Soooo, Ren picked this book for me in the May Pick-For-Me (I feel like I always say that in PFM reviews, desp...moreOriginally reviewed at Words in a Teacup.
Soooo, Ren picked this book for me in the May Pick-For-Me (I feel like I always say that in PFM reviews, despite the giant badge at the beginning of the post…) and I REALLY ENJOYED IT. I was determined to read it soon regardless of the PFM going on, but I’m glad that Ren’s choice pushed me to definitely go for it this month because it was really lovely.
Althea is very different from the usual romance heroines, which was really great. In general, the book was great and not at all what I expected. (Though I can’t even say what I expected, but it wasn’t this.) As usual I’m a victim of shiny covers, so the whole Regency setting came as a bit of a surprise (why? Isa, why??? your thoughts regarding this literally make no sense????) but it was definitely a welcome surprise! I know Ren reads a lot of Regency romance, so she’s already in her element when it comes to the genre, but for me it’s a bit different. I enjoy them, but I often struggle through them too. Don’t know why that is… perhaps because in my mind they just appear as this giant cluster of longwinded run-on sentences where the protagonists take ten pages to describe the exact way in which they are doing their needlework. Even though that isn’t remotely accurate in actuality!
Althea was a refreshing change from what the dark recesses of my brain imagined. She’s witty and absolutely determined to find herself a rich husband, no matter what.
Soulmates are useless anyway. Ain’t nobody got time for that. What if your soulmate is a boring vicar who keeps making fish faces? No, I think the best romantic matches are often made of people (or other beings, if you’re into that kind of thing) who can withstand a bit of healthy arguing and snappy banter. Which is what I loved about this! It reminded me a lot of the Parasol Protectorate series, which is equally witty and entertaining. And it’s not just the wit that was entertaining in Keeping the Castle. There’s also the general situation of Althea’s family that’s really tragic but also incredibly hilarious. Poor Althea for having had a grandfather who built a rickety castle on a cliff because he thought it was visually striking.
I also loved Fredericks and Miss Vincy. Any and all negative expectations I may have had were out of the window with these two. They were delightful and genuine, which counts for a lot when really most other characters don’t seem to have an ounce of common sense. Seriously, the whole village/town/smattering of estates must’ve known that Althea and her family weren’t exactly well off (and that’s putting it nicely) and yet they insisted on visiting with them. I love the way that was handled though! Not just the general plot but also the little things like Althea wrestling their domestic situation to suit the needs as best as they could!
The writing was excellent too. Well, mostly excellent writing. There was one thing that bothered me a lot, actually. I eventually got over it because I was just being unnecessarily nitpicky, but the author kept using ” tho’ ” as a substitute for “though”. Admittedly, I use “tho” as well when I’m lazy, but it kept disrupting the story for me. I’ve never encountered that before in historical fiction and it just kept making me think of internet things, actually. (Though, as it turns out, people did occasionally use "tho" back in the day.)
Hands down one of the best books I’ve read so far this year and very deserving of the 4.5 teacups we’re handing out!(less)
Like the tagline says: There's been a rather shocking murder at Deepdean School For Girls... Hazel Wong, a third form student, found the dead body of the science mistress in the gym. But by the time she comes back with her friend Daisy and a prefect, the body has disappeared. So the girls have to solve the murder, but they also need to prove that a murder happened in the first place. Daisy is excited at the idea of having their very own murder to investigate, but Hazel more realistically wonders what will happen if the murderer decides that they're getting too close to the truth.
Set in an English boarding school in 1934, Murder Most Unladylike is a bloody good read. From the first page, it's packed full of words and customs from that era, and I was completely immersed in Hazel and Daisy's world. I loved that the author sounded very authentic, and the characters were always rooted in their time, without inexplicably displaying modern sensibilities. Plus, they have bunbreaks. I love that. Bunbreaks. In which they eat squashed flies.
I might have had a minor breakdown when they first mentioned bunbreaks. BUNBREAKS. How cool is that? Personally, I wouldn't eat the squashed flies (ew, raisins), but I would very much welcome any and all bunbreaks thrown at me. Aside from the bunbreaks, I really loved the characters. They were a healthy mix of imperfect people and I really loved that. Too often characters in books are too perfect or too stereotypical or even just mere caricatures of a few traits thrown in a pot, but not so with Murder Most Unladylike. Daisy (why do I always want to call her Diana?) is headstrong and opinionated to a fault, but she also has a heart of gold when it counts and truly cares about Hazel, who has a bit of a pash on Daisy.
A pash, for the uninitiated, is a kind of girl crush. All the weird old-timey words are explained in the book, and there's also a glossary at the end. I had the kindle edition so there was no way for me to scroll back and forth easily, but I assume if you had the dead tree edition you could refer to that if you got confused. Which you shouldn't, since our narrator Hazel does a great job of explaining it all. I have a bit of a pash on Hazel, who gives us a unique perspective on English boarding schools since she's from Hong Kong and has been sent overseas to get a perfect English education. Being an outsider, it makes sense that she would question the very English tradition of hitting each others with sticks -- sorry, I meant playing hockey -- under the rain... She's torn between being herself and wanting to fit in, which is very relatable.
Yeahhhhhh... I don't so much have a pash on Hazel but a full-blown crush. What a cutie! If only she weren't jailbait, I could smooch her cute face and initiate her into the Order of Canoodling Ladies. Of which there are a bunch, by the way. My cold little heart and I were most pleased by the subtle (or blatantly in-your-face) references to canoodling ladies, hehehehe. And that's another thumbs up to the author! I found it very refreshing that such things were included because, dude, those things do occur at all-girl schools and they did occur in the past and they way the author treated it was neither gimmicky nor swept under the rug. That, too, was very relatable, at least for me. And if I'm quite honest, it was the thing that excited me the most. (I'm pretty sure I yelled "LESBIANS!" at Ren when I first realised it.)
(You did. I'm pretty sure my reaction was "BUNBREAKS!" because they're higher in my priorities. But yeah, I liked the non-gimmicky inclusion of lesbians and I was sad for the Maths Mistress who was obviously in love with the victim.) As for the murder itself, I have to say that I'm like Daisy: I absolutely love mysteries! I grew up with my mum's Agatha Christie novels, so I really appreciated all the references to the popular mystery books that Daisy was reading and hiding from Matron. This particular mystery was rather easy to figure out for me, I guessed the killer very early on because of the way the author kept trying to divert the reader's attention to the other suspects, but even so I was charmed by the characters and the setting and I enjoyed reading about how Daisy and Hazel solved the murder. It's a proper English mystery crime, too, with enough clues that you may be able to figure it out if you like that sort of things.
I'm not that into mysteries, I'm afraid, mainly because I'm just not as invested. I like reading about the solving of a mystery, but unlike other people I take no joy from figuring out the culprit myself. Though I might make a somewhat satisfactory Watson to Ren's Holmes, I suppose. I'd be pretty good at the whole writing down important things that you tell me, I bet. Anyhow, despite my general indifference to mysteries I did enjoy this one! I may not be into the solving but it was a compelling mystery and for somebody who didn't guess the culprit it was quite fascinating to see Daisy and Hazel figure it all out. The author did a great job with that, it really felt as if I was by their side all the time and sharing the experience with them!
Isa would be an excellent Watson, though I'd be a rubbish Holmes because I'm a wimp and I wouldn't want to run around chasing murderers. I'm quite happy sitting back and reading about Daisy and Hazel's adventures instead of being by their side. The girls are really interesting characters and I'm looking forward to how they will evolve, since it seems this will turn into a series. Book two is set at a house party in the country, and while I'll miss the school setting it will be fun to see Daisy's family.
I'll miss that too, but then I am sure we'll see some familiar faces, like King Henry! And we might get to meet Daisy's mysterious uncle! (Fingers crossed that he turns out to be the dashing Uncle Felix who is mentioned in the summary for book two.) All in all I'm terribly chuffed about the first book and I think it totally deserves the four teacups we're giving it. The writing is compelling and never fails to deliver, and the setting and characters are particularly fabulous. If only there were happy homosexuals (alas, they never are in fiction) and more detailed descriptions about bunbreaks, I'd be willing to give it five. ;)
When she was ten years old, her father's scandal ruined her life. Now that she's sixteen, Juliet Moreau is wo...moreOriginally reviewed at Words in a Teacup.
When she was ten years old, her father's scandal ruined her life. Now that she's sixteen, Juliet Moreau is working as a maid in the hospital he used to operate in. Life is hard on the streets of London and she scrapes by just so, but it's just one step away from prostitution. When she finds out that her father may still be alive, she follows him to a tropical island near Australia and is shocked by what she finds. Nobody is what they seem to be, not even Juliet herself...
So this was Ren's second pick for me in the Pick-For-Me Challenge and I am very very glad to report that Ren's taste is not as terrible as I previously assumed.
The Madman's Daughter is based on H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, and like the original work it is set in Victorian London (until Juliet travels to the Pacific island her father now lives on.) Now I can't really say whether or not it is a good adaptation, because I haven't read Wells' work, but on its own, it was a very fascinating read. The Madman's Daughter is deliciously creepy and I spent a great deal of the first half being freaked out by it.
The writing was very riveting and if I weren't a victim of "oh noes this bed is so comfy I will just sleep instead" I would've finished the book much quicker than I actually did. Megan Shepherd had me hooked from start to finish and there were no moments I can think of where I was anything but curious about how it would go on. She drew out the mystery and subsequent events until the very last page and as I said, it was all so very creepy and unsettling, I positively revelled in it.
As for the characters - well done. I didn't know whom I could really trust, everyone was sort of shady, even Juliet herself. Henri Moreau, her father, was truly a madman and I was actually scared for Juliet. Then there were Montgomery, who seemed like an okay fellow, but turned out to be much more than he let on, and Edward, who abandoned his previous plans so he could watch over Juliet, despite stepping into the lion's den. The islanders were intriguing as well and especially Alice and Balthazar grew on me.
The only thing that irked me (and the reason why I'm only giving four teacups) was the science behind it all. Obviously a certain amount of disbelief is needed, but Moreau's experiments combined animal parts and then ended up looking deceivingly human. I found that to be very implausible without the aid of magic. Especially later when there's the monster going around and it turns out that it literally transforms, much like a werewolf would, that was just too much for me. It wasn't even scientifically explained, it was just accepted at face value and I didn't really buy that.
Still though, four creepy teacups from me and a recommendation to anyone who likes historical fiction with a creepy plot and unsettling characters.(less)
A very interesting story to read. As far as plot goes I really liked it.
Unfortunately I wasn't that into the writing. Maybe it's just the language ba...moreA very interesting story to read. As far as plot goes I really liked it.
Unfortunately I wasn't that into the writing. Maybe it's just the language barrier making things strange for me, but I felt that the pacing was off - things are too rushed for my tastes. It made the majority of the story read like a list of events rather than a story. Not enough showing and too much telling, I suppose.
I did like the general plot though and Britta unexpectedly grew on me like none of the other characters did.(less)
TW: Contains mentions of rape and general creepiness of a skeevy father figure.
After the death of her father, seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram is invited by her godfather Bernard de Cressac to stay with him at Wyndriven Abbey in Mississippi. With her family in dire straits Sophia jumps at the chance to live a glamorous life without the worries of money nagging at her -- it helps that her absence will also improve her siblings' situation. But all is not as it seems as de Cressac becomes increasingly interested in Sophia beyond her existence as his ward. His strange behaviour is only accentuated by the mysterious deaths of his previous wives, and Sophia must learn to play a dangerous game while trying to figure out just what happened to his wives.
Let's jump right in: The summary at the publisher's site (which I presume to be the cover blurb) is hella misleading. Sure, sure, it does allude to dangers and terrible passion, but then the last line points out ~glowing strands of romance~ and sorry, yeah, there is romance, at least from the POVs of the characters, but for me as a reader? Not an ounce of romance. That was not romantic. That was... it just wasn't. De Cressac is incredibly creepy and yeah, I get it, it's a retelling of the fairytale Bluebeard -- what did I expect, right? -- but I wasn't overly familiar with it and frankly I would've preferred if Sophia hadn't been de Cressac's goddaughter. Anything but the relationship of a guardian and his ward. To say I was horrified and disgusted is putting it mildly, sorry not sorry. I felt physically sick when it dawned on me just what was going to happen, just how utterly disturbing and creepy de Cressac's attempts at seducing Sophia were. I wasn't prepared for that sort of thing and I realise that it shouldn't have been so surprising had I known more than just the broad details of the original fairytale (namely the bit about his previous wives), but frankly... frankly I am appalled that a story like this is recommended for girls 14 and up.
Aside from the squicky plot, though, I have to say that the story was compelling. I wanted to know how things played out in this version and the author kept me, well, entertained, for lack of a better word, until the end. The writing wasn't overly impressive, I have to say. Maybe I am too unfamiliar with the everyday language of 19th century America, but it didn't really feel like I was in that time. It didn't read like that at all to me.
However the characters -- some of them at least -- made up for the anachronistic feel of the writing. I didn't like most of them -- especially the men were utterly useless, like... wow, Sophia's brothers? selfish to a fault. the Church dude? without real courage and only marginally caring, in my opinion. de Cressac's lapdog whose name I forgot? UGH. -- but there were some that I thoroughly enjoyed. Anarchy was amazing and I would've loved to read more about her. Even Odette was incredibly fascinating, despite the initial dislike I felt, and her motivations were truly intriguing.
Unfortunately, I think the story also suffered from some plotholes -- at least that's how it seems to me, maybe I didn't pay enough attention? But there's a point when Sophia specifically reads a book with Charles Perrault's fairytales, and considering that Charles Perrault's Bluebeard is the most famous version to this day it makes me wonder why this was included. Sophia didn't read about Bluebeard as far as I know, so what was the point of it? I don't think adding meta references was wise in this case because it made me wonder if de Cressac was literally Bluebeard (meaning a literal retelling of it) or if he was sort of, unknowingly emulating him. The story would've worked perfectly without that little tidbit, honestly, and I think it was unnecessary to add it.
All in all Strands of Bronze and Gold was an interesting read, though I wish there had been some sort of warning and that I had been more knowledgeable about the original fairytale beforehand. I could've avoided all the triggering crap that way. The allusions to rape and de Cressac's intent to do so are pretty obvious and handing this book to fourteen-year-olds seems like particularly insensitive. Especially after slapping the word "romance" on the back cover to make it more alluring to potential readers. Just no. Not cool. Three teacups for a fascinating and original (if incredibly unsettling) retelling of this fairytale.(less)
I'm not really sure what to say about this book, honestly. I've been meaning to write this review for, like,...moreOriginally reviewed at Words in a Teacup.
I'm not really sure what to say about this book, honestly. I've been meaning to write this review for, like, five times and I just keep getting distracted. Which summarises my experience with the book in general. It's not a bad book at all and I enjoyed the plot -- the mystery, Mary's backstory, the bits and bites we got about the Academy, it was all very intriguing. But it wasn't really engaging. The plot couldn't really carry it all the way and the characters weren't fully fleshed.
Yes, we get to know a lot about Mary and even the people she's sent to, but generally the writing was a bit lacking on the character front. I couldn't figure out the real relationship between Mary and her schoolteachers -- are they friends? Are they authority figures to her? It's not really clear at all and I think it's the latter but Mary occasionally uses their first names and that confused me. Then there's also the fact that I can't figure out the age difference between them -- they have to be quite a bit older than Mary, I should think, but then sometimes it seems like it's just a handful of years after all -- and that detracted from the plot a bit.
Ideally I would've liked to read more about the Agency. There was barely anything about it aside from circumstantial information due to Mary's assignment and a bit of backstory, which I found lacking. If you talk about a fancy school that is used as a cover for lady detectives, I kind of want to read about that. Sure, the story focuses on the assignment but there still could've been more?
And considering that there could've been more about the Agency, there could've been less about the assignment. I'm sure that some cuts here and there wouldn't have hurt, because it was really dragging at times, especially considering the timeline -- two weeks, I believe.
Of course there's also the token romance, and frankly... I don't dig it. I'm a giant cynic on canon ships, so take my word with a heap of salt, but it was just so heavyhanded and fake. It didn't really feel like the characters themselves were into it. They were being written into a corner, and while that corner was occasionally funny and intriguing, it was also very frustrating. I don't see why Mary would take interest in somebody who constantly insults her, especially after her childhood and the things she's been through and the school she's gone to. Girl, you deserve better, occasional non-insulting banter or not.
That said, the book wasn't horrible. It was interesting with some issues in the character department. I'm intrigued to learn more about Mary's past and heritage, and whether or not her schoolteachers are secretly lesbians (dear god, PLEASE GIVE ME LESBIANS), so I'll give the second book in the series a shot. :D(less)
It's 1863 and we're in Seattle. The Russians wanted a machine that could dig through the ice in order to get t...moreOriginally reviewed on Words in a Teacup
It's 1863 and we're in Seattle. The Russians wanted a machine that could dig through the ice in order to get to the Klondike gold in those parts and Leviticus Blue designed that machine. He also drove that machine through the foundations of Seattle and what was left was a ruin of a prospering city and a mysterious gas – the Blight – that turns people into zombies. 16 years later, his son Zeke decides to go into the walled-up remains of the city's core to search for the truth of what happened, and it's up to Briar, his mother, to find him and bring him back to safety.
Boneshaker was a bit of a rollercoaster for me. A bit. Specifically the bit where it goes down. I feel bad for the low rating but I cannot in all honesty give it more than two teacups. But let's start with the good things.
The plot was interesting. If it hadn't been for that and wanting to know the details of what had happened in the Boneshaker incident of 1863, I probably would've quit the book. It wasn't majorly exciting and not much was actually happening, but I did want to find out how it ended.
A fair amount of the secondary characters were delightful. Miss Angeline and Lucy and Cly and Jeremiah were extremely interesting to me and also extremely likeable.
The zombies weren't off-putting. I'm not a huge fan of zombies and I literally groaned when I realised that there were zombies – they're called rotters – in this (note to self: read the flipping summary on goodreads next time), but all in all they weren't annoying at all as a literary theme in this book. The whole story about the Blight and the rotters was actually one of the things that kept me hooked.
However… and this is a big however, woe.
Maybe I am suffering from my different cultural upbringing and a lack of knowledge of America during the 1800s (aside from having studied the Civil War in secondary school) and a general prevalence of language barriers and cultural differences, but the book did not read at all like it was set in 1879. At all. I don't expect miracles and really, I do prefer more language that doesn't make me want to stab myself in the face even in historical settings, but if it hadn't been for the occasional mention of the Civil War going on, I sure wouldn't have noticed what time we were in. In fact, whenever the Civil War was mentioned, it was pretty jarring because it didn't feel like we were in that time at all. Nobody is perfect and no book is perfect, but really I feel like there could've been done more with attempting to capture the spirit of the time.
Then there were the alternating POVs. I'm not the biggest fan of them, though I will suffer through them; it's not like they're the worst thing on the planet. They weren't the worst thing in this book either, in fact I appreciate the information I got from both POVs, but I was also confused a lot. I assume that the POVs were going on alongside each other, but it didn't always read that way. Only a couple of days passed in the story but it sounded like much more. Sometimes it felt as though Zeke was ahead of his mother by days, sometimes the other way around. It wasn't very clear to me, at least.
What also wasn't very clear were the characters motivations. Oh, it says so every now and then, but I didn't really feel it. Does being an obnoxious brat count as motivation? Zeke's reasons for going into the city are explained but they're just so fishy and once he's there, it's just a muddle of confusing fragments. In fact, Zeke's entire existence in this book is all over the place. On the one hand, I have to hand it to Cherie Priest for making him the most realistic teenager ever. Never have I been so pissed off by a book version of a teenager as I have been by Zeke. He's a spoiled brat (except, of course, he's not spoiled at all, so he's really just a brat) who always does the opposite of what people tell him – unless they're evil, in which case he believes their every word. I'm not saying to trust just whomever he meets but, boy, this kid is actually stupid. He and his mother may protest that that is not the case, but yeah. You can't fool me. Most stupid teenager I have ever encountered and I have a 15-year-old brother with somewhat dubious friends.
Zeke is just so infuriating. I understand that he's rebellious and why and really, Briar has been something of a craptastic mother from what we've seen, but he meets all these strangers and he is told not to believe anything that one character says, and then he goes and decides to believe every word that comes out of their mouth and to distrust the person who basically rescued him and has given him no reason to act this way. There's a line between rebellious and mistrusting and downright ridiculous and stupid, and Zeke crossed that line with seven-league boots. And as if that's not ridiculous enough, he either acts like a five-year-old or like some wise old man, and while I understand the former at least a little bit, it is the latter that bothered me more. It made my reading experience very discontinuous indeed.
And then of course, we have Briar, who doesn't let the reader in on her emotions and thoughts at all. I've never read a book with such a non-transparent protagonist. Presumably she goes after her son because she cares about him, but really, I didn't feel that at all. Again. I got more from the peripheral characters than from the two main protagonists, and yet I'm supposed to root for them. It didn't really work and if I hadn't wanted some of the questions answered (spoiler: they weren't, not really) I would've given up on the book. Briar certainly has her reasons to do as she does, but she never actually expounds them. Fact is, I don't know anything about Briar aside from the orange streaks in her hair; that's all I got from the book, maybe we were given more descriptors but then my eyes must've glazed over and I missed them. So she's Maynard's daughter; that bit I'm told twenty times, but I cannot picture her at all, neither physically nor emotionally. She says she's not a bad mother, but from what I saw, I have to disagree. Sure she goes into the city because she worries, but that's not the entirety of what makes a good mother. Being told that she never once told her son about his father or his grandfather is just a prime example of her own foolish selfishness. I didn't expect her to explain the full truth, but she could've avoided all the trouble by at least telling him that she is absolutely sure about certain things because she saw them. Except then we wouldn't even have a story for the book, would we? It was all rather flimsy, in my opinion and the entire book is mostly just a good example of how not to do "show, don't tell."
The steampunk aspect of it all was barely there, except occasionally when mentioning machines and the like, which was rather disappointing after being spoiled by Gail Carriger and her novels, but I can't have it all, can I? Still, as I said above, the plot was somewhat interesting and I did keep reading because of it. It wasn't perfect by far and the resolution of it was anticlimactic, but the plot and the secondary characters kept me going.(less)