Friday, 30 November 2012
Date begun: November 27th, 2012
Date finished: November 27th, 2012
This is the final book in the Edge series, and while the previous three books more or less can be read independently of each other, this one ties up enough loose ends and contains enough characters from earlier in the series that unfamiliar readers would be recommended both to avoid this review if they don't want spoilers for earlier books, and to start the beginning with On the Edge. Go on. This review will still be waiting until you return, and the books are varying degrees of awesome.
Richard Mar is the head of the once large and unruly Edge clan, which after a huge battle with a very unsavoury character known as Spider and his band of genetically mutated minions in Bayou Moon has had to relocate to the much more magical realm of the Weird, severely depleted after many deaths. Spider was an agent of the intelligence agency known as the Hand. Richard's brother Kaldar swore to get revenge, and joined the rival intelligence agency, the Mirror. Richard chose a different path, and chose to go after the bands of slavers who once kidnapped his young cousin Sophie. Not content to hunt down and kill random bands of slavers, Richard wants to follow the hierarchy all the way to the top, ending the unscrupulous practise once and for all.
If he lives long enough, that is. At the start of the book, Richard is lured into a trap and almost mortally wounded by a small group of slavers. He's saved from near certain death by Charlotte de Ney, an unusually powerful healer from the Weird kingdom of Adrianglia. She sought refuge in the Edge after nearly using her healing powers to kill her husband, who married her for her exalted social position and sought an annulment the minute he discovered that she was barren.
While Charlotte is the most powerful healer in her generation, she cannot use her powers to heal herself. She was taken from her biological family as a young child once her powers were discovered, and trained at the best medical institutions Adrianglia had to offer. Adopted by one of the foremost nobles in the land, Charlotte herself was dubbed a baroness after her years of service. Yet once a healer starts using their powers to harm rather than to heal, they risk setting in motion a devastating chain of events. The more powerful the healer, the more powerful the disaster if they lose control and start inflicting illnesses rather than healing. So Charlotte runs to the Edge, where magical abilities are dampened. Eleonore, the grandmother of Rose, George and Jack from On the Edge lets her rent Rose's old house, and helps introduce her to the locals, so she can help out, and make money.
Charlotte heals Richard, but he's been pursued by the slavers from the Weird, and they are determined to get their hands on him, no matter what the cost. Enraged by their actions, Charlotte returns to the Weird, where she is at full power, determined to destroy the slavers, every last one. Richard realises that while Charlotte is furious, harming others and bringing death doesn't come naturally to her. He tries to dissuade her and change her mind, but when she won't be reasoned with, figures that she's safer with him than pursuing the slavers on her own.
On the surface, Richard and Charlotte may seem like opposites. While Richard may have been brought up with immaculate manners from his Weird grandfather and is deeply noble in spirit, he's still a dirt poor Edger rat with no prospect other than to meet death on his quest to destroy the slavers. Charlotte may have been born humble, but was raised in luxury and trained to be immaculately poised in any situation by one of the most powerful noblewomen in Adrianglia. She's a baroness in her own right after her decade of healing service to the Adrianglian crown, and the adopted daughter of a very influential lady. Despite this, both Richard and Charlotte are very similar, and that's part of the reason why the romance side of this book felt less satisfying in some of the previous Edge books.
Richard's brother Kaldar is a rogue, charmer and consummate con man. He meets his match, Audrey, the daughter of a thief and con artist, in Fate's Edge. The romance in that book is hindered by Audrey's lack of trust in Kaldar, and unwillingness to settle down with a man she fears will be just like her father. They banter and constantly try to best each other, but are basically two sides of the same coin, and it's obvious that they're perfect for each other.
Richard and Charlotte's romance have the same problem. Both characters are devastatingly noble and self sacrificing, to the point of idiocy on occasion. Richard is hunting the slavers so his cousin Sophie won't be forced to do it herself. He's almost sure he's going to die before he discovers the leaders of the organisation, and he doesn't mind laying down his life for the cause. Charlotte is the same. She hates using her abilities to kill, but after experiencing first hand the terror the slavers can bring, she won't stop until she's made sure no man, woman or child is ever hurt by them again. If she has to unleash a plague to do so, so be it.
Also, while both Richard and Charlotte are convinced that the other is horrified and repelled by the other's capacity for bringing death, they fall in love over the course of about three days. Extremely eventful days, mind, but still less than a week. Considering their vastly different backgrounds and social status, a slightly slower development and maybe a bit more conflict would have been nice.
As always, the supporting cast of the book is amazing. Long time readers of the series will see the return of the aforementioned Eleonore, Rose and Declan, Declan's formidable mother (briefly introduced at the end of On the Edge), Jack and George, Sophie (or Lark, as she is known as in Bayou Moon), and of course Kaldar. Sophie is growing into a terribly driven young swordswoman, and Richard is probably right to be worried about her state of mind. Jack and George have aged and developed since their adventures in Fate's Edge and can still make me laugh, even though their subplot in this book is quite a lot darker than in the previous book.
Dark is definitely the operative word for this story. Ilona Andrews said in an interview once that if the series was a meal, On the Edge would be the starter, Bayou Moon the heavy main course, Fate's Edge the frothy and sweet dessert and Steel's Edge the bitter and black coffee at the end of the meal. The subject matter of this book is not a light one. There is death, so much death, and not just for deserving bad guys. I was in tears by the end of chapter three, and several times throughout the book (although some of the tears were happy ones).
A lot of story strands started in earlier books are finished off with this one, and it's a very fitting end to the story. To say that my expectations for this book were high is a massive understatement. I started pining for this book after finishing Fate's Edge a year ago, and every snippet and mention of it just made me want it more. I needed the book to be good, and it is. As Spider and the Hand are the main villains in Bayou Moon and secondary villains in Fate's Edge, I would have liked it if that subplot wasn't finished off almost as an afterthought towards the end of this. Just as the romance between Richard and Charlotte was resolved in no time at all, the final act of the book also felt a bit rushed. None of them are enough to seriously ruin my enjoyment of the book, though, and to be satisfied with the end for the characters.
Ilona and Gordon Andrews have said that they may return to Jack, George and Sophie in a later series, if they have enough material to write their story properly. I certainly hope they do, because these three characters are probably my favourite in the entire series, the world building in these books is excellent, and their writing is amazing. Congratulations on finishing on a high note.
Date begun: November 23rd, 2012
Date finished: November 24th, 2012
Marianne Daventry is an innocent 17-year-old whose mother died the year before in a riding accident. Her father's scarpered off to France to grieve, her twin sister's in London with family friends enjoying a season, while poor little Marianne is wasting away with boredom at her grandmother's in Bath. Her gran, a cranky and unpleasant old biddy, decides to disinherit her no good scoundrel nephew and bestow her fortune of forty thousand pounds on Marianne, as long as the girl will learn to behave like a proper lady (she likes running about out of doors without a bonnet, and prefers the countryside to town life - dreadful stuff).
Marianne clearly needs role models, and is shipped off to Edenbrooke, the estate where Lady Wyndham, a bosom friend of Marianne's mother lives. Marianne's twin sister is besties with Lady Wyndham's daughter, and the girls are set to return to the estate from London, so Marianne will have some company. On the way to Edenbrooke, Marianne's carriage is set upon by a highwayman, and when her coachman is shot, she has to drive the carriage to the nearest inn by herself (this was one of the few useful and admirable things the girl did in the entire novel). At said inn, she's insulted by a gentleman, because of her dishevelled appearance. Once he realises that she is of good standing, he apologises for his incredible rudeness and instead proceeds to condescendingly take matters completely out of her hands. He insists that they be on first name basis, and refuses to divulge anything about his identity.
Once Marianne arrives at Edenbrooke and promptly falls in the river, twice (because she loves to twirl uncontrollably to express happiness, and apparently never looks where she does this), she discovers that Philip is indeed Lady Wyndham's second oldest son. They two strike up a highly unlikely and inappropriate friendship, and just before Marianne's twin Cecily is about to arrive complications rear their ugly head when it's revealed that Philip's older brother died a few years back, making him the lord of the manor, and the man Cecily has set her sights on as a future husband. As Marianne apparently always gives in if her slightly older sister calls dibs on something, this means she has to give up on Philip. Oh noes! How can this conflict ever be resolved!?!
As this book is currently one of the finalists in the Goodreads Choice 2012 awards, and has a huge number of positive reviews both there and here on Amazon, I decided to give it a try. Many of the reviews compare the writing to that of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, and all I can say is that both women must be spinning in their graves. Or possibly "twirling" like the heroine in this preposterous story.
It's labelled as a "proper romance", because there aren't any graphic love scenes, but the behaviour of the hero and heroine is deeply improper from the moment they first meet. As the heroine is an inexperienced young girl from the country, her ignorance and foolishness might be explained away, but the so-called "gentleman" hero should know better than to encourage the girl to call him by her first name, flirt inappropriately with her in private and in front of his family. At one point, Philip encourages Marianne to take a nap outside, while he sits around watching her (Edward Cullen alert!), and subsequently claims that "she snores like a big, fat man". If that's the makings of a "proper" romance, give me the kind with sexy times every day of the week.
The first half is full of badly done exposition, the author overuses adjectives, and in pretty much every scene, all the characters seem to feel an excess of emotions from joy to anger to despair, if the descriptions of their feelings and facial expressions is to be believed. The book is wildly melodramatic, and might have been better if it was written in 3rd person - but sadly, it's not.'
Then there's the plot, highwaymen, falling into rivers, inappropriate flirting and banter, dreadfully characterised supporting characters (both Marianne's twin sister Cecily and Philip's younger sister Louisa are total mean girl bitches for most of the story, only to make a total turnaround and become super supportive and helpful "fairy godmothers" in the wrap up of the story), kidnappings, random due (inside in the common room at an inn - how do you even go about that?) - it may sound exciting, but most of the time, it's just dull, and there's a limit to how far I can suspend my disbelief.
I fully understand that readers may be looking for clean, chaste Regency romances - but do yourselves a favour and read something by Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer novel instead. This is simply a very poor excuse for a novel, pretty cover notwithstanding.
Date begun: November 22nd, 2012
Date finished: November 22nd, 2012
When Jacqueline is dumped by her preppy boyfriend two months into her sophomore year at college, she's suddenly forced to re-examine her life choices. She has no friends outside the circle of their mutual ones (, she's stuck at a university she followed her now ex to, and she's failing a class for the first time in her life because she's gutted after the breakup and can't stand the thought of seeing her ex several classes a week. After a party, not long after the dumping, one of her ex's frat brothers try to rape her, and would've succeeded if she hadn't been rescued by a mysterious stranger, who luckily happened to be crossing the parking lot and witnessed the assault.
Jacqueline manages to get her econ professor to let her make up the missing midterm, and promises to attend tutoring sessions to catch up on the missing work. She doesn't tell anyone about the attack, not wanting to make a fuss. While she'd never really noticed the cute guy who rescued her, she now seems to run into him everywhere. He works at the campus Starbucks, he sits in the back row of her econ class, more busy sketching than taking notes. Her roommate designates Lucas the mystery man as the perfect rebound guy. Jacqueline strikes up a flirtation with Lucas, but is also trading bantering e-mails and texts with her new econ tutor. Is she really ready for a new relationship at all, and which guy is the right one for her?
Another one of the Young Adult nominees for the Goodreads Choice 2012 awards, this one caught my eye because my friend Erica read it and rated it highly. As one of the subplots deals with sexual assault and the aftermath of that, this could be a difficult book for some to read. The frat boy who attempts to rape Jacqueline continues his threatening behaviour, and spreads lies about her alleged promiscuity following her breakup. He also goes on to rape another girl, and Jacqueline has to decide what to do about coming forward so he can be charged with the attacks.
Having defined herself almost entirely as Kennedy's boyfriend since early high school, Jacqueline is forced to take a long hard look at her life after he suddenly dumps her, and she doesn't like what she sees. With the exception of her room mate, most of their mutual friends take his side, as he is the handsome, popular frat member, while she is the independent, arty girl who never quite fit in. Jacqueline is very good at double bass, an unusual instrument for a woman to play, and tutors local high school kids as a part time job. She could've applied to a music conservatory, but followed her boyfriend to university instead. Lonely and adrift, things get even worse when she's attacked. She doesn't want to tell her room mate, who's dating the attacker's best friend. The description of Jacqueline's loneliness and self doubt is very well done. You kind of want to slap her for being so trusting, naive and oblivious that she meekly followed her douchebag boyfriend to college, but you also feel sorry for her, and can't help but want her to succeed in turning her life around, preferably with a hot new boyfriend and some new, better friends.
Once her attacker actually rapes someone else, Jacqueline has to come forward and admit that she was attacked as well, and the book deals with the difficult situation many rape victims find themselves in, trying to prove that the sex was not consensual. Jacqueline and her room mate start taking self defence classes, and all the things they do to help her feel more empowered and safe again were very well done.
Jacqueline's struggle to become a stronger, more independent person were in many ways more interesting than the romantic subplot. To begin with, Lucas is pretty much the hot, dashing stranger. She's not sure if she likes him because he rescued her from a traumatic situation or whether there's something more there. He's very secretive about his background and past, and to begin with there's a few complications and misunderstandings, that thankfully get resolved fairly quickly. The romance angle is good, but the main reason to read this book is for the character growth in the protagonist. Although if rape and sexual assault are bad triggers for you, it might be best to give it a miss.
Friday, 23 November 2012
Date begun: November 20th, 2012
Date finished: November 21th, 2012
Echo (named for a Greek nymph) Emerson used to be one of the popular girls in school, dating one of the stars of the basketball team. But one night two years ago, her life changed drastically, leaving her nearly dead in the hospital with horrific scars all down her arms and she doesn't even remember what happened, only that it has something to do with her mother, who is now kept away by a restraining order. She hates going to therapy, she hates that her father is having a baby with her step-mum (who used to be her babysitter). She desperately misses her older brother, who died on a mission in Afghanistan two years ago, and now her father is threatening to sell the car he wanted to restore. She needs to get a job, so she can make enough money to complete her brother's project, she wants to discover what happened to her, and she wants everything to return to normal.
Noah Hutchins had a stable and loving family, until his life changed drastically when his parents died in a fire. In school, he's known as a girl using loner, a stoner kid with no prospects. Only his closest friends know that he's been in and out of a series of shitty foster homes, and desperately wants to be reunited with his two younger brothers, who he barely ever sees, because he was judged emotionally unstable when he punched his abusive first foster father. If he's to have any hope of gaining custody over his little brothers when he turns 18, he needs to improve his grade point average drastically, get a good job, a place to live and hopefully discredit the foster parents now raising his brothers. He would give anything for his life to go back to some kind of normal.
The new school therapist, Mrs. Collins, decides to give Echo a job tutoring Noah. She promises Noah increased visitation with his brothers if he promises to shape up, and despite his deep mistrust of social workers and authority figures, he has no choice but to agree to his plan. Unfortunately, because of some misguided verbal exchanges with Echo, the tutoring job might not be something she'll feel comfortable sticking with. Both teenagers are deeply vulnerable and very wounded, extremely mistrustful of the adults around them after facing bitter disappointment again and again. On the surface, they have nothing in common, but once they start talking, they're drawn to each other like moths to a flame.
The book is written in alternating points of view, so the reader gets to follow both Echo and Noah closely. While the book blurb made me expect a fairly run of the mill high school romance, where now outcast good girl loses her heart to the resident bad boy, the book proved to be a lot more than that, and a lot better than the back cover makes it sound. Katie McGarry writes very believable teenagers, and both protagonists have gone through hell. It's completely understandable that they feel angry, and helpless and desperate, and long for a return to the pleasant, normal lives they used to have.
The full back stories for both characters are gradually revealed, and it keeps the suspense up. Noah and Echo team up to try to get access to their files in Mrs. Collins' office. Echo can barely sleep and is plagued with horrific nightmares every time she does sleep. She wants to know the full story behind her "incident" without having to gradually remember it through therapy, convinced that if she just knows the whole truth, she'll find peace. Noah wants the name and address of his brothers' foster parents, convinced that they're being mistreated, and determined to prove it, so he can win custody over them as soon as he comes of age. It's obvious to the reader that these are dreadful plans, but you still go along for the ride, hoping that the characters find closure and some sense of relief towards the end.
I received an ARC of this from Mira Ink through NetGalley, and am sorry that I didn't read it sooner. Not at all the cliched teen romance I thought it at first, it's a beautiful story of two damaged people finding each other, and helping each other through a difficult time. It's currently a finalist in Young Adult Fiction in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2012, and available in hardcover or e-book.
Date begun: November 15th, 2012
Date finished: November 17th, 2012
So it's no secret that pretty much all I read consists of genre fiction, mostly paranormal fantasy, or romance (sometimes either of those genres aimed at young adults) or a mix of all of the above. So Felicia Day's Vaginal Fantasy Hangout was pretty much made for someone like me. Now, for most of the time the group has been running, I've read at least one, if not both of the books featured as Reads of the Month. However, this month (November), they feature zombie books, with at least a bit of a romantic element to them.
I'm not going to lie, I've read books with vampires, werewolves, all sorts of other kinds of shapeshifters (including dinosaurs, so thanks, VFH ladies!), ghosts, demons, angels, fairies, dark elves, you name it - I've probably read some variation of fantasy/romance where this was a feature. Until now, I'd drawn the line at zombies, however. My husband reads, and watches The Walking Dead, and I've caught the occasional episode. I watched Shaun of the Dead. I don't like horror, though, in any genre, so zombies tend to be something I avoid. I certainly don't see it as a successful starting point for anything with romantic elements. Clearly popular culture disagrees with me, though, as Warm Bodies was a huge publishing success and now looks like it's going to be a really rather entertaining film.
One of the reasons I join online book clubs, and browse review sites, and book blogs and participate in the Cannonball Read is to discover new things. So while I was initially reluctant, I decided to give zombie fantasy a try. My Life as a White Trash Zombie is the story of Angel Crawford, who wakes up in the hospital after what appears to be a drug overdose. She was apparently found stark naked on the side of the highway, on the same night as there was an accident not too far away, and the driver of the car was found decapitated. With the head missing from the scene of the crime. Angel has no memory at all of how any of this came to pass, but is relieved that the police only question her, as a drug overdose is in violation of her parole.
She's given a bag of clothes and a letter from one of the nurses, where she's told to show up at the parish morgue for a new job, and she has to hold down the job for at least a month, or the police will be told about her OD, and she'll end up in jail. She's also given 6 bottles of some mysterious liquid, and told to drink one every other day. The letter also states that if she were to end up in prison, she'd be dead before long, so Angel is too scared to refuse the job offer.
At the morgue, she discovers that she's not only expected to drive a van and pick up corpses, she's also meant to help the morgue technicians with autopsies. Previously, Angel's not been able to see anything even vaguely gory without throwing up, but she now seems to be able to handle all sorts of disgusting smells and sights without so much as a dry heave. Strangest of all, the sight and smell of dead brains seem to drive her wild. Before long, Angel realises that she actually kind of likes her job, and wants to prove that she can stick with something, no matter what her deadbeat on again off again drug addict boyfriend or drunken father says. She just needs to figure out why she has an unnatural craving for brains, why dead bodies keep showing up decapitated, and who got her the job at the morgue in the first place?
For the first couple of chapters, I wasn't sure about Angel as a protagonist, and her no ambition deadbeat attitude. By the time she starts her job at the morgue, I was starting to warm up to her, and I'm very glad that I kept going with the book, as it turned out to be both a fairly exciting page turner, and lots of fun. Once Angel gets developed more as a character, and starts building her self esteem and accomplishing things, I really enjoyed her and her rather snarky wit. I wish she'd wised up about her abusive, drunken asshole of a dad, and extreme loser boyfriend sooner, but we can't have everything, now can we?
The way zombies are portrayed in the book is also really well done. Angel can pretty much survive any injury or damage as long as she ingests enough brains, and while she no longer feels the effects of pills or pot, she can eat human food as well, so long as she consumes brains every other day or so. The more energy she expends, the more often she has to have a brainy snack. Her job at the morgue is obviously perfect, and once she faces up to the fact that she's now the walking undead, she tries to research her "condition" as best she can, and gets on with things without complaining.
There's some pretty cool supporting characters as well (not the drunken dad or pothead boyfriend), and a subplot involving Angel's continued crush on one of the deputies who arrested her a while back. The book is not a romance, as such, but it looks like the romance angle might be stronger in the sequel (which I'm now pretty excited to read). So I still haven't had to face an actual main story romance where one or both of the characters is a zombie, and guess that'll have to be next on my list.
Date begun: November 5th, 2012
Date finished: November 9th, 2012
Charlie starts high school after an extended stay in therapy because his best friend committed suicide the year before. His brother was the star quarterback, but is now in college on a sports scholarship. His older sister pretty much ignores him, and Charlie is more or less a social pariah, until he befriends the outgoing and charming Patrick, and his stepsister Sam, who are both seniors. They find Charlie's bluntness and awkwardness endearing, take him under their wing and introduce him to their clique of oddball friends.
Famously banned in several schools, and challenged frequently, probably because it shows a pretty honest take on high school life, with homosexuality, drunken parties, sexual experimentation, drug abuse, also alienation, depression, social anxiety, unrequited love and trying to find your place in the world - the book is structured as letters Charlie writes to an unknown recipient.
I must confess, I saw the film adaptation before I read the book, and therefore saw the characters pretty much as the are in the movie, but as the film is scripted and directed by Stephen Chbosky himself, that's not really a problem, because the book was adapted brilliantly. While I think I'm a bit older than the intended target audience, I would probably have loved it wholeheartedly if I discovered it as a teenager. Several of the teenage girls I teach are currently reading it because of the film, and they absolutely adore both interpretations of it.
Date begun: November 6th, 2012
Date finished: November 8th, 2012
This is the second book in a trilogy, and it will contain spoilers for The Daughter of Smoke and Bone. So if you haven't read that book, skip this review, and come back when you've read both books. The review will be here when you're done, I promise.
Everyone still here, any spoilers are your own responsibility. In the previous book, Karou, teenage blue-haired artist of mysterious origins and raised by monstrous creatures, met a strikingly beautiful angel who tried to kill her on their first encounter, and then they fell in love. Akiva, the angel in question, had a history with Karou, although neither of them realised it at first. Once Akiva discovered Karou's true identity, and revealed it to her, their future together was pretty much doomed.
The Daughter of Smoke and Bone was a mystery story of star-crossed lovers, and ended on a hell of a cliffhanger. Days of Blood and Starlight can be summed up as: What if Juliet woke up in the crypt after her days asleep, and discovered that Romeo had not killed himself when he believed her dead, but instead gone on a revenge rampage, killing her closest family, destroyed her city, and aided in the attempted genocide and enslavement of her entire people? Because that's pretty much where Karou is now. How do you forgive the man you love after something like that? How do you, if you're Akiva, ever make amends?
This book is not a love story, it's a story about defiance, and rebellion, warfare, heartbreak, disillusionment and angst. There are some brighter episodes, mainly provided by Mik and Suzanna, Karou's human friends who are adorable and hopeful and optimistic to the point of silliness, really. Even when confronted with the dangerous and painful reality of Karou's new life, Suzanna stays so perky I wanted to shake her.
Karou's existence is one of loneliness, pain and regret, working herself to near exhaustion to help what is left of the Chimera rebel against the tyrannous Seraphim. Akiva, reunited with his siblings in an elite Seraphim army unit, believes Karou to be dead (again) and knows that the things he was brought up to believe are all lies. Both races have endured a millennium of hate and warfare, and there is no end in sight. With Karou, he once dared to dream of something different, and better, but their dreams are all ashes, partially because of his own actions.
It's a huge departure from the tone and feel of the first book, and a brave thing to do with a young adult book. The vast amount of dystopian young adult fiction out there shows that Taylor isn't the only one to see that teens can take their fair share of bleakness, death and angst. While this book was bleak, I was pretty much as gripped by the story as I was by the first book, and I'm deeply impressed that Taylor explores the very real consequences of Akiva's seemingly unforgivable actions. With the trend of former villainous characters turned heroes begun with Buffy the Vampire Slayer (exactly how many people did Angelus and Spike really kill in their years as evil vampires, and how quick was Buffy to forgive and forget all that), it's nice to see someone taking a different approach. He may have been the love of her life, but can (and should) Karou forgive the horrific things that Akiva did out of grief and rage, believing her dead forever?
It's understandable that Karou has been changed by the revelations in the previous book, but I was still sad to see her literally a cowed shadow of her former self. She is a little bit to quick to take things on surface value, and not question the situation around her, just because she feels guilty and partially responsible for the attack on the attack on the Chimera capital. Karou in Daughter of Smoke and Bone was strong, independent, brave and defiant, not so much in this book. I did like the introduction of new characters, both on the chimera and angel side of things. Akiva's siblings were an especially good addition.
Something completely different than I was expecting, but still very well written, and very engrossing, I'm now very curious to see what Taylor is planning for the final volume of her trilogy. Having written two such very different books in the series so far, and with the events set up towards the end of this story, no matter what happens, it's going to be interesting. I'm honestly not sure if she intends for all this to have a happy ending, and I have trouble seeing exactly how she'd achieve it, but I'm certain that come next year, I'll be eagerly anticipating the next book.
Date begun: October 30th, 2012
Date finished: October 30th, 2012
The Countess of Wareham has inherited a small estate in Pennyroyal Green upon the sudden death of her husband, and moves there in the hopes of getting away from all the gossip and scandalous stories surrounding her in London. Born Evie Duggan from Ireland, the former Covent Garden dancer and courtesan married the Count of Wareham after he won the right to court her in a card game. After his unfortunate demise, malicious rumours call Evie "the Black Widow" and insinuate that she may have killed him.
Adam Sylvaine is the vicar of Pennyroyal Green, and he takes his office seriously. Just as handsome as his wealthy Eversea cousins, he's perfectly aware of the reason why most of the women of the village show up in church every Sunday, and he's extremely careful that he not be seen to show any one woman anything but the utmost courtesy. So when the striking young widow who just arrived falls asleep during one of his sermons, rather than hang raptly on his every word, he's surprised. Not one to listen to gossip, he doesn't realise her identity until his more notorious cousin Colin fills him in, and he realises that he should probably stay far away from her.
Evie, however, needs to enlist Adam's help, as he knows all the respectable women in the village, and she wants nothing more than to put her past behind her, be helpful and make friends. She quickly discovers that none of her flirtatious tricks that normally charm men to do her bidding helps with Adam, instead, he wants her to be herself, something she hasn't been able to for a long time. He agrees to aid her in charming the matrons and respectable young misses of Pennyroyal Green, and watches in admiration as she faces every challenge they throw at her with aplomb. Can there be any future for a notorious former courtesan and a country vicar? And what happens when a figure from Evie's past appears in Pennyroyal Green?
I've enjoyed every single Pennyroyal Green book I've read so far, but thought the most recent one before this, was less engaging than some of her earlier ones in the series. The books seem to alternate between focusing on Everseas and Redmonds, the two leading families in the little village of Pennyroyal Green. Adam Sylvaine, the handsome vicar cousin of the Everseas, has been mentioned in a few of the previous novels, and as non-rake heroes are few and far between in Regency romance these days, I was hoping that his story would prove one of the better ones.
Adam is a good man, through and through, but just because he's a vicar, doesn't mean he doesn't experience temptation, just like everyone else. He just works all the harder not to succumb to it, and while he's very aware of the debt of gratitude he owes to his aunt and uncle for the living he's been given, his primary motivation is to take care of his parishioners. He knows that the majority of the young ladies of the town have crushes on him, and he's constantly sent donations of preserves, jams, pillows with Bible verses embroidered on them, and he's determined not to hurt or lead anyone on. Every instinct he has warns him to stay away from Evie, but once he sees how vulnerable and scared she is, deep inside, he can't help but be drawn to her.
Evie didn't love her late husband, but she was fond of him, and hates the rumours that married him for his money and killed him for the inheritance. She worries constantly about her wastrel brother, her sister with a good for nothing husband and a huge brood of kids to feed, and sends them as much money as she can possibly spare - so it's not like she's living a life of luxury. Hoping to escape the scandal surrounding her, she quickly discovers that gossip travels fast. She refuses to apologise for her past, and is very forthright about parts of her former life being very lucrative and enjoyable, but she genuinely longs for a quieter life, and true friends. She's fully aware that many women might see her as a threat, so tries to make herself as helpful to them as she can, hoping they might come to accept her in time.
One of the things I like the most about Long's books is the banter, the sparkling dialogue and clever wit of the characters. I'd also, honest to God, got halfway through the book before I realised that the couple is Adam and Eve (yeah, see what she did there - also I must be some sort of dimwit). The development of the romance is slow, and anyone hoping for lots of passionate sexy times will be disappointed. The sexual tension between two people trying to stay away from each other, but constantly being drawn towards one another is exquisite, though, and because of the careful buildup, it's all the more scorching when they finally give in to their attraction.
My main niggle with this book is that the end is rather hurried, and all the conflicts are resolved a little bit too fast and too easily. Not to say that the resolution scene didn't also make me a bit misty-eyed, even as I had to suspend my disbelief to a frankly ridiculous degree. A fun, quick read, but still not as awesome as What I Did for a Duke.
Sunday, 18 November 2012
Date begun: October 18th, 2012
Date finished: October 19th, 2012
I'm ashamed to say that I'd not really heard of the Bloggess, Jenny Lawson, before I read this book. I'd also seen it reviewed in this year's Cannonball a bunch of times (I just counted - 11 people have already reviewed it), but never really paid any attention (or read the reviews - I'm sorry, guys), mainly because I saw the mouse on the cover and assumed it was a children's book or something. I did, however, read the review featured on Pajiba, and that's what finally made me realize that I had to get a copy for myself. I have since gone back and read all the other reviews - so many good writers on this blog this year!
I don't think I have laughed as loudly or as much, or annoyed my husband with insisting on reading bits out loud to him when he was busy doing something, with any book this year, or for as long as I can remember. Jenny Lawson's writing is hysterically funny, and several times I had to put the book down because I was wheezing for breath.
Jenny Lawson writes honestly and tragi-comically about her childhood in rural Texas, about her slightly scary taxidermist dad, about the poverty she grew up with, about her anxiety attacks, meeting her husband and their subsequent marriage, her difficulty conceiving, her many different and difficult health issues, and I'm now an avid follower of her blog, still reading my way backward through the bits I've missed.
While the book made me laugh, it also made me so glad that this woman is out there, sharing her life and her experiences in this way. It also made me deeply sympathetic for her husband, and I now feel so much better about my husband's "funny little ways", because even at his worst, it's nothing like some of the stuff I read about in this book. Unlike several of the comic celebrity biographies I've read, this affected me more, because Lawson is a regular person, who just happens to have a gift at writing about her life.
I'm sorry I didn't discover the book sooner, so I could join in the general chorus of acclaim for this book. I will from now on do my very best to obnoxiously pimp it to all my friends, to ensure that Lawson gets another book deal and will keep writing.
Date begun: October 14th, 2012
Date finished: October 14th, 2012
Before I read Fun Home, I'd only really heard of Alison Bechdel because of the Bechdel test (which I recently discovered was actually developed by Liz Wallace, Bechdel just featured it in her comic). I also vaguely knew that she was an acclaimed comics writer and that several of her works were autobiographical.
A couple of good friends gave me the book for my birthday, and I decided that the October Read-a-thon was a good time to read it - it's always good to vary your reading material, and I discovered last time that comics are a very good thing when you're in the final hours and your brain can use pictures to help make sense of the plot.
My husband doesn't really like the term graphic novel. I agree with him for things like trade collections of things like Batman and the like, but with books like Persepolis and Fun Home, the term accurately applies, and I think the authors have chosen the medium very deliberately. The story wouldn't be the same without the visual component. In this, Bechdel chronicles a large part of her childhood and adolescence, even the time after she went to college, and especially her complex relationship with her father. Bechdel grew up in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, where her father was both the funeral director (the title refers to the nickname the family gave the funeral parlor) and an English teacher.
Bechdel's father was a cold and emotionally distant man, and completely obsessed with restoring the family's Victorian home down to the smallest detail, and the title may is likely also reflecting the less than idyllic atmosphere that Alison and her brothers experienced growing up. The stories are not told strictly chronologically, and several events and incidents are shown more than once throughout the book, as Bechdel clearly matures and discovers more about her parents and their unhappy marriage.
Bechdel's relationship with her father was not an easy one, but she acknowledges how alike they were in some respects - like with the compulsive attitudes to their art, and also in their homosexuality. The books shows Bechdel's early sexual awakening and coming out to her parents as a lesbian, then discovering that her father was a closeted homosexual who'd been having relationships with young men, many who had babysat Bechdel and her brothers over the years.
The book is very honest, and exposes her family life and personal development in a very stark and matter of fact way, and while it is clear that it wasn't always easy for her growing up with the rigid expectations of her father, the stories are also told with humour and affection, with as many fond reminiscences as there are sad and tragic parts. This was my first real exposure to Bechdel's work, but not the last. I will definitely be checking out more of her books from now on.
Saturday, 17 November 2012
Date begun: October 13th, 2012
Date finished: October 13th, 2012
Blurb from the back of the book, because it's been over a month since I read this (and I read it in only a few hours in the middle of the night during Read-a-thon):
Everyone in town thinks Meg is volatile and dull-witted and that her younger brother Charles Wallace is dumb. People are also saying that their father has run off and left their brilliant scientist mother. Spurred by these rumours, Meg and Charles Wallace, along with their new friend Calvin, embark on a perilous quest, through space to find their father. In doing so they must travel behind the shadow of an evil power that is darkening the cosmos, one planet at a time.
I can totally see why this is a beloved children's classic, and it was a delight to read. Engaging child protagonists, missing parents, mysteries, adventure, space travel, exotic foreign worlds, a dark and sinister force as an antagonist - it's pretty much got the lot. Meg is loyal and clever and headstrong and oh so brave and misses her father terribly. She's a wonderful heroine, and it's no wonder that Calvin is so taken with her, even though she's an outcast and he's one of the popular kids in school.
Charles Wallace is a child genius, and as such, could've been incredibly annoying to read about, after all such characters in science fiction are not always beloved (Adric and Wesley Crusher spring to mind). But in the deft hands of Madeline L'Engle, he's neither a plot moppet, nor unbearable, and while he's clearly brilliant, he's also very convincingly a little boy.
You might not think that quantum physics and children's literature were a good combination, but this is a very cleverly written science fiction adventure, and I will absolutely be tracking down the other books in the series to see how the story of Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin develops.