Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Book Review - Mary Robinette Kowal's Of Noble Family

Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: April 28th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 579 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

After their ordeals in Italy, Jane and Vincent are enjoying their time in Vienna. They are catching up with Vincent's old mentor, Herr Scholes, as well as enjoying becoming acquainted with Jane's new nephew, Tom, who is the pride and joy of the combined Vincent, Ellsworth and O'Brien families. But the Vincents don't know where they will go next after Vienna. The death of Princess Charlotte has plunged England into a yearlong state of mourning, therefore glamourists are without commissions. A shocking letter from Vincent's older brother Richard might give their immediate future purpose. Vincent's hateful father has finally died on his West Indian plantation Greycroft after fleeing England and charges of treason. But even more shocking is the death of Lord Verbury's son and heir, Garland. Garland was killed in a carriage accident that also crippled Richard, the new Lord Verbury. Richard calls on Vincent's compassion, though he knows their family doesn't deserve the consideration, to go to Antigua and settle the estate for him.

Vincent has only started to heal from the abuse handed out by his father because of Jane's love. To travel to Antigua might undo all the good she has done for him. But Jane has a sneaking suspicion that until Vincent sees his father in his grave he will never be truly at rest. They decide to travel to Antigua and see what fate has in store for them. Fate is a cruel mistress. Richard wouldn't have sent Vincent to the West Indies if he had known the truth of things. Lies, betrayal, hatred, manipulation, in other words, a typical Hamilton family get-together is in store for the happy couple, who foresee another addition to their family in the near future. Though to get back to England and the happy arrival of their child they might just have to walk through hell without knowing who their allies are.

This series, which started out as an homage to Austen with a magical bent has, over the past five years, evolved into a series that, despite it's fantastical alternate history, captures the complexity of the world better then Austen ever did. Each volume helped to create this ever expanding world view that touched on everything from warfare to basic human rights, with a pirate or two thrown in. While Jane Austen's novels are classics that defy comparison, there is something about the cloistered world that they reside in that gives you a very focused and therefore skewed view of the world. While yes, her drawing room dramas can be seen as a microcosm of the world at large, anything beyond the pale, from duels to fallen women to what exactly Sir Thomas Bertram was up to in Antigua are glossed over with just a line because it wouldn't be proper to dwell on them. Modern interpretations of Austen have tried to flesh out these omissions, what with Harold Pinter's portrayal of Sir Thomas Bertram as a reprehensible plantation owner in the unwatchable 1999 adaptation of Mansfield Park, but they leave something to be desired.

Mary has built a far better basis for the discussion of race and slavery then Austen ever intended in her books. As someone I was close to said about the aforementioned adaptation of Mansfield Park, it helped if you didn't view it as Austen. That is the key. To get to these new conversations, to approach the world at large you have to think beyond Austen, evolve into something more. Mary has made that something more in this series. With Of Noble Family she is continuing the race discussion that was begun with the coldmongers in Without a Summer and single-handedly blasting away the whitewashing of this time period. All too often we see the world as we want to see it and are scared of tackling the big issues. Sad to say, I don't think I'd ever pick up a book that dealt slavery in Antigua and the running of plantations in the early 1800s. It's not in my wheelhouse. But by taking characters I love and putting them as the voice of reason in this sadly all too common situation my knowledge expanded and my empathetic nature was touched.

With Jane and Vincent's arrival in Antigua the whole series feels as if it has moved drastically forward in time, though I don't believe more then three years has elapsed chronologically for them. Charlotte Bronte, despite always dissing Jane Austen, is the natural evolution of female writing in the 19th century. We go from a constricted world with true yet not as emotional love to a world with Mr. Rochester. Think about it, he brings the passion, the fire (quite literally), and the loose morals. He is a man of the world while Jane Eyre is more out of Austen. Of Noble Family is rightly permeated with this more modern Jane Eyre vibe, even more so if you've read Wide Sargasso Sea. The one month journey across the sea has literally opened up a whole new world for Jane and Vincent and because of this we can have all these new conversations. We can talk about race and servant versus slave. I've loved this series from the beginning, but this volume goes out with a bang at almost double the length but without feeling burdened by it's more divisive topics.

What appealed to me as an artist is this idea of different ways for glamour to be looked at and taught. Jane has a very strict view of the proper way to do her art. She was taught in the greatest European traditions. But I love that through Nkiruka she learns that black Africans, in particular Igbo, have an entirely different way of creating glamour. I adore Nkiruka and that she's always admonishing Jane because Jane is constrained by what a certain glamour is called. Jane's knowledge of glamour comes from borrowing heavily on words and phrases derived from textile and weaving. But this is a hindrance. As Nkiruka points out, by naming something after something else you are limiting what you are able to do. This literally just blew my mind. There was an opening up in me and I was reminded of that quote "what would attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?" Working within constraints is often the bane of artists. Jane is giving herself impositions without even knowing she's doing it. With Nkiruka we have someone who has had a harsh life and doesn't have as much to lose and therefore she has been able to accomplish more in her art, to do things that those traditionally trained would think inconceivable.

Combining the craft of Nkiruka and exploration of race within Of Noble Family, there's a line that Mrs. Pridemore says that hits directly on something that you still see in the art world; and that is artists of color are viewed more as "folk art" then as just artists. While yes, there is a folk art tradition, how would you feel if all the art you made was labelled as such? Black artists are continually fighting an uphill battle to be taken seriously and not classified by their cultural history. We might like to blind ourselves to the world around us, to cocoon ourselves in an Austen drawing room, but seriously, look around yourself. This book might have been written about a time when slavery was still the norm, but it's not like race relations are doing that well at the moment. We need to have books like this that are able to connect and resonant with us on an emotional level with our love of the characters but are also able to open up our minds and start conversations. Start the healing.

And healing is needed for many things; for pain and emotional turmoil can happen to anyone, slave or not. Just look to Vincent. With his family and his past coming to the fore he is dealing with reopening his wounds so that they can finally heal properly. If you think about it the fight for freedom, the fight against slavery, the fight against family, all of it is about finding your place in the world. Finding a place to call home where you are safe and cherished and loved. Vincent fights great demons in this book, it is at times hard to read of his suffering, as hard as it is to read of the whippings, but it's all about moving forward. Vincent has always felt awkward around Jane's family because she grew up in a world of love. With the birth of their child he now has a place in that family, as well as a larger family found through strife and turmoil. The world would be a better place if everyone could find this solace somewhere. For me it is in the pages of this book.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: April 28th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 579 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Jane and Vincent have finally gotten some much-needed rest after their adventures in Italy when Vincent receives word that his estranged father has passed away on one of his properties in the West Indies. His brother, who manages the estate, is overwhelmed, and no one else in his family can go. Grudgingly, out of filial duty the couple decide to go.

The sea voyage is long and Jane spends enough time unable to perform glamour that towards the end of the trip she discovers that she is with child. They are overjoyed, but when they finally arrive at the estate to complete what they expect to be routine legal tasks, they realize that nearly everything they came expecting to find had been a lie. Also, the entire estate is in disarray, with horrifying conditions and tensions with the local slave population so high that they are close to revolt.

Jane and Vincent's sense of peril is screaming out for them to flee, but Vincent cannot stand to leave an estate connected with his family in such a condition. They have survived many grand and terrifying adventures in their time, but this one will test their skills and wits more than any they have ever encountered before, this time with a new life hanging in the balance. Mary Robinette Kowal's Of Noble Family is the final book of the acclaimed Glamourist Histories."

While not the ONLY reason for Regency Magic, it did play a strong part in shaping the idea in my head and then when I would do it during the year. Also, it's bloody marvelous! 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pink Carnation Spotlight - Dominic West (André Jaouen)

André Jaouen's dream casting has been a thorn in my side now for several years. I just couldn't alight on just the right actor who had the looks, the brains, and the chops to take on this role. Then, after mistakenly thinking I had found my André I started my re-read of The Orchid Affair and Dominic West showed up hijacking my planned casting and doing a fabulous job of it I might add. So here's to an actor that showed up when I least expected it.

Name: Dominic West

"Dream" Character Casting for the Lauren Willig Miniseries: André Jaouen

First Impression: I remember the new adaptation of Richard III was really hot when I was taking Shakespeare in High School (yes, it's been awhile). What everyone was talking about though was a young actor who was stealing the movie, that young actor was Dominic West. He was fine, but overall the adaptation felt flat to me, like it was trying too hard to reinvent the wheel. Dominic's next Shakespearean appearance would be more successful in my mind. It was A Midsummer Night's Dream if you must know. 

Why they'd be the perfect actor for the Lauren Willig Miniseries: Because my subconscious obviously thinks he's the one. But more then that, he is an actor that excels at whatever he's cast in so there's no doubt he'd be an amazing Jaouen. There's also an elegance to him while still not being upper crust, which wouldn't do for our favorite lawyer cum Royalist. Also, I just can so viscerally see him backstage performing in that absurd Commedia dell'arte costume pulling off his eyebrows to rush to his son's aid, it's not even funny how real it is to me.

Lasting Impression: If, like me, you knew Dominic's work and respected it but are still not wowed by him, check out The Hour. He seriously blew me away with his performance of Hector Madden and how he could be arrogant and vulnerable and sexy all at the same time. The house party where he seduces Romala Garai's character Bel Rowley, just wow. Why did they cancel this show again? Seriously. I want it back.

What else you've seen them in: Seeing as he's been acting since I was in High School, Dominic has amassed a seriously impressive filmography. For the BBC addicts there are the Shakespeare adaptations, the Dickens adaptations, the miniseries The Devil's Whore, the spooky movie The Awakening. For the chick flick fan there's Mona Lisa Smile, Spice World, Burton and Taylor. For the action adventure type, how about 300? There is literally a movie or show or miniseries to fit every mood from musical, Chicago, to drama, The Affair. Though, when in doubt, he's in one of the most highly regarded television series of all time, The Wire! Also, how could I let the chance to have a picture of Chalky White, aka the actor Michael Kenneth Williams, pass on my website?

Can't believe it's them: He was in Star Wars - The Phantom Menace? Seriously, I can't stop laughing. Make it stop, the tears, the pain in my side. Look at that outfit. Hahahahaha.

Wish they hadn't: I'm sure when he signed onto Star Wars - The Phantom Menace it was a good job, not the joke it is today, but still. Could we expunge this from his rather stellar record?

Bio: Oh, posh, Dominic went to Eton before going to Trinity College in Dublin, and then going to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama where my choice for his Miss Grey also went, coincidence? I think not! Despite starting on stage at the young age of nine he spent some time in Argentina as a cattle herder! Because, why not. He has rarely been out of work and is always well regarded, but his recent performance opposite Ruth Wilson in The Affair has once again put him in the spotlight garnering many award nominations and laurels. Catch the laurels Dominic! He is also known for turning down a role in Game of Thrones! Of course while he might have been a better Mance Rayder, he is the definitive Noah Solloway.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Pink Carnation Spotlight - Michelle Dockery (Laura Grey)

From the moment I first delved into Laura Grey's story in The Orchid Affair there was only one actress in my mind who could bring this character to life. Someone with the looks, the attitude, and the acting chops.

Name: Michelle Dockery

"Dream" Character Casting for the Lauren Willig Miniseries: Laura Grey

First Impression: The first thing I ever saw Michelle in was her second ever screen credit in the adaptation of Terry Pratchett's Hogfather. She literally killed it as Susan, DEATH's granddaughter and a governess, and by it I mean the monsters under the bed disturbing her charges with a poker. Quite literally the definition of stoic and unshakable governess.

Why they'd be the perfect actor for the Lauren Willig Miniseries: Well, aside from the whole governess angle, she has this ability to appear perfectly calm and collected, like she's wearing a mask or armor, but when she starts to soften, you realize all the emotions that mask was hiding. I can't think of anyone who can portray that stoic resolve that melts when she finds love. Plus, she's good with a poker.

Lasting Impression: Seriously, Hogfather people. There was no way it was anything but memorable and awesome, even if Going Postal is still the best Pratchett adaptation out there.

What else you've seen them in: Um Downton Abbey anyone? Most popular British import show to the US ever? Michelle has also been in a few crime shows like Waking the Dead, Heatbeat, and Dalziel and Pascoe, but for those of the Masterpiece Theatre fandom, you've most likely seen her in The Hollow Crown, Anna Karenina, Return to Cranford, or The Turn of the Screw. Only some of those I'd recommend... but at least The Turn of the Screw was a little more inventive then most adaptations and didn't tease you with Colin Firth.

Can't believe it's them: Michelle has a little role in Fingersmith, which isn't the best adaptation of the book, but it was fun to see her first role on screen.

Wish they hadn't: Seriously, this is a hard choice between Red Riding and Return to Cranford. Red Riding was just all around bleak with almost indecipherable accents loosely following events around the Yorkshire Ripper. But I think the crown goes to Return to Cranford, which was just atrocious. All the characters had personality transplants from the first series and the book, and then both Michelle AND Tom Hiddleston were underused, both with ridiculous haircuts to boot, see the picture above.

Bio: Michelle seems to have been made for the stage, starting young and then going to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, getting her first television job the year after she graduated in the adaptation of Sarah Waters's Fingersmith. But she's never fully left the stage, appearing in such wide ranging productions as His Dark Materials, Pygmalion, and Hamlet. She is often on stage for singing as well, being a jazz singer who has performed and collaborated with her Downton Abbey co-star, Elizabeth McGovern and her band, Sadie and the Hotheads. But it's was truly her role as Lady Mary in Downton Abbey that launched her to fame in 2010. At least fame hasn't damped her sense of humor, as you can see in this fabulous Lady Mary spoof, Tough Justice.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Book Review - Mary Robinette Kowal's Valour and Vanity

Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal
ARC Provided by the Author
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: April 29th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Jane and Vincent have been accompanying Melody and her new husband on their wedding tour of the continent. Leaving the newlyweds at Trieste, Jane and Vincent take ship to Murano. Lord Byron has given the Vincents an open invitation to visit him in Venice, which is a nice cover for what they plan to do in Murano. They have long wanted to visit the famed glassmakers there after their discovery about weaving magic into glass to make it portable and not tethered to the earth in a fixed locale. The couple hope that with improved techniques and materials they can get reliable results. Yet as Napoleon rallied and invaded Belgium when they were first experimenting with this idea, they are once again derailed by outside influences.

This time they are set upon by pirates who, while ransoming them and hence not enslaving them, take all their possessions and leave Vincent with a nasty concussion. Finding Byron away from home they are struck with the realization that they are destitute. A kind man from the infamous boat journey takes them in and gives them everything they could need till either Byron returns or they are able to alert their families. Only sometimes kind men have ulterior motives and the Vincents could be in far more trouble then they could even guess. In fact pirates might be a welcome relief. Just don't tell Jane's mother about the pirates, she'll never forgive Vincent.

There are few authors out there which I will drop everything for. Phone calls go unanswered, emails pile up, work deadlines get stretched to breaking point. If it wasn't for the fact that food keeps me going and therefore keeps me reading I don't think I would remember to eat. Even on a re-read of these books I have found myself reverting to these habits that are usually only employed when I first hold the book in my hands. My love of these books has grown and developed over time, much like the books themselves. They are no longer just Jane Austen fanfic with magic, they're so much more! The books are part history, part fantasy, part alternate reality, there's just so much to love about them that I really can't stress enough that you should go out right now and get yourself all the books, because the first won't be enough.

So what keeps me coming back to Mary's series, seeing as I have just devoured the first four books in quick succession yet again? Aside from the fact that I love anything Regency (ahem Regency Magic) and Mary captures the feeling of the time period by sprinkling in historic details without inundating us with information, she has created a world where the magic just works. I'm not talking about works as in you say a spell and wow a light goes on, or even that it's successful in that something magical happens, I'm saying in the way she has created how magic is done just makes sense. The way magic resides in the ether out of the visible range and is brought forth and woven into something visible, either temporary or lasting, just works, it makes sense. Add to that the manipulation of ether outside the visible spectrum, such as cold and hot, as being dangerous, and the system just clicks into place.

As an artist myself, the way you think creatively, the way work takes a toll on you physically and mentally, Mary just nails it. While Jane would blush if I went into specifics, the issue with her "flower" I totally get. There is such a simpatico going on between me and Jane with our feelings and our physical beings that I am right there with her every step of the way. While yes, there is this part of me going, Jane is me, there's a happier part of me going Jane is Jane. She is an amazing heroine, she doesn't just have a spine, she has spine enough for both her and Vincent, supporting them through their trials and hardships, making plans, taking names, befriending nuns, it's just perfect.

And those hardships. Mary perfectly captures the day to day struggle of someone who once didn't have to worry about where the next meal will come from. The shame of being less then you were and being indebted to others and having your name sullied. Wondering if there will be shelter, if there will be food, if you will be warm. Valour and Vanity shows the flip side of Regency life. It's not all ballrooms and magic, it can be working on the street in danger of fainting just hoping to bring money home for some food or wood for the fire. And the scene where Jane buys a bar of soap. The fact that a bar of soap can be such a luxury and such a source of contention. But I can say, there is something so amazing that something as small as a little bar of soap that can subtly change your outlook. But I do also look at Jane's life and think, I am glad I grew up knowing how to cook and clean. There can be something said for self-reliance.

Now speaking of those nuns... they are just one of the many aspects that made this book so awesome. The blurbs comparing this installment to Ocean's Eleven aren't wrong. Only I would personally choose Ocean's Twelve, having seen it twice in theatres it's a better movie for many reasons; it has an awesome soundtrack, has a part in Italy, I believe even in Venice, has an amazing Chachi joke, makes more fun of itself with meta humor, and has Eddie Izzard. Here we have glamourists, nuns, pirates, puppet shows, disguises, the Eleventh Doctor, breaking and entering, there is just so much awesome that it's hard to pinpoint what makes it work so well unless you count the fact that everything works so seamlessly together.

The thing I found interesting is you don't really think of heists starting before this past century. Sure there were pirates and brigands and all number of baddies who did all number of innumerable nasty things, but the heist feels like a more modern invention. In fact the definition of heist shows the word being an Americanism from the twenties and even references cars to define it. Aside from Michael Crichton's The Great Train Robbery, while being Victorian in conceit, but still very much a product of the seventies, I can't think of a successful book that combines a 19th century setting with an elaborate heist. For this alone Valour and Vanity should be held extraordinary and a must read, if not for every other reason I mentioned. Oh, and of course, me being a pusher for this series. Go on! You know you want to read it...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Book Review - Mary Robinette Kowal's Without a Summer

Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: April 2nd, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Jane and Vincent have been recuperating at Long Parkmeade after the trials and tribulations they faced in France. Though spending so much time with Jane's family is hard on her, she can see it's excessively wearying for her husband. Luckily a commission in London means they are not long for the city. Jane though feels a tug of pity for her sister. Here is Melody, trapped far away from eligible bachelors and aging more and more with every passing season. Jane impulsively decides to help Melody by taking her with them to London. Jane and Vincent can work during the day and throw parties and go to receptions in their spare time so that Melody gets a chance at the happiness her sister has attained.

London though is in a state of upheaval. The unnaturally cold weather means that crops are failing and people are looking for someone to blame, and they focus on the Coldmongers, a subgroup within glamourists that dangerously use glamour outside the visible spectrum and therefore have a short life expectancy. There is also the Irish Question and lingering hostilities towards the French. Because of Jane and Vincent's notoriety as the Prince Regent's Glamourists as well as Vincent being the son of Lord Vebury, they soon are dragged into the world of politics and their entire life is on show for the world. Will they be able to save their marriage, England, and get Melody married? That might take a little magic to pull off.

Re-reading Without a Summer I think that I might have maligned the book too much previously. I felt like it was such a departure for the final forth of the book from everything that came before that it was a square peg in a round hole. It was waving at sharks and thinking of perhaps jumping over them. I was so focused on what annoyed me that I was over-analyzing everything and almost searching for faults when I should have been enjoying the narrative shift. Each of the five books in this series has embraced a different genre, so to speak. We started with the traditional Austenesque book, Shades of Milk and Honey, moved onto espionage and war with Glamour in Glass, later Valour and Vanity would embrace the heist genre, while here we have politics and all that entails, from court to courting if you will. While I'm not the biggest fan of courtroom dramas, always liking the first half-hour of Law and Order over the second, knowing that it was coming I was able to look at the book more objectively and realize that I loved it just as much as the others. See, I have learned to admit when I'm wrong, and that's a big step for me.

But I think my opinions on Regency court procedure were very much formed by my hatred of Death Comes to Pemberley. I know she's dead, but I can not ever forgive P.D. James for this book hinging on old obscure British laws and courtroom antics. This one book did more harm then anything previously to make me come to revile courtroom drama. The tropes of surprise witnesses, the fainting of women in the gallery, please. While the narrative of Without a Summer did naturally lead itself to court, did it really have to bring forward all the problems of Jane and Vincent's marriage into public view? Hinting at the lewdness of Jane occasionally wearing men's garb, and perhaps that was because of Vincent's sexual proclivities that made his father hire the prostitute for him that was the center of their earlier fight? Blah blah blah. While I know great worldbuilding takes everything and every aspect of society into consideration, I could have done with a little more magic and a lot less mundane martial law.

Moving on from what nagged me let's embrace that which delights me. The true history being magically woven into this alternate history was staggeringly good. It's not just the bigger changes that captured my imagination, but the little ones, the fact that the battle of Waterloo never happened so that Waterloo Bridge is now Quatre Bras Bridge was a nice little touch, and all down to the Vincents in their previous adventure. But I really loved how Kowal tied in the frigid temperatures of 1816, known as "The Year Without a Summer," into not just the politics of the book, but into people's belief systems. Just think, snow in summer? You'd be more then a little concerned with this now wouldn't you?

The average person doesn't grasp that weather can not be controlled by glamour. Therefore people look for a scapegoat to explain away this problem, and the Coldmongers make a perfect target. They are specialized glamourists who deal with temperature. Even other glamourists don't know much about what they do, only knowing how dangerous it is to mess with the elements of hot and cold. They are poor, they are not understood, and they make a far more logical scapegoat then a volcano half a world away, which was actually the true reason for these bizarre meteorological conditions. Plus, this generally accepted belief of their culpability means that Vincent's father is able to politically exploit the situation to his own gain. Just sheer genius. Or should I say evil genius if I'm talking about Lord Verbury?

Though what I think I didn't really get the first time I read this book is that it's heroine isn't Jane, it's Melody. I just thought that Jane had had a brain transplant and that Melody was awesome. It never dawned on me that this was on purpose. Jane comes across as a little bit of a naive bigot. I know Jane had a sheltered life and was a bit oblivious to things before the arrival of Vincent in her life... but there's naive and then there's ignorance. All her opinions seemed to be based on "wild supposition instead of fact." She jumps to conclusions, has an obvious wariness of anyone Irish, despite the fact that she's working for them, and expresses astonishment at people of different skin colors. But what this does is gives Melody room to shine. Because while she has always been "the pretty one" somehow Jane hijacked her story.

In Shades of Milk and Honey Melody didn't get a HEA, she got stuck in the country with her parents while her sister got freedom and love. Melody has only ever been valued for her looks. It's nice to have our preconceptions turned on their heads. Melody has developed in other ways, she knows about current events and politics. She doesn't care that glasses will mare her beautiful face so long as she can see. She has taken her inability to excel at certain things, like glamour, and developed her mind to compensate. Melody has evolved into this strong independent woman and if Jane looks a little bad in comparison, well, think how Melody has felt all these years being valued only for her beauty? Just another stereotype exploded in artful fashion by Mary Robinette Kowal.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Unmapped Sea by Maryrose Wood
Published by: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: April 21st, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"For fans of Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events and Trenton Lee Stewart's Mysterious Benedict Society, here comes the fifth book in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, the acclaimed and hilarious Victorian mystery series by Maryrose Wood.

Lord Fredrick Ashton may not feel ready to be a father, but with a little Ashton on the way, he's sure about one thing: The wolfish curse on his family must end soon, before the child is born. Penelope willingly takes on the challenge; when Lady Constance's doctor prescribes a seaside holiday, Penelope jumps at the chance to take the three Incorrigible children to Brighton, where she hopes to persuade the old sailor Pudge to reveal what he knows about the Ashton curse.

But the Ashtons are not the only ones at the beach in January. The passionately temperamental Babushkinov family is also taking the winter waters. The Incorrigible children may have been raised by wolves, but the Babushkinov children are the wildest creatures they've ever seen. Is it more than mere coincidence that these untamed children have turned up in Brighton just as Penelope and the Incorrigibles arrive?"

The new cover art, it burns, it burns. I HATES IT! I HATES IT!

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua
Published by: Pantheon
Publication Date: April 21st, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"THE THRILLING ADVENTURES OF LOVELACE AND BABBAGE . . . in which Sydney Padua transforms one of the most compelling scientific collaborations into a hilarious series of adventures.

Meet Victorian London’s most dynamic duo: Charles Babbage, the unrealized inventor of the computer, and his accomplice, Ada, Countess of Lovelace, the peculiar protoprogrammer and daughter of Lord Byron. When Lovelace translated a description of Babbage’s plans for an enormous mechanical calculating machine in 1842, she added annotations three times longer than the original work. Her footnotes contained the first appearance of the general computing theory, a hundred years before an actual computer was built. Sadly, Lovelace died of cancer a decade after publishing the paper, and Babbage never built any of his machines.

But do not despair! The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage presents a rollicking alternate reality in which Lovelace and Babbage do build the Difference Engine and then use it to build runaway economic models, battle the scourge of spelling errors, explore the wilder realms of mathematics, and, of course, fight crime—for the sake of both London and science. Complete with extensive footnotes that rival those penned by Lovelace herself, historical curiosities, and never-before-seen diagrams of Babbage’s mechanical, steam-powered computer, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage is wonderfully whimsical, utterly unusual, and, above all, entirely irresistible."

Whereas this looks just delightfully fun and I have no cover issues at all. I might have interior art issues, but the book isn't out yet so I won't prejudge.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Book Review - Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamour in Glass

Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: April 10th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Jane and Vincent have become quite the powerful couple. Working side by side they have elevated Vincent's art, their art, to a new level. The Vincents are the toast of London, with the Prince Regent throwing a dinner in their honor in recognition of the magnificent grotto they have created for his opulent New Years festivities. Yet being a woman Jane is confined to societal expectations, and the lack of recognition that goes with it. Even newspapers articles praising the work done for the Prince Regent omit her entirely. Jane doesn't want to be easily pushed aside after dinner when the men sit and talk and the women "retire." Jane has no desire to retire! She wants to be next to Vincent discussing magic and politics and all the things that matter in the world, not shut up in some parlor till the men deign to come to them! These after dinner traditions make her realize more then anything how lucky she is to have found Vincent, who views her as his equal.

The question of how to follow up their success leads them to consider a different path. They have some freedom at the moment and they never did have a honeymoon... With the continent recently open for travel with the exile of Napoleon, Vincent suggests a visit to his fellow glamourist, M. Chastain in Belgium. Not only has M. Chastain created a school for glamourists, but he has created a new technique that Vincent longs to see for himself. To travel with her husband and be surrounded by others able to work their craft and to perhaps learn more than she was able to learn herself is a dream come true to Jane. Though the journey there is not without peril. The continent is not as safe as they had hoped. Troops are rallying for Napoleon and it is rumored that he shall escape Elba and make an attempt on reclaiming his throne.

Being surrounded by glamour is inspirational to Jane and she stumbles upon an idea while playing with M. Chastain's daughter on the steps inside the house. What if you could capture a glamour in glass, thus making it portable? In particular, what if they tried it with Vincent's Sphere Obscurcie, which makes a person invisible, but only in a fixed location. The Vincents don't see this revelation as anything that could be used as a tactical benefit in armed combat, but others do. This discovery could mean defeat or victory at the hands of Napoleon. A discovery the Bonapartists would gladly kill for. Though the return of Napoleon isn't the only hitch that has been thrown into Jane's world. She has discovered she has a condition that will not allow her to work glamour. She is with child. Will Vincent still love her if they are no loner able to work side by side and she where to become a more traditional wife? As she quickly sees, Vincent is already keeping secrets from her and not confiding as much as he used to now that she is no longer with him at all times. Yet, when Vincent is threatened Jane might be the only one able to save him.

The declaration of my adoration of Glamour in Glass that started the first review I wrote of this book almost three years back now hasn't changed. As I return to this series I am even more enamoured of the world these books have created. Each installment in this series just finds me more and more enthralled. Instead of just continuing on the trajectory she created in Shades of Milk and Honey, making more Austenesque books, Mary instead delves deeper into the time creating a richer tapestry then Jane Austen ever did. While the mix of magic and the Regency world was what captured me initially, Mary has added in a level of French history that I am always drawn to, ie, the despotic wacko, Napoleon. How could you not love magic and deceit and Napoleonic spies? Napoleon and his hundred days, sigh. It is literally in my blood to be drawn to his time period. My great great great however many greats needs to be there, relative was a high muckety-muck for Napoleon, François Joseph Lefebvre, the Duc de Danzig. Family legend always had it that he had actually abandoned Napoleon during the hundred days, turns out, that wasn't quite the case... but, well, would you like to say you rallied to him? At least François's portrait is still at Versailles...

But the history is just a richness and plot contrivance that aids the deeper themes of the book; that of love and passion. As Vincent has shown to Jane, the most wonderful, the most true art is seated in our passions. The true artist thrives on their emotions and is driven by them. This passion makes us artists capable of things we didn't even think we could do, and I'm not just saying pulling a week of all-nighters sewing beads on a David Bowie puppet, though I have done that. Glamour in Glass pointedly shows how much our passions are able to push us beyond what we thought we could endure and achieve. Being driven by their passions leads to Jane and Vincent's new discoveries and new techniques, such as literally incising glamour into glass to create a portable invisibility field. But the heart of the matter is in their connection, their passion for each other. Because of this Jane is able to save her husband's life, quite literally. She is driven to create an elaborate and ultimately successful rescue attempt for Vincent all by herself because her ingenuity and drive is powered by her passion.

It is this love and passion that is so achingly perfect. When I think of what true love means, the marriage of true minds, it is the love embodied by Jane and Vincent. Jane is chaffed by the restrictions of her sex, she is a modern and amazingly capable woman who is not of her time. Vincent sees this and loves this in her. They are a modern couple who defy the expectations and mores of the time they live in. Vincent is even willing to buck the Prince Regent so that Jane can partake in after-dinner conversation instead of retiring to her designated seat in the parlor with the other women. They rely on and support each other in a way that makes the heart ache to have something so precious. Their love is so strong that they aren't shoved into the stereotypical romance tropes where the damsel in distress is rescued by the knight on a white steed in shining armor. Their love allows Jane to be the rescuer.

It is this love and passion that is what will last of their legacy. Because what interests me about their chosen art form is it's transient nature. A Glamoural is almost performance art. It is pulled from the ether and will one day return. It is fixed, it cannot move, and is meant to be an adornment that can easily be changed, almost as easy as redecorating. I can't help but think of the three months that Vincent and Jane spent creating the grotto for the Prince Regent's ball. It is a one night spectacle. Created for a single event and then it will be torn asunder. Gone in a flash to be replaced by the next sensation. The thing that always drew me to sculpt and build and paint was that after you were done you had something physically left over. Some tangible proof of your exertions. But then I started doing theatre, and in theatre you build something, you sweat and toil and in the end, after the run, you tear it all down. This was so hard for me to accept. To willingly destroy what you had made because the time limit was done. So while I ponder the inevitability and the end of all things, at least the love of Jane and Vincent lives on in Mary's "Histories". Their love is one for the ages.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Book Review - Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: July 26th, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy
Jane and Melody Ellsworth are as different as two sisters can be. Jane is starting to accept the inevitability of her spinsterhood. At 28, there is no hope of finding a husband, particularly when Mr. Dunkirk, the man who holds a special place in her heart, is also the object of Melody's affections. Jane knows her beauty is no match to Melody's. Even if Jane is adept in the magical arts and can make the most fabulous glamours and illusions, she herself knows that men prefer beauty over brains. But more importantly, she would never stand in the way of Melody's happiness. Soon the small group of friends in Dorchester receives a few additions to their ranks. Mr. Dunkirk's younger sister Beth arrives, but the withdrawn and sallow young girl with a mysterious past is nothing to what is happening at the Viscountess's. Not only is her favorite, and need it be said, dashing, nephew, Captain Livingston, is arriving after years away, but she has also hired the famous Glamourist Mr. Vincent to make a wooded wonderland of her dining hall.

Soon everyone is coming and going between the homes with dinners and strawberry picnics, and all manner of enjoyments. Jane starts to hope that perhaps her sisters affections for Mr. Dunkirk are waning, as Jane befriends his sister and starts to hope that he might indeed have feelings for her, not Melody. The course of love never runs smooth though, neither does felicity between sisters. Melody and Jane have a falling out because Melody is willing to do anything to ensnare her man, even fain injury. Can talent and brains when out over conniving beauty? Or will the answer to true happiness be something and someone different than Jane ever thought.

Shades of Milk and Honey is like the best possible Jane Austen mash-up, drawing threads from her entire oeuvre. It's like if Elinor and Marianne had a major falling out with secret engagements to multiple parties. Then on top of everything, throw in some magic! The book is very much a slow burn. For a long time you just enjoy the routine of the characters very much pulled from the pages of Austen. The domesticity of everyday life is here on the pages for us to fall into. But instead of just painting or working on embroidery, the characters are using magic to enhance the world around them. There are the dances, there are the grand diners, and there are the arguments over fabrics at the modiste. Yet under the guise of Jane Austen fanfiction, like the threads of ether invisible to the naked eye used in a glamour, Mary Robinette Kowal is not only building an ending that packs a punch with the sheer number of Austenian endings happening simultaneously, but a deeper story about art and passion and love.

The magical element has this book being categorized as in the vein of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. While I can see the connections, one couldn't with two books both set in Regency England and employing the use of magic, but I think they are truly very different. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell has a far more faerie aspect. But more then that, for all the comparisons to Austen, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is a far more masculine book with female undercurrents. Whereas Shades of Milk and Honey is derived more directly from Austen and stays within the female sphere. In fact, I will assert that, despite being of the same subset genre of the other Regency Magic books out there, Shades of Milk and Honey is so uniquely its own that it sets itself apart by the cunning deviations of magical usage.

In all the books I've read over the past few months set during this time and dealing with magic, the magic itself has practical applications. The magic is used for defeating foes, vanquishing Napoleon, this is, after all, the prime time to vanquish him, and other active endeavors. Now I'm not saying that the magic system here won't try to embrace this down the road, I have after all read this series before, but in this first volume the magic doesn't have many practical uses, magic is just art. Magic, or, as I should say, glamour, is just another womanly art, to be lumped in with embroidery, painting, and playing the piano. In fact glamour can enhance these already existing arts with subtle touches. Glamour is a home art, and is a skill that is recommended for a good wife to have. A way to add those special touches that make a house a home. The fact that it is womanly, finally giving a legitimate reason for women to swoon, is also why Mr. Vincent's chosen profession as Glamourist causes consternation to his family.

But Mr. Vincent understands the heights to which glamour can reach, and it's Jane's embracing of this revolutionary knowledge, to her, that calls out to the artist in me. The truth is anyone, given time, can become proficient in art or music. They can be technically wonderful, but that is all there is. Every key may be hit, every brushstroke executed to perfection, and yet there is something missing. This is what Mr. Vincent sees in Jane's art. Her studying and her interest in dissecting Vincent's work has given her technical perfection. But without the passion, without the raw emotions channeled into the art, then it can never be moving, it can never take a good artist and make them great. That passion inside you is what makes you strive, makes you see something and be inspired. Makes you always trying, learning, doing. There's a reason the greatest artists are caricatured as being passionate and emotional people, because deep down, if you don't have this, you won't make it.

The love and passion of art that the character of Mr. Vincent embodies is what pulls you into the story. It's as if Darcy and Elizabeth where dueling artists where their passion was expounded upon more, a Regency Zelda and F. Scott if you will. Jane's development from a retiring spinster to passionate artist because of the revelations gleaned from Mr. Vincent's journal literally took my breath away with it's beauty, simplicity, and passion. The scene where Jane gives way to all those bottled up emotions and creates the grove of trees in her room, it brought tears to my eyes. Taking an art form that during this time period was just an accomplishment for a young lady to possess as she is made the prefect meek wife and channeling that into a way to express all those bottled up and repressed emotions makes passionate glamour perhaps the most magical discovery of all.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

Aunt Dimity and the Summer King by Nancy Atherton
Published by: Viking
Publication Date: April 14th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Cozy mystery lovers’ favorite paranormal sleuth is back with her twentieth otherworldly adventure.

There’s trouble in Finch. Four recently sold cottages are standing empty, and the locals fear that a developer plans to turn their cozy village into an enclave of overpriced weekend homes. But for once Lori Shepherd can’t help.

Her infant daughter, her father-inlaw’s upcoming wedding, and the crushing prospect of her fortieth birthday have left her feeling inadequate and overwhelmed. Until, that is, she has a chance encounter with an eccentric inventor named Arthur Hargreaves. Dubbed the Summer King by his equally eccentric family, Arthur is as warmhearted as the summer sun. In his presence, Lori forgets her troubles—and Finch’s.

But Lori snaps out of her happy trance when she discovers detailed maps of Finch in the Summer King’s library. Next, a real estate agent comes knocking. Is Arthur secretly plotting Finch’s demise?

With Aunt Dimity’s otherworldly help—and her new daughter in her arms—Lori mounts a crusade to save her beloved village from the Summer King’s scorching greed."

I really need to get back into this series. I love the title and cover art, let's hope the story stacks up.

Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling
Published by: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: April 14th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 80 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"J.K. Rowling, one of the world's most inspiring writers, shares her wisdom and advice.

In 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered a deeply affecting commencement speech at Harvard University. Now published for the first time in book form, VERY GOOD LIVES presents J.K. Rowling's words of wisdom for anyone at a turning point in life. How can we embrace failure? And how can we use our imagination to better both ourselves and others?

Drawing from stories of her own post-graduate years, the world famous author addresses some of life's most important questions with acuity and emotional force.

Sales of VERY GOOD LIVES will benefit both Lumos, a charity organization founded by J.K. Rowling, which works to transform the lives of disadvantaged children, and university-wide financial aid at Harvard University."

Is printing famous author's commencement speeches a thing now? It seems to be a thing.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Mary Robinette Kowal

Of all the authors whose work I love and admire I have to say that if there was one whose life I could live for a day I'd choose Mary Robinette Kowal's. She's like my high schooler dream life personified. Firstly, a puppeteer, so she's got the Jim Henson Muppet side down. Secondly writing work inspired by Jane Austen, but not being limited by that framework. Then there's the whole friends with amazingly awesome writers from Patrick Rothfuss to Neil Gaiman. Sigh. But more then anything it's the talent that I am just in awe of. Seriously, she can write, and the awards she's garnered prove I'm not alone thinking this. She has received the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, three Hugo awards, and the RT Reviews award for Best Fantasy Novel, such an underachiever.

Going back to Pat Rothfuss, it's because of him that I first heard about Mary's Glamourists Histories. I'm still kicking myself that I actually met Mary at WisCon when Shades of Milk and Honey was just out but didn't know about the series till a year later, thanks Rothfuss, I was talking to you five feet away from Mary, you think you could have pointed her out a year earlier? But whenever you stumble upon a great series it doesn't matter when it happens, just that you finally found this author whose work you just connect with. Besides writing and doing puppetry she also uses her performance and theater skills to record the audio books of fellow authors from Seanan McGuire to John Scalzi.

But the most interesting thing about Mary is there's a slim possibility she's Jane Austen... as her publishers Tor pointed out on their website when the recreation of what Jane Austen must have looked like was unveiled:

"After an extensive period of research, utilizing forensics, eyewitness accounts, and the expertise of a period costume designer, the Jane Austen Centre in Bath has determined what Austen really looked like during her life in the 18th century. At which point we replied um, no, that’s Tor Books author Mary Robinette Kowal, puppeteer, Pat Rothfuss impersonator, and...regency author."

So let's ask this author some questions shall we? Like when she "discovered" Jane Austen...

Question: When did you first discover Jane Austen?

Answer: Golly... I don't remember when I first knew about her, but the moment I rediscovered and fell in love with her was in Lyme Regis. I'd read Persuasion, but there is something about buying a copy in a second hand shop and reading it in the town itself that makes it really live.

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'd likely be amused, given how many parodies and pastiches she wrote herself.

Question: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Answer: People. No, really! That's not as facile as it sounds. What I'm most interested in is the connection between people. Writing helps me understand why people make certain choices and the choices I might make in a similar situation.

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

Answer: It's an interesting cusp period. They had a very scientific approach to the world, but from our point of view a lot of things that were Science to them look like superstition and magic to us. It's very easy to insert magic and treat it as matter-of-factly as the idea of ill humors.

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

Answer: I knew I wanted to write a Jane Austen pastiche. Specifically, I wanted to find out if I could fit Fantasy into a Jane Austen plot mold. So, having decided that, it meant that my main character needed to be a young lady of quality. I also wanted her to be a magic user, which meant that magic had to be largely impractical and decorative, since young ladies of quality never had jobs.

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

Answer: I would break the rules and continue to do both.

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

Answer: Oh... Kind of every chance I get. I hand sew my own dresses, which started as research, and attend events with the Oregon Regency Society. I've spent an entire week wearing nothing but Regency clothes and writing with a quill. Why not? Just because you're grownup doesn't mean you should stop having fun.

Author Photograph © 2012 Rod Searcey

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Book Review - Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer's The Grand Tour

The Grand Tour by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Published by: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 1st, 2004
Format: Hardcover, 480 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Cecelia and Kate are back in action, together not separate for this adventure, and they're bringing their new spouses along for the honeymoon. Though Kate doesn't think there's any chance she's going to get used to being called Lady Schofield, much as Cecelia is having a hard time remembering she is Mrs. Tarleton, nevertheless they are in wedded bliss. Heading to the continent with Kate's new mother-in-law, Lady Sylvia, in tow for the first leg to Paris, they have barely arrived in France when magical misdeeds are afoot. They are inexorably drawn into a possibly Bonapartist plot to use items of magical significance to legitimize Napoleon as ruler of Europe, or at least they assume it's the recently deposed despot. The magic adds supernatural significance to the appointed leader making their rule as close to divinity as is possible. Asked by Wellington himself to stop this atrocity from happening, the happy couples are able to move about the continent on their grand tour with the whim of newlyweds, when really their whims are strategic plans to catch a magical mastermind. Hopefully they won't be in too much danger and that there will be lots of operas for Kate.

As you can imagine, reading all these books centered during the Regency in England basically means that I've been living in the early 1800s now for a couple of months. What you might not be aware of unless you've noticed the link on my sidebar is that I'm participating in a year long re-read of all Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation, aka Napoleonic War Regency England, books. This month I'm moderating the discussion of the re-read of The Orchid Affair on my friend Ashely's blog, The Bubble Bath Reader. And no, I'm not mentioning this just to get you to go over to her blog, though that would be rather nice, I'm mentioning this because my re-reading of both The Orchid Affair and The Grand Tour was a nice confluence of events that made me appreciate the later more then I did initially.

The two books serve as complimentary volumes dealing with the loss of the monarchy in France because of the revolution. While The Orchid Affair was about restoring a prince of the blood during the reign of Napoleon prior to his self-proclaimed Empire, The Grand Tour dealt more with the aftereffects of the war and the desire to not repeat recent history. Because both books, while not exactly being for governance by a sovereign entity, show quite well the fact that there is a benefit to stability. In France the stability is no longer having a fear of the guillotine, in Italy, it is the unification of all of Italy into one nation. By having a better grounding in history due to The Orchid Affair, what was on my first read of The Grand Tour a rather dull trek through Europe following artifacts, became something more real, something that actually had importance and impact. A little perspective can easily change your opinion if you are willing to let it.

But what I really think is the strength of The Grand Tour is that it brings the actual tradition, the coming of age right of the grand tour of Europe into a more visceral experience. Mainly this has to deal with travel during the early 1800s. In so many books of the time, or written about the time, the grand tour was just mentioned as a right of passage, a way to expand your knowledge and tastes by traveling and seeing great works of art. You were expected to gain some culture and then return home with a broadened mind and some stories. So in fiction you usually have the character who mentions they are setting off on this trip or have just returned, but do they talk about the actual day to day travel? No, they talk about art and artifacts. But just wrap your head around the fact that this is before trains, before cars, and there are a lot of mountains in Europe.

The "Tour" was more of a trek. To get a sense of this one would be better off reading travel narratives of the day, not fiction, or just read The Grand Tour. What Stevermer and Wrede have done so expertly is capture the hardships and danger that was involved in traveling through Europe in the 1800s, masked gunmen aside. We think we have it bad when our plane is delayed or we are rerouted? Imagine having to take days in a carriage banging about just to get from one city to another? Not only that. How about crossing the Alps? Here's your donkey, don't look down. Seriously, we, as travelers, have NOTHING to gripe about. Nothing! Poor Kate seems to spend the entirety of the trip cold, wet, and rattled; and that's not even because of evil magicians set on creating an overlord, this is just because of drafty carriages, wet weather, wind, and badly maintained roads. It takes the glamor right out of the grand tour, but in it's place it leaves a truth that is universal but is usually glossed over by other writers.

As for Stevermer and Wrede's continuation of the letter game? It fell flat. The Grand Tour was written over fifteen years after Sorcery and Cecelia and during the interim both the authors have gained a maturity in their writing. While this does lead to a solid writing style, it loses the spontaneity and fun of the previous book. It's more refined, it's more polished, almost to the point where you can no longer hear the distinction between the author's voices. Plus, I know the fact that the characters are on the tour together means that the previous convention of writing letters back and forth isn't tenable, so we are into diary territory, but the whole gimmick of the letter game is that the characters aren't together. So Stevermer and Wrede thought it would be fun to break basically the only rule of the letter game. Maybe they should have realized the rule is there for a reason. Having the narrative shift back and forth between Kate and Cecelia while they are often in the same room led to a bad case of head-hopping and having us readers get whiplash. So the book might have a lot going for it, and it's a solid read, but it lacks that magical spark that makes Sorcery and Cecelia so memorable.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley
Published by: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: April 7th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 528 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Beloved New York Times bestselling author Susanna Kearsley delivers a riveting novel that deftly intertwines the tales of two women, divided by centuries and forever changed by a clash of love and fate.

For nearly three hundred years, the cryptic journal of Mary Dundas has kept its secrets. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas travels to Paris to crack the cipher.

Jacobite exile Mary Dundas is filled with longing-for freedom, for adventure, for the family she lost. When fate opens the door, Mary dares to set her foot on a path far more surprising and dangerous than she ever could have dreamed.

As Mary's gripping tale of rebellion and betrayal is revealed to her, Sara faces events in her own life that require letting go of everything she thought she knew-about herself, about loyalty, and especially about love. Though divided by centuries, these two women are united in a quest to discover the limits of trust and the unlikely coincidences of fate.

"A grand adventure...Susanna Kearsley just keeps getting better and better!" —LAUREN WILLIG, New York Times bestselling author."

If you haven't already fallen for Kearsley, I hope Lauren can persuade you!

Deception on Sable Hill by Shelley Gray
Published by: Zondervan
Publication Date: April 7th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The World’s Fair has introduced many new ideas to Chicago society—but can two individuals from very different backgrounds find love together?

It’s mid-September 1893 and Eloisa Carstairs is the reigning debutant of Gilded Age Chicago society. To outsiders she appears to have it all. But Eloisa is living with a dark secret. Several months ago, she endured a horrible assault at the hands of Douglass Sloane, heir to one of Chicago’s wealthiest families. Fearing the loss of her reputation, Eloisa confided in only one friend. That is, until she meets Detective Sean Ryan at a high-society ball.

Sean is on the fringes of the Chicago elite. Born into a poor Irish family, becoming a policeman was his best opportunity to ensure his future security. Despite social boundaries, he is enamored with Eloisa Carstairs. Sean will do anything to keep her safe—even if he can never earn her affections.

Eloisa longs to feel normal again, but a killer is on the loose. In the last month, three debutants have been accosted by an assailant wielding a knife, and Eloisa fears for her safety at every event she attends. As the danger in the city increases, and as the romance between Eloisa and Sean blossoms, they both realize they want to be seen as more than how the world views them. But will they catch the killer before all their hopes come crashing down?"

Totally haven't heard about this series, but I totally want to read it now. Though I have one objection, "Sable Hill" um, there aren't really hills in all of Illinois...

The Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James
Published by: NAL
Publication Date: April 7th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"London, 1925. Glamorous medium Gloria Sutter made her fortune helping the bereaved contact loved ones killed during the Great War. Now she's been murdered at one of her own séances, after leaving a message requesting the help of her former friend and sole rival, Ellie Winter.

Ellie doesn't contact the dead—at least, not anymore. She specializes in miraculously finding lost items. Still, she can't refuse the final request of the only other true psychic she has known. Now Ellie must delve into Gloria's secrets and plunge back into the world of hucksters, lowlifes, and fakes. Worse, she cannot shake the attentions of handsome James Hawley, a damaged war veteran who has dedicated himself to debunking psychics.

As Ellie and James uncover the sinister mysteries of Gloria's life and death, Ellie is tormented by nightmarish visions that herald the grisly murders of those in Gloria's circle. And as Ellie’s uneasy partnership with James turns dangerously intimate, an insidious evil force begins to undermine their quest for clues, a force determined to bury the truth, and whoever seeks to expose it..."

Mmm, yes please.

Palace of Lies by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Published by: Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication Date: April 7th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Desmia discovers the reality of royalty is far from a fairy tale in this third adventure set in the Cinderella-esque world of Just Ella and Palace of Mirrors, from New York Times bestselling author Margaret Peterson Haddix.

Desmia and her twelve sister-princesses are ruling Suala together at last, a united front. The kingdom seems to have finally gotten its happily ever after, but Desmia, trained by a lifetime of palace intrigue, is not so sure. She desperately wants to believe all is well, but she can’t help seeing danger around every corner.

And then the unthinkable happens, and Desmia’s worst fears are confirmed. Now, without the support of the sister-princesses she’s grown to rely on or the trappings of royalty that have always convinced people to listen to her, Desmia must find the courage to seek out the truth on her own terms—and to determine the course of two kingdoms."

Third book in this lovely and sweet series, and oh my, the cover art! Might have to re-buy the first two because the new artwork is just too too divine!

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith
Published by: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication Date: April 7th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The best-selling author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series deftly escorts Jane Austen’s beloved, meddlesome heroine into the twenty-first century in this delightfully inventive retelling.

The summer after university, Emma Woodhouse returns home to the village of Highbury to prepare for the launch of her interior design business. As she cultivates grand plans for the future, she re-enters the household of her hypochondriac father, who has been living alone on a steady diet of vegetables and vitamin supplements. Soon Emma befriends Harriet Smith, the naïve but charming young teacher’s assistant at an English-language school run by the hippie-ish Mrs. Goddard. Harriet is Emma’s inspiration to do the two things she does best: offer guidance to those less wise in the ways of the world and put her matchmaking skills to good use.

Happily, this summer presents abundant opportunities for her to do just that, as many friends, both old and new, are drawn into the sphere of Emma’s occasionally injudicious counsel: Frank Churchill, the attractive stepson of Emma’s former governess; George Knightley, Emma’s brother-in-law and dear friend; the charming yet self-important Philip Elton; and, of course, the perfect (and perfectly vexing) Jane Fairfax.

Alexander McCall Smith’s gentle satire and cozy, old-fashioned sensibility prove to be the perfect match for Jane Austen’s wit and characters. Though carriages have been replaced by Mini Coopers and cups of tea with cappuccinos, Emma’s story is wonderfully timeless."

Finally the next installment of the Austen Project, which, well, I'm interested, but I kind of don't like Emma Woodhouse... yeah, it's a sin I know, but last time I read it she just really really pissed me off.

Miss Julia Lays Down the Law by Ann B. Ross
Published by: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication Date: April 7th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"It’s up to Miss Julia to sort out the murder of a hoity-toity newcomer in the latest addition to the New York Times bestselling series.

Ann B. Ross’s most recent addition to the series, Miss Julia’s Marvelous Makeover, was the first to hit the printed New York Times bestseller list, so Miss Julia fans both new and old will be especially keen to get their hands on the next one. The sixteenth in the series, Miss Julia Lays Down the Law is guaranteed to be the steel magnolia’s most exciting adventure yet.

It’s November and Miss Julia is looking forward to some quiet time before the holidays. That is until snobby Connie Clayborn and her rich husband move to town. At first, Miss Julia and the other ladies are pleased to be invited over for coffee, but the afternoon turns into a slap in the face when their hostess spouts nonstop criticism about Abbotsville. Why, how dare she? Days later, Miss Julia decides to confront Connie woman to woman, but when she arrives, Connie is lying on the kitchen floor—lifeless in a pool of blood. Who could have done this? Miss Julia will need to find out fast—particularly because her fingerprints are now all over the crime scene. . . ."

For my mom.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Book Review - Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer's Sorcery and Cecelia

Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Published by: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 15th, 1988
Format: Hardcover, 316 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Kate and her younger and far more eligible sister Georgiana are debuting in London this season under the watchful eye of their Aunt Charlotte. While back in Essex Kate's best friend and cousin Cecelia is stuck rusticating with her father, her brother Oliver, and her Aunt Elizabeth. Cecelia would give anything to be in London with Kate, while after a few days in London Kate would give anything to be back in the country. The only thing keeping each other sane is their voluminous correspondence with each other. Luckily both their lives soon become far more interesting, as do their letters. Their neighbor in Essex, Sir Hilary Bedrick, is invested into the College of Wizards in London and at the ceremony Kate stumbles on something and someone very magical and dangerous, a wizard named Miranda. Miranda soon appears in Essex where her stepdaughter Dorothea is making a splash as well as fast friends with Cecelia. There appears to be a plot afoot to marry Dorothea off to Thomas Schofield, the Mysterious Marquess of Essex, who also happens to be a wizard. Soon their are missing brothers, fake fiances, undiscovered magical abilities, gambling, dancing, horses, borrowed books, and one very interesting chocolate pot. Working in two different locations can the two cousins save the day and perhaps get a little happily ever after?

Epistolary novels were once all the rage. There's something voyeuristic to reading a book of correspondences that just makes you not want to put the book down. There's the immediacy of wanting to know what happens next that sometimes isn't their in more traditional books. Plus, because you are reading diaries, letters, innermost thoughts, you have this feeling that it's not just voyeuristic but wrong and the owner of these letters could arrive at any moment and take them away, giving a frisson of excitement to your reading. Jane Austen was raised on these books and it's no wonder then that she experimented with this format. Sense and Sensibility, when it was still Elinor and Marianne, was an epistolary novel. But Jane abandoned this approach because she didn't like having to keep her characters apart for the whole narrative, which is an aspect to this style that must be adhered to. The fact that Sorcery and Cecelia is able to convincingly keep to this style when Jane Austen herself wasn't I think deserves a tip of the hat for being that little bit magical and all the more Regency.

Wrede and Stevermer created this epistolary book by playing the letter game. The game is played when two (or more) participates exchange letters back and forth that are telling a story. The first writer sets up the characters and the basic story and why the characters corresponding need to be apart and then the next writer builds on it. The letters fly back and forth, with the authors trying to one-up each other all while never discussing plot or character outside of the letters. It's a fun game that can be used as a writing exercise, a way to do collaborative writing, or a way to just have fun. I think of it as that drawing exercise I remember doing in first grade where a sheet of paper would be divided into three sections and someone would draw the first section of an animal and then it was hidden, then the next child would draw the middle of the animal, while the final child finished off the animal having no idea what came before. Personally I was always annoyed because I wanted to do the drawing all by myself. When I was younger I hated working collaboratively, so the letter game sounds a bit of a nightmare to me; like doing those improve stories where you just go all out back and forth, sometimes through the alphabet. The key I think is to do this with someone you trust, and the end result of Sorcery and Cecelia is that you can tell Wrede and Stevermer trusted each other and had fun in the process.

One of the by products of having coauthors on a book that goes back and forth between two narrators is that you have two very distinct voices. If you were writing any book with more then one narrator, if the voices of these characters don't come across as two different people it does nothing but annoy and alienate your readers and makes me really pissed. You either go all out or go home. But one of the problems that arises is that perhaps you start to favor one voice, or in this case, one author over the other. You can't help but compare and contrast and even re-reading this book all these years later I couldn't help but want to smack Cecelia. Of the two authors I feel as if Wrede is trying to not only one-up Stevermer but to wrest complete control of the story while making everything a little too much a pantomime. I couldn't help but think of Heads You Lose once or twice and how the combative natures of the writers amusingly fueled the plot. But Wrede isn't trying to be combative, but she is too forceful in her sections and it makes me long for the Kate sections. Stevermer writing Kate has the right level of collaboration while also having a better written heroine. As for the writers kind of mirroring these characters when I met them... let's just say that also reinforced my opinions.

But going back to talking about the aspect of an epistolary novel adding an immediacy to the story I think that the letter game ups this. Because the two authors aren't collaborating outside the letters they are sending back and forth there is no plotting in advance. It's all cause and effect, with breathtaking fluidity. Wrede and Stevermer might each have an idea or where they want the story to go and how they want it to end, but they can easily throw a wrench in each others ideas knowingly or unknowingly. This makes you, as the reader, want to just keep reading in a headlong rush because you and the authors don't know what will happen next! The suspense is palpable. The suspense is real. It's like watching a game, you don't know how it's going to turn out so you can't look away. Usually it's only tightly plotted books that have the ah ha moments perfectly placed for revelations that make suspense last, but here it's just the letters of two girls living in a magical England, and that makes me smile. Anyone who thought Regency England was all staid conversation and glacial plots should be handed this book to knock their prejudices aside.

Though for me the most important aspect of this book is that it kick-started a whole new generation of writers. It's amazing how many authors works who I love that list Sorcery and Cecelia as one of, if not the most favorite book of theirs. I kind of wish that I had found this book when it came out back in the eighties. At that age reading such a fun, madcap romp, with a little magic and romance, I can see why Gail Carriger and Stephanie Burgis point to this book and go yes, this book is inspirational. Who knows what might have happened with my reading habits if I had stumbled on this book earlier? Perhaps I would have found Jane Austen prior to senior year in high school. Maybe my book nerdiness would have onset earlier. But overall, I am grateful for the publishers that saw two writers having fun and realized that that joy was infectious and should be put out into the world, because it's magical.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Caroline Stevermer

Caroline Stevermer is a fellow Midwestern girl, growing up on a diary farm in the middle of nowhere. Sadly I only had a defunct diary farm in the middle of nowhere to visit on the weekends, otherwise known as my grandparent's house. Writing since the age of eight she went to Bryn Mawr college and got a B.A. in Art History. Her first sale as a writer happened in 1980 and she has been writing even since. I first found out about Stevermer because I had foisted Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell on my friend Ann, who was then known to quote the book at me, who then said, have you heard about Sorcery and Cecelia? I had not! I was beyond excited to hear about another author writing in the Regency era with a magical bent. What is so unique though about Stevermer's series with Patricia Wrede is that they took their love of Austen even further and wrote the three books in the series in epistolary form, each one writing one of the characters, and therefore writing back and forth in a letter game, to the delight of all readers.

Stevermer's work thrives in magical realms, even if they are magical realms that look very much like our own twisted in her unique way. Her Galazon series features a school of magic, long before Hogwarts made it cool. The acclaimed author Terri Windling called the first book, College of Magics, "charmingly distinctive . . . [marked by] the sly wit and sparkling prose that have earned her a cult following." And as for this cultist, I am happy to say that she still lives in the Midwest because I've been lucky enough to meet her twice at WisCon, getting my Cecelia and Kate books signed of course, and seeing her on several panels on very unique subjects. Here's to her continued success, but enough from me, how about a little something from Stevermer in her own words?

Question: When did you first discover Jane Austen?

Answer: When I was in high school, Scholastic Books featured an edition of Pride and Prejudice for fifty cents. I think I still have it. To be honest, I didn't appreciate her until I was in college. I made the mistake of considering her high literature and missed how wonderful her books are.

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

Answer: Sad to say, I fear she would find our interest in her sadly ill-bred. She had a keen sense of humor, so perhaps she would enjoy laughing at us.

Question: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Answer: It's difficult to pin down, as the sources are so varied. Often from a desire to read about a girl having and adventure on her own terms.

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

Answer: I think many time periods mesh well with magic, but to focus on the early 19th century specifically, perhaps it is because advances in science made at the time could as well be advances in science. Electromagnetism in particular seems magical to me.

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

Answer: I worked with Patricia C. Wrede to make sure our sections matched enough to make sense. In my own "College of Magics" and "Scholar of Magics" novels, I was inspired by the C. S. Lewis book, "The Discarded Image." What if the geo-centric model of the universe actually worked?

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

Answer: Gosh, I don't think I could separate them! I love writing in historical periods not my own, but I can never, ever stick to facts. So I guess fantasy would win out. But probably not for long.

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

Answer: Not in Regency clothes, but for summer jobs in college I worked as a costumed guide in historic houses, so I've worn both hoop skirts and a bustle routinely. They do change the way one moves.

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