The Fionavar Tapestry was Guy Gavriel Kay's first venture into fantasy; he got his start in the genre helping Christopher Tolkien edit his father's unThe Fionavar Tapestry was Guy Gavriel Kay's first venture into fantasy; he got his start in the genre helping Christopher Tolkien edit his father's unfinished Silmarillion, and to an extent, that shows in The Fionavar Tapestry. The story begins when five college students are invited by the mage Loren Silvercloak to journey to his world of Fionavar, the first of all worlds, of which all other worlds are but a shadow. Fionavar has many echoes of Middle-Earth: there are elves (the lios alfar), who are perilously beautiful and journey westward over the sea when they die; there is a great and evil power who breaks free of his prison and threatens the land. The Tolkien elements are well-mixed with other borrowings, largely from Celtic mythology, as well as fantastic beings like dragons and unicorns.
This sounds as though The Fionavar Tapestry is nothing but a pale imitation of other fantasy, but that's the last thing it is. Kay adds his own inventions to the older elements and creates a gorgeous tapestry (that's the only word for it) of a world. Although his writing isn't as polished yet as in later books, the emotional power of his language is stunning (perhaps more stunning than in some of the later books, in fact). I've read these books several times, and they never fail to enthrall me; the world and the characters feel vividly real to me. Perhaps Kay's later books surpass Fionavar in craftsmanship, but none of them surpass its depth of feeling. ...more
After All These Years is one of my favorite Susan Isaacs books, a wonderfully witty and entertaining murder mystery. Rosie Meyers is in the middle ofAfter All These Years is one of my favorite Susan Isaacs books, a wonderfully witty and entertaining murder mystery. Rosie Meyers is in the middle of a messy divorce, which gets suddenly messier when she goes down to her kitchen for a midnight snack and finds her husband Richie dead on the floor with a knife in his chest. Unfortunately for Rosie, she's the prime suspect. Since she knows she didn't do it, she goes on the lam, investigating Richie's life and tracking down the real murderer.
Whodunnit isn't too hard to figure out, but who cares? Rosie is a wonderfully funny, feisty heroine, and Isaacs's narrative and dialogue are particularly witty; her gift for a hilarious turn of phrase is evident on every page (Richie's jaw "wasn't so much chiseled from granite anymore as sculpted from mashed potatoes"). It's great fun from beginning to end....more
This is perhaps more of a family story than a romance, though of course it does contain a romantic plotline. The eldest son of the autocratic, elderlyThis is perhaps more of a family story than a romance, though of course it does contain a romantic plotline. The eldest son of the autocratic, elderly Lord Darracott has died, and Lord Darracott must summon the new heir -- the unknown son of Darracott's rebellious second son, who married against his father's wishes and died years ago. Hugo Darracott's entry into his new family is a challenge for everyone, but particularly his cousin Anthea, who Lord Darracott is determined will marry Hugo.
The family dynamics are nicely done, but the real page-turner is the subplot concerning Anthea's younger brother and the local smuggling trade, which develops into a remarkably suspenseful climax. Heyer's usual lively characters and dialogue combine with the unusually tense plot to make this a particularly good read, easily one of my favorite Heyers....more
A lot of people would think that Annabel Greene has a wonderful life. After all, she's pretty, a model, and the star of a back-to-school commercial inA lot of people would think that Annabel Greene has a wonderful life. After all, she's pretty, a model, and the star of a back-to-school commercial in which she appears as student, prom queen, and all-around popular girl. Real life, though, isn't so pretty. Annabel's former best friend hates her, her mother is suffering from depression, and her older sister has an eating disorder, and Annabel can't bring herself to talk about any of it (or about other secrets she has). When she becomes friends with loner Owen, who's intense, direct, and obsessed with music, Owen encourages Annabel to be honest, to speak out, to tell others what she's feeling.
It's beautifully written and sensitive, and I loved the characters and their relationships (not just Annabel and Owen, but Annabel and her family and her friends). This was the first Dessen I read, and I think it's still my favorite....more
Emily Byrd Starr is almost the prototypical L.M. Montgomery heroine; she's an orphan who goes to another home where she becomes beloved of her new famEmily Byrd Starr is almost the prototypical L.M. Montgomery heroine; she's an orphan who goes to another home where she becomes beloved of her new family, and she's a writer, who actually creates a successful career for herself. Emily is orphaned at the age of eight by the death of her beloved father (her mother died when Emily was much younger); as her father has no family, Emily is taken in by her mother's family, who have never forgiven her parents for eloping. Emily has allies from the start in her loving Aunt Laura and friendly Cousin Jimmy, but it's harder for her to win over her Aunt Elizabeth, a stern, dignified woman rather like Marilla in the Anne of Green Gables books.
This first book, Emily of New Moon, is very much taken up with how Emily settles herself in her new family, but the last line of the book betokens the direction the next two will take: Emily writes in a new journal, "I am going to write a diary, that it may be published when I die."
From here on, Emily Climbs and Emily's Quest are focused on Emily's creation of herself as a writer and of her career. There are, as must be expected, romantic and family issues as well, but it's the story of Emily the writer which makes these books particularly special to me. Montgomery's portrayal of the difficulties of the writing path is perceptive and often poignant, as Emily is torn between her writing and her family and love interest. These books are a little darker than the Anne books (at least than the early Anne books), as Emily herself is a more complex, less sunny character; there's even an element of Montgomery's interest in the supernatural, when Emily is shown to have a touch of the second sight.
I must admit to being less fond of the last book, because it's so focused on Emily's romantic travails, and the ending is dreadfully abrupt after the labyrinthine plot turns of most of the book. Still, although the Anne books are probably my favorites overall, the Emily books are easily my favorites of the rest of Montgomery's work (along with The Blue Castle). ...more
The eponymous hero of Sylvester is a very eligible match; as the Duke of Salford, he commands not only a title but also wealth, looks, and charm, whenThe eponymous hero of Sylvester is a very eligible match; as the Duke of Salford, he commands not only a title but also wealth, looks, and charm, when he chooses. Sylvester decides that he needs a wife and comes up with a list of six possibilities, but when his godmother adds Phoebe Marlow to the list, Sylvester is taken aback when Phoebe seems almost to despise him, little knowing that she has written a novel which casts him in the role of villain. The sparks that fly between Sylvester and Phoebe make for a very entertaining book, a sort of take on Pride and Prejudice. ...more
Gaudy Night is easily my favorite of Dorothy L. Sayers's beloved series of Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. It's one of the last in the series and thus haGaudy Night is easily my favorite of Dorothy L. Sayers's beloved series of Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. It's one of the last in the series and thus hard to talk about without spoiling earlier books, as it deals with the resolution of the relationship between Lord Peter and Harriet Vane, the mystery writer first introduced in Strong Poison and seen again in Have His Carcase. (If you've read no Sayers, please read at least those two books before reading Gaudy Night, as otherwise you'll be missing a lot).
Gaudy Night is told almost wholly from Harriet's point of view, and in fact Lord Peter doesn't even appear until more than halfway through the book. When Harriet attends a reunion at Shrewsbury, her Oxford college, she receives a nasty anonymous note. Later, when the poison pen returns and starts to play other pranks, the Dean and the Warden invite Harriet to return to Shrewsbury to investigate the incidents; eventually, Harriet calls in Lord Peter as well.
The mystery is certainly intriguing, but what really speaks to me about Gaudy Night is its investigation into different ideas of marriage and of woman's place in the world. The vicious anonymous letters are directed against the female dons (who are necessarily unmarried, a requirement at the time), and cause great debates among them. As Harriet struggles to discover who the anonymous letter writer is, she also struggles to figure out how to maintain her sense of independence and of self in the face of her growing love for Peter. It's a fascinating debate, as relevant now as it was when Gaudy Night was published almost seventy years ago. ...more
Désirée is one of those old family favorites which I've read many times and keep coming back to like an old friend.
It's the sweeping story of DésiréeDésirée is one of those old family favorites which I've read many times and keep coming back to like an old friend.
It's the sweeping story of Désirée Clary, the daughter of a Marseilles silk merchant, from her early love for and engagement to Napoleon to her later marriage to French Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, who later became king of Sweden (and Désirée queen). Désirée herself is one of its chief charms; as the book is in the form of an ongoing journal, everything is filtered through her sparkling, direct, and charming personality.
Historically, I find it largely convincing (though I'd still like to read a good biography of Bernadotte to see if her picture of him is accurate), particularly in the portrayal of Napoleon, who can easily turn into a caricature of himself if handled wrongly; Selinko makes him entirely believable, as an egotistical tyrant, but also as a human being. Although Désirée marries Bernadotte, it's her scenes with Napoleon which are frequently the most arresting and emotional.
When I picked up Sunshine for the first time and realized that Robin McKinley had written a vampire novel, I was almost horrified: it seemed a far cryWhen I picked up Sunshine for the first time and realized that Robin McKinley had written a vampire novel, I was almost horrified: it seemed a far cry from Damar and retold fairy tales, and vampire novels are certainly not usually my thing. But McKinley is easily one of my top ten favorite writers, so I sat down with it one night and got so sucked into it (pardon the pun) that I stayed up most of the night finishing it (which is a bigger deal than it used to be, with a toddler who gets up when he feels like it rather than when I do). On subsequent rereads, I've managed to avoid staying up all night, but it's been a real test of my willpower.
Sunshine is set in an alternate universe, where there are vampires, demons, and weres as well as humans, those who survived the Voodoo Wars but are now threatened by the increase in the vampire population. Rae Seddon, a baker nicknamed "Sunshine" for her affinity for sunlight, has an unusual interest in the Others, but no real contact with them...until the night she's kidnapped by a group of vampires. Her fellow prisoner is also a vampire, and their joint captivity creates an uneasy alliance. Even after their escape, Sunshine and Con are still linked, and Sunshine (another of McKinley's typically strong, practical heroines) discovers more about her world, her past, and her own powers as she and Con work together to defeat the vampire who captured them.
McKinley excels at creating richly detailed worlds, and she's done that again with Sunshine. The world is like ours in many respects (Sunshine describes something at one point as "half Quasimodo, half Borg"), but chillingly different in others -- in one memorable passage, Sunshine wonders about whether phoenixes exist: "I think the phoenix has at least a fifty-fifty chance of being true, because it's nasty. What this world doesn't have is the three-wishes, go-to-the-ball-and-meet-your-prince, happily-ever-after kind of magic. We have all the mangling and malevolent kinds. Who invented this system?" Con himself is Other: not just a human with long teeth, he is inhuman, which makes Sunshine's unwilling attraction to him particularly intriguing (and yet another of McKinley's variations on the "Beauty and the Beast" theme, which she makes even more apparent by having Sunshine retell the fairy tale to Con during their imprisonment).
Altogether, Sunshine is an unusual outing for McKinley in its subject matter and world, but her wonderful writing, worldbuilding, and characterization are fully evident and as compelling as ever. Oh, and you might want to have a couple of good cinnamon rolls lying around, because believe me, you'll be hungry for them by the time you're done with the book (I wish McKinley had included Sunshine's recipe for those)....more
As nineteen-year-old Polly is packing to go away to college, she looks at a picture on her wall called "Fire and Hemlock", a mysterious image of flameAs nineteen-year-old Polly is packing to go away to college, she looks at a picture on her wall called "Fire and Hemlock", a mysterious image of flame and smoke; suddenly, new memories begin to enter her mind -- memories that reveal a childhood full of fantasies, yet full of dangers, a childhood in which she met a man named Thomas Lynn. In order to figure out what's happened to her, Polly must delve deeper and deeper into her new memories and discover where they came from and what they mean.
Fire and Hemlock is based on the ballad of Tam Lin, mixed with elements of Thomas the Rhymer and the workings of Jones's wonderfully inventive mind. It's gorgeously written, full of sharp images: listening to Tom and his string quartet practice, Polly thinks that "[i:]f you were able to hear lime juice, it would sound like violins." Polly and Tom are wonderful characters, and Jones delineates their relationship with skill, as it moves from an adult and child friendship into something else.
The fantastical elements of the book are subtle at first and grow over the course of the book into a mystical ending, which I must admit is the one thing I'm not entirely happy with; it's a little too confusing (or perhaps too subtle) for me. Overall, though, this is simply a gorgeous, haunting book, one of the best from one of the best fantasy authors out there. ...more
Archer's Goon is a mysterious large man who shows up one day in Howard Sykes's kitchen, refusing to leave until Howard's father Quentin delivers the tArcher's Goon is a mysterious large man who shows up one day in Howard Sykes's kitchen, refusing to leave until Howard's father Quentin delivers the two thousand words he owes. When Quentin won't deliver, the Sykes family finds out that their town is run by seven competing siblings who are wizards - and one of them needs those words.
Jones's plots are always mysterious, and I think Archer's Goon is up there with her most bizarre. But she does a wonderful job keeping the mystery intriguing right up through the end of the book, as Howard and his sister Awful try desperately to figure out what's going on before the seven siblings drive them all to distraction or worse. ...more
Nicola and Lawrie Marlow's eldest sister, Karen, returns home from Oxford one day to announce that she's getting married in three weeks, to a widowerNicola and Lawrie Marlow's eldest sister, Karen, returns home from Oxford one day to announce that she's getting married in three weeks, to a widower twice her age with three children; not only that, but they have no place to live yet, so they end up living with the Marlow family. Forest examines the complex relationships between the Marlows and Dodds with a penetrating and truthful eye, accompanied by her usual humor and occasional doses of exciting action.
The Marlow books are much more than just boarding school stories (to which genre they're frequently relegated, because four of the ten books take place at the Marlows' boarding school); they're original, non-formulaic, intelligent, and peopled with real people. Though they're hard to find, they're more than worth the effort....more
Peter's Room takes place during the Marlows' school holidays, at their country house, Trennels; the younger Marlows (Nicola, Lawrie, Ginty, and Peter)Peter's Room takes place during the Marlows' school holidays, at their country house, Trennels; the younger Marlows (Nicola, Lawrie, Ginty, and Peter) gather with their friend Patrick in the old room which Peter has cleaned up and furnished for himself. Intrigued by Ginty's stories of the young Brontës (about whom she is doing a school project with the rest of her form) and their imaginary kingdoms of Gondal and Angria, the Marlows and Patrick decide to create a similar story and act it out. I wasn't entirely convinced by the ending, which was on the contrived side for Forest (her dramatics are usually more believable), but I loved the deeper look at some of her characters who haven't featured as largely in other books, particularly Peter, Ginty, and Patrick (and his developing relationship with Ginty). ...more