Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Two British TV Shows, Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier, Nova by Margaret Fortune and Paris Red by Maureen Gibbon

I'm very excited about these two shows coming to BBC America, along with a new series of Doctor Who.

ITV Studios has released the first look at Jekyll & Hyde
upcoming 10-part action-adventure drama "based on an idea conceived by
British actor and author Charlie Higson and inspired by the Robert Louis
Stevenson classic," Deadline.com reported. Tom Bateman (Da Vinci's
Demons), Richard E. Grant and Natalie Gumede (Coronation Street) star in
the series. Higson is writing and will executive produce with ITV
Studios' Francis Hopkinson. No airdate has been set at this time.


ITV has also released a trailer for the sixth and final season of
Deadline.com reported that "not much has been publicly revealed about
the upcoming farewell, other than it being set in 1925. The teaser above
does presage more change at the Abbey as Robert Crawley (Hugh
Bonneville) tells Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), 'If I could stop history in
its tracks, maybe I would. But I can't, Carson, for neither you nor I
can hold back time.' " The PBS Masterpiece debut in the U.S. is
scheduled for January 3.

Before I launch into the book reviews for the three books listed in the title of this post, I'd like to pause for a moment and talk about Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry, a hardback book that I paid full price for at Powells City of Books in Portland, Oregon this summer. This book represents a growing trend that I see in marketing the horror genre as regular fiction or even literary fiction, and it really ticks me off. I loathe horror fiction, with few exceptions, because I dislike violence, gore, murder, mutilation and death, which are all hallmarks of the horror genre. They're designed to frighten, shock and disgust the reader. I do not enjoy being frightened, shocked or disgusted, and as I read to be entertained or enlightened and informed, horror fiction does none of these things for me, so I avoid it like the plague. Imagine my chagrin when reading Church of Marvels, then, and discovering that there is very little about an actual circus act in it, but instead it outlines in nauseating detail the many ways that human beings were degraded, beaten, starved and/or abandoned (as a baby in an outhouse covered in excrement, no less) in 19th century New York. Of course, historically things were always much worse for women and children, so readers are treated to painstaking descriptions of the filth and torture visited upon female inmates of an insane asylum, that is when we're not reading about Sylvan, a failed boxer who finds a baby in the privies he cleans out and Odile, a circus performer trying to find her twin sister in the opium dens and other foul places in this hellish New York of 1895. I trudged on, trying to find one good reason to continue reading about these pathetic characters, but finally, at page 140, I just couldn't take it anymore, and I stopped reading the book altogether. I would love to get my money back for this horrific novel, but I will never get the time back that I wasted reading the first 140 pages, and I will never be able to scrub my mind clean of the foul images. Shame on you, HarperCollins, for marketing this disgusting tripe as regular fiction, and shame on you Leslie Parry for not insisting that your book be labeled as genre fiction (and as a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, I would have expected your prose to be clearer and your plot to be less turgid.)

Now, on to something much more pleasant.
Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marillier is the second Blackthorn and Grim novel that I've read, the first being Dreamer's Pool, reviewed in the previous post on this blog. I received an ARC of Tower of Thorns from the wonderful folks at Ace/Roc publishers, as part of their Roc Star reader's program. I loved the debut of Blackthorn and Grim in Dreamer's Pool, so much so that I was really looking forward to their continued adventures in Tower of Thorns. Marillier doesn't disappoint, and Tower of Thorns finds Blackthorn and Grim on a trip with Prince Oran and Lady Flidais to attend/assist with the birth of their first child. Unfortunately, the duo get sidetracked by a noblewoman with a magical problem. Here's the blurb:
Disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her companion, Grim, have settled in Dalriada to wait out the seven years of Blackthorn’s bond to her fey mentor, hoping to avoid any dire challenges. But trouble has a way of seeking out Blackthorn and Grim. Lady Geiléis, a noblewoman from the northern border, has asked for the prince of Dalriada’s help in expelling a howling creature from an old tower on her land—one surrounded by an impenetrable hedge of thorns. Casting a blight over the entire district, and impossible to drive out by ordinary means, it threatens both the safety and the sanity of all who live nearby. With no ready solutions to offer, the prince consults Blackthorn and Grim. 
As Blackthorn and Grim begin to put the pieces of this puzzle together, it’s apparent that a powerful adversary is working behind the scenes. Their quest is about to become a life and death struggle—a conflict in which even the closest of friends can find themselves on opposite sides.
Blackthorn is also waylaid by the unexpected arrival of Brother Flannan, a childhood friend who  insists that he has a resistance movement going against the local warlord who killed Blackthorn's husband and son. He assures Blackthorn that she is necessary to taking down the warlord, and convinces her to leave with him after she confronts the monster in the tower and rids Lady G and her people of it's persistent wailing. This would make Blackthorn break her oath/contract with the Fey who released her from prison and would tear her away from Grim, who can barely function without her. Yet I knew from the get-go that Flannan was a liar and probably in the pay of the warlord, but as to why the warlord is so keen on silencing Blackthorn, who, after all, is only one woman (though she's a wise woman), is never revealed. Still, the beast in the tower dilemma is also one that I knew wasn't going to be solved in Blackthorn's favor, but I also knew that between Blackthorn and Grim, there would be a livable solution. Marillier goes deep into Grim's background in this novel, and we discover why Grim is afraid of thatching the roof at the monastery, because he was once a monk himself, who, like Blackthorn, witnessed the unspeakable and now has to deal with the PTSD that follows such an event. Marillier's prose is lyrical and crisp, and her plot flows swift and clear. Another page-turner that will leave readers hungry for more tales of Blackthorn and Grim on their journey of healing and hope. l'd give this sequel an A, and recommend it to anyone who read Dreamer's Pool or anyone who enjoys reworked fairy-tale style fantasy and mystery. 

Nova by Margaret Fortune is a dystopian science fiction YA novel that takes place in a future where mankind has colonized many other planets, but still manages to fight wars over resources and territory. Here's the blurb:
The clock activates so suddenly in my mind, my head involuntarily jerks a bit to the side. The fog vanishes, dissipated in an instant as though it never was. Memories come slotting into place, their edges sharp enough to leave furrows, and suddenly I know. I know exactly who I am.
My name is Lia Johansen, and I was named for a prisoner of war. She lived in the Tiersten Internment Colony for two years, and when they negotiated the return of the prisoners, I was given her memories and sent back in her place.
And I am a genetically engineered human bomb.
Lia Johansen was created for only one purpose: to slip onto the strategically placed New Sol Space Station and explode. But her mission goes to hell when her clock malfunctions, freezing her countdown with just two minutes to go. With no Plan B, no memories of her past, and no identity besides a name stolen from a dead POW, Lia has no idea what to do next. Her life gets even more complicated when she meets Michael Sorenson, the real Lia’s childhood best friend.
Drawn to Michael and his family against her better judgment, Lia starts learning what it means to live and love, and to be human. It is only when her countdown clock begins sporadically losing time that she realizes even duds can still blow up. If she wants any chance at a future, she must find a way to unlock the secrets of her past and stop her clock. But as Lia digs into her origins, she begins to suspect there’s far more to her mission and to this war, than meets the eye. With the fate of not just a space station but an entire empire hanging in the balance, Lia races to find the truth before her time—literally—runs out.
This was an engrossing novel written in muscular prose that supported a plot that moved at breakneck speed. Lia is a fascinating young woman whose search for her real identity is given an increasingly urgent drive by the countdown clock that ticks in her head, informing her that she could blow up at any moment. SPOILER ALERT! While Lia is first seen as a terrorist, we learn that she's actually the one who will save humanity from an alien infection, if she can get the non-infected people off the space station in time. Her friendship with Michael and his family is sweet and tender, but in the end, it's a distraction from Lia's true purpose as a suicide bomber. Though sad, the ending is brilliant, and I'd give this dystopian science fiction YA novel an A, and recommend it to those who loved the Divergent and Hunger Games series.

Paris Red by Maureen Gibbon is a fictionalized account of the actual historical relationship between Victorine Meurent and Edouard Manet, the famed French artist.  Set in Paris in 1862, Victorine and her best friend Denise are working class teenage girls barely making enough money to survive when they meet Manet, who is eager to seduce both young women, though he's got a wife and child waiting elsewhere. Here's the blurb:
For readers of Girl with a Pearl Earring, a “beautiful, brilliant, delicious” (Elizabeth McCracken) novel about Edouard Manet’s muse. Paris, 1862. A young girl in a threadbare dress and green boots, hungry for experience, meets the mysterious and wealthy artist Édouard Manet. The encounter will change her—and the art world—forever.At seventeen, Victorine Meurent abandons her old life to become immersed in the Parisian society of dance halls and cafés, meeting writers and artists like Baudelaire and Alfred Stevens. As Manet’s model, Victorine explores a world of new possibilities and stirs the artist to push the boundaries of painting in his infamous portrait Olympia, which scandalizes even the most cosmopolitan city.Manet becomes himself because of Victorine. But who does she become, that figure on the divan?Intense, erotic, and beautifully wrought, Paris Red evokes the unconventional love story of a painter and his muse that changed the history of art.
While I realize that readers are supposed to feel that Manet is a great man and a great artist who truly cares for Victorine, I didn't really like the man, not only because he wanted a three way so badly, and was willing to pay the girls for sex like prostitutes when he clearly had no intention of furthering their relationship, as he was cheating on his wife and child, but also because he had an STD and didn't feel like he needed to tell "Trine" about it, though he claims to be cured. He seemed like a skeevy old man who was using Trine for sex, (and as a model for his paintings, of course) though she was a willing participant, because she fell in love with him. Still, Manet eventually allows Trine to sketch and paint for herself, though she never seems to have any faith in her own talents or abilities. We don't learn what happened to Trine and Manet, whether they stayed together and had children, or whether Trine ended up as an artist in her own right. I felt that the romantic and sexual aspects of their relationship were highlighted while the actual historical fact took a backseat. While it isn't unusual to expect there to be sex scenes in a story about famous artists and their models, I felt that there was too much of a focus on erotica and not enough on their art and their lives outside of the bedroom. Still, the prose was evocative and the plot waltzed along at a metered pace. I'd give this novel a B+, and recommend it to those who like to know more about the sexual proclivities of famous artists and their teenage muses.

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