This is a book to be browsed through, reading what pops out at you. In that way it's laugh out loud hilarious. To sit down and read it, it loses it'sThis is a book to be browsed through, reading what pops out at you. In that way it's laugh out loud hilarious. To sit down and read it, it loses it's charm. Some of the jokes are spot on and some are so off the target you don't know where the arrow landed (read the Peter Pan section if you want an example). Also, if you haven't read all the classics from Greek plays to Henry James, be prepared to be lost. And design note. There are some MAJOR formatting issues in the book that take away from reading it. ...more
Fester Cat had spent twelve years on the streets of Manchester, twice contemplating domesticity, but the last lady didn't understand him, she thoughtFester Cat had spent twelve years on the streets of Manchester, twice contemplating domesticity, but the last lady didn't understand him, she thought he was a girl! The indignity! Then Paul and Jeremy enter his life. They're the new couple in Fester's territory, even though they've been there about a year. There's something alluring and different about them, but most magical of all they know Fester's name! The Spanish lady thought he was a she and here's two guys who not only know he's a distinguished gentleman but that he answers to Fester! Ungow!
After a little time coming and going Fester decides that he shall adopt Paul and Jeremy and their lives together begin. Fester isn't just a furry family member but he helps the three of them become a family. Through rituals of turkey at Christmas and long summer days reading in the "Beach House" to singing and talking, they bond into a cohesive unit that is campy and cuddly and most of all filled with joyous everlasting love.
In March of 2013 my heart broke a little at the news that a certain tuxedo kitty was no longer in this world. Thirty-six days later I got a story in my inbox, The Story of Fester Cat. And I knew I couldn't read it. In a little over two weeks it would be four years since I had lost my tuxedo kitty, Spot. 1445 days and growing. This September Paul contacted me asking if I'd review the book for my blog. I said I was glad to, all the while wondering, but can I? I usually avoid reading books about animals like the plague. I can't take the fact that the book was written because their furry little story had come to an end.
I don't want excesses of unnecessary emotion and rainbow bridges, a sentiment that Fester himself would agree with I'm sure. I don't feel that it's cathartic or will help me heal, all I feel is the pain as fresh as the day I lost my little guy. But somehow this book was different. Yes, it did break my heart, I cried uncontrollably for awhile, but it also put my heart back together. In the two years I'd known Paul, Fester had become a part of my life, the daily pictures on Facebook of them working away at his computer or relaxing in the Beach House was a highlight of my day. The lose of a furry family member leaves a hole in your heart that you don't know what to do with, Paul filled his with Fester's song.
Fester's story is told in Fester's own unique voice, ungow! I'm not talking just about the conversational aspect, the vocal inflections that everyone who has known and loved a talkative cat knows about. The way they insinuate themselves into conversations with a mow here and a meep there. I'm talking about the inner voice made real in the narration of his story. All cat "owners" will tell you that their cat has a unique voice, I always imagined my Spot's voice as regal and somewhat sardonic, like Jeremy Irons.
Paul though has masterfully written this book in such a way that it feels he is channeling Fester. Fester is observant and witty and knows how to keep his humans in line and sticking to their routines. He is streetwise but also has a deeper understanding of life. His voice isn't just unique like some books have a unique narrator. Fester's voice attains a whole other level where it feels like it's destined to be classic, much like Eloise in the fabulous Kay Thompson series. You just read it and go, yes, this is Fester.
Reading The Story of Fester Cat you realize how important and personal a book this is. While in some regards as Paul says "It's like our little cat going out to meet the world!" But I think there's a whole deeper level, the level of Paul and Jeremy. If you have been lucky enough to read any of Paul's other books you will realize that Paul rather sneakily works himself into the stories. There's a bit of Paul in Robert in the Brenda and Effie series, then in Jack in 666 Charing Cross Road, and then there's Simon in the Iris Wildthyme series. You get this feeling that Paul has always wanted to be on an adventure and as a talented writer he has used these surrogates to insert himself into the narrative.
But for the first time he doesn't need a stand-in. This is Paul's life. There must be something so scary opening yourself up in such a way when for years you've had this separation. Not just showing a fictionalized version of yourself shown in the best light, but to show the good, the bad, the love, the heartbreak, the fights, the fusses, to show it all for everyone. This book is Paul laid bare. This is him, and Fester, and Jeremy. This is their song, full of love and heartbreak, but undeniably catchy. I can only hope that it will stick with you as the chorus and refrain play in your memory. Ungow!...more
I'm finding it odd that Cinderella, who had her own spin-off series, has now basically taken over Fairest... seems a little unfair if you ask me. AlsoI'm finding it odd that Cinderella, who had her own spin-off series, has now basically taken over Fairest... seems a little unfair if you ask me. Also, this story was more important to the Fables arc, so, I think it would have fit better there then here, what with Mrs. Spratt aka Miss Douglas and that pesky missing shard of Bigby... also, just getting sick of Cinde being all female James Bond but while wearing the outfits of the Bond girls... ...more
Sally Fitzhugh spent all her time at Lady Climpson's Select Seminary dreaming of the day when she would leave Bath and get to go to all the balls sheSally Fitzhugh spent all her time at Lady Climpson's Select Seminary dreaming of the day when she would leave Bath and get to go to all the balls she could wish for instead of trying to get out of doing homework. Sally has been out a year and she never thought the time would come when she would be bored with this life she dreamed of. If things couldn't get worse the silly people of the ton are enraptured with Sally's friend Lizzy's step-mother's book, The Convent of Orsino, and a vampire craze has engulfed the little season this October. All the rumors of vampires and the occult are swirly around the newly returned Duke of Belliston. He has been absent since the death of his parents years prior and seems the perfect vampire, or so everyone is saying. Sally isn't one of them.
Sally was hoping that the arrival of her two dearest friends, Lizzy and Agnes, would enliven things, but their trio is now more a duo and Sally is feeling distinctly left out. At a party abutting the regal home of the Duke of Belliston, Sally takes a dare to walk over to his house, bored and assuming she won't be caught she strides straight into Lucien, the Duke himself. Events soon transpire to thrust these two together on a more daily basis... but is this relationship something the two of them might secretly hope for? Could Sally fall for a supposed vampire?
If you've never met Lauren, she's this little pepperpot of energy powered by caffeine that talks a mile a minute from topics ranging from the sex lives of socialites in Kenya to Cary Elwes in Ella Enchanted to her high school debates. She exudes such a fun and vibrant energy that her happiness and far ranging interests are contagious. While being a writer of historical fiction she is, in my mind, the exact opposite of the more staid and reserved "traditional" historical fiction authors out there, ahem Philippa Gregory. The reason for the comparison is that Lauren's bubbly enthusiasm carries over to her books. Lauren has the research and the facts down, she has the academic and scholarly aspects of Gregory, but it's her enthusiasm that makes her books so much more then a well written piece of historical fiction. Lauren's books are fun because she brings herself into the equation, perhaps a little more in this volume with Eloise's fate. She loves her characters and her stories with such zeal that you are carried along with her on a reading adventure that you won't forget.
Lauren doesn't take herself too seriously and she is able to have fun with the historical genre while deftly skewering it at the same time with wordplay and modern nudges and winks. Though the theatre major in me had a major chuckle over the "renaming" of Sheridan's The School for Scandal as The Tutelage of Scandal, it's really vampire literature that is most lovingly lambasted in The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla. Just the idea that Miss Gwen, that bane of all young gentleman with her pointy parasol, would be the Stephenie Meyer of her day is a hoot. But that Miss Gwen not only has the ton in a virtual vampire frenzy, but that she even has sparkly vampires, that Lauren is creating parodies on so many levels, from what it is to be an author, to an author's fanbase, all the way to all the different vampire iterations over the centuries, that you can't help but fall for this book. Add to that references to Monty Python's Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, to The Princess Bride, Lauren's willingness to takes liberties will make you smile inside and want to hold onto this series forever.
The fact that The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla is such a strong entry in the Pink Carnation series means that next year when the final volume, The Lure of the Moonflower, is published the ending will be bittersweet because Lauren just keeps developing as a writer. Lauren has been able to avoid many of the pitfalls of long running series by having each book be some offshoot of the first volume. Main characters will reappear, but never in more then background rolls, while the previous background characters take center stage. I love Sally Fitzhugh taking center stage, and yes, that's because I have a great love for all the Fitzhughs. But beyond that she is such an interesting character (but let's not talk about the chickens) with an indomitable will for one so young.
Though it's the events Sally is thrust into that really gripped me. Because at the heart of all the Napoleonic spies and secret leagues, the core of this book is a murder mystery, with a random attack stoat. While the spy angle has always been important, the truth is, spies aren't for everyone. I think this volume will have a wider appeal then previous ones because of the apparent murder/suicide of the Duke of Belliston's parents. This mystery gave the book a greater urgency and made me devour it at a most rapacious rate. Come next year I don't know what I shall do once I finish reading that final volume... luckily until then I will occupy myself with re-reading all the books with The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla being one of the highlights....more
Julia Conley has inherited a house in England. A house on Herne Hill has been left to her by an unknown great-aunt. Julia and her father left England when she was six and her mother was killed in a car crash. Since her life in New York hasn't been going that well lately as one of the many unemployed, she decides to go to England and spend a few months sorting out the house and hopefully sorting out her life. For Julia who has viewed her family as just her and her father she finds it hard to come to gripes with the fact that this was where her mother came from and she still has family here with a few cousins, who of course feel slighted with great-aunt Regina's will. The more time Julia spends in the house the more she wishes she had been given the chance to know her great-aunt.
For Regina might have held the key to a lovely Pre-Raphaelite painting in one of the rooms of the house, which has a matching painting hidden deep at the back of one of the cupboards. Why was the one painting displayed and the other hidden? Who is this artist Gavin Thorne? Going back to 1849 we learn about the painter Gavin Thorne and his muse, Imogen Grantham, who happened to be the mistress of the house on Herne Hill and married to a wealthy and significantly older collector who was occasionally visited by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who doted on his historical relics. Yet why hide the painting? What connection does this painter and this wife have to Julia? More importantly, after 160 years can Julia find out?
Sometimes life is staggering in it's synchronicity. The very day that I received That Summer in the mail my Great-Aunt Vicki died. My family got the call that she had passed in her sleep and that the rest of the family was to descend on Madison to take care of her estate. My Great-Aunt was the last of the older generation, being preceded in death by all my Grandparents and even an Uncle. While sadly I have never been bequeathed a mysterious house, because she was the last of that generation I have gotten quite used to clearing out ancestral homes, my Grandparents farm having accumulated over a hundred years worth of ephemera, with sadly not a rare painting or a secret stash of cash in sight, but a random piano being used as a tool bench and much mouse effluvia. As I spent the following weeks sifting through the rooms of her house, picking what to keep and what to give away, I couldn't help but think of all the things I don't know about my family and where I come from. There is a strong ancestry bug that my family has, but I have not yet been bitten, and there's a part of me that keeps thinking, better now before it's too late.
The detritus is all we have left of our family's history. Random paintings around the house, Aunt so and so painted this, Cousin so and so did that one; just what if the painting was something more? What if the painting was a closely guarded secret that would unlock some mystery about yourself? The search for your own identity is caught up in the past, in where you come from. While Julia's search for what happened in her own past with her mother as well as to her ancestor's is something that might be uncommon, the search is something we can all identify with. Lauren has tapped into something deep within everyone, a longing to know where they're from in order to find out where they belong. This gives us a strong connection to the characters, we are on their journey with them and I wouldn't want it any other way.
While the time slip genre is nothing new, Lauren is able to create a more accessible story then some authors who mire their books in overly flowery details and descriptions that go on for so many pages you lose the thread of the story. This isn't to say the writing is sparse, it's exactly what it needs to be to conjure this world, no more and no less. Though there is a part of me that wishes at some time in the future Lauren would go all out and write a doorstop of a novel. Yet in Lauren's time slip she is able to capture the best of all worlds, with a little Kate Morton, a little Somewhere in Time, a nod to Du Maurier's Rebecca, a Keats Bridget Jones call out with a wink to Nancy Mitford's silly season. There are also echoes of Victorian literature, from Imogen's marriage mirroring Dorthea's in Middlemarch, to Gavin bringing a little of the John Thornton vibe from North and South. Yet these homages aren't derivative, they give us a touchstone for the time period but then become so distinctly their own story that while you remember the connections at the back of your mind they are inconsequential as the story takes on a life of it's own.
As for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, I will admit that this subject matter is what made me swoon when I heard over a year ago about Lauren's next planned stand alone. I think that I have adequately covered my love of them in previous posts and writings, but I will say that even in the BBC production of Desperate Romantics, they have always been a band apart. Outsiders who verged on Gods in their ways of self aggrandising each other and mythologizing their lives and works. They were Romantics in every sense of the word, demanding the capital letter "R". Yet Lauren brought them down off their pedestals. Packed into the snug sitting room on Herne Hill we see a human Rossetti with his schemes and ideas and his future spiraling out before him. The ways the Brotherhood sought out collectors of antiquities to give an authenticity to their paintings adds a realism to them and their works.
These men aren't Gods, no matter how many posters in English classrooms and dorm rooms might say otherwise, they are men. They have loved and lost and with Gavin we have a true romantic hero that is swoonworthy. And like all good writing, this one aspect of the book, the Brotherhood, it doesn't overpower the story, it compliments it, it strengthens and adds to it. You will fall into this book and even if you are just a fraction of a romantic the Pre-Raphaelite's were you will find yourself falling in love with both couples in the different time periods. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did, and if you're coming into this book from Lauren's Pink Carnation series, there are a few gems hidden in the book, but like these painters who would hide the Brotherhood's initials in their paintings, you might have to have a keen eye to spot them....more
Sophie Apperly is the odd one out in her family. They are all academic and artistic, whereas she's more of a homebody who likes to upscale thrift store finds into interesting creations. Therefore as far as her family are concerned she's a bit dumb and a bit of a dogsbody. To that end they volunteer her to take care of their Uncle Eric in the hope that this little gesture will make the horrid old man remember them in his will. Of course things don't go to plan in that Sophie and Eric get on like a house on fire and she finds out about a lost family trust to do with an oil well. Sophie decides to try to help her ever skint family by investigating this trust and to that end she gets a short term job in New York and goes to visit one of her two best friends. It's Sophie's dream come true, she's always wanted to go to New York, so when the job falls through, well, it's sad, but then there's more time to play the tourist on her very restricted budget.
At a gallery opening the helpful Sophie comes to the aid of the elderly Matilda. They instantly hit it off and soon Sophie is going to Connecticut to spend Thanksgiving with Matilda, who's grandson, Luke, looks on Sophie as a gold digger. Matilda and Luke himself are both rather wealthy. Yet Sophie has a heart of gold and, though she may be almost flat broke, she would never take advantage of this situation fate has landed her in. A situation that might help both her and Matilda, as Matilda sends Sophie back to England with a request, to find the house Matilda spent her holidays in as a youth. This might seem like a wild goose chase, but it's quite fun, and with Luke coming along for the ride, maybe something more then an old house will be found?
Three years ago I picked up my first Katie Fforde book and it was instant dislike. Love Letters struck all the wrong chords in me and made me swear off Katie Fforde. Of course I am a fickle person and I felt bad for having sworn off an author with only reading one of their books. I mean, shouldn't I at least give that author a second chance? Therefore I could look back without regrets having given said author the benefit of the doubt. As it so happens A Perfect Proposal had electronic galleys through Net Galley and I thought, if they approve my request, here is the perfect opportunity as it where to see if my first impressions were wrong. I thank the stars, and the e-galley gods, that I gave Katie Fforde a second chance. A Perfect Proposal was just the book I needed to brighten my days during a bleak time. This book is funny and witty with characters I connected to. I am hoping that Love Letters was the aberration in Fforde's writing career and not A Perfect Proposal so that I have tons of new books to look forward to. It's just such a wonderful surprise to find an author that you feel you can embrace.
You know how in some books they just drop everything in your lap from page one, here is everything and everyone, wham, girl, guy, situation, lots of complications till they are together, the end, or till they go at it, whichever comes first. A Perfect Proposal though does the exact opposite. We meet Sophie and are given the time to connect to her. We learn about her quirky dreams about customizing vintage and thrift clothing. How she's always loved the ocean. We feel for her because her family takes her for granted and think her a little daft, and who amongst us can't relate to that? There was a wonderful luxury in getting to know someone before they were thrust into this romantic situation. Not only that, but how often is it that someone so fundamentally good is the heroine? She has flaws, but she has such a big heart, she helps people who need it, is willing to give back without taking, has morals and is virtuous, but not in a goody two-shoes way. This lent the whole book a Jane Austen vibe in my opinion. There was the good poor girl who we've come to love and then her helpfulness puts her in the path of the aloof rich boy whose heart she will eventually melt by her sweetness. A modern Lizzy and Darcy if Lady Catherine decided to play matchmaker instead of heartbreaker. Sigh. I kind of wish the book hadn't ended so I was still in this world.
But no book is 100% perfect, there is always the things the niggle me, even in my most favorite of novels. The first is I didn't feel like the author had ever actually been to the United States. First that people from Maine were picking Sophie up in New York... um... I've driven that distance... it's like ten hours, not a short little jaunt. For Sophie not to know this it's excusable, but for the people she works for not having her fly there, that's weird. Sophie never using the internet, that's just odd. But New York being all wrong really got to me. Firstly, not knowing how big New York state is, forgivable, messing up distances within New York City, no way! She did a full days walk in weird opposite directions in hours, and then there's The Frick. I have been to The Frick many a time, and well, it's small, so easy to see everything in a short amount of time, an hour would do you easy, but Matilda makes it sound like it's the size of the MET! Also, the timezones are all off, England is five hours ahead of New York, no more, no less. Just little things an editor should have picked up on... which looking at my review of Love Letters, that was my main complaint, a lack of an editor...
Yet what I really want to know is what is up with this trope of Chick Lit and holidays? So I did inadvertently do Chick Lit month around Easter, chicks, see, it's funny right? But so many Chick Lit books throw in holidays. Bridget Jones's Diary is all about the holidays, bonfire night, Christmas... same with Confessions of a Shopaholic, oh, and Going Home which I just read too was all about Christmas. And that's not even taking into account girly movies like The Holiday and Love Actually, which I actually really hate. Is there an unwritten rule that makes holidays a must for declarations of love and hookups? Personally I think it's a little tacky, but that's just me....more
While Wellington Brooks and Eliza Braun did pull off the impossible in their last adventure for The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, Doctor Sound hasWhile Wellington Brooks and Eliza Braun did pull off the impossible in their last adventure for The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, Doctor Sound has thought that it might be a good idea to get them out of the limelight for awhile and ship them off to the colonies to help their sister agency, The Office of the Supernatural and Metaphysical, which is attached to the US Marshals. In the United States Books and Braun meet their American counterparts, Felicity Lovelace the librarian, which is totally different then an archivist, and Wild Bill Wheatley, who Eliza has a grudge against from a previous mission in which their paths crossed. But the mission must come first, not revenge for past slights. Off the shores of North Carolina, known as the graveyard of the Atlantic, airships have been vanishing quite literally.
But Wellington and Felicity don't really care about the mission once they learn that Thomas Edison will be speaking at their hotel! After an eventful night it looks like Edison might be involved in their mission... he might be using a lighthouse as a death ray to cause all these wrecks! Seeing that Edison is their only real lead, the gaggle of agents decide to follow him. First they venture north, to Detroit, and the very hub of Edison's Empire. By the end of their mission they will have travelled coast to coast and hopefully staved of an international incident with the Prince of Wales. Yet questions remain, how involved was the nebulous House of Usher in this scheme? Did her majesty, the Queen, have ulterior motives with regard to her son? And does Wellington want to kiss Eliza again? Or will Eliza end up kissing Bill?
The thing that drew me to Steampunk in the first place was the essential Britishness of it. The fog bound streets, the pub brawls near the docks with a side of a cockney accent, a cup of tea after a day of daring do. This is what Steampunk means to me. So when at the end of the second book in this series, The Janus Affair, it became apparent that our esteemed agents Books and Braun were headed stateside, I wasn't that thrilled at the prospect. Yes, Steampunk isn't limited to Great Britain, yes Pip and Tee have done a good job to have this series, in particular the Tales from the Archives, show the worldwide scope of Steampunk, yes their are authors like Cherie Priest, whose Clockwork Century is very much ingrained in America, but despite all this precedent, Steampunk to me is British. I won't try to explain the logic of my mind, because I don't think I could. But I was seriously worried that Dawn's Early Light would have to overcome my own preconceptions. I should have had more faith in Pip and Tee. The book combined all the Britishness I love and added a Firefly vibe (fangirl sqwee) while also taking on the historical figures whose inventiveness fuels Steampunk, but are decidedly American.
The more I think on it, the American desire for invention, exploration, and looking forward is what drives Steampunk and the Steampunk community. So while my brain always goes "British British British" it is really a combination of the two that create the perfect balance in Steampunk, a perfect balance that was caught in this book. Writing a successful series of books itself is a balancing act. Round about book three is when you start to get bogged down with too much backstory and too many characters being on stage. By sending our beloved agents to the states, Pip and Tee were able to streamline the story and bring it down to the necessary few characters that were needed. While I did occasionally miss all the other agents and the archives, Dawn's Early Light had a cleanliness to it that made it a stronger book. Plus the introduction of Felicity and Bill (aka Jayne from Firefly), Books and Braun's counterparts and also romantic rivals, brought a breath of fresh air into the book. Having our hero and heroine not only trying to deal with their own feelings, but then having these two Americans continually throwing a wrench into any possible hookup brought a frisson of excitement and a worry that the delayed gratification to the inevitable hookup might never happen. Books and Braun belong together... but that doesn't mean temptation and distraction won't be a delicious plot device.
Another plot device that might have overplayed it's hand in this installment is the celebrity cameo. As I said before, everything is about balance. Celebrity cameos are always a fun narrative device in historical fiction, even if it's alternative history. Yet there can be one too many historical figures and this can upset the apple cart. The perfection of some of the cameos is marred by the superfluous ones. Back in undergrad I took film classes for fun. It's ironic that I thought art versus comm arts was a more viable career path. The history of film cannot be told without talking about Edison. Yes, he was brilliant, but yes, he was also a class A bastard. In fact, I had a friend play bastard on my Edison card to win a game of Apples to Apples once. And speaking of Apples, in describing Edison, I liked that Edison really sounded a lot like Steve Jobs and Apple's MO, ah the parallels. I reveled in the introduction of Edison, the asshole. He's a perfect villain, unlike the ill defined House of Usher. And his evilness is not just in his villainous death ray designed to level the competition, but in the slights to women scientists and his raging ego. It was the perfect cameo. To balance that we had Tesla, still surrounded with mystery, dubious morals, and pigeon jokes. Edison and Tesla, Tesla and Edison, the battle for the ages, and the perfect duo for this book. But Henry Ford? Ah Henry Ford, you were one cameo too many. It made me cringe a bit. You upset the apple cart.
Though the pedant in me now has to put on the lecturing voice and say what I've been saying for two books now. I know this is an ARC, so there will be errors... but seeing as these errors have persisted in the finished copies of the first two books, I have a feeling they might remain. The grammar and the spelling needs a polish. I will seriously do this for free. Yes, I am serious. I love this series and it pains me when errors still abound making it a flawed text... at one point their own character's name is misspelt. Also, it's chaise lounge not chez lounge... unless it's the house of lounges and not a piece of furniture. Aside from the obvious errors, there were also a few anachronisms that got under my skin. Blackbeard's dates are off by a hundred years. Why would Edison being going through Wisconsin to get to Arizona? There's this lake that I've gone over between me and Michigan... plus, to get to Arizona aka, the southwest, you wouldn't go northwest now would you? The OSM seems a little too much like Victorian SHIELD with the reference to Thor's hammer... plus, can we sing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when talking about Wellington's car? I know they are all nudge nudge wink wink, but they are just too modern, and like the typos, pull me out of a story I don't want to leave, like ever. In fact, can the next book be ready now?...more
Jane and Vincent have been accompanying Melody and her new husband on their wedding tour of the continent. Leaving the newlyweds with their parents, JJane and Vincent have been accompanying Melody and her new husband on their wedding tour of the continent. Leaving the newlyweds with their parents, Jane and Vincent head to Murano. Lord Byron has given the Vincents an open invitation to visit him in Venice, which is a nice cover for what they what to do in Murano. They have long wanted to visit the famed glassmakers there after their discovery about weaving magic into glass to make it portable and not tethered to the earth. The couple hope that with improved techniques they can get reliable results. Yet as Napoleon rallied and invaded Belgium when they were first experimenting with this idea, they are this time set upon by pirates who, while ransoming them and hence not enslaving them, take all their possessions and leave Vincent with a nasty concussion. Finding Byron away from home they are destitute. A kind man takes them in and gives them everything they could need till either Byron returns or they are able to alert their families. Only, sometimes kind men have ulterior motives and the Vincents could be in far more trouble then they could even guess. In fact pirates might be a welcome relief.
There are few authors out there which I will drop everything for. Anything other then reading their newest book is considered nonessential. Phone calls go unanswered, emails pile up, work deadlines get stretched to breaking point. If it wasn't for the fact that food keeps me going and therefore keeps me reading I don't think I would remember to eat. Mary Robinette Kowal has become such an author for me. What began as a strong like has developed into a deep love with her Glamourist Histories. Any chance I get I'm recommending them to people and have so far converted quite a few of my bookish friends. My goal is for complete conversion (say it in a scary cyberman-esque voice). I think this goal is possible based on how these books have grown and developed over time. They are no longer just Jane Austen fanfic with magic, they're so much more! The books are part history, part fantasy, part alternate reality, there's just so much to love about them that I really can't stress enough that you should go out right now and get yourself all the books currently available, because the first won't be enough.
But what is wonderful about Mary Robinette Kowal beyond her writing is that she interacts with her fanbase and while still maintaining the proper author reader relationship she opens up her writing and her process to her readers, giving them a glimpse behind the curtain. In this day and age if an author wants to create a lasting impression on a reader and fortify her following they couldn't do better then to emulate Mary. Back in November I was beyond thrilled because for NaNoWriMo Mary was looking for Alpha readers for the fifth installment of The Glamourist Histories currently titled Of Noble Family. I was doing little dances of joy when I was approved, but more then that, because I had read the series all along Mary included a copy of the forth book, Valour and Vanity. She sent me the email on November 14th and by November 17th I had already devoured every single line. I didn't think that she could surpass my love of Glamour in Glass, which is the second book in the series and my number one read of 2012, but I think she might have. The only problem I faced was that getting to read the next book, Of Noble Family, in installments wouldn't really work for my voracious appetite. So, showing amazing fortitude, if I do say so myself, I waited until the start of the Beta read and over another long weekend I took it all in.
So why you're asking am I so enamoured of these books? Aside from the fact that I love anything Regency and Mary captures the feeling of the time period by sprinkling in historic details without inundating us with information, she has created a world where the magic just works. I'm not talking about works as in you say a spell and wow a light goes on, or even that it's successful in that something magical happens, I'm saying in the way she has created how magic is done just makes sense. The way magic resides in the ether out of the visible range and is brought forth and woven into something visible, either temporary or lasting, just works, it makes sense. Not just that, but as an artist myself, the way you think creatively, the way work takes a toll on you physically and mentally, Mary just nails it. There is such a simpatico going on between me and Jane with our feelings and our physical beings that I am right there with her every step of the way. While yes, there is this part of me going, Jane is me, there's a happier part of me going Jane is Jane. In the previous book, Without a Summer, I felt that Jane's voice was lost a little. She became more wishy-washy. She was constantly in doubt and lacked a spine. Here she doesn't just have a spine, she has spine enough for both her and Vincent, supporting them through their trials and hardships, making plans, taking names, befriending nuns, it's just perfect.
Speaking of those nuns... they are just one of the many aspects that made this book so awesome. The blurbs comparing this new installment to Ocean's Eleven aren't wrong. Only I would personally choose Ocean's Twelve, having seen it twice in theatres it's a better movie for many reasons; it has an awesome soundtrack, has a part in Italy, has an amazing Chachi joke, makes more fun of itself with meta humor, and has Eddie Izzard. Here we have glamourists, nuns, pirates, puppet shows, disguises, the Eleventh Doctor, breaking and entering, there is just so much awesome that it's hard to pinpoint what makes it work so well unless you count the fact that everything works so seamlessly together. The thing is you don't really think of heists starting before this past century. Sure their were pirates and brigands and all number of baddies who did all number of innumerable nasty things, but the heist feels like a more modern invention. In fact the definition of heist shows the word being an Americanism from the twenties and even references cars to define it. Aside from Michael Crichton's The Great Train Robbery, while being Victorian in conceit, but still very much a product of the seventies, I can't think of a successful book that combines a 19th century setting with an elaborate heist. For this alone Valour and Vanity should be held extraordinary and a must read, if not for every other reason I mentioned. Oh, and of course, me being a pusher for this series. Go on! You know you want to read it......more
Iris and Panda are sadly separated, but despite the time and distance between them they are keeping in touch until the happy day when Panda is back aboard the Celestial Omnibus. While Iris has her bus and is in the far flung reaches of the galaxy, Panda has been more Earth bound going to parties with Ngaio Marsh and spending Christmas aboard an ill-fated star cruiser. Yet they both miss each other so much that Iris aligns herself with a robot version of Panda, Pand R, and Panda goes off exploring the galaxy with an older, sexier, but bleaker version of Iris. Sadly for us readers, once they do reunite we will never get to read anymore of their fabulous correspondence.
I have always been a sucker for the epistolary novel. The nature of reading someone else's correspondence is illuminating and also slightly thrilling, like it's something you're not supposed to read. Fact or fiction, this device gets me every time. I always wonder what it would have been like if Jane Austen had kept Sense and Sensibility in her original epistolary form... ah, what I wouldn't give to have read that version as well. The most famous and one of my most favorite examples is Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road. In her correspondence with Frank Doel she created an instant classic, a classic that Paul and I are very much a fan of. In fact Paul wrote an homage, if you will, to Helene in his book 666 Charing Cross Road. He perfectly captured her and her voice, though never actually writing in the epistolary form. It has to be said that his foray finally into this style is an unequivocal success. This is Paul's personal epistolary tribute to Doctor Who with Panda and Iris poking fun at and saying all the snide asides we have all voiced from time to time but in the end come from a place of love. From Wildthyme with Love is a snorting good time, literally.
Speaking of snorting... let's talk about the literal LOL, the laugh out loud. If you are lucky you have a good sense of humor. You know what's funny and what isn't and you take joy in sharing a joke and laughing. Yet there are many forms of laughter. There is of course the unexpected laughter where you're out in public and you try to contain it because you don't want to draw attention to yourself, here I will add a note that perhaps it's not best to watch How I Met Your Mother on a treadmill at the gym because, well, this will happen quite frequently. There's the slow build laughter the leads to painful clutching of sides and perhaps falling off furniture, this usually requires other people, usually close friends to help induce and sustain this state. There's just the quick bark or smile you get while watching television, which is probably the most common. But there is a rare laugh... the embarrassing kind that I find to be the truest form of laughter.
When reading I rarely laugh out loud, there's usually a small knowing smile that I get, but beyond that, no verbalization. So when I say that From Wildthyme with Love actually had be doing my most embarrassing snort laugh... you can be guaranteed of the humor. The snort laugh is so guttural and also mildly offensive, that it comes from deep within you and can not be contained. If others are present, you will be red with embarrassment. The fact that I did it more then once... yeah, this book's a keeper. Almost everything in this book is a laugh out loud joke and if I were to highlight all my favorites, well, the whole book would be highlighted if I did each one. In fact, because I just had the word doc that Paul sent me I had to order a copy for my shelves because I knew that without this book proudly displayed my shelves wouldn't be quite the library they would be otherwise.
So what was it that made me snort? Well, Panda and his rather disastrous Christmas back in 2007. In his letter to Iris he said:
"You've missed Christmas. I went off and spent it on a cruise liner. Turned out we were traveling through bloody space! I met a nice girl serving drinks who looked a bit like that one off 'Neighbors'... I wasn't quite sure what was going on at that point - something about angels chasing after us and I almost spilled my drink walking a tightrope over a bloody inferno."
This succinct and cynical take on the David Tennant/Kylie Minogue Doctor Who episode "Voyage of the Damned" captures everything odd and wrong about the episode but never goes so far as to condemn it. This whole book is an ode to The Doctor and his fifty years. There is real love from Iris. There is love for the camp and the crazy, the stunt casting and the multiple bickering Doctors. Having just recently watched "The Three Doctors" I was loving Panda's recap of his own personal "Three Pandas" experience:
"There are two other Panda's here! One is much younger and far more frivolous than I, and the other seems to be terribly old and venerable. He didn't even make it through the Event Horizon or whatever, and we can only see him on Skype, thank goodness. Looks like he might smell of wee, TBH."
With loving jabs at everything from lost footage to negotiating with an over-sized scrotum (I call him penis face, but to each his own), to the "penultimate question," to a hilarious party where Panda messes with Ngaio Marsh saying that in the future nobody knows who Agatha Christie is but was later interrupted by a giant wasp, from the Hartnell years up to the present series, each and every joke and insight made me want to just embrace this slim volume and never let it go! Also, this book with a nod and a wink brings up the fact that, just perhaps, The Doctor has been taking all of Iris's best stories and claiming them as his own...
This book gave me faith in the show again. This past season with Matt Smith where I kept feeling that the material never lived up to the potential was nicely recapped as "I think she's got her knickers in a twist recently because of the convoluted story arc she's muddled up in. Feeling a bit mithered as a result." After reading and living life as a full time Whovian for the past few weeks I was feeling the same, I was flagging there, but this book brought me back. It refreshed me and made me so happy, which I have to say, some days that's a hard thing to do. If you aren't a Doctor Who fan... and I do know you're out there, will you be able to enjoy this book? Hell yes, even if you don't get all the context, the content is beyond a doubt hysterical. With Pand R being like an annoying Scrappy Doo and little jokes about Philippa Gregory, it does work outside the sphere of Doctor Who. From Wildthyme with Love is wonderfully funny, snarky, and just lovely....more
Harriet is returning to Buckshaw. Buckshaw, the home of the de Luce's for not much longer as it is to be sold. With Harriet comes all the other de LucHarriet is returning to Buckshaw. Buckshaw, the home of the de Luce's for not much longer as it is to be sold. With Harriet comes all the other de Luce's. Cousins young and old that Flavia has never met. Considering Flavia doesn't get along with her own siblings, she doesn't hold out much hope for this lot either. But having the family returning and seeing each other for the first time in years means that things that have been buried, old family secrets, rivalries, bodies, including that new one under the train who whispered to Flavia before his demise, all of it could be unearthed by a skilled sleuth who has had a little practice, which she would easily say and even crow about if it didn't annoy the others so much. Flavia is sure something is afoot, and she will figure it out and play God if she is given half a chance.
Originally the Flavia de Luce series was to end with The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. Luckily, we fans of the series won't have to result to weeping and wailing, pulling out hair and gnashing our teeth because Alan Bradley's contract was extended to include two more books. Sweet relief! Yet there is a nice sense of closure in The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. We get the denouement he had originally planned to be the culmination of the series, which ends with just the right note and doesn't go in for unrealistic surprises, but we also get a glimpse into what Flavia's future will hold and where the books will go from here.
With the fate of Buckshaw decided and the mystery of Harriet resolved, we get the closure that both us as readers and Flavia as our favorite little precocious poisoner have needed since The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Yet just having all the strings tied together and handed to us in a neat little bow, while giving us closure, wouldn't have given us the depth and intrigue we have come to expect in Bradley's books. Bradley shows us this world of spies and secrets that has always been there, lurking beneath the surface, but never obvious enough to spoil the big reveal. A family as intelligent and as well connected as the de Luce's would be a perfect fit to become government agents, Flavia's governess was teaching her substitution cyphers at a rather young age as it happens. Why else would Winston Churchill show up at Buckshaw for Harriet's return and tell Flavia the cryptic phrases "Pheasant Sandwiches." The book was just delicious with secrets and spies and it made me feel like I was watching the perfection of the first season of The Hour, where you don't know where anyone stands and in a moment your whole world will be upset. In fact, Flavia's world is about to be turned upside down.
While The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches feels like we have reached some sort of endgame, by bringing in the spies and the fact that the Cold War is just beginning in 1951, it feels as if Bradley is securing the longevity of the series by switching gears. Old plots have been wrapped up in order to start anew. By showing the true history of the de Luce's Bradley is setting Flavia center stage for the Cold War. Her genius and her penchant for solving crimes is exactly the kind of genius needed to fight the fight that is to come. Because of all these revelations we see that Flavia herself has changed. She has grown and matured. She realizes that her sisters taunts and jabs were not because she wasn't one of them, but because she was the most like the rest. Daffy and Feely were really the odd ducks out all along. Flavia is the one to carry on the family legacy into this new era.
All this soul searching and revelations make The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches a more intimate novel then in past. While it is the world outside that is at risk, it is what happens within the family, within Flavia, that matters most. There is a shift in Flavia, she is growing up and being able to see herself and her actions from the point of view of others. This insight turns her world on it's head. The way Flavia is even written has changed subtly. For the first time I can remember she makes references to the future and speaks as if what is happening is not in the present but that she is looking back. I will be sad to see this old Flavia go, but I am excited to continue on this journey with her. Though for those who might miss her precocious ways, the introduction of Undine might be a palliative... that's if she doesn't turn into the cousin Oliver of the series. ...more
Jerry Challenor is driving slowly to London. Taking the sleepy back roads and obscure thoroughfares. He is in no hurry, so when he sees an attractive girl alight from a bus with a large burden, he offers her a ride home. She lives at the White Cottage, which is very close at hand. After he drops the girl off he notices that the weather is in for a change and he stops to put the roof up on his convertible and gets to chatting to the local policeman. While relaxing by the side of the road the two men hear the report of a gunshot. They rush to the White Cottage, but someone is dead.
As it happens, Jerry's father is the famous Detective Chief Inspector W.T. Challenor, and Jerry calls him in to handle this mysterious murder. The victim is one Eric Crowther who lived next to the White Cottage in the grey monstrosity, the Dene. No one morns his passing. Every single person who knew him wanted him dead and everyone in the house had means and motive. The shotgun that did the deed was in the corner of the dining room, so anyone could have wandered in and blown him away. For personal reasons Jerry hopes fervently that it is not Norah, the attractive girl he gave a lift to. W.T. is baffled. He could easily arrest anyone in the house with circumstantial evidence, but it's the truth he wants. With Jerry in tow, W.T. heads to the continent and tracks down every lead he can think of... but will he ever make an arrest?
Someone at the BBC needs to make this into a movie right now! This would make a wonderful adaptation, much in the vein of the recent retelling of The Lady Vanishes with Tuppence Middleton. I'm picturing Laurence Fox as the lovestruck son Jerry and his real life father, James Fox, for W.T. Challenor. Perhaps Jenna-Louise Coleman as Norah? I'm telling you, it would be awesome. There was just something so fresh and vital about this story that I can see it appealing to anyone with a love of British period dramas and murder mysteries.
After having rather a rocky go of it with Dorothy L. Sayers, I was starting to become a little leery of my "Golden Summer" scheme. What if all these other hallowed authors where of the same ilk? Great as precursors, as proto-mysteries, as a jumping off point for later authors, but lacking that something that made them timeless and a great read till this day (Agatha Christie is exempt from these thoughts because she is awesome). What if the "Golden Age" wasn't really that golden? Thankfully The White Cottage Mystery has changed my mind and just hardened my heart to Dorothy L. Sayers. Unlike Sayers who fills her books with nonsense and ramblings, there was something so clean and spare to Margery Allingham's book that I wanted to give her book a great big hug. Not literally, because I think that might shatter my Kindle. No nonsense, no fluff, just a great whodunit that reminded me on more then one occasion of the great short stories that Daphne Du Maurier is known for. The style and turn of phrase, not to mention the setting were reminiscent of Du Maurier. And trust me, this is a true compliment from me if I'm comparing Allingham to Du Maurier.
Like Du Maurier and her obsession with the Brontes, Margery Allingham has created in Eric Crowther a character with some very interesting Bronte overtones. It's almost as if Allingham wanted to create a character as psychologically manipulative, hostile, and threatening as Heathcliff and then gleefully kill him. The fact that Crowther, through his machinations and games, is able to keep not only good people in line, but evil degenerates, shows the force of his character. He is an evil man and I echo the sentiments of Jerry that perhaps his death was an "act of God." As for the murderer... well... wait till you get to the final chapter of this lean mean mystery. My faith has been restored by this "act of God" and I will now pick up the first Campion mystery, not with cringing hands, but with a joyful song in my heart....more
Colonel William Reid is retiring to England to live out his life in leisure with his two daughters, Kat and Lizzy, leaving behind three very differentColonel William Reid is retiring to England to live out his life in leisure with his two daughters, Kat and Lizzy, leaving behind three very different, one very difficult, sons in India. Little does he know that the school in Bath that Lizzy has been attending, Miss Climpson's Academy, seems to be the epicenter of spies in the battle between the French and the English. For two years Miss Gwendolyn Meadows has been at the center of that fight, or slightly next to the center wielding a dangerous parasol as the second in command to Britain's chief operative, The Pink Carnation, aka, Jane Wooliston. She has ostensibly been the dragonish chaperone of Jane while they lived in France with Jane's cousin. Jane has received a missive from her family that finds Jane and Gwen on the steps of Miss Climpson's just as Colonel Reid arrives.
As fate would have it, these three must unit in their cause because Jane's sister, Agnes, has gone missing along with Colonel Reid's daughter Lizzy. William doesn't grasp the seriousness of this, thinking it's just girls being girls. Jane knows that this is probably not the case. Somehow Agnes and therefore Lizzy's disappearance has to do with Jane's subversive activities. When William and Gwen are attacked while inquiring after Lizzy with his other daughter Kat, he comes to see that his little girl is truly in danger. He might have not been the best parent so far, but he was going to fix that. Though the reason for the girls disappearance might just not be Jane's fault and might actually be tangled up with William's most dubious of children, Jack, and not Jane at all... or at least not directly. Rumors are that, besides playing for both the French and the English, Jack has also made off with the famous jewels of Berar... the jewels which are rumored to have been sent to his little sister. This means that they aren't the only ones looking for the girls. That most dangerous of French spies, The Gardener, is also on their trail.
Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series is like the ultimate comfort read, like watching The Princess Bride mixed with Bridget Jones's Diary. There's "fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles"... well, maybe not giants, monsters, or fencing per se, but there is Miss Gwen with a rapier parasol, and Lizzy Reid with a bow and arrow, and Lizzy alone is just as dangerous as those three things together. The release of yet another book in this series brings joy to my heart which was tripled when I realized that The Passion of the Purple Plumeria (an alliteration worthy of Gwen's lurid prose) was yet again raising the bar of this series. To have a long running series, ten books and counting, and to have each entry just as fresh and alive is a fete that Lauren needs a round of applause for. Yet in this installment we have a character we have loved since day one and who has been desperately demanding her own book, seriously, ask Lauren, Miss Gwen said her book was next and so it was.
Miss Gwen has always been a pillar of strength and fortitude. Ready to take down the French with an arch look or a well placed parasol to shin or other vulnerable body parts. We have seen this hilarious yet adept spy trailing behind The Pink Carnation, almost as an accessory to Jane. It is as if Gwen herself was Jane's multifunctional parasol weapon. In The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, we see that the reserve that Jane has always exhibited doesn't exclude Gwen. Gwen is just as in the dark as other agents, just hoping that in lying to herself, that she has found a place where she belongs, working beside Jane. Holding on to the dream that her life has purpose and that this work will continue. Lauren brings such depth to Gwen, showing that while she is strong and kicks ass at her job, there's a vulnerability. Gwen could lose Amy and therefore lose her calling. Beneath the gruff exterior Gwen really does have a gooey center. Yet in revealing Gwen's weaknesses, in showing us her painful history, Lauren doesn't take away anything, Gwen can be both vulnerable and strong. Like a parasol, something light and frilly, but with a hidden sword in the shaft. Gwen is just simply remarkable, "beneath that stern exterior was a lifetime's worth of adventure for the man brave enough to win her."
What we see in Gwen's past sins and also in the destitute life that William's daughter Kat is living, is a different world from the one we are used to in this series. Up until now, any people from lower classes, which weren't that numerous, were always seen in the setting of the world of prosperity. Laura Grey was a governess in a Parisian home, Arabella Dempsey is a teacher at the aforementioned Miss Climpson's Academy, and Letty Alsworthy's family is just a little hard up. Yet they are still in the sphere of influence. They are not in the gutter or in crummy little houses taking in laundry to just get by. Yet these people existed. The children out of wedlock, the family scraping by, these are incidents straight out of Jane Austen that are there, pushed into the corners but never talked about, not really. Here Lauren tackles that to some degree, and in doing so, she has made her world more whole. Every level of humanity makes up the world and in showing us something not quite pleasant there is a satisfying feeling of completion.
And in speaking of completion... how many more books till the end? Lauren has often said that this series would be ending soon with Jane's book, yet characters are always speaking up and demanding their own book, ie Sally Fitzhugh coming out next year I hope. I personally would be happy to see this go on for quite some time, as long as Lauren's writing the Pink Carnation series, I will read it. Yet, with her first stand alone, The Ashford Affair, you can see that Lauren has considerable talent and a lot more to offer and that to keep her churning out this series is unfair to her as a writer, I mean, the series does have it's limitations with time period and historical authenticity. But with her second stand alone coming next year, perhaps a happy medium will be reached. Yet one does feel that in the final pages of this book there is a big game changer at the hands of The Gardner. The Passion of the Purple Plumeria does lend itself to flipping the page to the final chapter of The Pink Carnation's story. A final chapter that will be bittersweet. ...more
Sybella escaped a horrible life to get to the convent of Saint Mortain. She was damaged and more then a little insane when she arrived, but they madeSybella escaped a horrible life to get to the convent of Saint Mortain. She was damaged and more then a little insane when she arrived, but they made her whole again. So what does Mortain and the Abbess ask of her? To go back to that horrible life because her rank and her position are perfectly placed to aid Anne, the Duchess of Brittany, in her fight against the French to maintain Brittany's independence. Yet when it is discovered that the great warrior Beast didn't die in the bloody skirmish outside Nantes, but instead is hidden in the depths of the dungeons, Sybella, being already in Nantes, is asked to aid in his release. Things seldom go to plan, and soon Sybella is on the road to Rennes treating Beast's grievous wounds, instead of being back in Nantes. It wasn't her idea, it was Beast's... and he didn't really give her a choice. But now with the Beast of Waroch free he can use his talents and inspire the countryside and peasantry to rise up for the Duchess and keep Brittany free! If the two of them start falling for each other through their mutual pain and respect, well, that might be just as Mortain had planned...
From the moment I finished Grave Mercy I was dying for the next book, which in my mind should have been called Grave Justice. I needed to know what happened to Beast and if he was still alive, I had quite an attachment to him, so I was assuming that he survived, I don't think Robin could traumatize me that much on purpose, and after all those tantalizing glimpses Ismae had of Sybella, like Ismae, I wanted, no, I NEEDED to know what the Abbess had Sybella doing. I waited, very impatiently I might add, till I finally got my hands on the ARC of Dark Triumph. I had spent a year thinking about how Robin would start with Sybella more then half mad on the day Ismae was brought to the convent. Then we would journey through all that had happened during the time Ismae was on her own mission. I spent much time daydreaming of what could come next.
Thankfully this is not how Robin decided to tell the story. Having just recently finished reading Sarah Waters' Fingersmith, I quickly realized how boring a book can be if after seeing a story from one characters point of view, we go back and repeat the entire story from the other characters. Do this a few times, and let's just say that Fingersmith started to alienate me pretty fast. Instead Dark Triumph started almost near the end of Ismae's volume, with Sybella on the ramparts warning Ismae of D'Albret's treachery. Choosing this moment to bring in the second volume first had me worried, because I wasn't sure all my questions would be answered. I need not have worried, not only where all my questions answered, but because of the story picking up where it did, that meant we had time to dive back into Ismae's story and weave the two together. Dark Triumph turned out to be the best of both worlds.
What Robin has done with Dark Triumph is create not only another compelling narrative in the series, but she has captured Sybella's voice. There is nothing that can be more annoying then having a writer attempt to write a story form multiple points of view and have them fail utterly at it. Each person has a distinct voice, I do, you do, Ismae does, Sybella does. Writing, I fully admit that I can only capture my own voice, which works for what I do. But if Sybella had come out sounding just like Ismae, then not only would this book fail, but then the uniqueness of Ismae and her distinct voice would be belittled and cheapened. Instead we have a far more educated voice. Less enthusiastic for carrying out Mortain's wishes. More circumspect, questioning and wary. Which Sybella would have to be growing up in the dark world she inhabits.
Besides the different voice we also have a very different relationship dynamic between Beast and Sybella. They do not have the zealous righteousness that drives Ismae and Gavriel. They are driven by their dark pasts. The fight for what is right after being stomped down by the oppressive evil in the world. Yet neither of them seem to know when to stop pushing so sometimes the other has to be the guide for when enough is enough. This is most obviously shown when Beast occasionally helps Sybella to a state of unconsciousness to get her out of harm's way or when Sybella forces Beast to rest due to his injuries, when the last thing Beast wants is rest. The endearing aspect is while they both have their secrets, neither one ever questions the loyalties of the other. One jumps, the other jumps. True love comes in many forms and Sybella would have been the first to question finding it in a giant of a man with a squashed face and blood lust on the battlefield.
The other thing that really struck me about this book is it is far darker. I mean, this is dark! The disregard the Abbess had for Sybella's sanity in the face of "Mortain's" wishes shows that at the end of the day people do what's best for themselves, and on a side note, if someone doesn't beat the shit out of the Abbess before this series is over I am going to be sad. I had ideas and suppositions about what Sybella's story was, and never once did I think of this. Robin surprised me and gave me another side to the world she has created, which I heartily embraced, even if I occasionally wanted to wash my hands afterwards.
But the magic of the book resides in the fact that Robin has created a historical fantasy that is so real I worry about what will happen to the characters. I have spent a fair amount of time on Wikipedia looking up what really happened during the fight for Brittany and how this plays out doesn't necessarily play out how I would wish. I worry about what Ismae and Gavriel will do when the wars are done and the fight is over. How will they handle when Isabeau dies? What will they think of Anne's life? She is only 26 when she dies. How can the characters I know and love have a happy ending if Anne doesn't have one too? I really should stop obsessing about this and trust in Robin, she is a hopeless romantic and all will work out... right?...more
"I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul, I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass."
- Walt Whitman
With her latest scandal, another husband dead, this time via suicide, and a fight for the his inheritance of the Volkonsky jewels arising, Delilah Drummond's family has come together in Paris to discuss her exile. She must remove herself from public scrutiny or face being cut off forever by her Grandfather back in New Orleans. The imperial "they" have decided that she will hide herself away at her ex step father's house Fairlight, in Kenya. Delilah doesn't have much of a say and agrees to the arranged banishment, knowing full well that as soon as the allotted time is over she will be back in Paris, or New York, or whatever city will have her, probably not New York... that pesky Volstead act kind of puts a kink in ones cocktails.
Arriving in Africa with her "devoted" cousin Dodo as her chaperon, Delilah doesn't quite know what to make of her situation. Firstly, Fairlight is in far worse shape then she was led to believe. Secondly, she is now a part of Kenyan society. A society made up of the outcasts of respectable civilization, meaning mainly people Delilah already knows. It's quite a shock to be relocated but still surrounded by those who were a little too outre for everyone else. There is a part of Delilah that feels at home picking back up where she left off before getting married to husband number two with the artist Kit Parrymore, located near at hand on the Fairlight property. Also the dinner parties hosted by Rex and Helen Farrady, as the reigning King and Queen of Kenya, are just the kind of social occasions Delilah is used to with booze flowing and witty conversation larded with innuendo. Though Helen's private parties are another story...
Soon Delilah is fighting not just her new found love for Africa and the new world and experiences she has reluctantly embraced, but she's also fighting her attraction to Ryder White. Ryder, that great white hunter. The man of contradictions, who believes in the preservation of Africa and it's animals, while also leading Safaris for those who are willing to overpay him. For the first time Delilah isn't giving in immediately to her fleeting fancies... but that could be because Ryder rankled her with placing a bet that he would be the first to bed her. Is it wrong that she took delight in sleeping with Kit so fast just to make him lose? Yet, how long can she deny that she has stumbled into everything she's ever needed?
Like the Whitman poem the book takes it's title from, there's a freshness, a freeness to Deanna's Africa with its overt sexuality that makes this book an addictive and delicious read. While I feel that this is the best Raybourn book I have read I have a feeling that the rawness and sexuality might deter other readers, whereas I felt that it perfectly captured the time and the place that was epitomized in Delilah. Raybourn is able to take old tales and stories from the Happy Valley Days and inject a new life to them. Helen's bathtub, and in fact Helen herself, with nods to Idina Sackville, doesn't feel heavy with the baggage of multiple retellings. Deanna was able to incorporate aspects and anecdotes of the time without making it feel like you've heard it all before, which is a true gift after all the books on Africa I have recently read. Deanna made Africa feel new to me, and I don't think there are many authors or books I can say that about. Delilah had so much life that, while we do get a mystery buried deep down, A Spear of Summer Grass is more a character study then a whodunit, and I didn't regret that for a minute.
The most refreshing aspect though was that while Delilah had the Great War baggage and the night terrors and all the typical signs of PTSD, we are not forced to dwell on this. As I have ranted before, so many modern books belabour this point and make more of it then what it is, not a part of the character, but something that is bigger then the character and becomes a separate entity weighing down the whole book. Delilah is damaged, but everyone in Africa is damaged in some way according to Ryder. Blessedly Deanna handles this balance just perfectly and I didn't have to read about guns in the distance causing flashbacks, yet again.
Being a book that is more a character study, it was the originality and the connection between these characters that made this book get devoured by my eyes. While I do really really like Ryder as the hero and his luscious Han Solo Harrison Fordness which was tailor made for the fair Princesses among us, he wasn't the big draw for me. The two characters I connected with most are Ryder's best friend Gideon and his little lame brother Moses, who are native Masai. The way Gideon becomes Delilah's best friend and how they bond over just talking about the simplest of things, like the Masai words for plants, made him far and away my favorite character in the book. He was so real that he walked right out of the pages and into my heart. Likewise his younger brother Moses. To not only have a connection because of his being a sweet boy with a lame leg who doesn't speak, I mean, how could you not love the little Tiny Timness of him? But to then have that couched in the language of what these things really mean within Masai culture, and how his disability means that he is not only different, but that because of this he can't get cattle to raise and if he doesn't get the cattle then there is no way he can afford a dowry and without that he will never marry and have a fulfilled life. The fact that Delilah hires him, that this simple gesture means that Moses could have a real and full life because he is now able to contribute, makes you have the feels all the more. I would even go so far as to say that because of Deanna's integration of characters and culture, that you get to read a deeper book them most of the books on Africa out there.
But if you really want more Ryder, and I can't really blame you, you should check out his little prequel novella, Far in the Wilds. Now I must go listen to some music, because if there is only one flaw in the book, it's that now I can't get Tom Jones's Delilah out of my head......more
Sophronia isn't exactly like other girls her age. Rather then sitting prettily in a chair and waiting to be wooed, she'd rather be climbing up a tree.Sophronia isn't exactly like other girls her age. Rather then sitting prettily in a chair and waiting to be wooed, she'd rather be climbing up a tree. Her mother therefore has decided she needs to go to finishing school... yet the finishing school that takes her isn't what it seems. While they will make a lady out of her, they aren't interested in quelling her unusual habits, but in cultivating them for a more open ended meaning of finishing. A school devoted to the arts of espionage will obviously have a few evil villains and traitors in the mix. Sophronia and her posse of friends soon stumble on a plot to leak information for an astonishing new invention to the evil Picklemen, who have already attacked the school once. It is up to them to stop this from happening, this is what they are being schooled in after all...
I wanted to like this book, I really really did. Thankfully, now that more reviews are coming out it seems to be just me, which I hoped was the case, because I love Gail's writing but I just didn't love this. While reading this book I did something I rarely ever do, and that's set the book aside for awhile. Usually when a book isn't working for me I try to push on through till I reach a point where either I grudgingly find something to like and my opinion is changed or I finish it and can mark it off my list and get it out of my life and onto the next book. But I love Gail so much I thought that everything I was hating about the book was just in my head. So I set it aside and read something else, which I really enjoyed. Feeling hopeful that my joy in books was undiminished, I picked up Etiquette and Espionage again and found that I still could barely stand reading it. The book was indeed a book I had to push through till the end and then I had a hard talking to with myself as to the rating I'd give it... let's put it this way, it was saved from the one star rating just because of Bumbersnoot. Who doesn't love a Steampunk version of K-9 without all the annoying "mistress" stuff?
Dumbing down. That is the flaw that got in my craw. There is nothing I hate more then feeling like an author is talking down to me, which is a fatal flaw of L. Frank Baum, or dumbing down their writing so that little old me can understand it. Oh gosh, I just can't handle the overly big words, it makes my brain hurt. I have noticed that several authors who have written for a predominately adult audience aren't quite able to make this shift into YA. For some reason they treat their audience differently and change their writing stylistically. The thing is, the YA market is a very discerning audience. Gail's previous books have much cross genre appeal and she could have easily just taken out the sexy bits of her previous books and that would have been enough. But instead we get a book that is predominately action which lacked a snap to the language, and it felt flat. The witty repartee seemed pushed aside for plot expedience, making the whole book lackluster. Etiquette and Espionage felt like a wonderful book that had been mercilessly bowdlerized to make it into a blockbuster that was dumbed down for the masses. Gone is the chatter over tea and scones, in is the heroine climbing the side of a dirigible... why? Because obviously that's the easiest way to get to the bowels of the ship? Excuse me what? Action action action to me is dull, please bring back the chats over tea.
Yet it wasn't just the writing that was dull, but the plot and characters. For a heroine, Sophronia was very one dimensional. She was good at physical activities such as climbing... yeah, that's it for Sophronia. Oh, except that she is so obtuse! I mean, it's understandable that at first she didn't get the joke and the true meaning behind a "finishing school" but that she continuously didn't get it just drove me insane. I just wanted anyone at all to pull her aside and go, "Ok, so, Sophronia, we know that in your world getting finished means getting all your accomplishments polished so that you can be married off, but look at the classes we teach here, finishing can also mean killing someone, ok, now stop being so dumb." Add additional characters even dumber than her as sidekicks and a very basic espionage plot, and the book just didn't appeal to me at all. Sorry.
Though there is one aspect of the book that bothered me beyond all the dumbing down and that is Soap. Soap himself doesn't bother me as such, in that he's just a stock minority character to round out Sophronia's team, it's his name. In another instance of Sophronia's stupidity, upon first meeting Soap she doesn't realize that he is black because he is covered in soot from coal. His name comes from the fact that no matter how much he washes, he'll still look like he's covered in soot. Excuse me? Um... this name offends me on so many levels. I don't care if it's irony or self parody on Soap's part, to me it's racist. While the name is countered by his portrayal and the fact that he is a love interest, the name is just so so wrong. Even before this time in England, there where quite wealthy and well respected blacks in the community, thank you Regency House Party. Slavery was first abolished in 1807 with any people slow to the party being taken out with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, while this book is set in 1851. So, while I know racism even lingers to this day, there was so much upheaval and change and so much good being done before the setting of this book that by naming the character Soap, it just feels like two steps backwards.
So, wow, this is turned into a rather wordy review now didn't it? I guess I just really needed to justify those two stars which have been worrying rather a fair few of my friends who are also huge fans of Gail Carriger. In summation, I don't think this book will get Gail many new readers. There is just too much world building that is dependent on having read the previous books, written for a much older audience who will not appreciate the dumbing down of the writing. The only little joy I got from this book, aside from Bumbersnoot, was seeing characters from The Parasol Protectorate at a younger age... though not all cameos are successful. Yet there are ways this series could work. I liked the school and the fixed environment, just flesh it out more, set aside more chapters to fully explore this school. Show us classes. Make it Harry Potter on a damn dirigible not debutantes climbing dirigibles! And please, before anything else, give Soap a real name....more
Bishop's Lacey is in a state of excitement. As Easter draws near there is an excavation underway at St. Tancred's. Five hundred years ago their patronBishop's Lacey is in a state of excitement. As Easter draws near there is an excavation underway at St. Tancred's. Five hundred years ago their patron Saint died and was buried in the church at Bishop's Lacey. It was rumored that he was buried with The Heart of Lucifer, a diamond as big as a turkey egg that had healing powers and was the centerpiece of a staff made from holy wood. But only a few people know of this legend, and they obviously wanted to find it prior to the official excavation, because once the exhumation begins, it is obvious that someone has been there before. The most obvious sign of disruption being the body of Mr. Collicutt, the church's organist of the luscious locks who has been missing for some weeks.
Of course it had to be Flavia who found Mr. Collicutt... she had stumbled upon the tunnel that the nefarious gang was using to access the tomb... and the thought of long undisturbed bones was too much of a temptation to the precocious poisoner. But the discovery of the body brings many people to the scene. Besides the cops there's Adam Sowerby, who as a Flora-archaeologist, is on hand to see if there are any viable seeds buried with St. Tancred... but he also happens to dabble in PI work, knows Flavia's father from long ago, and is so mysterious, he might, just might, be an agent for the Queen. Many close scrapes and a few startling revelations later, including an effigy weeping blood, leads to the biggest surprise of Flavia's life. Her mother Harriet has been found.
While this book was, I am sure, just as wonderful as the previous volumes, the murder, the mysteries, the daring escapes, the thugs, the diamond, all of it top hole, but all of it vanish into a dim memory buried deep in the fog, like the mist taking over the sinking churchyard at St. Tancred's when you read that last line: "Your mother has been found." The rest of the book just whooshed out of my head at this stunning revelation. Harriet has been found! My mind started working overtime, is it possible she is still alive, or is she dead... could her estate be settled, can Buckshaw be saved? All these what ifs pushed everything else out of the way. The sheer torture of having to wait to find out the answers is a burden that I don't know if I can bear, but bear it I must.
The working title for the fifth volume of Flavia's adventures was Seeds of Antiquity, and I rather wish that this had remained the title. The books duel yet connected themes of family/heredity and history seem interconnected with the word antiquity, whereas bones, though they have a story to tell, are far less romantic. The knowledge that Flavia is accumulating with regard to her mother and her own place within Buckshaw makes her more a part of the family then Feely and Daffy would like. Flavia is her mother reborn, no matter what any sibling has tried to convince her of in the past. What we are comes from our parents, the madness or genius that is inherited, much as the burden of Buckshaw is inherited. To be able to embrace all that we are while also loosing it, with the imminent sale of the house, shows who we truly are. But how sad for Flavia, to be coming into all this knowledge while also learning that she will loose her connection to this past.
The past though can live again, and it is through Adam Sowerby the Flora-archaeologist that the most interesting aspects of history live. Sure there is the history of the town and St. Tancred, the history of Buckshaw and Harriet, but all this is dry history, it was alive, it is no more. That history is gone. What Adam Sowerby does is bring history to life. By going to ancient burial sites he examines the remains, because most people throw flowers into graves. He then takes these seeds and tries to revitalize them. To bring back seeds long gone, plants that are no longer part of this time and place. To be able to breath life into something long dead. It is a bit like playing god. But it's the closest thing we have to time travel. We can't go into the past, but here is a very small part of the past that might be brought back to us. A bit of magic in a world of murder....more
One day Alan's Dad disappears. Everyone, even his Mom, believes Alan's Dad has done a runner. The family's reduced circumstances with a new baby on thOne day Alan's Dad disappears. Everyone, even his Mom, believes Alan's Dad has done a runner. The family's reduced circumstances with a new baby on the way would make anyone do a bunk. Alan knows it isn't true. He saw his dad taken. They where tall with scorched looking skin and drove a black limousine. Then there was the sound of their feet, krunch, krunch, krunch, and their high pitched laugh, hee hee hee. These creatures where the very stuff of nightmares. But why would they want Alan's Dad? He's just a window cleaner, nothing much. More importantly, what are they?
Soon there are more disappearances in town. The police aren't taking an interest, but Alan knows it's the same creatures. In the flat above Alan's are two oldsters, a brother and sister, who, despite their advancing years, are quite sprightly, and noisy, and are driving Alan's mom insane with their disco music. When Alan finally gets to know Bunty and Marlton, he finds out that they have had dealings with these creatures and they know what they are, they are Ninnies.
No one quite knows what a Ninny is or what a Ninny wants. They are scary, shadowy creatures. They might be from space, or a different dimension, or straight out of our nightmares. They could explain the unexplainable, they might be the fairies and trolls of legend, they could be the spacemen people claim to see, they could be all of this and none of this, but disappearances are the first sign that they have arrived. The second sign is mutilation of animals. This soon occurs at the Bonnitime Zoo which is run by Twitsy Nesbit, a friend of Bunty and Marlton's. The final sign is people being addicted to some savory treat... very soon there is a new brand of crisps on the mark, Krispies, with strange names like "Zebra and Artichoke." Alan finds out about the crisps from his classmate Amy who works at her families store. Alan quickly becomes addicted. Even once he knows they are from the evil creatures that took his Dad, he can't stop himself. The Ninnies meanwhile can't leave Alan and his friends alone. Tapping on windows late and night, their menacing hee hee hee's coming out of the shadows. Something will have to be done about them... after one more bag of Krispies.
This book quite literally blew me away. I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this. The title and the cover led me to think that this would be a silly little story about some mischievous creatures called The Ninnies that would be on the younger side of YA... don't ask me to explain why my brain thought this, it just did. My brain was not prepared to be blown. I think that's the best kind of book, the one that sneaks up on you and just wows you. This book was like Roald Dahl at his best, Neil Gaiman at his darkest and wittiest, or what you always wanted the Sarah Jane Adventures to be, but never quite where. Ghoulish, macabre and suspenseful, I loved it. It kept my up to the wee hours every night hoping not to hear a ghoulish hee hee hee coming from outside my bedroom door.
The mystery of the Ninnies combined with their side business in Krispies, which was run out of an old red brick Victorian Factory, made me feel like I was reading the dark cousin of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It's like the Oompa Loompa's had taken over the factory and started to kill and eat the small children. Hence it isn't odd that the book felt reminiscent of Gaiman, with his proclivities to kill families and children. Yet, despite these literary correlations, this book was all Paul Magrs. His wit and humor remained intact. You could tell this was the writer of the Brenda and Effie books with the eccentric cast of characters, the loving way he portrays the elderly and his love of pick and mix shops, yet, he stepped it up a notch. More humor, more horror, more suspense. The fact that Alan, once learning the truth of his food addiction and being unable to give it up, left you with a slight nauseous feeling while you where also finding it funny that he's hiding crisp packets about his person so that no one knows his "dark secret."
The Ninnies I think has quickly become my favorite of Magrs works. It brought back that feeling of horrible delight I had upon first reading Roald Dahl's Matilda in sixth grade. He also was able to maintain the suspense by only giving us a little bit at a time, like a single crisp instead of an entire packet to wolf down like Alan. If there was a down side it was that I felt the story should have been self contained and not open to a sequel. Sometimes a stand alone is what's needed and I don't know if the horrible suspense Paul has created will be able to carry though a second volume... but that again, I am willing to be surprised....more
Clemmie's life has been turned on it's head. Everything she took as a given is slowly being taken away from her. Her Grandmother Addie and her GrandmoClemmie's life has been turned on it's head. Everything she took as a given is slowly being taken away from her. Her Grandmother Addie and her Grandmother's apartment on the Upper East Side have always been a safe haven for Clemmie. Yet Addie hasn't been doing well. Clemmie though has been so busy wrapped up in her own world at her law firm that she doesn't realize time is passing by. Soon it might be too late and there is so much Clemmie hasn't asked or forgot to ask her Grandmother. When the family descend for Addie's birthday party Clemmie's Aunt starts dropping weird hints about a deep dark family secret. A secret that spans Addie's childhood and adolescence in England and then her time in Kenya. Could this secret change Clemmie's entire life?
Booked as Out of Africa meets Downton, I can see the marketing ploy... but The Ashford Affair didn't feel like this to me. For those epics there is a distancing between you and the characters. You feel like an outsider looking in. No matter how much you love and care for Denys Finch Hatton or Lady Mary, you are never part of their story. That's where Lauren shines. She has created characters you connect with in a different way. You become part of their story. Reminiscent of the writing style of Nancy Mitford, as you where sitting in the Hons cupboard listening to Linda recount the love of her life, there you are sitting with Addie as she braves the cold outdoor nightclub as she sees herself losing the love of her life.
While I'm sure there are others out there who would disagree with me, and say the marketing is apt, the thing is I'm an Out of Africa hater, so it's a good thing I didn't see The Ashford Affair as such. Also, as to the Downton angle, yeah, ok, but a lot of people are in "Downton Rage" as I'm calling it because of the Matthew debacle, and Downton doesn't have the constant witty banter and humor that Lauren has brought to The Ashford Affair. Downton is an epic soap opera, even if you are one of those people who didn't realize it as such at first, but how else to categorize a show where the heir goes down in the Titanic in the first episode? I mean, come on people! Downton has a lot going for it, but there's a disconnect between that show and this book. Therefore I am rechristening it Alconleigh to Kenya or possibly, Mitfords meet Clueless... still deciding on that one. Either way, Lauren has created characters who you could see spending time with and having a laugh with (PELT!) and enjoying life, verses the epic heart wrenching day to day life at Downton. Not saying that there aren't times when Lauren is ripping out your heart, she just won't leave you dead in a ditch.
I don't think my "Mitford" interpretation is that far off either. Let's look at the evidence, a Bolter, check, either if based on Idina Sackville, or the fictional Mitford Bolter... which may have been based on Sackville or even on Nancy Mitford's sister Diana, the Bolter is key. The elder sister Dodo, a horse and hounds girl, could that be Debo Mitford, the Duchess of Devonshire who likes to write books about her chickens? Then there's Addie... a cousin and an outsider who comes to live in a glorious estate with rather odd relatives while her own parents were in disrepute with the rest of the family, can anyone say Fanny Logan, the narrator of Nancy Mitford's famous trilogy? Lauren herself has said that Nancy's book Wigs on the Green was an inspiration, which was notorious for Nancy's lampooning of her own family and was therefore out of print for many years. Also just the humor fits in more with the Mitfords/Radletts. The scene that brings this out more then any other is when Addie's mouse is set loose by Bea at Dodo's coming out ball. Lauren was able to perfectly recapture a time that, in my mind, was exemplified my Nancy Mitford's writing. Lauren brought that world to life again, and that's a hard feat.
Speaking of time, time is an interesting thing. Though the twenties are a very specific time and place within the last century, it has still developed a timelessness to it. The sepia coloring of passing generations has made it an era we are nostalgic for and romanticize, even though we weren't alive. Maybe that's why we are nostalgic for it, because we didn't live through it. Unlike the late 90s. Having the modern day section set not in the "now" but in the 90s kept drawing me out of the book. Modern references niggled at me and then I was thinking of the weirdest things, like, was their really Lord of the Rings parties in the 90s? I mean, you'd have to be a hard core book nerd to be having the parties, because the first of the movies didn't come out until 2001. In fact, the film had only been filming for two months when the action of this book takes place.
I know this is nit picky, but this is where my mind goes. This is why, while I enjoyed the whole book, the modern sections I was almost skimming. I didn't really care about Clemmie's job travails (another thing, hating the name Clemmie, sounds like the demon Clem from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or phlegm whereas I love the full name Clementine, so just call her by that). Clemmie's job was just a hurtle that kept her from her family, and while it was annoying for her, it was more annoying to me. I know Lauren connects to Clemmie's life of lawyering, I just personally didn't connect. But perhaps I just didn't want to go back to the modern sections of the book because I was reveling in the past. I would have loved it longer and more in depth because I didn't want to leave the past. Not one bit.
One thing can be certain, this book has allayed many worries of mine and I'm sure fears of others. With the inevitable end of Lauren's Pink Carnation series (le sigh) she has proven with The Ashford Affair that she is capable of writing books that I will keep buying. She kept me awake until the wee hours (is that dawn I see?) as I tried to puzzle out the mystery, which I thought I was certain of until, wham. Lauren has definitely got me for the entire span of her literary career, which I wager will be long and fruitful....more
Ismae almost died before she was born. Her mother tried to purge her from her body because she knew that Death was Ismae's father. All her life she haIsmae almost died before she was born. Her mother tried to purge her from her body because she knew that Death was Ismae's father. All her life she has been marked by death with a dark wine stain from her shoulder to her hip. On the day of her marriage to a man she neither loves nor likes, he learns the truth and attempts to kill her. The herbwitch that tried to end her in the womb now rescues her and sends her to the convent of St. Mortain. There Ismae learns that she is cursed, but with gifts from Death himself. Trained to be a handmaiden to Death she learns all the subtle arts from poisons to seduction, though she's not too keen on the womanly arts. She becomes a finely skilled tool, an assassin for Death himself. Her first two assignments go rather well and the men are sent to their graves. The deaths of these two men though are inopportune for Brittany's government who is trying to stay an independent Duchy from France. As atonement for the inconvenience the convent has wrought the Duchy's young ruler, Anne, and her bastard brother, Gavriel Duval, Ismae is to accompany Gavriel to court and aid the country, while also serving the sometimes conflicting needs of the convent.
While at court, Gavriel is worried that he has been saddled with a loose cannon. Ismae seems no need to confide in Gavriel, or ask his permission, and seems willing to kill whomever Death has marked, whether it's convenient to Gavriel or not. Ismae though is in a world where, through Gavriel, she is starting to wonder if the convent has things quite right. She has spent the last few years cloistered away from the world and is now questioning the convents teachings. Embroiled in affairs of the Breton Court and the Privy Council, Ismae soon learns that Anne is a ruler worthy of protection and Gavriel may be a man worthy of her heart. If only St. Mortain would show her what her true destiny is.
I have been a fan of Robin LaFever's since I was wandering around Barnes and Noble back in 2007 and stumbled upon Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos. The blend of Egyptian mythology with a plucky heroine in Edwardian England seemed a book that was written to perfectly meld all my favorite things inbetween two book covers. Not to mention the gorgeous art of Yoko Tanaka. Over the years I have waited with anticipation for each of the subsequent volumes to be released. I also fell in love with Robin's other series for younger readers, Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist. Needless to say, she quickly became on of my favorite writers and one whom I've forced nearly all my friends to read. Side note, it's not cruel and unusual punishment if they end up loving the books as I do. Plus, one of my friends named her son Nathaniel, so obviously her son needed a full set of the books (four so far)! Anyways, because of this lovely thing called the internet, I was able to get in touch with Robin because I felt that she needed to be exposed to as many readers as I could get her. First she joined goodreads, which I heartily encourage of everyone, and then with the launching of my blog, I now have even more of a platform in which to declare my love of these books.
This year marks a new series for Robin. Grave Mercy is the first in her new "His Fair Assassin" series, the HIM being Death. Set in Breton in the 15th century, Robin was "curious to see what [I] think, since it is SO different from Theo!" She's right, it is SO different from Theo. But I've come to the conclusion that a great author is able to write in any genre and on any subject matter as long as they have a clear authorial voice that comes through. Robin has that voice. It changes with the characters and the timeperiods she's writing about, but there's a way she grips you from the outset. She has an engaging writing style that doesn't make it feel like you're fighting the text to get from word to word and paragraph to paragraph. It's a book where you look up and find yourself surprised that an hour or two or three have passed, or even that it's five in the morning and shouldn't you be asleep by now?
This flow in her writing is even more impressive when you think about the fact that this is Historical Fiction in essence. I read a lot of Historical Fiction and it can easily be bogged down with overly archaic language, too many historical events and plot points given to you like a lesson at school that you hated the first time around and has you scrambling back and forth over the text trying to remember minutiae of each plot and counter plot. But Robin did an amazing job of making the people real and not making the history presented in a way that it was too complex therefore making me feel dense. The book just flowed. I fell for Ismae and her evil Hogwarts convent and then fell all over again when Gavriel showed up. These characters became real to me. I was invested in their lives and with getting them together! Jane Austen had it so right with Darcy and Elizabeth, now just make one an assassin and the other an upright young man, Anne his sister gets to be Georgiana, and you just wait for them to realize the truth that, though they are so different, they are so right for each other. The thing is, now I have a problem. I want the next book now. You are all reading this and being all jealous that I already got to read it and I'm sure you have no pity for me... but now I have to wait even longer than you for the second book, think of it that way....more
There's only so many times you can throw yourself at someones feet till you start to fall for the owner ofsaid feet. Augustus has been throwing himselThere's only so many times you can throw yourself at someones feet till you start to fall for the owner of said feet. Augustus has been throwing himself at the feet of the Pink Carnation for some time now. Working with her as an undercover agent in Paris and using his horrible poetry to foil the French has made him invaluable to the British, but really, he only wants to be invaluable to one person; Jane, the Pink Carnation. Despite his flowery poetry that goes beyond the ridiculous, his sentiments of love are becoming more and more true. Jane though does not share these sentiments. She would gladly play matchmaker though.
Emma Delagardie is an American living in Paris. She spent most of her life in France, going to school with Napoleon's stepdaughter, then marrying a man whom she didn't quite get. Widowed young, she flung herself back into life, even making a few mistakes along the way in the form of Georges Marston. Yet her new favorite pastime is heckling Augustus. She is ever by the side of Jane and Augustus is ever by Jane's feet... he makes a very logical target. Jane thinks though that perhaps Emma's taunting is a deflection of her true feelings for Augustus. Throwing the two of them together to write a masque for Napoleon's house party seems the perfect way to see if these two crazy kids might not find a way to work things out and hopefully foil whatever that wacky emperor is doing next... because declaring himself emperor seems a pretty big step onto the crazy train.
Augustus is perhaps the most beloved character we have been waiting to get his happily ever after. That is after Turnip. I'm sorry Augustus lovers, but Turnip will always be my man, on the plus side, Turnip got his happily ever after so now it's time to spread the love. Ever since this absurd poet flung himself at the feet of the Pink Carnation speculation has been running wild as to whether this would be the man to win the heart of the elusive spy. As is the case in fiction as reality, the course of love never runs smooth. While busy admiring "The Princess of the Pulchritudinous Toes", the Princess's short little American companion heckling him has never left a good impression. She's American, for a start, a little too gaudy, a little too sultry, and a little too much "the Grand Inquisitor for Poetical Excellence, Greater Paris Branch." Emma Delagardie is the perfect foil for Augustus.
Until this book I have always pictured Augustus as one of those over the top, Byronic poets, like Shelley, Byron and Coleridge, but as depicted in Blackadder, laying about prostate in Mrs. Miggins' Coffee Shop half dead of consumption, but with a very puffy shirt on. Never discount the puffy shirt! Aka, a stereotypical poet, which for Augustus is the perfect disguise. Lauren does a wonderful job though of showing what playing this stereotype for so long might do to ones mind. Like all deep undercover agents, sometimes it can be too much, and sometimes you just can't get away from the bad rhymes, even in your head. I felt an empathy towards August and his muddled mind. Are his feelings for Jane even real, or has the job just fully taken over control of his senses. He is far more tragic and dark than one might expect... a true romantic poet, not just some parody.
The bubbly Emma as Augustus' counterpoint was perfect. She too has inside turmoil, but there's an exuberance about her that is undeniable. I kept trying to think of petite blond Americans who could due her justice, seeing as I always cast books in my head for my dream miniseries. I thought Kristen Bell would be good, but for some reason that wouldn't stick. The initial spark in my mind was Bernadette from The Big Bang Theory, and you know what, I think Melissa Rauch is Emma. The way she has that bubbly way of speaking, but then her happy smile can freeze and all of a sudden there is menace and you are very afraid. I think she is Emma. The facade and the interior, the whole shebang if you will. I got a "Bang" joke in, yeah!
The only flaw this book has, which can be said of all the books in this series, is once the couples are paired off, they rarely make a return performance. They are forever relegated to supporting or cameo roles. I think perhaps a sequel or two might one day be in order... the love I have for these characters just can't be contained to one book and then a shout out. Even when the wicked Georges Marston makes a come back, having been MIA since book once, it gives me a thrill. Ah Lauren, you have created a world I love to visit, and a new book once a year is never enough....more
Charlotte Kinder is still wondering how it went wrong. She dedicated her life to her family. Now she's single again and her husband James will soon beCharlotte Kinder is still wondering how it went wrong. She dedicated her life to her family. Now she's single again and her husband James will soon be married the a woman named Justice. How is that just? To be single again at her age is something she never thought would or could happen. Thankfully due to her brains, and her Internet start-up company, she's not exactly hurting for money. But what does that matter. She doesn't know who she is without James. Finding an old bucket list from when she was a teenager she realizes how many dreams she had that where abandoned by an early marriage and pregnancy. The list is unrealistic, Kilimanjaro, really? But what about the part about reading all Jane Austen's books? That was something that she didn't even have to leave the house to do.
Reading the works of Jane Austen is the first time she has truly felt anything in a long time. Realizing that she has the money and the time to take a vacation, Charlotte thinks she would like to go to England and walk in the steps of this great author to hopefully recapture some of those feelings Austen has reawakened. Then she hears about Pembrook Park... an immersive Austen experience. She wouldn't be walking in Jane's footsteps, she would be living in her world! Arriving at the park she meets a motley crew, from the strict proprietress, Mrs. Wattlesbrook, to the Englsih songstress Alisha, ill and in disguise as Miss Gardenside, with her ever present nurse, Mrs. Hatchett, as well as the guest in permanent residence, Miss Charming. But what about the men? There's the exuberant Colonel Andrews, the Rochester like Mr. Mallery, and the actor who is to play her brother, Eddie. Because Charlotte has left her life behind and is now Mrs. Cordial, the widowed bell of Regency England. Even if Charlotte just learned what Regency means...
A relaxing stay doesn't seem in the cards. The drunken and decidedly modern dressed husband of Mrs. Wattlesbrook makes an appearance. But an interruption into the verisimilitude isn't so troubling as the ghost stories and mysteries that start to weave through the house. Dead nuns and ghosts and secret rooms and fire. Charlotte stumbles on a corpse, but was it really there, was it Bloody Murder? Could Charlotte be next?
For those familiar with Pembrook Park from Hale's previous jaunt into Austenland, you are in for a complete 180. Instead of the romance and comedy of manners, much like Austen's Pride and Prejudice, her we have the Austen of Northanger Abbey. The laundry list that might be a plaintive cry for help. The tone is set quite early by Charlotte, who, upon first seeing Pembrook Park, thinks "this is the sort of house were murders happen." She isn't far off. With a far more Bronte-esque man set aside for her, this isn't going to be all longing gazes and secret rendezvous. Instead Charlotte will be sizing everyone up in the drawing room and making lists of suspects.
Quite a suspect list it is, with some familiar faces returning, in fact, after her last stay, Miss Charming has never left, instead moving into the park full time. Also, Mrs. Wattlesbrook's husband, who was booted out of the house because of an incident in Austenland, shows he's even more of a villain than previously thought. Also, the new characters are interesting, though I think with Miss Gardenside is badly timed. She is very much of the Amy Winehouse/Lily Allen persuasion... and, well... things didn't really turn out well there. Not that Hale was to know writing this book way in advance of Winehouse's death.
While I found the change of tone and the recurrence of characters fun, feeling at times like my favorite movie, Clue, there was one problem I had. A problem that often happens in murder mysteries. Why does the heroine always have to be in danger? Not just once, but repeatedly. The same scenario played out over and over and over. The inner monologue trying to justify what was really going on and always second guessing herself. I did like how the red herrings Hale laid out did lead me down a few dead ends, but once it was all solved... there was not enough rapidity in the conclusion. A drawn out ending can be the killer of a book and this ending did bring it down a full star rating. If I where Charlotte I wouldn't have second guessed, I would have called the police immediately and had done with it. Why do people have to figure things out for themselves before calling the proper authorities... I mean, I'm sure I might make the same mistake, but I'm hoping that after all the horror films and mysteries I've been exposed to I wouldn't be so dumb....more
Christmas is coming to Buckshaw. Which means Santa and presents and a film crew. The De Luce's, ever in financial ruin, have rented the house out to aChristmas is coming to Buckshaw. Which means Santa and presents and a film crew. The De Luce's, ever in financial ruin, have rented the house out to a film crew so that they can afford such things as Christmas and food. Flavia, for the moment, is more concerned with the arrival of Santa, because with her cunningly devised experiment she will prove to her sisters once and for all that Santa is real! All that was needed was to whip up a little birdlime, which is a no-brainer to the chemically inclined Flavia. The arrival of the film crew does prove a fun distraction till the long awaited results of Christmas Eve, especially when the star of the film is revealed to be none other than Phyllis Wyvern, the most famous film actoress of the day. Phyllis brings along the requisite entourage of hangers on who make such good suspects, from the leading man to the disaffected lady's maid to the dictatorial director and the haughty costumes mistress. Throw in a blizzard, a bizarre accident to one of the films roustabouts and a charity performance for the church's roof with all the villager's of Bishop's Lacey descending on the house and you have the perfect setting for a nice cozy country house murder. Because, there will be a murder. And if there's one group of people who like to keep secrets, it's those in film who have spent their lives being other people and trying to hid what they really are. And if there's one person who is good at uncovering secrets, it's Flavia De Luce.
The fourth installment of Bradley's Flavia De Luce stories is perhaps the best yet, despite my holding a great fondness in my heart for The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag with the Porson Puppet Show. The country house whodunit is a classic of the mystery genre, and while the previous installments have veered towards this style with the insular little community of Bishop's Lacey, it is nowhere near as perfect as a snow bound Buckshaw. Buckshaw with all it's hidden doors and snow topped heights and forbidden rooms is not just a perfect setting for a period film, but perfect for murderous intentions.
Each book has had their enigmatic stranger that becomes the focal point of Flavia's world, and Phyllis Wyvern is wonderful. An aging actress that still has the chops to pull off a teenage Juliet and capture the audiences devotion, even after she's slapped a lighting assistant who happens to be a local. An actress who nightly carries out her own version of Sunset Boulevard watching her old films and keeping everyone in the heated wing of the house awake till the wee hours. But far away in the unheated wing Flavia is not bothered by this and more fascinated by Phyllis's love of the macabre... having heard all about the Bonepenny incident and subscribing to all the murderous periodicals. I picture Phyllis as Gillian Anderson. She has the smallness of frame, the timeless beauty and with all that X-Files work, the macabre would suit her just fine. I in fact wonder if Alan felt the same because shortly after mentioning her appearance there are multiple references to Bleak House, which is what revitalized Gillian's career. Perhaps it was just felicitous, but I would love to see Buckshaw brought to the screen, and Gillian would be perfect.
What Bradley gives us more than a festive little cozy is a glimpse into a bygone age. A time when villages where villages, when great families could go back generations in a house but be unable to keep the roof up. Where vicars where there to bring everyone together, where films where a special occasion and where little girls could go about their way, even if their way was with dangerous chemicals and poisons and pipettes. ...more