Saturday, April 30, 2011

Changeless Review by JG

Changeless by Gail Carriger
Rating: ★★★★

Alexia Maccon, née Tarrabotti, is awakened one morning by her husband bellowing out orders and questions. He doesn't take time to answer her questions, but of course she finds out what's going on later. Something or someone has found a way to completely negate whatever magic makes supernatural beings, well--supernatural. This has London in an uproar. When the phenomenon seems to be traveling north to Scotland, Lord Maccon sets out in that direction too. He wants to investigate further, plus he needs to check in with his old pack. Alexia just can't be left behind, so one dirigible ride later, she joins him up there to find the pack in disarray.

Another fun entry into The Parasol Protectorate! I swear I smiled and giggled the whole way through. Alexia is just as hardheaded and Lord Maccon is just as Alpha. Yum-mmmeeeee. *Waggling eyebrows lasciviously* Alexia is settling into her role as the Woolsey pack's Alpha female with ease. It's a role she was practically made for. There's one confrontation with a member of the pack who has just returned from India that left me laughing. She handled him as only Alexia can. She manages to get herself into even more trouble this time around, believe it or not.

A strange French inventor, Madame Lefoux, makes an appearance too. We're never quite sure what her role is in everything, but she had me hopelessly intrigued. She is to Alexia as Q is to Bond. Talk about a tricked-out parasol! She hooks Alexia up! MacGyver would be jealous of this thing! She's wonderfully eccentric and I couldn't help but love her even as I wondered about her loyalties.

Ivy Hisselpenny and Alexia's sister Felicity have a much-larger role in this book, and all I have to say about that is, "Poor Tunstell. He didn't stand a chance." Ivy's hats are even more garish, Felicity is even bitchier, but their catty spats with each other and Alexia are priceless.

I had an idea what was going on with the mystery and wondered why no one even thought to consider it until the end.

Speaking of the ending...

That's really what knocked this back a star. It's a cliffhanger, it came out of the blue, (Well, sort of. I knew part of what was going on), and it relied heavily on miscommunication. I know miscommunication happens but it irritates the heck out of me when a whole new plot turns on it.

Still, highly recommended for fans of this kind of funny, character-driven, supernatural mystery. I'm anxiously awaiting Blameless. Darn cliffhangers

Friday, April 29, 2011

Soulless Review by Misty B.

Soulless by Gail Carriger
Rating: ★★★★★
Briefly: Read it. Soulless is exactly what I wanted and didn’t get from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It’s a pithy, funny, tongue-firmly-in-cheek mesh of Victorian manners and morés, and absurd occult occurrences. Alexia Tarabotti is an intriguing and amusing MC, completely un-Victorian and yet somehow not out of place. Carriger’s take on Victorian London high society shows a real knowledge of it, while not taking it too seriously. And, man, talk about cover appeal! Love it!
Highly recommended if you like historical, paranormal, satirical, and/or sexy-silly fiction.

Not-so-briefly: let's get down to business --
Characters: The characters of Soulless, including many of the secondary ones, are vibrant and fleshed out. The main characters are engaging and charmingly flawed. The two main characters, Alexia and Lord Maccon, are irresistible. Seriously. Just try to resist them; I'll wait.
Alexia is sassy and smart, with a strain of Victorian sensibilities that is unfettered by any sort of wallflower-ness. She is not shy or coy or retiring. She is a feisty heroine with modern inclinations, who just happens to expect to be treated like a Victorian lady, smart spinster, some-time sex object, and fan of treacle tart; she doesn't ask much. She's a perfect little bundle of contradictions.
Lord Maccon is every bit the Alpha werewolf, posing as a highly desirable bachelor Lord. He is constantly on the verge of bursting out and doing something deliciously indecorous. The fireworks between Lord Maccon and Alexia are blinding (and plenty exciting -- and loud, as fireworks tend to be). It's a classic love/hate relationship with the added fun of Victorian etiquette and supernatural elements tossed in.

Setting and Plot: The steampunky goodness of Carriger's Victorian England is almost as much a character as Alexia and Lord Maccon. Carriger did her research, and a London slightly different than we may have expected comes to life on the page. The Victorian obsession with the fledgling field of genetics plays a prominent and brilliant role, and the exploding obsession with science in both the working and moneyed classes makes for a suitable, smart and intriguing background to the story. Carriger's idea that these great advancements (logically) are the result of supernaturals is fun and playful, while making perfect sense. There's good conflict, great tension (plot tension and sexual tension *waggles eyebrows*). All said, she has set up a great stage-set to play on for the remainder of the series. Long may it live

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Soulless Reviewed by Becky

Soulless by Gail Carriger
Rating: ★★★★
In the words of Allison, this book kicked ass. I immensely enjoyed it, and have added it to both my "wishlist" and "to buy" shelves. Maybe someone will want to part with their copy, but I won't hold my breath.

First, let us get the bad stuff out of the way:
1) The main character's name: Alexia. This is a kind of disorder that causes word blindness, or the inability to read. TERRIBLE choice for an exceedingly smart and well-read main character.
2) There were some annoyingly errors in the text, things like saying that the time between sunrise and the moon rising is "twinight". Umm, no, that would be the time between sunset and the moon rising. The time after sunrise is called "day".

Ok, that's all I got for bad stuff. Other than that, I really loved the book. It was humorous, witty, unique, tied in one of my favorite eras to read about, had wonderful characters and was just an all around fun read. Miss Tarabotti reminded me quite a lot of Amelia Peabody from that series of books, and Lord Maccon reminded me of Emerson, again from the Peabody books, but in this there is a supernatural bent. I like that vampires and werewolves are "out" and accepted, mostly, and I like the subtle political "fear mongering" nod in the book too. Very smart.

I have to say that I am immensely glad that this book does not seem to be the start of a series of revolving beds, like the Sookie Stackhouse books. I like that there is a good amount of romance in the stories, but I don't like books that bed-hop just for the sake of stirring things up. I like that this book seems to have more substance than that, although it does seem to follow the trend of "unusual girl meets very unusual guy and drama ensues, then relationship bliss..."

I really enjoyed this book, and look forward to the rest of the series. Which I now have to wait for. BLAST!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Soulless Review by JG

Soulless by Gail Carriger
Rating: ★★★★★
I have waited entirely too long to write this review and gotten too deeply involved in the world of Ken Follett's World Without End, so this review is going to suck a little. Which is a pity because I had thought of all kinds of witty things I was going to write and now I've lost them.

Miss Alexia Tarabotti is soulless. When she touches supernatural beings, she neutralizes their abilities and they become human for a moment. That could be useful to the Bureau of Unnatural Registry if she weren't a lady of good breeding. She refuses to be treated as a wilting lily and goes about, wielding her tricked-out parasol and assisting in any way she can, as new vampires who appear to be entirely clueless about supernatural laws go about wreaking havoc on society.

I loved the chemistry between Alexia and Lord Maccon from the moment he threatens to bring her out of a faint with something stronger than smelling salts. He's an Alpha werewolf, but Alexia has enough alpha personality to hold her own against him. Their subtle yet pointed verbal sparring made this book for me. And can you say steamy? It wasn't too graphic, but oh my gosh. *Fanning*

Alexia herself was a fantastic character. At twenty-six, she's firmly on the shelf in Victorian society, but she's okay with that. Better to be on the shelf than married to some half-wit who can't keep up with her own intellect and curiosity. She gets enough of that from her family. They don't know she's soulless and put all of her quirks down to the fact that her father was Italian. But they've left her just a little insecure about her appearance and desirability. Just enough to make her feel real.

And Lord Maccon. Yum. That's all there is to say about him. But you know I can't leave it at that. Sexy, Alpha, protective, strong, and with a Scottish burr, who can resist him? I kept having an internal battle over his name. There's a Macon County near where I live and Lord Maccon kept sounding like bacon. As a carnivore, I'm sure he wouldn't object, but it kept distracting me.

I liked the way that some curious turns in history can be put down to supernatural intervention. I won't give anything away, and it was only a very small part of the book, but it amused me.

I really liked the cover until I read the book. I kept picturing Alexia as Nia Vardalos and that bony female on the cover just didn't cut it anymore.

I don't think I've read any steampunk before, but if this book is at all indicative of the genre, I am hooked. I'll be actively searching out more of this kind of thing as I eagerly await the sequel, Changeless.

Honestly, if you think that the only way The Pink Carnation series could be improved is by throwing in some supernatural beings, you will love this. If you don't know what I'm talking about but you would like a new take on the whole vampire thing, you'll probably like it too. It was just a hugely fun novel that I read with a smile on my face.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Soulless Review by Elizabeth L.

Soulless by Gail Carriger
Rating: ★★★★

It is the reign of Queen Victoria and the British Empire is vast and ever expanding, thanks in part to the Werewolves and Vampires. The supernatural are acknowledged the world over, but only England has truly accepted them into their daylight world and even into Victoria's government. They even have their own watchdog agency, BUR, the Bureau of Unnatural Registry. This revelation has resulted in technology exploding in the industrial era to harness the power of steam and create a veritable Wellsian world. Now Alexia Tarabotti enters into our story. Alexia deftly straddles these two worlds, not supernatural and not fully human, she is preternatural, soulless, and can cancel out supernatural powers. Preternatural's being used for centuries, particularly by the Templars, to hunt and kill supernaturals. But these are not Alexia's concerns...she's more worried about finding a nice cup of tea and a little something to eat...if a party says that there is to be food, food there should be! What else is a spinster who tragically takes after her dead Italian father in looks and is extremely outspoken to do at parties specifically designed to marry off her two step sisters? But her peace, and the treacle tart, are destroyed by a surprisingly ignorant vampire. She prevailes with her trusty parasol and BUR, in particular, Alpha Lord Maccon and Beta Professor Lyall, arrive on the scene to tidy up the loose ends.

The next day dawns surprisingly normal, till out on a walk with her best friend, and fashion victim, Ivy Hisselpenny, Alexia is invited to the hive of the Vampire Queen, Countess Nadasdy. From there everything goes pear shaped and it's up to Alexia to sort it out, despite Lord Maccon's interference, in more ways then one, some of them surprisingly intimate. There are disappearing rogue vampires and werewolves, and not even her trusty go to gossip, the vampire dandy Lord Akeldama knows what to make of it. With the full moon fast approaching will Alexia be able to keep her overly large nose out of this supernatural business? Or will she storm into the fray, trusting parasol (made to her specifications) in hand And will she get the man even though she has been a resigned spinster since the age of 15?

Soulless is the author Gail Carriger's first published work. I have to say I'm surprised and impressed. Surprised in that it is such a well written polished piece with great Victorian vernacular and lots of wit. Plus as an aside, I only found maybe two typos, it's unheard of for a book to be that well copy edited! But what impressed me was the author's world creation. The England of dirigibles and dandys is wonderful. I found the science and the history she created to be easy to understand, despite it's complexities, and I can't wait till the next book to re-immerse myself in this world...too bad I have to wait till March! The interaction of science with the supernatural was also so well done and logical, you never once felt that she was trying to force one or the other on a preexisting history of the British Empire, but was explaining the oddities of the British Empire itself with the world she created. If only Prince Albert were still alive...I can picture him with Professor Lyall, both equipped with Glassicals and studying the latest scientific aspects of chloroform while waiting to give a presentation to The Royal Society.

Overall the book was able to work on many levels, one of which was to overcome typical romance genre stereotypes. I don't think I'll ever really like Ivy Hisselpenny, she is too, wide-eyed innocent best friend who Alexia will endeavor to find a good match for in subsequent books. Also the throwing together of the heroine with the gruff hero so early in the novel was surprising to me, usually they wait till the very last moment. But Carriger made this work in the end with not the least bit of diluted suspense and the conclusion made me wish I hand Changeless right away to dive into to read of Maccon and Alxia's further adventures. Alexia herself is so wonderfully abrasive and forthright and knowledgeable with such a love of food you can't help embracing her instantly. Who cares that she's the typical spinster stereotype, because when you get down to it, there is nothing stereotypical about her. She is a woman who takes after Victoria herself, not those insipid heroines always needing a man to save them.

But now I must get to my favorite character, Lord Akeldama. He's a dandy to be sure, and a rogue vampire due to a mysterious disagreement over waistcoats, but he's so much more. He's a complex little spy who loves Alexia because she makes him feel human. But his spy network is really where it's at. His trusty Drones, led by Biffy. These dandy's are everywhere and hear everything, but at the same time are so stereotypical and a product of their time that they are a part of the scenery. They are perfectly calculated by Akeldama to be his eyes and ears lending him the appearance of omniscience. Also lets not forget they are great little helpers, in every sense of the word. Do to their cackling dandy herd mentality and the name of Drones and knowing that the author is a fan of P.G. Wodehouse, I can't help myself envisioning a whole different take on the Drones Club. This one would be more stylish, with lots more purple silk and more overt Wildean overtones. I would pay to read about that...really I would. Perhaps in an upcoming sequel by Gail Carriger...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dune Reviewed by Becky

Dune by Frank Herbert
Rating: ★★★★

This is one of those books that I've always thought that I should read, but never actually wanted to read, simply because I thought that it would have to be tedious and dry and, I hate to say it, boring. Which goes to show what a poor book-cover judge I am, because this book was anything but tedious, dry or boring. In fact, one of the first things that struck me about this book was the readability and fast-paced action and intrigue. So much happened in such a short amount of time, that I'd have to go back and read sections over again to be sure that I understood everything that had happened. Good stuff.

I have to say that I loved Herbert's writing style. It's deceptively simple and to the point... until 10, or 30, or 100 pages later when you realize that what seemed so simple and unimportant was a set-up for a revelation later, and your brain (or mine, at least) has this little "AHA!!" moment, and you feel so smart for figuring out exactly what you were so expertly and subtly led to figure out. Just imagine the possibilities for multiple readings... This book is one which can be read a dozen times and still reveal hidden nuggets of goodness.

Herbert's world, or universe, was so intriguing to me. I loved the political structure of having major and minor power families, an emperor, a 3rd party Guild to manage trade, and the 3rd party Bene Gesserit women, who sort of control-prophesy-manipulate to reach an end. The skills of the people inhabiting Herbert's universe are incredible, and so much based on mind-control. Not necessarily power over another's mind, although there is that, but I mean control over your OWN mind, to the point where instinctive reactions and involuntary bodily functions can be subverted and held in check, simply by will.

I loved Dune, as in the planet Arrakis, and the people who inhabited it, except of course for the Harkonnen jerk-faces. The Fremen are interesting and resourceful and bad-ass and wise, and are able to accept their lot, while trying to make a better lot for future generations. We could take a page out of their books, I think. We should be improving our planet, ensuring its inhabitability for as long as we're able (at least until the sun implodes and kills us all), but instead, we're polluting with reckless abandon, as if the planet is able to just reset with each generation.

Herbert's characters are some of the most interesting that I've read about as well. I loved that he infused a clear-cut Good vs. Bad struggle with deviousness and subtlety, and then on top of that, threw in characters that had to make choices that left you wondering who was real and whether they acted of their own accord or if there was something more... I loved the Atreides. They were, to me, the pinnacle of honor-bound deviousness. That seems strange to say, but I mean it in the best way possible. They were devious only to try to detect and prevent deviousness against them, and to right wrongs that have gone on for generations of animosity between houses. I do wish that there was a reason given that the Atreides house was singled out for this treatment, but reading between the lines, it seems that greed and power-mongering was the cause, and the Atreides were honest enough to stand against it, and so became the enemy.

This book is one that has a great many moral and religious and life-lesson undertones, which is a fine line to walk in any book for me, as I really, really dislike being lectured to. But I think that Herbert handled this all very well, and I was able to read it without feeling as though there was a wagging finger in my face.

Overall, I really, really enjoyed this book. The only reason that I am not able to give this 5 stars is that I felt like the entire book was leading up to a spectacular ending... but the ending drug on for just a bit too long and wasn't as spectacular as I'd hoped that it would be. It was a good ending to a very good book, but I felt that it just could have been a little bit more.

I definitely recommend this book though. It's entertaining and informative and prescient and timely as well as timeless. Just go read it already. :)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street Review by Elizabeth L.

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff
Rating: ★★★★★

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is Helene Hanff's followup to the popular 84, Charing Cross Road. This book though is not a continuation or a building on of the twenty years of correspondences between Helene and Marks & Co. but a look into what the writing of 84, Charing Cross Road brought to Helene's life. Due to the popularity of the book, Helene, while not becoming exceedingly famous or wealthy, developed a sort of cult following which enabled her to go to England to promote her book. Her long dreamed of sojourn to England was made possible by this little book and in return we are blessed with another, her diary of the trip. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, the title Helene bequeaths to herself, is just as sweet and engaging as the original, but with a little more structure due to the day by day progression without long periods of time missing, which so annoyed me in 84, Charing Cross Road. We follow Helene's journey across the ocean to a world populated by people who's lives were touched by her book. From Frank Doel's widow and daughter, to a Colonel, to a portrait painter, to a famous actress, to an old Etonian, all these people populate her time in England, from sightseeing to dinners (because the fewer dinners she has to pay for herself, the longer she can stay in England.)

After the publication of 84, Charing Cross Road Helene was literally besieged by people saying she must go to England now. But in the book you had sense of hesitation on Helene's part. Whether it was just her fear of travel or the country not living up to her expectations she kept putting off the trip, and at the end of the book you felt that perhaps she had waited too long, ending on a bittersweet note. But Duchess is not in the least bittersweet, euphoric would be the word Helene would use. She realizes, that while people keep telling her that she's about 15 years too late, she isn't. There is still Donne's St. Paul's, Shakepeare's local ale house, even Dicken's London (even if she isn't really a fan). Everything is as she had pictured it in the books she had read. And while she regrets not being as well read as others, being a re-reader to the point of memorization, she would not change it because of the words that flow into her as she enters St. Paul's from Walton's Lives. Having "the whole lovely passage right there in my head" and "for at least that moment, I wouldn't have traded the hundreds of books I've never read for the handful I know almost by heart."

Despite being a middle aged women having just undergone a hysterectomy, she is like a kid in a candy store. Everything is perfect and just as she always wished it to be. Her dreams were literally coming true and you have a desperate urge to just take her book and get on the next plane to see if thirty years later it is the same as when she left. From Russell Square to Hyde Park, Helene revels in her one shot of glory that has enabled her to live her dream. Even if, at times, she does seem a bit of a leech. Whatever she can get out of others in order to stay a day longer she accepts, mainly in the form of food. Of course England seems enamored of her as well as she of it, and they view her presence as enough, either at book signings or on the radio. When Helene runs into an old friend who is as baffled as she is as to England's love of her, she has a strong desire to tell her that the fairy tale will soon be over and Cinderella will go home, to the old jeans and gin while typing away at her 2nd Avenue apartment.

In the end the book is almost like a dream of England come to life, as Helene remarks on the plane, "suddenly it was as if everything had vanished: Bloomsbury and Regent's Park and Russell Square and Rutland Gate. None of it had happened, none of it was real. Even the people weren't real. It was all imagined, they were all phantoms." But even if Helene could not believe her good fortune, you will enjoy reading her exploits, even if they seemed improbable to the author they are a wonderful dream you hope you won't wake from. The book ends appropriately with a quote from Shakespeare's The Tempest:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors
....were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air...
The Cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples...dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hons and Rebels by Elizabeth L.

Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford
Rating: ★★★★★

Jessica Mitford was the "Ballroom Communist" of the engagingly eccentric Mitford Family. The second youngest daughter of the 2nd Baron Redesdalee, she had an unconventional upbringing where education was the bare minimum to make a good wife. Always wishing for an escape from her family, be it through schooling or politics or moving to another continent, she suffered through being a deb and presentation before the queen and watching her family come apart at the seems due to adivergence in beliefs. But at her first chance she ran off with her cousin, Esmond Rommilly , the nephew of Winston Churchill, to fight Franco in Spain. What with all of England trying to force her home, sending really big ships no less, even the courts of Chancery, it's surprising that she actually was able to succeed in her convictions and in marryingEsmond. The madcap and eccentric life that followed from Rotherhithe to the United States with Esmond equals that of her earlier life, but with herself being the master of her fate.

I rarely read biographies. I have to say, if more biographies were as fun and enjoyable as Jessica Mitford's I would read nothing but. The Mitford family has always been fascinating to me, what with the sisters paths being so divergent. Nancy was one of the "Bright Young Things" and a literary darling, with Love in a Cold Climate, which basically skewered her own family for her amusement. Pamela was horse obsessed and kind of out of the limelight. Diana married the heir to the Guinness fortune then divorced him to have an affair with the head of the British Facist party. When they eventually married, Hitler was at their wedding, which was held at the Goebbels' house. She also spent time in prison. Unity was Hitler's biggest fan and when war broke out between England and Germany she failed at committing suicide only to die of meningitis. AndDebo... well she married the Duke of Devonshire and lives at Chatsworth , writes books about chickens and is the last remaining Mitford daughter. You could not make this stuff up! From her earliest days with family to her later life withEsmond, Jessica captures the love she had for these people while at the same time the exasperation of her situation . From hoarding money so she could run away, to the ultimate subterfuge that resulted in her being victorious, even if she had to chase the SpanishConsulate representative all over England and France. To the years scarping by in the States doing anything and everything to stay there, from selling stockings door to door to being a bouncer at a bar. That's right, Jessica, not her husband, was the bouncer.

Given the extreme fame of her family and the career Jessica later established as a journalist in her own right, if a muckracker at that, it's beyond enjoyable to see where it all began. The fact that a high born Hon would eschew her family and their beliefs to set out on her own crusade for right, for the poor and disadvantaged, is a noble crusade indeed. But what you also see is that with Esmond, this is a love story. From her first hearing mention of him, she was in love. From their similar backgrounds of trying to shed off what was their families hereditary hangups, she envied him for his actual escape and later he aided her escape as well. Whether he felt the same inevitability as her that they were meant to be is hinted at. But what is certain is that they were perfectly matched. It makes sense that the book ends with the outbreak of World War II. It's the event that, more than anything, shaped that generation, but more personally than that, embodied the division of this family. It was also the event that would claim Esmond's life. But at least in this book, we can see the love still remains.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine Review by JG

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig
Rating: ★★★★
Henrietta Dorrington's best bookish friend, Charlotte Lansdowne, stars in her own adventure in the latest installment in The Pink Carnation series. Her childhood infatuation, Robert, Duke of Dovedale, has returned from India. But he's sending her decidedly mixed signals. Is he interested or not? Or is he involved in his own spy game?

Charlotte just isn't quite Henrietta, Letty, or even Mary. She spent much of the book just fantasizing about Robert. While interesting enough, I kept waiting for the comedy of misunderstandings and the adventure of French spies pitted against our faithful British crew to get started. About halfway through, things finally took off, Charlotte grew a backbone, and I got really interested. I think I finished the second half of the book in one night in bed, while it had taken me several days to get through the first half.

As for Robert--well, he just never felt very real to me. Since I mostly saw him through Charlotte's eyes, and he honestly wasn't very real to her either, I guess that's understandable. But he won't be competing with Miles for my affections anytime soon.

The humor that I've loved throughout the series still had me giggling like a schoolgirl, and I liked the historical backdrop of this novel. It's a few years later (I think), and I still can't say that I know anything about the period, but I can say that this American girl is a little more interested in "mad King George" than in Napoleon. Is it shameful for someone who reads as much historical fiction as I do to admit that?

I'm about to forget about Eloise and Colin. I've never been very interested in their present day story, but I did finally get curious about what was going on this time. Let's just say that Colin has been keeping secrets.

So really, this was three and a half stars, but I'll round up here, mostly because I love the series so much. Highly recommended to those who don't take their historical fiction too seriously and who don't mind some romance thrown in for good measure. Now I can't wait for the next in the series.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine Review by Elizabeth L.

The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig
Rating: ★★★

Charlotte has been waiting at Girdings for her knight in shining armour to come, just like those glorious murals depicting her ancestors bravely battling their foes on long gone battlefields or the books she consumes copiously. She even has her own dragon with her grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale. Then on Christmas Eve, out of the snow, Robert returns. Fleeing the family home for India all those years ago, the Duke of Dovedale returns like a knight returning from a long crusade in the Holy Land. Charlotte instantly starts framing her world in her rose tinted way with a happy ending of hunting unicorns with jam tarts and kissing Robert in the sun, never mind it's bleak midwinter and her grandmother has surrounded her with rogues and dimwits in a final attempt to marry her off. The worst of the lot being Francis Medmenham, descendant of the nefarious founder of the Hellfire Club. But why did Robert return? Is he here to court fair maiden? Or does he have darker designs... he has taken to Medmenham rather fast. But of course it is all a misunderstanding wherein Robert is out for revenge but he can't let the fair maiden know of his deceit. Breaking her heart for her own good, Robert sinks deeper into Medmenham's world while Charlotte is bustled off to court to wait on the Queen. But following a startling discovery and evidence that the King is going mad once again, Charlotte takes on her own causes for King and Country. Could it be that Robert's nemesis and the men behind Charlotte's uncovered plot are connected? If only through libraries and boat rides and dark tunnels used for darker purposes Charlotte and Robert could work together and not fret about what if's, might have beens and almost kisses, maybe they could save England.

Oddly enough both times I've read this book I've set it down for sometime and then come back to it. I can't really explain why I do this, but I just do. More than any character Lauren has written I identify with Charlotte, and maybe that's why I set this book down, I know what I'd do, so Charlotte would do the same. While the relatablity is strong, there's too much of a closeness, I find I enjoy characters who are less like me. For example Pen, I am nothing like Pen, but give me more Pen please! The characters are flawed, but they're nobly flawed. For a book with the Hellfire Club there is a noticeable lack of dirtiness. I love Medmenham and wish he had just taken over the book and been lewd and crude and maybe slaughtered a few unicorns. Wow... that went to a dark place. Maybe I just haven't been in the fairy tale frame of mind when I think of spies and can't handle the goody goody and want me some Mary and Vaughn. Snark and evil, that's what this book needed a little bit of to balance the good. Everyone needs balance.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Hopeless Romantic Review by Elizabeth L.

A Hopeless Romantic by Harriet Evans
Rating: ★★★★

Laura is a desperate, hopeless romantic. She believes in the dream of a white knight on a gallant steed. From Jane Austen to Georgette Heyer, she has spent her life looking for "the one" who will match her romantic ideal. Of course this leads her to nothing but trouble. She has the worst taste when it comes to men, but she always bends the facts of the situation to fit her romantic daydreams. Take Dan. Sure he has a girlfriend, sure it's technically an affair, but that doesn't stop Laura and her daydreams that he will leave Amy and that they will be together on their summer holiday to Florida. When it all comes crashing down she realizes that she has jeopardized her friends, family and job for a man who would never, could never be hers. She decides it's time to leave the clouds and wake up to reality. Eschewing all that she once held dear, gone are the novels and the movies, save one. She keeps behind Rebecca, no longer viewing the sweet new Mrs. de Winter as the reason for reading it, but Mrs. Danvers. Now there's a lady who is no nonsense, stiff backbone and who would never fall for this romantic waffle.

The new Laura throws herself into getting her life sorted out, starting with a family holiday in Yorkshire. While yes, it is extremely boring looking at heritage sites and historic windmills, Chartley Hall has it's allure... and no, not the paintings or the grounds, but Nick, who Laura takes to be the groundskeeper. But now that Laura is new and "improved" will she be able to snap back to the hopeless romantic she was before Dan to see that she has landed herself in her dream story and she might just have found her prince charming?

This book was pretty excruciating to get into. Laura and Dan together were an unbearable time bomb waiting to happen. Hundreds of pages of slow self implosion. I get that we needed this exposition to lead to Laura's hardening and throwing off the rose tinted glasses, I just don't think we needed as much as was there. But once she was in Yorkshire, it literally became a book I did not want to put down. The dull, flat, two dimensional characters were gone and in their place was funny people who I could get along with, after all they watch Arrested Development and Curb Your Enthusiasm! Of course there were cliches of the genre, the ending was both expected, sad and then a bit of a Bridget Jones clone in the extreme, which almost knocked it down a star. But it was good escapist and romantic fun. Also, is it just me or did anyone else think the "butler" Charles was really the ideal man? Cause, he's up there with fictional characters who I'd give my number to.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Confessions of a Shopaholic Review by Becky

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
Rating: ★

I picked this book up on a whim at the thrift store. I had heard it was fun and hilarious and that I'd love it.

It wasn't, and I didn't.

In fact, I only made it 25% into the book before I decided that reading more just wasn't for me. For starters, the main character gives me a bad name. What a vapid, delusional, hypocritical mess. She's bad at her job, she's completely self-centered and selfish and annoying, completely focused on outward appearances and and seems to think that the universe owes her a sweater. When she got to the part about paying 80 GBP (which is approximately 130 USD) for a decorative bowl that she initially thought was hideous and overpriced simply because it was featured in a magazine, and then started lying to herself about how SHE had spotted its worth all on her own and internally preening, I had to put the book down.

Honestly, is this kind of stuff supposed to be funny? I have a great sense of humor, and usually find many things funny that I probably shouldn't, but this wasn't funny to me. I find idiotic people like Rebecca Bloomwood's type to be frustrating and annoying, not funny. Plus, did I mention that she gives me a bad name?

When I discovered that there was no Aha! moment for her, and no growth or anything in her character, and that somewhere down the line she marries The Guy, I decided to stop reading for good. The Guy seems intelligent and rational, so why he would hitch himself to a financial disaster in Prada heels is beyond me.

In other words... I'm just not buying it.

(See what I did there? Take a lesson, Bloomwood.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Outlander Review by Becky

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Rating: ★★★★

I have to admit that for a large chunk of this book, I was hovering right around 3-3 1/2 stars. It was very good, but not amazing.

Gabaldon really knows how to tell a story and suck you in. I felt like I was there, in 1743 with Claire and the clans and the Redcoats. I could smell the trees and feel the clear air, and could hear, or not hear, the silence that is the absence of 20th century noise pollution. I even dreamt about the book, which is a sure indicator of my being absorbed.

But that being said, I did find her writing a bit distracting at the same time. Certain conversations and situations would be incredibly vague to me, but would have Claire jumping to a conclusion or answering in a way that made no sense to me. I'd have to read it several times and I still wouldn't know what was going on. And then later, when the resolution or explanation came, I would be confused as to how the previous thing led to it. Around the third time, I just went with it, but it annoyed me.

I do like to have a little mystery, or suspense, or whatever in my stories. I don't expect everything to be handed to me on a silver platter- that would be boring. But, I do want to be able to follow the action or dialogue without feeling like I'm watching a one-sided conversation in Spanish, which I don't speak. Ideally, I would read the passage and come to the same conclusion as the character does. This was a small thing, but it happened a couple times, and frustrated me.

Anyway, let's move on to what everyone is dying to know: How much I loved Jamie.

It seems that Jamie is legendary in the 20th century. Mention this book within 50 miles of a girl who's read it and they start to swoon and fan themselves. If the poor guy was real, he would really have to live in the highest and most secluded of the Scottish Highlands just to get some peace, but even so, he'd probably never leave home without a stick to beat the teeming female masses back.

He really is like 99.8% perfect in every way. Too good to be true perfect, actually. He's attractive (if you like red-heads, which I don't as a rule), smart as a whip, witty, funny, brave, chivalrous, fair, wise beyond his years, makes a girl feel all warm and safe, etc etc etc. Really, if there's an adjective that indicates a positive trait, Jamie would probably embody it somehow. He accepts absurd and unreal situations that would have most other men of the 18th century shouting "WITCH!" and building the bonfire themselves without batting an eye.

I think that it was this near perfection that I just couldn't get over. His ONLY poor trait was his stubbornness. I really do love chivalry, intelligence and a sense of humor are absolute musts, and I'll even settle for an attractive guy if necessary, but keep going on past those things, and you start getting into the realm of fantasy. Jamie doesn't exist, because no man can be that perfect.

And this, in itself is what held me back from loving Jamie like the hordes of women mentioned above. Don't get me wrong, I did like him a lot, but love it wasn't. I want to be able to love a fictional character that is REALISTICALLY perfect, and Jamie is just perfect, no realism about it. But that was before I reached the last 50 pages of the book when Jamie is describing the torture he endured.

I won't go into a lot of detail here, to avoid spoilers, but I will just say that my heart BROKE for Jamie. His fear and pain made him vulnerable, and THAT made me love him when all his perfection could not. I'm not talking about fear of death, or physical pain from his injuries, I mean his fear of being with and being without Claire was causing him pain, and just watching him in so much agony tore my heart out.

So, the short answer would be that yes, I loved him, in the end.

I did enjoy the story, and might even read it again one day, but I don't think that I will continue the series. I think that this book on it's own was enough.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Birds and Other Stories Review by Elizabeth L.

The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne Du Maurier
Rating: ★★★★

On December the 3rd life changed forever for Nat Hocken and his family. The day before was like any other, he worked at the farm and ate his lunch on the cliffs overlooking the channel. But the birds seemed agitated. That night, the wind came in from the East and turned fall into winter in Cornwall. While he slept soundly next to his wife, he heard a tapping on the glass. Upon opening the window a bird attacked him and flew off. This happened once more, though his wife insisted in her groggy state that it was a dream. But once the children were attacked in the next room his wife became scared as well. Nat spent the night fight the birds off to find fifty little corpses on the floor by morning. After walking his daughter Jill to the school bus stop he decided to stop in at the farm to see if this was a unique occurrence to his family. They had heard nothing, but on his way back to his family, the home service announced that birds were massing all over the country. Nat went home and prepared his house for the coming attack which he could feel coming deep in his bones. They survived the first night, those at the farm weren't so lucky. But how long can they survive with their supplies ever dwindling and the birds become ever more fierce?

While, you can read a lot into this story, such as the east wind being the Communist threat that could arrive at any moment, this was written during the height of the Cold War after all, I found it very interesting in it's post apocalyptic setting. With the small family trying to withstand an unknown force on limited rations in a desolate landscape, this is just like all good horror films, in particular zombie films. Also the scope is what I find interesting. Knowing the story only because of the Alfred Hitchcock movie I assumed the book would be a small coastal town in Cornwall under siege. While this does deal with the horror on an intimate scale with the Hocken family, it is stated that this is obviously a country wide, and perhaps a world wide problem. While no explanation is given for anything, it's the fatalism that leads Nat to smoke his last cigarette that gives it such a bleak, if ambiguous ending. Also anytime something as mundane yet as omnipresent as birds changes to a treat, it speaks to the fears we all possess. Could we die because of something we took for granted as being peaceful turning against us? Could the known become unknown? You can see why this still appeals to readers today, fear of the unknown, and attack by the previously known will always be a real threat, be it zombies or birds.

I always face such a conundrum as to how to review collections of short stories. A summary is so close to a spoiler. Like comics and picture books, how does one critique something that has a more transient nature. If I were to go into any detail on the final story, The Old Man, then the big twist at the end would probably come out. See I already said there was a twist! Now you'll just be waiting for it. Also the stories are so unalike, there is no way to categorize or group them, other than of a dark a forbidding nature. From the snowy peaks of Monte Verita where two men wait for their lost love, cloistered in an eternally beautiful society, to the cuckolded husband who, when free of his wife, starts obsessing about an apple tree that bears more than a passing resemblance to his now dead wife. Then there's to the coast of France where in imprudent liaison leads to drastic results. But my favorite is Kiss Me Again, Stranger. Wherein a young man becomes fascinated by a girl he meets at the theater. But again, spoilers. Now while the stories are unlike, there is the binding theme of the darkness of mankind. We read of these apparently normal people who develop these obsessions that lead to deadly consequences. In Du Maurier's world, a casual glance can lead to a tumble under a car. While I would never wish to live in her world, it makes for some damn compelling stories the leave you awake into the wee hours of the night.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Curse of the Pharaohs Reviewed by Elizabeth L.

Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters
Rating: ★★★★★

Five years have passed since Emerson and Amelia were wed. Five years away from Egypt living dutifully in Kent raising their son Ramses. Five years amid the damp and the cold and the rain. It's not that they don't love their son's just that he can't really make up for the Egyptian sunrise or the thrill of a freshly unearthed mummy. For weeks the tabloids have been filled with the story of Lord Baskerville who died mysteriously while unearthing a new tomb in the Valley of the Kings, leaving an attractive widow, a second in command mysteriously scarpered and rumors of a curse. A story that Emerson and Amelia have eagerly read to vicariously live the life they've left behind. When one night, who should mysteriously appear on their doorstep but the bereaved widow herself, ostentatious weeds and all. She pleads with Emerson to return to Egypt and take up the tomb's Amelia points out, Ramses would be fine with Walter and Evelyn...for the winter...So off the two of them head to Egypt, parasol firmly in Amelia's hand. Upon their arrival there is the usual rigmarole with hiring the natives, working through governmental red tape and blasting away the rumors of a curse. But they didn't expect the press or such a cast of characters worthy of Agatha Christie herself.

In the villa overlooking Luxor and the Valley of the Kings an odd assortment of humanity has gathered. From the dregs of the previous expedition, Karl von Bork, a German archeologist, and the ailing Milverton, the photographer. Cyrus Vandergelt, an American millionaire and Egyptian enthusiast who covets the Baskerville Tomb and Lady Baskerville, who is also present. The fetching artist Mary with her delusional and often costumed and bewigged mother, Madame Berengeria. Not to mention various other servants from the superstitious to the oblivious. And a mysterious woman in white who wanders the plane. All caught in the keen eye and sharp pen of the journalist, Mr. O'Connell. But one person is conspicuously absent... Armadale... Lord Baskerville's second in command is still missing...which of course leads Amelia to assume, that despite evidence to the contrary, this man must have murdered his boss and took to the hills. But despite all the intrusions, whether unwelcome houseguests to nosey reporters, the work must go on! And so it does till the first attack...and then the first murder...a servant who, the night before, claimed he saw the ghost of Armadale. The Emerson's think little of this, except in idle speculation, till even more attacks occur combined with more sightings of the woman in white. But what are a few murders and misdemeanors when a tomb has to be excavated before the looters get to it? Racing against the clock Amelia and Emerson have to sort out this mess and hopefully unearth a killer as well as a pristine mummy, preferably royalty.

I was uncertain if I'd like the second book in the series, because how many books can you successfully base around a curse and a tomb? Well...given how many books are in this series, the answer is several, but that doesn't mean they're all gems. Like mummies, you find the servants as well as the kings. But this book is definitively up there with the mighty pharaohs! I just devoured this book. It was very much in the vein of an Agatha Christie country house murder, only the house happened to be located in Egypt. Slowly secrets revealed until Poirot...I mean Emerson...gathered them in the drawing room to flush out a killer. There is also all the requisite Egyptological fun, but I find the cast of characters to be the true driving force of this mystery. A greater set of misfits there have never been. From the young men all pining after the put upon Mary, who has a few secrets herself. To the outspoken American, to the widow who had some sort of past with Emerson but is already on the prowl for her next mate. To the erstwhile Jimmy Olsen-esque reporter, who thought the idea of a curse would sell papers, and now he can't control the beast he's created. But my favorite character is Madame Berengeria. She believes in a past life she was Emerson's lover and that they should try to remember their past together, all while she dresses up as some Egyptian Queen. She is so fully realized and jumps off the page, you almost wish there was more of her...but that would almost be an impossibility!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Curse of the Pharaohs Review by Becky

Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters
Rating: ★★★

I'm really kind of torn on what to rate this one... On the one hand, it's Amelia and Emerson, and they are brilliant characters, but on the other hand, there was just something about this book that left me a little... wanting.

I really enjoyed the first book in the series, "The Crocodile on the Sandbank", and fell in love with both Amelia and Emerson in that book. Amelia was so smart, and strong and sure of herself, and her biting wit and force of will made her a creature to be reckoned with. Emerson is gruff and rude and pushy and misanthropic and generally thinks that all others besides himself are morons. But hey, Emerson, when you're right, you're right. Crocodile was fun and the mystery was engaging and it was a great start to what should be an amazing series.

But I felt a little let down by the second book, honestly. The writing was still fantastic, though after the beginning, not quite as funny as I'd have liked. The beginning was perfect in my opinion, and set the bar high. Perhaps that's why I feel a bit let down. The story was great, and reminiscent of some classic mysteries (OK, mainly just one, which I'll touch on in a bit), but I just wanted a little bit of the sparkle that Amelia had in the first book back, and it seemed that was missing for me.

This story takes place 5 years after the events of Crocodile. Emerson and Amelia are married, and now have a baby, Walter Peabody Emerson (nicknamed Ramses for his precociousness and resemblance to the ancient Pharaoh) who is, to put it bluntly, hell on wheels. He shares his parents' proclivity towards Egyptology and archaeology and has no qualms about digging in and getting dirty in the pursuit. Cute little bugger.

Emerson and Amelia are called in as experts to help excavate a new-found tomb after the previous leader of the excavation team died, under what imagination-prone Amelia thinks is suspicious circumstances, as his assistant has gone missing. A reporter, covering local archaeological events, has intimated that the Egyptian gods are displeased with the tomb being opened and desecrated, and has claimed that there is a curse at work. Naturally E&A have no compunctions about getting back to work, curse or no curse, after being in England for so long, away from their beloved Egypt.

I think that the 5 years between when the first book ended and the second book began had more of an effect than intended. Amelia seemed a little distant and cold and, I'll just put it out there, bitter at times. She's spent 5 years away from Egypt, and now has a son, but Amelia isn't the parenting type, really. She referred to little Ramses as "it" for a large portion of the book, and seemed to think of him not as a child but as an unknown creature completely separate from herself. In fact, later on in the story, she was more affectionate towards a cat than she was toward Ramses in the beginning of the story.

I say this simply because I think that she will grow to be more comfortable with the role of "mother" in later books. It's not something that comes naturally to her, being very calculating and precise as she is. She has high expectations of everyone that she comes into contact with, and heaven help them if they don't meet them, including her son. That's not to say that she doesn't love her son - she does, she just does it in her own way, and most assuredly does not mollycoddle him.

The only other mother in the bulk of the story, Madame Berengeria, is an example to make Amelia look like a candidate for World's Best Mother. MB likes to dress and act as different Egyptian queens reincarnated, has a fondness for brandy, and an overabundance of malicious dramatic urges. Her daughter, sweet and innocent Mary is hard put to live with her.

Emerson takes naturally to being a father, and encourages little Ramses in his thirst for knowledge, as any parent would, even going so far as to have debates regarding the nature and origin of fossils dug up in the back yard. Like I said, cute little bugger.

Emerson and Amelia's interaction throughout the story didn't have the same wit and charm that it had in Crocodile. He barked and she allowed it, sort of, in her own way. She still did whatever she felt that she needed to do, but in a decidedly less direct way than she had before her marriage. I can understand this, marriages were different things back then, but Amelia has always been herself and let nothing decide her actions for her. You could tell that Amelia absolutely adores her husband, and that she respects and admires him as well, chiefly because she's narrating the story herself. Likewise, we know that Emerson's gruffness and commanding attitude isn't how he really feels about her, because she interprets for him. But an outsider look in might see things very differently, and wonder how they could stand each other.

Speaking of outsiders, there's a rather larger cast of characters in this book than there was in Crocodile, and it took me a little while to get everyone straight in their roles. There are some definitely interesting characters here, and I wonder if we might be seeing more of them later on in the series.

Coming back to what I hinted at before... parts of this book really reminded me of Agatha Christie's novel "And Then There Were None". A large cast of characters who all are suspicious and who could all be the culprit are all gathered together in one area while deaths abound.

I don't mind this really, as long as the story comes together and makes sense. And of course, Amelia and Emerson solved the puzzle before too many had died, so it was more of a homage than a copy-cat, but it had the feel.

I did like the story, and the characters... My main gripe is just that little missing something in Amelia that she hopefully hasn't outgrown or cast off after casting off her singleness. I hope that it comes back in the next installment...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book of a Thousand Days Reviewed by JG

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Rating: ★★★★

As luck would have it, the very day Dashti enters the service of a lady is the very day said lady is bricked into a tower for seven years to learn obedience. Dashti goes along with her to keep her company and take care of her. Between fighting off rats, Lady Saren's torpor, and the unsettling attentions of Saren's two very different suitors, Dashti has her hands full. And that's just the beginning.

I love Dashti. She grows so much in this book! She starts off a simple girl from a simple way of life, unquestioningly following the laws of the land, and she becomes a strong woman, confident in herself and her abilities. The book is really Dashti's diary, so it was interesting to see her thinking and even her writing style change as she grows into herself.

Dashti's is the most obvious transformation, but Lady Saren quietly undergoes some drastic changes. She starts out a weak, irritating, ineffective girl who seems to be nothing but a chain around Dashti's neck, but sometime when you aren't looking she becomes something... more.

This is my first time reading Shannon Hale, and if this is any indication of the rest of her work, it won't be my last. I sat down to get started on this before spending a little time on the computer, and the next thing I knew I was finishing it. Seriously. One sitting. There was one part that started to drag just a little bit, but somehow a book about two girls in a tower became a page turner. I enjoyed how Dashti's "voice" changed as she changed, and I'm very impressed with Hale's skill in pulling that off.

I was thrilled to read a young adult book with a strong female lead and no love triangle in sight! Yay! I know I wrote the bit about two suitors, but believe me, there's no love triangle.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Book of a Thousand Days Reviewed by Elizabeth L.

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Rating: ★★★★★

Dashti's mother has died on the steppes. Leaving the other muckers behind, she takes refuge in the city of Titor's Garden. Dashti's ability to read and write makes her a valuable servant, not to mention her knowledge of the healing songs of the muckers. She is trained to be a serving maid to Lady Saren, the illiterate daughter of the city's leader. Dashti's first day of work is more than she could ever have bargained for. Arriving at Saren's home, the house is in an uproar. Lady Saren is to be locked up in a tower for her refusal to marry Khasar, the leader of nearby Thoughts of Under. Whence her lady goes, there goes Dashti, even if they just met. The days pass slowly in the tower. But with food for seven years, Dashti feels more secure than she did starving on the steppes wondering where her next meal was to come from.

But her lady is not well. Dashti sings to her and tends to her every need to no avail. Saren is holding onto a dark secret to do with Khasar that nothing can relieve. Their only hope comes one day when Khan Tegus secretly arrives. He is the leader of nearby Song for Evela and Saren's secret fiance. He brings them news from the outside world, even if Saren refuses to talk to him and Dashti must pretend to be her mistress, for which she hopes the Gods won't strike her down. They communicate night after night through the little hole in the base of the tower, till one night, Khasar attacks. They hear no more of Tegus, no more of their guards, and their food supply is in danger. The rats have found them. Which is not so big a worry as Saren's overeating.

Facing a slow death or finding a way out of the tower are the only options left to them. But the outside world has changed. Khasar has started a war with all the eight realms. Titor's Garden is no more. The two girls slowly make their way to Song for Evela, hoping that Khan Tegus can protect them. But once their Saren refuses to make herself known and asks Dashti to once more pretend to be her, despite there being a new fiance from Beloved of Ris. There is more war on the horizon. Dashti is but a mucker faced with hard decisions and a Lady who she is respecting less and less. Could a lowly mucker save all the eight realms and get the prince? Or will evil win?

The fact that our heroine is locked in a tower should be the first hint that this is a tale from the Brothers Grimm. Those brothers sure did like their maidens bricked up in out of the way locales. Shannon Hale writing it is another good sign. Shannon Hale has made her name with her retelling of fairy tales written by the Brothers Grimm, from The Goose Girl to Rapunzel's Revenge, she has taken the weak, put upon women, and strengthened them and given them new life. The retelling of Fairy Tales is a popular pastime in fiction, especially in young adult fiction. Fairy Tales are the building blocks we all played with as children. They are simple stories to teach us right from wrong. They are stories that, as we age, we see the flaws and the wrongs. But still, they resonate with us. Book of a Thousand Days is based on one of the lesser known stories by the Brothers Grimm, "Maid Maleen." The story of "Maid Maleen," unlike the title suggest, is not about a maid at all. We follow the brave princess locked in the tower who one day escapes and flees to the country of her beloved. Once there, she finds work in the kitchens and as begged by the ugly fiance of the king to pose as her during the wedding ceremony, the rightful princess and the rightful prince are reunited and cue the happily ever after.

Here we see the themes that Hale will employ in her retelling, disguises, imprisonment and resolution of woes. But what of the actual maid? What of "Dashti"? In the original story there is but one mention of the maid being locked into the tower with her mistress. Shannon Hale latched onto this simple line. To be imprisoned for a crime that is not yours, to be locked up with someone you don't know. Someone who is illiterate and woebegone. The day to day life that Dashti narrates, with the good as well as the bad, the growth as well as the set backs are what make this book so wonderful. While it is said that it takes a thousand days to know someone, by reading this book you know Dashti. A simple story about obedience from hundreds of years ago has brought forth a story of one girl's struggles to find herself and her place in the world. And it's totally empowering. Sometimes the old needs to infused with the new to make it relevant in today's world. Retelling a tale is all it takes.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Book of a Thousand Days Reviewed by Misty B.

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Rating: ★★★★

This is a retelling of the little known Grimm Brothers tale "Maid Maleen,' but fairly drastically reworked. Dashti was born a mucker girl on the Asian Steppes, but when her mother dies and she has no family left, she finds work as a ladies maid for Lady Saren, daughter of the ruler of Titor's Garden. But when Dashti arrives to begin her work, she learns Lady Saren is to be shut up in a tower for seven years for disobeying her father and refusing to marry Lord Khasar; and Dashti must be shut up with her if she is to fulfill her vows as a ladies maid. What follows is the Dashti's telling (via a diary with brush-and-ink illustrations) of her entombment with Saren, and their adventures there after, from the terror of Lord Khasar to Dashti's healing mucker songs, to Khan Tegus, the nice, funny and out of reach ruler who may hold the keys to the girls' freedom.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. In fact, I stayed up half the night reading it (just one more page-ing myself to death). There was a slight magical realism feel to it. Dashti ia an intersting character, very intelligent and strong, but also very meek and hyper-aware of her "place." It is enjoyable to watch her grow and come into her own. Lady Saren, who is very troubled and somewhat annoying, is also an enjoyable character, even in spite of her "unenjoyableness" because it is equally pleasant to watch her grow and heal as well. Lord Khasar is truly terrifying; so many of the characters are fully realized and engaging, as is the world.

Hale's reworking of the tale is fascinating, and expands beautifully on the original (which I looked up and read when I finished). The changes she makes make sense and add to the story wonderfully.

The only drawbacks for me were:
-- there are times when Dashti's storytelling is too sedate.
-- The Lord Khasar thread is tied up a little too quickly and conveniently. There are things I really liked about it, and I liked what it brought out in Dashti, and the choices she made, but I would have liked a little more build-up and tension in the actual resolution.
-- on a personal note, the names of places sometimes got to me. I don't know if they were traditional or made-up, but the constant repetition was a bit irritating.

Overall, though, I would definitely recommend this to fans of Hale, fairy tale retellings, strong female characters, etc

Monday, April 11, 2011

Breaking Dawn Review by Elizabeth L.

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
Rating: ★

Thankfully after this pathetic end to the Twilight Saga it will no longer be mentioned with the likes of Harry Potter. What was a mildly fun and slightly different vampire story ended with a saccharine slapped together ending where everyone gets what they want, except the Volturi, and maybe it would have been better if they did.

Bella Book 1: Like some futuristic version of Wide Sargasso Sea, which, given Meyer's liking of the Brontes, is probably not that far a stretch. Bella has h...moreThankfully after this pathetic end to the Twilight Saga it will no longer be mentioned with the likes of Harry Potter. What was a mildly fun and slightly different vampire story ended with a saccharine slapped together ending where everyone gets what they want, except the Volturi, and maybe it would have been better if they did.

Bella Book 1: Like some futuristic version of Wide Sargasso Sea, which, given Meyer's liking of the Brontes, is probably not that far a stretch. Bella has her dream honeymoon and we have hunderds of pages of boring tripe.

Jacob Book 2: Mildly different, thankfully seeing this part of the story through Bella's eyes would have made me gouge mine out so Jacob is a great relief, and personally I like Jacob, but the imprinting, just ewwwwww. Also I feel sorry for Leah, she deserves better.

Bella Book 3: Why does Bella have such an interest in measurements all of a sudden? I mean one more 1/62nd of a second or 1/10th of a second and I would have screamed. And right about page 500 was when I almost gave up, didn't, almost did, and really if I had I wouldn't have missed much.

It's not like I had any expectations for this book, they were just fun reads, but this was just boring. The characters were all too good and everything was too wonderful, like this is some magical happy valley, it was just wrong. The first will always be the best to me, since then they have been going downhill, and this last book just fell off a cliff. Also I lost count at around 50 grammatical errors, that's just not acceptable, what are the editors doing these days?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Breaking Dawn Review by Becky

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
Rating: ★★★

Oh Stephenie... You sure do know how to glue some eyes to your books, don't you? This book is just as addictive as the first three, and just as gut wrenching. I couldn't stop reading, and stayed up MUCH later than my work schedule permits just so that I could finish the story and know what happens. Honestly, I sometimes am really annoyed when books suck me in like these did -- I dream about them, vividly, and can't stop thinking about them. And, we all know that these aren't great literature. Yeah, they might be around in 50 years, with all the teenage mothers handing it down to their daughters to drool over (and that's scary, isn't it?), but these are not classics. But all the same, they hooked me and I didn't even know it until the third book was under my belt.

I knew that Bella was going to get pregnant all along. (Don't think that I have some magical knowledge of things that haven't yet happened or that I'm trying to sound like I called some twist that nobody could have called. I'm saying that this little plot point was spoiled for me thanks to the Never-Ending GR quiz. I don't hold it any grudges though. It's not the quiz's fault that users make up spoilerish questions.) Anyway, I knew it was coming, somewhere in the story, I just didn't know when it would be. Or HOW it would be. And it was intense. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Bella gets married, with no Volturi interruptions, and no Jake storming down the aisle and demanding for her to not make the mistake of her life... I was waiting for that, and so it shocked me even more that it didn't happen than it would have if it did.

So, yeah, the wedding, then the honeymoon, then the pregnancy... then the abrupt switch to Jacob's point of view. What? OK, this worried me. If Bella's no longer telling the story, Bella no longer has to be alive at the end to finish it. I admit it, I skipped ahead. I had to be sure! Shameful, I know.

Oh, I must say that I was concerned about Edward's reaction when he heard that Bella was pregnant. He scared me a little. His abrupt assumption that it must not be something that she wants (even though she had done her best to assure him that having no children would not be an issue that she would have trouble overcoming) concerned me. But I'm a woman, and I know how easy it is to see something that you want once it's in front of you and unavoidable rather than some hypothetical maybe theory wavering all fuzzy in the distant future.

Just a bit more about the pregnancy. It was NOT believable that it should be such a shock to the Cullens that the half-vampire baby would want blood. Really, I had to roll my eyes at that one. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

Anyway, moving on. After Bella's change, she felt like a different person to me. Of course I know that this is because she really IS kind of a different person, but it's strange to see someone so insecure and shy and awkward all of a sudden become sure of herself and confident. She was still Bella, still thinking of everyone else first, still trying to make sure that if anyone should suffer, it should be her and her alone, but it's strange to think of her as the strong, confident type.

I loved both Edward and Jacob in this book. They both made enormous sacrifices for Bella, and were willing to go to any length to make sure that she was OK. Edward as a father was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen, and imprinted Jacob as protector and devotee was just as sweet.

I wanted to see more of Jasper and Emmett in this book, and I was disappointed that they did not have bigger roles. I also wanted to see the Volturi get their asses handed to them, but that was not to be. But aside from those things, I loved the book, and think it was a wonderful end to the series.

And with that, everyone, I'm ending my time as a Twilight fan-girl. :) Now I'll have to try to find something nearly as addictive to take my mind off of these. Wish me luck

Saturday, April 9, 2011

On Beauty Review by Elizabeth L.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Rating: ★★

The most uneven book I've ever read. Some passages are purely brilliant followed by some of the most boring prose in the history of writing. Also Smith sometimes forces Forester's plot on hers very awkwardly, like at the concert, and then when she has a chance to actually incorporate the plot with ease she neglects to, like at the frat party. Also I agree with other reviewers that she does not have the American Dialect down, she is obviously British and sometimes the characters say things that are so British despite the fact that they are not you cringe. Also her discription of the East Coast in general, along with the weather seem the biggest fanasty of the book all around!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Slaughterhouse-Five Review by Becky

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Rating: ★★★

I'm not really sure what to think about this one, it was interesting, in that I was curious where all the little snippets and fragments would be going, and how they would all come together, but I can't really say that they did, except in the vastly interpretable possibilities.

There weren't really any characters that I could identify with. The main character just listlessly wanders through life, being shepherded along by whatever circumstances come, accepting everything, not even caring enough about his own life to try to save it. The narrator/author finds his way into the story a few times, but we learn nothing about him, really, and he adds next to nothing to the story, unless it's supposed to add a mild sense of realism. It didn't, for me, it only confused me, as I wasn't sure how a separate person would know all about the main character's thoughts and dreams and the like, when it seemed that they never actually connected in any way in the story.

The secondary characters were all rotten in their own ways. Aside from making me frown a lot as I read, they left no lasting impressions on me at all. They could have been any rotten jerk person, or any no-personality, and I wouldn't really know the difference. I just finished, and I can't remember half of their names. Even the war, which was supposed to be awful and raw and horrid felt like it was just... academically described. I didn't FEEL anything as I read this, and for being such a must-read book, I'd expected to.

Which brings me to my next point. This book is, at least on the surface, about the bombing of Dresden. I don't know anything about that, and still don't. OK, I take that back. I now know it was bombed. But that's it. There was no light shed on the reasons for the bombing, and next to nothing told about the aftermath of it either, except for two pages from the end of the book, in which Billy describes the death mines. That's it.

This book doesn't even know what it's about. I'm sure that people will argue with me about this, and say that I'm wrong and that the book is about this, or that, or the confluence of events caused by the catastrophe of the human condition with regards to the symptoms of life, or something that I apparently missed. That's cool. But I stand by my statement. For a book that claims to be about the Dresden bombing, there's almost nothing about that. For a book that's called "Slaughterhouse-five", there are very few mentions of the slaughterhouse. Rather, most of the book is concerned with Billy and Billy's life and his unstuckness in time, but it's incredibly impersonal, almost to the point of being unfeeling, so I wouldn't say it's about life either. This is a book about nothing. Or maybe more apt - this book is about paradoxes - nothing and everything at the same time.

There's nothing to glorify war here, no heroes marching off bravely into battle, no glorious deaths, etc. But there's nothing that makes it awful either. True, there is hunger and a boot shortage and illness and death, but there was really no feeling of suffering or loss or anger about it. This book just seems to say that war, as well as everything else, is pointless, unavoidable and fated, so why bother trying to change anything - just ignore it and look at this shiny penny I found! Ooooh. O_O

I disagree with that, obviously. I disagree with the concept of life being a series of moments that are always planned, always unchangeable, always destined. I disagree with the idea that, even if we should somehow be given a glimpse of the future, that we should just blithely accept that future and come whatever may. If I see my future, and I don't like it, sorry, I'm changing it. My path isn't written in stone.

I did think that the concept of time travel was interesting here. Honestly, the time travel alone, even though I don't agree with what it implies, is why I gave this 3 stars instead of 2.

I like the idea that we can't really ever die, because we have always existed, and will always exist, in some point in time. I wouldn't want to continually hop around to the points of my existence like Billy does, exactly, but I do like the concept of my being timeless. Not that it will do me any good, but it's a nice thought, in a way.

Even the time jumps in the book are interesting, as Billy doesn't know where he will end up or when. His life seems to carry on without him, while his consciousness is in one time or another, so it's like his mind just falls into his body at a given point in time. This is a weird thought for me, because it implies that we really have no life at all, and that our bodies are merely doing exactly what they are meant to always do at that moment. However, I don't know if that's true either, because it's possible that we do control our destiny, or maybe time is just a trickster manipulating us into thinking so.

At one point, Billy, who is not attracted to his new wife (who is overweight and not exactly a looker, apparently) tells her that he likes her as she is after seeing a future for himself that shows that his marriage is "bearable". Now, was his marriage bearable because he told Valencia (the wife) that he liked her as she is, thus making her content with him and happy and not a shrieking harpy? Or was it going to be bearable whether he said anything or not? Or would it have been bearable only in his mind because he saw that it would be and therefore accepted that as gospel and would interpret anything as being "bearable"? Essentially, did he create the future that he saw by seeing the future and accepting it and acting accordingly? If so, is that not then shaping our future?

I wonder how this book would have played out had the main character had some initiative to take matters into his own hands. I wonder if this book is a missive to just do what you do and have no regrets because you're always supposed to do that because that's what you're made to do. That's kind of hopeless and sad, I think. What's the point of being human if we're not able to be alive and in control of ourselves?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Secret Garden Review by Elizabeth L.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Rating: ★

Due to The Secret Garden being classified as a "Classic" (and yes, classic with a capital "C") almost everyone knows the story, even if they have never read the book. Mary is a spoiled brat orphaned in India and sent to live with her Uncle in a big creepy house in Yorkshire that contains many secrets. The Uncle is still reeling from his wife's death ten years previously and thus shuts himself and a mysterious garden off from the world. Mary becomes preoccupied with finding this garden and in the process befriends Dickon, her maid's younger brother and "animal speaker." Along the way she also befriends a Robin and a crotchety old gardener, Ben Weatherstaff. She eventually learns that she has a cousin, Colin, hidden in the house because he is an invalid, but only because he's never heard he can live. They all have fun in the secret garden becoming fatter and healthier and then the Uncle comes back and he is once again happy because even though it was the garden that took his wife and resulted in premature labor, the garden has given him a child (even if he did ignore him for the better part of a decade).

This book was actually not popular during Frances Hodgson Burnett's lifetime, and I can see why. The book really isn't that well written or that original. I personally believe that the book gained classic statues due to the film industry which just loved to make this into movies, which I've seen almost every version of, even the one with the "Wizard of Oz" effect where the movie is all black and white till they are in the garden. But good adaptions do not a good book make!

I'm not sure what it is about this book but I just did not like it. Perhaps if I had read it when I was younger I would not have found Dickon, Mary and Colin such pompous little shits. They were cruel and taunted the locals by imitating their Yorkshire accents. Even if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, mockery of their "plain speak" and good down to earth values isn't. The servants think the children spoiled, obnoxious brats until they are outside getting exercise. But they are still the same kids only with more meat on their bones and the same cruel superiority in their hearts. Also their dialogue felt like it was written by an adult who had no knowledge of how children spoke. And near the end when the book started to go off on the "magic" tangent and Colin's new found love of lecturing, I had to keep repeating, it's almost over, it's almost over.

But I think what was most bothersome about this book was that it was such a mish-mash of other books but without making it a cohesive whole, here's a little Brontes for you, now lets make a character almost 100% like Peter Pan...what shall his name be, how about Dickon! I can only hope due to the Yorkshire setting and the winds "wuthering" that Colin, Mary and Dickon grew up to be like Heathcliff, Cathy and Hindley and that once they all hit puberty it all went down hill and ended in the same fashion.

As a final adendum, I blame Frances Hodgson Burnett for J.K. Rowling's overuse of the word "streaming".

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Shades of Grey Reviewed by JG

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
Rating: ★★★

In the future, after the Something That Happened, people's places in society are determined by the color they can see. Purples are the ruling class and Greys are sort of the untouchables. Eddie Russett is a bit of a rogue. He thought of a new idea for queuing and new ideas are frowned upon. After a prank, he is sent to live on the Outer Fringes, where he meets Jane, a Grey with a bewitchingly retroussé nose and a reputation for violence. His fascination with Jane leads him to start questioning what he sees going on around him.

I see potential here, but this first book in the series mostly felt like world-building to me. There's plenty of stuff going on, but I really did feel like it was mostly just to show me how very screwed up this society is. That said, let me tell you a couple of things about me that you should probably know.

I'm not crazy about dystopian literature as a whole. If an author writes an exciting story with characters that I like, (think The Hunger Games), I'm fine with dystopias. But I don't love them just because they're set in a world where things have gone wrong.

Also, I don't know anything about color theory. I love Jasper Fforde's sense of humor in the Thursday Next series and the Nursery Crimes series, but that's probably because I'm on solid footing with books and nursery rhymes. People who know more about color than me might get more out of this book, just like I'm going to understand more of the humor in The Eyre Affair than a non-reader.

I do see potential for me to ultimately like the series. Eddie is a likable chump who is on his way to becoming much more, but Jane is a character that I think I'll really, really like. We just aren't told a whole lot about her in this book. It's really just enough to want to know more.

I'll continue on, and I still love Jasper Fforde, but if you're picking up his work for the first time, I don't think I would recommend this one. So far I prefer his other two series much more

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Shades of Grey Reviewed by Elizabeth L.

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
Rating: ★★★★★

Edward Russett lives in a very organized and hierarchical society. What color you can see is everything, creating color castes, from the regal purples to the proletarian greys. Eddie is a red living in a green world. Eddie has upset the balance of good behavior and polity by playing a prank on a purple, Bertie Magenta, son of Jade-under-Lime's purple prefect. But he also has dangerous notions on how to improve queuing. To atone for his error and gain some humility he is being sent to the fringes of polite society to conduct a pointless chair census. His father, a Swatchman, who is, for all intents and purposes, a doctor, is accompanying him to East Carmine, to fill in for their recently deceased Swatchman, Robin Ochre. Little does Eddie realize what is about to happen to him could change everything. At a stop over at Vermillion on the way to East Carmine, Eddie fails to see the last rabbit, but saves a grey illegally wrongspotting as a purple and is accosted by a girl with a very retrousse nose who is unaccountably rude and in danger of being sent to reboot to learn some manners. Eddie can't help being intrigued. On the train ride to their final destination Eddie is bullied around by a green and then befriends a yellow, Travis Canary, on the run from reboot and offering hits of lime, the best euporhic color. But he has not had his last run in with nasty types, the yellow working the train station, Bunty McMustard, is just the first in a nasty streak of yellow that runs through the red streets of East Carmine.

Nothing interesting happens in East Carmine, so a new Swatchman and his son sure cause a lot of excitement. From Eddie's new best friend, the shyster Tommo, trying to place him in the "reds" marriage market, to the prefects demanding respect and Eddie's return ticket to Jade-under-Lime, to a green Lincoln swatch illegal drugs market, to suspicions of the old Swatchman being murdered, to the mysterious naked man who lives in his house that no one can openly admit to seeing, to the new surly maid, who happens to be Jane, the girl with the retrousse nose, his arrival has caused an avalanche of excitement to this small border town. But will Eddie, with his unwelcome queuing suggestions, be able to stay out of trouble? Can he avoid the everyday dangers of lightning, man-eating Yatveo plants and swans, while staying on the right side of Tommo and the yellow prefects son Courtland Gamboge? Plus what if he decides to abandon his half promise to the bitchy princess Constance Oxblood back home and make a go of it with Jane? That's if she doesn't kill him first...

But fate seems to have a plan... and it hinges on Eddie's insatiable and unsuitable curiosity. Eddie won't let go of the wrongspotting grey from Vermillion. As he starts to investigate his life becomes more and more a target for danger. From Yatveos to Courtland to Jane, he is not safe. But on an expedition to Rusty Hill, the town abandoned due to the Mildew outbreak that killed the entire populace, Eddie starts to learn the world is not as it seems. Behind the veneer of order and manners, there may be a darker agenda and secrets of the past, before "The Something That Happened", that the Colortocracy doesn't what the people to know about. And the appearance of a National Color representative, Matthew Gloss, might be more than just as an examiner for the Ishihara that the 21 year olds will be taking for their final color placements, Eddie among them. But after a fateful game of Hockyball, Eddie is branded a liar and agrees to head an expedition to High Saffron... a place where no one has ever returned from. But even if Eddie returns, his future seems bleak, and the toppling of a corrupt government, nigh on impossible, unless he has Jane by his side.

The first book in a new series from Jasper Fforde, the author of the Thursday Next and Nursery Crime Series, is sure to be another hit. From the man who created a world where characters in books police their own plots, we are treated to another inventive story, this time centering on color. If you strip away all the color theory and color related aspects, you are left with a very basic, but solid, post apocalyptic, post something that happened world, akin to the best dystopian novels, the likes of Orwell's 1984. An evil, unseen government, is trying to keep their people in line by separation, isolation, ignorance and strict rules enforced by fear, even if the rules are more geared toward maintaining politeness than anything else. Enter plucky and likable Eddie, who has notions above his station and falls for a girl who hates his guts all the while butting heads with the local authorities and asking a few too many questions. While I'd read and like a book like that, it's all the levels Fforde places on top of this simple structure that make this book memorable and one of the best books I've read this past year. Of course, being in the arts, I could have a bias for color theory based jokes, but even with just a simple grasp of color gleaned from your box of Crayola's as a kid, will make this book that much more mulitlayered and enjoyable.

The color jokes run the gamut from the dictator's, I mean leader's, name being Munsell, the creator of the first workable and adapted color theory with the naming of hue, value and chroma, to the test for their color placement, the Ishihara, being the test for color blindness. But it's not just these, or the jokes of color pipes being upgraded from RGB to CMYK, sure to send any graphic designer into fits of hysterical laughter, but the way Fforde seamlessly integrates it into the plot and has color as the lynch pin of this society. Plus just the thought of how color has become so dominate a force is intriguing. How humans have somehow evolved so that they can only see specific color frequencies and have lost the ability to have their pupils dilate is something I hope will be answered in the next two books of this trilogy. I wonder if something happened to humans brains so that color, which is a function of our brains and technically doesn't exist without the brain interpreting the data objects send, can't be properly processed. It's an interesting dilemma and I really look forward to finding out what Fforde's explanation for this phenomenon is.

But, as with any post apocalyptic society or even parallel society, it's the mystery of how our world became this world. Trying to work out exactly how things evolved, and not just the physical changes, but other more significant ones. Like how did swans become large and such a danger? Why is there such a fear of lightning? Who knew rhododendrons would be such a treat? Also the little jokes where we know what things were, but that they have morphed into something totally different, like the titles of the mandatory musical theater adaptations being slightly off kilter... "Red Side Story" anyone? Or how they assume the RISK board game is not only a map of how the earth was, but of the color distribution of the inhabitants. Then of course you encounter the deeper mysteries of the plot that keep you reading late into the night. What really happened to Robin Ochre? What does reboot really entail? Because if someone told me they were sending me on the night train to Emerald City, I know I'd be nervous. Also the discovery of what is really going on with Mildew and the still looming question of what about the spoons makes me content but at the same time desperately wanting the next volume. I can not wait for the next installment, and if it lives up to this first book, it will be well worth the wait... even if I'd prefer not to wait.