Monday, August 15, 2016

Fantastic Beasts Preview, Blackwatch by Jenna Burtenshaw, Windhaven by George RR Martin and Lisa Tuttle, A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway, and Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming

 I am really looking forward to seeing this movie, as I am a huge fan of Rowling's HP series and her other books that take place in the HP world.

Movies: Fantastic Beasts, Olympic Preview
"Finding fantastic beasts isn't an official Olympic sport in this sad,
Muggle world of ours, but that didn't stop NBC from airing a new
minute-long ad for the latest 'Harry Potter' movie," Indiewire wrote in
featuring a brief teaser for the film adaptation of J.K. Rowling's
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Directed by David Yates, the movie stars Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell,
Dan Fogler, Katherine Waterston, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon
Voight and Ron Perlman.

I picked up a copy of Blackwatch by Jenna Burtenshaw at the local library book sale, mainly because the cover looked intriguing and the author's last name reminded me of the main character in the UK TV series "Last Tango in Halifax",  Mr Buttershaw, played by Derek Jacobi. I found out that it was the second book in a series only once I had already read the first 75 pages and was too involved to put it down and seek out the first book, Shadow Cry. The author is pretty good at catching the reader up on what is going on, fortunately, so I wasn't really at sea too long, and the plot moved at a ripping pace on the sturdy, well-wrought prose. Here's the blurb:In Shadowcry, fifteen-year-old Kate Winters learned she was one of the Skilled, a rare person who can bring the dead to life. Even among that rare group, Kate is special. She alone can understand the secrets of an ancient book of knowledge.
In the sequel, Blackwatch, Kate is on the run from the Skilled, who have accused her of murder. And she is being hunted by an elite unit of assassins fighting in the war against Albion, Kate’s home.
 When a potent magic threatens the veil between life and death, fate reunites Kate with enigmatic villain Silas Dane, a man who cannot be killed. Only they can save Albion.

 Publisher's Weekly:Silas Dane, the infamous and immortal soldier without a soul, is on the run. Having just betrayed the High Council of Albion and executed one of its members, Silas steals his way across the country and learns that there is another who shares his kind of limbo existence. Meanwhile, instead of finding refuge among the Skilled, people like her who can manipulate the veil between life and death, Kate Winters is denounced and imprisoned by them. While Silas and Kate each embark on their own pursuits, the veil continues to draw them together until they both face the same formidable enemy and realize that the war between the Content and Albion is just a shadow of a growing new terror that will leave no citizen of either land unscathed. Burtenshaw ups the ante from her first novel, Shadowcry (Greenwillow, 2011/ VOYA online), in terms of plot. While certainly gripping, however, events occur in settings that are not clearly distinguishable from each other, and readers new to the Secrets of Wintercraft series will need to guess what some terminology means. Silas remains the most complex and intriguing character, though his longtime rival, Bandermain, is equally compelling. Kate and Edgar could still use more depth as characters, but their story lines reveal the mysterious history of Wintercraft, Albion, and the Skilled—a great improvement from the convoluted explanations in the first novel. Blackwatch is a satisfying continuation of Kate and Silas's saga and an enjoyable teaser for the next installment in the series.
Of course Blackwatch ends on a cliffhanger, so now I am obliged to find the next book in the series and find out what happens to Silas, Kate and her friend Edgar. Overall, I'd give the book a B+, and recommend it to anyone who has read the first book, or who is looking for dystopian fantasy.

Windhaven by George RR Martin and Lisa Tuttle was a find from the U District branch of Half Price Books, in a handsome, huge trade paperback edition that is the size of a hardback book. Haivng read Nightflyers, I assumed that this book was either a sequel or written in that same world. However, I read Nightflyers in the early 1980s, so I don't remember much of the story. At any rate, I found this science fiction/fantasy/romance hybrid a lovely read, full of memorable characters and a zippy plot with plenty of twists and turns. Here's the blurb: Publisher's Weekly: Rereleased 20 years after its initial publication, this gentle tale of a woman's quest to live out her dream to fly by award-winning authors Martin (Sandkings, A Storm of Swords) and Tuttle (Lost Futures) concerns the hard choices that come from having a vocation. On stormy Windhaven, the descendants of long-ago stranded star sailors live on widely separated islands. Lacking metals to sustain industrial technology, the inhabitants depend on flyers, humans with wings made from the original star sail, to bring news and carry messages, uniting far-flung communities. Maris, a land-bound female adopted into a flyer family, loves to fly. But when her stepbrother, Coll, turns 13, he stands as first-born to inherit the irreplaceable wings, even as he dreams of being a traveling singer instead. When Maris tries to resolve both quandaries by stealing the wings, she challenges not only flyer law but the basic assumptions of Windhaven society. Establishing competitions to win wings and training academies for students from non-flyer families, and defending a "made" flyer accused of treason for stopping a war, Maris faces the lifelong consequences of talent come into conflict with privilege. Although Martin and Tuttle make the correct choices rather clear, they never ignore the costs. With a well-constructed plot (with only minor slips in logic) presented in prose that reads as fantasy, the book will appeal to a YA audience in addition to Martin and Tuttle fans. 
Though there is no mention of Nightflyers, I still have a strong feeling that they are connected, as both were written by GRRM, and both involve people flying. Maris, though a beautifully strong woman, annoyed me for trying to avoid being the leader that she is, considering that her insistence on being a flyer, though not born to a family of flyers, sets off a ton of societal changes, such as universities and girls being allowed to train and fly, even after they get pregnant and start families. I did love that they carried her story right through to the end of her life, so readers feel a sense of closure. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who is too daunted by GRRM's overly brutal and political Game of Thrones series, but still enjoys a good tale of science fiction/fantasy.

A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway was another find at Half Price Books. It looked right up my alley, being a steampunk/Sherlock Holmes/strong female protagonist novel, and much to my surprise, though I've never heard of Holloway, I really enjoyed this rather portly paperback of 550 pages. Evelina Cooper is Sherlock Holme's niece, and her mother disgraced the family by marrying a circus performer, giving birth to Evelina, and then dying, leaving her child to be raised in a wild atmosphere that doesn't suit most of the upper strata of society in the Victorian era. Her grandmother Holmes pulls her out of that environment and places her in a home with a respectable baron's daughter, Imogen, who helps teach Evelina how to be a lady. Unfortunately for our heroine, there's a mystery afoot involving the death of a pregnant servant girl, and with her own brilliant mind and the help of some friends (including her uncle Sherlock, though he doesn't appear until late in the book), Evelina finds her way to answers, if not outright justice. Here's the blurb:Evelina Cooper, the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, is poised to enjoy her first Season in London Society. But there’s a murderer to deal with—not to mention missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse.

In a Victorian era ruled by a council of ruthless steam barons, mechanical power is the real monarch and sorcery the demon enemy of the Empire. Nevertheless, the most coveted weapon is magic that can run machines—something Evelina has secretly mastered. But rather than making her fortune, her special talents could mean death or an eternity as a guest of Her Majesty’s secret laboratories. What’s a polite young lady to do but mind her manners and pray she’s never found out?

But then there’s that murder. As Sherlock Holmes’s niece, Evelina should be able to find the answers, but she has a lot to learn. And the first decision she has to make is whether to trust the handsome, clever rake who makes her breath come faster, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything for her if she would only just ask.  

I was hoping that Evelina would cast her lot in with the brother of Imogen, Tobias, since he's  marriage material in Victorian society, when her swain from the circus, Nick (from Niccolo) is not, for obvious reasons, but even after Nick stalks her, physically abuses her and threatens her lifestyle and reputation, she still seems to carry a torch for this cad, though other than good looks, I didn't see anything to recommend him. His obsession with and possessive jealousy of Evelina sickened me, and I half expected him to kill her so that no one else could have her, since he couldn't. But other than the creepy Nick, and the even creeper Dr Magnus, who is apparently immortal, I enjoyed the strong characters in this book, and I felt that the ornate prose didn't detract too much from the smart and twisty plot. A well deserved A, with a hearty recommendation to anyone who likes Steampunk mysteries and Sherlock Holmes.

Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming is the non fiction memoir that my book group is reading for September's meeting. I am a fan of Cumming, as I've seen him on Masterpiece Mystery, in Cabaret and in movies, such as Circle of Friends. His Scottish burr is so very sexy, and his mischievious twinkling eyes always make me smile. Still, I wasn't sure what to expect from his memoirs, as I gather he is close to my age, and I sometimes feel as if those in middle age don't have enough material for a proper memoir, unless they've lead extraordinary lives. Alan Cumming has lead an extraordinary life, however, and his rise from horribly abused child to star of stage and screen is fascinating reading. Here's the blurb:
In his unique and engaging voice, the acclaimed actor of stage and screen shares the emotional story of his complicated relationship with his father and the deeply buried family secrets that shaped his life and career.
A beloved star of stage, television, and film—“one of the most fun people in show business” (Time magazine)—Alan Cumming is a successful artist whose diversity and fearlessness is unparalleled. His success masks a painful childhood growing up under the heavy rule of an emotionally and physically abusive father—a relationship that tormented him long into adulthood.
When television producers in the UK approached him to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, Alan enthusiastically agreed. He hoped the show would solve a family mystery involving his maternal grandfather, a celebrated WWII hero who disappeared in the Far East. But as the truth of his family ancestors revealed itself, Alan learned far more than he bargained for about himself, his past, and his own father.
With ribald humor, wit, and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as a film, television, and theater star. At times suspenseful, deeply moving, and wickedly funny, Not My Father’s Son will make readers laugh even as it breaks their hearts.
That last line of the blurb hits the nail on the head, because I found myself laughing and crying and rooting for poor wee Alan's survival, though it is obvious he made it, the whole way. I certainly wouldn't have been as kind to his horrible father as Alan and his brother were, when confronting the old man about how hideously he'd abused them. As if that wasn't enough, the rat bastard father actually makes up a story to get Alan to believe that he's illegitimate, and that is why the old man never "bonded" with him, because he wasn't his blood relation. Alan finds out that this is pure bunk, of course, and ends his relationship with his father, but again, I would have tried to get the vile old man up on charges for what he'd done, and I really wouldn't care if he was mentally ill or not. No one deserves to be treated with such cruelty, especially a child.
Cumming's research into his heritage on his mother's side yields fascinating results, so the book ends on something of a high note. The prose is honest and tender, and I flew through the book at speed. I'd give it an A, and recommend it only to those who are able to stand tales of abusive parents and their children's struggles to piece themselves together and survive.

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