and glanced over at Cath. She noticed Wren and shuddered. "Is this your twin?"
"You knew about the twin?" Levi asked.
"Wren, Reagan," Cath said.
"Hello," Reagan said, frowning.
"Don't take this personally," Cath said to Wren. "They're both like this with everyone."
Doesn't that just leave you with a smile on your face? There were so many unforgettable moments in this book. Laugh out loud moments. Cry your eyes out moments. And times when you just want to go hug your best friend moments. Rainbow Rowell manages to juggle all these different plots and ideas and underlying emotions that it simply blows my mind.

And then there's the Simon Snow stuff. I cannot begin to tell how much I wish those books -- or Cath's Simon and Baz fanfiction -- were real. I have never wanted to read a fake book so flippin' much. Fangirl is the ultimate keeper. Cath and Levi and Reagan and Wren have all settled themselves into my heart and I just never wanted the story to end. But I think Rainbow Rowell gets that.

Because Everyone Loves a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
Book Harbinger review
Cuddlebuggery review
Dear Author review

How I Live Now Trailer

This trailer gave me the shivers. 
And considering the amount of emotions I felt while reading Meg Rosoff's crazy-incredible book I'm betting this one will probably be a doozy.
Now, who wants to go see it with me?

Ilona Andrews San Diego Signing

So awhile back I found out that the universe had aligned itself the husband and wife writing team Ilona Andrews would be visiting Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego as part of their tour for Magic Rises
Yes. That Ilona Andrews. 
At this point, imagine me jumping around the house doing wildly uncoordinated fist-pumps while the hubby looked on in amused bewilderment. Keeping up a steady manta of "I want to go to there," I immediately called upon my dear friends Becca and Gladys to make the three hour road trip with me to meet one of our favorite writing duos.
Here we are at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore.
Despite my almost normal expression here, imagine an entire colony of juiced up butterflies pinging around my stomach at this point. I was a wee bit excited.

The bookstore was packed but somehow Becca and I wound up literally sitting at Gordon and Ilona's feet during the Q&A session. Which Gordon opened up by simply saying "So. What do you want to know?"
By the end, my butt was numb and my legs were all jittery from sitting still for so long but it was totally worth it. We are such book nerds.

Because this totally happened... 
I got to meet them!!!! And they kindly agreed to sign all my Kate Daniels books.
I cannot even begin to tell you how super cool and nice and gracious and funny they were. Maybe you can tell by my crazed I'm-a-swimfan-grin I've got going on here but they pretty much were amazing. Also. Ilona hugged me. I think I died.

Still high on endorphins and sheer giddiness, we met up afterwards with Maggie from Young Adult Anonymous (who is incredibly cool) 
 and enjoyed some seriously delish sushi while we rehashed every single hilarious thing Ilona and Gordon said (and the fact that they sorta matched, which was kind of funny). 
Like the fact that even though we all knew that Ilona was from Russia none of us expected her to actually have such a killer Russian accent... 

Or that some of the things Gordon said would remind me so much of Curran. I think at one point when they were talking about some changes they wanted their editors to make to Magic Rises very late in the publishing stage he said: "We're not asking you. We're telling you. It's our name on that book." I sat there giggling to myself just thinking of all the times Curran said something like that to Kate or to one of the Pack...

Or that Aunt B is their favorite character to write *sobs*...

Or when asked if Derek is ever going to get the girl and his own happily ever after Gordon responded with "Well he should!"

It was an incredible day. I could not have imagined them being more candid or funny or working so well together. Frankly, I'm still a bit in awe of their abilities. And of their books. Thank you so much for doing what you do so well. This is one loyal fan you've got in your corner forever.

Novel Gossip: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth E. Wein

When Chachic and I first decided to begin the feature Novel Gossip we both knew that one of the books we wanted to read together was Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein. We both loved the heck out of Code Name Verity and knew that this was a book we'd need a bit of friendly support for.
The bloggers behind Chachic’s Book Nook and See Michelle Read chatting about books, thousands of miles apart.

While our thoughts were a bit all over the board during Rose Under Fire, we both really enjoyed it. But let me preface this discussion by giving a plug for Code Name Verity (that is, if you're one of the crazy people who haven't read it yet). While it's not exactly a sequel, the beginning of Rose Under Fire focuses a lot on what happens in Code Name Verity, so naturally, it'll make your experience that much better to understand the story. Also beware: this is a concentration camp book. So. You know...feelings...and all that ahead. Our conversations took place over several days and has been edited to remove spoiler-y bits. Here's the description for Rose Under Fire via Goodreads:
While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?
And here we go...

Michelle: I'm curious about this book because honestly it's starting just a wee bit slow. I'm not connecting with Rose yet. What do you think of her as a narrator so far? I know she is a naive, young American but lots of the observations she makes seem a little too daft - maybe they weren't for the time period, but since we have so much information now, it seems a bit like overkill. I don't know, maybe she'll grow on me, I sure am hoping so.

Chachic: Rose sounds really young, I was a bit surprised that she's only 18. I don't think the observations that she makes are unnecessary because I don't know a lot of these details so it's all interesting for me. We didn't really study the war that much back in school and the focus was on how it affected the Philippines, not on what happened in other parts of the world. It's either that or I've forgotten most of it.

Michelle: This is probably a prime example of my egocentric American up-bringing showing, but I suppose I just assumed everyone who reads this book would have a pretty good knowledge of WWII history. WWII is pretty much THE CONFLICT that historians talk about. People actually refer to it as 'The War' and there are hundreds of books and documentaries that come out constantly -- it's a huge fascination over here. I'm curious if that kind of mindset is present in the Philippines or just in America.

Chachic: I think that kind of mindset over WWII is only present in America. I don't see that kind of fascination in the Philippines. If anything, it's been said that Filipinos have short memories and we tend to forget things.

Michelle: I am wondering if all these little things that keep popping up are foreshadowing of what is going to happen to Rose: the concentration camps, having the disable a bomb fuse, etc.

Chachic: I know what you mean about foreshadowing! So we already know that Rose will end up in a concentration camp, I'm a little scared for her as she hears details on how horrible they are.

Michelle: I know! I'm worried for Rose too, I CRY like a little girl during any story about concentration camps so I'm not sure how this is gonna go.

Chachic: I usually try to stay away from books about concentration camps or about WWII but since Elizabeth Wein wrote this, it's a must read for me.

[about half-way thorough]

Michelle: Oh my. Poor Rose. This scared little Rose is sorta freaking me out. These descriptions of her first few days in the camp, her 'controlled flight into terrain' -- how terrible! I can't imagine how sick that would make you.

Chachic: We're only just at the start of Rose's experience and I already feel so bad for her. It's a terrible experience and I can't imagine how she must have felt while going through it.

Michelle: Also reading about how cruel the women guards are at Ravensbruck is terrible. The part that really stuck out to me was was "The randomness has left it's mark. I am scared of anything arbitrary now - of anything that happens suddenly." Because what a perfect way to describe how horribly the guards behave. How depressing and sad. While they are busy dehumanizing the inmates, the guards are also dehumanizing themselves. What amazes me, like Rose, is that these guards are scaring them, and hurting them on their own. No one is telling them how far or what to do to the people. The Nazis let the guards have free reign to cause as much pain as they felt like.

Chachic: I know, I was a little surprised when she said that the guards were women, it's not men who were mistreating the prisoners but fellow women. And on such a massive scale - there were thousands of prisoners in that concentration camp. You're absolutely right, while the guards are dehumanizing the inmates, they're also dehumanizing themselves. It probably became transactional for them to be mean, they were probably not even thinking about their actions anymore.

Michelle: I think I misunderstood Elizabeth Wein's initial reason in making Rosie a bit naive -- where I didn't like it at first, now, I need no convincing she was spot on. She has built this perfect setup for Rose's inability to fully comprehend what has happened to her once she's in Ravensbruck. Rosie can't conceive that's she in a real concentration camp because she has no idea WHAT THEY ARE. It's genius.

Chachic: I think you have a point about why Rose was so naive at the start of the book, she has no idea what she will undergo because she doesn't really know what concentration camps are. Also the naivety provides a contrast to how different she is after her ordeal.

Michelle: Yes. Also I am incredibly thankful that Elizabeth Wein is using flashbacks to tell Rose's story. "I am writing at a rate of 170 miles an hour and going nowhere." If Rose had been telling all these awful things in the moment, I think it would have been just too painful to read. Creating these flashbacks gives the reader a safe place to land in between bouts of insanity and breaks up the madness. I am infinitely glad she wound up free and that she was only in a camp from September to April. One day was probably enough for anyone.

Chachic: Me too. We get pauses to let the horrors sink in before moving forward. Also, it's a practical way of storytelling because like Rose said, she would never have been allowed the luxury of having writing materials while she was in prison. Sigh, poor Rose. She will probably endure so much before we get back to the present. I am so glad she's alive though.

Can I just say that I loved that bit when Rose first gets out of the plane after she lands in Germany and the guys there give her an applause of her perfect landing? From fellow pilots to another pilot, reminding her that they're just human beings too.

Michelle: Agreed. That was a pretty perfect moment for Rose. I hope it helps sustain her in the months to come.

Michelle: So this is probably obvious to everyone but I figured from the beginning that once in the camp Rose would memorize names of the people she meets there. Especially after Felicyta talks early on in the story about how people just don't even know what happens to their families.

Chachic: It wasn't certainly wasn't obvious to me that Rose would have to memorize names when she got to the camp! It didn't really occur to me. But she only had to memorize the Rabbits' names, right? I was wondering why it was just the Rabbits that she had to remember. Was it because what they experienced was one of the most cruel things in that camp?

[after finishing the book]

Michelle: Yeah, I think because the Rabbits were subjected to some of the most horrible medical ‘experiments’ imaginable. They effectively carried physical proof on their bodies of what happened to people in Ravensbruck.

Michelle: Maybe I'm coming into this book all wrong but my gut reaction to Rose Under Fire is this: while good and with lots of interesting tidbits, I did in no way like it half as much as I liked Code Name Verity. I mean I didn't even CRY when reading it and I cried buckets during Code Name Verity. Buckets. Maybe it’s because what I like so much about Code Name Verity was this great relationship between two young women and then what happens to them during the war. I didn't feel like Rose had a similar connection to anyone in Rose Under Fire.

Chachic: I do agree that Rose Under Fire didn't blow me away like Code Name Verity did. I remember I sobbed towards the last few chapters of Code Name Verity and I couldn't stop until I reached the end. And even after I finished reading it, I would become teary-eyed if I come across anything that reminded of the book. I agree with you that what I loved about Code Name Verity was that it was about this beautiful friendship between two girls who wouldn't have met if not for the war.

Michelle: I just didn't feel the same way about the friends Rose makes in the camp.

Chachic: While Rose did meet friends in the camp, to the point where she considered them her family (how could she not when they went through so much together? She had to cling on to something), it really isn't the same as the friendship in Code Name Verity.

Michelle: However I did like the fact that Rose is an American. I don't think I've ever read one about an American in a camp before.

Chachic: Yeah, I think it was a unique angle making Rose American. She was the only American in her block, right? Probably in the whole camp.

Michelle: One aspect that really stuck out to me was how the prisoners fought back. Most of the other books I've read have been of the "make the best of a bad situation' type. So I really like the subversive nature of the Rabbits and Rose and Irina -- they were always trying to find ways to 'fight' the system. Even as if how Rose said it was all pretty passive resistance when you looked at it from the outside, but to them it felt like a big deal. Which it was -- especially when you go back to how paralyzed with fear Rose was even after she was safe in the Ritz hotel in Paris.

Chachic: Like you, I thought it was brave of the girls to try and fight back whenever they could. It was good that they has small victories to keep them going. I'm amazed at how they manage to stay alive and stray true to who they are when they could have easily just given up and became emotionally dead zombie-like creatures. Yes, they were always filthy and hungry but their personalities still defined them. How Lysette was still a mother, Rose was still a poet and Irina was still a pilot. In spite of everything, they retained pieces of their lives within them. I ached for them because they all had these lives that were suddenly taken away from them.

Michelle: Speaking of secondary characters, I think one of my favorite people in the entire novel was Anna Engel -- the Kolonka in Ravensbruck. I was utterly fascinated by her evolution from prison hospital tech to prisoner herself. Plus it didn't hurt that she was a tough, sarcastic lady. I liked her lots.

Chachic: I really liked Anna Engel as well, how she represented the idea that even Germans suffered under their countrymen if they went against the system. I like how she tried to be a good person in small ways - she wasn't horribly cruel to Rose and the other girls. But I absolutely had no idea Anna was the same Anna Engel in Code Name Verity! She is, isn't she? I was so surprised at how Elizabeth Wein connected her characters like that. How Anna was a big part of Verity's story and then Rose's as well.

Michelle : ANNA ENGEL IS THE ANNA FROM CODE NAME VERITY?!?! My use of caps is indicative of my level of genuine surprise! I did not catch that one AT ALL! I knew I should have reread it before I read Rose Under Fire!! Now I need to go back and reread that section in Code Name Verity! Awesome. Thanks for pointing that out to me. I would have felt like a dork for not figuring it out.

Chachic: She's the Engel in Code Name Verity, right? I'm not too sure because I don't have my copy of Code Name Verity here with me so I can't check. Maybe I should have reread Code Name Verity before Rose Under Fire too, I think I would have liked the latter more if I did.

Michelle: Yeah, I think it all comes down to the fact that I don't really love Rose as a person herself. Still. I did like some of her poems and how she told the story (with flashbacks through writing) but I never really felt like she was real. Especially in contrast to how I felt about the characters in Code Name Verity.

Chachic: I felt the same way, I wasn't as invested in Rose as I was with the characters from Code Name Verity. Maybe that's why I felt like I was distanced from her story.

Michelle: And I felt like it was a total cop-out that we never see Rose reconcile with her family (besides that initial phone call) back in America. I'm guessing she does eventually, but that very human, painful moment would have done a lot for me to connect with Rose. It's a completely unique experience! Although to be fair, I do understand why Rose stays in Scotland. It was a whole country torn apart by war, not just from afar, but right there with all the bombings, etc. so I can see how she'd like to be there with people who KNEW. But I just can't see her family not swooping down on her en masse once she turned up again. Even if the reunion had to be in Scotland, I think it would have been worth it as far as Rose's character is concerned to have included it in the story.

Chachic: I know, I was so surprised that we didn't get a scene of Rose reuniting with her family. Like you said, I would have thought that her family would fly to Scotland to see her. Of course, they would want to see with their own eyes how she's doing. Speaking of her family, I kind of expected her more to think about them while she was at the camp? I mean it was mostly Nick that she thought of and talked about while she was there, and she didn't even really love him. I get that it's the idea of Nick as a hero and not the actual person himself but I would have thought that it would be normal to miss her family.

Michelle: Yeah that was pretty odd too. Maybe she needed to distance herself so she wouldn't become utterly depressed? I'm not sure. I hope it doesn't come across like I didn't like the book, because I really did. But I was expecting so much MORE from Elizabeth Wein after Code Name Verity. I wanted to be wowed and it sorta felt like a lot of other concentration camp books I've read before. Like she spent so much time on imparting a message that she forgot about building awesome characters. Sadness.

Chachic: I really liked reading the book as well but yeah, I don't love it as much as Code Name Verity. I think I liked it more than you did? Because I can't compare it with other concentration camp novels. I did like the idea of "tell the world" and how Elizabeth Wein said that's what she tried to do with Rose Under Fire. It's an emotionally heavy read and now I need a happy book!

Michelle: Yes! A change of pace after the heartbreak of this one very much in order.

The Story Guy Blog Tour + Giveaway

Yesterday I posted a review for a fantastic new novella I just discovered: The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers. I am excited to be part of the Blog Tour for The Story Guy. So scroll on through -- not only will you find an exclusive excerpt from The Story Guy but a chance to win your very own eBook copy of The Story Guy!

In case you missed my review, here's the skinny on The Story Guy:

In this eBook original novella, Mary Ann Rivers introduces a soulful and sexy tale of courage, sacrifice, and love.

I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park. Kissing only.

Carrie West is happy with her life . . . isn’t she? But when she sees this provocative online ad, the thirtysomething librarian can’t help but be tempted. After all, the photo of the anonymous poster is far too attractive to ignore. And when Wednesday finally arrives, it brings a first kiss that’s hotter than any she’s ever imagined. Brian Newburgh is an attorney, but there’s more to his life . . . that he won't share with Carrie. Determined to have more than just Wednesdays, Carrie embarks on a quest to learn Brian’s story, certain that he will be worth the cost. But is she ready to gamble her heart on a man who just might be The One . . . even though she has no idea how their love story will end?

Fun right? Well, just to whet your appetites, here's a sneak peak at what you'll find in The Story Guy...

I finish the email, only trembling a little.



Subject: Wednesdays Only

I’m certain you’ve filled the position, but it’s late (or very early) and I’m intrigued despite the judgment I should possess staring into the second half of my third decade.

My IM handle is “lieberries” on villagemail.

When I send it, my breath comes out in a whoosh and my heart is pounding in my ears. I don’t really expect him to answer, but I open my villagemail account anyway and turn my laptop’s volume up so I can hear the IM chime. I can’t quite work out why I answered him.

Sure, he’s pretty, and maybe I’ve gotten a little comfortable with things, or maybe the insomnia is getting the better of me. It’s been a long day that has stumbled into a sad and quiet morning. I can’t stop thinking about stupid things. My dad’s arm around my mom’s shoulders while she takes pictures of the Alaskan coast. Will and Shelley kissing in their tiny urban goat shed, their homemade cheese in their old beer fridge. I look at my thumb, where the sliver has made it red and swollen.

I pull my T-shirt over my bare legs. Sit up straight and try to think straighter. Practically speaking, meeting a MetroLink stranger for anything, but especially kissing, is not entirely safe. I touch my throat, where a blast of heat burns in the hollow.

Is it really something bad to have a life that’s safe? To wear skirts at a sensible length, to let a friend walk you home from the bar, to meet a man for coffee in a busy diner days before you’re alone with him on your stoop?

I look at his picture, how his cuffs bunch at his forearms.

While I value my contentment, I do apparently have a little fight left—for adventure, for capital “R” romance, for the certain curesthat Shelley teased me about—somewhere deep in my lizard brain. At least the part that, say, motivates happy sea turtles to leave their familiar waters and heave themselves up on the scary beach and lay eggs. Not that my eggs have anything to do with this.

I resolve to at least lean back against the pillows and rest before I have to get ready for work, but as soon as I set the laptop on the nightstand, my IM calls out.

In the quiet room, my gasp sounds totally Victorian.

When I spin the screen toward me, the IM box is as real as can be, and the handle is no one I recognize.

GearTattoo: I haven’t filled the position. Still interested?

THE STORY GUY on Goodreads

About Mary Ann Rivers
Mary Ann Rivers was an English and music major and went on to earn her MFA in creative writing, publishing poetry in journals and leading creative-writing workshops for at-risk youth. While training for her day job as a nurse practitioner, she rediscovered romance on the bedside tables of her favorite patients. Now she writes smart and emotional contemporary romance, imagining stories featuring the heroes and heroines just ahead of her in the coffee line. Mary Ann Rivers lives in the Midwest with her handsome professor husband and their imaginative school-aged son.

Connect with Mary Ann:  Website  |  Twitter |  Facebook


The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

Let me start this review by saying The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers is a bit of departure from the usual sorts of books that tend to attract themselves to my reading-radar. So I'll just lay it out nice and plain: The Story Guy is a full-on romance novella with lots of sizzle and adult...situations. If you like stories that fade to black at certain moments, this ain't it. Ahem. That said I found myself glomming onto this particular read like you wouldn't believe because A. it came highly recommended by rock-star Angie and B. it features a teen services librarian as the heroine. Full-stop. That just may be my weakness right there. So if this sounds like something you might enjoy, continue on friend. And if not, well, I'll see you on the next go round.

As I stated before, Carrie is a protagonist I can absolutely get behind. She's a glasses-wearing librarian for Pete's sake who might just be a little bit, well, maybe...lonely. With a fulfilling job and friends who love her, she's never felt the need to truly put herself out there if only to avoid the awkwardness inherently involved in the dreaded first date. So she waits. Until one late night (or is it early morning?) when, sleepless, she curiously clicks on an on-line personal ad for what seems to be the most unexpected request. 
I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park. Kissing only.
Feeling totally unlike herself, Carrie responds to the cryptic request and agrees to meet this mysterious stranger. And after that first day, Carrie embarks on a bit of a surprising, if not highly unconventional, courtship with a man so badly in need of rescuing it's almost painful at times to watch. Because if there's ever a man in need of a bit of rescuing, it's Brian. As in the words of Carrie's co-worker Justin:
"Wow, Carrie. When I said you should go for Story Boy I didn't realize he was a Russian novel."
The Story Guy is a novella that does not read like a novella. It reads like an incredibly well thought out, full-length novel with dynamic pacing and challenging characters. Despite their obvious, instant attraction it's Brian and Carrie's intensely personal conversations that go a long way in revealing their true selves more than any number of dates could have that propel this story from mere good to bloody brilliant. Take this startlingly raw confession of Carrie's on why she hasn't been dating much lately.
I was making some kind of request for some specific kind of love, and instead of that love, the love I needed, I would get another kind. Like, I would need...daisy love, you know, pretty love, sweet love that nonetheless was ubiquitous in roadside ditches in summertime, and instead I would get orchid love. Love that needed misting and replanting and pruning and fertilizing and died anyway. So I stopped asking, and it was okay, except I've been feeling like I don't have enough...of something.
Daisy love. *sigh* Who doesn't crave uncomplicated daisy love at times? And Carrie's ability to articulate those feelings in such a poetic just makes me feel so much. And that is what Mary Ann Rivers is so adept at in this debut -- making one feel all these great, big Emotions.

And maybe I'm getting a bit off track here but for me, while reading The Story Guy, I could not get the song Rescue Me out of my head. Cheesy as that sounds. But maybe that's the highest recommendation of all that I could give this story -- I just can't plain get it out of my head.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
Karen Knows Best review

book source: review copy from publisher

The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand

Even though I don't necessarily love the cover of The Chocolate Touch (that skinny dude is so NOT Dominique Richard! I do so miss those enormously charming silhouettes paired with the bright blue and pink of the previous The Chocolate Thief and The Chocolate Kiss), I must admit to absolutely adoring the contents contained within the packaging. I've thoroughly enjoyed all of Laura Florand's previous novels but The Chocolate Touch pretty much killed it for me. Killed. It. Too soon you say? Well, read on...I'll clue you in as to why.

Every single day for the last week, Dominique Richard has caught glimpses of a unusually frail looking woman sitting in his exclusive Parisian chocolate shop nursing a cup of chocolat chaud while sampling one of his unique creations. Intrigued with her unusual quietness and general willingness to simply sit and enjoy his chocolates, Dominique finds himself wanting to get to know her. But at the same time, believing his natural aggressive nature would not be attractive to this quiet lady, makes plans to slowly charm her into looking not quite so...bruised. Even if the mysterious lady in question is sure Dominique couldn't possibly be interested in her, especially if he were to discover all her secrets.

I cannot say enough about Ms. Florand's deft hand at setting a scene, at creating tension, and in general at pairing two so very different individuals in one of the sweetest love stories I've come across in a long time. So often I found myself grinning like a fool or worried for the results their mutual stubbornness. Yes, Dominique and Jamie both have their complicated...issues...but they just complement each other so well. Their relationship is so out of the norm for both of them but it just works period. She's in need of some rebuilding and he's never had the implicit trust that Jamie is so willing to give. Although in this readers opinion, basically the best thing about both characters is their honest desire to simply do right by the other. That's enough right there to make this girl swoon. And then there's this small fact that the man specializes in dark chocolate. Oh boy. Talk about dreamy.

Nor is Ms. Florand afraid to dive headfirst the messiness of family dynamics in The Chocolate Touch -- which I will be forever grateful for. Jamie and her older sister fully captured my interest with their obvious love and fierce instinct to protect one another despite their myriad differences. Jamie's save-the-world mentality was such a wonderful foil to her sister's I'm-in-control-here demeanor. Of course, even more satisfying had to be watching Dominique trying to navigate those dangerous waters when he not only meets Jamie's sister, but her overprotective father, and prying grandfather (who is probably one of my favorite secondary characters. Ever.). Those scenes proved to be ever so hilarious yet also thrillingly sweet. Perhaps even more fabulous was how Ms. Florand allowed so many strong characters in one scene without ever overwhelming the other while still staying true to their own nature. That's no small feat and only added to The Chocolate Touch's addictive nature in the best possible way.

Now. If you still need some convincing, head on over to Laura Florand's site and read the first chapter of The Chocolate Touch to whet your appetite. It's all kinds of perfect.

The Chocolate Touch will be released July 30th.

series reading order:
~ The Chocolate Thief
~ The Chocolate Kiss
~ The Chocolate Touch

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review

book source: review copy from the author

Retro Friday: Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

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.
From the moment she first sets foot back in France, Linda Martin feels as if she's finally coming home. Even if she's not returning to her own home per say, she is returning in the role of governess to the quietly contained nine-year-old Count Philippe de Valmy. An orphan like Philippe, Linda quickly gains her footing with her new charge but it's the boy's family that keeps her on her toes. She never can quite find her balance in the face of the tremendous presence of his uncle Léon or the quiet ambivalence of his aunt. But it's the handsomely arrogant Raoul that keeps her "eggshell composure" permanently rattled. Yet when a series of accidents seem to point to an attempt on Philippe's life, Linda doesn't know what to believe or who to trust and time is running out.

Somewhat ashamedly I admit that Nine Coaches Waiting is my very first foray into the fabulous world of Mary Stewart. Which seems utterly absurd to me now that I've gone and read it because it reads like a laundry-list for All Things Michelle Adores. The language (can you get more romantic than French?), the setting (I swear I could see those twisting zigzag switchbacks leading up to the château), the frightening yet enigmatic Valmy family (Léon practically gave me the shivers with his puppet master-like remarks). And oh! The suspense! Told in Linda's first person narrative, I could not have been more caught up in her fears and triumphs and most importantly her unease concerning whom to trust.

It's like Jane Eyre and Rebecca (two of my all time favorite reads) went and had a gorgeously intelligent baby with a flair for the dramatic and a penchant for poetry. I don't think I've ever read a book that references another so subtly and appropriately. And the best part is that Linda even makes the Jane Eyre connection herself -- she is fully aware of the similarities but it only serves to heighten the aptness of the comparison, not lessen it. How does Ms. Stewart do that?!

Furthermore, Mary Stewart possess that rare quality in a writer of being able to not say something and have it mean a great deal. This may seem like a small thing, but I so appreciate an author who is willing to trust her readers to pick up the threads and make sense of their emotional import without beating the thought to death. It's a very quiet trait (and often very undervalued) but I think Ms. Stewart has it in spades.

Ms. Stewart certainly understands how to play upon this readers' emotions; despite its initial slow buildup, there was always yet another twist just around the corner to throw my heart back into overdrive. Truly when all's said and done Nine Coaches Waiting packs a bit of a wallop in the best way possible. I literally could not put it down and venture to say, if you're a Mary Stewart innocent like I was, I recommend you remedy the situation immediately.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
The Allure of Books review
Angieville review
Book Harbinger review
Chachic's Book Nook review
She Reads Novels review

book source: purchased

Sync Summer Freebies!

Sync's series of free summer audiobooks is BACK! The first two titles (Of Poseidon and The Tempest) were released today and trust me when I say there are all kinds of good books to look forward to.

So go check out the 2013 schedule and mark your calendars for all the winners to come!

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

Okay, so after a stint of not reading any YA dystopian novels because my reactions were shall we say, less than positive, I decided to take a chance with Joelle Charbonneau's debut The Testing. A cut-throat university setting where students are expected to learn how to rebuild the world without being stabbed in the back by their class mates? I'll bite.

After the world was decimated and recognizable civilization all but destroyed, tiny pockets or colonies were established to help bring mankind back to life. Only the brightest and best however were sent to Tosu City, to the University, to learn how to help rebuild and become the future leaders. Cia is a young candidate, chosen from her primarily agricultural colony, selected for the Testing -- a rigorous testing to be allowed entrance to the University. Where the penalty for wrong answers is more than just a bad grade. Warned by her father to trust no one, Cia is packed off to the big city where her life and her family's will forever change. If only she can make it through her exams.

I was initially very much on board with the idea behind The Testing. But like so many others it quickly began to deteriorate into a less polished derivative of The Hunger Games. Which may be harsh to say fresh out of the starting gate, but let me say this: the comparisons are inevitable. Cia, a young girl from an unappreciated colony, travels to the big city, has unknown people 'watching' out for her, and must fight for her life to succeed. More than a little similar. The Testing started off at least with some original ideas but predictably fell into common tropes.

Let me back up, The Testing did have some good ideas - the general concept that after the world was all but destroyed, the colonists were trying to rebuild it by educating people on how to genetically alter plants and discover new energy sources - but the execution seems just short of believable. It's a book that wants to be technical but doesn't ever get much past general knowledge.

For example: we have Cia, a sixteen year old (prodigy, no less) who 'a few years ago' built a solar power system for her family. Okay, I'll buy that there are some very talented and resourceful teens who could accomplish that but I didn't get the sense that Cia was all that mechanically inclined beyond the author telling us she was by a few token descriptions. I'll be honest, I'm married to an engineer and from day one I knew his mind worked just a little bit differently from my own. To put it bluntly, Cia acts like someone's idea of how a mechanically-minded person thinks they would, but never really gets past the surface ideal. There is no fiddling, no try and retry, there isn't even jimmy-rigging for heavensakes (which I have learned is imperative to those of the mechanical bent)! And maybe I wouldn't be bothered quite so much if I wasn't intimately acquainted with someone just like that, but I am and thus Cia is utterly unbelievable. But kudos to Joelle Charbonneau for trying to write writing about a female interest in mechanical things.

Ultimately, my major problem with this book was the actual testing portion the candidates faced. Yes, it was intense and even a wee bit terrifying at times, but I began to wonder Is this really how they are searching for the best of the best? With the exception of the last survival exam (don't even get me started on that one), the tests were a gauge of intellect not knowledge. For example: what plants are poisonous, how to build a radio, history, etc. Nothing that checks for intuitive thinking. If I wanted to find the brightest future leaders, I think I would administer more tests of creativity and ability to learn and adapt rather than what they have already had in their teenage heads. So while The Testing had it's moments ultimately, it fails. In a big way.

The Testing comes out June 4, 2013

series reading order:
The Testing
~ Independent Study (Jan 2014)
~ Graduation Day (June 2014)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Heise Reads & Recommends review
Little Book Star review
Popcorn Reads review
Resistance is Futile review
Winter Haven Books review

book source: review copy from publisher

This Just In: Novel Gossip

I have met some truly amazing bookish people since I first started this blog. One of those lovely bibliophiles happens to be Chachic -- who I first started chatting with several years ago. She now lives in Singapore although I actually got to meet her for the first time a few months ago when she visited Los Angeles. Which was just so much fun. Awhile back Chachic and I did a readalong of Northlander and The King Commands by Meg Burden and since we enjoyed ourselves silly we decided to make it a regular thing...and thus the feature Novel Gossip was born!

The bloggers behind Chachic’s Book Nook and See Michelle Read chatting about books, thousands of miles apart.
For our inaugural post we chose to read The Chocolate Rose by Laura Florand, an outstanding contemporary chick lit author who writes about France and delicious chocolate and all sorts of other good things (but really, those first two items were enough of a draw for me). 
Head on over to Chachic's place to check out our full reactions to The Chocolate Rose.

Crash Course in YA

I have this wonderful friend that I've come to know better in the past year and it's slightly baffling how similar our tastes in books are. It all started with a surprise discovery of our shared devotion for Kate Daniels, Mercy Thompson, all things Jennifer Crusie and Jane Austen which then spurred a back and forth lending of various books we thought the other had missed out on (a little October Daye here, some vintage Lisa Kleypas there).

But then I recently went to her house and discovered the woman had never really read any young adult novels to speak of (aside from a ill-fated brush with Twilight and a near miss with Hush, Hush -- one I responded to with: "No. Just say no, my dear."). She then proceeded to oh so casually ask me which YA books I recommended. Shut the front door. Well. You can surely imagine my sheer giddiness at being offered such a open invitation and I cavalierly said I'd make a list of my top favorites. Walking away I began thinking how fun this was going to be until I realized I was going to have to put together a list of my favorite YA books. Oh. Crap. A favorite YA books list. And I was supposed to do this how?

After much agonizing deliberating over which would be the perfect introduction to one of my favorite genres, these are the books I've come up with.

Fire (or Graceling, Bitterblue) by Kristin Cashore Fire is a comfort read to me. It's the book I have to reread about every six months because it is just that good. And every time I'm surprised. Fire's determination to be something other than her father is something to behold.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater This one is all about place for me. Although the feisty Puck and steadfast Sean may have something to do with it as well. Also, killer horses from the sea. (I was gonna say 'killer sea horses' but I didn't want anyone to get the wrong idea)

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein Because I'm still thinking about this story of two best friends facing all kinds of hurt during WWII. Nothing is what it seems and you will want BOXES of tissue.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak Another WWII book about a young German orphan girl but I've never encountered another story like it. This man’s prose will change the way you think. Seriously. He’s that good. I'll never forget some images from this book.

Beauty by Robin McKinley THE Beauty and the Beast retelling which sparked my love affair with this story so long ago. McKinley's imagination and lovely writing do all sorts of good things for this book.

The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan This whole series is somewhat mind-blowing but this one, with its' focus on two very different brothers, caught me from the very first sentence.

Melina Marchetta -- Looking for Alibrandi, Jellicoe RoadSaving Francesca, The Piper's Son This is totally cheating but I love everything this woman has ever written. She's an Aussie writer with serious chops and her contemporaries and fantasies alike are jam-packed with such real people that I can't recommend them enough.

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier I could (and have) go on and on about this retelling of the seven swans story but really, Marillier does it so much better, so I'll just leave it to her then.

The Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner A uniquely drawn fantasy full of political intrigue and EMOTIONS and one spectacular thief. Full stop.

Going too Far by Jennifer Echols Let's start with the classic bad girl meets good boy story and then turn it on its head with characters who totally rock and are so much more than they seem. Add in a dash of snarky banter and you're golden.

Bonus pick: The Road Home by Ellen Emerson White Sadly out of print, this book about a nurse during the Vietnam war broke my heart in all kinds of good ways. Rebecca is easily one of the most brilliant characters I've ever encountered.

So those are my picks -- but please tell me, for all that is holy, where would you have a novice YA reader start?

More Like Her by Liza Palmer

She's got it all. At least that's what it seems like to speech therapist Frances Reid upon meeting her lovely, talented and successful new boss, Emma Dunham (who happens to be the first ever female headmistress at the posh Markham Prep School. Ahem, she's that perfect.). Perfect job, husband, house and life and to top it off, Frannie discovers she's actually a really nice person. While in comparison, Frannie's life could nicely be described as a train-wreck. But what do we really know about our friends lives, if anything at all? That's the question Frannie and her friends must ask themselves when tragedy strikes Markham School and Emma Dunham in particular.

I honestly do not know how Liza Palmer keeps doing it. Really. This latest novel*, More Like Her, contains one of the touchiest subjects out there -- bullying, abuse, and hello...death and she just pushes it all upfront and forces you to deal with it straight on -- all the time feeling like you're right there. Especially in all those moments when the characters are dealing with messy aftermath of hurt and guilt for trying to get on with their lives. Because that's really where this book excels. You'd think reading a novel where every couple of pages someone is falling apart would be annoying at best or even slightly embarrassing, but no. Not remotely so. Frannie and company's grief is so real and honest and open that it becomes impossible for you to even think of addressing the circumstances any other way.

What I especially loved was that Liza Palmer gave each of her characters room to deal with such a horrible event in their own way. Be it healthy or not. Frannie wants to 'taaaalk' about it all, Jill doesn't want to ever speak of it again and Lisa, well, Lisa finds the silver lining through it all. And then there's Sam. Sam about broke my heart numerous times with his quick Southern boy charm and manners and his definite un-okayness with it all. But it was just so understandable, warts and all. Every single reaction felt real and while utterly sad in theory it was thoroughly suffused with Liza Palmer's trademark dry wit to keep everyone moving along.

One thing I really like about Liza Palmer's books is that she doesn't dumb down to her audience. She doesn't explain every reference or give her readers time to catch up, she simply drops these little or big nothings along the way and expects you to be with her 100%. Can I say how much I love that about her books? It's like mental gymnastics in the best way possible. This is never more apparent in Frannie's case as she often leaves much unsaid (or halfway said) and expects the reader to follow along. And can I just say: I'm totally with you, Ms. Palmer, totally.

*Just do me a favor and stay far, far away from the publisher's book description. It's waaayyy too spoilery for it's own good. Grrr..

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
Leeswammes' review
Peeking Between the Pages review

book source: my local library

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

2013 where have you gone? That seems such a trite statement, but I honestly cannot believe we are well into April and I still have not posted a single review this year. Shameful, really. Despite my good intentions to share with you all the good, bad, and even some not-so-great books I've come across this year, I just hadn't hit that one story that I wanted to natter on and on about. Then I finally settled in with a book my dear book friend Angie had recommended ages ago, one I had picked up around Christmastime but had never gotten around to reading. The book was The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley and the rest, shall we say, is history. Because this book, my friends, is one I will never forget.

As a best-selling historical fiction author, Carrie McClelland is accustomed to her characters speaking to her. And once again, that same fire and inspiration is beginning to flood her dreams as she embarks on her latest project: a novel set during the attempt to restore Jacobite James Stuart to the Scottish throne in 1708. Embracing historical accuracy to a fault, Carrie decides to relocate to a small cottage within shouting distance of the ruined Slains Castle where much of her story takes place. And in a move seemingly decided by fate decides to use the name of her own ancestor, Sophia Paterson, as her heroine.

While staying at Cruden Bay, Sophia's story begins to flow with an ease previously inexperienced by Carrie. Aided by the amiable locals and her friendly landlord (not to mention his two very charming sons) Carrie slowly realizes that every insignificant detail, every plot twist, even the layout of the castle she has been spot on in writing about -- even before she learned the historical facts. As the line between history and fiction continues to blur for Carrie, she finds herself drawn to her ancestor Sophia who faced heartbreak beyond compare and joy without measure. All of which lead her to question, what if we could tap into the memories stored in our very genes?

When I first heard about The Winter Sea as a sort of time-travel romance I was intrigued. The only book like that I had previously read was Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, which while fun, didn't ultimately do much for me. So happily unawares at what I was getting myself into, I started The Winter Sea expecting such similar tepid fare. How utterly wrong I was. The Winter Sea is like Outlander's more mature, more experienced, intelligent older sister saturated with honest, real emotions and historical treasures like the descriptions of the French court at Saint-Germain and Sophia's stay at Slains Castle. Yet despite the profusion of history described, The Winter Sea is never once plodding or boring. Quite the opposite, in fact. The two stories of Carrie and Sophia were woven seamlessly together. I was always anxious to find out how Carrie would fare in Cruden Bay with her two very different, yet, similar suitors but I quickly became desperate to discover how the bright Sophia would fare in such turbulent times. Because Susanna Kearsley did not let that woman travel the easy road in no way, shape, or form. But thankfully, she did surround Sophia with people who loved her and watched out for her, including the brilliant Countess of Erroll who gave this piece of piercingly accurate advice after Sophia went through some truly heartbreaking events.
'I do promise that you will survive this. Faith, my own heart is so scattered round the country now, I marvel that it has the strength each day to keep me standing. But it does,' she said, and drawing in a steady breath she pulled back just enough to raise a hand to wipe Sophia's tears. 'It does. And so will yours.'
'How can you be so sure?'
'Because it is a heart, and knows no better.'
"It knows no better." That very line right there got struck right in my heart. The sensitivity and depth of emotion in these chapters did not just induce minor sniffling on my part, but full-out shoulders-shaking, tears-streaming crying. And all because Ms. Kearsley's characters had sunk their lovely hooks deep into my heart and refused to let go. But never fear, because despite my extreme worry that Ms. Kearsley would not be able to give these people I had fallen quite in love with the happily ever after they deserved (you can't change history after all), she somehow pulled it off. Beautifully. To me, this story is all about the power of hope and love and learning to never give up. A truly beautiful book that I would recommend to anyone.

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
~ The Adeventures of an Intrepid Reader review
~ Angieville's review
~ Book Harbinger's review
~ Luxury Reading review
~ Tempting Persephone review

Book source: purchased

Lizzie Bennet Kickstarter

Because the Lizzie Bennet Diaries are totes adorbs..
I am so happy and looking forward to for your next project too, Hank.

Best of 2012

Happy New Year to you! As I'm still trying to get used to writing 2013 on all my dates, I wanted to take a moment to wrap up my reading for 2012. This year I read 128 books and although that number is a bit less than in years past, I definitely picked up some tremendous winners. True to form some are new, some are old and some well, some just stole my heart and have since refused to give it back.

Jumping off the list I started back in July, here are my picks for my favorite reads of 2012.

Best. Period. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Okay, I know that doesn't make much sense to pick two when I say 'best period.' But I simply can't forget either of these incredible books. And plus since The Scorpio Races is technically a 2011 book, I'm gonna say it totally counts. I've already read these two multiple times this year alone and I can see myself returning to them time and again.

Best Retelling For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund
Goodness. Ms. Peterfreund hit it out of the universe (pun intended) with this spot-on dystopian(!) retelling of Persuasion. Whenever I look at this book it just makes me feel sparkly all over.

Best Debut Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
This one could also get the best retelling award but newbie A.C. Gaughen just blew me away with her retelling of Robin Hood wherein Will Scarlet is actually a tough-talking, knife-wielding girl. I KNOW!

I know, I know. This pick is simply no fair since I've never even reviewed a single October Daye book on this here bloggy. Shameful. Especially since every single book in this series is witty, addictive, and so well researched. But there really is something special about Ashes of Honor. Perhaps it has sometime to do with a certain feline...hhmmmm? And then there's Fair Game -- COMPLETELY changed my opinion of the entire Alpha & Omega series. Cannot wait for more.

Best Fantasy Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier
This pick should really come as no surprise to anybody. Juliet Marillier is one of my go-to authors and her newest series is so. very. good. Can't wait for Neryn. And Flint.

Best Dystopian Feed by Mira Grant
How is it that TWO Seanan McGuire's books have made my best of list yet I have reviewed neither? *headdesk* It simply must be because this woman can seriously write. Her family dynamics are superb and the action with smack you upside the head with its unexpectedness. Oh, how it ripped my heart in two. In a good way, that is.

Best Throwback The Wind-Witch by Susan Dexter
It seems I read quite a few oldies this year, but The Wind-Witch crept up on me with its lush prose and tales of Druyan's quiet determination. How could I not love this gripping and lovely story? *sigh* Plus it makes me want to go hop on a horse.

Best Author Revelation Lloyd Alexander
I should say specifically his Westmark trilogy. How could I have gone through my entire youth with no kindly teacher, no librarian or no friend recommending his books to me?!? Alexander's brilliant turn of phrase and complicated characters utterly cemented this oldie onto my list of good books forever.

For their exceptional characters and unique storytelling abilities, Honorable Mentions should go to:


There you have it. The books I just haven't managed to forget (nor do I want to).
What's on your list?