Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Beth Deitchman

Beth Deitchman wrote her first book in third grade, so you'd think she was always meant to be an author, yet she was diverted for some time by dreams of being a ballerina as well as the the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. She "entertained visions of wearing a black and yellow tutu with one black and one yellow pointe shoe while coaching." This dichotomy could be one of the reasons she was drawn to Jane Austen, heroines who embrace their girly side with balls and bonnets, yet have a will of steel underneath. Just think of Lizzy turning down Mr. Darcy and you know the will I'm talking about. Or even a ballerina dancing en pointe! Though I think we could also draw parallels to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because Beth is a wannabe Slayer who is ALWAYS the first to like my odd musings from the Whedonverse on twitter. Beth went to college at UCONN and afterwards danced in a few modern companies in Boston until the desire for a "normal life" set in. Of course her new normal was graduate school at UMASS Boston. After receiving her MA in English she went on to get her M. Phil in English and Drama from Queen Mary College, University of London.

Following that (seriously, did Beth do anything but school for a decade?) she finished her higher learning with a PhD in English at UC Davis to promptly give it all up two years later to be an actress in the Bay Area. Yet during all that time she was writing, "short stories about women trying to figure out their lives, endless examinations of my life and everything I felt was wrong with it, an undergraduate honors thesis, two Masters theses, a dissertation, and too many conference papers." But at least all that book learning has served her in good stead as she not only writes wonderfully magical Jane Austen continuations, Mary Bennet and the Bloomsbury Coven and Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas, but is the founder of Luminous Creatures Press which she started in 2013 with Emily June Street. Additionally, Beth has co-authored two collections of short stories. Her story, "La Voshnikaya," will appear in SQ Magazine's November 2016 issue. These days when she's not knitting or reading she's teaching Pilates at Flow Studio in Northern California where she lives with her husband Dave and dog Ralphie.

Question: When did you first discover Jane Austen?

Answer: I'm sure that I must have encountered Jane Austen's books as an undergraduate English major at the University of Connecticut, but I began loving them when I was a graduate student in London. I found Pride and Prejudice on sale in a bookstore and subsequently devoured it. After that, I re-read her books every few years—usually in the summer.

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

Answer: I think she would be astonished and amused—possibly secretly pleased. Certainly she would write to her sister commenting on the phenomenon with her usual wit.

Question: Where do you get your inspiration from?

The short answer: Anywhere I can find it!

The longer answer: When I wrote the short story that became my first Regency Magic book, Mary Bennet and the Bloomsbury Coven, I had no idea just how much Jane Austen-based fiction existed. I simply wanted to give Mary Bennet an adventure. I had developed a real fondness for Mary when I played her in a community theatre production of Pride and Prejudice. The poor girl was forever in her sisters' shadows. As I was working on Mary's story, I decided that it would be lovely to give a minor character from each of Austen's books a similar adventure and so the Regency Magic series was born.

Some of the characters are based on people I know. The woman who played Mrs. Bennet did such a beautiful job that I couldn't help but hear her voice as I wrote that character.

I have to admit that I got the idea for the Enchanted Atlas in my second Regency Magic book (Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas) from Emma Thompson's 1995 film version of Sense and Sensibility. In a few scenes Margaret looks through an impressive atlas, although the one in my book is based more on the Baedeker travel guides from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—those famous books with the red covers.

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

Answer: For me there are two things that make the nineteenth century a great setting for magic: one, the notion that "the past is a different country: they do things differently there," L. P. Hartley wrote. Other fantasy authors invent their own worlds for working their magic. We have the past with all its differences from the world we know.

The nineteenth century also saw so much change with the Industrial Revolution, including so many technological innovations that could almost seem like magic. It's a time period ripe with potential for the fantasy writer.

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

Answer: I view my books as Jane Austen meets Harry Potter, so I took JK Rowling's world as a starting point for the magic system, and given that she is an avid Jane Austen reader, it makes a certain sense. There's a lovely whimsy to her magic alongside the darkness of her wizarding world. I've tried to achieve a similar balance. I've also taken the idea that you either have magic or you don’t, though I've not gone so far as to steal the word Muggle.

Much of my Regency Magic world came from a need to adhere to Regency customs. For example, I devised the Corridor of Doors (which allows sorcerers and sorceresses to travel quickly through London) because I wanted to get Mary from one part of London to another without drawing too much attention to her as a young woman wandering about alone. A few of the spells I've devised involve the word "please" for politeness. I'm also conscious of the strict boundaries between social classes in the Regency period, so there are rules about servants performing magic—although some of my characters with servants rightly believe that it's ridiculous to legislate who can and cannot perform magic.

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

Answer: Goodness. That is a difficult choice. I suppose it depends on the day. Then again, most of my writing is actually not fantasy, and I tend to set my stories in the past, although only about thirty or forty years ago. I've set a lot of recent stories in the 1970s. I miss certain aspects of that period—especially the pace of life and the heaviness of certain objects, like telephones. Remember twirling the phone cord around your finger as you talked to your best friend? Or the brief satisfaction of slamming down the receiver? It's hard to get that with an iPhone. And without an iPhone, if you were lost, you had to consult a map (or atlas) or ask directions from an actual person. Perhaps I'm romanticizing the past, but I miss things like that.

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

Answer: As I mentioned above, I played Mary Bennet a few years ago, so I got to dress up in Regency clothes several times a week. As far as costumes go, it was really comfortable. I've also worn costumes for plays based later in the nineteenth century, which is less comfortable. The corset and the underskirt make things a bit difficult for a twenty-first century woman. But, to tell the truth, while I enjoy visiting the past from time to time, I would not want to live there.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Journey to Munich by Jaqueline Winspear
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: March 29th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Working with the British Secret Service on an undercover mission, Maisie Dobbs is sent to Hitler’s Germany in this thrilling tale of danger and intrigue—the twelfth novel in Jacqueline Winspear’s New York Times bestselling “series that seems to get better with each entry” (Wall Street Journal).

It’s early 1938, and Maisie Dobbs is back in England. On a fine yet chilly morning, as she walks towards Fitzroy Square—a place of many memories—she is intercepted by Brian Huntley and Robert MacFarlane of the Secret Service. The German government has agreed to release a British subject from prison, but only if he is handed over to a family member. Because the man’s wife is bedridden and his daughter has been killed in an accident, the Secret Service wants Maisie—who bears a striking resemblance to the daughter—to retrieve the man from Dachau, on the outskirts of Munich.

The British government is not alone in its interest in Maisie’s travel plans. Her nemesis—the man she holds responsible for her husband’s death—has learned of her journey, and is also desperate for her help.

Traveling into the heart of Nazi Germany, Maisie encounters unexpected dangers—and finds herself questioning whether it’s time to return to the work she loved. But the Secret Service may have other ideas. . . ."

Ohhh, new Maisie Dobbs, can not wait. 

Britghton Belle by Sara Sheridan
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: March 29th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
""Great fun. The world needs Mirabelle's feistiness, intelligence, and charm." --James Runcie, author of the Grantchester mysteries

In post-World War II England, former Secret Service operative Mirabelle Bevan becomes embroiled in a new kind of intrigue…

1951: In the popular seaside town of Brighton, it's time for Mirabelle Bevan to move beyond her tumultuous wartime years and start anew. Accepting a job at a debt collection agency seems a step toward a more tranquil life.

But as she follows up on a routine loan to Romana Laszlo, a pregnant Hungarian refugee who's recently come off the train from London, Mirabelle's instincts for spotting deception are stirred when the woman is reported dead, along with her unborn child.

After encountering a social-climbing doctor with a sudden influx of wealth and Romana's sister, who seems far from bereaved and doesn't sound Hungarian, Mirabelle decides to dig deeper into the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death. Aided by her feisty sidekick--a fellow office worker named Vesta Churchill ("no relation to Winston," as she explains)--Mirabelle unravels a web of evil that stretches from the Brighton beachfront to the darkest corners of Europe. Putting her own life at risk, she must navigate a lethal labyrinth of lies and danger to expose the truth."

Um, what doesn't scream me about this book?

London Rain by Nicola Upson
Published by: Harper Paperbacks
Publication Date: March 29th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Intrepid writer and amateur sleuth Josephine Tey returns in this sixth installment of Nicola Upson’s popular series—perfect for fans of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Jaqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs—that unfolds in 1930s London as England prepares to crown a new king.

London, 1937. Following the gloomy days of the abdication of King Edward VIII, the entire city is elated to welcome King George. Just one of the many planned festivities for the historic coronation is a BBC radio adaptation of Queen of Scots, and the original playwright, Josephine Tey, has been invited to sit in on rehearsals.

Soon, however, Josephine gets wrapped up in another sort of drama. The lead actress has been sleeping with Britain’s most venerable newsman, Anthony Beresford—and his humiliated wife happens to work in the building. The sordid affair seems to reach its bloody climax when Beresford is shot to death in his broadcasting booth at the deafening height of the coronation ceremony.

Josephine’s dear friend, Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose, has the case wrapped up before long. But when a second, seemingly related murder throws Penrose for a loop, it falls to Josephine to unravel a web of betrayal, jealousy, and long-held secrets… caught all the while in a love triangle of her own making.

Charming and provocative, thick with the atmosphere of prewar England, London Rain is a captivating portrait of a city on the edge—and an unforgettable woman always one step ahead of her time."

I would be lying if I said that Mick Wiggins artwork didn't draw me to both Winspear and Upson... so glad his amazing artwork helped find some great books. Also two new covers in one week, graphic designer swoon!

The Lost Cases of Bryant and May: London's Glory by Christopher Fowloer
Published by: Random House LLC
Publication Date: March 29th, 2016
Format: Kindle
To Buy

The official patter:Arthur Bryant and John May of the Peculiar Crimes Unit are London’s craftiest and bravest detectives—and there’s no better pair to solve the city’s most confounding crimes. In this riveting eBook collection of mystery short stories, available together for the first time, Christopher Fowler takes Bryant and May on a series of twisting adventures and brings readers behind the scenes of his beloved novels.

Includes a preview of Christopher Fowler’s new Peculiar Crimes Unit mystery, Bryant & May and the Burning Man!

In “Bryant & May in the Field,” a woman is found with her throat slashed in a snowy park, yet the killer managed to escape without leaving any footprints. In “Bryant & May and the Nameless Woman,” a businessman drowns in the pool of a posh club, and the only suspect is a young woman who remains almost too calm during questioning. And in “Bryant & May Ahoy!” the pair go on holiday on a friend’s yacht in Turkey, but Bryant realizes there’s something fishy about their fellow passengers. From London’s grandest mansions to its darkest corners, from the Christmas department of Selfridges to a sinister traveling sideshow, there’s no scene too strange for the Peculiar Crimes Unit and the indefatigable detectives at its helm."

I would comment on the book if I wasn't soo obsessed with figuring out where I've seen that type before... grumble grumble... must figure it out. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Book Review - Marissa Doyle's Courtship and Curses

Courtship and Curses (Leland Sisters Book 3) by Marissa Doyle
Published by: Square Fish
Publication Date: August 7th, 2012
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Sophie spent years dreaming of what it would be like to have her first season in London. Needless to say her daydreams were nothing like the reality her life has become. When the illness came no one could have guessed the toll it would take on the Rosier family. Sophie lost her mother, her sister, and the assurance of two strong limbs holding her up. She is now crippled and must rely on a cane to support her. Therefore spending months in ballrooms unable to dance escorted by her aunts isn't exactly what she hoped for. That doesn't even take the rumors into account. The fact that the ton has somehow gotten it into it's collective consciousness that she is some kind of malformed freak that can't string two words together, let alone form a sentence, is galling. At least if they see her their misconceptions should be fixed, shouldn't they? But for all that Sophie has endured nothing has cut her to the quick more than the loss of her magic. The illness that ravaged her body also took away what was most precious and secret to her. What's worse is that she has no one to turn to. Her mother taught her in secret, and with her mother gone who can she trust?

Soon Sophie's lack of magic is a major worry. Her father, Lord Lansell, is almost the victim of a tragic accident. The almost had nothing to do with Sophie but with the dashing Lord Woodbridge. In fact Sophie only made matters worse. But soon another "accident" leads Sophie to a startling discovery, many members of the War Office have been "attacked" in these seemingly random ways. Could a French Spy be using magic in order to undermine the British war effort against Napoleon? If this is the case Sophie needs her magic back more then ever! But protecting her father isn't the only thing occupying her time. Lord Woodbridge won't leave her alone. Sure she could see herself prior to her deformity falling for such a man, but that was before. What could he see in her now? As for his cousin Parthenope and her parakeet Hester, they have quickly become Sophie's trusted allies. So why can she trust Parthenope but can't trust her feelings for Lord Woodbridge? It is all too confusing and she really needs her mother. But perhaps Sophie will realize that even with a cane she can stand on her own two feet and make a contribution to the world.

This is THE Regency Magic book you've been waiting for in Marissa Doyle's series. While the first two books were lovely, being set during the time of Victoria they weren't so much Regency and therefore had a different, if still magical, writing style. Courtship and Curses though is all Regency all the time! Tangentially relating to the previous Leland sisters book by following Pen and Persy's mother, Parthenope, and her first season, there's a moral formal, more Jane Austen air to the writing that some people might find too stylized but which I reveled in. There's just something magical about books set during the Regency, whether they contain magic or not. Personally I would never want to do "the season" and as for paying house calls everyday? Spare me now. It's a world that I wouldn't ever necessarily want to live in, yet somehow these books about bygone days of balls and manners just draw me in. Now I don't want you thinking I'm not a connoisseur of this style, because I am. It takes a special kind of author and story to whisk me away and Marissa Doyle did an admirable job of providing me with the cheapest kind of time travel around.

Being fully back in the Regency means that we get war and Wellington. I kid you not that Wellington is one of my favorite characters to be portrayed fictionally. He was such a symbol of the time and such a lightning rod for the war with France that I seriously just want him at every ball being boisterous and opinionated. Of course I always picture Wellington as Stephen Fry from Blackadder and that doesn't hurt. But Marissa Doyle doesn't just use Wellington as a signifier for the war with France or even for comedic purposes, she uses him to show the actual danger that the war represents and also as a sort of catalyst for Sophie to embrace herself and her magic. This entire volume actually serves to remind us of the dangers of life during wartime. In the previous volumes everything that occurred was building to one great and dangerous event that would change everything. Here there is constant peril for members of the War Office. Attack after attack after attack. It's not that it just ups the suspense, it's that you feel the danger more. This isn't your typical Jane Austen with balls and courting, with officers only entering to show off their lovely uniforms. I would say that Marissa Doyle captures more of what Thackeray did with Vanity Fair. The harsh reality versus the rose-tinted glasses.

One of the harsh realities of war is prejudice. Of course this is something our heroine Sophie has had to face with her deformity. But during a war prejudice is pretty much universally shifted to the country that you are fighting, in this instance France. There are two prominent French characters in Courtship and Curses, Madame Carswell, the widow of Lord Lansell's oldest and dearest friend, and a confidant to Sophie, and the Comte de Carmouche-Ponthieux, a lost love of Sophie's Aunt Molly. Madame Carswell more than the Comte is the subject of much gossip, not just because she's French, but because she's a threat to those older women who want to get their claws into Lord Lansell. Sophie is wonderful in that she stands by her friends. She has known the evil glares of others and tries to protect those who protect her. Yet what I find most interesting is that in one of these two instances her trust actually isn't justified. Prejudices form for a reason, no matter how stupid, and while we should always fight it, sometimes, just sometimes the reason for them rears it's ugly head. And I like that Marissa Doyle doesn't make it so clear cut, because that isn't the way of the world. Not everyone we prejudge is deserving of exoneration, just as we should try to be less prejudiced. Life is full of these contradictions and to have both innocence and guilt shown goes to the heart of life's messiness. Plus, manipulating our prejudices does keep a story going.

Yet the heart of this book is Sophie. What really struck me about this book is that Sophie is a very different type of heroine. With her deformity she has a very different vantage point from anyone else. It's not just that she's more passive in society being relegated to the sidelines of the ballrooms and therefore sees more, it's that the way people viewed deformities during this time was so different that it would be so easy to think badly of yourself. Because deformities were thought to outwardly show an inner malignancy. That obviously Sophie's foot was because she had something very wrong with her, not that she was the victim of a serious illness she couldn't control, despite being a witch. Now most authors would use this set up to give us a "teaching moment" on what it means to be broken and to willingly accept our limitations, or how to overcome this, but thankfully that isn't what Marissa Doyle does at all. Instead we are shown Sophie's very real struggle and her inner turmoil that asks how can we be strong when we think ourselves crippled in mind or in body? Because it isn't the affliction it's the attitude that is important. So while we are "taught" that a positive attitude can overcome anything, we aren't "taught" it with a stick.

This goes even deeper when you look at the "good" and the "bad" people that surround Sophie. Being brought out in society by her Aunts, Sophie's Aunt Isobel is always telling her how lucky she'll be to get a second son with no prospects because of what she is. It's never about WHO she is, but WHAT. I can't help thinking about the analogy of being overweight. I was told my entire life that I was overweight. Looking back at pictures when I was younger I wasn't overweight in the least, yet I believed it. I believed it so much that I developed the mindset that this was something that would never change and therefore what I ate and how I took care of myself didn't matter and I did become overweight as a result. But I don't think that way anymore, or at least I try not to, and it's because of my friends. It's about surrounding yourself with good people, people who see who you are. People who boost you up and not drag you down. That is what Madame Carswell, Parthenope, and Lord Woodbridge do for Sophie. They make her realize that she is special. That she isn't defined by some outward feature that people can point at and laugh. That is why her magic returns. That and a stern talking to by Wellington. Sophie's magic is basically her self-esteem. She learns to love herself and therefore she is powerful. Now that is something we all need to remember!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book Review - Marissa Doyle's Betraying Season

Betraying Season (Leland Sisters Book 2) by Marissa Doyle
Published by: Henry Holt and Co
Publication Date: September 29th, 2009
Format: Hardcover, 330 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Penelope feels that she not only let her twin sister down but her heroine Queen Victoria as well. Sure, she was there when Victoria was saved, but the special commendation belongs to her twin Persy and Persy alone. Pen feels like a fraud. And that is why she's in Ireland. It wasn't just that she felt like a third wheel at home with her sister in a constant state of connubial bliss with her new husband. It's that Pen has neglected her magical studies and now is the time to fix this shortfall. If she had tried harder before perhaps she could have actually helped Persy when she needed her help and deserved the commendation bestowed on her by Victoria. So Pen has followed her governess Ally to Ireland and Ally's new home in Cork with her husband. Only Ally is experiencing a common result of getting married and her horrific morning sickness, which seems to last all day, has led to Ally's father-in-law, Doctor Carrighar, taking over Pen's education. Despite how much she wants to better herself, being locked up all day studying, at times with four male students of Doctor Carrighar's who don't appreciate the presence of a female, can be tiring.

But Cork isn't London and Pen convinces Ally to let her run errands. Alone. When she's out one day she fatefully and almost fatally runs into Lady Keating. Lady Keating takes Pen under her wing and soon becomes the female role model Pen is so desperately missing with Ally being laid up and Persy a country away. It doesn't hurt that Lady Keating's son, Niall, isn't hard on the eyes. But then again, Niall is rumored to be the illegitimate son of Queen Victoria's uncle, the Duke of Cumberland. The Duke might not be liked, but he does have the looks, the looks of Niall. The Duke is also at the heart of a plan being concocted by Lady Keating, who just happens to be a sorceress. Due to unforeseen circumstances Lady Keating's plan to get ride of Queen Victoria and install the Duke on the throne has a hitch. She needs a third witch, preferably family, to help invoke the power of the Triple Goddess to get her spell to work. To this end Lady Keating orders Niall to court Pen, whose magical abilities she has recognized. But when does duty to his mother become true love for Penelope? With secrets upon secrets and broken allegiances can anyone get a happy ending? And more importantly, can Pen earn the commendation Queen Victoria gave her?

In Marissa Doyle's first book in this series, Bewitching Season, I felt such a strong connection to Persy and her bookish ways that I quite honestly didn't think I would be able to connect to Pen. Through the filter of Persy's story Pen seemed the epitome of the girly girl of the time, more concerned with couture and a debutante's lifestyle than education and books. Cutting Pen off from her delightful family, and in particular her little brother Charles, seemed a sure way to get me to tune out. Of course I was totally wrong. Pen didn't so much change throughout her sister's adventure as had her eyes opened and Betraying Season is the result of this new knowledge. Yes, I could say that it's because the sisters did a "Parent Trap" and switched situations, with Pen becoming the bookish one, but that isn't it at all. What it is is that we get to see Pen's struggle as she tries to change, as she tries to do better, to be better, and this is a struggle which we can all relate to. And her change isn't overnight, while she does buckle down and commit to studying, she still longs for and misses society and the season she gave up to improve herself. This is what works so well, we constantly see Pen struggling to balance this new life of the mind with her old life of leisure that Lady Keating seems to initially represent; and it's in this struggle that we finally relate to Pen.

The love story is also of a different ilk. Persy quite literally fell for the boy next door in Lochinvar. Their romance was sweet and destined and full of misunderstandings, but was always a given. We, as the readers, weren't there on this journey from the beginning, we came in once it was already set in stone. Bewitching Season was more about the consummation than the journey. Which is where Pen and Niall come in. We get to follow their budding romance every step of the way, from initial attraction to happily ever after. There's a different kind of magic finding someone when you least expect it and connecting and building a bond and overcoming obstacles. By seeing their entire romance unfold we can never be certain that the HEA is guaranteed. There's more fluidity to the outcome by not having it so fated as Persy and Lochinvar were. Plus, there's wonderful misunderstandings that crop up because these two people haven't known each other their whole life. I think this is best exemplified by Niall's hair-brained scheme to "save" Pen from his mother's machinations. The entire time you're thinking, why didn't Niall just tell Pen what was going on? But that's the fun of this book. They're new to each other so they will misstep, and sometimes those missteps are hilarious in their absurdity.

As for Lady Keating being the big bad... I kind of seriously adored her. Persy was facing a foe who was all about his power hungry machinations, whereas Lady Keating is actually far more complex. She's not just evil, but she's definitely not good. She seriously wants what is best for her son, but doesn't bother to ask him. She assumes that her desires for power and fame are aligned with her sons. But Niall isn't that way inclined. In this way I view her as a very Norma Bates character, because she's trying to do what's best for her son but in the only way she knows how. And of course that way is entirely the wrong way to do it. But underneath this veneer she has created she's far more complex than you'd think. She is obviously a woman who is looking for someone to connect to. She doesn't care about her husband or her daughter, because one was a convenience, the other wasn't skilled enough in magic to provide any interest. She "loves" Niall because he is a link to the one person she did connect with, the Duke of Cumberland. But it is in her relationship with Pen that we see all her different layers. She obviously has longed for someone magical to connect with and one wonders, if she had had this in her life earlier, would she be the villain? I honestly don't think she would be, and that human side is what makes her so deliciously complicated.

What I really sunk my teeth into here was the expansion of the magical system that Marissa Doyle had previously set up. Ireland has an entirely different feel, magically speaking, and this contrast helps Pen become as adept as her sister, but in a unique way. There are many methods of teaching these varying magics, and I think it really shows how people, even twins, learn differently and connect to subjects in distinctive ways. This "Other" magic very much ties into the very fiber of what it is to be Irish and their myths and legends. The Fairy realm, the Triple Goddess, all of it ties into what makes Ireland so distinctive. I can't help but think of the Irish Fest I used to attend every summer in Milwaukee. Even though it was many many miles away from the homeland, there was a magic to the storytelling and the music and the community. There's just something inherent to the culture of Ireland that encourages this belief in the possibility of magic and Marissa Doyle has tapped into it in this volume. She has made magic even more believable and that's why I, and perhaps even Pen, were able to make this connection that we didn't think was possible.

The magic just doesn't stop at enchantments, but goes further into the bestiary, the "creatures" of Ireland and the magical world. Adding magical creatures into a series that previously had no mention of them is a tricky thing. The main problem that us readers face is the suspension of disbelief. This suspension is often hampered by making the creatures too comical. A funny creature doesn't lend itself to credulity, most of the time. Yet once again Marissa Doyle comes out on top. She introduces the creatures, in particular Corkwobble the clurichaun, which for some reason my spell check actually recognizes as a form of leprechaun, in a very matter of fact way. And this is what makes it work. My paternal grandmother was 100% Irish, though not born there, and she talked about ghosts and creatures, in particular Pookas, as totally existing. I grew up believing in these creatures and nothing will ever shake my belief because when a little old lady sits you down and says it's just the way of the world and sure, you'll see ghosts, there's something so matter of fact that you just accept it. And that is what this book does, it's the way of the world for Pen and Pen just goes with it. And what better way to have an adventure then to be at Pen's side?

Monday, March 21, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke
Published by: Dial Books
Publication Date: March 22nd, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The intrigue of The Raven Boys and the "supernatural or not" question of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer coalesce in this young adult mystery, where nothing is quite as it seems, no one is quite who you think, and everything can change on a dime.

Every story needs a hero.

Every story needs a villain.

Every story needs a secret.

Wink is the odd, mysterious neighbor girl, wild red hair and freckles. Poppy is the blond bully and the beautiful, manipulative high school queen bee. Midnight is the sweet, uncertain boy caught between them. Wink. Poppy. Midnight. Two girls. One boy. Three voices that burst onto the page in short, sharp, bewitching chapters, and spiral swiftly and inexorably toward something terrible or tricky or tremendous.

What really happened?

Someone knows.

Someone is lying.

For fans of Holly Black, We Were Liars, and The Virgin Suicides, this mysterious tale full of intrigue, dread, beauty, and a whiff of something strange will leave you utterly entranced."

Yes, picking a book because it's booked "like" others we like might not be wise... but look at that cover! I want!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Book Review - Marissa Doyle's Bewitching Season

Bewitching Season (Leland Sisters Book 1) by Marissa Doyle
Published by: Henry Holt and Co
Publication Date: April 29th, 2008
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Persephone and Penelope Leland are about to come out in society. Though Persy would rather not. She is convinced that she will somehow embarrass herself and her twin sister Pen when being presented to the Queen and therefore ruin Pen's chances of a great match. So it's much better Persy just stays at home, in the country, for the rest of her life, and studies magic. London only holds one lure for Persy, and that's Princess Victoria. Princess Victoria is a heroine to the twins. Not only will Victoria be the next queen, but she shares their birthday. And if Persy is truly honest with herself, London has another lure; Lochinvar Seton. Lochinvar grew up near the Leland's estate and they have always been close. Ever since Persy and Lochinvar found a shared love of reading Persy's heart was forever lost to him.

But London holds more worries for Persy than tripping in front of the Queen, her beloved governess and magical tutor Ally has gone missing. This is so unlike Ally that the twins and even their little brother Charles are worried. Even Ally's family don't know what to make of this shocking situation. Sadly shopping for gowns and matching shoes take up way too much time and the search for Ally is continually postponed. Yet as the day of Princess Victoria's birthday draws closer Persy discovers that the Princess is the target of a dangerous plot using Ally and her magical abilities. Will Persy be able to save her heroine, Ally, and get the man of her dreams? Whatever happens it will be a season to remember.

I rarely draw comparisons between books by different authors because all writing is so unique and different. Yet comparisons can be useful in trying to convince someone to pick up a book. Or even, in that most drastic of circumstances, to get someone to avoid a book. So while I hesitate in this review to point out that there is a definite Lauren Willig vibe about this book, the other part of me goes, but it must be said! If you're a follower of my blog you know how much I love Lauren's writing. I think I've convinced you all of that by now. The reason I feel this vibe in Bewitching Season isn't so much to do with the writing style, the London ton, or anything really logical, other then a deep connection with the characters. The reason I love Lauren Willig's books is this connection I feel to her characters. I don't just want to know what happens in all their lives, I NEED to know. I feel what they feel, I love what they love.

I become insanely worried about these characters that are fictional to other people but to me are old friends. Despite never reading anything my Marissa Doyle previously I felt this connection. I felt like I was visiting old friends. I felt as if I've known Persy my whole life. She is SO like me, we're kindred spirits. She's bookish and doesn't like large gatherings, preferring studies over balls, oh how I can relate! Yet she's drawn into this glitzy world just for the hope of seeing Victoria! Just replace Victoria with I don't know, David Tennant, and that's me in a nutshell. With all the mix ups and crossed signals, my heart was breaking with worry that things wouldn't work out. And that's the greatest gift a writer can give, to make you care so much that you don't believe the happily ever after is guaranteed.

I can not stress enough the importance of a good relatable heroine. Shy bookish girls, come to me! But what is great about Persy and Pen is that we're getting a one-two punch. I thought at first that it would be gimmicky having twins, but instead I really liked how this played out. Because outwardly they are the same, but inwardly, and especially to Lochinvar, they are so very very different. Everyone in the ton kind of views them as curios, yet they are so complex. While we spend the most time with Persy, her being the primary heroine, it's interesting to see the contrast with Pen, who wanted all that Persy didn't. Yet Pen isn't all she seems as well. Yes, she wanted nothing more than to have the perfect season, but instead of looking for her own happiness, she is secretly trying to secure her sisters. Complicating matters further is Persy becoming, not secretive, but self-reflective and not sharing her secrets with Pen.

The divide that opens up and is eventually sealed between the sisters is a right of passage for anyone who has a close friend or sibling who you grew distant from. There's just so much that I relate to that I want to just take these girls out for a night of magical fun. Returning to Lochinvar, can I just say how perfect he is for Persy? Despite his good looks, he's literally a spaz. He loves learning, and schooling, and books, and damn, that really is the perfect man now isn't it? The only character that worried me was Charles. Precocious younger siblings or relations can easily mean the death of a good story. They are the bane of everyone, especially the Brady Bunch. But somehow Charles walks the fine line between overly cute and annoyance just perfectly. It doesn't hurt that he actually wants to help and that his suggestions often are very useful.

But just having a bunch of great characters wandering around does not make for a good book. There needs to be a story, a narrative that is equal to the characters. While I have always loved Historical Fiction, the lure of living in another time, it's always a more satisfying read when there's that hint of history. The merging of fact and fiction elevates a story to a new level. It's not just about the setting, but about the reality it imbues the narrative with, even in a magical world it gives it a good grounding. Here the story is entwined with Queen Victoria's rise to power. I have to admit I have a strong fondness for the young Victoria, and no, it has nothing to do with the Julian Fellowes movie of that name. I have a fondness for the miniseries Fellowes so blatantly ripped off, Victoria and Albert, staring another Victoria, Victoria Hamilton, and the lesser Firth, Jonathan.

The struggles with her mother and Sir John Conroy that were brought to the small screen here crackle with the same animus, but with an otherworldly threat to the young Victoria. It's like the idea of Queen Elizabeth's adviser, John Dee, actually having magical powers and using them, but brought forward to Victorian times. Seriously, I was insanely happy about these magical underpinnings being logically placed in a historical context. Merging characters I loved and bringing historical figures I love and making them into flesh and blood people interacting with these characters, oh yes, I am a happy girl. And oddly, what made me happiest was the little detail that Victoria did a drawing of her dog Dash. It's always the little things that help inform the bigger picture.

Though in the end it comes down to magic. Does this book actually use magic well? The answer is damn right it does! As Marissa mentions in her profile post she loves "starting out with history and then layering magic in underneath it, I tend to prefer real-world historical settings where magic is secret and known only to a few, rather than alternate history where magic is an accepted part of the world." This is an interesting take, because usually, at least in most Regency Magic books, magic is known about and regulated, yet here, here it is a secret. So what's delicious about this idea is that this could conceivable be what really happened! Yes, Marissa is stating that just perhaps a Regency was averted and Victoria became Queen unimpeded due to magic. It's a wonderful idea isn't it? That magic is all around us but we're just not away of it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Marissa Doyle

Marissa Doyle was raised in a family of readers, which just might be a prerequisite for becoming a writer, I haven't looked into that. Growing up in Massachusetts, where she still lives, she has an affinity for the ocean and is happiest near or on the water, sailing Cape Cod. Being raised in Massachusetts means being steeped in this countries history, I mean, have you been to Boston? This might have a lot to do with her love of the past. In fact it was history, not writing, that she majored in in college, getting a degree in history and archaeology at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. Somehow she got distracted after graduation and the history she studied and the non-fiction she stills reads is now to inform her own writing of historical YA and fantasy for all ages. One piece of advice she's learned in her varied career is that "quite often, real life is far stranger and more wondrous than any fiction." It's these little oddities combined with real people and places that makes Marissa's writing stand out among typical Regency Genre fare.

While she's known for her writing, writing isn't all she does, being a wife and mother to children both human and fluffy bunny shaped. Marissa is also into collecting 19th century fashion prints. And if you love fashion, there's a pretty good chance you're into sewing of some kind. Marissa has "a strong drive to create, so when I'm not writing I'm quilting or knitting or needle-pointing or reupholstering furniture or sewing." I've always wanted to learn quilting, do you think Marissa might have time to teach me? Then again, I don't want to take her away from her writing... or her bunnies... As for the more clothing side of sewing, she's a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, which helps lend her books a veracity that sometimes is sadly lacking when the author doesn't even know what a Regency silhouette looks like. As for her "surprising fact" about the comfort of corsets (see below) I do agree they can be comfortable... thus again adding to the historical truth that her books hold. But enough from me, let's hear from Marissa.

Question: When did you first discover Jane Austen?

Answer: I read my first Austen in my mid-teens...and it wasn’t Pride and Prejudice. I loved (still do!) old books, and found a very small leatherbound volume of Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion in a used bookstore. Persuasion is still tied with Pride and Prejudice as my favorite Austen. Oh, I did try P and P as a much younger girl, and couldn’t get past the beginning because I found Mrs. Bennett way too irritating. In my defense, I'll say that twelve-year-olds don’t always have the best-developed sense of irony.

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

Answer: I expect she would be both bemused and amused, and would lampoon herself quite mercilessly to Cassandra and Fanny.

Question: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Answer: A better question might be where don’t I get inspiration from. Everything is grist for the mill: historical factoids, random snippets of conversation, artwork, dreams, music, casual brainstorming...you never know where the kernel of a plot or character might come from. It's why I always have a notebook and pen everywhere--my purse, my car, my bedside table. The bedside table pen lights up, in case I need to write something down in the middle of the night.

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

Answer: I’m not sure it’s just the early 19th century—I think almost anything before 1945 (and the first nuclear bomb) meshes well with magic. Maybe because science didn’t have all the answers yet (not that it does now, but it’s trying hard) so there seemed to be more room for magic in the world. And because in the 19th century, there were still so many physical remains of earlier centuries that hadn’t fallen to the wrecking ball of “progress” and development—remains that might have contained more than just historical presence.

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

Answer: The magic in my books very much runs in families, and in the female line (with a few notable exceptions.) I like being able to give girls power in an era during which girls and women didn’t have many rights and privileges. And because I love starting out with history and then layering magic in underneath it, I tend to prefer real-world historical settings where magic is secret and known only to a few, rather than alternate history where magic is an accepted part of the world.

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

Answer: Oh, that is a cruel, cruel choice! I think I’m going to have to say fantasy literature, just because while I’ve got ideas for two or three straight historical novels, I’ve got ideas for many fantasy stories, with settings from completely made up worlds to the here and now (and a few historical periods other than the 19th century...would those count?)

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

Answer: You know what? I have been in entire ROOMS full of people dressed in Regency clothes doing that very thing. Not to mention Victorian clothes and medieval clothes. I met my husband in the Society for Creative Anachronism, for goodness’ sake. This totally doesn’t faze me. Surprising fact: Regency and even Victorian corsets can actually be very comfortable, because they offer excellent back support. All those old photographs you see of alarmingly straight-backed women? Don’t feel too sorry for them—underneath all those layers of clothing they were slouching against their corsets, which were doing the actual work of holding them up.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Winter Garden Mystery by Carola Dunn
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: March 15th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In England, 1923, The Honorable Daisy Dalrymple has made a decision that, while shocking to her class, is in perfect keeping with the spirit of the times. Rather than live with relatives until she marries, she has decided to make her own living with her writing. Her series of articles on country manor homes has proven to be a success, and she travels to Occles Hall to research her latest piece.

What she finds is a household under the thumb of the ill-tempered and demanding Lady Valeria. And the discovery of the body of a pregnant maid buried in the winter garden does nothing to improve Lady Valeria's mood. A young Welsh under-gardener is arrested for the crime but Daisy is sure of his innocence. Wary of the air of secrecy that permeates Occles Hall, Daisy convinces Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard to investigate further - a murder that is more complex and horrifying than either could have imagined."

While this is actually a re-release instead of a new book, it's a really good book! Plus, I'm tempted to get all these re-releases of Carola Dunn's series, because seriously, look at that cover art!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Book Review - Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown

Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal Book 1) by Zen Cho
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: September 1st, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 385 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Zacharias Wythe has succeeded to the post of Sorcerer Royal. A post he doesn't particularly want, which is about the only thing him and his fellow magicians agree on; they want Zacharias out. There was only one person in the world who thought Zacharias was capable of this lofty post, and Sir Stephen, his guardian and surrogate father, is dead but not quite gone. Sir Stephen was everything a Sorcerer Royal should be, in other words, not the wrong skin color, not a freed slave, and not without the aid of a familiar. But just because Zacharias doesn't want the position doesn't mean he won't do it to the best of his abilities, if just for Sir Stephen. Yet London is politically dangerous at the moment with the crown attempting to coerce the Sorcerer Royal into an untenable position and the magicians trying to hide the fact that magic is waning. Zacharias knows full well that his unwillingness to help the government is quite possibly the last straw before his fellow Unnatural Philosophers oust him under the pretext that it is his fault that magic is dying. So taking the advice of a dear friend he agrees to get out of town for a few days to give a talk at Mrs. Daubeney's School for Gentlewitches as well as to go to the border of fairy and see why England's magic is waning.

Miss Prunella Gentleman came to Mrs. Daubeney with her father as a young girl. In fact it was Mr. Gentleman's passing and Prunella's inherent magical abilities that led Mrs. Daubeney to form her school with the purpose of helping young gentlewitches to suppress their powers. Though Prunella has never been one of the "gentlewitches." The color of her skin and her debt to Mrs. Daubeney has made her a servant if not in name then in deed as she's taken care of the students and the school. Everything changes the day the Sorcerer Royal visits. It's not just the hurt inflicted by Mrs. Daubeney when she demotes Prunella, it's the secret she finds in the attic in an old valise that belonged to her father. A secret that could change Prunella's fortune and the course of English magic. Zacharias is beside himself at the school. England is languishing for lack of magic and yet here these young girls are brimming with more magic then they can handle; and then there's Prunella. Prunella does magic as easily as she breaths. Perhaps the Royal Society is wrong about banning women to work magic. Perhaps Zacharias's legacy as Sorcerer Royal will be a complete overhaul of magical education. Prunella wastes no time worming her way into Zacharias's life and when the two of them arrive in London, it is time for a reckoning. They will shake up the staid Regency and bring about change, whether they meant to or not.

The reason I became in thrall to Regency books with a magical bent is all down to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I can not nor will not be able to ever completely verbalize my love of that book. Yet my love for it isn't a blind love. I know the book is flawed. The characters aren't that likable, there isn't that much of a plot, and it reads more as a history text written in gorgeous prose than a story about flesh and blood people. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell lacks emotion. Not just in the staid way the story is told but in the way you connect to the characters. There is no emotional connection to Strange or Norrell. You feel sympathy for Stephen and Lady Pole, but there's no tugging of heartstrings. That is where Sorcerer to the Crown comes in a fills that void you didn't know you had. It's almost as if this book took the character we could connect to the most in Clarke's writing, Stephen, and gave him a new adventure. Stephen Black, the man who would be king, instead becomes Sorcerer Royal. Though while the first few chapters definitely owe a great debt to Susanna Clarke, as soon as Prunella shows up on the scene the book explodes into a life of it's own. One wonders if it was the lack of a strong female presence in Clarke's book, aside from the narrator, that might have hindered the emotional connection. Because there's something about Prunella that is so alive, so complex, that you can't help but connect to her on a deep emotional level, even if at times you totally disagree with some of her mercenary tactics. This in turn helps you to connect to Zacharias and every other character. You feel the love and hate and frustration of all these characters and you can not admit to yourself that it's going to be a very long wait for the next installment.

For as many authors as have tackled the idea of magic in the 19th century there have been as many different magic systems to govern them. Clarke went with a more male based "masculine" skill set, while Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamourist Histories embraced the "home" arts and focused more on magic as an art form. Here we get a lovely melding of the two. There are the Unnatural Philosophers who think they are doing great works while there are the more hedge witch like servant women who use magic to light fires and cure ills. So while we still have the societal separation of abilities based on gender we get to see how each gender handles that magic. Plus with Zacharias having his eyes opened by Prunella we see that going forward these two separate spheres of magic could merge. With Prunella we have a force of nature whose magic, while until now has been forced to be subservient to the domestic sphere, is now unfettered and out in the world where she doesn't see anything wrong with using her copious abilities to do what she pleases when she pleases. By being forced to abide by the rules for so long she sees that the rules, the boundaries, are irrelevant. Just throw the rule book out the window and see what you are capable of.

This is what I love about the book, that it's the outsiders that are the ones that see that magic is being unnecessarily restrained. The stuffy men in even stuffier rooms have been saying for centuries this is how it has always been done and will continue to be so. There can be no advancement of technique, no discoveries with an attitude like this. Therefore it isn't shocking that magic has been dwindling. Even taking out the fairy angle with regard to the bottling, look to the lack of familiars. There hasn't been a new familiar in so long that this fact is able to undermine Zacharias as Sorcerer Royal though it has nothing to do with him. Why would magic want to come to those who use it in the same boring ways since time immemorial? Magic comes to those who understand it and want to use it right. Look to Mak Grenggang from Janda Baik in Malaysia who is at the heart of Zacharias's problems with the British government. She is not only an unaccepted gender, but an unaccepted race as viewed by the Society's members, yet her magic can let her walk through fairy unmolested, give her wings, gain her access anywhere. Her magic is unrivaled. Because she is an outsider, she is "other" and therefore the only way forward. The three agents of change with regard to British magic are of different skin tone and two of them are women. Zacharias, Prunella, and Mak Grenggang are there to break the chains of magic and make it great once again.

What is most interesting about this book is that it gives us a different view then the traditional Jane Austen magical pastiche. In almost every single one of these books we are given a very Anglocentric view of the world. We see it through the eyes of Britain, and the political and magical challenges are all to do with the British Government and the war with France. To an extent this is to be expected because the key feature of the Regency period was England's ongoing war with Napoleon. But despite this fact there are other places and other people that aren't all white and from the upper classes. This was one of the angles I loved in Mary Robinette Kowal's series, which was explored even further in her final book in the series, Of Noble Family. In her writing we saw people that were different, we saw people representing different classes, different races, different genders. We saw that despite what the British upper classes would like you to believe, that the world is teaming with this other. I loved how Of Noble Family brought in how other magic systems worked and how learning magic from one culture is so confining. In Sorcerer to the Crown we not only see these different races, but we go further. With Mak Grenggang we have a link to the other side of the world, a link that plays into Prunella's past. We get a glimpse that not only is the magic different, but the myths and realities and monsters are not what those in the Western world would even like to dwell on. We are given a hint as to how big the world really is. A tiny little island might have controlled the world, but this shows that despite how England tried, it couldn't control the magic; and I for one can't wait to learn more about this magic.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Zen Cho

Zen Cho was born and raised in Malaysia where she read a lot of 19th century British and North American fiction. While not containing the dragons and spaceships she likes, the books did encapsulate an alien world "featuring strange people who spoke a different language, had mysterious, intricate social customs, and used outlandish technology like post-chaises and handkerchiefs." She now lives in London, lucky her, not that I'm jealous or anything. OK, I totally am. Zen has been nominated for a plethora of awards, the most notable being the Pushcart Prize. She was also honour-listed for the Carl Brandon Society Awards which is part of WisCon and seriously, if this means she was in Madison at some time and I missed her I'm going to be very sad. Dammit she was! And I totally had a ticket for that year but couldn't make it at the last minute. I am now very sad. Back to Zen... her debut novel Sorcerer to the Crown, the first in a historical fantasy trilogy, was published last year. It is awesome.

It is staggering the number of best lists and awards Sorcerer to the Crown is receiving, but once you read it you won't be surprised. Sorcerer to the Crown is the first book of 2016 that has literally blown me away. Currently Cho isn't a full time writer, she's a lawyer. I suspect that this might not be the case for long, which is totally my opinion not hers. But lawyers due tend to abandon ship for the literary world... just look at Lauren Willig. Aside from her first novel, she has also written a novella, The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, which I bought immediately upon finishing Sorcerer to the Crown. She also has a short story collection, Spirits Abroad, as well as being the editor of the anthology Cyberpunk: Malaysia. I can see a long career ahead for her; the only problem I see is that I found her at the beginning of her career so now I have an unendurable wait ahead for her next book! Which I really needed a few weeks ago. Like the second I finished Sorcerer to the Crown.

Question: When did you first discover Jane Austen?

Answer: I was around 12 years old – an impressionable age!

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

Answer: I suspect she'd be delighted, amazed – but also, secretly, not really surprised. I think most authors who are really good know it, even if that conviction is accompanied by the usual self-doubt and neurosis.

Question: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Answer: From everything, but mostly stories – the stories I read and watch, but also those I hear from friends and family and see in the news.

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

Answer: When you come to novels and letters from the 19th century as a modern reader, the world they contain may as well be a fantasy world, it's so different from ours. I think SFF readers and writers are drawn to that aspect of 19th century Britain as a setting: it's such a complete alternative society with its own history, social norms and technology, and it's one that is familiar to many people worldwide, since the literature of Britain's Georgian and Victorian eras have had enormous global reach due to imperialism. The focus on the early 19th century specifically, the Regency period, I think to some extent is bleedover from the Regency romance subgenre.

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

Answer: For Sorcerer to the Crown I was really much more interested in magic as a bone of contention than anything else – a resource to be quarrelled over. The worldbuilding went primarily into the power structures surrounding magic. So the chief antagonists are the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, an ancient body of magicians who are very cross about anyone they don't approve of having access to magic, and Fairyland, which is mad at Britain for various reasons.

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

Answer: Fantasy. You can interpret any period of history you like through the lens of fantasy, so I wouldn't really be giving anything up!

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

Nope! If I'd lived in Britain at the time I doubt I would have had anything particularly nice to wear.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Book Review - Patricia Briggs's Fire Touched

Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 8th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

The Fae have an interesting way of showing their displeasure. They disappeared into their reservations and have slowly been letting their more dangerous monsters into the world just to hint at what they could do, given the motivation. One of those monsters happens to be attacking the Cable Bridge which spans the Columbia River, right smack in the middle of the Colombia River Basin Pack's territory. Mercy and Adam's pack. The pack stops the troll, at the cost of the bridge, but luckily not at the cost of any lives. It is obvious that the Fae need to be brought to heel, and at just the right moment Tad and Zee walk back into Mercy's life perhaps with the answer. They have brought with them a young boy Aiden. Or at least Aiden was young once before the Fae and Underhill took him and played with him for perhaps centuries. He is now Fire Touched, but more importantly a link to Underhill. If there's anything the Fae want above all else it's to reestablish their link to Underhill and it's magics. The Fae want Aiden and Mercy has Aiden. Perhaps an agreement can be reached? But the Fae never play fair and attempt to take the boy by force, but Mercy has pledged the pack's protection, even at the risk to their own lives. Yet Aiden himself is dangerous and therefore negotiations are eventually opened. As Mercy and Adam journey into the realm of the Fae they will be lucky to survive whatever underhanded tricks might be headed their way, but a successful outcome could be a boon to all.

I feel like I've started my reviews for the last few Patricia Briggs books talking about the harsh realities of long running series and how some of the books just won't be as good as others. You're being judged against your best and therefore if you stumble, well, your book might be a higher rating for another author, but not for you. And it's not that I haven't liked continuing on these adventures with characters I view as my friends, I just haven't enjoyed the ride as much with these last few forays. The apex for me in recent years was 2011's River Marked. The reason that this book stands out is because the narrative was streamlined. There are a lot of characters inhabiting Mercy's world, some have even gotten their own stories or series, so it's hard to get them all in on the action. With Frost Burned, Night Broken, and now with Fire Touched, Briggs seems determined to bring everyone by the Hauptmans house just to say hi. This is making the books unwieldy, with these drops ins compromising the time in the book that should be spent on plot development. I would rather the story have a solid groundwork than have Mercy baking brownies for the pack with orange oil. Between the knock down drag out fights and Fae politics, I didn't feel as if there was actually anything to this installment.

In fact, my major grip over the recent books is the increasing time spent on pack politics and Mercy's unsuitability as a mate for Adam. Firstly, I think Mercy has proven time and time again that she is more than capable of being the Alpha's mate of the Colombia River Basin Pack. Isn't that basically what every book is? Showing her suitability? Therefore to have these politics brought up again and again, it is really starting to fray my nerves and try my patience. When it was decreed in this book that there would be no more pack political infighting about Mercy I quite literally shouted for joy. The biggest hurtle in my enjoyment in these recent installment had been removed, and quickly replaced with Fae politics. I mean seriously? I feel like Mercy, can I never catch a break? To finally remove the politics only to have OTHER politics fill the void? Ugh, you have got to be kidding me. I feel that this is some kind of punishment. At the end of Fair Game when the Fae basically declared war on humanity, I was really excited to see how it would all play out. I was hoping for all out war and bloodshed. I should have taken into account that I was thinking from a very human perspective. The Fae don't operate in expected ways; and therefore, the politics have taken over.

Here's the thing about me and politics. I don't like them. I avoid them at all costs. And not just governmental politics, oh no, even petty academic politics drive me round the bend. Some of the worst moments of my life have to do with getting my BA in Theatre and the weekly tech meetings we had that were never about what we needed to do and all about the politics of the department. I was once literally brought to tears. As for governmental politics, well, yes, I am paying attention at the moment because this is an election year, but if this wasn't the case I'd be attempting to bury my head in the sand. Now why would I want to read about politics give how much I hate them? The answer is that I don't. As for otherworldly politics? I want to read about them even less. The politics have taken over this series and if this doesn't change I seriously don't know what I'm going to do. There wasn't really a plot, there was no suspense, and if it wasn't for the last forth of this book nothing would have happened at all. Yes, a book CAN be all about politics. Should it? Not if you want me to read it. And of course, I know this book wasn't written just for me, but I'm sure there are people out there with the same aversion to politics as me who just want a cracking good story.

And yes, that means I want a story. I want a plot. I want some sort of narrative that combines what is bound between the two covers into a whole. I don't want politics, fight scene, politics, fight scene, politics, fight fight fight. I am not a fan of the big budget movies because I do not want to watch a three hour fight. I remember all my friends going on and on about how good the second Captain America movie is. So I watched it; and I hated it. In fact hate might be too weak a word for my feelings. All that movie was was one action scene after another. The first Captain America movie was more my style, a period superhero movie with an actual plot. But the thing is, plot is becoming less and less important in this age of spectacle. This is why I have given up on Marvel movies. In fact almost any "blockbuster" movie in general. Mad Max: Fury Road... Mad Eliza: Where's the Plot. Fire Touched felt like it wanted to be a blockbuster movie opening up on the big fight scene that decimated the Cable Bridge. If you think I tune out watching a fight, I tune out even more reading about a fight, because something in me just doesn't care to visualize it. Something in me just doesn't give a damn. I always think of that Eddie Izzard bit when he's talking about car chases in books... it's not that they don't happen, it's that they rarely work.

The redeeming factor of this book is that more mystical aspect of the Fae: Underhill. Underhill is that most interesting of places. This is the only mystery of the book, and that's because the whole place is a mystery, shifting and reshaping itself like a living breathing entity. The journey Mercy, Adam, and Aiden undertake in this realm focuses what was hundreds of pages of politics and pugilism into a story I was interested in. Fae politics are boring, which almost seems impossible given how fascinating the Fae and their world can be given the right writer. This is what the whole book should have been! A journey taken through fairy to mend the rift between the magical and non-magical worlds so that we can move beyond the politics and onto something new. The whole book could have been this epic quest, heck Tolkien got a whole trilogy and then some out of a similar quest. Save the world by journeying through strange lands! The moment I think that this whole series clicked for me was the first time Zee brought Mercy to the reservation and in her coyote form she accidentally slipped into Underhill and was there in that mystical realm. This was a magical moment for me, realizing a had found a new series I loved. For a few minutes I found that initial love again and most of the flaws of this book were forgiven, if not forgotten. Hopefully.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 8th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Mercy Thompson has been hailed as “a heroine who continues to grow and yet always remains true to herself.”* Now she’s back, and she’ll soon discover that when the fae stalk the human world, it’s the children who suffer...

Tensions between the fae and humans are coming to a head. And when coyote shapeshifter Mercy and her Alpha werewolf mate, Adam, are called upon to stop a rampaging troll, they find themselves with something that could be used to make the fae back down and forestall out-and-out war: a human child stolen long ago by the fae.

Defying the most powerful werewolf in the country, the humans, and the fae, Mercy, Adam, and their pack choose to protect the boy no matter what the cost. But who will protect them from a boy who is fire touched?"

The highlight of every year, a new Patricia Briggs book! 

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: March 8th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 720 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Shadowhunters of Los Angeles star in the first novel in Cassandra Clare’s newest series, The Dark Artifices, a sequel to the internationally bestselling Mortal Instruments series. Lady Midnight is a Shadowhunters novel.

It’s been five years since the events of City of Heavenly Fire that brought the Shadowhunters to the brink of oblivion. Emma Carstairs is no longer a child in mourning, but a young woman bent on discovering what killed her parents and avenging her losses.

Together with her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, Emma must learn to trust her head and her heart as she investigates a demonic plot that stretches across Los Angeles, from the Sunset Strip to the enchanted sea that pounds the beaches of Santa Monica. If only her heart didn’t lead her in treacherous directions…

Making things even more complicated, Julian’s brother Mark—who was captured by the faeries five years ago—has been returned as a bargaining chip. The faeries are desperate to find out who is murdering their kind—and they need the Shadowhunters’ help to do it. But time works differently in faerie, so Mark has barely aged and doesn’t recognize his family. Can he ever truly return to them? Will the faeries really allow it?

Glitz, glamours, and Shadowhunters abound in this heartrending opening to Cassandra Clare’s Dark Artifices series."

I almost want to read this to see what season of Buffy she's ripping off now. Almost.

The Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum by Kirsten Weiss
Published by: Midnight Ink
Publication Date: March 8th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When Maddie Kosloski's career flatlines, she retreats to her wine-country hometown for solace and cheap rent. Railroaded into managing the local paranormal museum, she's certain the rumors of its haunting are greatly exaggerated. But a new ghost may be on the loose. A fresh corpse in the museum embroils Maddie in murders past and present.

With her high school bully as one of the officers in charge, Maddie doubts justice will be served. When one of her best friends is arrested, she's certain it won't be.

Maddie grapples with ghost hunters, obsessed taxidermists, and the sexy motorcyclist next door as outside forces threaten. And as she juggles spectral shenanigans with the hunt for a killer, she discovers there truly is no place like home."

Paranormal cozy heading your way!

Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal
Published by: Tor.com
Publication Date: March 8th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 96 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Katya deals in Authenticities and Captures, trading on nostalgia for a past long gone. Her clients are rich and they demand items and experiences with only the finest verifiable provenance. Other people’s lives have value, after all.

But when her A.I. suddenly stops whispering in her ear she finds herself cut off from the grid and loses communication with the rest of the world.

The man who stepped out of the trees while hunting deer cut her off from the cloud, took her A.I. and made her his unwilling guest.

There are no Authenticities or Captures to prove Katya’s story of what happened in the forest. You’ll just have to believe her."

Some new Mary Robinette Kowal to tide me over till her new book comes out this summer? Yes please!

Sisi by Allison Pataki
Published by: The Dial Press
Publication Date: March 8th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"For readers of Philippa Gregory, Paula McLain, and Daisy Goodwin comes a sweeping and powerful novel by New York Times bestselling author Allison Pataki. Sisi tells the little-known story of Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary, the Princess Diana of her time, in an enthralling work of historical fiction that is also a gripping page-turner.

Married to Emperor Franz Joseph, Elisabeth—fondly known as Sisi—captures the hearts of her people as their “fairy queen,” but beneath that dazzling persona lives a far more complex figure. In mid-nineteenth-century Vienna, the halls of the Hofburg Palace buzz not only with imperial waltzes and champagne but with temptations, rivals, and cutthroat intrigue. Feeling stifled by strict protocols and a turbulent marriage, Sisi grows restless. A free-spirited wanderer, she finds solace at her estate outside Budapest. There she rides her beloved horses and enjoys visits from the Hungarian statesman Count Andr├íssy, the man with whom she’s unwittingly fallen in love. But tragic news brings Sisi out of her fragile seclusion, forcing her to return to her capital and a world of gossip, envy, and sorrow where a dangerous fate lurks in the shadows.

Through love affairs and loss, dedication and defiance, Sisi struggles against conflicting desires: to keep her family together, or to flee amid the collapse of her suffocating marriage and the gathering tumult of the First World War. In an age of crumbling monarchies, Sisi fights to assert her right to the throne beside her husband, to win the love of her people and the world, and to save an empire. But in the end, can she save herself?

Featuring larger-than-life historic figures such as Bavaria’s “Mad King Ludwig” and the tragic Crown Prince Rudolf, and set against many of Europe’s grandest sites—from Germany’s storied Neuschwanstein Castle to England’s lush shires—Sisi brings to life an extraordinary woman and the romantic, volatile era over which she presided."

If you don't know who Sisi is, why are we even talking? Get thee to a bookstore!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Book Review - Gath Nix's Newt's Emerald

Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix
Published by: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: October 13th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

To celebrate Truthful Newtington's eighteenth birthday her father has invited the people she loves most in the world, her three cousins, Edmund, Stephen, and Robert, for a family dinner. The five of them have a wonderful repast where Truthful's father regales them with stories of his time at sea. Though his weather magic does accidentally bring on a real gale. Yet a small squall will soon be the least of their worries. While Truthful won't inherit the famous Newtington Emerald until she's in her twenties, her father brings it out from it's hiding place and they are all mesmerized by it's worth as a stone and it's power as a magical artifact. But the unthinkable happens and the emerald is stolen. Truthful's father is taken to bed and he blames the three young cousins. In an attempt to clear their names they vow to Truthful that they will solve this heist and restore her father's health. Frustrated that she can't go out into the world and try to find the emerald for herself Truthful concocts a plan. She was supposed to leave for her Great Aunt's house in London in a few weeks to be presented and have her first season. What if she just left a few weeks earlier and used that time to find the emerald? Dragging her begrudging maid Agatha along, Truthful has no idea of the adventures and dangers that await her in the thriving metropolis. With her Great Aunt's help they concoct a male identity for Truthful based on a distant relative so that she may move freely in the quest for the emerald. Truthful's alter ego soon has a compatriot, a Major Charles Harnett. Yet working with him so closely he's bound to find out the truth of her secret identity and her heart. Little does she know that no one is as they appear.

In his author's note Garth Nix freely admits that Newt's Emerald started out as a plot contrivance of another very different sort of book. I have to wonder if perhaps it should have stayed that way. It's like someone told him Regency sells really well and he went to his trunk and dusted off the skeletal remains of that previous book, forgetting that there's a reason trunk books stay in the trunk. Also, for a Regency book to sell, perhaps get the Regency right? Seriously, I CAN NOT stress this enough. If you are writing a period book, even if it's fantasy during a certain period, you need to know the societal conventions and mores so that IF you decide to break them you at least know that you are. Nix needed to spend more time actually doing research instead of re-reading all of Georgette Heyer and Patrick O'Brien. Or at least re-read all of Austen, instead of just a few. Austen wrote six books yet Nix had time to read all twenty-one books in the Aubrey-Maturin series? Not to mention all twenty-six Heyer Regency romances! I'm not slamming these books, it's just they are written after the fact by modern authors. To get an actual feel about the period read books from that period. There's more then one reason people revere Austen, and one is how she perfectly captures the time period in which she lived!

Or how about a reference book? What Jane Austen Ate and Who Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool will fix such glaring errors of Truthful being improperly addressed. She is the eldest, and in fact only daughter of Admiral Newtington and therefore should be addresses as Miss Newtington, never Miss Truthful, which anyone who read Pride and Prejudice should know! Jane Bennet is addressed as Miss Bennet because she is the oldest, while Elizabeth, being younger, is addressed as Miss Elizabeth Bennet. But that is if Truthful wasn't a peeress. Instead she should be addressed as Lady Truthful Newtington, NEVER drop that Newt! I mean you can find this by simply googling "how to address a lady in the regency period" and seeing as Nix seems too busy to even provide a full glossary for his readers and tells them to use google, well the LEAST he could do is abide by his own ruling. But this doesn't even come close to the faux pas of Truthful dancing with men she has never been introduced to! What heathen society is this I'm reading about. This is not good ton! And this doesn't even scratch the surface of the sartorial errors. Gloves in the house! Bonnets at the dinner table! You'd look ridiculous carrying a reticule from room to room in your own house! And has Nix EVER seen a Regency silhouette, voluminous skirts my eye! The waist doesn't drop till 1820 with the skirts not going wide till 1825!

But the glaring errors weren't my only problem with the book. The fact that it goes on overly long was one, which I thought might be fixed reading the original novella, PS, it wasn't, because it was exactly the same and I was basically tricked into reading this book twice. Also I might have been a little more forgiving of Nix's lackadaisical attitude to the Regency if he had bothered to create a world that was interesting. Or at least logical. Reading other reviews I saw time and time again that the number one criticism of this book for those who aren't Regency obsessives was the lack of a convincing system of magic. Worldbuilding is KEY no matter if you are tweaking an already extant world or creating a new one. But seeing as Nix couldn't even properly reflect reality how can he be expected to create an entirely new magic system? There's obviously fairies, but how do they figure in? Glamors are key but how exactly do physical charms break them? Then there's weather magic... so one might assume that there is elemental magic... just where does this come from? How is it used? You can't just drop things all over the place and not explain them. Is magic primarily in the upper classes? Is it exclusive to women or men or are they equal? Just something please. Some basic rules. Like focus on the elemental magic, go with that. Build on that. Just build something. ANYTHING! BUILD YOUR WORLD! And what's with the talking to animals?

If we strip away all the fripperies as Nix sees them, such as historical accuracy and worldbuilding, we are basically left with Twelfth Night. I've never been a big fan of girls dressing up as boys to go fight or save the family honor or protect themselves. It's always seemed cliched and unbelievable and most of all trite. Which is probably why I hate Shakespeare's Twelfth Night so much. It's entirely unbelievable to me that Viola could pass as Cesario. Therefore I don't believe that Truthful could pass as the Chevalier. Yes, they make a big to-do that this wouldn't work without that little bit of glamor, but seriously? Ugh. I know it's all about saving the family honor and being a hero, or heroine as the case would be, but it's just so played out. And the falling in love with the hero while in disguise, gag me now. When it came out that her "disguise" actually makes her look like her cousin Stephen, I almost banged by head against the wall. Damn you Shakespeare and Twelfth Night! This is a hackneyed story. This type of story is over, it's done. It should have been killed off in 1985 with the horrid movie Just One of the Guys. Yes, there might be someone out there who could bring some originality to it, but it's not Nix and it's definitely NOT Newt's Emerald.

What made me even more annoyed with the cross-dressing trope was that all the adults in Truthful's life seemed to be in the know and were indulging her with a wink and a nudge. Excuse me? Her guardians were indulging her impropriety and the possibility of her being ruined? It just seems too unlikely. This wasn't exactly a time when people shook their heads and said "kids will be kids." This was a time following a very harrowing war with danger still lurking in the shape of French foreign agents and well gosh darn it all, let Truthful risk her life if she's having some fun. While yes, the only character I actually liked in the book was Truthful's Great Aunt Ermentrude because while appearing respectable she really was an exotic and wild old doyenne who sat around with scimitars and wore fezzes, she made an effort to be conventional in the eyes of society. So while, yes, she herself might conceivably be a little indulgent in Truthful's behaviour, I really think she should be more concerned with her great niece's welfare and reputation. By the time Ermentrude and Charles's aunt, Lady Otterbrook, are conspiring to make a match of the two young ones they seem gleeful with innuendo and sly asides. This isn't the French Court before the revolution people! This is staid old England, and while it was more human than some history makes it, there's just no credibility in the version that Nix is presenting us. There is just annoyance and a lot of rage reading. Twice over in my case.

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