Monday, March 31, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Cavendon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: April 1st, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the #1 New York Times bestselling author comes an epic saga of intrigue and mystique set in Edwardian England. Cavendon Hall is home to two families, the aristocratic Inghams and the Swanns who serve them. Charles Ingham, the sixth Earl of Mowbray, lives there with his wife Felicity and their six children. Walter Swann, the premier male of the Swann family, is valet to the earl. His wife Alice, a clever seamstress who is in charge of the countess's wardrobe, also makes clothes for the four daughters. For centuries, these two families have lived side-by-side, beneath the backdrop of the imposing Yorkshire manor. Lady Daphne, the most beautiful of the Earl’s daughters, is about to be presented at court when a devastating event changes her life and threatens the Ingham name. With World War I looming, both families will find themselves tested in ways they never thought possible. Loyalties will be challenged and betrayals will be set into motion. In this time of uncertainty, one thing is sure: these two families will never be the same again.

Cavendon Hall is Barbara Taylor Bradford at her very best, and its sweeping story of secrets, love, honor, and betrayal will have readers riveted up to the very last page."

How could that description make me NOT buy this book?

Games Creatures Play by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner
Published by: Ace Hardcover
Publication Date: April 1st, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Welcome to the wide world of paranormal pastimes, where striking out might strike you dead. Editors Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner are your announcers for this all-new story collection of the most peculiar plays ever made…

Sports fans live and die by their teams’ successes and failures—though not literally. But these fourteen authors have written spirited—in more ways than one—new tales of killer competitions that would make even the most die-hard players ask to be benched.

In #1 New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris’s “The Blue Hereafter,” Manfred Bernardo learns about softball from a certain blond barmaid in Louisiana.

Life-and-death stakes make the competition get serious in New York Times bestseller William Kent Krueger’s “Hide and Seek.”

New York Times bestselling author Mercedes Lackey’s “False Knight on the Road” features a high-stakes drag race on a foggy mountain road between a clever young bootlegger and a mysterious stranger.

In New York Times bestselling author Laura Lippman’s “Ice,” a young girl learns the true story behind a bit of neighborhood folklore.

New York Times bestseller Seanan McGuire presents “Jammed,” in which a chimera loose during the Roller Derby makes it anyone’s guess as to who will still be skating by the time the buzzer sounds.

In #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson’s “Dreamer,” a game of cops and robbers is a new challenge when the players are able to switch bodies at will.

And New York Times bestselling author Scott Sigler follows ghost stomper Hunter Hunterson as he investigates a haunted, never-ending baseball game in “The Case of the Haunted Safeway.”

These and eight more supernatural sporting stories are guaranteed to have you rooting for the home team…or else…"

Um, I think the assembled authors speak for the need for this collection to join mine!

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers
Published by: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 1st, 2014
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The convent views Sybella, naturally skilled in the arts of both death and seduction, as one of their most dangerous weapons. But those assassin's skills are little comfort when the convent returns her home to the life that nearly drove her mad. And while Sybella is a weapon of justice wrought by the god of death himself, he must give her a reason to live. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?"

I adore this series! Also, how cool to have a variant cover for the paperback release?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Book Review - Nancy Mitford's The Blessing

The Blessing by Nancy Mitford
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: 1951
Format: Paperback, 256 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Grace Allingham is engaged to a nice English boy. He didn't push for the marriage to happen before the war and therefore when Charles-Edouard de Valhubert comes into her life and sweeps her off her feet, it's really Hughie's own fault for not locking that down. Charles-Edouard is French and exciting. He loves art and beauty and Grace. Grace, like her father, is taken by all things French and is therefore really taken with her new husband. They have two glorious weeks together till he ships out and she doesn't see him for seven years. In those two weeks she managed to get pregnant, so the seven years away from her husband that she barely knows is spent raising their son Sigi and tending goats.

A year after the war is over Charles-Edouard sweeps back into Grace's life and whisks her away to France and a new life. Only Charles-Edouard is determined to continue living his old life. Sure, he has a wife and son, but that doesn't mean he's not going to reunite with his mistresses and perhaps pick up a few more. When Grace catches him in the act she flees back to England and the familiar. The couple want to reunite, but they both want what the other can't give. Meanwhile Sigi sees an opportunity. It appears to him that keeping his parents apart might benefit him. He would no longer be ignored but would be lavished with presents and attention. Plus, if he could also get bribes off of perspective suitors for his mother's or father's hand in marriage... he might come out very well, as long as his parents don't rumble his con.

The Blessing is an odd novel in that it feels like you are reading about ghosts long gone, a feeling enhanced by the visit to the Père Lachaise Cemetery in the book. Grace Allingham and Charles-Edouard de Valhubert are quite literally Linda Radlett and Fabrice de Sauveterre from The Pursuit of Love brought back from the dead. There are many questions this brings up. Is The Blessing a long "what if" novel wherein Nancy was wondering one day what would have happened if Linda and Fabrice hadn't died? Did she just love these characters so much that though she parted with them she had to bring them back in some way? Or was she using the ghosts of the past to recapture the best seller cache of her previous two novels, The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate? All or none of these things may be true, but as a reader I felt like I was just trudging over terrain I had already gone over and over and was now trapped in a rut. There are only so many phone conversations between louche Frenchman and naive English girls that one can take in a lifetime and I think I have had my fill.

By giving Charles-Edouard/Fabrice and his lackadaisical morals full reign the book, no matter how Nancy tries, isn't a love story but a reflection of an amoral society that you aren't quite sure she's making fun of or even trying to justify in some sick way. The situations in The Pursuit of Love are able to push Fabrice into being a loving antihero for awhile, but without the strictures of the war, you see that Fabrice would have easily reverted to Charles-Edouard and his philandering ways. Charles-Edouard in some ways does love Grace, but the truth is, it isn't a love I would accept on any level. She must abide by his character or else lose him.

How is this fair? And why does everyone expect Grace to just accept this? Charles-Edouard has a long standing mistress, but of course it's "innocent" because the sex doesn't matter as much as the conversation. Then there's the young nubile mistress who Grace catches him with, though he still denies that there wasn't anything wrong with what she saw. Then there's the danger of any pretty woman anywhere that he might just wander off with at a moments notice. Yet Grace is expected to just be ok with this? No. It's not funny, it's not ok, it's sad. Everyone deserves to be loved exclusively without caveats. Sorry Nancy if you think this is acceptable, I don't.

And speaking of Nancy, and her sad Francophile life... the truth is maybe she didn't find this acceptable but she was trying to justify her own life. In 1942 she met a man, Gaston Palewski. He worked closely with Charles de Gaulle and was key in the French government for many years. Nancy fell in love, hard. Gaston was the love of her life, she dedicated a book to him and based both Fabrice and Charles-Edouard on him. Sadly, she wasn't the love of his life and he would never give up his ways as a reckless womanizer. In 1946 she moved to Paris to be closer to Gaston, with her life revolving around whenever he could spare a moment for her. She was willing to drop any plans if she could see or hear him for just a few minutes.

This obsession is oddly similar to Unity's obsession with Hitler and the stalker qualities it brought out in her. Nancy could easily be said to have been Gaston's stalker, seeing as their relationship was mainly one sided. She would have killed herself willingly for Gaston, a situation he found flattering and amusing. In 1969 Gaston married another one of his mistresses who was not much younger then Nancy. Nancy soon after became ill and eventually died of Cancer. He broke her heart. The Blessing might be see as one long justification of the life Nancy lived, a way to con herself into believing that just being a part of his life, just being one of his women was enough. I, on the other hand, find it heartbreaking. That such a smart, witty, bright woman could think that this was enough for her, that this was the life she deserved, it breaks my heart.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book Review - Nancy Mitford's Pigeon Pie

Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: 1940
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Sophia Garfield has had this fixed and glamorous image of what the outbreak of war would be like. Needless to say she is very let down when it doesn't live up to any of her expectations. Her husband is busy with his mistress, who is now living under the same roof as Sophia, not that she really minds, seeing as her own lover is there as well. Sophia is more put out because she sent her dog to the country for safety and is missing the little brute. The war is looking as if it's going to be very dull. Where are the spies and the romantic secret agents? And she's not talking about her friends who are pretending to be secret agents, but the real kind. Sophia does her duty though and starts work at a First Aid Post, which holds more dull drudgery in spades. She thinks it all might be more interesting if the war were to actually start in earnest, but little does she know that she's about to wind up in the middle of a giant German conspiracy. Her godfather, Sir Ivor King, is about to help Britain launch a musical campaign to bring the Germans to their knees when he is apparently murdered. This is just the first event in a series of odd occurrences that might just help Sophia get the excitement she wanted out of the war.

Sometimes you're reading a book and you can see exactly what the author was trying to do. You know what their intent was. In fact, they are trying so hard it's almost a little painful to read. But in the end their efforts fall flatter then flat and it's not that the book is bad, it's just that it's almost a nonentity. You could take or leave the book and it wouldn't matter one whit. This is exactly how I felt reading Pigeon Pie. There was one instance when I was almost drawn in, when Sir Ivor King was murdered, but that moment of shock had no follow through. The book just went back to it's standard level of blah. This is the first of Nancy Mitford's books to leave no impression on me. On the whole I have enjoyed everything she has written, except Don't Tell Alfred, but there I felt Nancy was trying to be too much and too modern while cashing in on her previous successes with the Radlett family. I have been mulling over as to why I feel this way and I think I have stumbled on an answer. While the basic framework of working in a First Aid Post is drawn from Nancy's own experiences, the farcical spies are pure imagination and just don't work. I think Nancy is one of those writers who excel at writing what she knows. I mean, what's the basic advice to beginning writers: write what you know. Nancy is amazing at this. She turns her jaded eye on the society she was raised in and with witty quips writes books that are a delight to all. Throw in something out of her milieu, and, well, you get Pigeon Pie.

In fairness to Nancy, it's hard to make spying funny in a wartime situation. Even the masters of movie comedies, the Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrams, failed atrociously with Top Secret! Which, for whatever reason I still keep watching... ah, young Val Kilmer, I can't look away, old Val Kilmer, make it stop. On a side note, Jim Abrams was the speaker for my graduation from the UW-Madison, I mention it for no reason at all, other then it was kinda cool. Yet there is one other movie to which I kept comparing this book and thinking, yes, that is what Nancy was trying to do. That movie is The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming. While set during the Cold War not WWII, it's pure farce with Russians running around New England and the comedic geniuses of Jonathan Winters, Alan Arkin, and Carl Reiner. Apparently I'm not the only one who thought it was pure genius when I watched it as a little kid because looking it up now it was nominated for best picture at the Oscars. This movie has the "comedic chaos" that I think Nancy was aiming for with the Germans taking over the aid post and doing all sorts of dirty deeds under the eyes of the British Government. She just didn't get it. Her Germans pretending to be zealot Americans just made me want to put the book down, walk away, and watch some Russians invading New England.

Yet Nancy might, just might, have been able to overcome her lack of first hand experience with secret agents if she had written a single likable character. Yes, as a rule, she doesn't have the most likable characters. They are more caricatures to be laughed at and made fun of. Though, on the whole, they usually have some redeeming aspect that makes you like them, or at least one character you can side with. Not here. Every character was so unlikable I kind of wanted the Germans to succeed in destroying them. In Nancy's other books which are peopled with vapid, amoral characters, we can laugh at them and feel for them, but not love them. That's why Nancy usually has a balance by having someone like Fanny in The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, who is good and true and is the moral compass. We need someone like us looking in on this world where husbands and wives live under the same roof as a couple but with their lovers as well and cast them a gimlet eye; a conduit into the book where we can see Nancy is hopefully making fun of the society she's living in with lovers in the house, instead of it coming across as a fact that make all the characters unlikable. Couple this with in jokes Nancy shared with her sister Diana about golden buttery wigs that make me think of old episodes of Doctor Who for some reason and you can see why Vintage decided to lump this slim volume in with the far better Christmas Pudding, because otherwise no one but the true Mitford devotee would buy it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Book Review - Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris's Dawn's Early Light

Dawn's Early Light by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 25th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

While Wellington Brooks and Eliza Braun did pull off the impossible in their last adventure for The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, Doctor Sound has thought that it might be a good idea to get them out of the limelight for awhile and ship them off to the colonies to help their sister agency, The Office of the Supernatural and Metaphysical, which is attached to the US Marshals. In the United States Books and Braun meet their American counterparts, Felicity Lovelace the librarian, which is totally different then an archivist, and Wild Bill Wheatley, who Eliza has a grudge against from a previous mission in which their paths crossed. But the mission must come first, not revenge for past slights. Off the shores of North Carolina, known as the graveyard of the Atlantic, airships have been vanishing quite literally.

But Wellington and Felicity don't really care about the mission once they learn that Thomas Edison will be speaking at their hotel! After an eventful night it looks like Edison might be involved in their mission... he might be using a lighthouse as a death ray to cause all these wrecks! Seeing that Edison is their only real lead, the gaggle of agents decide to follow him. First they venture north, to Detroit, and the very hub of Edison's Empire. By the end of their mission they will have travelled coast to coast and hopefully staved of an international incident with the Prince of Wales. Yet questions remain, how involved was the nebulous House of Usher in this scheme? Did her majesty, the Queen, have ulterior motives with regard to her son? And does Wellington want to kiss Eliza again? Or will Eliza end up kissing Bill?

The thing that drew me to Steampunk in the first place was the essential Britishness of it. The fog bound streets, the pub brawls near the docks with a side of a cockney accent, a cup of tea after a day of daring do. This is what Steampunk means to me. So when at the end of the second book in this series, The Janus Affair, it became apparent that our esteemed agents Books and Braun were headed stateside, I wasn't that thrilled at the prospect. Yes, Steampunk isn't limited to Great Britain, yes Pip and Tee have done a good job to have this series, in particular the Tales from the Archives, show the worldwide scope of Steampunk, yes their are authors like Cherie Priest, whose Clockwork Century is very much ingrained in America, but despite all this precedent, Steampunk to me is British. I won't try to explain the logic of my mind, because I don't think I could. But I was seriously worried that Dawn's Early Light would have to overcome my own preconceptions. I should have had more faith in Pip and Tee. The book combined all the Britishness I love and added a Firefly vibe (fangirl sqwee) while also taking on the historical figures whose inventiveness fuels Steampunk, but are decidedly American.

The more I think on it, the American desire for invention, exploration, and looking forward is what drives Steampunk and the Steampunk community. So while my brain always goes "British British British" it is really a combination of the two that create the perfect balance in Steampunk, a perfect balance that was caught in this book. Writing a successful series of books itself is a balancing act. Round about book three is when you start to get bogged down with too much backstory and too many characters being on stage. By sending our beloved agents to the states, Pip and Tee were able to streamline the story and bring it down to the necessary few characters that were needed. While I did occasionally miss all the other agents and the archives, Dawn's Early Light had a cleanliness to it that made it a stronger book. Plus the introduction of Felicity and Bill (aka Jayne from Firefly), Books and Braun's counterparts and also romantic rivals, brought a breath of fresh air into the book. Having our hero and heroine not only trying to deal with their own feelings, but then having these two Americans continually throwing a wrench into any possible hookup brought a frisson of excitement and a worry that the delayed gratification to the inevitable hookup might never happen. Books and Braun belong together... but that doesn't mean temptation and distraction won't be a delicious plot device.

Another plot device that might have overplayed it's hand in this installment is the celebrity cameo. As I said before, everything is about balance. Celebrity cameos are always a fun narrative device in historical fiction, even if it's alternative history. Yet there can be one too many historical figures and this can upset the apple cart. The perfection of some of the cameos is marred by the superfluous ones. Back in undergrad I took film classes for fun. It's ironic that I thought art versus comm arts was a more viable career path. The history of film cannot be told without talking about Edison. Yes, he was brilliant, but yes, he was also a class A bastard. In fact, I had a friend play bastard on my Edison card to win a game of Apples to Apples once. And speaking of Apples, in describing Edison, I liked that Edison really sounded a lot like Steve Jobs and Apple's MO, ah the parallels. I reveled in the introduction of Edison, the asshole. He's a perfect villain, unlike the ill defined House of Usher. And his evilness is not just in his villainous death ray designed to level the competition, but in the slights to women scientists and his raging ego. It was the perfect cameo. To balance that we had Tesla, still surrounded with mystery, dubious morals, and pigeon jokes. Edison and Tesla, Tesla and Edison, the battle for the ages, and the perfect duo for this book. But Henry Ford? Ah Henry Ford, you were one cameo too many. It made me cringe a bit. You upset the apple cart.  

Though the pedant in me now has to put on the lecturing voice and say what I've been saying for two books now. I know this is an ARC, so there will be errors... but seeing as these errors have persisted in the finished copies of the first two books, I have a feeling they might remain. The grammar and the spelling needs a polish. I will seriously do this for free. Yes, I am serious. I love this series and it pains me when errors still abound making it a flawed text... at one point their own character's name is misspelt. Also, it's chaise lounge not chez lounge... unless it's the house of lounges and not a piece of furniture. Aside from the obvious errors, there were also a few anachronisms that got under my skin. Blackbeard's dates are off by a hundred years. Why would Edison being going through Wisconsin to get to Arizona? There's this lake that I've gone over between me and Michigan... plus, to get to Arizona aka, the southwest, you wouldn't go northwest now would you? The OSM seems a little too much like Victorian SHIELD with the reference to Thor's hammer... plus, can we sing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when talking about Wellington's car? I know they are all nudge nudge wink wink, but they are just too modern, and like the typos, pull me out of a story I don't want to leave, like ever. In fact, can the next book be ready now?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Dawn's Early Light by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 25th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Working for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, one sees innumerable technological wonders. But even veteran agents Braun and Books are unprepared for what the electrifying future holds…

After being ignominiously shipped out of England following their participation in the Janus affair, Braun and Books are ready to prove their worth as agents. But what starts as a simple mission in the States—intended to keep them out of trouble—suddenly turns into a scandalous and convoluted case that has connections reaching as far as Her Majesty the Queen.

Even with the help of two American agents from the Office of the Supernatural and the Metaphysical, Braun and Books have their work cut out for them as their chief suspect in a rash of nautical and aerial disasters is none other than Thomas Edison. Between the fantastic electric machines of Edison, the eccentricities of MoPO consultant Nikola Tesla, and the mysterious machinations of a new threat known only as the Maestro, they may find themselves in far worse danger than they ever have been in before…"

New Ministry book, sigh. Oh, and Telsa! Too bad the ending made me want the next one like RIGHT NOW!

The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher
Published by: Tor Fantasy
Publication Date: March 25th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 480 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Nevada, 1869: Beyond the pitiless 40-Mile Desert lies Golgotha, a cattle town that hides more than its share of unnatural secrets. The sheriff bears the mark of the noose around his neck; some say he is a dead man whose time has not yet come. His half-human deputy is kin to coyotes. The mayor guards a hoard of mythical treasures. A banker’s wife belongs to a secret order of assassins. And a shady saloon owner, whose fingers are in everyone’s business, may know more about the town’s true origins than he’s letting on.

A haven for the blessed and the damned, Golgotha has known many strange events, but nothing like the primordial darkness stirring in the abandoned silver mine overlooking the town. Bleeding midnight, an ancient evil is spilling into the world, and unless the sheriff and his posse can saddle up in time, Golgotha will have seen its last dawn…and so will all of Creation."

I was recommended this book by a seller at Teslacon, but I just couldn't justify another hardcover purchase. So FINALLY paperback!

The Berkeley Square Affair by Teresa Grant
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: March 25th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A stolen treasure may hold the secret to a ghastly crime. . .

Ensconced in the comfort of their elegant home in London's Berkeley Square, Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch are no longer subject to the perilous life of intrigue they led during the Napoleonic Wars. Once an Intelligence Agent, Malcolm is now a Member of Parliament, and Suzanne is one of the city's most sought-after hostesses. But a late-night visit from a friend who's been robbed may lure them back into the dangerous world they thought they'd left behind. . .

Playwright Simon Tanner had in his possession what may be a lost version of Hamlet, and the thieves were prepared to kill for it. But the Rannochs suspect there's more at stake than a literary gem--for the play may conceal the identity of a Bonapartist spy--along with secrets that could force Malcolm and Suzanne to abandon their newfound peace and confront their own dark past. . ."

Seriously, I'd buy anything that says "Berkeley Square."

Murder at the Breakers by Alyssa Maxwell
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: March 25th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"As the nineteenth century comes to a close, the illustrious Vanderbilt family dominates Newport, Rhode Island, high society. But when murder darkens a glittering affair at the Vanderbilt summer home, reporter Emma Cross learns that sometimes the actions of the cream of society can curdle one's blood. . .

Newport, Rhode Island, August 1895: She may be a less well-heeled relation, but as second cousin to millionaire patriarch Cornelius Vanderbilt, twenty-one-year-old Emma Cross is on the guest list for a grand ball at the Breakers, the Vanderbilts' summer home. She also has a job to do--report on the event for the society page of the Newport Observer.

But Emma observes much more than glitz and gaiety when she witnesses a murder. The victim is Cornelius Vanderbilt's financial secretary, who plunges off a balcony faster than falling stock prices. Emma's black sheep brother Brady is found in Cornelius's bedroom passed out next to a bottle of bourbon and stolen plans for a new railroad line. Brady has barely come to before the police have arrested him for the murder. But Emma is sure someone is trying to railroad her brother and resolves to find the real killer at any cost. . ."

My love of period pieces combined with my love of cozy mysteries? Heck yeah!

The Unfairest of Them All by Shannon Hale
Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 25th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"It's the aftermath of Legacy Day, the day when the students at Ever After High are supposed to pledge to follow in their fairytale parents' footsteps, and everyone is in a huff and a puff! Raven Queen, daughter of the Evil Queen, has refused to sign the Storybook of Legends, rejecting her story--and putting everyone else's in jeopardy.

The Royal Apple White doesn't want to think Raven is being a rebellious pain, but Raven's choice means Apple might never get the poisoned apple, Prince Charming, and a kingdom to rule. Behind Apple stands the Royals, those who want to play by the book and embrace their stories. The Rebels, supporters of Raven, believe in breaking free from destiny and writing their own stories.

But when the chaos and rivalry land wonderlandiful Madeline Hatter in trouble, Raven and Apple must bring the Royals and the Rebels together to shut the book on their feud before it threatens to end all of their Happily Ever Afters once and for all.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall...Who'e the Unfairest of Them All?"

Love everything that Shannon Hale does, I mean, seriously, love.

A Phantom Enchantment by Eve Marie Mont
Published by: Kensington Books
Publication Date: March 25th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 256 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In this brilliant, multi-layered conclusion to the Unbound trilogy, Emma Townsend journeys to Paris and discovers her own choices echoed within the labyrinthine love story The Phantom of the Opera...

Senior year in Paris means dazzling architecture, gorgeous cafés, and a hefty workload. But no matter how busy her days, Emma Townsend misses her Coast Guard boyfriend, Gray. That lonely ache might explain the unsettling whispers Emma hears in the school's empty corridors, and the flickering images in her room's antique mirror. Her foreboding only increases as she reads Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera and becomes lost in the gothic masterpiece.

When Gray goes missing during a rescue at sea, Emma refuses to believe the worst. In her strange waking dreams, Gray is very much alive, drawing Emma into a mysterious otherworld beyond her mirror. Friends worry that she's losing her grip on reality. Emma half wonders if they're right. . .and if her own story will end in a way she never envisioned. . ."

The  end of the unbound series, sigh.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Book Review - Nancy Mitford's Christmas Pudding

Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: 1932
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Paul Fotheringay is gutted. His first book Crazy Capers is an unrivaled success. Most authors would be pleased with this development, but not Paul. He poured his heart and soul into his book that he hoped would be heralded as a literary masterpiece only to have everyone think it is a comedy. Not just that, but the funniest book they have ever read. His tragedy is a laughing matter. In fact his whole life is rather tragic at the moment. His friend Amabelle, a rather notorious woman, tells Paul that the only hope he has now of being taken seriously is to follow up his first book with an in depth biography, something no one could mistake as farcical. He decides that the only possible subject for his masterpiece is the Victorian poetess Lady Maria Bobbin. Paul writes an impassioned letter to the family imploring Lady Bobbin to allow him access to Maria's diaries and ephemera. Lady Bobbin, being more concerned with hoof and mouth and when she'll be able to return to the hunt swiftly denies Paul and his life becomes even bleaker.

If Paul had only consulted Amabelle before approaching Lady Bobbin things could have been easily solved because, as it happens, Amabelle is good friends with Lady Bobbin's son and heir, Sir Roderick Bobbin, and Paul actually knows Bobby too! But instead of a straight forward plea to see the diaries which Paul's letter to Lady Bobbin makes impossible, they come up with an elaborate scheme wherein Paul is pretending to be Bobby's tutor over the winter holidays, so while Bobby sleeps in in the mornings, Paul spends his time immersed in Lady Maria's writings, and then they spend the afternoons "taking exercise" at Lady Bobbin's request. Of course, the "exercise" isn't really what Lady Bobbin expects, because it's really playing cards and gossiping at a nearby farm Amabelle has let for Christmas and is sharing with her friends the Monteaths. Things get even more out of hand when Amabelle's amorous suitor returns from Egypt but falls for Bobby's sister, whom Paul is also falling for. Add to that more relatives then you can possibly imagine descending on Compton Bobbin, and things are about to get real sticky.

Nancy Mitford, while perhaps best known for her witty writing, also seems to have an interesting secondary agenda of addressing the foibles of humans in love, one might even say a primary objective given her later books. While I wouldn't call her view jaundiced, it's more like she can pick up on the folly of those who see their love through rose colored glasses. Love is not put on a pedestal, yet there is true love. Love is viewed more realistically and handled in a way that makes it more true to life then other writers. She has handled this in every book of hers that I've read, though some more successfully then others it must be said. Christmas Pudding is only her second novel and you can easily see that this is the case. While her themes are there she hasn't yet gotten the cohesiveness that will mark her more famous novels. Instead of a well plotted book infused with humor, we get great one liners, wordplay that you will want to quote all day and all night, but her youthfulness in going for the bon mot versus the long game with a constructed storyline makes this book not as memorable.

This isn't to say that you won't have a good read, Nancy has this way of capturing the conflict between the horse and hounds set versus the bright young things that will leave you wanting more. The conflict I think probably accurately depicts the life she lived. Known to mine the personalities of those around her, you can easily see her parents in those who would rather live in their big drafty old house and shoot things, while she is the young girl longing to be amongst the bright lights in the big city while simultaneously being a bright young thing. Because Nancy has been both. She was trapped in the country and ill educated for so many years that when she did go to London she sparkled as a wit of the day. This dynamic of the two opposite mentalities clashing is what brings some of the heartiest laughs. Yet I think it's Nancy's willingness to make fun of herself foremost that makes this book stand out.

With Paul Fotheringay, we have a character who is very much taking the piss out of writers and therefore Nancy herself. I can just see Nancy chuckling as she wrote Paul's dilemma. Having only written Highland Fling, a well received comedy, she probably thought it would be hysterical if she had meant it as one thing and everyone took it as another. Could you imagine Nancy being viewed as anything but a classic comic writer? But one also wonders if there isn't more then a little truth here. Nancy was great at blending fact and fiction into her works. So what if she wanted to be considered a serious writer? I'm not saying that at the time Christmas Pudding was written she had this ambition, but it is odd that she ending up going the same was as Paul. What do I mean? Well, she did take to writing biographies... now her subjects weren't as satire worthy as the great Lady Maria Bobbin, but we can't ignore the fact that Nancy's biographies are popular. Was this her way of trying to legitimize herself? Because having a character like Amabelle who is obviously a parody of Madame de Pompadour, and then some twenty years later actually writing a biography of Madame de Pompadour... we're getting into a whole other level of meta and it makes me want to sit down with Nancy and have a little chat. What did she mean by this? Did she want to be known for her scholarly books more then her comedic prose? Looking back, is Paul, in the end, a tragic figure to her?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Book Review - Nancy Mitford's Highland Fling

Highland Fling by Nancy Mitford
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: 1931
Format: Paperback, 208 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Albert Gates has been in Paris making a name for himself as an artist. He is only returning to England, the land of creative blocks, because he has a show opening in the fall and he wishes to see his dear friends Walter and Sally Monteath. Turns out Walter and Sally are having a cash flow problem due to Walter's impecunious nature wherein he doesn't feel a lack of money should impact his good time. Doesn't help that his occupation is a poet, so there's not much cash coming in at all. Walter is trying to convince Sally and Albert to go on vacation to the Lido, an expense Sally says they can do without when Sally is given a great opportunity.

Sally's Aunt Madge and Uncle Craig Craigdalloch, the Lord and Lady of Dulloch Castle, spend every August at said Castle entertaining a hunting and shooting party. But sadly Uncle Craig has been asked to go to Rhodesia and they are desperate to have someone host the house party, because cancelling it is out of the question. Sally agrees to play hostess, mainly because by living in Scotland for a few months her and Walter's outlay will be nothing, and by inviting Albert to entertain Walter and her friend Jane Dacre to entertain herself, it will be a jolly holiday. The bright young things don't quite mesh with the old horse and hounds military folk and their wives, but they do have quite a time making fun of them. Plus, to an artist and Victorian fanatic like Albert, the attics of the castle are strewn with fascinating relics that he can't wait to discover, of course with the help of the lovely Jane Dacre. It is quite a fun time in Scotland till the house starts on fire, but no one could have guessed that that would be the result of this jaunty trip.

After reading so much about the Mitford sisters and their diverse and odd lives I felt a profound relief in sinking back into what brought them to my attention in the first place, Nancy's writing. In her writing, Nancy has taken the bones of her life and made it into humorous fodder. Her writing is a light and breezy roman à clef. There is a bite to her wit, but there isn't a depressing darker side, there aren't sad family separations or miscarriages, just people jaunting about a castle in Scotland and watching men throw cabers, but viewed with a jaundiced eye. The highlands were part of Nancy's growing up. Being shipped off to Scotland during various time in her life for holidays and hunts to sit in damp locals waiting for the guns to go off. While Nancy was born and raised a country girl, she really loved the glittering world of London into which she emerged after what must have felt like years of exile with her family. She was a bright young thing, and bright young things have a humorous take on this other life they are a part of, this horse and hounds set. Mockery is easiest to achieve with something that you love or have loved, hence teasing your family is so easy. Highland Fling is a loving tease of all that is Scotland, and it lightened my heart and made me wonder, once again, why so many of Nancy's books have been out of print for so long in the United States.

My favorite part of this book is a poem about the history of the tower that is part of Dulloch Castle called "The Lament of Lady Muscatel." Of course, the poetic history of Scotland is in the hands of Robbie Burns. Everybody knows Robbie Burns even if they don't realize it. The phrase "the best laid plans of mice and men/often go awry" is a modernization from Burns's poem "To a Mouse" which said "the best-laid schemes o' mice an' men/Gang aft agley." Don't believe? Just go ask Eddie Izzard. Well, I have a love hate relationship with Robbie Burns. Back in 2005 I had this kind of weird experience where I felt I was being stalked by Robbie Burns, and in the end it kind of relates back to Eddie Izzard.

During the spring on 2005 I was travelling on the east coast, New York to Halifax. For some reason poetry was in the air, we wrote an ode to the town across the harbor from Halifax, Dartmouth, because of a lost wallet. This must have somehow summoned forth Robbie, because from then on out he was everywhere. One rainy day I was wandering around Halifax with my friend Orelia and we found a statue to him in Victoria Gardens. On the drive back to New York we listened to The Proclaimers, and there were Burns references in their songs... then on the poets walk in New York, Burns again! The final appearance of Burns was on the drive home while listening to every Eddie Izzard live show available and Burns reared his mousy head. Needless to say, I was a little sick of Robbie and have never quite forgiven him for haunting my every move. Therefore, Nancy, taking the piss out of him with her refrain "The pibroch i' the glen is boony/But waley, waley, wheer's ma Ronnie?" brought tears of joy and laughter to me. Also, the word waley entertains me to no end. But I think the fact that the poem is actually well done helps maintain that tease just right with a little love on one end and a little hate on the other.

The other aspect of the book I found fascinating is that the younger generation is obsessed with the Victoriana of their parents generation, ie the tat their parents hate. Albert is so obsessed with the Victorian clutter that has been hidden away in Dulloch Castle that he goes about assembling everything he can lay his hands on from the dusty attics in the billiards room so he can document and photograph it for a little pamphlet he's writing. While this book was written in the thirties, it has a universal truth. The fact is style and taste is cyclical. When I was younger I remember loving sixties fashion, which my parents just hated, because they had had to live through it. I had a similar reaction when the eighties came back. There's a nostalgia for the near past that we ourselves didn't live through. I personally had never thought much on this, thinking it was more a recent trend, but Nancy shows, without a doubt, this is something that has probably always been going on. And from a personal point of view we have to really feel for Lady Craigdalloch who views the destruction of the house as a good thing because at least all the horrid old Victorian tat is gone... she is not well pleased when she learns that Albert saved it all, instead of what was valuable to her.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
Published by: Doubleday
Publication Date: March 18th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Steam is rising over Discworld, driven by Mister Simnel, the man with a flat cap and a sliding rule. He has produced a great clanging monster of a machine that harnesses the power of all of the elements—earth, air, fire, and water—and it’s soon drawing astonished crowds.

To the consternation of Ankh-Morpork’s formidable Patrician, Lord Vetinari, no one is in charge of this new invention. This needs to be rectified, and who better than the man he has already appointed master of the Post Office, the Mint, and the Royal Bank: Moist von Lipwig. Moist is not a man who enjoys hard work—unless it is dependent on words, which are not very heavy and don’t always need greasing. He does enjoy being alive, however, which makes a new job offer from Vetinari hard to refuse.

Moist will have to grapple with gallons of grease, goblins, a fat controller with a history of throwing employees down the stairs, and some very angry dwarfs if he’s going to stop it all from going off the rails . . ."

Have a mentioned lately how much I love Discworld and how pissed I am that we had to wait months and months after England to get this book? Well, consider it done. Also, in a wise move, there are no other books out this week that I want to get, the publishing world knows not to mess with Pratchett!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Book Review - Diana Mitford's A Life of Contrasts

A Life of Contrasts: An Autobiography by Diana Mitford
Published by: Gibson Square Books
Publication Date: 1977
Format: Paperback, 281 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Diana Mitford felt stifled in her life with her family. When she went to Paris she got a sense of the enormity of the world and how she was admired for her beauty and wit. As soon as she could she made a prosperous marriage to the heir of the Guinness fortune and started her life surrounded by artists and poets and writers to fill the void she felt in her life. Yet this wasn't her true calling. Her true calling was to Oswald Mosley, the dynamic and married politician who founded the British Union of Fascists. She left her husband for him and spent her life dedicated to his causes and his happiness. They did eventually marry in Germany with Hitler as one of the only guests at the ceremony, which was one of the reasons they spent much of the war in prison. In A Life of Contrasts, Diana finally tells us her side of the story that captured headlines and made her one of the most memorable to those very notable Mitford sisters.  

Frank Pakenham, the 7th Earl of Longford, had said of Diana in a review of her memoirs that she "lacked a dimension." I can think of no more perfect an insult than this for a woman who in her own writing comes across as a shallow, unfocused, self-centered, self-impressed, socialite. She is one dimensional, never bothering with anything below the surface. In fact, if you were to scratch her, I bet there would be more surface below the surface. Apparently being "the most glamorous Mitford Sister" means being the most superficial. Before reading about her life in her own words I wasn't predisposed to like her based on what I knew, but after reading Mary S. Lovell's book The Sisters, I was willing to give Diana the benefit of doubt. I was fully willing to let Diana surprise me with insights and details to the events of her life. To hear more about her feelings and thoughts on her marriages. But none of this presented itself. She had no depth coupled with a scattered writing style wherein she would change the subject every paragraph and sometimes every sentence. She never picked a thought and stuck with it unless it was to parrot Walter Mosley's ideologies to such an extent that I was made sick to my stomach and she literally disgusted me as a human being. I was left with the distinct feeling that the world would have been a better place without her in it, because really, what good did she ever contribute to society? Being pretty doesn't count, just FYI.

Diana's shallowness is evident in every line she writes in this book. Like minor celebrities she name drops like no tomorrow assuming that we will know who everyone is and be impressed with how much they love and adore her. Guess what Diana? Your day has come and gone and so have all your comrades in arms. Name drop all you want, all it shows is your own flaws in being needed to be validated by those around you because you had no inner life to sustain yourself. To need constant validation with artists demanding to paint her or draw her just made me want to smack her. The fact that Evelyn Waugh (one of the few celebrities I actually knew) was in love with Diana makes me not think more of Diana, but makes me think less of Evelyn.

Diana is also infuriatingly self-impressed, by all means Diana, don't translate all the French, Italian, and German for those who don't speak or read it to show us how worldly you are, I'm not going to bother to look it up on the assumption that it's just more of the same shit that came before. Also, with the book, she was given the chance to tell her side of the story, a story that has had many commentators and writers over the years, and she failed miserably. Her wedding to Bryan Guinness was glossed over in two seconds, as was her second marriage to Mosley. The fact that her sisters have written in more depth on her life shows that Diana has absolutely nothing to offer us.

Yet, it was this shallowness counterbalanced with bizarre political tracks that made me furious with her. You could feel at those times that it wasn't her voice by that of her master's, Walter Mosley. She was too shallow to have any true beliefs of her own so when she latched onto her idol Mosley, well, she took him all, even his opinions. Now that I've reached the "political tirade" section of my review, I firstly want to address the Hitler question. Diana has taken a lot of flack over the years for being unwilling to change her view of Hitler after the outbreak of war and his true desires and ambitions were revealed. Personally, I don't think that this in particular is what she should be criticized for. Hitler had to have been a charismatic and personable man in order to amass such a following and accomplish all that he did. I'm sure in a one on one setting he could be delightful. Therefore I don't blame Diana for being unwilling to take something back when her own experiences where different to public opinion. It was her opinion, one she is perfectly willing to stick to.

What I do think Diana should be criticized for is her parroting of horrid antisemitism. Yes, she is entitled to this view, but that doesn't mean it makes me like her, accept her, or even settle my nauseous stomach at some of the things she said. I came to not only really dislike her on a human level, but I revolt against all her ideologies. She actually states that what happened in the Holocaust could have been prevented if the Jews had just left Germany. Apparently they had plenty of warning, so they should have just moved on. Forget that these people have homes and lives and families, if they had just got up and gone history could have been different. In fact, in her opinion, if everyone would just go back where they came from, everything would be better for her. She didn't even want immigrants in England! While she never really outright states that she hates those who are Jewish or Black, the fact that she wants everyone to go back to where they came from shows a severe xenophobia that appears to be the sole aspect of her personality that isn't about her appearance. Also, extra ironic seeing as she lived in France and was therefore an immigrant herself. So by all means, if you want to read about a narcissist who will occasionally expound vitriolically on Jewry, well, Diana Mitford Mosley is the Mitford for you. She definitely isn't the Mitford for me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Diana Mitford

Diana Mitford was the beauty of her generation. She was immortalized by many of the artists of the day and loved by all, especially Evelyn Waugh who had quite a tendre for her and dedicated two of his book to Diana. She made an early conquest the first year she was out, becoming engaged to Bryan Guinness, the heir of the Guinness fortune. Her parents objected because of her youth but eventually relented and she was the first of the Mitford sisters to be married. Many thought she had the ideal life, a devoted husband, two beautiful sons, everything she could have wanted, but then Oswald Mosley entered her life.

Oswald Mosley was a political lightning rod. His British Union of Fascists, known colloquially as the Black Shirts, would be a source of consternation for the British Government for years. When Diana and Mosley met he was married with three children and hadn't yet become so politically polarizing. While it might not have been the happiest of marriages due to Mosley's infidelities, he never planned on leaving his wife. Despite all this Diana divorced Bryan just to be near Mosley whenever she could as his mistress, scandalizing her family and society. Yet their love turned out to be true, their marriage would last all their lives and produce two beautiful sons.

Yet this couple cannot be viewed without an eye to their politics, which alienated much of their family and most of Britain. Mosley was fascinated with the success of Hitler and Diana and Mosley actually married in the Goebbels' drawing room with Hitler present. Because of these connections the couple spent most of WWII in prison without charge. After the war Mosley tried to reenter politics to no avail and the couple spent their time traveling and writing. Yet they remained a source of controversy all their lives, mainly due to Diana's instance of claiming Hitler a friend, no matter what horrors he wrought, she was unapologetic.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Book Review - Patricia Briggs's Night Broken

Night Broken by Patricia Briggs
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 11th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Mercy might be facing the worst monster she has come up against, her husband Adam's ex-wife, Christy. Christy's having a little problem with an over amorous ex of her own and she decides that the only safe place for her is with her ex and his pack. In fact, thinking things through, she might just want to be by Adam's side on a more permanent basis again. This delusion of Christy's rankles Mercy, but she knows that her and Adam are one and Christy is no threat to their love. So the only thing to be done is grin and bare it while solving Christy's problem with as much haste as is seemly. Of course things get complicated when Christy's stalker isn't your run of the mill human... but that's not something unusual in Mercy's world.

The problem with long running series is you reach a point that if you don't go back and re-read the earlier volumes there's something missing when you pick up the new book. Whether it's a running joke that has started to fade in your memory or if it's just that you're starting to mix up the characters, there's a point when you need to go backwards to keep going forwards. And I really need to go backwards for a little while. I'm still enjoying the books and the characters, but there's just something missing. I feel like I'm losing my connection to Mercy and I don't want this to happen. Of course the opportunity to sit and re-read seven books is a luxury I haven't had the time for yet, but I think I really need to make the time.

The aspect I love of Briggs's writing is that she won't stick to tropes. If there's a convention, instead of going the party line, she'll subvert it. Sometimes this works perfectly, and sometimes if doesn't. If I seriously have to read about yet another kidnapping in this series I might just go crazy. I mean, quite literally, can one person or one group of persons be kidnapped this much? Because it is in almost every single book now and it's getting really old. Though all my worries were more on the ex-wife showing up. With Christy arriving in the Tri-Cities and ostensibly making a play to get Adam back I was worried that it would play out like every ex-wife trope in every book, movie, or television show ever. Thankfully I was wrong.

Instead of being a typical threat, as in making a rift develop between Mercy and Adam, she is a threat because of her stalker. I am so glad, firstly, that Briggs didn't try to put a wedge between Mercy and Adam and that there love is as strong as ever, but secondly, I loved that it was Christy bringing the threat. So not only was she unwelcome but she was also a danger. Yeah, she's a really bad ex-wife and it makes me smile. But in how the pack and Adam treats Christy it shows the strength of their characters. Instead of just fobbing her off and telling her to save herself they decided to help her. To rise above all the crap and still view someone as family and worthy of help, that just makes me love all these fictional people all the more. Though I will qualify that I don't want to be in their pack because seriously, I don't think I could survive the day.

As I've said before what is helping this series in it's longevity is that instead of like in the earlier books when the threat would alternate between the Fae and the Vampires Briggs is bringing "others" into the mix. We already have had the appearance of Coyote, a mythological figure that turns out to be very real in this and previous installments. But here we get a God! And not just a nameless faceless God without motive, we get a God we can understand and feel sorry for. To make evil somewhat sympathetic or at least understandable is a great feat, and Briggs does it flawlessly. But then again, this is a woman who was able to make a walking stick perhaps one of my most favorite characters in a book ever, so should I be surprised with what she can do with real "people"? No, I shouldn't.

But there's a part of me who now has to play devil's advocate. With all of the Mercy-verse, I'm including Charles and Anna's series too here, how long can it really last? Charles and Anna are able to switch it up with different locations and characters in each installment, but Mercy is at the mercy (haha) of being with her pack in the Tri-Cities. How much longer can this go on without becoming stale? Because truthfully, while I love the cast and the pack there's a threshold of how many kidnappings I can take, hint, we've already passed it; and there's only so much pack politics I can take before I get bored. The little switch ups she tried to add, like having Adam's POV, haven't really worked. So while we don't get a new Mercy next year, maybe that's a good thing and will give Briggs time to think about the long term and how to keep this series fresh and exciting. Long live Mercy (as long as the quality is maintained)!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Night Broken by Patricia Briggs
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 11th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An unexpected phone call heralds a new challenge for Mercy. Her mate Adam’s ex-wife is in trouble, on the run from a stalker. Adam isn’t the kind of man to turn away a person in need—and Mercy knows it. But with Christy holed up in Adam’s house, Mercy can’t shake the feeling that something about the situation isn’t right.

Soon, her suspicions are confirmed when she learns that Christy has the farthest thing from good intentions. She wants Adam back and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen, including turning Adam’s pack against Mercy.

Mercy isn’t about to step down without a fight, but there’s a more dangerous threat circling. Christy’s stalker is more than a bad man—in fact, he may not be human at all. As the bodies start piling up, Mercy must put her personal troubles aside to face a creature with the power to tear her whole world apart."

A new Mercy book two years in a row!?! Be still my heart!

The Edge of the Water by Elizabeth George
Published by: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: March 11th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A mysterious girl who won’t speak; a coal black seal named Nera that returns to the same place very year; a bitter feud of unknown origin—strange things are happening on Whidbey Island, and Becca King, is drawn into the maelstrom of events.

But Becca, first met in The Edge of Nowhere, has her own secrets to hide. Still on the run from her criminal stepfather, Becca is living in a secret location. Even Derric, the Ugandan orphan with whom Becca shares a close, romantic relationship, can’t be allowed to know her whereabouts. As secrets of past and present are revealed, Becca becomes aware of her growing paranormal powers, and events build to a shocking climax anticipated by no one.

Acclaimed author Elizabeth George brings her extraordinary talents to this intriguing story that blends mystery and myth."

The Killing has kind of got me addicted to islands where weird things happen...

The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: March 11th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 608 Pages
To Buy

The official patter: "From the author of the New York Times bestseller Juliet comes a mesmerizing novel about a young scholar who risks her reputation—and her life—on a thrilling journey to prove that the legendary warrior women known as the Amazons actually existed.

Oxford lecturer Diana Morgan is an expert on Greek mythology. Her obsession with the Amazons started in childhood when her eccentric grandmother claimed to be one herself—before vanishing without a trace. Diana’s colleagues shake their heads at her Amazon fixation. But then a mysterious, well-financed foundation makes Diana an offer she cannot refuse.

Traveling to North Africa, Diana teams up with Nick Barran, an enigmatic Middle Eastern guide, and begins deciphering an unusual inscription on the wall of a recently unearthed temple. There she discovers the name of the first Amazon queen, Myrina, who crossed the Mediterranean in a heroic attempt to liberate her kidnapped sisters from Greek pirates, only to become embroiled in the most famous conflict of the ancient world—the Trojan War. Taking their cue from the inscription, Diana and Nick set out to find the fabled treasure that Myrina and her Amazon sisters salvaged from the embattled city of Troy so long ago. Diana doesn’t know the nature of the treasure, but she does know that someone is shadowing her, and that Nick has a sinister agenda of his own. With danger lurking at every turn, and unsure of whom to trust, Diana finds herself on a daring and dangerous quest for truth that will forever change her world.

Sweeping from England to North Africa to Greece and the ruins of ancient Troy, and navigating between present and past, The Lost Sisterhood is a breathtaking, passionate adventure of two women on parallel journeys, separated by time, who must fight to keep the lives and legacy of the Amazons from being lost forever."

One of my book buddies really loved her first book and this one looks pretty dang awesome too.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Book Review - The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family

The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family by Mary S. Lovell
Published by: W. W. Norton and Company
Publication Date: March 17th, 2003
Format: Paperback, 640 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

The Mitford sisters were the most dynamic family in England during the 20th century. They were front and center for world events, two of them even being so reviled in their own country that they were the subject of public scorn and debate in the houses of parliament. Despite a slightly unconventional upbringing with no medical care, little schooling, and constantly moving houses due to monetary issues, all six of the sisters would leave their mark on the world. Nancy as a great author, Pamela as a loving aunt, Diana as a notorious fascist married to Oswald Mosley and imprisoned with him, Unity who was in Hitler's inner circle and tried to kill herself when WWII was declared, Jessica who became the red sheep of the family with her Communist leanings as well as a noted journalist, and then Deborah, the Duchess of Devonshire.

Such a clash of personalities and all in one family couldn't help capture the attention of the world. But this book explores not just the public image, but all the horrors of their lives; the marriages (7), the divorces (3), the children (14), the miscarriages (7+), the stillbirths (3), the lost children (2), the abortions (2), the deaths in the war (2), the attempted suicides (2), Cancer (2), the list goes on and on; because once you look into a person's life, you realize the sadness that is masked by the joie de vivre and the sparkling wit.

Very rarely have I experience this phenomena, but I am reading a book and I start to notice things, really just little things, but soon they gain momentum. The text is uneven, but obviously skewed purposefully. One section is lavished with attention, the littlest details are lingered on, while other sections are rushed through like an oncoming train, speeding past important details to get back to that other subject. The more you read the more obvious it becomes that the author doesn't love what they are writing. Why would you write something that you didn't love? Yes, I could go into contracts and all that here, but I won't. Instead, perhaps it's because there is one small aspect that they are fascinated with and were sadly saddled with the rest. They are not writing the book they want to write, and it shows.

The most obvious example I have is the book Fear of Music by Jonathan Lethem. This book is part of the 33 1/3 series that has an author cover an album track by track. Lethem did the Talking Heads album "Fear of Music." You can see that he loves this band, but you get the distinct impression that this isn't the album he wanted to write on. What happened with Fear of Music is that, aside from being the worst book I've ever read, is that there was this imbalance, like in The Sisters, where you could feel the author's discontent and it resulted in your discontent, which eventually escalated into rage, and then you and your book club are coining the phrase "rage reading" to signify how the book made you feel as you pushed through to the bitter end.

An unhappy author leads to an unhappy reader. Letham loves Talking Heads but didn't love the album he was saddled with, much like Mary S. Lovell loves Unity Mitford, while the remaining five sisters she couldn't care less about. Look at it this way, for 200 pages occupying 10 years of the 20th century, roughly 40% of the book, Unity is front and center. This book covers 106 years but 40% is in the war years. Yes, a lot did happen to the Mitfords during this time... but still... this leads to decades of Jessica and Nancy's lives being glossed over and we hardly know what Pamela was up to! If this book was equal in weight Unity should have only occupied about 16% of it. In simpler terms, Mary S. Lovell really needed to just write a biography on Unity and not have disguised it as a biography on "The Sisters." Therefore right from the start, the author was not the ideal candidate to write this book because she didn't have a love of the subject.

A lack of love can lead to many problems. Mainly you wouldn't care if you fudged the details, got some things wrong, moved space and time, because if it wasn't about that one slightly deranged Nazi loving Mitford, what does it matter right? Well, to us readers who wanted to read about the Mitfords, it matters a lot. Also it brings into question the whole idea of accuracy. If I can find errors in this book, big, obvious glaring errors, how can I trust anything that she is telling me? The first warning signal was when the author said that the Mrs. Simpson affair with the King was all the newspapers were talking about. NO! People might have been talking about it, but out of loyalty to King and country the story didn't break in the newspapers till literally DAYS before the abdication, not months, not early in the year, I believe the author hints at February, but DAYS before it happened, in DECEMBER! So right there, anything that she says might be a lie or wrong.

The author also distorts facts into her favor. She's loosey-goosey with dates having things timeslip to when it suits her. In the chapter about the year 1938 she has moved events that happened in 1937 to better fit her narrative (just check the footnotes to see what I'm talking about). Past, present, and future apparently can all happen when Mary S. Lovell decrees it. Borrow a bit from the future, add bit from the past and viola, this certain year was made a little more interesting, but a lot more inaccurate. Not to mention her other foibles of how she refers to herself in the footnotes... pick first or third person, stop switching it up already! Or that she assumes you know every minor celeb from the day, you know what they say about assuming... only, you're the ass Mary, not me.

So, I'm guessing by now I've pretty much turned you off reading this book, so my work here is done. The Sisters is a flat, skewed history that lacks the sparkling wit and vivacity of any of these amazing sisters. Yes, I might have learned a few new things about them, but I don't know if I can trust the source at all so it's really all hearsay. But then again, reading up on the Mitfords, they had a tendency to mythologize their own lives, so can anything we learn about them be the whole truth? Well, one thing is certain, you're not going to get any sort of truth in this book. And for such a literary family, it's a sin to pick up secondary source materials. If you want to know more about them read Nancy's books, pick up Decca's or Diana's autobiographies, choose from the vast books of Debo's. Why bother with anything else when you can get a first hand account? Sure they might be trying to make themselves look better or exaggerating a story for laughs... but it's how they would have wanted you to know about them, not through some hack writer, but through their own words... which Mary S. Lovell borrows freely to pad her book, which makes her own writing appear even more wane.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Unity and Pamela Mitford

Unity and Pamela are possibly the most diametrically opposed of the Mitford sisters, with Unity being the most notorious for her relationship with Hitler, and Pamela being the most unobtrusive, settling for a life out of the limelight with her horses. The warrior and the woman.

Unity Valkyrie Mitford was ironically conceived in Swastika, Ontario, where her parents would occasionally work a gold mine they owned. Later when she became involved with the Third Reich she would take this as a sign that she was destined to be with Hitler. By the time Unity was debuting in society her family had already made quite a ruckus, with her sister Diana leaving her husband, the heir of the Guinness fortune, for Oswald Mosley, the head of the British Union of Fascists. Unity was never the wit or the beauty of the family and seemed to set herself apart through her shock value. She notoriously would bring her pets to balls and when things got a little boring she would spice them up by saying her rat or snake was on the loose. She longed to find the perfect tease and initially she thought she had found it by joining the BUF and setting up against her younger sister Jessica and her fervent communist beliefs. But Unity's tease seems to have become real devotion, if a bit fanatical, to fascism. 

Unlike her sisters she didn't want to be "finished" in France and begged to go to Germany. Her parents relented and soon Unity found her place in the world and in history, dubious though it may be. She became obsessed with the Nazis and worshipped Hitler, spending months and months figuring out his routine and how she could cross paths with him. Her months of stalking paid off and she soon became a confidant of Hitler's, one of his inner circle. No one knows the extent of their relationship, but they were frequently in each others company. There is every chance that it was just true friendship and not salacious at all, but their closeness as war loomed on the horizon made Unity one of the most reviled women in England, along with her sister Diana. As war seemed more and more inevitable those close to Unity worried about her because she began to make cryptic messages about not being around if there was war because she couldn't face the two countries she loved fighting. On the day war was declared between England and Germany Unity shot herself in the head, but survived. She would live to see the end of the war in a bizarre infantile state brought on by the brain damage the bullet wrought. She would never make a full recovery and contacted meningitis and died before she was even 34 years old.

Unlike Unity, Pamela was quiet and retiring, the rural Mitford. She was called "Woman" by all her family members for her domestic aptitude and her love of home and hearth, becoming "Tante Femme" to her various nieces and nephews whom she adored. Pam also loved the horse and hounds life even though she had problems with one of her legs due to a case of polio as a child, which would trouble her more and more as she aged. She married and divorced without making waves and spent several of the war years caring for her sister Diana's children while Diana was in prison, but was sadly not blessed with her own children, suffering several miscarriages. Living for years on the Cavendish estate in Ireland, she eventually settled down in Zurich where she lived with an Italian horsewoman, Giuditta Tommasi. Much like Unity and Hitler, there was much speculation even among the other siblings about the relationship between Pam and Giuditta. Pam was still living an active life till the end, not letting age (and considerable age at 86) slow her down. On her deathbed her main concern was "Who won the Grand National."

Monday, March 3, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
Published by: Roc Hardcover
Publication Date: March 4th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"After winning the trust of the terra indigene residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more.

The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murder of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard—Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader—wonders if their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or a future threat.

As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now, the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all."

Yes please, I want to read!

Exposure by Kathy Reichs and Brendan Reichs
Published by: Putnam Juvenile
Publication Date: March 4th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 432 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Another thrilling Virals adventure from New York Times bestsellers Kathy and Brendan Reichs.

When twin classmates are abducted from Bolton Prep, Tory and the Virals decide there’s no one better equipped than them to investigate. But the gang has other problems to face. Their powers are growing wilder, and becoming harder to control. Chance Claybourne is investigating the disastrous medical experiment that twisted their DNA. The bonds that unite them are weakening, threatening the future of the pack itself.

The Virals must decipher the clues and track down a ruthless criminal before he strikes again, all while protecting their secret from prying eyes. And everyone seems to be watching."

Another Virals book and me woefully behind...

Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire
Published by: DAW
Publication Date: March 4th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When Alex Price agreed to go to Ohio to oversee a basilisk breeding program and assist in the recovery of his psychic cousin, he didn't expect people to start dropping dead. But bodies are cropping up at the zoo where he works, and his girlfriend--Shelby Tanner, an Australian zoologist with a fondness for big cats--is starting to get suspicious.

Worse yet, the bodies have all been turned partially to stone...

The third book in the InCryptid series takes us to a new location and a new member of the family, as Alex tries to balance life, work, and the strong desire not to become a piece of garden statuary. Old friends and new are on the scene, and danger lurks around every corner.

Of course, so do the talking mice."

Just looks so fun.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Mitford March Mach Deux

Last March I finally was able to get around to doing my long planned "Mitford March." I had so much fun delving into the lives and loves of this eccentric family that I decided to do it again! Well, that's stretching the truth a bit, the fact is when I made up my reading list last year I realized I had more books then would fit in one month (yes, I have a lot of books by and on them, would you expect anything less?) So I thought, just perhaps, if it works the first time, I might do it again. Huzzah! It worked and I'm back with more (worked as in, didn't bottom out with you, my readers, like February always does, you fickle fickle audience, I love everyone of you).

Last spring, while mentioning all six of the sisters raised in such an unorthodox manner to make Anglophiles sqwee with joy and historians of the bright young things generation pant, I concentrated on the most, not literate, but most proficient literaryily speaking, those being Nancy, Jessica, and Deborah (go Debo). That meant I kind of left poor Diana, Unity, and Pamela by the wayside... well two of them were Nazis, so history has labelled them the losers and therefore they must wait. So this March, not only am I concentrating on the less popular of the sisters, as well as some more from Nancy, seriously Vintage publishing has got to stop putting dents in my pocketbook, but the group of sisters as a whole... that's right, it's time to start bringing in the outside biographies! So here's to March! Here's to Debo's 94th birthday! And here's to the Mitfords!

Newer Posts Older Posts Home