**spoiler alert** My initial thoughts upon encountering this book was that it seemed like it would be a less classy and less literary version of Posse...more**spoiler alert** My initial thoughts upon encountering this book was that it seemed like it would be a less classy and less literary version of Possession (the best book I’ve read all year, I kid you not — expect a review of it sometime later), presenting parallel stories of a modern academic and the historical figure(s) she’s researching. Except that The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is intentionally something like “chick lit” (perhaps one of my least favorite genre designations ever), and as such contains perhaps more unlaced bodices and knee breaches than are entirely historically accurate. But you know what? I’m not ashamed to say that for what it was, I enjoyed this.
The story-within-a-story, in which Amy Balcourt and Richard Selwick meet, dislike each other, then like each other, then really like each other, then get married because we all knew they were going to, was neither terribly inventive nor terribly gripping, but it was witty and well-researched. I loved Richard’s quip about a woman asking him if the Rosetta Stone was some new kind of jewel, and although I would have liked to see a more competent Amy, her well-intentioned but poorly-executed spying escapades did seem quite realistic (if also therefore realistically bad). I’m not one to enjoy novels where the reader consistently knows more than the heroine, or realizes key developments significantly before the heroine, so it bothered me that I knew who Richard was so long before Amy did. On this note, it also bothered me that I knew the Pink Carnation was a woman before Eloise figured it out, but that’s not something I can blame entirely upon Eloise.
I really did like Eloise’s side of the story, and I would’ve liked to see more time devoted to it — I’m hoping it gets more page space in the next books of the series, though I’m glad that the elongation of her story throughout an entire series’ worth of other peoples’ stories means that it will get a more lengthy development. From the first page of her narrative I felt like she knew me, even if only just a little — that small detail of trying to say “sorry” in a British accent when bumping into someone on the tube pretty much tells the story of my time in London. There are just some things you do to try to blend in, and that’s only the most obvious. Also it was kinda cool to see Eloise’s movements around London and realize proudly that I knew exactly where she was walking and how she would have gotten there. It’s nice to feel like I know this city (though apparently I can’t find Harrods…my present idea of London apparently does not go much further west than the edge of Hyde Park).
The one thing that bothered me about this book was that there were no real repercussions for the fact that Amy’s stupidity (and she is stupid) revealed the identity of the Purple Gentian. Richard seems perfectly happy to give up his career as a spy and retire to a life of domestic leisure in Britain, and Amy seems more than content to do the same. This would not be okay with me, so it bothers me a bit that it’s okay with them.
Finally, looking back, nothing about the book strikes me as particularly clever. I mean, nothing that the supposedly oh-so-sneaky spies did seems like it would make them terribly hard to track down. I really hope Willig is just saving up for the escapades Jane will have as the real Pink Carnation, because if this is the best she can serve up in the way of espionage antics, I’m a little underwhelmed.
And yet — my immediate reaction upon finishing it was, “Okay, where’s the next one?” Which means that, whatever Willig has done “wrong” with this book, she has done the one fundamental thing right.(less)
**spoiler alert** Better beach reading than Middlemarch or Sandman -- but other than that, this offering doesn't have much to say for itself. If you'r...more**spoiler alert** Better beach reading than Middlemarch or Sandman -- but other than that, this offering doesn't have much to say for itself. If you're looking for an amusing story of two people falling in love AFTER they're married, read Slightly Married. If you're looking for an entertaining account of the spy games that played out between French and English agents in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the lead-up to the Napoleonic wars, look elsewhere (and tell me if you find something good!).
Although I love this time period, and must admit to enjoying the historical fiction/chick lit mix, my main complaint with this novel is the same as with the two previous novels in the series: Willig seems to believe that a suspenseful romance plot must require a series of awkward misunderstandings, in which the women heap all the blame on themselves and the men seem to get off rather easily. Despite the fact that the League of the Pink Carnation is a group of female spies -- and Jane and the parasol-wielding Miss Gwen are fabulous (if depressingly minor) characters -- the first three volumes in this series focus on male spies whose female love interests can't seem to do anything right. I only picked up the third volume because I ran out of reading material while visiting a friend, and I can tell you that I won't be hurrying out to find the fourth one, not until someone promises me that Jane and Miss Gwen, and all the kickass ladies like them, are going to get real stage time.(less)
Probably would have deserved another half-star at least, were it not for the fact that first-person POV combined with present-tense narration is one o...moreProbably would have deserved another half-star at least, were it not for the fact that first-person POV combined with present-tense narration is one of my novel pet peeves. There's something weird about it that I find difficult to sustain over a long-form work, and I haven't figured out why it irks me yet, but it does.
On a more positive note: fun, entertaining, and weirdly educational (now I know so much more about Depression-era circuses, and I'm pretty happy about that). I read it in one go on the plane from Boston to Los Angeles and never felt like I needed to put it down. (less)
**spoiler alert** Oh, Wulfric. Where to begin? Perhaps surprisingly, the place to begin is not with Wulfric. I was actually kinda disappointed that we...more**spoiler alert** Oh, Wulfric. Where to begin? Perhaps surprisingly, the place to begin is not with Wulfric. I was actually kinda disappointed that we didn’t find out more about him in this novel. The main backstory plot centered around Christine’s previous marriage and aristocratic in-laws, and I felt that the whole Justin-ruined-Christine’s-marriage thing wasn’t enough of a climax after all of the tension within that family clan. I expected something much more serious (though I suppose getting one’s husband shot and killed in a duel is slightly serious — oh look, there’s a much better title for this book than the one that it was given).
I felt like I did get to know Wulfric better, but I still didn’t have as strong of a feeling for him by the time I was done as I would’ve liked to. Out of all the “Slightly” books, I think I actually get the best feeling for the non-Bedwyn men, Gervase and Joshua. It’s obvious Balogh is going for the Pride and Prejudice angle (I am such a lit geek, but I definitely picked this up around page 70 when Wulfric admired Christine’s “fine eyes”), but there’s no opportunity for the gradual changing of mind. I feel like neither of the protagonists changed over the course of the story as much as I wished they would have.
Perhaps my favorite parts of this book were when the Bedwyns and their spouses realized that Wulfric actually liked a real human being and tried to matchmake for him. Oh, and when Christine threw his quizzing glass into a tree. But none of Wulf’s actions were particularly spectacular. I also thought that the birth of their child at the end was a cop-out — selective infertility? I mean, I suppose it’s entirely possible that Christine’s former husband was the one who was infertile, and it being Regency England, the problem was blamed on Christine, but it was one of those too-good-to-be-true moments that felt a little saccharine, even to my taste, and we’re talking about someone who does not think that all romance is necessarily saccharine to begin with!(less)
**spoiler alert** You heard me right — it’s a regency romance! It was nowhere near as bad as it sounds from the title, though. Frankly, I’ve read Mary...more**spoiler alert** You heard me right — it’s a regency romance! It was nowhere near as bad as it sounds from the title, though. Frankly, I’ve read Mary Balogh before and I kind of love the Bedwyns. This was Alleyne’s book, and it was pretty great to see the guy I always pictured as a thoughtless pretty-boy actually rise in my esteem.
I think one problem I have with these novels is that sometimes I read them too fast and don’t get the full effect. I enjoyed it well enough while I was reading it, but now I can’t quite remember why. The supporting characters were amusing, if interchangeable — I still don’t know the names of all four women of ill repute who gave the story much of its comedy.
I would say this definitely isn’t one of my favorites in the series — I really liked Aidan’s story, Freyja’s story, and even Morgan’s story (though mostly because I kinda love Gervase). Rachel was an interesting match for Alleyne, but nothing out of the ordinary. I wasn’t overly impressed by the backstory plot about the stolen jewels and the rich uncle…it didn’t seem complex enough to match the backstory in some of the other novels (particularly in Freyja’s and Morgan’s — both of which had oodles of delicious backstory goodness).
Also, my massive pet peeve with this was that even though Alleyne doesn’t remember who he is, the author had to have some way of referring to him in her third-person narration, and sometimes she would call him Alleyne, even though he doesn’t actually know his own name! That was really frustrating and threw me out of the story at times.(less)
This was probably my favorite book in this series so far. I felt settled enough into the world and the cast of characters that I could really enjoy my...moreThis was probably my favorite book in this series so far. I felt settled enough into the world and the cast of characters that I could really enjoy myself. I also have a feeling that either Carriger's craft is noticeably improving or that I'm just getting more used to her style.(less)
If you are interested in cheeky cross-dressing Scottish girls, aeronautical (and other) escapades, alternate history, political shenanigans, introspec...moreIf you are interested in cheeky cross-dressing Scottish girls, aeronautical (and other) escapades, alternate history, political shenanigans, introspective princes of the royal line of Austria-Hungary, and/or something like steampunk but actually more awesome - you NEED to read this book.
Deryn Sharp - aforementioned cross-dressing Scottish girl - grew up flying in hot air balloons with her dad, and even his death in a freak ballooning accident can't keep her from wanting to get back into the sky. At fifteen, she takes the last of her inheritance and heads from Glasgow to London, where "Dylan Sharp" is born and gets a job as a midshipman on board His Majesty's Airship, the Leviathan. The prince of Austria-Hungary would be Aleksander, (fictional) son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who is forced to run away when his parents are assassinated. Through a series of complicated events, Alek and his men wind up as passengers on the Leviathan, and the story develops onwards and upwards from there.
Westerfeld has reimagined the Allied/Central powers divide along technological lines: the Allies are known as the "Darwinists" because of their advanced biological sciences and genetic manipulation, which they use to create living ships and weapons systems (ex. the Leviathan is basically a massive hydrogen-breathing whale-like creature, with a whole ecosystem of other genetically manipulated animals living on and in it); the Central powers are called "Clankers" because they tend towards machine-based technology, but even their machines are more animal-like than our modern ones...think "walkers" and things that move on legs more often than on wheels. The alternative histories and technologies are fascinatingly intricate, but they never intrude upon the centrality of the story at the heart of the trilogy, in which two kids from different backgrounds leading totally different lives become fast friends and change the course of human history in the process.(less)
**spoiler alert** I read more for the story than the writing, which was itself merely adequate. I thought that the characters were interesting, but no...more**spoiler alert** I read more for the story than the writing, which was itself merely adequate. I thought that the characters were interesting, but not quite compelling, and I almost wish that the author had simply focused on Leonora’s story, because although Corradino’s was interesting, it didn’t give me the same sense of forward motion or agency.
And it bothered me a little that Alessandro turned out to be such a nice guy — if you ask me, that was just too good to be true. It was difficult for me to believe that he would want to have this child with a woman he barely knew and that he would want to marry her when the narrative never really gave me evidence for the time they spent together. I think Alessandro was right to feel like the love story was really between Leonora and Corradino, but I also think that any man in that situation would have probably walked away.
I loved learning about the parts of Venice I’d just visited, but I wish there had been more detail about how glass is actually blown, more scenes with Leonora in the workshop. I wanted more of Venice as a character, with the past seeping through into the present but not overshadowing it. Again, maybe the story of Corradino Manin wasn’t as important as the story of Leonora.
I think was bothered me most about this book was that, at the end, instead of having Nora as the strong woman figure, she becomes the contented mother. And although that’s not bad, it’s not as interesting, not to mention that the move seems contrived, considering Leonora’s previous infertility.(less)
**spoiler alert** Definitely a quick, light, fluffy sort of read, but nonetheless entertaining. In fact, it may be the most purely entertaining book I...more**spoiler alert** Definitely a quick, light, fluffy sort of read, but nonetheless entertaining. In fact, it may be the most purely entertaining book I’ve read since…well, since a long time.
However, there is a really interesting premise behind a story that is more or less simple romance. Vampires as German spies in Britain during WWII? Totally something I can buy. It creates a very interesting alternate universe scenario. Although I’m not such a fan of true alternate history, where events happen differently, I do like the idea that the events that we know for a fact did come to pass may have done so as a result of circumstances no one else quite understands. So I’m ready to believe that members of the supernatural/paranormal community may have been involved in major turning points of world history without the knowledge of those who would rather not know.
Also, I like Evans for her stance on magic and “Otherness” in general. The idea that vampires are mostly bad, but one of them lives a few towns away and does no harm; the existence of a werefox; Pixies and Pendragons! All these things create an interesting magical mythology where, most importantly, no one is good or evil simply as a result of the creature that they are or become.
Frankly, I probably would’ve liked this book a lot more if I’d believed the romance. Yes, I liked the characters involved, but in a somewhat superficial way. I don’t feel like I know enought about them as people to beleive their whirlwind romance. Also, I feel like they fell together too easily. The complications were wholly external. Not to mention that the speed of their relationship seemed historically unrealistic (as did the diction of certain sex scenes, but we won’t go there). Things started out promising what with Alice hating Peter’s guts and him having to work for her, but the author didn’t leave enough room for awkward.
There just wasn’t much tension overall, mostly because of the third person omniscient viewpoint choice. It helped move the story, but wasn’t exactly astute at creating suspense. And sometimes I was confused by the difference between what I knew and what the characters knew.
Finally — I want more history. The phrases and langauge of the characters were great for establishing the tone (also, a name like Dr. Alice Doyle totally kicks ass), but I wanted even more touches of the historical content. I believe the author knows what she’s talking about, I just want her to talk some more!(less)
Really, this book deserves 3.5 stars -- I liked it a lot, but more for the ideas behind it than the actual plot. It was refreshing to read a fantasy n...moreReally, this book deserves 3.5 stars -- I liked it a lot, but more for the ideas behind it than the actual plot. It was refreshing to read a fantasy novel that is not "about" the fantasy -- where the main conflicts are about humans interacting with each other, and where magic just makes up part of the scenery -- but after reading and loving Austen, Kowal's plot feels occasionally like a rather flat homage.
The best thing about this novel is the way Kowal imagines "glamour," the name magic goes by in this alternate universe. It's an art of illusion, conjuring sounds and images and sensations that aren't there, and this seems so perfectly adapted to Regency life with its desire to put on a good show.
I liked the characters, but not overwhelmingly, and I was surprised by the ending, but I will certainly be intrigued to see what Kowal does with this concept of magic in potential later books.(less)
Why am I done with this already? What will the next one be like? Why do I not already possess the next one so I can find out? WHY DO I READ TOO FAST?
I...moreWhy am I done with this already? What will the next one be like? Why do I not already possess the next one so I can find out? WHY DO I READ TOO FAST?
In other words: lovely follow-up to Leviathan, adds just the right amount of unexpected twists, and has me coming back for more...even if only to know when a certain someone will reveal a certain something that, I am surprised to say, has yet to be revealed!(less)
It may not be Leviathan, but I really, really enjoyed this book.
Set in a hazily defined steampunk-in-the-broadest-sense alt-history universe, the nove...moreIt may not be Leviathan, but I really, really enjoyed this book.
Set in a hazily defined steampunk-in-the-broadest-sense alt-history universe, the novel is told from the first-person perspective of Matt Cruse, cabin boy on the luxury skyliner Aurora, who only feels at home in the air. On the surface his story is simple -- YA fiction, particularly that of a fantastic bent, is flooded with young boys whose fathers die and leave them head of household, to carry on in the fathers' lines of work -- but while Matt's emotional trajectory isn't complicated, it's certainly worth watching. I found myself at moments absolutely in love with the language of this novel, something I very rarely find myself saying about YA. The first-person narration works; Matt's voice is distinct and characterizing without being obtrusive, and his love of flying, the way it's the only thing that makes him feel like himself, is rendered with depth and sincerity that made me feel right along with him.
If Matt were the only character worth mentioning I probably wouldn't have enjoyed this book half as much as I did, but the other major character -- and the motor for the external conflict in the novel -- is one fabulous young woman, Kate de Vries, who (because everything is related to the Leviathan series now) seems slightly similar to how I would imagine a young Nora Barlow. Kate's from a wealthy family with little interest in supporting her passion for science and research, a passion she seems to have inherited in part from her grandfather, whose untimely death while attempting a circumnavigation of the world by air balloon starts off the novel. When it comes to her tenuous relationship to expected female behavior, Kate's no Deryn Sharp, but she's feisty and smart and she knows what she wants, and I for one desperately want to see more of her!(less)