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, when...moreThe 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. (less)
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 cry...moreWhen 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).(less)
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 flame...moreAs 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. (less)
Possession is a many-layered story, cutting back and forth between the past and the present, of two modern scholars who find a set of lost letters bet...morePossession is a many-layered story, cutting back and forth between the past and the present, of two modern scholars who find a set of lost letters between two Victorian poets and go on a quest to discover the truth of their affair. I love its richness of voice: the modern-day narrative focusing on the two scholars, Roland and Maud; the poetry and letters of the poets; diaries, biographies, letters, journals of many other characters. On my latest readthrough, I found myself thinking a lot about the levels of meaning of the title, of how many things "possession" can mean; Roland and Maud are possessed by Ash and LaMotte and their search for them, while themselves seeking to possess their secrets; each pair of lovers negotiates their terms of possession of each other; and there's a very pragmatic question of who is the true possessor of the letters. It's a marvelous mix of academia, mystery, romance, and fantasy, written in lovely, rich prose.(less)
Mansfield Park is perhaps not the one of Austen's novels which appeals the most to modern sensibilities; after all, reasonably faithful adaptations ha...moreMansfield Park is perhaps not the one of Austen's novels which appeals the most to modern sensibilities; after all, reasonably faithful adaptations have been made recently of several of Austen's other novels, while Mansfield Park was changed into something Austen lovers barely recognized. Mansfield Park is the home of Fanny Price, the poor relation of Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram (Fanny's mother's sister), who took her to live with them from her impoverished Portsmouth home; Fanny is largely overlooked and taken for granted by the Bertrams, her other aunt Mrs. Norris, and the Bertram children, but she finds solace in the friendship of her cousin Edmund Bertram. When the Crawford siblings, Henry and Mary, come to Mansfield parsonage to stay with their sister, the wife of the clergyman Dr. Grant, they unsettle Mansfield society with gay doings and flirtations which lead to more serious events.
Fanny is self-effacing to the point of passivity, in marked contrast to Austen's more lively heroines, like Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice or Emma Woodhouse of Emma, which I think is one reason Mansfield Park is somewhat difficult to like on first reading (and why it was changed so drastically for the film version); yet her moral sense and voice pervade Mansfield Park, and gradually, one grows to realize that she is a woman of deep convictions. When the others decide to put on a play of dubious moral quality and even Edmund joins in, Fanny resists everyone's blandishments to persuade her to take part; when Sir Thomas tries to convince her to marry a man she doesn't love, she resists that as well. She's no Lizzy, but she holds fast to her beliefs more than anyone else in this novel and emerges as a truly worthy heroine.
I wish that Austen had seen fit to match Fanny with a more interesting hero, but I guess you can't have everything. Mansfield Park does have much else to savor: the brilliant episode of the play-acting and the scenes at Portsmouth, unlike anything else Austen depicted in their portrait of family life among the not-so-well-off, are particularly masterly. It may be slower than some of the other novels, but Mansfield Park is one of the deepest and most rewarding of Austen's books. (less)
Frederica is one of the best I've read of Georgette Heyer's novels. Frederica Merriville is in charge of her family while the head of the household, h...moreFrederica is one of the best I've read of Georgette Heyer's novels. Frederica Merriville is in charge of her family while the head of the household, her brother Harry, is at Oxford; she goes to the Marquis of Alverstoke, a distant relation, to engage his help in launching her beautiful sister Charis into society. I loved the Merriville family (particularly the sensible Frederica and her youngest brother, impetuous, machine-mad Felix) and how the cynical Alverstoke is gradually drawn into all of their doings. Heyer's depiction of Regency London is spot-on, as always for the mistress of Regency romance, and this is altogether an entirely charming book. (less)