Eager reader of history, mystery, biography, YA, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, paranormal, and etc. My reviews are usually positive--there are too many books I adore to finish those I don't.
Emily Castle is back in this whimsical Christmas short story with seasonal magic, playful humor, and an alarming mystery (but no murder.) This time around Emily is part of the crew working in a London department store’s elaborate enchanted forest Christmas display designed to help children feel the wonder of the holidays, but on their trial run the little girl testing the exhibit goes missing.
Real Elves is just a few short minutes of light yuletide reading intended to give readers a taste of the Emily Castle series, but I think it will be most enjoyed by those of us who are already fans and want more. For new readers I can highly recommend reading one of Emily’s quirky, wit-filled full length books.
I received a Kindle copy of this charming story from the author. Review opinions are mine.
Set at a luxury resort by the sea in 1930’s Britain, Murder at Brightwell has all the ingredients of a perfect diversion--well burnished prose, a captivating plot, witty dialog, elegant fashions, charming cads, upper class shenanigans, love gone wrong, secrets galore, an appealing main character, and murder. What could be more fun than that? I dashed through the story.
Five years ago Amory Ames married Milo, her far too charismatic playboy husband, and then regretted that choice almost immediately. Milo jaunts off to places like Monte Carlo to engage in gossip column worthy amusements far too often, leaving Amory all alone with the servants, so when her former fiancé knocks on the door one day Amory can’t help wondering what might have been. Amory has known Gil Trent since they were children and he’s everything Milo is not--steady, dependable, and trustworthy. After years of no contact he’s come to ask a favor that involves Amory accompanying him on a holiday by the sea, and Amory decides, why not? It’s a request and opportunity she can’t resist, but then someone is murdered and Gil is accused and Milo of all people shows up making everything all the more confusing.
Amory investigates, of course, and a wonderful cast of characters make up the possible suspects. The romance and murder aspects of the story are finely balanced so that both threads kept me in suspense for most of the book. Murder at Brightwell is author Ashley Weaver’s debut novel, and I will be eagerly awaiting her second.
This is the third in Jasper Fforde’s YA series featuring Jennifer Strange, the competent 16-year-old running an agency of magicians in the Ununited Kingdom, a highly skewed alternate world UK. Jennifer’s the kind of girl who takes disasters in stride, which is fortunate because just as she is about to have her first date she and her young man have to alter their plans to act as bait for a crazed dinosaur-sized magical creature on a rampage, and almost immediately after they must embark on a quest across the border with a petulant self-absorbed princess in tow to find the Eye of Zoltar, though they’re be careful to not refer to their expedition as a quest because that would bring on reams of paperwork and substantial fees.
Romance is not Fforde’s strong suit, but brilliant not quite absurd absurdities with frequent enough wisps of truth to make them irresistibly funny are, and that’s on full display here. I’ve been missing the Neanderthals from the early books of Fforde’s wonderful Thursday Next series (a favorite of mine because it’s full of literary references) so I was thrilled to find a new Australopithecine character here. There’s a satisfying ending to Eye of Zoltar, but the good news is it’s a to-be-continued story so there will be at least one more of these books packed with nonstop action, strong female characters, unrelenting wit.
Growing up Zilpha Keatley Snyder was one of my favorite authors.
I Stand Corrected is a lighthearted breezy memoir, slim in size and full of self-deprecating humor, but author Eden Collinsworth goes off on a lot of tangents with anecdotes about her careers, her friends, her travels elsewhere in the world, her marriage that ended in divorce, and her much adored son, so that there’s less about teaching etiquette in China than I expected, even though that is the theme she keeps coming back to.
Reading the book is like chatting with a slightly scattered, well traveled and fairly knowledgeable friend, who tells you interesting things about the places she’s visited, but can’t resist including funny side stories. If you’d like to read a little bit about China, or world travels, or how manners and customs differ by culture, but you don’t want anything too long or heavy, this book would be a good choice.
Famed aviatrix Evangeline Starke married her wildchild husband after knowing him just one night, and though it was a relationship full of passion they were on the verge of divorce when he died suddenly in the sinking of the Lusitania. Or did he? Five years later Evie discovers he just may be alive, which sets her off on a crazy quest to find him and get some answers. With lovely sensory-rich writing and a charming cast of international characters, including Evie’s Aunt Dove who in her younger days had been one of those forward-thinking, world-traveling Victorian women, City of Jasmine is an entertaining escape, though I missed Aunt Dove when Evie takes off across the desert without her. Part romance and part a fast-paced Indiana Jones type adventure it manages to include both Peter Pan themes and post-WWI Mideast politics.
Savvy, straight-talking, and self-reliant, Emma McChesney, is as witty and entertaining as the “fast-talking dames” found in old movies, but it’s closer to 1910 than 1930 or 40. Emma’s an early career woman, working as the Midwest sales representative for T.A. Buck’s Featherloom skirts and petticoats, and most of her life is spent on the road--traveling by train, sleeping in hotels, meeting the most interesting people, and outsmarting the male sales reps who are her competition. She’s still stylish and attractive enough to make a man hope, but as a hardworking divorced mother dependant on her income she’s a stickler about her reputation.
Roast Beef Medium is the first of three books about the adventures of Emma McChesney. Edna Ferber, also the author of Giant and Show Boat, wrote the McChesney books long enough ago that they’re all in the public domain and ebook copies of them can be downloaded from sites like Project Gutenberg. I listened to a wonderfully narrated Libravox recording, also free, which kept me grinning even when stuck in traffic.
Since I knew Queen Isabella was the financier of Columbus, a force behind the Spanish Inquisition, and the mother of Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, I thought I would find this book about her interesting, but that was an underestimation because Isabella: The Warrior Queen turned out to be a treasure trove of fascinating information and stories. About Columbus the book has more detail than I expected, also covering early European interactions with various groups of Native Americans. About the Inquisition the book gives religious context and history that were unfamiliar to me, and after reading about Catherine of Aragon’s early life I have a greater understanding of and appreciation for her as a woman of strength and principle.
Also woven into the narrative is information about: the lives and historical impacts of Isabella’s other children, the balance of power in Isabella’s relationship with her husband Ferdinand (according to this account she was the one who was “more equal”), and fairly extensive background histories of European royal families and their politics, Islam’s presence on the Iberian Peninsula, the evolving role of the papacy, and the nature and progress of the Ottoman Empire. Isabella was a much stronger monarch than I realized, but she’s humanized here and I ended up liking her which wasn’t something I expected.
Author Kirstin Downey has taken obvious care to be fair and respectful to all parties in Isabella’s story, and without doing a lot of undocumented speculation about her subjects’ inner feelings, her book is written in a vivid, engaging style that had me hooked from its opening chapter. I kept finding myself rushing back to its pages the way you do when reading a gripping novel.
I received an advanced review copy of this book. Review opinions are mine.
Suki Kim’s long interest in and personal connection to North Korea make this memoir of the time she spent there teaching English to college students especially poignant and riveting. She writes with the skill of an investigative journalist and the heart of someone recounting a heartbreaking story about relatives. Though she moved to America as a child, Kim was born in South Korea and both her mother and father lost close family members to the North when Korea was partitioned, people they were never able to see or even hear from again.
The North Korean government places rigid controls on the internal travels of its few foreign visitors--even the movements of its own citizens are highly restricted--so Kim spent most of her time on campus, jogging between buildings when she wanted some exercise. There were occasional arranged outings when she did sometimes catch glimpses of roadside workers so emaciated and malnourished it horrified her, but the subjugation of her elite and privileged college students was in its own way just as shocking because it showed that no one is exempt from government control.
These young men weren’t allowed to call, email, or visit their families, though most of them lived just a short distance from the school, and the students never knew when they might be whisked away from their studies to spend weeks or months working at a construction site or laboring on a government run farm. Even when allowed to stay at school there were chores like all night guard duty to perform, and constant surveillance meant the students had to always guard their speech and curtail their activities to avoid punishment.
As far as Kim could tell her students took great pride in their country and believed what they had been told--that North Korea is superior to and the envy of all nations and that their leaders are virtually infallible--but the students would get quiet and thoughtful when she gave them illicit sneak glimpses of the outside world and its relative freedoms by casually pulling out her Kindle or laptop, or mentioning her use of the internet or her global travel experiences.
All of Kim’s fellow teachers felt the strain of constantly censoring their speech and being careful about their actions, but for Kim this was especially difficult and if you have an interest in the range and potency of human worldviews you’ll find this book doubly thought-provoking because Kim had to navigate her way between two powerful belief systems both with moral teachings, behavioral dictates, and a divine or as if divine leader since her co-workers were all Christian missionaries and she had to hide from them that she didn’t share their faith.
The missionaries Kim taught with weren’t allowed to mention anything about their religion, but they hoped their presence and charitable actions would eventually win converts among the North Koreans. Kim had different reasons and personal goals for working at the school. Along with wanting some connection to the country where even now she might have living relatives, she hoped that by giving her students small peeks into life outside North Korea that she’d plant seeds of doubt in her their minds, so that as future leaders they might be able to help change things and open up their society. Her worry was that her words would just confuse and upset them or possibly lead them to actions that would bring on severe punishments. It’s a fascinating, heartbreaking, eye-opening story.
I read an eBook Advanced Review Copy of this book provided at no cost to me by the publisher through NetGalley. Review opinions are mine.
Partly out of laziness I usually buy books from Amazon but both books are published by Hachette . . .
Ancillary Sword was released today and Amazon will sell it to you but shipping is 2-3 weeks.
Waistcoats & Weaponry comes out next month, but on Amazon you can't pre-order it.
So I set up an account with Barnes and Noble and ordered both--and discovered that unlike Amazon B&N still does free US shipping for $25. Color me HAPPY!
Here's the missing cover for Waistcoats & Weaponry;
The mix of Tudor history, young romance, undercover adventure, and political intrigue make Maid of Deception a fun, light, entertaining YA historical novel. This is the second book in the Maids of Honor series, but since the first features a different girl I had no trouble following the story. There are five teenage Maids of Honor with distinct talents and personalities who serve as personal spies for Queen Elizabeth, and my guess is there will be a book for each one of them.
Beatrice, the Maid of Honor whose skills involve getting men to spill their secrets, is the first person narrator here, and while the romance is definitely predictable (but isn’t it usually?) there were some other surprises for me in the pot. If you already know something about the Tudor era you’ll recognize several of the people, situations, customs, and fads the Maids encounter, and if aren’t familiar with that time you’ll actually learn a little something.
If this just told the story of Joan of Arc, the peasant girl who heard the voices of dead saints, led an army to support an uncertain king, was burned at the stake as a man-dressing sorceress, and later became canonized as a saint, that would be enough to make Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured a truly interesting book, but there is more to this biography than a detailed recitation of facts about her life. Along with relevant historical background author Kathryn Harrison also includes how each stage of Joan’s crusade to serve God and save France has been portrayed in popular myth, theatrical plays, cinematic film, and various works of visual art. Because of this expanded scope the book presents a larger picture of political history, and the history of culture, religion, common attitudes, and underlying beliefs than Joan’s tale alone would tell.
The writing is a smooth weaving of history, biography, legend, and reflection, and along the way Harrison corrects some common misperceptions about Joan, for instance she wasn’t quite the simple peasant many people then thought and still think she was. Harrison deftly compares Joan’s speeches, actions, and short life with those of Jesus, both to show how well versed in the Bible Joan herself must have been and to help explain why her story resonated so much with the highly religious people of her time. It’s an astounding story, well told, both inspiring and tragic.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so sad to leave a set of characters behind. After spending more than 1,000 pages with them between All Clear and its predecessor Blackout, most of it set during the Blitz of London with lots of high tension twists and turns, heartaches and triumphs, I feel like we’ve been through the war together and it’s hard to let go. With three time traveling historians as protagonists and numerous less prominent but well developed supporting characters, both books have lots of varied Blitz experiences for readers to live through vicariously.
While at times the narrative seemed overly long, Willis is highly skilled at weaving plot lines together and involving you deeply in her characters’ lives such that the ending is a masterpiece of emotional catharsis. A distracted and clumsy Alan Turing, the code breaking genius of Bletchley Park, is among the notables who make brief cameo appearances, but most of the story involves ordinary people and their everyday acts of determined coping and homefront heroism. I listened to the audio version of All Clear and the narrator is absolutely wonderful and so very good at creating different voices that I still hear her in my head when reading the text.
Spanning thirty years from Elizabeth I's coronation in 1558 to the historic events of 1588 and with an epilogue reflecting on the events of the rest of her life, Alison Weir's The Marriage Game is a mesmerizing book that kept me racing through its pages. Information presented in story form makes more of an impression and sticks with me better than dry facts, which is why I love books of this kind--well researched, vividly written historical fiction.
Basing this novel on historical fact, recorded verbal exchanges, and legend, Weir gives readers a glimpse into what may have been going on in Elizabeth's heart and mind during the years of her reign when she used marriage negotiations as a diplomatic tool to strengthen her position at home and abroad. Blending a love story (which was steamier than you might expect from the Virgin Queen) with the portrait of a strong ruler and fascinating woman, The Marriage Game will be especially interesting to readers wanting to know more about Tudor history.
For those who love Jane Austen’s novels her early death is a tragedy we feel anew each time we contemplate the scant space she takes up on our bookshelves. What Austen fan doesn’t long for more than six completed novels, especially since she left behind several tantalizing story fragments? Of these Sanditon is the most polished, Austen was working on it as a mature author shortly before she died, but it’s an earlier fragment, The Watsons, that has one of my favorite scenes in all of Austen’s work. Emma Watson’s exuberant dance with 10 year old Charles Blake caught the eye of every man at the winter assembly and won my heart. Though Austen never finished Emma’s story her sister Cassandra knew what she planned, and several authors, including Austen’s niece, have written endings. Ann Mychal’s version titled Emma and Elizabeth intrigued me because Elizabeth is Emma’s older sister. I was eager to read an adaptation featuring both sisters.
Mychal’s opening is wonderfully Austenesque: “When a young woman, on whom every comfort in life is bestowed has the misfortune to inhabit a neighborhood in which peace and harmony reign, her ability to perceive and understand the world must be diminished and, consequently, in need of adjustment.” (Kindle 1%) Emma’s adjustments start as the book begins. After years of living with her wealthy uncle and aunt she is returning to the family of her birth whom she hasn’t seen since her mother died when she was five. Though their father was ever dutiful to his parishioners, the other Watson children lived like orphans, with eldest sister Elizabeth shouldering the drudgery of caring for them all.
Emma however was raised with the undivided loving attention of her guardians and every advantage their wealth could offer her. She learned to ride, draw, sew, speak French, and play the pianoforte well enough to be considered accomplished, but tragedy struck again when her uncle dies. Grief rushed Emma’s aunt into a second marriage, and Emma was sent to join her siblings.
Before arriving home Emma’s coach is waylaid by rock throwing rioters and she faints into the arms of Lord Osborne. In spite of his gallantry Emma is unimpressed because Osborne has stiff speech and awkward manners. Emma is equally unmoved by popular Tom Musgrave’s charms, though her sister Elizabeth enjoys bantering with him. But Emma is smitten when she meets upright Mr. Howard, known for his long sermons. When Howard’s widowed sister invites Emma to stay at their house, Elizabeth is as thrilled as Emma. Though the sisters were raised in very different circumstances, Emma and Elizabeth are truly fond of each other.
The visit brings Emma into frequent contact with Lord Osborne, but Emma’s low assessment of him doesn’t change, in spite of his obvious interest in her and his kind attentions to young Charles Blake. Emma longs for a match with serious Mr. Howard, so when teased about Osborne by Tom Musgrave she gives her unguarded negative opinion with all the blunt confidence her privileged background has afforded her. Emma cares deeply about doing what’s right. She’s adjusting to her new circumstances and helping Elizabeth with chores, but her upbringing has given her the appearance of an heiress and everyone in the neighborhood assumes she will inherit her late uncle’s fortune. How will Lord Osborne and Mr. Howard react when they discover she’s penniless?
It surprised me at first that Mychal doesn’t start with Austen’s fragment, which is interspersed throughout the text in italics. Mychal writes scenes that precede Austen’s events, and though initially unsure about that, I ended up appreciating the rich, layered story Mychal creates, especially the way she develops characters and backstories Austen could only touch on. There is Miss Carr, a highly entertaining young woman with a Caroline Bingley determination to marry Lord Osborne, and Tom Musgrave with a rakish charm that’s hard to resist. Also fleshed out are Emma’s ever quarreling sisters Margaret and Penelope, her self-important brother Robert, and her needy invalid father, but as befits the title it is Emma’s cheerful, spirited, devoted sister Elizabeth who, though she had none of Emma’s advantages, almost steals the show.
I love that the story incorporates current events, but felt mildly cheated that the ending cut away before all the lovers fully declared their passions--readers learn how the relationships resolve in a somewhat confusing last chapter that takes place years in the future. But that’s a minor quibble, and Mychal’s book has some final, ultimately delightful, surprises because her ending is unlike the one Cassandra Austen said her sister had imagined. Mychal discusses her choices in an interesting afterward, and this reader ended up enjoying her book immensely.
I received a free ebook copy of Emma and Elizabeth through the website AustenProse. Review opinions are mine.
Originally published on the wonderful AustenProse website
Combining a steampunk airship adventure with nature and saint based spirituality, ugly/adorable flying gremlins, competing political conspiracies, a missing princess, various forms of magic, and the beginning stages of romance, Clockwork Dagger charmed and entertained me. Octavia Leander, orphaned in the war, has healing powers sought by all sides, so though she just wants to practice her craft in a quiet rural setting she's drawn into a dangerous power struggle.
Fortunately she’s quick thinking and has the support of the Lady, a healing goddess who may have begun life as a human but now is embodied as the spirit of a magnificent magical tree. The characters are wonderful--beside Octavia there is Leaf, the little green gremlin, Viola Stout, an unconventional older woman with a surprising secret, Alonzo Garret, the handsome airship steward who's always around when there's trouble, and assorted eccentrics who make up the airship's passengers and crew. The story's landscape includes smoky cities, marshy swamps, and country towns and though it’s set in a fantasy kingdom, not England, the book reminded me of Gail Carriger's Etiquette and Espionage series.