Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Shannara Chronicles Reaches TV, Bohemian Gospel by Dana Chamblee Carpenter, The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson,The Last Dreamkeeper by Amber Benson and Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

I'm really excited for the new shows of 2016, particularly the new science fiction and fantasy shows that are based on books I've read.  The Shannara Chronicles looks very promising, based on the books by Terry Brooks (from Seattle).

The Shannara Chronicles on MTV
Seattle SF/fantasy authors turned out for the Shannara premiere: Peter
Orullian, Robin Hobb, Jason Hough, Greg Bear, Todd Lockwood, Terry
Brooks and Donald McQuinn.
The Shannara Chronicles, based on the epic fantasy series by Terry Brooks, premieres on MTV January 5. The
first season is 10 episodes, covering events from The Elfstones of
Shannara, which is now available as a tie-in edition (Del Rey, $15,
9781101965603). This is the first work in Brooks's 40-year career to be  
adapted for film or television. In addition to dozens of titles in the
Shannara Chronicles, Brooks is also the author of the Landover series
and several movie novelizations. The show's cast includes Austin Butler,
Poppy Drayton, Manu Bennett and John Rhys-Davies.

The Experience Music Project
(EMP) Museum in Seattle is screening the first two episodes of the
series, along with an exhibit of props from the show.

The Bohemian Gospel by Dana Chamblee Carpenter was an impulse buy after I'd seen  great reviews on Book Riot, Shelf Awareness and Goodreads. It just sounded like my kind of book, with a female protagonist who doesn't allow the historical oppression of women to keep her from using her gifts/talents/magic to help others. Though it has been compared to The Historian, I found myself feeling that the author had watched the movie "Ladyhawke" more than a few times. Here's the blurb:
Set against the historical reign of the Golden and Iron King, Bohemian Gospel is the remarkable tale of a bold and unusual girl on a quest to uncover her past and define her destiny.Thirteenth-century Bohemia is a dangerous place for a girl, especially one as odd as Mouse, born with unnatural senses and an uncanny intellect. Some call her a witch. Others call her an angel. Even Mouse doesn’t know who—or what—she is. But she means to find out.When young King Ottakar shows up at the Abbey wounded by a traitor's arrow, Mouse breaks church law to save him and then agrees to accompany him back to Prague as his personal healer. Caught in the undertow of court politics at the castle, Ottakar and Mouse find themselves drawn to each other as they work to uncover the threat against him and to unravel the mystery of her past. But when Mouse's unusual gifts give rise to a violence and strength that surprise everyone—especially herself—she is forced to ask herself: Will she be prepared for the future that awaits her? A heart-thumping, highly original tale in the vein of Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, Bohemian Gospel heralds the arrival of a fresh new voice for historical fiction.
 Though she's somewhat petite when we first encounter Mouse as a teenager, She is able to defend herself against unwanted advances, kidnapping, rape and torture and magical harm from evil child spirits quite handily with her talent for speaking magical spells. The voice within Mouse seems to come from someone or something else, as she can't always summon it when she needs it. Still, she heals very quickly herself, is rarely ill, can see people's souls in a kind of aura and can heal wounds that put the patient near death. She even discovers that she can "resurrect" small animals and people, if need be, though this gift isn't reliable. The only thing that seems to hold Mouse back is her fear of Gods retribution for usurping his right to bring people back from the dead and heal the blind or talk to wild animals so that they are calmed. Unfortunately, Mouse falls in love with the young king Ottakar, who can't marry a commoner, especially one raised by a priest in an Abbey. It seems that the young King uses Mouse, and when push comes to shove, he marries her off to a brutish second in command named Vok, who discovers she's pregnant with Ottakar's child and proceeds to abuse her in every way possible. Mouse somehow feels she deserves this treatment for her sins, though she doesn't, and even after her son is born, she allows him to break her bones and torture her because he can't perform. SPOILER: When Vok finally dies, it is a great moment in the novel, though it sends Mouse into a depression spiral that has her living in the woods like an animal for 15 years. She also discovers her mentor the priest has died and he tells her that her father is Satan, which also shocks and dismays her, and explains why she can't see her own soul aura.  Eventually, she pretends to be a monk so that she can observe and protect her husband and son on the battlefield.  This book is a real page-turner, and because the ending wasn't complete, I have hopes for a sequel. The prose is luminous and sincere, while the plot moves rapidly and full of surprises. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical tales of magic and fantasy.

The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson was another book that I picked up due to a recommendation for readers who liked Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca. Here's the blurb: When Eve falls for the secretive, charming Dom, their whirlwind relationship leads them to Les Genévriers, an abandoned house set among the fragrant lavender fields of the south of France. Deeply in love and surrounded by music, books, and the heady summer scents of the French countryside, Eve has never felt more alive. But as verdant summer fades to golden autumn, the grand house's strange and troubling mysteries begin to unfold—and Eve now must uncover its every secret . . . before dark history can repeat itself.
 This is yet another novel that uses the "every other chapter is a different character" point of view. In most of the other books that use this device, the author puts the name of the character speaking at the chapter heading, so the reader will know. This book didn't do that, so it took me awhile each time I began a new chapter to figure out whether this was the old woman who used to own the farm speaking or the young woman, Eve, trying to come to terms with her reticent husband and his secrets. The Lantern was very well written in a French gothic style, and the plot was precise and flowed naturally. That said, I knew whodunit about halfway through the book. Still, it was a good read and smartly done, and the lush background of Provence reminded me of the novels of MJ Rose, particularly her "Collector of Dying Breaths." I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to those who love France, French history and Rebecca.
The Last Dreamkeeper by Amber Benson is an ARC given to me by Ace/Roc books as part of the Roc Star Readers Program. It is the sequel to the Witches of Echo Park, though I was able to understand the plot and characters without having read the first novel. Here is the blurb:
In the second Witches of Echo Park novel, one coven must keep the world in balance and stand against a rising darkness.
Lyse MacAllister did not step into an easy role when she took over as master of the Echo Park coven of witches after her great-aunt Eleanora’s death. As she begins to forge the bonds that will help her lead her sisters, she struggles to come to terms with her growing powers. And she soon faces a deadly new threat. A group of fanatics intent on bringing about the end of times has invaded the witches Council—but the Council is turning a blind eye to the danger growing in its midst.
Only one witch is prophesied to be able to stop the encroaching darkness. And if Lyse and her blood sisters are to have any chance at protecting all we know from being lost forever, they must keep her safe—no matter what the cost…
There was, for a group of women who are supposed to be a coven of like-minded witches, a lot of cattiness and mutual dislike and distrust among the women that left me somewhat frustrated with them as a whole. Also, though the book is supposed to be more about Lyse than the other characters, I felt that Lizbeth's story dominated more than a few times in the book, and I didn't like Lizbeth or her brother, Weir. Both characters were too one-dimensional, with Lizbeth being the "innocent mute who finds her voice as a woman" and Weir being her protector to a degree that seemed ridiculous. Arabelle and Daniella were much more well rounded characters, and Lyse seemed too fearful and inept to be the coven leader. There was also too much of the romantic notion that once a woman is in love, she loses all sense of self, self respect, common sense, etc. Even an older, experienced woman in the book comes unglued and totally trusts the wrong man because she was once in love with him. The ending is rather abrupt and frightening, so I assume there will be another book out this upcoming year to let readers know if the forces of evil triumph. The prose was decent, though it seemed slightly amateurish, and the plot is full of twists and turns that readers won't see coming. Though the overarching themes of religious persecution and untrustworthy men and women is a good one to explore, I'd give this novel a B-, and recommend it to those interested in modern-day witches and magic.
The Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs is the third and final novel in the Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children series of YA novels. I've read the other two novels, and though I enjoyed the first one tremendously, the second novel, Hollow City, wasn't as well written as the first. So I came to Library of Souls with great trepidation. Fortunately, it's a real page-turner, with all sorts of exciting battles and loose ends that are all tied up neatly in the final chapter. Here's the blurb:
A boy with extraordinary powers. An army of deadly monsters. An epic battle for the future of peculiardom.
 The adventure that began with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and continued in Hollow City comes to a thrilling conclusion with Library of Souls. As the story opens, sixteen-year-old Jacob discovers a powerful new ability, and soon he’s diving through history to rescue his peculiar companions from a heavily guarded fortress. Accompanying Jacob on his journey are Emma Bloom, a girl with fire at her fingertips, and Addison MacHenry, a dog with a nose for sniffing out lost children.

They’ll travel from modern-day London to the labyrinthine alleys of Devil’s Acre, the most wretched slum in all of Victorian England. It’s a place where the fate of peculiar children everywhere will be decided once and for all. Like its predecessors, Library of Souls blends thrilling fantasy with never-before-published vintage photography to create a one-of-a-kind reading experience.
I have to say that the new character, Sharon (who is obviously a take on Charon, the boatman from Greek mythology who ferries the souls of the dead from earth to Hades) was hilarious and fascinating, particularly his 'gallows humor'  and devotion to commerce. The photos sprinkled throughout the novel are just as fascinating as the characters within, and I found myself wondering how much digital processing some of the photos went through to get them to be such perfect depictions of people and places in the book. They're creepy enough to be haunting, which is why I would not recommend this book to any kid younger than 14 (or a very mature 12/13). Rigg's prose is clear and thrilling, his characters phenomenal and the plot is a roller-coaster ride of mayhem and discovery. I'd give it an A, and recommend Library of Souls to anyone who has read the first two books in the trilogy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

This Is My 500th Post on Butterfly Books!

Wow! Here we are at post 500 on Butterfly Books, fellow bibliophiles! I have three books to review, and a tidbit about the new Harry Potter play, but I just wanted to pause a moment to reflect on all the books and book news that I've posted in the past 10 years. I think I've read and reviewed over 1,500 novels and non fiction titles on this blog, and though I don't post a review for every book I read, I do feel that I give a fair shake to those that I do, and I would say that at least 80 percent of my reviews are positive.
Now as we head into 2016, here's to more reviews and book news and information on the reading life.

On Stage: Harry Potter & the Cursed Child

The three lead actors have been announced for Harry Potter and the
Cursed Child
"the West End play that's been referred to as the eighth part of the
series," Deadline Hollywood reported. The cast includes Jamie Parker as
an older version of Harry, Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger and Paul
Thornley as Ron Weasley. The play will open at the Palace Theatre next
summer, "unfolding in two parts, which are intended to be seen in order
on the same day (matinee and evening), or on two consecutive evenings."
Previews start June 7.

Parker is currently playing Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls at the Savoy
Theatre, while Dumezweni has the title role in Linda at the Royal Court
Theatre. Thornley played the role of Dodge in London Road at the
National and reprised it in the film version.

"I'm so excited with the choice of casting," Rowling said. "I can't wait
to see Jamie, Noma and Paul bring the adult Harry, Hermione and Ron to
life on stage next summer."

Pottermore offered a peek
at the play's synopsis: "It was always difficult being Harry Potter and
it isn't much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the
Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

"While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs,
his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy
he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son
learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler was a much different book than I was expecting.I was hoping it would be a fascinating novel about antique books and smart librarians who like to solve mysteries they find in books. It wasn't.
Apparently, circus owners/managers keep a record book about life on the road, in which they record the amazing and the mundane things that happen in their lives. The protagonist of this novel, a librarian named Simon, is the son and brother of two women who were involved in the circus. He is contacted, out of the blue, by an Iowan antiquarian bookseller who sends him a circus book that contains the name of his grandmother and other women in his family who have performed as "mermaids" and yet have all drowned on the same date (not the same year, obviously). He is now afraid that his sister will also drown on the cursed date, and delves deeper into the books history in order to try and find a way to spare her. 
Here's the blurb:
Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off six years ago and now reads tarot cards for a traveling carnival.
One June day, an old book arrives on Simon's doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller who purchased it on speculation. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things, including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of "mermaids" in Simon's family have drowned--always on July 24, which is only weeks away.
As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon's family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he get to the heart of the mystery in time to save Enola?
In the tradition of Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, The Book of Speculation--with two-color illustrations by the author--is Erika Swyler's moving debut novel about the power of books, family, and magic.
First of all, The Book of Speculation isn't nearly as well written, nor are the characters as charming and fascinating as those in Water for Elephants and the wonderful Night Circus.  It is obvious that the author has read and tried to emulate these authors, but she never really manages it, probably because the book's characters are cynical, crude and often cruel. I really disliked Enola, Simon's sister, who is quite a nasty creature, and though her boyfriend is frightening to look at, he seems merely sensitive and decent next to her. Enola has the audacity to tear pages from a book, and she blows into Simon's life as disruptive as the bomber she was named for. She comes across as mentally ill, and Simon's overreactions to everything seem to make him stupid as well as mentally unbalanced. Neither are likable characters at all. Then when their neighbor reveals that he had a long term affair with their mother and gave their father the money for their home, which is now literally falling apart and over the cliff, things get even murkier and more bizarre.  As Simon has been having an affair with the neighbor's daughter Alice, who is a coworker and who he grew up with, this reveal gives him further opportunity to act insane and burn all the circus memorabilia that he can find, in some lame attempt to "break the curse." The he nearly drowns, and then they all decide (Alice, Enola, her wierd boyfriend and Simon) to go on the road together and Simon decides to write his own Book of Speculation.  And that's the end of it. Interspersed between the modern day chapters is the actual history of the book, and the strange "wild boy" and first "mermaid girl" who started with the circus hundreds of years ago. All this history does is make the reader realize how brutal life was in the past. Again, not many people to like in the past in the circus, as they were mostly abused and half-dead homeless and feral children before they were picked up by the circus and turned into an "act" by Mr Peabody. I found the prose to be muddy and confusing, the plot to be winding and obscure and the characters strange and unlikable. I'd give this book a B-, which is generous, and I'd recommend it to anyone who found the Church of Marvels to be a good read (I didn't.) 
Moonrise by Cassandra King is a romance/mystery that is a modern retelling of Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca. Here's the blurb:
When Helen Honeycutt falls in love with Emmet Justice, a charismatic television journalist who has recently lost his wife in a tragic accident, their sudden marriage creates a rift between her new husband and his oldest friends, who resent Helen’s intrusion into their tightly knit circle. Hoping to mend fences, the newlyweds join the group for a summer at his late wife’s family home in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Helen soon falls under the spell not only of the little mountain town and its inhabitants, but also of Moonrise, her predecessor’s Victorian mansion, named for its unique but now sadly neglected nocturnal gardens. But the harder Helen tries to fit in, the more obvious it is that she will never measure up to the woman she replaced.
 Someone is clearly determined to drive her away, but who wants her gone, and why? As Emmet grows more remote, Helen reaches out to the others in the group, only to find that she can’t trust anyone. When she stumbles on the secret behind her predecessor’s untimely death, Helen must decide if she can ever trust—or love—again.
Emmet's friends are a vicious lot, using slicing commentary and cruel gossip like characters from a Noel Coward play. By comparison, poor Helen seems like quite the rube, so innocent and easily duped and hurt that she can't help but put her foot into it at every turn. Because she's supposed to be in her early 40s, and a TV chef at that, I found her naive ways to be a bit difficult to believe. I realize that is supposed to make the reader love her more, because she's innocent and the victim in all this, but I found myself getting exasperated with her because it was clear that one of the women was setting her up and trying to destroy her marriage. That her husband, who is supposed to be in his 60s is also so easily duped stretched my credulity even further. I couldn't imagine why neither of them fought back until the last second. They took everyone's gossip and innuendo at face value, when it was obviously false. The people I know who work in TV are a skeptical lot, and I just don't buy this happening to any of them, especially the older news veterans. Any journalist worth his or her salt establishes the facts first, and corroborates them before accepting what is said. Still, the prose was nice and clear, and the plot not too twisty. I liked Tansy and Noel and Linc and Willa. King has created some memorable and interesting characters in the aforementioned who make the novel shine in spots. There's a decent HEA ending and I was glad that things worked out for the best. I don't want to spoiler the plot by going into it further, but I do think this novel earned a B+, and I'd recommend it to those who read and enjoyed Rebecca.  
Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams is the second book of hers that I've read. The first was The Secret Life of Violet Grant, which I read and reviewed a few months ago. This novel takes place in two time periods, in Europe in 1935-38, and in America in 1966. Here's the blurb:
Each of the three Schuyler sisters has her own world-class problems, but in the autumn of 1966, Pepper Schuyler's problems are in a class of their own. When Pepper fixes up a beautiful and rare vintage Mercedes and sells it at auction, she thinks she's finally found a way to take care of herself and the baby she carries, the result of an affair with a married, legendary politician.
But the car's new owner turns out to have secrets of her own, and as the glamorous and mysterious Annabelle Dommerich takes pregnant Pepper under her wing, the startling provenance of this car comes to light: a Nazi husband, a Jewish lover, a flight from Europe, and a love so profound it transcends decades. As the many threads of Annabelle's life from World War II stretch out to entangle Pepper in 1960s America, and the father of her unborn baby tracks her down to a remote town in coastal Georgia, the two women must come together to face down the shadows of their complicated pasts.
Indomitable heroines, a dazzling world of secrets, champagne at the Paris Ritz, and a sweeping love story for the ages, in New York Times bestselling author Beatriz William's final book about the Schuyler sisters. Publisher's Weekly said:"In Williams’s fifth novel, devotees of her Schuyler sisters can follow the fate of renegade Pepper Schuyler and the aftermath of her affair with a married politician in the fall of 1966. Similar to the author’s other page-turners, there is a parallel story here about another young woman, in this case Annabelle Dommerich, a Christian Frenchwoman whose life in 1935 is upended when her Jewish lover disappears and she ends up marrying a high-ranking German officer. How Annabelle and Pepper cross paths in 1966 is rather contrived—Annabelle purchases the vintage 1936 Mercedes Special Roadster that Pepper has restored, and the car turns out to be the very one that Annabelle and her German husband drove to flee Germany and come to America before World War II began. Unfortunately, the travails faced by Pepper, pregnant with the married politician’s child and on the run from his goons, pale in comparison to Annabelle’s heartbreaking love story and subsequent rebound marriage against the backdrop of Hitler’s rise to power and the horrifying consequences of his regime. Though Williams tries to give both narratives nearly equal weight, Annabelle’s distinctive character and story are far stronger than Pepper’s. Nonetheless, the happy ending will surely satisfy the bestselling author’s many fans."
I have to agree with Publisher's Weekly's reviewer that Annabelle's story is far stronger than Pepper's, but that is because I believe the times were much more intense and the stakes higher for lovers, especially unmarried females, in the years leading up to World War II. The thing that bothered me most about the inevitable twist at the end SPOILER ALERT is that Johan was still a Nazi and a German Baron who either looked the other way or helped kill innocent people in the name of fascism in the years leading up to the outbreak of war. Though he claims he doesn't have anything personal against the Jews, he still doesn't do anything to stop his fellow Nazis from putting them in concentration camps and murdering them by the millions. Men, women and children, some Jews, others Catholics, or gays, or gypsies or political dissidents. So for the so called innocent Annabelle to spend the rest of his life with Johan and give birth to his children (and help raise his other children) seems just wrong to me, and certainly out of character for her. She keeps talking about how he loves her and is well hung (yes, they go there, sadly) and a good father to Stefan's child Florian, but I don't see how that mitigates his guilt for what he was and what he did as an officer in the Gestapo. Yes, Annabelle finds Stefan, the supposed love of her life, again at the end of the novel, but I don't know how she can look him in the eye after living as the wife of the man who put him in concentration camps twice! So she's in her 50s, or near to it when they meet again, and Stefan is probably in his late 60s or early 70s, and of course they still manage to look so good that they just jump right into bed together, like old times! As I am in my 50s, and I know men in their 60s, I can honestly say that it rarely works that way. And these are years before Viagra, mind you. I just doubt that Annabelle, after having 3 children, still had the perfect breasts of her youth. Gravity has its way with us all, Ms Williams. Still, I liked Annabelle, especially her need to rescue Pepper, and I also liked Stefan and Florian, once he was a grown man. Williams prose was excellent, and she is adept at storytelling and keeping the plot on tract and moving along at a measured pace. I'd give this novel an A, and recommend it to anyone interested in the years leading up to WWII and the mid 1960s.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hush Now, Don't You Cry by Rhys Bowen, Manners and Mutiny by Gail Carriger, Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

I just finished four great novels, several of which ended series that I started awhile ago, and am now finally getting some closure on characters and situations that have kept me wondering.

Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising were books two and three in Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy, (the first was Shadow and Bone) which I picked up because I'd read her latest, Six of Crows and was fascinated by the characters and the prose, and I wanted to know more about the magical and mysterious Grisha. These books take place in a setting that resembles imperialist Russia, and the main characters, Mal and Alina, have the stereotypical Russian fatalism, over confidence and quick wit that always draws me to Russian characters in books or TV shows, such as Star Trek's Pavel Chekov and Babylon 5's Susan Ivanova. Here are the blurbs for both books:
Siege and Storm: Darkness never dies.
Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can't outrun her past or her destiny for long.
The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling's game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her--or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

Ruin and Rising: The capital has fallen. The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.
Now the nation's fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.
Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.
Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova's amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling's secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she's fighting for. I loved the fact that Alina, though everyone seemed to want to manipulate her and use her for their own ends, whether it be sainthood or as the sun summoner to take over the world with the Darkling, always managed to keep her self grounded and fighting for the regular non-Grisha people, for her friends and for the love of her life, Mal. Though she was weak and sick and beaten down, time after time she got back up and kept moving forward toward her goal of beating back the darkness of the fold and killing the horrible power-hungry psychopath Darkling. She even managed to humanize him, in the end, by finding out his real name and the heritage that drove him to madness. I know that readers are supposed to adore Mal as well, but honestly, I found him to be a bit dim at times, and I much preferred prince Nikolai, who was funny, smart, charming and handsome, the complete package, as it were. But the ending was still kind to him, though I thought he was going to be lost for awhile there. I also loved the salty, mean old teacher Baghra, whose secrets were vital to bringing down the Darkling. The prose in this trilogy was clean and yet lyrical enough to be hypnotic, and when married to the enchanting characters, it adds up to a page-turning read that you can't put down until you've read the whole of it, from start to finish. A well earned A, with a recommendation to all Game of Thrones fans, and fans of Russian fairy tales and gripping storytelling.

Manners and Mutiny by Gail Carriger is the fourth and final book in the Finishing School series, which began with Etiquette and Espionage. Here's the blurb:
If one must flirt...flirt with danger.
Lessons in the art of espionage aboard Mademoiselle Geraldine's floating dirigible have become tedious without Sophronia's sweet sootie Soap nearby. She would much rather be using her skills to thwart the dastardly Picklemen, yet her concerns about their wicked intentions are ignored, and now she's not sure whom to trust. What does the brusque werewolf dewan know? On whose side is the ever-stylish vampire Lord Akeldama? Only one thing is certain: a large-scale plot is under way, and when it comes to fruition, Sophronia must be ready to save her friends, her school, and all of London from disaster—in decidedly dramatic fashion, of course.
What will become of our proper young heroine when she puts her years of training to the test? Find out in this highly anticipated and thrilling conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Finishing School series! I adore the wit and whimsy that Carriger brings to her books, and I've read all of her series thus far. My only problem with this final book in the series was that the latter half of the book felt somewhat forced and stilted. The ending seemed slightly rushed, too. Still, despite these small drawbacks, I enjoyed Sophronia's final take down of the Picklemen's coup, and I loved that all of her friends were there to help in the end. Carriger's prose is sparkling and fluffy and deliciously arch, so those who enjoy British comedy and romance should love these books. Her plots breeze along and her characters are rock solid. I'd give this series an A, and recommend it to those who love tea, wit and female protagonists who know how to be the perfect spy.

Hush Now, Don't You Cry is the 11th Molly Murphy mystery by the stalwart Rhys Bowen. I've read 5 or 6 of the other books in this series, and while I don't always enjoy Molly's nosiness, or her manipulative meekness, I do like the fact that she doesn't give up until the culprit is caught and the mystery solved. Here's the blurb:
In the latest in Rhys Bowen's award-winning historical series, Molly Murphy is supposed to give up sleuthing now that she's married, but the murder of an alderman puts her on the trail of a killer.
Molly Murphy, now Molly Sullivan, and her husband Daniel, a captain in the New York Police department, have been invited to spend their honeymoon on the Newport, RI, estate of Alderman Brian Hannan in the spring of 1904. Molly doesn't entirely trust the offer. Hannan—an ambitious man—has his eye on a senate seat and intentions of taking Tammany Hall to get it. When Hannan is found dead at the base of the cliffs that overlook the Atlantic, Molly's suspicions are quickly justified, and as much as she wants to keep her promise to Daniel that she won't do any more sleuthing now, there isn't much she can do once the chase is on. Rhys Bowen's brilliant wit and charm are on full display in Hush Now, Don't You Cry, another outstanding addition to her Agatha and Anthony award-winning historical series. Daniel gets pneumonia and is down for the count in this installment of the Molly Murphy Mysteries, so Molly has to jump through quite a few hoops just to try and find clues and figure out who killed the Alderman. I found the story of the child hidden away to be very Jane Austen-ish, and I enjoyed the gothic suspense of the ending as well, with Molly in danger of losing her life to a madman. I enjoyed the view into America at the turn of the century, and in my mind, I see Molly as a young Maureen O'Hara, red tresses and all. Bowen's prose is decent, and her plots move along in a straightforward manner, but at times her characters fall into cliche's and stereotypes that are hard to swallow. Still, her mysteries are fluffy fun for the most part, and I generally can figure out whodunit by the 4th chapter. I'd give this cozy mystery a B+, and recommend it to anyone who likes turn of the century mysteries and female protagonists who are Irish and stubborn and great at snooping around.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Maggie Smith, a Biography, Flygirl by Sherri L Smith and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

I've been a fan of Maggie Smith's since I saw her (in my early teens) in the then-scandalous movie "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie." Now I adore watching her (as does everyone else) as the famed Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey. So news of this new authorized biography couldn't come as more of a welcome surprise. This review is from Shelf Awareness.

Review: Maggie Smith: A Biography

Actress Maggie Smith seems to be at the height of her power, enjoying
worldwide acclaim and success for her roles in the Harry Potter and Best
Exotic Marigold Hotel films, as well as the TV series Downton Abbey. In
Maggie Smith: A Biography, Michael Coveney, one of Britain's most
respected theater critics, presents the storied influences of Dame
Maggie's life and the six decades of her public presence and global
reach on stage and screen.

Coveney explores Smith's exceptional talent by first examining her
"spartan, though... not deprived, childhood." Because she was "not
particularly welcomed" by her two elder brothers, Smith, in her
loneliness, developed a voracious reading habit and a sharp instinct for
privacy, and cultivated her tart spirit and independence. When her
father, a medical lab technician, relocated the family to Oxford during
World War II, Maggie became friends with the daughter of novelist Graham
Greene, took piano and ballet lessons, and attended one of the best
schools in Britain, Oxford High School. An acting teacher who harbored
reservations about Maggie's acting ability fueled the teenager's drive
for the stage. Maggie set off for the Oxford Playhouse School, forcing
her parents grudgingly to reconcile themselves to their daughter's

Coveney spends the bulk of the biography chronicling, in great depth,
Smith's acting roles, her analytical approach to craft and the often
nomadic existence required by her transatlantic career. From her early
days as a West End revue player, Smith was cast at the age of 21 in her
first Broadway show, New Faces 1956, for her comic personality, "the
essence that was to make her a star," and her career took off. Coveney
relates intimate details about Smith's astounding performing range, from
Shakespeare to Noel Coward, Edward Albee to Neil Simon--and Julian
Fellows. There are a host of insider quotes and anecdotes involving
actors such as Judi Dench, Laurence Olivier, Joan Plowright, Derek
Jacobi, Michael Caine and Vanessa Redgrave. Directors, classmates,
family and friends share their insights, as well. Along the way, Coveney
touches upon Smith's great loves, marriages and children. Smith's
trademark self-preserving wit--along with her class and energy--enliven
the narrative throughout.

Though the actress granted Coveney permission to write this biography,
he asserts that Maggie Smith, even to those who know her well, is an
enigma, and he accentuates Smith's difficulties in trying to balance her
"private life with the public demands of her talent... career always
came first." Therefore, it is fitting that this thorough and
well-researched biography is anchored on on Dame Maggie's exemplary body
of work and the demanding drive of her dedication and genius, all of
which have earned her critical acclaim and lasting appeal. --Kathleen
Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

What a great idea! I wish we had a bookstore somewhere nearby who could do the same!
Cool Idea of the Day: Elevenses

Posted recently on the website for Blue Willow Books
in our occasional series that we are calling Elevenses. It's the
civilized British tradition of stopping at eleven a.m. for a cuppa' tea
and a small bite to eat. It will be a way to drop in and meet visiting
authors. Join us in welcoming for Kate Morton
first ever Elevenses. We hope to have many more in the future."

Flygirl by Sherri L Smith is a true delight. A YA novel about a young black woman who is light-skinned enough to "pass" as white, and who desperately wants to fly airplanes during WWII, this book covers the origins of the WASPs, or Women Air Force Service Pilots who tested and ferried planes all over the country in hazardous conditions and yet were denied status as veterans until the 1970s. Here is the blurb: All Ida Mae Jones wants to do is fly. Her daddy was a pilot, and years after his death she feels closest to him when she's in the air. But as a young black woman in 1940s Louisiana, she knows the sky is off limits to her, until America enters World War II, and the Army forms the WASP-Women Airforce Service Pilots. Ida has a chance to fulfill her dream if she's willing to use her light skin to pass as a white girl. She wants to fly more than anything, but Ida soon learns that denying one's self and family is a heavy burden, and ultimately it's not what you do but who you are that's most important. 
While I loved the fact that Ida realizes her dreams of being a pilot, I was saddened that she could never reveal who she really was, and that it caused a rift in her family, because she had to pretend that when her dark skinned mother visited her, that she was just a maid servant, instead of actual family. Even her brother, who also fought in the war and was injured and sent home wasn't supportive of her choice to find freedom in the skies. I was not aware that black women were not allowed in the WASPs, but that Asian women were, nor was I aware that the WASPs faced all manner of dangers as pilots during the war, but then were denied benefits as veterans once the war was over. Shame on the US Government for taking over 20 years to recognize the work of female pilots to win the war. At any rate, this was a well written novel with a wonderful protagonist, though I found her fears and guilt to be a bit much at times. But then, I didn't live through a time when being black meant that you could be killed or court marshalled for the color of your skin. An A for this ground-breaking novel and a recommendation for any woman or girl who is interested in history or aviation to give it a whirl. 

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo is the first in her Grisha trilogy, which are prequels to the Six of Crows series which I've read and reviewed here awhile ago. It must be mentioned first that Bardugo's prose is so clear and yet luxurious that you find yourself unable to put the book down once it's begun. The characters are full bodied and fascinating, and the plot whips along at a crackling pace. The story takes place in a land similar to imperial Russia, and Bardugo makes you feel the cold on your face and hear the howl of the wolves in the forests. Here's the blurb:
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.
Shadow and Bone is the first installment in Leigh Bardugo's Grisha Trilogy.
Though a lot of YA novels have love triangles, I wasn't as bothered by this one as I usually would be, because I knew that the Darkling, though seemingly sexy and dangerous, was only using Alina for his own ends. Of course this novel ends with a cliffhanger of a sorts, as Mal, her first love, and Alina flee the Darkling and his plan to take over the world. Fortunately, Alina has finally come into her powers and will hopefully be able to save the country and remove the Shadow Fold so that her people can thrive. I am really looking forward to the next novel in the series. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys Russian folk tales and stories of magic and mystery.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Cat's Cradle TV Show, The Danish Girl movie, Third Place Books, The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes, Tower Lord and Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan

I've long been a fan of Kurt Vonnegut's work, especially his classic books, like Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five and God Bless You Mr Rosewater. I am excited to see that they are going to be making a TV series based on his novels.

TV: Cat's Cradle
FX has put in development Cat's Cradle
a limited series from IM Global and FX Prods. based on Kurt Vonnegut's
1963 novel. reported that the project will be written and
executive produced by Noah Hawley (Fargo), who "has become a go-to drama
writer at FX. In addition to writing/executive producing the second
installment of the Emmy-winning series, he recently was tapped to
write/executive produce the X-Men-themed pilot Legion for FX and FX
This movie has gotten major "buzz" because apparently the chameleon-like Eddie Redmayne does a splendid job of playing a transgender woman.

Movies: The Danish Girl
A new clip from the film adaptation of David Ebershoff's novel The
"is set at a costume party and features [Alicia] Vikander gracefully
remembering how her and [Eddie] Redmayne's characters first met,"
Indiewire reported. Directed by Tom Hooper, the movie opens in select
theaters November 27.

I have been meaning to check out Third Place Books new basement of wonders, but I've not gotten there yet due to many factors. Still, if it snows on my birthday and I can't make the trip to Powells, Third Place would be a great Plan B!

Third Place Books: A Seattle Underground Hot Spot
Matador showcased "11 underground spots in Seattle to check out before
including Third Place Books & Pub
"At street level, Ravenna's Third Place looks like any other cozy
independent bookstore. But down in the basement you'll find a great bar
with 18 rotating taps. Playing host to live music, book club gatherings,
and Magic Mondays (where, every so often, the PNW's finest magicians get
together to perform in the spirit of the London theater cabarets), the
Pub at Third Place serves up choice dishes including mezze plates,
eggplant sandwiches with grilled halloumi, and kopanisti dips made from
roasted red peppers and feta. And it's all good. All of it. There's also
a sister cafe upstairs that serves housemade Greek food."
I am looking forward to seeing this remake of Murder on the Orient Express, as I've been a long time fan of Kenneth Branaghs, as his birthday is two days before mine, and I think he's a brilliant actor, director and script writer/adapter. His adaptations of Shakespeare's plays for a modern movie audience are amazing. 
Kenneth Branagh will direct and star in 20th Century Fox's remake of
based on Agatha Christie classic mystery novel. reported
that Branagh will also produce along with Ridley Scott, Simon Kinberg
and Mark Gordon. Michael Green (Blade Runner 2) is writing the script.

I was born toward the end of the Baby Boom (1960) but I have always felt that those born on that end of the Boom got ignored, often in favor of those born right after WWII. Despite that, and the fact that we're all over 50 now, I have always known that we were readers and writers at heart.

Baby Boomers: 'Spine of Independent Bookselling'
Gayle Shanks, Mitchell Kaplan and Kris Kleindienst "are among many baby
boomers who founded stores with little sense of how to run a business,
but a profound sense of purpose
They are now pillars of a smaller but still vital independent-bookstore
community, and models for the wave of younger owners who have opened
stores in recent years," the Associated Press (via ABC News) reported in
an article headlined "Baby Boomers Still the Spine of Independent Book

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes was a historical mystery/romance that sounded right up my alley when I read about it on Shelf Awareness. I was delighted to discover that it lived up to the glowing review, and was an engrossing read. The fact that the story takes place on Orcas Island and in Seattle is only icing on the cake. Here's the blurb:
The smallest items can hold centuries of secrets...
Inara Erickson is exploring her deceased aunt's island estate when she finds an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in the house. As she peels back layer upon layer of the secrets it holds, Inara's life becomes interwoven with that of Mei Lein, a young Chinese girl mysteriously driven from her home a century before. Through the stories Mei Lein tells in silk, Inara uncovers a tragic truth that will shake her family to its core — and force her to make an impossible choice.
Inspired by true events, Kelli Estes's brilliant and atmospheric debut serves as a poignant tale of two women determined to do the right thing, and the power of our own stories.
As Inara and Mei Lein's stories unfold, readers get to learn about a dark part of Seattle's history, in which the Chinese were forced from their homes and put aboard ships to sail back to China, as prejudice men in Seattle believed that they were taking white men's jobs and that they were lesser as a race because they were different in religion, appearance and language. Many Chinese were killed outright, or drowned after being thrown overboard on the ships. Inara's horror at her ancestor's part in this racism is spot on, and her ability to stick to her guns about not continuing to sweep it under the rug is brilliant. Though this is her debut novel, Estes prose is lyrical and strong, and her plot is methodical and precise. I'd give this novel an A, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical mysteries about Seattle's past.

Tower Lord and Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan are the final two books in the Raven's Shadow trilogy, which began with Blood Song, which was reviewed here previously. Though this is epic fantasy at it's mightiest, I was anxious to find out what happened to the characters in Blood Song, particularly Vaelin Al Sorna, the main character, whose life took many twists and turns over the course of the three novels. All three are over 600 pages long, so it was no easy task to finish them, yet I somehow couldn't put them down. Here's the blurbs: Tower Lord
New York Times bestselling author Anthony Ryan returns to the “wonderful universe” (Fantasy Book Critic) of Blood Song, as Vaelin Al Sorna continues on his inevitable road to destiny…
King Janus’s vision of a Unified Realm has failed, drowned in the blood of brave men fighting for a cause that was forged from a lie. Sick at heart, Vaelin Al Sorna, warrior of the Sixth Order, returns home, determined to kill no more, seeking peace far from the intrigues of a troubled Realm.
But those gifted with the blood-song are not destined to live quiet lives. Vaelin finds himself a target, both for those seeking revenge and those who know about his gift. And as a great threat once again moves against the Realm, Vaelin realizes that when faced with annihilation, even the most reluctant hand must eventually draw a sword.
Queen of Fire:Vaelin Al Sorna must help his Queen reclaim her Realm. Only his enemy has a dangerous new collaborator, one with powers darker than Vaelin has ever encountered…
“The Ally is there, but only ever as a shadow, unexplained catastrophe or murder committed at the behest of a dark vengeful spirit. Sorting truth from myth is often a fruitless task.”
After fighting back from the brink of death, Queen Lyrna is determined to repel the invading Volarian army and regain the independence of the Unified Realm. Except, to accomplish her goals, she must do more than rally her loyal supporters. She must align herself with forces she once found repugnant—those who possess the strange and varied gifts of the Dark—and take the war to her enemy’s doorstep.
Victory rests on the shoulders of Vaelin Al Sorna, now named Battle Lord of the Realm. However, his path is riddled with difficulties. For the Volarian enemy has a new weapon on their side, one that Vaelin must destroy if the Realm is to prevail—a mysterious Ally with the ability to grant unnaturally long life to her servants. And defeating one who cannot be killed is a nearly impossible feat, especially when Vaelin’s blood-song, the mystical power which has made him the epic fighter he is, has gone ominously silent…

So much happens in these two books, it would be impossible to comment on all of it. What they don't talk about in the blurbs is that there's a chronicler named Vennier whose account of what has happened bookends many chapters and his fate is intertwined with that of the main characters, including Queen Lyrna. I really enjoyed Lyrna and Reva and Davoka and the other heroic women's voices in these books, because epic fantasy of this type often marginalizes women as only fit for being brood mares and slaves. Even the evil immortal women who is Frentis' nightmare and psychic jailer comes off as a three dimensional character who has seen many things and is hopeful for a life spent with Frentis, though he doesn't love her (and she's insane). I skipped over or skimmed many battle scenes in Tower Lord and Queen of Fire, because descriptions of killing, blood, death and gore aren't my thing, still I was able to pick up the thread of what was going on with the characters fairly easily. Chapters go from one characters POV to anothers, and while that can be disconcerting, I was glad that we learned so much about the landscape and the people through these different POVs. The ending wasn't as HEA as I would have liked, but it did tie everything together, and was satisfying for the reader to learn the fate of the main characters. A well-earned A for this trilogy, and a recommendation to those who enjoy epic fantasy along the lines of GRRM's a Song of Ice and Fire.