Really sweet and funny story about two kids, one happens to work for Death. Interesting/menacing young girl as "Death" is an interesting take, reminds...moreReally sweet and funny story about two kids, one happens to work for Death. Interesting/menacing young girl as "Death" is an interesting take, reminds me a bit of Susan. Excited to start the series esp. with how she took on a subject here (aka Death in human form) better then some others have, ie Gaiman.(less)
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 she...moreSally 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.(less)
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.(less)
While Wellington Brooks and Eliza Braun did pull off the impossible in their last adventure for The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, Doctor Sound has...moreWhile 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?(less)
Short sweet and totally Gaiman. People with different faces, houses that live... yeah, this could easily cause me to have nightmares. Also just a litt...moreShort sweet and totally Gaiman. People with different faces, houses that live... yeah, this could easily cause me to have nightmares. Also just a little bit Avengers too (Peel and Steed not Hulk and Thor).(less)
I was really hoping for maybe something more historical about the amorous adventures of the monarchy and the Double Duchess... instead it's a cute lit...moreI was really hoping for maybe something more historical about the amorous adventures of the monarchy and the Double Duchess... instead it's a cute little story about Cora almost making a huge social blunder but being saved by a kindly tattoo artist... um... ok... not what I was expecting at all. Then it just seemed padded out with old ads from English Lords looking for American ladies with ready cash and the first two chapters of her book 'The American Heiress.' So skip this, read 'The American Heiress' instead.(less)
It is hard to grasp that a little boy who grew up in a tribal setting in South Africa would become the driving force to eliminate apartheid and would...moreIt is hard to grasp that a little boy who grew up in a tribal setting in South Africa would become the driving force to eliminate apartheid and would subsequently become the president of South Africa, and a man who changed history and shaped the 20th century. Nelson Mandela was fortunate in that he was allowed access by a flawed system to an education, an education that he would then use to dismantle that very system. There is no ambiguity that Mandela and his struggles symbolized freedom to the world and to South Africa. He was a great man. But being a great man doesn't translate to being a great writer. To me, the reason to read is for enjoyment and entertainment, and yes, education. But I like my knowledge presented to me in an engaging fashion. Therefore nonfiction has never been my genre of choice. The fact of the matter is life doesn't necessarily have a narrative. Life has a beginning, a middle, and an end, that is true. But not every life is worth or worthy of a book. Great historical figures, as well as annoying celebrities, are an exception.
Yet to have a biography or autobiography there needs to be more then this beginning, middle, and end. There needs to be insight as to how that time was filled. As a reader I didn't want just a dry telling of the facts, I wanted to know Mandela's feelings. I wanted to know his beliefs, his loves, his despair at spending 27 years of his life incarcerated. His feelings when Winnie went a little crazy, instead of a press release. This is what I desired, and instead I got brief glimpses of his life amid a struggle with no narrative, nothing to grab you and make you feel invested in his journey. Just a dry telling of the facts and figures that would make a statistician cry from sheer boredom. Flat, emotionless writing with so many names and acronyms, I wasn't sure if I could finish the book without loosing my mind.
To be fair, I will say that I was fairly ignorant of what the history in South Africa was, I kind of dropped that African history class in undergrad due to surly students and an indifferent TA that reminded me of Eric Stoltz. I did work on the play "Master Harold"... and the Boys about institutionalized bigotry and racism in Port Elizabeth during apartheid, but I can honestly say I don't remember anything about it other then how long it took me to paint that set. Therefore learning more about this time did hold some fascination for me and also underscored the fact that the world will basically turn a blind eye if you're killing your own people, Pol Pot, Stalin, early Hitler. But the fact that the government was just as bad if not worse then Nazi Germany and that this lasted not just a few decades but for almost an entire century is staggering. The travel bans, the pass books, the government did everything they could to push down the natives. The fact that the government was Boer, aka the Dutch who came and settled in South Africa, who are most known for that lovely Boer War, has made me draw the conclusion that the Boers are Bastards... I think this would make a catchy bumper sticker, don't you? Or Afrikaners suck. Your choice.
This is the world that Mandela grew up in. I liked that we saw his journey and how he questioned things. He thinks like I do in some respects. If he didn't know about something he would go out and find out everything about it before making a decision. He'd read and read and read till he came to his own conclusions. But this was a bit lugubrious to read about his reading. I don't want to be doing battle with my books. Really I don't. I take a certain glee in writing the reviews later... but that doesn't make up for the previous torture the book has inflicted on me. What I wouldn't have given for maybe a little bit about his family, his feelings about not being there for them instead of a day by day breakdown of one of his trials that lasted years, but felt like millennia. While nothing makes up for the life he lost locked behind prison walls, I can definitively say that I felt every single year he was locked away with him.
With this book there is also a final question to be asked. How much did this book sanitize Mandela's image? The book was rushed to publication for his taking office as president with the help of his co-author, not, in my mind, ghostwriter as some have said, if it was ghostwritten, it would have been actually better written, so therefore, what was tweaked? What was taken out and what was kept in? In fact many people believe that Mandela was chosen as the image for anti-apartheid because his hands we clean. While he advocated the taking up of arms, he himself didn't.
There were little things in the book that disturbed me, such as his having a picture on the wall of the winter palace to commemorate the uprising that killed the Tsar and his family. How could anyone want to hang on their wall a reminder of the death of innocent children? Even if you are a communist, seriously? No. Just no. He also worshipped Castro, which recent articles have said wasn't talked about in the book, I just think they didn't finish the fifty million page opus of dullness, because Mandela clearly states his admiration of him. There are just so many thoughts spinning in my head about using one bad political model to fight another one... I just want to clear my head, get ride of the lugubriousness of this text, wipe away the cobwebs and have a real author come in and write about Mandela. With his passing I want a truly great writer of biographies to come along and do justice for Mandela, and maybe find a little bit of the truth... or at least don't varnish over things like Winnie.
A cute little inverted fairy tale with the fairy being the protagonist versus the princess that was maybe a little too cute and twee for me. Though I...moreA cute little inverted fairy tale with the fairy being the protagonist versus the princess that was maybe a little too cute and twee for me. Though I really enjoyed the tea network and the tea daemons, also the twist of an ending was quite fun.(less)
Jane and Vincent have been accompanying Melody and her new husband on their wedding tour of the continent. Leaving the newlyweds with their parents, J...moreJane 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...(less)
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 Luc...moreHarriet 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. (less)
**spoiler alert** One fall day a dome mysteriously appears around the town of Chester's Mill, Maine. No one knows how or why. Over the preceding week...more**spoiler alert** One fall day a dome mysteriously appears around the town of Chester's Mill, Maine. No one knows how or why. Over the preceding week tensions rise and the death toll mounts. Jim Rennie, the local second selectman with a Napoleon complex has spent his life constrained somewhat by the laws of the United States. It hasn't stopped him creating the biggest Meth empire in all of North America, but it has stopped him instituting martial law and making himself the town's benevolent dictator. The arrival of the dome is a dream come true. With his megalomania unconstrained, he orchestrates the events in Chester's Mill like a gifted composer. With Rennie working against the rest of the town trying and praying to be released, will the situation stay firmly under his control, or will his sins come to claim his so that he will be eating at the Lord's table by dinnertime?
Back in 2009 when this book came out I was super excited. I had just gotten a Kindle for my birthday back in August and I viewed this book as made for my Kindle. I mean, the book is over a thousand pages and could easily kill someone, even in paperback form. So a Kindle purchase it was. And there it sat. It's easier to neglect books on your Kindle then on your bookshelves because they aren't staring at you every day. It sat as a little electronic file in a little folder that says "Stephen King" that, as time went on, got pushed further and further back because of my Kindle's ludicrous need to keep files in order of when they were last opened verses the logical alphabet! Also, you know what, while I like that the Kindle has ease and access to out of print books, it just somehow has never drawn me in as much as a real book.
Flash forward to 2013 and summer's hottest new TV series, Under the Dome. Yep, before I even got to reading it it has become a TV series. I have always loved Stephen King TV series and special television events. They are tacky and over the top and above all fun in that guilty TV viewing way. So, seeing as I had a feeling I wouldn't pick up the book in the near future I started watching the show and got hooked. It's never going to be a favorite show or even one I will necessarily ever watch again, but, it is fun. When I heard it was picked up for a second season I realized that, what was fun and over the top, would leave me hanging and therefore invariably piss me off. I had read enough about the show and Stephen King's involvement to know that the show was going to drastically vary from the book, all with Stephen King's blessing, but knowing that it was to go beyond this summer I felt I needed some closure. I knew the book is a different ending so I figured, what the hell, I'll pick it up, finally, get some closure but not be spoiled at the same time. It was win win in my mind. And so I read the book, all thousand plus pages of it, and now I'm left with an odd sensation. The book didn't give me any closure and now I'm more pissed then ever that the show won't end this year.
The first thing I would like to say that this book taught me is that I would not survive under the dome. I don't keep enough food stockpiled. I have no weapons, no generator, no propane or batteries... I would be one of the first to die. But seeing as the death rate was insanely high in this book at least I would be one of the many not one of the few. Previous to this King book I had only read two of his other works, Misery and The Shining. Both these books have small, intimate casts with people isolated from society. The other end of the spectrum is books like Under the Dome and The Stand, which was a favorite miniseries of mine due to Corin "Parker Lewis" Nemec and Molly Ringwald, I mean seriously, the John Hughes girl all grown up and in a Stephen King miniseries, how could you not love this tack? Watching and reading are two different things though and the cast of Under the Dome was so large I just knew vaguely who they were, there were the "bad cops" and the "good cops," who can remember their names, I didn't, and then people in general categories based on where they usually where, like the "hospital people" and the "newspaper people." Also, when you have this many people, having a Ginny and a Gina both and the hospital, thank you Stephen King for giving me a headache. Add to that the fact that even the good guys were pretty unlikable, and well, who am I rooting for? Because personally, I think just having Junior Rennie and his posse (which is so Malfoy's posse from Slytherin) set loose on the town would have been funny and ended the book a lot earlier.
But let me get to the crux of my problem with the book, which wasn't the overtly hypocritical religiosity or the fact that I think the dome should have isolated them more like on the television show. I shall warn you that right now I'm going to give away the ending, because, let's face it, I was able to guess the ending five minutes in and it's not that shocking. Yes folks, it's aliens! Why? We don't know. This is a total cop out. At least explain something about it more then, "oh, they thought we were ants and it would be fun." Excuse me? They did it because they could? Well at least tell me more about the dome's properties? Like was the dome causing all these people to commit suicide? Because some of the animals were and, well, we are animals, so was that something the dome did or was it just based on people taking the easy way out? Explain! Also, you know, we've spent, a thousand pages with these people, maybe a few lines of how they handled life after they got out of the dome please? Now that you killed Benny did Joe and Norrie get together because she no longer had to choose? Anything Stephen, anything? Nope... ok. Guess I'll go sit in a fug over here. And by the way, having Jack Reacher show up was lame and a Lost reference, really? You should be better then this Stephen King.(less)
Dandy Gilver has never thought that she might be a detective. Yet that's exactly what her friend Daisy is begging of her. Their mutual "friend" Lena Duffy claims that her very expensive diamonds were stolen at Daisy's estate after Daisy's grand Armistice Ball. It has taken awhile for the "crime" to come to light because they were replaced with paste and it wasn't until a jeweller pointed this out to Lena's daughter Cara a few months later that the "crime" was discovered. Now Lena, whose husband is shockingly in trade, and insurance at that, is demanding that they pay for the diamonds, despite the fact that it can't be proven if the theft occurred when Lena says it did, and the more obvious fact that the insurance had lapsed on the jewels.
Daisy has invited the Duffy's back to her house and has begged Dandy to come along too. Daisy admires that Dandy is able to bluntly cut to the gist of a matter without overly offending anyone by just being herself. Daisy wants Dandy to wrinkle Lena out, find out what is really going on and why Lena is trying to extort them! After the house party, Dandy is still hot on the trail of the truth when she is invited to a small cabin by the sea that Lena and her two daughters have taken. Dandy is able to enlist the help of Cara's fiance after he receives an abrupt letter from Cara ending their engagement with the wedding only a few days away. When they arrive in the small hamlet, the delightful cottage has burned to the ground with Cara inside. They must all stay for the inquest, and in that time Dandy has time to mull things over. There is no way the death and the diamonds are not connected. Dandy's first full fledged case will take her where she never thought she'd go, and will risk more then just her own life.
When I was at my local bookstore one day I picked up a book by Catriona McPherson. The book was titled, Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains. The title and the lovely cover designed by Jessica Hische made it a no-brainer buy. Of course, as is often my luck, whenever I find a great book at a store it invariably ends up being not the first or even the second in a series... in this case it is the fifth. I cannot read a book out of order, but, you know what, I think that this series my be an exception to my hard and fast rule. After the Armistice Ball has some issues right from the first chapter, mainly, you feel as if you've been dumped unceremoniously into the middle of a story with people who you should remember at an event you know you've been invited to, but you have no idea who they are or where it is. This lack of introductions and place meant that I could have easily picked up any book in the series and still had the feeling that I was missing something. The first book should neatly establish place and characters, with subsequent volumes doing only a short recap. A good editor could have quickly fixed this by just having Catriona write a nice intro paragraph or two setting up where the action of the book takes place, it's Scotland by the way, so as you won't be confused for a quarter of the book, and have Dandy fleshed out a little more then her friends just dropping veiled hints as to her personality. Something can't be "so Dandy" unless we know what she is so like! Luckily the readers ignorance wanes as the book progresses.
Dandy Gilver has got to be one of the most unique creations in twenties historical fiction today, that is once we get to know her properly. She doesn't fit into any well defined sleuth category and this makes her a breath of fresh air. She is not male. She is not a young single woman who has been disowned or at the very least frowned upon by her family as being "eccentric" and "beyond the pale." She isn't widowed and therefore at leisure to travel hither and yon without the gimlet eye of society fast upon her. Instead she is married, one could argue for, not happily, but at least contentedly, with a slightly oblivious spouse. She has no intentions of leaving her husband either, he just bumbles around talking about drainage ditches while she does as she pleases. She has children! Not fully grown, so that they put Dandy into the spinster category, she is still young enough to be of child bearing years, hear that? Young! Also handily the children are usually off at boarding school, which is a blessing, because children can get underfoot when one is sleuthing. So that means Dandy can move about society without impunity and she can closet herself away and solve crimes with male friends without eyebrows (or at least too many eyebrows) being raised. A respectable crime solver, how about that?
Yet Dandy is by no means perfect. While it takes awhile to get the gist as to why she would be the perfect crime solver, it basically comes down to the fact that she is overly blunt and has a tendency to stick her foot in her mouth by saying something that no one else would dare say. "Discussing loud and plain what everyone else is thinking about but dare not mention." But this habit of hers makes her come across as a little callow, though she is far from it, and therefore leads people to confide in her, the ideal trait for someone who wants to root around in your life to have. She may be a little dense, a little artless, sometimes easily confused or led astray, with it being hard for her to know where her facts end and her fancies begin. Yet all this together does make a good-ish detective. Like most of the best detectives, she tends to take awhile to get to the point and gets the wrong end of the stick, but this is what makes a book have a compelling narrative. You don't want it over and done with five pages in. Though there is one random trait of Dandy's that I just can't wrap my head around. She really puts down men. Now I'm not saying she's a man-hater (which her overly protective maid obviously is), but she does tend to put down the opposite sex quite a lot, and while Dandy might be befuddled by clues most of the time, this odd character trait has me a little befuddled.
As for the plot itself... once I came to gripes with what was going on, ie, Scotland, Dandy, the rest of the characters all fell into place. While the diamond theft and the murder are relatively simple plot devices, Catriona does a good job of layering the mysteries and doling out the clues so that the book clips along. Yet there was the nagging feeling I had, quite early on, about a third of the way through the book, that I was on the right track, unlike Dandy. It turned out that I was indeed right, but the little wrinkle thrown in helped to make the ending still satisfying. Though with all the tiring to and fro across the countryside, I really do realize that the lure of the Golden Age of Detection was the actually leg work, but this was a bit much, it was the small details that made this book have memorable moments, excluding the vagueness of the ending. The most striking of these moments is the photographs of the dead Cara. They way they are discussed and how they play into the plot make a book that would have just been average reach new heights. (less)
Funny little guide to being a human written by Isabel Spellman. Very funny, it's like reading lots of the footnotes for one of Lutz's Spellman books,...moreFunny little guide to being a human written by Isabel Spellman. Very funny, it's like reading lots of the footnotes for one of Lutz's Spellman books, also, some of the points are right on. Also has sneak peek of new Spellman book to, which was awesome btw (full book and sneak peek).(less)
Because of his friend Alec, the author Roger Sheringham has been invited by Victor Stanworth to be a part of his house party at Layton Court. Victor has rented a lovely house for the summer and has surrounded himself with friends. So why do they find Victor locked in his library with an apparently self inflicted gunshot wound to the head and a suicide note? Despite the fact that all the windows and doors are locked from the inside, Roger thinks that perhaps it was murder and it would be fun to play at being a sleuth. He has to have a Watson to his Holmes, someone who will be a dumb sounding board and willing to be berated constantly. Alec grudgingly takes up this mantle and they set about solving a crime that they aren't sure even happened. At one time or another they suspect all of their fellow guests, and even a mysterious "Prince." With the clock running against them till the inquest and their imminent departure from Layton Court, can an amateur sleuth and his reluctant Watson solve it in time?
When I sat down here at my computer and hammered out the details to my Golden Summer, I added Anthony Berkeley for the reason I have had a copy of The Poisoned Chocolates Case sitting on my bookshelf for... well, I don't know how long it's actually been there, but a dash long time. Yet when I got to reading up on Berkeley I found out that The Poisoned Chocolates Case was not the first Roger Sheringham book as I had thought. Because of Berkeley's propensity for writing under pseudonyms, or in this case, sometimes anonymously, The Poisoned Chocolates Case is either the forth or fifth book with Sheringham... so obviously, I had to start at the beginning and my poor copy of The Poisoned Chocolates Case would be neglected for some while more.
My initial impressions of The Layton Court Mystery was that it had more then a few striking similarities with A.A. Milne's The Red House Mystery, which I had just finished and loved. Sadly, where that one had wit and originality, this was just labored and had an angry tone throughout... or maybe it was my rage reading because everything grated on my nerves. I was more then once struck by how this reminded me of an episode of the BBC's Comedy Showcase called "Felix and Murdo." In the episode the hilarious actors Ben Miller and Alexander Armstrong, are Edwardians looking forward to the 1908 Olympics in London, this being aired to spur the fervor for last year's summer Olympics. The thing about the whole episode was that it was trying too hard to be witty and ended coming out crap. That's how I felt about this whole book. It was trying too hard. That and the fact that seeing as both Milne and Berkeley worked for Punch, that there is no way Berkeley didn't realize how similar his book was and I think Milne should have taken him out back, not necessary for a dust up, but maybe to school him in the ways of actually writing a good book. Or perhaps it's crappiness was why it was published anonymously...
There is just so much wrong with this book I literally don't know where to start... shall I dissect the horrid characters or the plot... decisions, decisions... ok, let's go with characters, because their stupidity made the plot drag and drag until I could barely stand it anymore. Roger and his "friend" Alec are the two most unlikable people ever. They are mean and snipe at each other constantly. I would say that they quite literally hate each other. I would never treat a friend in the manner they treat each other, a mortal enemy, maybe... but still, it wouldn't be as harsh as these two. Also, they act against character all the time. They say they are not prone to sentimentality, yet the act that Alec commits is the definition of being a sentimental fool and rushing in to save the damsel in distress. But luckily, they aren't sentimental...wtf? Not to mention Roger is a bigoted jackass, and a hypocritical one at that who calls others bigoted! He looks down on the servants, whom having a discussion with "would be as ineffective as to harangue a hippopotamus." Also, his views on women... oh dear me. Women are all crying milksops that need a big strong man to protect them, and with their inferior mental capabilities "there's always the chance that a woman will" give away a clue. Though nothing compares to how Roger's antisemitism comes out. The line was so offensive I can't even bring myself to quote it. Unlike the pervasive racism that is in the work of Dorothy L. Sayers, Berkeley's was like a slap in the face. I literally cannot think why anyone would say something so offensive.
Now to the plot... or what I gather you would call a plot. It's really just two guys arguing and then arguing some more and at the end of the day, well... nothing happens at the end. It just sort of stopped. All the plot problems are because of the idiocy of Roger and Alec. Their attempt to solve the "murder" of their host is like a how-to guide on how not to solve a mystery. They look at the scene of the crime and then retreat into the garden and talk things out, repeat ad infinitum. Because obviously they can't be overheard in a garden? Why is this garden so damn secretive? Is it in fact The Secret Garden? NO!?! Well then, anyone with any sense can hear what you're saying. As for your host and resident corpse... you didn't figure out that his circle of friends are all people he is blackmailing till about 150 pages in? Well, I figured it out 10 pages in. Haven't you seen Clue? Ok, no... you wouldn't, but still, it was obvious. Also, why would you discount the fact that the killer was probably among the house guests? Why would you think an outside person was the perpetrator? Ug. But the worst of all, why would you think that a suspect would have the name "Prince?" I mean, the SECOND I read that name I was like, dood, that's an animal, as it turned out to be a bull, I was spot on. In fact, everything about this book was either bang my head against the wall obvious or so offensive that I wished to throttle the author. And here I go... getting ready to read his next book... am I a masochist? Yes, I think I might be, but it's all for you, my gentle reader.(less)
Roger Sheringham is about to go off on holiday with his cousin Anthony when his editor calls. The Daily Courier has gotten wind that the accidental death of a Mrs. Vane in Ludmouth might not be quite so accidental, as Inspector Moresby has been seen poking around after the inquest. Roger bullies Anthony into accompanying him, because a holiday is one thing, a holiday that doubles as a murder mystery is quite another. Upon arriving in Ludmouth, Roger quickly runs into Inspector Moresby, whom he knows from the Wychford Poisoning Case, and the two discuss the fact that it is obvious that Mrs. Vane had to have been pushed from the cliffs in order to die. This wasn't an accident, and it certainly wasn't suicide.
The prime suspect is the comely cousin of Mrs. Vane, Miss Cross. Anthony soon makes her acquaintance and comes to the conclusion that such a pretty face is a harassed innocent, and Anthony and Roger soon go to great lengths to protect her and find another suspect, because the evidence very strongly points to her. Though the only other suspects would be the late Mrs. Vane's husband, Doctor Vane, or his lovestruck yet efficient secretary... or perhaps the oddly talkative Reverand Meadows, who reminds Roger of a goat. Roger has a new theory every day, and a new article for the Courier every night... but another murder throws all his what-ifs into question and he realizes that maybe he is wrong or maybe a careless word has led to another death... or maybe crime solving should be left to the professionals... no, Roger would never admit that.
Right about now you're looking at the disparate ratings between the first Anthony Berkeley book I read, The Layton Court Mystery, and this one, Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery, and probably thinking, oh my, what is going on, has she cracked? Though your surprise is nothing compared to my own. I was girding my loins as I reached for this book just imagining how atrocious it might be... and perhaps it's the fact that my expectations were so low, I mean, lower then the gutter low, that I really enjoyed it. I mean, sure, there was a bit of a rough start when I realized that there were quite a few similarities to the previous book, what with an accidental death/suicide not being as it appears and the murderer escaping justice, yet again, but somehow I had already come to grips with my gripes.
Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery is actually the third book in Berkeley's series staring that "keen-witted if slightly volatile Roger." For some unknown reason the second book, The Wychford Poisoning Case, which is referenced in this volume, has disappeared into the ether of time... perhaps it was for the best if it was on par with The Layton Court Mystery. So why have I done a 180 on this series? Well, I'm going with my fickleness as a reader as my defense. The problem I had with the first volume was all the flaws of Roger that just needled me till I wanted to slap that man silly... with some sort of cudgel that would result in pain and death. So going into reading another book with Roger I was well aware of his flaws. I now view Roger as that one friend you have, and don't say you don't have one, I know you do; everyone has a friend that says just the wrong thing at the wrong time, never censors what they say, and in most cases is just downright rude. The kind of friend that needs a disclaimer attached. Yet over time, you get used to their offensiveness. Sure, you've tried to curb it, but in the end, you just live with it. So Roger has become my friend whose flaws I know, but I put up with anyway.
As for the innumerable flaws, the belittling of his "idiot friend," his desire to hold important conversations in the middle of nowhere, his ludicrous theories coupled with the fact he is invariably wrong and blind to the obvious; they somehow work in this volume. His "stupid friend" in this instance is his cousin Anthony. And for some reason I feel the bickering and belittling between relatives more natural and tolerable then between friends. Also, instead of an underlying feeling of anger, their repartee has the feel of the long time association between family that let Anthony give as good as he got. Plus, the addition of Inspector Moresby can not be overlooked. Here is someone who Roger views as his "equal" so that he actually treats the Inspector mildly ok. They have a kind of Japp/Poirot relationship where Roger doesn't belittle his cohort... too much. Also, I have a niggling little feeling that Roger might be Moresby's "idiot friend" and that just tickles me to death that Roger doesn't realize it. Therefore it's more cohorts in crime solving, then the Roger Sheringham offends everyone show. And as for his weird desire to hold conversations in out of the way locals? For some reason perching on a rock looking at the cliffs seems more natural, like they're taking in the sights, then obviously going to a bench in a garden to conspire. Also, I love that his theories about the "weaker sex" come back to haunt him.
Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery carried on the meta nature of the first book, with actual crime versus fictional crime in a crime novel, but by thankfully dropping the Holmes and Watson bit Berkeley used ad nauseum in The Layton Court Mystery. This meta nature was able to not only exploit the obvious plot twists that you could see coming a mile off, but was then able to give you a twist at the end that you didn't see coming. In fairness to Berkeley, he stayed true to his writerly code, and you could see the ending if you didn't view the case through Roger's eyes, and I found this a little bit brilliant. While the romantic reader in me would have preferred the interpretation of the facts as Roger and I saw them, I can't help but love that Moresby smacks Roger down and points out to the writer that there is the mentality of a police officer and the mentality of the writer. These two mentalities are at odds, and sometimes it's better to not have too much imagination. (less)
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.(less)
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 different...moreColonel 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. (less)
I don't think ANY of the other books I have read on Gutenberg has infuriated me like this one. Firstly, to compare what Gutenberg did to dot coms and...moreI don't think ANY of the other books I have read on Gutenberg has infuriated me like this one. Firstly, to compare what Gutenberg did to dot coms and Silicon Valley is ridiculous. It's only been a few years and no one talks about or cares about them any more and Gutenberg created something that changed the world and has endured for centuries, not forgotten five minutes later. Then to compare him to Steve Jobs, how insulting. Yes, they where both secretive men, but Fust, the man who stole Gutenberg's work and claimed it as his own while leaving Gutenberg in the dust is the Jobs of this situation. No work, all credit, that is Steve Jobs. Then going on to say that Gutenberg went "open source" with his work (which I don't agree). But still at this point you can NEVER compare him to Jobs. No matter how long Jobs might have lived he would never have given up his secrets never gone open source.
Also, the quote "It is not, in my view, a medium but instead a connection machine." WTF do you think a medium is? Because, one definition is your awkwardly worded "connection machine."
But, oh wait... it gets better, because guess what? This book was all a pitch for us to buy his other book Public Parts! Tirade about freedom... yadda yadda. If you're so into open source and freedom, then just give me that book because I shouldn't have to pay $10.80 on Amazon for it. In fact, I want my money back for this. It wasn't worth the $0.99 I paid. SO pissed me off I actually published this review to Amazon!
One star for mentioning Philo Farnsworth, otherwise no stars.(less)
Of all the horrors that Mercy's faced, she may be coming up against the most dangerous yet... the mall on Black Friday! Her step-daughter Jesse has so...moreOf all the horrors that Mercy's faced, she may be coming up against the most dangerous yet... the mall on Black Friday! Her step-daughter Jesse has somehow convinced her that after a great Thanksgiving feast that they should hop in Mercy's Rabbit and go shopping. When they get in a car accident and the Rabbit meets it's true death, Mercy's reservations have been made crystal clear. The mall is not for her. Yet was the jolt of impact the pain she's feeling, or did the pain happen before and perhaps cause the impact? The fact that the two of them cannot get ahold of ANY of the pack does not bode well. It soon becomes apparent that something really bad has happened. The pack has been kidnapped. Finding pack member Ben and then being approached by Bran's friend Asil, means at least Mercy has two "people" on her side. Yet a very dominate wolf like Asil near an injured wolf like Ben isn't the best thing. She's in an explosive situation, and if she can't get her little team to work together, perhaps things could go from bad to worse. The most worrying aspect of all is that obviously someone knows a lot about Adam and Mercy's pack. If they can all survive, can they find out who is pulling the strings and why?
Of all the Urban Fantasy series currently out there, I think that I can easily say that the Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs are my favorite. While I do love my Sookie Stackhouse, Charlaine Harris's series has it's flaws. I'm not saying that Mercy is by any means perfect, hardly, but I love that over time she has really developed and matured as a character. Forward progression can never be underestimated in a long running series. Because of this love I was beyond excited to see that Patricia Briggs was actually going to have an event near me (as in less then four hours in a car and only having to cross one state border). Of all my favorite authors she was the one I had yet to meet, so queue happy music and me driving off in my car to Illinois.
The event was lovely and it was interesting that someone who deals out a lot of death and destruction on their characters could be so giddy and bubbly. Not only did she put on a great presentation, but she took the time to talk to everyone in line (luckily I was in the first row, I can't imagine how long the others had to wait, but waiting in a bookstore is not a bad thing, except perhaps for your wallet). The thing I found very interesting was how into dissecting the cover art the fans are. Personally, I really like the cover art, it's what drew me to the books, but I didn't really sit for hours examining the tattoos and jewelry. Apparently I should have been, because the tattoos reflect which aspect of the supernatural world Mercy will connect with in the book, Fae, Vampire, Wolves... so that means they change! I basically came home from the talk and took out all the books and looked at each cover closely. It was such fun.
Now ever since her last book River Marked, which I know some people weren't too thrilled with, me being the exception, I've had more then a little obsession with the Otterkin. My friend Matt things I'm more then a little crazy on the Otterkin front, but, I got to talk to Patricia Briggs for five minutes all about Otters and Otterkin, so that was beyond awesome. Although, she did traumatize me more then a little with a story about a vicious Otter... so I guess Matt can gloat about that. The only thing that I didn't like about the talk was which section of the book she chose to read. Now, this would be more in the general gripes about that book, but I didn't really care for the sections from Adam's point of view... so when she read the first section from Adam's POV, well, I tuned out a little. I didn't like reading it the first time, so hearing it a second time was redundant.
So, I've dwelled enough on the talk, let's segue to the book itself. The beginning, well, it was a little cringe worthy. Yet another kidnapping. In fact... is there any book in this series that doesn't have a kidnapping? No, I'm not joking, I'm serious. Moon Called, yes, Blood Bound, yes, Iron Kissed, in a way, yes, Bone Crossed, yes, Silver Borne, yes... in fact, every one except River Marked... so I think it's time to lay off the kidnapping all together. I liked that they were able to get themselves out of a tight situation and therefore the kidnapping was quickly resolved. But still. No more kidnapping. Repeating this trope makes it look like lazy writing, and these books are anything but.
As I said earlier, I love that the characters grow and consequences stick. Mainly I like that the plot lines from the other related books, so far the Alpha and Omega series, but fingers crossed about that possible Ben spin off, feed into this book and the complex universe that Briggs has built. The fact that Mercy is living with the repercussions of the Fae basically declaring war on humans in Fair Game, by just vanishing off the face of the earth is interesting. Because the link to Zee is severed... but then again, Zee is a clever and old fae, so, rules that apply to others are more mailable to him, like iron in his hands. Also, the full extent of what exactly Mercy is and capable of is still shrouded. The encounter she has with a ghost brings a new level of scary... I can't wait to see what Briggs does with this further development. Obviously Mercy can do far more then turn into a coyote, and I can't wait to read it. Sigh, another book quickly devoured and at least another year to wait... perhaps it's time for a re-read? That should tide me over for awhile... right? (less)
Dandy and her dear friend Daisy are off to Queensferry to reconnect with an old classmate and to go to the Ferry Fair. Freddy, nicknamed Buttercup, has finally returned from her sojourn in America with her new husband Cad in tow. Cad has lived his entire life in America and upon inheriting Cassilis he has decided to come to Scotland to play lord of the manor. Because in Dandy's eyes that's what the newlyweds are doing. They don't quite understand their duties to their people. You don't just get to live in a castle and while away the day lounging about. Take the fair for example. Freddy has agreed to open the fair and judge various competitions, like "The Bonniest Baby," when anyone who knows Freddy sees that this is the worst idea possible. Indeed Dandy gets a bit of a sinking feeling that perhaps the invitation extended to her and Daisy had ulterior motives...
Dandy is quickly thrown right into the middle of everything as Freddy does indeed expect Dandy's help. Not only is the fair a big to-do, there are factions within the small community that are at war. The local folk tradition of the Burry Man is the focal point of this struggle. A local man is covered from head to toe in Burdock burrs and he parades about the town being given sips of whiskey and coins. The three local churches view this as paganism and superstitious nonsense. On top of that, the temperance league led by the local schoolmaster, doesn't approve of the alcoholic aspect of the Burry Man, which is a bit ironic because bottling whiskey is the main source of income for the villagers. Yet for a short while, it looks like there might not even be a Burry Man this year. Mr Robert Dudgeon has declared the night before the fair that he will not be able to do his Burry Man duties, though he has successfully done it for 24 years. Dandy carefully talks him around but has deep regrets when the next day, after the fair has opened and the Burry Man's procession is done, Robert Dudgeon dies while participating in the greasy pole competition. The coroner quickly passes it off as a heart attack brought on by too much drink and exertion, but can that really be true? Cad and Freddy, hearing from Daisy about Dandy's previous sleuthing success, beg her to look into the case, because they think it might just be murder.
With The Burry Man's Day, which for some reason whenever I try to say it comes out as "The Burry Man's Dray," as if a man covered in burrs could ride a dray horse... is certainly a far more cohesive and satisfying book then After the Armistice Ball. There was a satisfying beginning, middle, and end, that didn't leave me floundering for pages upon pages wondering who everyone was or where the book was taking place. From the outset we are given a distinct place and time, the second week in August after the bank holiday in Queensferry, Scotland. As Dandy journeys there, she reminisces on her past, so we get some nice exposition. Ah, if only the first book had been so well structured, much of my issues would have been washed away down the Forth as we stand on the impressive bridge that inadvertently led to Dandy marrying Hugh and becoming a Gilver.
Though, now that structure has finally been imposed, Dandy's character flaws come a bit more to the forefront. At times I was wanting to just smack dumb dumb Dandy for not noticing obvious things. I'm not saying that I would have solved it faster if I where in her shoes, I'm just saying, dear lord, that took a long time. Cut out about a hundred pages and Bob's your uncle. Her stupidity was too much to be born, and it didn't help that Alec seemed more then a little useless this time around. Yet, I will say, that at least it didn't take them months, the murder happened on a Friday and by, what, Wednesday, Thursday it was solved. So, good job there. Yet Dandy wasn't the only one with flaws... there was a pervasive flaw in all the lower caste of characters. I don't remember a single character in the first book talking in dialect, but here we have dialect up the wazoo. And not consistent dialect either. It's all over the place. The thing that really got me was that the Widow Dudgeon at one point totally drops out of dialect and is speaking just like Dandy. That made it seem a little fake and forced... which applies to all those speaking as such. If you can't do dialect right, don't do it.
The thing I loved about this book was the Burry Man. I mean, I cannot say how much I loved this. The fact that this is a real tradition that McPherson was able to weave into her book and hang her mystery off of made it just fascinating to me. If I had the time and money I would quite literally be getting on a plane to Scotland to celebrate this interesting event which is happening so soon! I mean I could not have read this book at a better time. I have also now started to troll the net reading more about the Burry Man. There is nothing more magical then when a book inspires you to search out more knowledge and more information. Of course, I now might have nightmares because Dandy doesn't understate the kind of horrific aspect of the Man himself.
If you look closely you can see the eyes! There is a person in there! As Dandy said:
"I do not know what I had been expecting, and I felt foolish for being surprised. After all, I had known that the Burry Man was a man covered in burrs and here was a man covered in burrs, but the effect was staggering... Mouldy, encrusted, vegetative and obscene, when he walked it was the stuff of nightmares... I saw with a shudder that his hands were bare and somehow this evidence that there really was a man in there was the chillingest of all."
Yes, I can see nightmares in my future... also, as a side note, because my bookclub just read The Shining... topiary coming alive, not that scary... if King had used this, absolutely terrifying!
Going beyond just the Burry Man, I love how the local folklore and scary stories the village children told each other was incorporated into the truths and therefore lent itself to the solving of the crime. Most people will just push away fairy tales and folklore as the stuff of children, but those gifted few know that the simple truths, distorted through tall tales, are real. These stories were written originally to teach morals and give warnings. But what it all boils down to is that Fairy Tales are real. Terry Pratchett comes back to this again and again in his writing, and I think that's why The Burry Man's Day reminded me of his Tiffany Aching series. While we have fetes and fairs and stories around the fire, it all comes down to truths that can not be overlooked. Listen to the stories, they might just solve a mystery for you. (less)