Wednesday, August 20, 2014

That Summer Read Along Dream Casting

It's time to have some more fun over on the Facebook Event Page for Lauren Willig's That Summer Read Along! This week I've taken over the reigns as moderator from the lovely Christina and Ashley and prepare the discussion for our final week next week with CĂ©line where all your burning questions will finally be answered! But this week, besides leading the discussion, it's time to talk Dream Casting! I adore playing "what if" games with the characters in books and That Summer is no exception. This painting by John Everett Millais entitled "Mariana" is the basis for the fictional Gavin Thorne's picture of the same name with added sewing box that upsets Imogen at the RA Show. Now I want you to think about what actor could portray an artist capable of painting such beauty and a young actress who could capture the hurt upon seeing her life laid bare on a canvas. Think of who could portray the modern generation finding another painting not on a gallery wall but hidden in the back of a dresser. I know who I think is perfect, but I'd love to hear your opinions too. So head on over to the Facebook Discussion and add your two cents!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Bittersweet by Colleen McCullough
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: August 19th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 3284 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In her first epic romantic novel since The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough weaves a sweeping story of two sets of twins—all trained as nurses, but each with her own ambitions—stepping into womanhood in 1920s and 30s Australia.

Because they are two sets of twins, the four Latimer sisters are as close as can be. Yet these vivacious young women each have their own dreams for themselves: Edda wants to be a doctor, Tufts wants to organize everything, Grace won’t be told what to do, and Kitty wishes to be known for something other than her beauty. They are famous throughout New South Wales for their beauty, wit, and ambition, but as they step into womanhood, they are not enthusiastic about the limited prospects life holds for them.

Together they decide to enroll in a training program for nurses—a new option for women of their time, who have previously been largely limited to the role of wives, and preferably mothers. As the Latimer sisters become immersed in hospital life and the demands of their training, they meet people and encounter challenges that spark new maturity and independence. They meet men from all walks of life—local farmers, their professional colleagues, and even men with national roles and reputations—and each sister must make weighty decisions about what she values most. The results are sometimes happy, sometimes heartbreaking, but always . . . bittersweet.

Rendered with McCullough’s trademark historical accuracy, this dramatic coming of age tale is wise in the ways of the human heart, one that will transport readers to a time in history that feels at once exotic and yet not so very distant from our own."

I have family members that were major obsessed with The Thorne Birds, personally, this looks better, more Downtonesque.

Sherlock Holmes: The Spirit Box by George Mann
Published by: Titan Books
Publication Date: August 19th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Summer, 1915. As Zeppelins rain death upon the rooftops of London, eminent members of society begin to behave erratically: a Member of Parliament throws himself naked into the Thames after giving a pro-German speech to the House; a senior military advisor suggests surrender before feeding himself to a tiger at London Zoo; a famed suffragette suddenly renounces the women's liberation movement and throws herself under a train.

In desperation, an aged Mycroft Holmes sends to Sussex for the help of his brother, Sherlock."

How excited am I for a new George Mann book? Very. Very is the answer.

The Ripper Affair by Lilith Saintcrow
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: August 19th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The enthralling conclusion to the Bannon and Clare trilogy from New York Times bestselling author, Lilith Saintcrow.

Sorcery. Treason. Madness. And, of course, murder most foul...

A shattering accident places Archibald Clare, mentath in the service of Britannia, in the care of Emma Bannon, sorceress Prime. Clare needs a measure of calm to repair his faculties of Logic and Reason. Without them, he is not his best. At all.

Unfortunately, calm and rest will not be found. There is a killer hiding in the sorcerous steam-hells of Londinium, murdering poor women of a certain reputation. A handful of frails murdered on cold autumn nights would make no difference...but the killings echo in the highest circles, and threaten to bring the Empire down in smoking ruins.

Once more Emma Bannon is pressed into service; once more Archibald Clare is determined to aid her. The secrets between these two old friends may give an ambitious sorcerer the means to bring down the Crown. And there is still no way to reliably find a hansom when one needs it most.

The game is afoot..."

Totally didn't realize this is a trilogy... good, because I totally liked but forgot what happens in the first book so now I can quickly read them all!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Book Review - Holly Black's Black Heart

Black Heart (Curse Workers Book 3) by Holly Black
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Cassel is now "working" for the feds, though he is more freelance as he hasn't put pen to contract and he still wants to finish school. His main obsession though is still Lila. He's worried about her now that she's involved in her father's nefarious empire. All Cassel wants is the girl he can't have while walking the tightrope between good and evil. He really thought that he would be safe with the feds, but they just want to use him like his own brother's used him. The feds want Cassel to take out New Jersey's Governor so that the proposition to harm workers will disappear. It's not that the government is trying to use him that makes Cassel worried... it's that he doesn't follow their logic. Something is flawed and he things that maybe, just maybe, they are working against him as well. If he can just figure out everyone's motives and tell Lila the truth of his heart... well, maybe he could get a happy ending with the girl.

Let's talk about book series. They are the bane and bliss of readers. The bane because sometimes you just want to read a stand-alone book and these days, well, you're more likely to stumble into a series that you can't put down and have an obsessive need to finish then find a quick solo read. The bliss because, well, if you love the world and the story you never want it to end. But you can't just have a series to have a series. You really need a plot, a beginning, middle and end. You need something at stake, something that changes over time. While reading the Curse Workers books I was taken somewhere else and enjoyed the ride, but at the end, well, I'm left scratching my head.

Not much changes between the beginning of the series and the end. Cassel is still a killer, different then he thought but still a killer. So what was the goal of this series? For him to get the girl? To show the ineptitude of government? To show Cassel rise above his family's machinations? It's all so unclear. Was there a bad guy beaten and evil vanquished... no. Was there an epic battle with the fate of the world... again, no. If this series had been one book, well, it would have been an enjoyable book. But as a series... it feels forced and forgettable. Like the publisher told Holly Black, we're not taking it unless it's at least a trilogy and she acquiesced.

Speaking of publishers and series. If you are doing a series, one in which there is a new book every year, there is NO REASON to change the look of the books, the delivery time being so swift! I love how series look on my shelves. They have a weight, a presence that makes me sit back and admire them. There is nothing more likely to get my blood to boil then changing the look of the series. Ways in which to piss me off; change the size of the book, like the nice YA sized hardcovers to "Bestseller" size hardcovers. Change the initial release format, like paperback to hardcover or vice versa.

Worst of all though is what was perpetrated here on The Curseworkers. Change the style from photographic to really horrid crappy artwork. Yes, this is now a cover rant. What the heck is this cover in supposed to be? It's like a bad velvet painting with derivative 1970s type, but it you look at the swirls closer they're badly drawn people!?! The artwork is seriously bad high school level work. It's just bleck. I am 100% serious when I say that if this wasn't an author I liked I would never have picked up this book with this cover. In fact, I kind of didn't pick it up for the longest time... took me two years after publication to bother to pick it up, and I seriously considered getting it on kindle so that this hideous cover wouldn't darken my shelves.

So I should probably critique the contents of the book versus the covering... I'm sorry, this cover just, gaw. OK, the contents. As I have said, overall nothing much happens in the series. It's an enjoyable read, escapist, but it's this volume more then the previous that lets the series as a whole down and makes it forgettable. Up until Black Heart there was some interesting world building, some great characters that were more grey then black or white, and then the series went typical. How, are you asking, does a book with magic go typical?

Well, it became your bog standard mafia movie. Boy wants a better life, but it keeps pulling him back in, there's a girl, there's a deal with the feds to try to make this better life, things don't go according to plan, there's some kind of acceptably happy ending, then, the end. More then anything it felt like the book became A Bronx Tale. Your book can remind me of other books and other works and still succeed, but when I want to put down your book and watch or read the thing that it reminds me of, it fails. A Bronx Tale won.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Review - Holly Black's Red Glove

Red Glove (Curse Workers Book 2) by Holly Black
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry
Publication Date: April 5th, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Cassel has spent his summer celebrating the end of his mother's incarceration by getting back on the game with her in Atlantic City. Cassel is so worried about how Lila was cursed into loving him by his own mother that he isn't very concerned with his mother returning to her old ways; the ways that got her into prison in the first place. But Cassel doesn't care, he has his final year of school soon and will spend all that time trying not to think of Lila. Bit hard when Lila has transferred to Wallingford. Yet those are the least of his worries when the feds show up to interrogate Cassel about his brother Philip.

Turns out Philip isn't really the forgiving sort, even when it comes to family. To get revenge against Cassel he has turned narc and was going to tell the feds everything, until he was murdered... The feds are now looking to Cassel for help with Philip's murder, as well as a slew of other ones. While Philip's murder should bother Cassel the most, the other murders, or more accurately, disappearances, concern him more, because he thinks he might have done them himself. Then there's his mother, who has "aligned" herself with New Jersey's Governor who is for the anti-Workers bill. Walking a thin line between right and wrong in every aspect of his life, Cassel longs for normality, but the con keeps calling him.

One of the things that I love most about the Harry Potter books is that you get a feel for the character's daily lives amongst the chaos. Some of my favorite parts of the books are Harry, Ron, and Hermione just hanging out in the common room and doing their homework. There's something calming and homey about this. This, among many others, is the reason that the Harry Potter books are like comfort food in written form. Just sink into a chair in the Gryffindor common room and let the worries of the world wash away. That's what Red Glove felt like to me.

Like White Cat, Red Glove, is very much derivative of Harry Potter, but in this second installment it was almost entirely made up of those captured moments of rest at Hogwarts. Red Glove was a very non-demanding book. The mystery wasn't in any hurry to be solved and skipping a few classes to relax seemed of more importance. If I'm being honest, with things in my life as they are right now, this is exactly what I needed in a book. A quick read that wasn't demanding and felt like you'd had a good long nap after you finished it. A refreshing read if you will.

There is one thing that I thought had potential that was ill utilized, and I'm talking about the relationship between Cassel and his mother Shandra. For the previous volume she was in jail so their relationship was confined to phone conversations and we were unable to get how the dynamic of their relationship works. Now that she's out there's so much opportunity that Black could have exploited and we are left with one tantalizing glimpse of what could have been. Their relationship is very odd, the closest thing I can think of is Norma and Norman Bates on Bates Motel.

It's a weird vibe, what with the mother supplying endless girls to get Cassel over Lila, all while saying how ungrateful he is for the gift she made of Lila. Girls who may or may not be working girls it should be said. Plus the way Cassel just sits around watching his mother do her endless toilette to go on the game, icky spiders going up and down my spine. Yet the second Cassel is back in school, his mother is off his radar, though sometimes on his tv screen. I just wish this relationship had been explored more, because I think Cassel doesn't make much sense unless you look at his family. We already know how his brother's fucked him up, but his mother knew about that and also added in her own brand of sick.

Speaking of Shandra, she is just one of the many women in Cassel's life and I've got to say, there's a victim mentality with the three main women in Cassel's life. Shandra, his mother, Lila, the love of his life, and Philip's wife, Maura; all three women are victims. Shandra, because of her own impulses resulting in incarceration, Lila, because of years of captivity as a cat and then being whammied by Shandra, and Maura, whose memories were being wiped so that she wouldn't remember fights with her husband and therefore forget about leaving him.

Of course this could all be the cause of the world they live in and the life of crime they can't escape, but the fact that all three have been violated can not be forgotten. But Black does something interesting. She let's the victims have their revenge. She lets the oppressed claim a little of their own back. So while the depiction of women might seem bleak, they aren't weak in the end. Shandra gets out of prison and embarks on a major con that is for the benefit of all the cursed, instead of settling for her own comfort, Lila breaks free of her curse and starts to plan her future where she will take over her father's empire, while Maura... well, Maura's revenge is something you have to learn for yourself and then savor.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

My Drunk Kitchen by Hannah Hart
Published by: It Books
Publication Date: August 12th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"One day, sad cubicle dweller and otherwise bored New York transplant Hannah Hart decided, as a joke, to make a fake cooking show for her friend back in California. She turned on the camera, pulled out some bread and cheese, and then, as one does, started drinking. (Doesn't everyone cook with a spoon in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other?) The video went viral and an online sensation was born.

My Drunk Kitchen includes recipes, stories, full color photos, and drawings to inspire your own culinary adventures in tipsy cooking. It is also a showcase for Hannah Hart's great comedic voice. Hannah offers key drink recommendations, cooking tips (like, remember to turn the oven off when you go to bed) and shares never-before-seen recipes such as:

The Hartwich (Knowledge is ingenuity! Learn from the past!)
Can Bake (Inventing things is hard! You don't have to start from scratch!)
Latke Shotkas (Plan ahead to avoid a night of dread!)
Tiny Sandwiches (Size doesn't matter! Aim to satisfy.)
Saltine Nachos (It's not about resources! It's about being resourceful.)

This is a book for anyone who believes they have what it takes to make a soufflé for the holiday party and show up the person who apparently has nothing better to do than bake things from scratch. It also recommends the drink you'll need to accompany any endeavor of this magnitude. In the end, My Drunk Kitchen may not be your go-to guide for your next dinner party . . . but it will make you laugh and drink . . . I mean think . . . about life.

Seriously, anyone need an idea for a birthday gift for me? Here it is! (Psst, my birthday is Wednesday.)

Cursed Moon by Jaye Wells
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: August 12th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"MAGIC IS A DRUG. IT'LL COST MORE THAN YOU CAN PAY. . .

When a rare Blue Moon upsets the magical balance in the city, Detective Kate Prospero and her Magic Enforcement colleagues pitch in to help Babylon PD keep the peace. Between potions going haywire and emotions running high, every cop in the city is on edge. But the moon's impact is especially strong for Kate, who's wrestling with guilt over her use of illegal magic.

When a rogue wizard steals dangerous potions from a local coven, Kate's team must find the thief's hideout before the vengeful coven catches him. But the investigation uncovers the rogue's dangerous plot to unleash chaotic magic on the city. Once the Blue Moon rises no-one's secrets will be safe. Not even Kate's."

New Jaye Wells yeah!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Book Review - Holly Black's White Cat

White Cat (Curse Workers Book 1) by Holly Black
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry
Publication Date: May 4th, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Cassel almost killed himself. He didn't mean to and he has no idea how he ended up on the roof of his dorm in the middle of the night. But this little escapade has him suspended from school pending further inquiry into his "sleepwalking." In the meantime that means he's sent back to his family. His family of Curse Workers. His mom is actually in jail because of her manipulation of a millionaire, so he is thrust on his brothers and grandfather, all of whom are using their "abilities" to help the mob run by Zacharov. Zacharov whose daughter Lila disappeared a few years earlier. But Cassel knows the truth. He killed her. He killed the girl he loved. Though not with "magic" just his own two hands, because Cassel doesn't have any powers. He has no "magic." But growing up in his family he knows how to cheat, gamble, grift and con. So he has no worries about getting himself back into school, it'll be easy. Yet nothing is easy once a white cat walks out of his dreams and into his life.

There are times in life when there's just too much shit raining down on you that you don't think anything will help. All you want to do is get lost somewhere, for me that's usually between the pages of a book. But you have your doubts that it's even possible with the weight of the world on your shoulders. I was in such a frame of mind when I picked up White Cat and I can't lie, I struggled at first to get into the book. The blending of diverse genres wasn't drawing me in and the magic system seemed too loosely defined and the outside world kept nagging at me to pay attention to it. But then that magical thing happened. All book lovers will know what I mean. All of a sudden, about sixty pages in, the book hooked me. I didn't want to stop reading, despite the late hour and the emotional day making my eyelids droop. This book isn't by any means a masterpiece, it's not a book that changed my outlook on the world. But White Cat did give me a reprieve from the world and for that I will ever be grateful.

White Cat is a bizarre combination of genres, it's like the first X-Men movie with some Harry Potter thrown in with the larger framework being Boardwalk Empire meets Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, because that is the best con artist movie of all time hands down, there's no debating that fact. All these differing genres were more at war with each other then forming a cohesive whole, making the book very disjointed. The first major hurtle was the system of "magic" or I should say "curses." You are thrown headfirst into the deep end, where it feels like Black just expects you to intuitively know how this system works. I'm not sure if this was purposeful or not. Cassel himself is half ignorant of the workings of the world he lives in, so maybe this was to make use relate more to him and learn along with him. Which, if that is the case, I guess it makes sense, but it made the book hard to get into.

The aspect of the book that just made me latch on was when the history of Curse Workers was discussed. The way Curse Work is associated with the criminal element and Australia, being a penal colony, having many Workers is fascinating to me. Plus the prohibition gangster aspects and the rise of organized crime. Also the mythic and heroic history, like the Russian Folklore that peeps in, why can't the book be all this? I keep thinking, if this was done as a period piece, like Boardwalk Empire, it might, just might, be the coolest book ever. Also people wore more gloves in olden times!

But for everything that goes right in the book, for all the originality, there is an equally strong reliance on tropes. You better be a fan of worldbuilding to enjoy this book because there aren't many surprises in store plotwise. Two big plot points are so obvious, instead of leaving breadcrumbs to hint at the truth it felt like Black was leaving baguettes. Big crunchy French baguettes probably a day old so they are a little hard and capable of beating a man to death. Luckily Black doesn't wait to the book's denouement to reveal these obvious twists, because if they had been the big finale, this book wouldn't be being written about favorably right now.

But what I took most issue with is that the little gang, the threesome of Cassel, Sam and Daneca, are just Harry, Ron and Hermione. Now I know that J.K. Rowling didn't invent this pairing, she doesn't have a claim on it, but seriously, YA authors, stop emulating it! It's old hat, it's lazy, it's played out. In simple words, stop. Black is even more obvious then most with Daneca being an exact clone of Hermione, heck she even forms her own version of S.P.E.W. called HEX, for the repressed workers! And the whole bushy brown hair swot thing too. Yes the Harry Potter books changed YA literature forever. Guess what? You're not going to write the next Harry Potter so move on. Build you own world, write your own book, don't borrow, and in the case of your friend Cassandra Clare, don't steal. This could be an awesome series if it stays on track... and if it doesn't have anymore epic cover fails. Short haired white cat! Sheesh, not long haired...

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Book Review - Cassandra Clare's City of Heavenly Fire

City of Heavenly Fire (The Mortal Instruments Book 6) by Cassandra Clare
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: May 27th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 752 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

The Shadowhunter Institutes all over the world have been attacked. Emma Carstairs and the Blackthorn children saw the fall of the Los Angeles institute first hand. The Dark War with Sebastion has officially begun. All the Shadowhunters have been recalled to Idris to plan their next move. But Sebastian is unstoppable. They can't even locate where his base of operations is. He has made only one demand, hand over Clary and Jace and the Shadowhunters and Idris will be spared. Clary and Jace are willing to go, but the Clave doesn't want to bargain with terrorists. It's Emma Carstairs who gives Clary and Jace the key to destroying Sebastian. She tells them that she believes he is hiding out in a demon dimension called Edom. Jace, Clary, Alec, Isabelle and Simon travel through fairy and enter Edom where Sebastian reigns. Will this group of kids be able to win the Dark War when all the other Shadowhunters combined aren't a match for Sebastian and his army of Endarkened?

"I'm free-I'm free, AN' I'm waiting for you to follow me!" Yes, finally finishing this series has led me to break into spontaneous song. In particular "I'm Free" from The Who's Tommy. It's better then earlier in the week when I was singing Queen's "I Want to Break Free." Why is it better? Because the freedom is here! The reading is a fait accompli. I never ever have to pick up a book written by Cassandra Clare EVER AGAIN! The Mortal Instruments series, which is quite possibly the worst series of books I have ever read, has put a serious cramp in my reading mojo this summer.

I hate having my reading mojo sapped. It would have been one thing if the book was draining me from sheer awesomeness, but that was not the case here. I think my previous reviews of the preceding five books covered my feelings quite well as to why I hate these books, no character development, no continuity, atrocious writing, but I will take a little time here to muse on what the final installment brought home. And yes, there's a part of me that doesn't want to waste my breath (or in this case, my words) on talking about this book further... but I can't let Clare get away with her crimes against writing, I just can't.

I seriously thought that the overwhelming integration of Clare's "universe" couldn't get worse then in City of Lost Souls... I should not have underestimated Clare's ability to lower the bar. A third of this book was references to her Infernal Devices series that just went over my head (I will NOT be drawn into another badly written series), another third of this book was setting up her new series, The Dark Artifices (wherein she finally just embraces she's writing Buffy Fanfic and sets it in California with a character named Dru), and the final third was actually about this series, The Mortal Instruments. I can not tell you how aggravated I was by this. Instead of focusing her efforts on writing a passable finale for the series she was more concerned with setting up her new series then wrapping up the old.

I mean, seriously? Here are what, twenty children and now you must remember all their names because they'll be so important in the future series. No! No more! I'm walking away from the series and NEVER looking back. In time hopefully I can rewrite my brain so that all this stupid Shadowhunter bullshit stops taking up valuable space in my memory. Oh, and that's not even the product placement for her one-off books, The Bane Chronicles and The Shadowhunter's Codex, oh, and fuck me, it looks like she's doing a Simon book... no more. NO MORE!

Ok, maybe a little more... ranting that is. I think Clare's inability to write is most obvious in how she always tells and doesn't show. Her books are very much about what makes us family and how we redefine this for ourselves. Blood doesn't make us family in this day and age so much as these connections we forge. In other words, just go watch the amazing Buffy season five episode "Family" and realize that in the time you read this series you could have been watching quality television, not reading sub par drek that wishes it was written by Whedon.

Ok, getting off topic. Instead of showing us these connections, Clare must always label them. This is my "sister" this is my "daughter" you get the point. We should know that the connection between Clary and Luke is strong without Luke every second yelling about his "daughter." Technically, she's not. Yes Luke, she's your family, but you don't need to label it. Family just IS. Family doesn't need signifiers. Right there, that's the fatal flaw. This series spends so much time justifying itself and being composed of other things that it just can't be itself. This book just isn't.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Book Review - Lauren Willig's The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla

The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla (Pink Carnation Book 11) by Lauren Willig
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: NAL Trade
Publication Date: August 5th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 496 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

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 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.

Older Posts