...Alexander London letter, let's about-face and guffaw over the Smart Bitches' review of the Jude Deveraux, The Raider - Barbie® and Ken® Doll Giftset.
SO. MANY. PICTURES. DEPICTING. SO. MUCH. HILARIOUSNESS.
...Alexander London letter, let's about-face and guffaw over the Smart Bitches' review of the Jude Deveraux, The Raider - Barbie® and Ken® Doll Giftset.
SO. MANY. PICTURES. DEPICTING. SO. MUCH. HILARIOUSNESS.
I loved Shades of Milk and Honey, the first book in Kowal's Regency era fantasy series, and I mostly loved this one, too. Like, 95% loved it.
I continue to adore the magic system: It's quiet and somewhat sedate, but in creative, inventive hands, allows for WICKED COOL USAGE.
I love that in addition to the fantasy, it works very much as historical fiction—Jane and Vincent are in Belgium for their honeymoon, and Napoleon figures in heavily—and as a romance.
More pluses: The language and the writing, the attention to detail and the pure, awesome geekery of the author. In the Author's Note—DO NOT MISS IT—Kowal talks about how she created a dictionary comprised of Jane Austen's books and ran her manuscript of Glamour and Glass against it. She researched the history of every single word that the dictionary didn't contain, and she lists some that surprised her (and some that she kept anyway). She also talks a bit about how her world diverges from our own, and about what anachronisms she knowingly included. (Which is so much cooler than a blanket "IT'S ALT-HISTORY, ANYTHING GOES!" attitude. Ahem. In my opinion, anyway.)
You know that storyline where the heroine gets deliriously happily married and everything is awesome and so on BUT THEN she starts thinking OH NOES, MAYBE HE DOESN'T ACTUALLY REALLY LOVE ME? It's one of my least favorite storylines, and that's much of what goes on with the romance thread in Glamour in Glass. To be fair, Vincent is EXTREMELY withdrawn and irritable and distracted—which is especially bad considering they're on their honeymoon—so it's understandable that Jane would have those feelings, but it's not my fave. That is, of course, MY STUFF, and it totally works in terms of characterization—even drawing on the first book, because for various reasons, Jane doesn't have loads of confidence in herself as A Lovable Person—so really, unless you also dislike that storyarc, it's not much of a Con at all.
Also, while I love that the cover art incorporates bubbles (there's a whole important thread about using spheres of glamour), I can't help but feel that the model is WAAAAAY more conventionally attractive than Jane. I loved the cover art on the first book because I felt that it really captured that. Her dress, though, is BEAUTIFUL, and I have no beef whatsoever with it. Except that I don't own one.
Fans of the first one, fantasy-loving fans of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, anyone who likes fantasy that really delves into the mechanics of magic systems, fans of any of the above who also have an interest in artists and their techniques.
I finally, finally got around to the sequel to Incarceron! Finn is now outside the prison, but is not really any less of a prisoner: he's suddenly living in a world of strict social protocol and every misstep he makes acts to further convince everyone—including Claudia, who until now has been his strongest supporter—that he's an impostor, rather than a long-lost prince.
Meanwhile, Finn's allies within Incarceron are still searching for a way to escape: they're hunting for Sapphique's magic glove, which might not even exist... but the prison is working against them, and it wants to find a way to escape itself.
Like the first book, the world-building is HUGE and RICH and DARK and COMPLEX. The cultures on the inside and the outside of Incarceron are distinctly different, but it's always clear that regardless of what side of the wall each character resides on, every single one of them is a prisoner in some way. Including Incarceron itself, which is a mindbleep and a half.
In addition to the world-building, the storyline is exciting, and the characters are worth caring about, the pacing is, like, BREAKNECK, and the whole thing is BANANAS in the best kind of way. Incarceron was super, but Sapphique was even better.
Erm. None for me, though it's not going to be an across-the-board crowdpleaser: see above about the DARK and BANANAS.
Fans of the first one. I wouldn't recommend it as a stand-alone.
G&G: ILLed through my library.
S: ARC provided by the publisher a looooong time ago.
After all of the descriptions of Emily's 'red ropey hair' in the first book, the model on the cover doesn't really jive with the image of her in my mind. Ah, well. Anyway.
It could be argued that I was hard on the first two books in Kady Cross' Steampunk Chronicles. So in the interest of being all fair-minded and whatnot, I will say that they do have some attractive qualities:
Fans of the first two books are likely to like this third installment which, as you've probably gathered by the cover art and the title, focuses mostly on Emily, the Girl Genius Who Can Control Automatons With Her Mind. She gets kidnapped by a Bad Robot (<--heh) who wants her to use her Mechanical Prowess to move the Machinist's brain out of his mostly-dead body and into a fancy new automaton-human hybrid.
It's an undertaking that, not-so-surprisingly, she has issues with beyond the whole abduction thing: bringing the Machinist back would be bad enough, but worse for soft-hearted Emily is the fact that the automaton-human hybrid is a sentient being whose mind, personality, and soul will be destroyed when her body is co-opted by the Machinist. (All of which also serves to allow Emily to come to terms with the sexual assault she survived back in Ireland.)
Yet again, for me, the major issue—beyond the lack of character development—is the repetitive language. Emily continues to 'wee' this and 'wee' that, which is grating, but once again, it was the eyebrows that killed me. I read The Girl with the Iron Touch in review copy form, so I double-checked the following quotes against the Google Books preview and the Amazon preview, and it looks to me that they all made it into the finished copy:
Jack arched a brow at her bad manners. (p. 37)
Mr. Isley arched a brow but wisely remained silent. (p. 51)
She arched a brow, and didn't care that he saw it. (p. 149)
Jack raised a brow at Sam. (p. 157)
Jack raised one brow ever so slightly as his gaze locked with hers. (p. 161)
Emily's heart skipped a beat even as her brow gave a dubious lift. (p. 170)
She arched a brow. (p. 180)
Emily arched a brow. (p. 206)
He arched a brow. (p. 247)
She arched a brow. (p. 256)
Finley arched a brow. (p. 299)
He arched a brow. (p. 321)
Now she was the one whose brow rose. (p. 321)
Griffin swore—the kind of language that made Finley arch a brow. (p. 326)
And, of course, keep in mind that I didn't count any of the 'lowering' or 'pulling together' or 'shooting up'. All in all, these characters expend more energy waggling their eyebrows around than you or I would while working out to a Jillian Michaels DVD.
So, there you have it: if that sort of thing drives you bananas, I'd say give the series a miss and wait for the (hopefully inevitable) CW show.
Book source: Review copy via Netgalley.
OH MY GOD, I LOVE THIS BOOK.
And I have no idea how to write about it.
Ten pages in, I was all, "HEY, COOL! THIS IS SO WICKER MAN-Y! I LIKE."
Then, I came to the end of the first part. And my eyes got all big and round and I was all (much more subdued, but no less blown away), "Oh, hey, this is VERY Wicker Man-y."
And then, partway through the second segment, I thought, "Wow. Hello, Cloud Atlas."
After that, I stopped thinking about anything except the story—stories—in front of me, and I read and read and read until there were no more pages to read. And I was crying.
I still feel dazed.
It's not going to be for everyone. I GUARANTEE that some readers are going to want to throw it at the wall. (Perhaps you have already done so?) But something about it resonated with me. It's not just that I'm impressed by the structure—I am—or that I love Sedgwick's writing and skillful atmosphere creation—I do—or that I was blown away by how each segment was so different, but how (even discounting the physical details: the names, the flowers, the hare) each one was also so clearly part of a larger whole.
All of those things are a part of why I loved it, but there was something... BIGGER, yet less tangible beyond that. I think it was that even though the premise doesn't jive with my own personal, in real life worldview—I'm one of those who can't wrap my mind around anything beyond conceived/born/live/die/dead*—that the idea of these two people finding each other over and over again was genuinely, heart-wrenchingly beautiful.
Even though [SPOILER] it was a tragedy almost every time.
But, compared to the love that began—and ultimately ended—their story, the tragedy that followed them felt inconsequential. [/SPOILER]
As the footnote below explains, I have a hard time with the metaphysical.
It's just a gorgeous, gorgeous book.
So good that it has apparently made my brain implode.
*Which reminds me of a conversation I had years ago:
Family Friend Who Is Way Into Astrology: And so since you have so much Libra in your chart, that means that etc., etc....
Me: I dunno. I just have a hard time buying the idea that I am who I am because of where the planets were when I was born.
FFWIWIA: Oh, that's just because you're a Gemini. You're all about the intellectually concrete.
Me: So I don't believe in astrology because... I'm a Gemini?
Book source: ILLed through my library.
In Out of the Easy, Ruta Sepetys had me at hello. It begins:
My mother's a prostitute. Not the filthy, streetwalking kind. She's actually quite pretty, fairly well spoken, and has lovely clothes. But she sleeps with men for money or gifts, and according to the dictionary, that makes her a prostitute.
Seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine doesn't want to follow in her mother's footsteps. She's known that for years, and even though she still works at the same brothel as her mother—cleaning rooms, mind you—and even though she's on good terms with Willie Woodley, the woman who owns it, she's independent enough that she's kept her own apartment since she was eleven years old.
She works part-time at the bookstore below it, and she dreams of going to college. But when Josie dreams, she dreams big: she wants out of New Orleans, to start over somewhere up North, somewhere where she can reinvent herself—where no one knows who she is or what her mother does.
LOVE: THE DIALOGUE. Out of the Easy is set in 1950, and Sepetys' characters sling slang without sounding phony or overblown, and the dialogue zings back-and-forth like in an old movie. The characters speak in distinctive voices, and unlike in Strands of Bronze and Gold, those differences in vocabulary, rhythm, and diction are affected by economic class, vocation, and education, rather than being purely dictated by the color of one's skin.
LOVE: JOSIE. Her narration has a touch of the noir hero: deadpan, world-weary, and with an understanding of ironic humor. Unlike a noir hero, though, she is open about being emotionally affected by... things that are emotionally affecting. She's smart, she's canny, and rather than blushing and wanting to melt into the ground in embarrassing situations, she treats them as opportunities—I cheered out loud when she turned one around by becoming an impromptu blackmailer, and I swooned during another when she threw herself into a cute boy's lap to save herself (and him, to a degree) from some catty mean girls.
LOVE: HER MOTHER. Well, no, actually, I loathed her mother. But I loved that she wasn't the Pretty-Woman-hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold, I loved that she wasn't secretly sympathetic, or selfless or particularly smart. She was completely self-absorbed, and while her behavior makes her come off as rotten and somewhat stupid, it's important to remember who's telling the story: Josie isn't exactly an objective party. The other women who work for Willie are a mixed bag of funny/serious/witty/quiet/ruthless/rude/mothering/mean/sensitive and everything in between, and it's easy to imagine that if another person had told the story, Louise would have come off as more human. Maybe. Then again, SOME PEOPLE ARE JUST TERRIBLE.
LOVE: THE BOOKS. Josie works in a bookstore, and she and her best friend Patrick have an ongoing game where they predict what sort of book customers will want. There are references to Dickens and Keats, Capote and even L'Engle. And, tangentially, Poe: Josie ends up with a dead man's watch—THAT'S RIGHT, ON TOP OF EVERYTHING ELSE, SHE INVESTIGATES A MURDER—under her floorboards, and she swears she can hear it ticking, ticking, ticking. Which, of course, evokes The Tell-Tale Heart.
LOVE: EVERYTHING ELSE. Sepetys is true to the era and her characters in how Patrick's story plays out; the romance is sweet and heartfelt; the details about 1950s life and culture work themselves in fluidly; Josie wants what she wants so badly that I was never quite sure about how far she'd go to get it; and while the ending certainly has some fairy-tale elements, there's enough bitter in the sweet to keep cynics (like me) from getting all up on their high horses.
Oh, I loved this book. As it's got the same combination of fantastically-rendered historical atmosphere—the dialogue is TO DIE FOR—and mystery elements, I highly, HIGHLY recommend it to fans of Judy Blundell's What I Saw and How I Lied.
Book source: Review copy from the publisher.
I can't help it. I know I shouldn't, because SHE IS SUCH AN ASS.
But I love her BECAUSE she's such an ass.
So, when I found out about The Bad Miss Bennet, a novel STARRING Lydia, obviously I HAD TO READ IT.
It's set three years after Pride and Prejudice, and a few months after Lydia's husband, George Wickham, died at at battle of Quartre Bras. Not due to any dashing act of heroism—that would have been totally out of character—but because he got thrown and then trampled by his own horse. Which seemed fitting*.
So, now Lydia is stuck living with boring Lizzie and pompous Mr. Darcy and, worst of all, the insufferable Miss Georgiana. After three years of relative freedom—Wickham wasn't a particularly good husband, but he wasn't particularly concerned with his wife's habit of flouting social conventions, either—staid life as an impoverished relation at Pemberley chafes.
Also, mourning is a HUGE DRAG. Black is just NOT. HER. COLOR.
So, the moment that opportunity strikes, Lydia heads out on her own, determined to live life on her own terms.
Sadly, The Bad Miss Bennet did not live up to my expectations. It was extremely scattered, in that it didn't seem to know if it wanted to be a sex romp or a mystery or a romance: it had elements of all three, but never settled on one long enough to dig in, so the plotting wasn't particularly strong. The story would meander in one direction for a while, and then it felt like the author just... got bored, switched gears, and meandered in another direction for a while, and then got bored again. And the end of the story felt the same way, just: BORED NOW, THE END.
Which, to be (possibly excessively) blunt, was pretty much my attitude by the time I hit the halfway mark.
So, the plotting didn't do anything for me. But what about the voice, right? I mean, if ANY of the non-Lizzie Bennet sisters ought to have a strong (if asinine) voice, it's Lydia. Not so here. She's got a few super lines, but overall, it certainly wasn't strong enough to carry the entire book.
Characterization? There's no growth whatsoever, and while that made sense in the context of the original text—everything got fixed for Lydia in Pride and Prejudice, so while she had the opportunity to learn lessons, she was never forced to—I found it hard to believe that she wouldn't have matured at all during her three years of marriage, and especially hard to believe that she wouldn't mature at all over the course of her independent adventures. Basically, she started the story as a caricature, and she ended the story as a caricature, and while that can make for a hugely entertaining secondary character, it doesn't work so well in a heroine.
TL; DR: Overall, totally forgettable. Lydia deserves better.
*That said, I did love that Lost in Austen made him out to be a nice guy.
Book source: ILLed through my library.
From the St. Louis Beacon:
But her dream soon became his dream and one of the nation’s most prolific and successful writing teams was born.
They set out to fill the void of missing African-American history and to counter stereotypes of popular children’s books such asThe Story of Little Black Sambo. "These images,” Mr. McKissack said, “last a lifetime.”
Via cynsations, where there is an excellent round-up of remembrances and appreciations.
Image via the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance.
The first book in Rick Yancey's Monstrumologist series is $1.99 today, so if you don't have it, I'd TOTALLY suggest snagging it.
If you haven't read it, DO. After all, like Arrested Development, it has such devoted and vocal fans (not to mention stellar reviews) that the series survived cancellation. (More on that here and here.)
Oh, and Artemis Fowl is $2.99 today. I almost didn't bother mentioning it, because A) I'm not a particular fan and B) it's not like the series needs a push from me, but C) I figured that since I was writing this post anyway, I may as well throw it in here, too. So there you go.
[ETA: Huh. Variant, by Robison Wells, is also $1.99. Worth a purchase? The description makes it sound like Lord of the Flies in boarding school.]
Historical fiction fans are likely to be bothered that Sophia’s language and diction—as well as the rest of the dialogue spoken by the white characters—is anachronistic, in that it sounds more 2013 than 1855: I smashed a mosquito against my neck and my own blood spurted out. Because of that modern feel, the dialect spoken by the black characters—He been beat before. He tougher’n he looks.—is somewhat jarring. Sophia also has a tendency to tell us how she feels, rather than letting us feel it through her...which is what ultimately leads me to what this book is missing.
I used to post about older books a lot more. Somewhere along the way, though, in an effort to keep up with the never-ending supply of review copies, new books at the library, and new books that I buy, I've gotten away from that. And I feel like I'm missing out.
So, for the foreseeable future, anyway, I'm going to start covering older titles on Fridays.
This week's book is—obviously—Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, which I've been meaning to read ever since it came out. I remember pestering my former library director to buy the series for the library, and she did, but somehow—despite all of the factors that make it a perfect ME book (obnoxiously smart girl detective, philatelic mystery, sisterly squabbles, impoverished British upper class, small town gossip, boys' school hijinks)—I've never made the time for it until now.
June, 1950. When we first meet eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, she's tied up, gagged, and locked in a dark closet. Not for long, though: her older sisters Ophelia and Daphne may have her beat in terms of pure physicality, but they'll never be a match for her brain.
So when a real tangle of a mystery arrives at Buckshaw—quite literally at the front door—Flavia isn't just intrigued: she's ecstatic. She doesn't know what the dead jackdaw means, or why it has a Penny Black postage stamp impaled on its beak. But she does know that it means something to her philatelist father: and whatever it is, it isn't good. When she finds a dying man in the cucumber patch later that night—a man who she saw arguing with her father just hours before—the mystery becomes that much more intriguing... and with her father as the most logical suspect, her need to find out the truth becomes that much more urgent.
Surprisingly enough, this book didn't win me over until about the halfway mark. Before that, despite Flavia's obvious charms—she's bright, enchantingly vicious, a great liar, and impressively obnoxious—she felt more like the idea of a person than an actual person. Also, and more off-putting, Bradley's third-person narration was slightly condescending towards her, like, "Oh, look at this child who thinks she's so clever. Let's titter at her innocent obliviousness." Sadly, I can't identify anything specific, but SOMETHING put my back up, clearly.
But! There is a distinct turning-point for both problems: after a long conversation with her father—well, it's more of a monologue on his part—there's a shift, Flavia suddenly blooms into a real, three-dimensional person, and there's a subtle change in the narrative voice as well: it starts treating her as an equal. To be fair, before that conversation, Flavia had been looking at the mystery as a game of sorts, and after it, she begins detecting in earnest. So, to a degree—even though it made me uncomfortable—the condescension in the beginning was warranted. Or at least understandable in hindsight.
Other thoughts: I pegged the murderer immediately, but that didn't bother me, since the whys and hows were still left to untangle. Flavia's interactions with Inspector Hewitt are wonderful, the class issues are nicely handled, as is the depiction of post-WWII life. By the end, I had developed some serious affection for almost all of the characters, and I'll definitely be reading the sequels.
Book source: Personal copy.
AND EVEN BETTER, AN ACTUAL OBSCENE SAYING:
Something you can swear by, used in a way similar to "by God!" It seems to have come from seafaring slang, and might refer to the Big Dipper. But you don't need to know the origin to find it useful. Today the strange randomness of the words makes it feel mystically satisfying to shout.
If you haven't read that book, btdubs, YOU ARE TOTALLY MISSING OUT. BECAUSE IT IS AWESOME.
...Goblinproofing One's Chicken Coop, by Reginald Bakeley.
And so, in honor of that (or something), I shall point you back to last year's review of Maureen Doyle McQuerry's The Peculiars, which stars a heroine who suffers from what her grandmother refers to as 'goblinism':
The Peculiars, as you may have guessed from the cover, is set in a steampunk-y version of our past. So it's the Victorian era—Lena loves Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain—but one with dirigibles and aerocopters. It's also a frontier novel, in that the majority of it is set on the edge of civilization, and much of the storyline and plotting involves a wilderness area—populated by outlaws, convicts, and supposedly, Peculiars—called Scree. Like some (and in my opinion, too few) other alt-histories, McQuerry includes a historical note at the end that describes some of the real-life people she included in her world, as well as some of the changes she made (for instance, in her world, the Pony Express is still up-and-running in 1888, whereas in our world, it was only in operation until 1861).
From my Kirkus column, which focuses on how it diverges from the classic formula of the romantic historical mystery:
Loved this one.
Traditionally, Our Fair Heroine finds the rules of polite society somewhat chafing, but, as she was born into them, she understands them. Even if her behavior causes gossip, she is almost always still easily accepted.
Violet, on the other hand, is pretending. She wears the clothes and receives the invitations, but despite her manners and her appearance, she’s still a girl from Cheapside. Her position forces her to lie—through word and action—to everyone she meets. She doesn’t know the rules of high society very well, and she’s always aware that one misstep will expose the entire charade.
Diana Chesterfield and Dane Forrest: the IT couple of Olympus Studios... and the rest of 1938 Hollywood
Margaret Frobisher: a privileged Pasadena debutante who's so Starstruck that she'd like nothing better than to walk the red carpet rather than standing with the rest of the fans behind the velvet ropes
Amanda Farraday: after running away from the Midwest (and her abusive stepfather), Amanda survives by working as one of Olive Moore's 'girls'... until she gets a job as a contract player at Olympus Studios
Gabby Preston: a former child star of the vaudeville stage, Gabby has made the transition to film, but yearns for the type of leading role not generally offered up to actresses who are "barely five feet tall, with stumpy legs and unruly curls"
Diana Chesterfield has disappeared, and no one seems to know what happened to her!
Margaret's parents are absolutely DEAD-SET against her Following Her Dreams!
Amanda needs to keep her past a secret from her new employers... as well as her idealistic writer-boyfriend, who thinks she's as pure and innocent as the driven snow!
Gabby wants to be a star so badly that she's willing to throw anything aside for it: her friends, her conscience, even her health!
On the scale of realistic-yet-frothy historical fiction starring female protagonists—with What I Saw and How I Lied on the OMG, IT'S AHMAZING end, Vixen on the OMG, WHAT AM I READING end, and The Luxe squarely in the middle—Starstruck has more in common with The Luxe than the others. It has a similar format, in that the focus rotates through the main characters; it has some of the same character archetypes, including the not-so-pretty girl who resents the ridiculously sweet & pure ingenue; and it has a similar feel, in that it's super-soap-operatic and somewhat over-the-top and totally entertaining.
It's got great energy and moves along at a fast clip, though it's so heavy on the slang in some parts that it read more like April & Andy role-playing as Bert Macklin, FBI Agent and Janet Snakehole, Black Widow on Parks and Recreation than as anything, you know, particularly believable. (But, as I read those bits to myself in April & Andy voices, I found them totally hilarious. In a good way, though maybe not exactly how the author intended.) Shukert does a nice job of including some details about the political and social background—the rise of the Nazis and the rampant anti-semitism in the United States—though, like the rest of the dialogue, the Jewish characters' use of Yiddish slang is slathered pretty thick at points.
It's a vision of Old Hollywood that both creates and dispels fantasy: it's got the glamour and the clothes and the glitter, but it also shows the ugliness behind the magic. And there's a whole lot of ugliness. Loads of TWISTS and TURNS, and there are clearly some BIG THINGS TO COME in future installments: I couldn't help but notice that in addition to having a Cesarean scar, Olive Moore, Hollywood Madam wears a pin STRIKINGLY similar to Margaret Frobisher's gold-and-pearl heirloom brooch...
BONUS POINTS: For organically working in lots of details about what was being filmed that year (SERIOUSLY, EVERYTHING CAME OUT IN 1939), but especially for the mention of Bette Davis' performance in Jezebel, as well as a recreation of the famous red dress scene.
Book source: Review copy via Edelweiss.