Saturday, January 30, 2010

Fires of the Faithful and My Heart Stood Still

Though I am not a 'regular' romance reader, I've found that Lynn Kurland's excellent storytelling draws me in to her romance novels time and again, mainly for the sheer escapist joy of reading a well-told tale.
So when I found a copy of "My Heart Stood Still" which is part of a series of romantic novels about modern-day women and men who time-travel back to the Scotland of previous centuries, I grabbed it with all due fervor.
After reading lots of modern literature, mysteries, biographies and more than a few pieces of fiction about the horrors of World War 2, I was ready for fiction without a whisper of cynicism, crass, evil characters or boorish, ignorant twits---or worse, the "Mary Sue" character who is all too perfect, in a poorly written novel full of redundancies.
What a relief to read Kurland's smooth prose, light and lovely, filled with her dynamic characters who learn, grow, fall in love and generally seem like the kind of people you'd like to sit and have a cuppa tea and a chat with. Some group blurbed her cover saying "I dare you to read a Kurland book and not enjoy it!" and I second that daring recommendation.
This book followed Thomas McKinnon as he purchases a run down castle that is alive with Scottish ghosts, and the spirit of a Highland woman, Iolanthe, who was murdered because she refused to tell the man she was sold to the secret of her ancestral home. In a nice little twist on the Ghost and Mrs Muir, Thomas falls in love with Iolanthe, and after renovating the castle, tries to go back in time to save her before she's murdered. Characters from the previous novels all make an appearance, and there's just enough lovely Scottish history woven into the plot to be interesting and not stall the characters.
I've read "This is All I Ask," "The Very Thought of You," "The More I See You," "From This Moment On," "My Heart Stood Still" and I think I read "If I Had You" but I still need to find "A Garden in the Rain," "Dreams of Stardust," "Another Chance to Dream," and "A Dance Through Time," though there is a good chance I've read that last one.
At any rate, I highly recommend this series to those who like their paranormal romance married to truly fine storytelling, delightful characters and zippy plots that never drag. As an added bonus, Kurlands books are safe for teenagers, as there is usually nothing more than a chaste kiss or hand-holding in her books, no erotica or porn slipped in every other chapter, like many modern romance authors.

Fires of the Faithful by Naomi Kritzer seemed like a fascinating fantasy novel at first blush, and while I am not the kind of person who likes religion peppering the pages of her fiction, I can stand it if there is reason for it in the story, and if the author doesn't succumb to preaching to her readers.
Fortunately, Kritzer doesn't fall into that trap, instead taking off in a completely different direction with her characters than I'd anticipated.
The protagonist Eliana is something of a prodigy at the music conservatory where she's learning to play songs on her violin that are both forbidden and still call to her soul. Songs of the "old ways" are forbidden by the Fedeli, a kind of roving inquisition, who are supposedly carrying out the wishes of the Circle, a group of powerful mages under orders from the King. When Eliana's new room mate starts to teach her and her friends more about the forbidden songs and magic, Eliana discovers first, that she is a budding lesbian and second, what has caused the war and famine that has ravaged her entire country. Eliana also finds her inner leader, and a cause once she sets out to find her family and ends up in a refugee camp run by a greedy tyrant.
I found this novel surprising and engrossing, but when I discovered a second book follows "Fires of the Faithful," I assumed I could conjure a copy at the library, since the sequel has been out since 2003. Unfortunately, the KCL system has no copies of the book, so I have put in a request for an inter-library loan or that KCLS buy a copy of the book, as I assume it is only a mass market paperback, and therefore cheap.
So I am going to have to wait for the fate of Eliana and her group, but in the meantime, I would recommend this fantasy novel to those who like Mercedes Lackeys "Bardic Voices" series. Teenagers who are uncertain of their sexual orientation might find it interesting and comforting as well.
I am currently trying to decide whether to take back the broken-spine copy of "The Gods of Amyrantha" by Jennifer Fallon to the library. Though the first book in this series was a delight, the sequel has become mired in politics and boring scenarios that have me nodding off while reading it. I am just not sure it is worth the struggle to finish it. I am told the library will toss the book in the dumpster, instead of repairing it, when I am done with it anyway, which makes me sad.
I'm also reading "The Poe Shadow" by Matthew Pearl, which, though it has somewhat historical British prose style, still seems interesting enough to continue on with it. I am looking forward to starting on my recently acquired copy of Barbara Kingslover's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," which I hope and pray won't resemble "The Poisonwood Bible" at all.

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