Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Review Stephanie Burgis's Courting Magic

Courting Magic by Stephanie Burgis
Published by: Five Fathoms Press
Publication Date: August 10th, 2014
Format: Kindle, 105 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Kat has fought countless magical battles but she has never had to face the horror of making her debut in society. Her sisters have taken her coming out in hand and have the top modiste creating Kat's wardrobe, much to Kat's chagrin; there are too many pins! But her first ball is looking like it just might be interesting. There is a thief making a swath through the ton by impersonating famous personages and making off with jewels and other valuables. It is a magical crisis that is to be stopped. In order to hide the investigation Kat and three other male magicians will go to the ball with the three men paying court to Kat and posing as eligible husbands. Problem is Kat would actually really like one of them to be her husband. Alexander, the by-blow of the last head of her Order, awoken her heart years ago and she has found that despite their very different statuses in the world that he just might be her true love. But can love overcome society's strictures? Well, Kat's never played by society's rules anyway!

Do you ever finish a series and think, I wonder what the characters will be like in the future? What will they be like in five or ten or twenty years? Rarely in literature are we given this luxury to pop into their future lives just for a quick glimpse after the book or series of books ends. If it does happen at all it's usually squeezed into an afterword that is more frustrating then illuminating. This is why I think television shows sometimes do the gimmicky "what happened to all of our characters in the years to come" flash forwards in the last five minutes of their series finale, human's insatiable need to have closure. Rarely are these quick impressions satisfying. There is no development, no time to have one last adventure, just an addendum thrown to us as a bone. That is why I am so grateful for Courting Magic. When the Kat, Incorrigible series ended we got a tiny glimpse of what Kat's HEA might be, but being only thirteen, well, she wasn't ready to be out in society let alone be married. Yet there was a wistfulness and a longing that just maybe we could one day find out about Kat's own HEA.

Skip forward two years and Stephanie is giving fans what they hoped for. The problem with Courting Magic is that it doesn't fit neatly into the series, it's short, and I don't think it could even be considered middle grade, being more romantic and definitely the most Austenesque of all Kat's adventures. But that's what I love about the age in publishing we live in. Sure, we can complain all we want about the rise of the e-reader and the downfall of printed books, but before this era would Kat's story have been given closure? NO! It couldn't be published traditionally, for the aforementioned reasons, and how else could we have gotten it? Bless authors willing to embrace new mediums in order to tell the story the way they want to. I'm not going to go on a rant about technology here, I just really want to point out that sometimes technology is there for a reason and helps us, here we got closure.

While this whole series has been about love, familial love, and of course the marriages of Angeline and Elissa, Kat being younger and our protagonist, we didn't get the swoon worthy love that Austen was known for. Kat's story here is more typical Austen, coming out in society, a ball, and a proposal. Throw in some stumbling blocks, aka Alexander's status in society, and it's a very typical Regency love story. Kat is anything but typical. So of course, throw in magic, a sweet and hilarious reunion with the magically tainted Cousin Lucy, a cringe worthy run in with the Prince Regent, a couple of awkward dances, a thief worthy of the Pink Panther movies, and the bad guys being caught and you get the perfect blend of Austen and Kat. Not to mention a last minute reversal of fortune and Kat has her ideal HEA!

But what I wholeheartedly embrace is that Kat's HEA is anything but typical, in true Kat fashion. Firstly, she ends up with someone who has the same career path as she does, saving England by using magic. This means that Kat doesn't have to ever hide who she is let alone have to choose between her duty and her heart; that would destroy Kat and we can't have that. Secondly it's her true love! And no, she didn't double check with her mother's spell, she just knows. The moment she first met Alexander it was fate, but having them reconnect years later, sigh, it's almost as satisfying as when Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth finally get their HEA! But the clincher for me was that in her enthusiasm to finally end up with Alexander Kat inadvertently was the one to propose. She always has been a mold breaker, and I'm happy to read that a few years down the line that that hasn't changed.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book Review - Stephanie Burgis's Stolen Magic

Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 2nd, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Kat Stephenson and her family are off to Devon to the Carlyle's great estate on the coast for the long delayed marriage of Kat's sister Angeline to Fredrick Carlyle, her true love. Why the delay? Because Fredrick's mother was none too keen on the match, hoping to marry Fredrick to her niece Jane; besides being against the whole Angeline's a witch thing. One thing is clear, Mrs. Carlyle is going to put Angeline through the ringer in a final effort to see the back of her. But would Fredrick's mother resort to attempted murder to get her way? Because the Stephenson's have had a perilous journey, their coach almost rolling off a cliff to the ocean far below, and it was no accident. But who was behind the accident? Unbeknownst to most of the family they have not been travelling to Devon alone. There is a mysterious and magical person shadowing Kat, and she's not sure of their motivation.

Much like the hurtles Angeline has faced to reach her wedding day, Kat has had many obstacles in her induction to the Order of the Guardians. The induction is finally approaching when yet another delay happens. Kat sacrificed her magical portal to save England and her need for a new one has caused much consternation in the Order. You would think it would be easy to get a new one, but all the replacement portals have disappeared and the lovely Lady Fortherington is gleeful to point her finger at Kat once again, especially when it looks like the portals are somewhere in Devon. So not only does Kat have to prove her innocence, yet again, she has to work with her nemesis Lady Fortherington, prepare for the wedding, keep everyone alive and safe, and hope that all the delays end happily for all involved.

What I most loved about this "final" installment in Kat's magical journey is that while still channelling Jane Austen, Stephanie Burgis has decided to throw a little Daphne Du Maurier into the mix. Devon, being so close to Cornwall, has had it's fair share of wreckers and smugglers, and spies! The cliffs are honeycombs, hiding secrets that could imperil our erstwhile heroine. Not to mention you can get some damn good spirits down the local pub. The environment permeated the book with it's sea air and wind swept clifftops making me think longingly of Jamaica Inn. Burgis has been able to fuse the feeling of propriety that is Austen with this wildness that belongs to Du Maurier as she emulates the Brontes for yet another strong middle grade book that shows that there are great books for this age group.

Despite the fact that Kat is the youngest sibling in her family it just struck me how unique this is if we compare it to other literature set during this time, versus other middle grade books. The younger children, if mentioned at all, rarely figure into the narrative other then just part and parcel of the chaos of everyday life. We will excuse Lydia Bennet because she doesn't play by anyone's rules. Look at Sense and Sensibility, the youngest daughter, Margaret Dashwood, she's just there doing whatever and is hardly mentioned, in some adaptations they even just drop her all together. What I'm saying is that usually we get the older, "wiser" POV, but here there's something magical about seeing it through the eyes of a rambunctious youngster. Kat has an advantage being the youngest, because not only has she observed her older siblings all their lives, but being the youngest, there's a little leeway. She does love to cause trouble and there seems to be an indulgence in this, even if she's frowned upon at the same time.

Also by being the youngest she is allowed a certain excess of emotion. She is allowed to cry without it being viewed as indulgent. Yet what I love in the way Burgis writes Kat is that Kat is allowed to be vulnerable, she's allowed several times to break down and cry because of the emotional drain and chaos that surrounds her. She is allowed to give way to her emotions but at the same time she is strong. I always hate, what I will call the "There's No Crying in Baseball" rule. That you must be strong or vulnerable, there is no middle ground. This isn't how humans work. We aren't just strong and we aren't just weepy, we are a combination of the two. The strongest amongst us can also be the easiest to cry. By showing this complicated nature that is humanity, Burgis is showing young girls and boys that you don't always have to be strong, you can be a hero or a heroine and still cry. I love that this is such a positive message, such a true message. 

And Kat is able to have periods of vulnerability because she is surrounded by people who love her. Kat has always been a little rebellious and more the a little self sufficient. Over time though, while she can still handle all these hurtles thrown in her path, she has realized the strength of family. The hardest thing for any headstrong girl, yes, here I'm pointing the finger at myself, is when to acknowledge you can't do something on your own and when you realize it's not a weakness to ask for help. Here Kat's family knows her so well that she doesn't even need to ask for the help, it's just there. I love that Charles has really stepped up. In the first book he was little more then a lump in bed that caused the family untold troubles. By the second volume he was central, but as a source of consternation and also in need of rescue. By this volume we see that he has mended his ways and is taking on the role of protector of the family, even if this mainly means protecting Kat from herself. I kind of fell in love with Charles a little for how he's matured.

As for the magic? I like that there appears to be an entente brewing between the warring factions of Guardian magic and witchcraft. To me it seemed silly that they should hate each other just because they are different forms of the same thing. They are both reviled by society so it makes sense that uniting their powers together to form a united front is a logical step. But far be it from people of any kind to be logical. They latched onto their differences instead of embracing their similarities. Of course the French had no such compunction when it comes to this missishness. All for victory and that. So I'm glad that the prejudices will hopefully start to break down if only out of necessity. But I'm even more excited for Kat who has vindicated her mother's opinions all these years later.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Cavendon Women by Barbara Taylor Bradford
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: March 24th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Cavendon Women, the stunning sequel to Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Cavendon Hall follows the Inghams’ and the Swanns’ journey from a family weekend in the summer of 1926 through to the devastation of the Wall Street crash of 1929. It all begins on a summer weekend in July of 1926 when, for the first time in years, the earl has planned a family weekend. As the family members come together, secrets, problems, joys, and sorrows are revealed. As old enemies come out of the shadows and the Swanns’ loyalty to the Ingham gets tested in ways none of them could have predicted, it’s up to the Cavendon women to band together and bring their family into a new decade, and a new way of life."

The first book in this series was easily one of my favorites that I read this year for Downton Denial, so I'm rather excited for this sequel coming so soon after I finished the first volume!

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 24th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"With over one million copies sold, this series of modern classics about the charming Penderwick family, from National Book Award winner and New York Times bestseller Jeanne Birdsall, is perfect for fans of Noel Streatfeild and Edward Eager.

Springtime is finally arriving on Gardam Street, and there are surprises in store for each member of the family.

Some surprises are just wonderful, like neighbor Nick Geiger coming home from war. And some are ridiculous, like Batty’s new dog-walking business. Batty is saving up her dog-walking money for an extra-special surprise for her family, which she plans to present on her upcoming birthday. But when some unwelcome surprises make themselves known, the best-laid plans fall apart.

Filled with all the heart, hilarity, and charm that has come to define this beloved clan, The Penderwicks in Spring is about fun and family and friends (and dogs), and what happens when you bring what's hidden into the bright light of the spring sun."

Um, how long has it been since we've gotten to spend time with the Penderwicks in a new adventure? Yes, the answer is way too long!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Book Review - Stephanie Burgis's Renegade Magic

Renegade Magic by Stephanie Burgis
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 1st, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

After Kat's sister Angeline loses her true love Fredrick during their older sister's wedding thanks to the interference of Lady Fotherington, the girls stepmother whisks them away to Bath to avoid scandal. With the public renouncing of Angeline as a witch their stepmother hopes that by going to Bath Angeline can get herself an eligible bachelor before the gossip reaches the resort town. But their stepmother isn't counting on the fact that Fredrick is Angeline's true love and she's not about to just give up on him because of his family's objections. Angeline has a plan, a plan put into place by the accidental meeting of the rake and reprobate, the Viscount Scarwood. He is a totally unsuitable match, so perfect for Angeline's purposes.

But Angeline's future happiness isn't the only future in jeopardy. The head of the Order of Guardians, Lord Ravenscroft, with Lady Fotherington's interference, has taken away all Kat's hopes of being trained as a Guardian. They insist she is too headstrong and has violent tendencies. She only broke Lady Fotherington's nose the once, are they going to hold that against her forever? Her tutor, Mr. Gregson, insists that he will champion her if she just lays low. Sadly when Kat and her family show up in Bath there's a mysterious magical happening that the Guardians are investigating and her enemies are quick to point the finger at Kat. How can she lay low when she needs to help her family and help the Order? Just because they don't want her as a Guardian doesn't mean it's not in her blood. But they might not see her actions as altruistic but opportunistic.

Bath! What could be more Austenesque then Bath? Not only did Austen live (and hating living) in Bath for five years, but two of her scant six novels have action set there. The Jane Austen Centre is located in Bath and each year the town plays host to the Jane Austen Festival with people coming from around the globe to take part in honoring one of the greatest writers the world has known. But just setting a story in Bath, while a touchstone to Austen, isn't enough, in my mind; there has to be something more. A little adventure, a little spice, a little history. While there is adventure and spice, it's the history that Burgis infuses into the story that she then manipulates to her narrative that is so arresting. I am referring to the hot springs that are the source of the towns fame.

The Assembly Rooms and the Roman Baths became the go to place in the Georgian era for a restorative cure in this spa town. The Romans themselves actually built the baths and a temple, hence the Georgian moniker the "Roman Baths." Burgis was able to give more of a connection to these springs and the customs surrounding them by having Kat give her visceral reaction to "taking the waters" at the assembly room. One would think of dainty women circling the Assembly Rooms and having a nice gossip, but in reality they were jammed with people and that cool refreshing glass of restorative water was anything but. It was straight from the hot springs, hot being key. So the water was warm and sulfurous, therefore having that lovely odor of rotten eggs. One doesn't often think of the gentility of this time in realistic ways, but Burgis has this knack to show the truth while giving us a romping good time.

Burgis also expands on the history of the springs, and the goddess that the Romans worshiped. Because this book has magic, anything can happen with an incantation to a deity, and anything does. The combining of the real history and the magical possibilities is such a good fusion that it doesn't leave you questioning why something happens, it just makes sense. But my favorite part of all has to be the fact that it's book knowledge that bests magic in the end. It's not some old incantation or a secret spell that's unearthed, it's knowing that prior to the Romans's worshiping their goddess, there was another goddess that ruled. I just love the bookish guy being the victor in the end. Books for life!

The magic of the spring brings another interesting twist to the worldbuilding that Burgis has done. Instead of being either witchcraft or Guardian magic there is a third, more dangerous magic, wild magic. I love that there's this magic that existed before the other harnessed magics that is still thrumming through Britain and can trump the rest. Witchcraft is the easier for using spells and drawing little power, Guardian magic is more refined, it's inborn and therefore a part of you and just flows out, therefore able to easily squash witchcraft. But now there's wild magic! Magic that has the power of the Gods behind it. Magic that can not be contained and makes all other magic insignificant. I love that this world Burgis has built is expanding and evolving to encompass more instead of being formulaic and the same story told in a different way over and over again.

What I can't wait for is the further expansion of this world. While the war with France had previously been mentioned, I'm glad to see that Burgis isn't discounting the power that magic could have in that war, just look what two magician's did in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell! The British Government obviously has some sort of connection with the Guardians, but how much is the secrecy of magic tied to the Government's wishes? Is the hatred of magic and it's place in society a kind of propaganda done by the Government so they can keep it in control and on their side? Because near the end of the book I started to wonder if perhaps the French Government maybe had a different view on magic. There's no denying that Britain and France have often been at two very opposite ends of the spectrum, so maybe in France magic isn't disreputable? Maybe in France a Guardian would be worshipped publicly as a hero? One thing is sure, I'm grabbing the next book to see how this all plays out!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Book Review - Stepahnie Burgis's Kat, Incorrigible

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 1st, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Kat isn't your typical girl. When her family is facing money problems due to her older brother's profligate ways, she decides to cut off her hair and run away to London to make her fortune and save her family. Never mind that the idea is more then a little ill conceived, her heart was in the right place. But her stepmother has a foolproof plan, and that's to marry off Kat's sister, and her eldest stepchild, Elissa, to the wealthy Sir Neville. This is something Kat and her other sister Angeline don't view as acceptable. Angeline has heard the rumors that he killed his first wife and despite what society thinks and how their stepmother would frown on her plan, Angeline decides to use magic to help them out of this hole.

The girl's real mother was a powerful magician, something that made her an eccentric outcast. Something that passed down to her children. Little does Angeline know as she's pouring over her mother's spellbooks, that it's Kat who has the real power. Kat is to inherit her mother's legacy and become a Guardian, under the tutelage of her mother's teacher, Mr. Gregson. Though once Kat learns all this she's having none of it. She's going to help her family and get on with her life, and that life isn't going to be complicated by a secret organization that she's uncertain of, even if that organization might help her with the Sir Neville problem.

For some reason I have found myself picking up a lot of middle grade books recently. Whether for my blog or my book club, I have read quite a few lately and been severely disappointed. Some people might say that I have high expectations seeing as these books where written with a younger audience in mind. But the truth is, as authors and readers, this is the age to hook kids. If I hadn't found Elizabeth Levy and her delightful "Something Queer Mysteries" series staring Jill, Gwen, and Fletcher, at this precise "middle grade" age, well, I highly doubt you'd be reading any book reviews written by me. So when reading middle grade books I try to read them not only as if current me is reading them, but as if that little ten year old me is too. I have to say, ten year old me would have loved the heck out of Kat, Incorrigible, and thirty something me really enjoyed it as well.

With re-reading, and also having previously read so many Regency books with a magical bent, I found it fascinating to find a book that tackled the idea of magic existing in that society in an entirely different way. From Susanna Clarke to Mary Robinette Kowal, magic is not only accepted, but viewed as an enhancement to life, used for the betterment of society from conflicts with the French to making your ballroom look spectacular for your yearly fete. Here Burgis has created a society that doesn't look kindly on magic, it is frowned upon. Magic is not something that anyone in polite society would deign to do. Therefore Angeline and later Kat doing magic is a societal no no.

The girls are reminded time and time again by their stepmother that their dearly departed mother was a freak for her magical abilities that she flaunted. Elissa, being a stickler for societal conventions, parrots the party line and her stepmother by adhering to this train of thought and lecturing her younger sisters on it as well. What this has done to society as a whole and is seen in the microcosm of the Stephenson household is that magic has moved underground. Magic is done in secret and is regulated by shadowy organizations but, despite the outward appearance of society, it is more widespread then you would think. Not only is there magic, but there is even distinctions in magic, from the lower witchcraft to the higher Guardian magic, which helps to secretly control all the magic.

At first I was wary of this "Guardian" magic. Yes, it's cool that, unlike witchcraft, it doesn't need spells and is more a force of will. The magic isn't what I was taking umbrage with, it was the fact that there was an Order, capital "O", that regulated everything. I don't know what it is that exactly raised my hackles, but I audibly sighed at yet another secret organization controlling a supernatural force. Seriously, how many secret organizations can one world hold? I know that this is more then a bit hypocritical of me seeing as I love shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Warehouse 13 and The Librarians that all revolve around this trope. In fact, Buffy could be a very good comparison with Mr. Gregson taking on the role of a Watcher... but for some reason I just wasn't willing to initially buy it and I'm not sure I'm sold on it yet, only time will tell. But I will say that as the book progressed it bothered me less and less, so that's something.

I think all the flaws started to fall away because of my love for Kat. She is seriously the most amazing, kick ass, witty heroine you could wish for. I don't joke when I say that literaryily speaking I think that her kindred spirit is Arya Stark from George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. They both have this take no prisoners attitude towards life. They both love and care for their family and will protect them above all others. They are confined by the strictures of their society until they start to slowly subvert them. I just adore that Kat is a heroine young (or young at heart) girls can look up to as someone real and amazing that doesn't follow any damsel in distress tropes and is willing to take down titled nobility with a good right hook.

But Kat alone wouldn't work without being surrounded by her sisters. Her sisters bring the book it's believability. They fill the pages with sisterly love but also sisterly strife. While I didn't have a sister growing up this book captures perfectly what I think it must be like, I can only extrapolate from having a brother after all. Her sisters and their affairs of the heart bring a madcap feel that makes the book transcend the typical middle grade fare and made Kat, Incorrigible a fun romp that felt like old time comedies and farces. I dare you to not fall headfirst for this book once the ball starts and the masked bandit appears. It is a situation that a young Jane Austen would have devoured as she herself was known to deftly skewer the literary tropes of her day in her earliest writing. Personally I can't wait to devour the next installment of Kat's adventures. Allons-y!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

Prudence by Gail Carriger
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: March 17th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Introducing the Custard Protocol series, in which Alexia Maccon's daughter Prudence travels to India on behalf of Queen, country...and the perfect pot of tea.

When Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama ("Rue" to her friends) is bequeathed an unexpected dirigible, she does what any sensible female under similar circumstances would do -- she christens it the Spotted Custard and floats off to India.

Soon, she stumbles upon a plot involving local dissidents, a kidnapped brigadier's wife, and some awfully familiar Scottish werewolves. Faced with a dire crisis (and an embarrassing lack of bloomers), Rue must rely on her good breeding -- and her metanatural abilities -- to get to the bottom of it all..."

I have been waiting, quite literally, YEARS for this book to come out. FINALLY!

A Blink of the Screen by Terry Pratchett
Published by: Doubleday
Publication Date: March 17th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A collection of short fiction from Terry Pratchett, spanning the whole of his writing career from schooldays to Discworld and the present day.

In the four decades since his first book appeared in print, Terry Pratchett has become one of the world's best-selling and best-loved authors. Here for the first time are his short stories and other short-form fiction collected into one volume. A Blink of the Screen charts the course of Pratchett's long writing career: from his schooldays through to his first writing job on the Bucks Free Press, and the origins of his debut novel, The Carpet People; and on again to the dizzy mastery of the phenomenally successful Discworld series.

Here are characters both familiar and yet to be discovered; abandoned worlds and others still expanding; adventure, chickens, death, disco and, actually, some quite disturbing ideas about Christmas, all of it shot through with Terry's inimitable brand of humour. With an introduction by Booker Prize-winning author A.S. Byatt, illustrations by the late Josh Kirby and drawings by the author himself, this is a book to treasure."

Yes, I own the British edition. What is the likelihood I'll buy this one as well? Very likely.

A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: March 17th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Four years after she set sail from England, leaving everything she most loved behind, Maisie Dobbs at last returns, only to find herself in a dangerous place . . .

In Jacqueline Winspear‘s powerful story of political intrigue and personal tragedy, a brutal murder in the British garrison town of Gilbraltar leads Maisie into a web of lies, deceit, and peril.

Spring 1937. In the four years since she left England, Maisie Dobbs has experienced love, contentment, stability—and the deepest tragedy a woman can endure. Now, all she wants is the peace she believes she might find by returning to India. But her sojourn in the hills of Darjeeling is cut short when her stepmother summons her home to England; her aging father Frankie Dobbs is not getting any younger.

But on a ship bound for England, Maisie realizes she isn’t ready to return. Against the wishes of the captain who warns her, “You will be alone in a most dangerous place,” she disembarks in Gibraltar. Though she is on her own, Maisie is far from alone: the British garrison town is teeming with refugees fleeing a brutal civil war across the border in Spain.

Yet the danger is very real. Days after Maisie’s arrival, a photographer and member of Gibraltar’s Sephardic Jewish community, Sebastian Babayoff, is murdered, and Maisie becomes entangled in the case, drawing the attention of the British Secret Service. Under the suspicious eye of a British agent, Maisie is pulled deeper into political intrigue on “the Rock”—arguably Britain’s most important strategic territory—and renews an uneasy acquaintance in the process. At a crossroads between her past and her future, Maisie must choose a direction, knowing that England is, for her, an equally dangerous place, but in quite a different way."

WWII looming, more Maisie, sign me up!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Stephanie Burgis

Stephanie Burgis is one of those lucky Jane Austen lovers who has somehow managed to escape the United States (East Lansing, Michigan to be exact) and relocate to Great Britain, where she now has dual citizenship, I am so jealous. She lives in Wales, after some years in Yorkshire, surrounded by castles (even more jealous) and coffee shops, and one would hope a bookstore or twelve. Stephanie shares her life with her husband Patrick Samphire, who is also a Middle Grade writer among other things. They have two sons, who I am sure will grow up to be book addicts, who could avoid that fate being raised by these two? Stephanie has exquisite tastes in books, and one of her favorite by Austen is Northanger Abbey, which I also adore and view as her most underappreciated book. She is also a huge fan of Caroline Stevermer who happens to be the next featured author this month!

Stephanie has spent much time in school, from the United States to Vienna to England she has learned about music and then writing. I love finding a fellow educational enthusiast who is willing to take the time to learn! Though occasionally it feels as if you'll never be done with school. Writing a vast plethora of short stories, literally over thirty stories for teens and adults, she has turned to writing books, as well as more short stories. After a health setback she took her writing from a darker place to a lighter place, and place a comfort that I know all Janeites feel is home, Regency England. Though Stephanie's has a little some extra, a little magic! Her first book in this series, Kat, Incorrigible, won the 2011 Waverton Good Reads Award for Best Debut Children's Novel by a British Writer, under its UK title, A Most Improper Magick, and rightfully deserved I say! Now let's talk to Stephanie a little more.

Question: When did you first discover Jane Austen?

Answer: My dad read me Pride and Prejudice when I was eight years old, and I fell head-over-heels in love! I ended up devouring all of her novels, and I've re-read almost all of them many times since then.

Question: What do you think Jane Austen would think of her impact with so many literary offshoots, from parody to pastiche?

Answer: I'm sure she'd be pleased by her success, although she might wish she had gotten paid better for the books at the time she originally published them...

Question: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Answer: All of my books feature families, not just solitary characters, and that definitely comes from my own experience growing up in a big, noisy, loving family. As for the rest of it - the setting of my first Kat book, Kat, Incorrigible, was based on Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire, where my husband and I used to go almost every weekend to soak in the atmosphere and walk our dog. Walking around Georgian House museums all across the UK was really, really helpful. And the second Kat book, Renegade Magic was directly inspired by my many trips to the city of Bath, and particularly by the wonderful Museum of the Roman Baths, which is amazing. I highly recommend a visit to anyone who ever gets the chance!

Question: What makes the early 19th century mesh so well with magic?

Answer: It's recent enough - and popular enough - to feel accessible even for people who don't generally read historical fiction, but it's also distant enough from our own time period to feel exotic and a bit like a fantasy setting in itself! I think the fact that we accept so many different social rules and expectations when we're reading Regency-era novels sets us up as readers to accept different rules of magic/reality as well.

Question: The world building and system of magic varies greatly in the regency fantasy genre, how did you go about creating yours?

Answer: I loved getting to create different layers of magic and secrecy in my world-building, rather than just having one system of magic. There's the magic everyone knows about (and is horrified by), witchcraft, but then there's also secret Guardian magic and the wild magic that even the Guardians fear. I don't do a lot of plotting or outlining before I write my books, but I discovered all the different layers as I wrote and had a lot of fun with them!

Question: If you had to choose between writing only period literature or only fantasy literature, which would win?

Answer: Fantasy would have to win, for me. I've published lots of contemporary fantasy short stories in various magazines, and the MG novel I'm working on right now is set in a secondary world that's only loosely based on early nineteenth century Germany. But I would never want to give up writing historical fiction, either! I have a historical fantasy novel for adults coming out next year, Masks and Shadows, which is set in a real eighteenth-century palace in Hungary, full of intrigue, magic and romance. It was delicious to get to play with another rich historical setting as I wrote that book. I can't imagine giving up writing historical fiction!

Question: Be honest, have you ever dressed up in Regency clothes just to pretend for a moment you are in the past?

Answer: Ha! No - but only for lack of opportunity. I would loooove to dress up in a real Regency outfit just to feel it for myself instead of having to guess exactly how those gowns really feel on my characters.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Terry Pratchett 1948-2015


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