Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Susanna Clarke

Susanna Clarke is like the Harper Lee of fantastical alternative history, she hit it out of the park with her first and only novel. If we want to get technical, she's more J.D. Salinger, having done the aforementioned novel and a compilation of short stories, but I have issues with Salinger, so Lee it is. Clarke spent most of her childhood traveling around the north of England devouring the works of Austen, Dickens, and Conan Doyle. After graduating from Oxford she spent some time abroad teaching English during which she first got the idea for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. "I had a kind of waking dream ... about a man in 18th century clothes in a place rather like Venice, talking to some English tourists. And I felt strongly that he had some sort of magical background – he'd been dabbling in magic, and something had gone badly wrong."

Returning to England she worked in publishing while seriously contemplating starting what would become her masterpiece. She took a fantasy and science-fiction writing workshop taught by her future partner, Colin Greenwood, to come to grips with her writing. Greenwood was so impressed by the quality of her first story, as well as the polish for a first time writer, that he sent her story, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, to his friend, Neil Gaiman, who was astounded by her assurance and said "It was like watching someone sit down to play the piano for the first time and she plays a sonata." The book was bought by Bloomsbury in 2003 and was published in 2004. My father read an early review of the book and said it sounded like it was right up my alley. I fell in love with it as soon as I started to read it. Two years later Bloomsbury published The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, named after the story which had so wowed Greenwood and Gaiman. She spent ten years writing one of my favorite books ever and ten years on I await with baited breath hoping that her new book will one day manifest itself. If not, she will remain my Harper Lee (minus recent developments), and I do have that miniseries adaptation to look forward to...

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Book Review - Patricia Briggs's Dead Heat

Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs
ARC provided by the publisher
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Charles can count the people he loves and trusts on one hand. One of those people is mortal and is dying. Charles has known Joseph Sani for most of Joseph's life. He has seen him grow up, have a family, but it was too much to be around to see him decline. Though the time has come to face this hardship, to say goodbye. Charles and Anna set out for Arizona to visit Joseph and his family. The Sani's have made a name for themselves breeding Arabian horses and Charles plans to buy a horse for Anna for her birthday. But Charles encounters trouble in the Sani household. Joseph's dad is a werewolf and has been petitioning for his son the be changed, against Joseph's wishes it might be said. Hosteen views the argument still open until the day Joseph is in the ground and instantly harasses Charles on the subject. Yet this ongoing argument is put aside when Joseph's daughter-in-law is attacked by a powerful Fae and his grandchildren are almost killed. Charles and Anna look into the attack and come to the conclusion that a very powerful fairy is on the loose and children are in danger and it's up to them to stop it.

A new Patricia Briggs book is always a time to celebrate. To me she is the best writer currently of urban fantasy, the one who fills the hole in my heart left by Joss Whedon. Her books are the epitome of comfort reads, a time set aside to curl up with a good book, a cast of characters you love, and a warm blanket, with the world slipping away as you are drawn into the current mystery. And my, have I missed Anna and Charles! Having two years of Mercy back to back was lovely, but there's something about Anna and Charles that I just connect to. Not hearing from them in three years was hard to bear, like a friend who you've lost touch with. That incident in Boston, then nothing till now. Thank you for finally having the time to catch up with me.

The problem facing long running series is that you can get in a rut, you can get formulaic, and then Cousin Oliver happens. So far I continue to find Briggs's series both fresh and exciting, but there is something more compelling about the Alpha and Omega series. Yes, it could be that compared to Mercy it's newer and has less then half the books, but what I think it is is the way the series is set up to follow their story as they go to other locations then being confined to the Tri-Cities or Bon Temps or even Stars Hollow. Sometimes a change in scene is necessary to keep a story vibrant. I like how we start out and they're snug in their home then something happens and Anna and Charles are dispatched to the scene. Seattle, Boston, now Scottsdale! Plus with each location change we get a new set of characters to mingle with the old, providing a nice blend of the familiar and the strange.

But with each change in location we get a change in focus, and here, well, the focus was too much of the equine variety. I find it odd that in quick succession I have read two books that are very focused on horses. As I said in that other review, I've never been a horse person, but that doesn't mean that books featuring horses are a bad thing, they just have to be handled right. Daisy Goodwin's The Fortune Hunter handled horses right, in that she didn't become overly detailed and wrote the horses as characters so that you could connect to them. Goodwin did it right, Briggs did it wrong. I know Briggs is a horse enthusiast in the extreme, you can get that from her writing even if you didn't already know this, but she wasn't able to tamp down that enthusiasm to make horses accessible to those who aren't of her ilk. At one point in the book Anna gives up trying to figure out all the jargon spewing out of Charles and I think that if one of the characters in your book can't even keep up, well, you lost your readers a long time ago.

So much horse talk had a detrimental effect on the pacing of the book. At the beginning it was OK, the horses added atmosphere, but about three quarters of the way through the book when the bad guy is "caught" and everyone just pushes the horrors they've faced behind them and they all trot off to the horse show the book hits a deadly lull it can't recover from. There's still a quarter of the book left, so you know that something is going to happen, there's going to be a twist, but after a few hours with Anna and Charles in the bleachers at the horse show I couldn't care less what that twist was. This is right about the time Anna gave up too I might add. Yet it kept going. And going. And more horses. And yeah. I've been to state fairs, I've been to Dairy expos, I've been to events like this and never in my life did I think they could be written in a way that bored me almost literally to tears. All forward momentum left the book and I thought I'd be trapped with those creepy horse slash pageant kid combinations for all eternity. I never want to read about horses ever again.

But I really don't ever want to read about those creepy little kids that are dressed like western themed pageant kids, pink rhinestones and all, riding their horses. Shudder. Yet this version of children is just one of many, seeing as children are a big theme in this book. I was OK with Anna pressuring Charles about them having a child, this didn't seem out of place. The evil fairy that was the book's Big Bad and was kidnapping children for nefarious reasons, really really creepy and spooky and kept the plot ticking right along until the horses came and trampled all over it. And then the book shifted. Yes, there was a creepy kid vibe from the evil fairy but to couple that with this weird objectification of the children at the horse show? It went too far into the creepy. Add to that that Anna and Charles thought this was cute? Um, no. This kind of objectification leads to evil people preying on children. So in a book about bringing this kind of evil, though in immortal form, to justice while at the same time condoning cultural practices that can result in drawing the attention of evil... no. Just no. Yes, life is all about compromise, but let's compromise about having children or recovering from abuse, finding a middle ground where we can live with life's horrors, not finding a middle ground where the horrors are allowed to flourish.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"THE NEW CHARLES AND ANNA NOVEL. Praised as “the perfect blend of action, romance, suspense and paranormal," the Alpha and Omega novels transport readers into the realm of the werewolf, where Charles Cornick and Anna Latham embody opposite sides of the shifter personality. Now, a pleasure trip drops the couple into the middle of some bad supernatural business.

For once, mated werewolves Charles and Anna are not traveling because of Charles’s role as his father’s enforcer. This time, their trip to Arizona is purely personal—or at least it starts out that way...

Charles and Anna soon discover that a dangerous Fae being is on the loose, replacing human children with simulacrums. The Fae’s cold war with humanity is about to heat up—and Charles and Anna are in the cross fire."

It's hard to decide if I look forward more to the Alpha and Omega books or to the Mercy Thompson books... either way, it's a new Patricia Briggs book and I'm a happy camper.

Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop
Published by: Roc Hardcover
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The New York Times bestselling author of The Black Jewels Trilogy transports readers to a world of magic and political unrest—where the only chance at peace requires a deadly price…

The Others freed the cassandra sangue to protect the blood prophets from exploitation, not realizing their actions would have dire consequences. Now the fragile seers are in greater danger than ever before—both from their own weaknesses and from those who seek to control their divinations for wicked purposes. In desperate need of answers, Simon Wolfgard, a shape-shifter leader among the Others, has no choice but to enlist blood prophet Meg Corbyn’s help, regardless of the risks she faces by aiding him.

Meg is still deep in the throes of her addiction to the euphoria she feels when she cuts and speaks prophecy. She knows each slice of her blade tempts death. But Others and humans alike need answers, and her visions may be Simon’s only hope of ending the conflict.

For the shadows of war are deepening across the Atlantik, and the prejudice of a fanatic faction is threatening to bring the battle right to Meg and Simon’s doorstep…"

Yes please!

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente
Published by: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When a young troll named Hawthorn is stolen from Fairyland by the Golden Wind, he becomes a changeling - a human boy - in the strange city of Chicago, a place no less bizarre and magical than Fairyland when seen through trollish eyes. Left with a human family, Hawthorn struggles with his troll nature and his changeling fate. But when he turns twelve, he stumbles upon a way back home, to a Fairyland much changed from the one he remembers. Hawthorn finds himself at the center of a changeling revolution - until he comes face to face with a beautiful young Scientiste with very big, very red assistant."

Yeah yeah, new Catherynne Valente, very exciting... anyone else thinking the creature on the cover is from the unholy union of Bagpuss and an undermined creature from Rainbow Brite? Or perhaps a Gummi Bear? 

Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran
Published by: Touchstone
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the internationally bestselling author of Nefertiti and Cleopatra’s Daughter comes the breathtaking story of Queen Lakshmi—India’s Joan of Arc—who against all odds defied the mighty British invasion to defend her beloved kingdom.

When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the mid-nineteenth century, it expects a quick and easy conquest. India is fractured and divided into kingdoms, each independent and wary of one another, seemingly no match for the might of the English. But when they arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, the British army is met with a surprising challenge.

Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male and one female—and rides into battle, determined to protect her country and her people. Although her soldiers may not appear at first to be formidable against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi refuses to back down from the empire determined to take away the land she loves.

Told from the unexpected perspective of Sita—Queen Lakshmi’s most favored companion and most trusted soldier in the all-female army—Rebel Queen shines a light on a time and place rarely explored in historical fiction. In the tradition of her bestselling novel, Nefertiti, and through her strong, independent heroines fighting to make their way in a male dominated world, Michelle Moran brings nineteenth-century India to rich, vibrant life."

YES! I love Michelle's books and I adore India! Only problem is... which book to read first this week?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Regency Magic

Jane Austen is perfection. I think the majority of us can agree on this. It's hard to beat perfection. In fact, I would say it's nigh on impossible, you can't get higher then the highest degree now can you? There's none more black. That is why I've never been a fan of retellings, reimaginings, or continuations of her works. It's not on. Her books are perfect in and of themselves, there doesn't need to be more. So stop. There are of course exceptions to this rule, but taken as a whole all they do is prove the rule. Jane Austen is magic, so how to write a book that is just as magical? Why not literally add magic? In fact there's more and more writers who are combining the Regency world of Austen with magic and I say yes! It's taking Austen to the next level and there's so many clever and unique ways all these different writers are taking to get there and I'm just along for the ride.

The first book I picked up with this unique fusion was Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and I was hooked. I am beyond excited that this wondrous book has finally been made into a miniseries by the BBC and that got me thinking... there are so many Regency books with a magical bent that perhaps now is the time to declare my love of them to the world. With the television adaptation of Susanna Clarke's book as well as the end of Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamourist Histories series what better time for a celebration? So March and April are being dedicated to "Regency Magic" with author profiles, a few of whom are stopping by to answer some questions, reviews, a giveaway, and hopefully a bewitchingly good time! Now how about that giveaway?

The Prize:
A paperback copy of Susanna Clarke's The Ladies of Grace Adieu

The Rules:
1. Open to EVERYONE (for clarification, this means international too).

2. Please make sure I have a way to contact you if your name is drawn, either your blogger profile or a link to your website/blog or you could even include your email address with your comment(s) or email me.

3. Contest ends Thursday, April 30th at 11:59PM CST

4. How to enter: Just comment on this post for a chance to win!

5. And for those addicted to getting extra entries:

  • +1 for answering the question: Would you choose to visit the magical version or non magical reality of Regency England?
  • +2 for becoming a follower
  • +10 if you are already a follower
  • +10 for each time you advertise this contest - blog post, sidebar, twitter (please @eliza_lefebvre), etc. (but you only get credit for the first post in each platform, so tweet all you like, and I thank you for it, but you'll only get the +10 once from twitter). Also please leave a link! 
  • +10 for each comment you leave on other Regency Magic posts with something other then "I hope I win!" 
Good luck!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Book Review - Adele Whitby's Secrets of the Manor: Beth's Story, 1914

Secrets of the Manor: Beth's Story, 1914 by Adele Whitby
Published by: Simon Spotlight
Publication Date: June 24th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 160 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Beth is so excited as her twelfth birthday approaches that nothing can deter her, not even losing her lady's maid hours before her relatives arrive. She just views it as a chance to promote her favorite maid, Shannon, to a higher standing in the house. The French side of the family, the Trufant's, are arriving for a grand family tradition that will happen at Beth's birthday celebration. Since Beth's great-grandmother, Elizabeth, and her twin sister, Katherine, received connected necklaces on their twelfth birthday it has been a tradition on the twelfth birthday of the eldest daughter, and their namesake, to pass the necklace on to the new generation. So the day is fast approaching when Beth will get the Elizabeth necklace! But a theft in the house throws Beth's world upside down. Her maid Shannon is accused of stealing her cousin's, Gabrielle Trufant's, own heirloom necklace! Beth knows Shannon is innocent, but she must prove it while celebrating her birthday yet before Shannon is sent away without a reference.

I am not a reading snob. This means that as long as there's a good story to read I'll read it. Doesn't matter if the book is YA, Middle Grade, Fiction, Nonfiction, if it's worth reading, I'll read it. Sure, this seems like I'm trying to justify my dislike of this book, but what I'm really trying to do is qualify that my issues with Beth's Story aren't based on the books intended audience and being written for young readers, but it the writing itself. When I first saw this book on the shelves I was overjoyed, Downton Abbey for kids; because everyone knows you need to convert them when they're young. But, oh dear, this book just didn't work. I'm glad to say that Whitby didn't fall victim to the most deplorable of writing crimes, talking down to your readers. There is no surer way of alienating your audience then this. She did simplify concepts a little, but again, that wasn't the main flaw. In fact there isn't just one thing I can point to and go there, there is where you went wrong, because in truth, she went wrong in several places. Though there was a tipping point, and it was a tiara.

What I will call the "cheese factor" is where me and this book parted ways. If I didn't know better I would say that these books were written to market a brand of dolls from the late eighties early nineties that had special collectible lockets and keys for you to "find out the secret." Eight year old me would have loved the dolls, the books, like the American Girl books of my youth, would have languished on the shelves untouched as I created my own stories and adventures. Improving literature is the bane of those who love to read. Because there's nothing I hate more then "teaching moments." A good book will teach you things just in the telling of the story, a bad book will teach you things by pointing it out with big arrows going "here's some history you should know" or "here's some life lessons that are to be learned." Spare me now.

The whole "every secret leads to another secrets of the manor" oh, head thunk into keyboard, no. Is this some bad soap opera I have landed in? Like Edwardian Blue's Clues? Because I can't think of any child going, oh wow, time to read all six books and find out the final secret, the ultimate "secret of the manor!" Forth grade me is rolling my eyes. Yes, forth grade me was rather sarcastic. I've always read more mysteries then most, so my deductive skills are right up there. Even if I was still a forth grader the signaling with giant semaphore flags of the "clues" to solve the "mysteries" would have had me writing a rant on the obviousness of what was happening. Oh, and even without reading all six books I can tell you the "big secret," the twins switched places all those years ago doing a Victorian Parent Trap, most likely because of love, aw, gag me now.

Yet there's a chance I could have overlooked this cheese. If I'm honest, I probably couldn't have, but let's pretend there was a chance. If I could have overlooked said cheese, well, the inaccuracies would have driven me round the bend. OK, so I know that an eight year old probably isn't going to know all the proper etiquette for Edwardian society, but that doesn't mean the author gets to be lazy. Whitby doesn't get to pick and choose which societal conventions she will and won't abide by just for the convenience of her story, because then everyone would be wearing tiaras!

Yes, the tiara was the straw that broke the camels back. Sure, I was grinding my teeth when the house party arrived and the servants came in the front door, not, you know, the servant's entrance. When Beth's maid added embellishments to her uniform, I held my tongue. The servants talking out of turn with their employers, OK, deep breath, I can keep going. YOU JUST PUT A TIARA ON A TWELVE YEAR OLD! Tiara's are ONLY for married women. Ask ANYONE who has ever watched a miniseries or read a book, hell, go watch the PBS special about The Manners of Downton Abbey where there is a whole section about no tiaras till marriage! This is unforgivable and made me hate this book.

But, if I'm honest, all this, everything could have been overcome if I liked the characters. So many flaws can be forgiven for the love of a well crafted heroine. Beth is not a well crafted heroine. She's too earnest and too full of spunk and decidedly modern versus British. Her reverence for her great-grandmother is unbelievable. I mean, really, what other twelve year old is mooning over a picture of their ancestor and color coding all their clothes to their dead relatives likes not their own? Once again I was taken in by a beautiful cover. Shouldn't I know by now that a good illustrator doesn't a good book make? OK, time for me to shake it off and move on. Stupid tiara.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Book Review - Lauren Willig's The Ashford Affair

The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: April 9th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Clemmie's life has been turned on its head. Everything she took as a given is slowly being taken away from her. Her Grandmother Addie and her Grandmother's apartment on the Upper East Side have always been a safe haven for Clemmie. Yet Addie hasn't been doing well. Clemmie though has been so busy wrapped up in her own world at her law firm that she doesn't realize time is passing by. Soon it might be too late and there is so much Clemmie hasn't asked or forgot to ask her Grandmother. When the family descend for Addie's birthday party Clemmie's Aunt starts dropping weird hints about a deep dark family secret. A secret that spans Addie's childhood and adolescence in England and then her time in Kenya. Could this secret change Clemmie's entire life?

Booked as Out of Africa meets Downton, I can see the marketing ploy... but The Ashford Affair didn't feel like this to me. For those epics there is a distancing between you and the characters. You feel like an outsider looking in. No matter how much you love and care for Denys Finch Hatton or Lady Mary, you are never part of their story. That's where Lauren shines. She has created characters you connect with in a different way. You become part of their story. Reminiscent of the writing style of Nancy Mitford, as you were sitting in the Hons cupboard listening to Linda recount the love of her life, there you are sitting with Addie as she braves the cold outdoor nightclub as she sees herself losing the love of her life.

While I'm sure there are others out there who would disagree with me, and say the marketing is apt, the thing is I'm an Out of Africa hater, so it's a good thing I didn't see The Ashford Affair as such. Also, as to the Downton angle, yeah, ok, but a lot of people are in "Downton Rage" as I'm calling it because of the Matthew debacle, and Downton doesn't have the constant witty banter and humor that Lauren has brought to The Ashford Affair. Downton is an epic soap opera, even if you are one of those people who didn't realize it as such at first, but how else to categorize a show where the heir goes down in the Titanic in the first episode? I mean, come on people! Downton has a lot going for it, but there's a disconnect between that show and this book. Therefore I am rechristening it Alconleigh to Kenya or possibly, Mitfords meet Clueless... still deciding on that one. Either way, Lauren has created characters who you could see spending time with and having a laugh with (PELT!) and enjoying life, verses the epic heart wrenching day to day life at Downton. Not saying that there aren't times when Lauren is ripping out your heart, she just won't leave you dead in a ditch.

I don't think my "Mitford" interpretation is that far off either. Let's look at the evidence, a Bolter, check, either if based on Idina Sackville, or the fictional Mitford Bolter... which may have been based on Sackville or even on Nancy Mitford's sister Diana, the Bolter is key. The elder sister Dodo, a horse and hounds girl, could that be Debo Mitford, the Duchess of Devonshire who likes to write books about her chickens? Then there's Addie... a cousin and an outsider who comes to live in a glorious estate with rather odd relatives while her own parents were in disrepute with the rest of the family, can anyone say Fanny Logan, the narrator of Nancy Mitford's famous trilogy? Lauren herself has said that Nancy's book Wigs on the Green was an inspiration, which was notorious for Nancy's lampooning of her own family and was therefore out of print for many years. Also just the humor fits in more with the Mitfords/Radletts. The scene that brings this out more than any other is when Addie's mouse is set loose by Bea at Dodo's coming out ball. Lauren was able to perfectly recapture a time that, in my mind, was exemplified my Nancy Mitford's writing. Lauren brought that world to life again, and that's a hard feat.

Speaking of time, time is an interesting thing. Though the twenties are a very specific time and place within the last century, it has still developed a timelessness to it. The sepia coloring of passing generations has made it an era we are nostalgic for and romanticize, even though we weren't alive. Maybe that's why we are nostalgic for it, because we didn't live through it. Unlike the late 90s. Having the modern day section set not in the "now" but in the 90s kept drawing me out of the book. Modern references niggled at me and then I was thinking of the weirdest things, like, was their really Lord of the Rings parties in the 90s? I mean, you'd have to be a hard core book nerd to be having the parties, because the first of the movies didn't come out until 2001. In fact, the film had only been filming for two months when the action of this book takes place.

I know this is nit picky, but this is where my mind goes. This is why, while I enjoyed the whole book, the modern sections I was almost skimming. I didn't really care about Clemmie's job travails (another thing, hating the name Clemmie, sounds like the demon Clem from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or phlegm whereas I love the full name Clementine, so just call her by that). Clemmie's job was just a hurtle that kept her from her family, and while it was annoying for her, it was more annoying to me. I know Lauren connects to Clemmie's life of lawyering, I just personally didn't connect. But perhaps I just didn't want to go back to the modern sections of the book because I was reveling in the past. I would have loved it longer and more in depth because I didn't want to leave the past. Not one bit.

One thing can be certain, this book has allayed many worries of mine and I'm sure fears of others. With the inevitable end of Lauren's Pink Carnation series (le sigh) she has proven with The Ashford Affair that she is capable of writing books that I will keep buying. She kept me awake until the wee hours (is that dawn I see?) as I tried to puzzle out the mystery, which I thought I was certain of until, wham. Lauren has definitely got me for the entire span of her literary career, which I wager will be long and fruitful.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale
Published by: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: February 24th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"After a year at the king's palace, Miri has learned all about being a proper princess. But the tables turn when the student must become the teacher!

Instead of returning to her beloved Mount Eskel, Miri is ordered to journey to a distant swamp and start a princess academy for three sisters, cousins of the royal family. Unfortunately, Astrid, Felissa, and Sus are more interested in hunting and fishing than becoming princesses.

As Miri spends more time with the sisters, she realizes the king and queen's interest in them hides a long-buried secret. She must rely on her own strength and intelligence to unravel the mystery, protect the girls, complete her assignment, and finally make her way home.

Fans of Shannon Hale won't want to miss this gorgeously woven return to this best-selling, Newbery Honor-winning series."

Not thrilled that the cover art has changed in style AGAIN, but sqwee, new Shannon Hale!!!

The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury
Published by: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: February 24th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Seventeen-year-old Twylla lives in the castle. But although she's engaged to the prince, Twylla isn't exactly a member of the court.

She's the executioner.

As the Goddess embodied, Twylla instantly kills anyone she touches. Each month, she's taken to the prison and forced to lay her hands on those accused of treason. No one will ever love a girl with murder in her veins. Even the prince, whose royal blood supposedly makes him immune to Twylla's fatal touch, avoids her company.

But then a new guard arrives, a boy whose easy smile belies his deadly swordsmanship. And unlike the others, he's able to look past Twylla's executioner robes and see the girl, not the Goddess. Yet Twylla's been promised to the prince, and knows what happens to people who cross the queen.

However, a treasonous secret is the least of Twylla's problems. The queen has a plan to destroy her enemies, a plan that requires a stomach-churning, unthinkable sacrifice. Will Twylla do what it takes to protect her kingdom? Or will she abandon her duty in favor of a doomed love?"

The concept of Sin Eaters is interesting to me, so this book intrigues me.

A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: February 24th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A whip-smart, impeccably crafted debut mystery that takes readers on a whirlwind tour of London and Paris with an unforgettably original new heroine.

It’s just another day at the office for London book editor Samantha “Sam” Clair. Checking jacket copy for howlers, wondering how to break it to her star novelist that her latest effort is utterly unpublishable, lunch scheduled with gossipy author Kit Lowell, whose new book will dish the juicy dirt on a recent fashion industry scandal. Little does she know the trouble Kit’s book will cause—before it even goes to print. When police Inspector Field turns up at the venerable offices of Timmins & Ross, asking questions about a package addressed to Sam, she knows something is wrong. Now Sam's nine-to-five life is turned upside down as she finds herself propelled into a criminal investigation. Someone doesn't want Kit's manuscript published and unless Sam can put the pieces together in time, they'll do anything to stop it.

With this deliciously funny debut novel, acclaimed author Judith Flanders introduces readers to an enormously enjoyable, too-clever-for-her-own-good new amateur sleuth, as well Sam's Goth assistant, her effortlessly glamorous mother, and the handsome Inspector Field. A tremendously entertaining read, this page-turning novel from a bright new crime fiction talent is impossible to put down."

This just sounds pure fun.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Review - Daisy Goodwin's The Fortune Hunter

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: July 29th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 480 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Charlotte Baird is a bit of an odd duck, even for an heiress. She would rather spend her time taking photographs and manipulating them then hunting for a suitable husband. That all changes when she meets Bay Middleton. This suave horseman sweeps her off her feet and steals her heart. But her brother and prospective sister-in-law are adamant to show her that Bay is an entirely unsuitable match. Charlotte could marry a Duke and to settle for the best seat in the county? It seems such a waste. Though Fred and Augusta's disapproval might not be so altruistic as to save Charlotte from a fortune hunter as it is to keep the wealth at their own disposal. For Bay's part he genuinely loves Charlotte but he is torn. He has been asked to pilot Sisi, the Empress of Austria, for the hunting season, and there's a connection between him and this royal that can not be denied. Yet, in order to win Charlotte, he must indeed deny Sisi.

I was never the girl who wanted a pony. Girls of a certain age split distinctly along the equine obsession line. Me, I wasn't a horse girl. Oh, I had plenty of friends in grade school who were obsessed and spent every day at school talking about the weekend when they'd get to ride their ponies. Not me. I can literally count the number of times I have been on a horse on one hand. One delicate fragile hand that I was convinced a horse would love to bite the fingers off of. See, while I wasn't a horse girl, my grandparents did live in the country so I got to visit their neighbor's horse Dr. Pepper all the time and feed him grass and tremble with fear as his teeth chomped down on the stalks in that death clamp. I know he would never have hurt me, but that experience combined with my inane classmates practically guaranteed that I would never want a pony; a state I'm sure my mom was happy with having grown up in the country with seriously horse obsessed girls.

The reason for me mentioning this predilection of mine is that The Fortune Hunter, while ostensibly about romance and intrigue, comes down to horses in the end. Bay and his horse Tipsy, the Grand National, the hunting, Sisi and her riding ability, all of this adds up to a fair amount of horse for one book. Yet, despite not being a horse person, I did not lose interest. Daisy makes the subject of horses approachable and not alienating. They weren't just there to be another facet of our characters, they were a driving force of these characters.

Unlike my insipid classmates going on about their pretty ponies, Daisy has crafted this story so that when Tipsy is mentioned you don't tune out. She doesn't dwell on irrelevant details and what a pretty mane Tipsy has, instead Tipsy is elevated to a character just as important as Queen Victoria or Charlotte herself. I became invested in the horsier aspects of the story because the horses were integral to the story in a way that made sense. Daisy's writing made you feel that she knows what she's talking about but writes in such a way as to keep you interested, and for a subject I'm not invested in usually, I was drawn into this book.

The reason I liked Daisy's previous book, The American Heiress, is that not everything was wrapped up tidily with a bow in the end. Life isn't simple or easy, but complicated and messy, and sometimes I crave that reality in a book. Sometimes books can be a little too far fetched and focusing on the HEA, but how often does that happen to us? Yet in the case of The Fortune Hunter I found this looser ending not as satisfying. The main reason for this is the timeline brought about by the historical note at the end of the book. In The Fortune Hunter, Bay and Sisi's relationship is shown to flame and burn out over the course of one hunting season.

While I knowing conflating events is common to help the narrative, the fact that their relationship, whatever it actually was in real life, actually lasted for five years makes the season of passion ring false. Yes, Charlotte and Bay didn't marry until he had severed ties from Sisi, but this was a long five years later. I'm sorry, I just can't get beyond this five years. Five years means a lot more then what we saw and changes so much that the interpretation of events that Daisy has written would be drastically altered by the true timeline. While I enjoyed the story I would have liked it to maybe reflect reality a little closer, or at least left me ignorant of the truth unless I had searched it out... which, in fairness to my own predilections, I would have and we'd be having this same discussion. So, I guess we're stuck in a loop.

The photography interest Daisy "gave" to Charlotte is an aspect of the story I greatly enjoyed. Not only was this able to advance the plot and also show Charlotte the "truth" that she was blinding herself from, but it's logical historically, unlike those five years, grumble. During the Victorian era there were so few hobbies that were viewed as permissible to ladies of quality. Photography was one of these, though a little on the outer edges, mainly because of the damage it could do to your skin with the developing of the prints. But what I found most interesting wasn't so much Charlotte's photography, but her manipulation of the images, viewing people as animals.

While to some this might seem macabre, the truth is the most common and acceptable hobby for Victorian women was photocollage. I few years back I went to an exhibit at The Art Institute of Chicago called "Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage." This show was of Victorian women's photo albums wherein they painted ducks and had photographs of their family member's heads on the bodies. Butterflies with cameos on the wings. The weirder the more likely they'd do it. Work that is so reminiscent of what Charlotte did that it struck a cord so true that Charlotte and I understood each other, which is the greatest thing a character in a book can do; connect with you.

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