November 20th, 2011

  • maribou

Dead Light Lords; Irredeemable Glass City

The Glass Demon, by Helen Grant
Thoughtful, creepy fun. Shades of both I Capture the Castle and Shirley Jackson, though not quite up to their incredibly high standard.

Chicks Dig Time Lords, edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Tara O'Shea
Pop-culture geekery. <3. Especially the recollections of random voice actresses for parts of the canon I've never paid any attention to before:).

A Trick of the Light, by Louise Penny
I love this series of mysteries, I sink wholeheartedly into each one, and then when they're over, I have trouble explaining anything about them. Definitely character-driven, I can give you that much:).

The House of Dead Maids, by Claire Dunkle
Slight, haunting, but not quite all there. I was disappointed, & wonder whether I would've appreciated it better if I'd read Wuthering Heights, despite only tenuous plot connections. I liked it, but it's far from Dunkle's best.

Naked City, edited by Ellen Datlow
Like most original anthologies, uneven. Like most Datlow anthologies, mostly very good. I liked what a wide variety of stories plausibly showed up under the "urban fantasy" banner. Some of my favorite stories in here weren't things I would've previously labeled that way.

Irredeemable, vol 4. and vol. 5, by Mark Waid et al
The shock of the premise and the initial unfolding of same were more exciting than these later volumes are... but they're still telling a decent story.
(184/200, 107/100; 191/200, 110/100)

Books 113-114: The Betrayal and On Monsters

Book 113: The Betrayal (At the House of the Magician 03) .
Author: Mary Hooper, 2009.
Genre: YA Historical Fiction. Elizabethan England.
Other Details: Paperback. 283 pages.

The final in this trilogy of YA historical novels featuring Lucy, who while working as a nursemaid in the household of Dr. John Dee is recruited as a spy. The concluding volume is mainly set in London as Lucy and other staff are sent to set up house in advance of Dr. Dee and family moving there from Mortlake. In the course of the novel Lucy becomes involved with a troupe of actors. She is disguised as a boy when she meets them and ends up being recruited to play some minor female roles. More importantly she again becomes involved in court intrigues associated with Mary, Queen of Scots. Her budding romance with Tomas, the Queen's Fool, is threatened by the arrival of Mistress Juliette, a new lady-in-waiting, whom appears to be paying too much attention to him and vice versa.

Again, I found this a very enjoyable read which brought the series to a satisfying conclusion. This volume is more focused on a particular time given the events surrounding Mary, Queen of Scots, whereas Hooper was more vague in the others as to what year they were set. Again, she supplies a reading list, historical notes and glossary. I very much enjoyed the introduction of the theatrical elements. There was also playful sub-plot in which one of the palace's female servants takes a fancy to Lucy in her boyish disguise which of course echoes Shakespeare's comedies.

Overall I felt this was a good series for younger readers who might wish an accessible introduction to the period with a very lively and likeable female narrator.

Book 114: On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears .
Author: Stephen T. Asma, 2009.
Genre: Non Fiction. True Crime. Mythology and Folklore. Popular Culture. Film. History.
Other Details: Hardback. 351 pages.

The premises of this work intrigued me when I caught a review of it in The Guardian newspaper. It is marketed as a "wide-ranging cultural and conceptual history of monsters--how they have evolved over time, what functions they have served for us, and what shapes they are likely to take in the future". It does meet this criteria and is certainly well researched containing plenty of notes and sources.

However, in terms of content I found it a rather mixed bag with some chapters holding my attention while others left me flat so found myself agreeing with The Guardian reviewer that it was not entirely coherent. I will also note that some of the images of biological deformities collected for exhibitions while certainly necessary for historical context were fairly disturbing.

Overall though I appreciated it for the questions it raised on what exactly a monster is and how that designation has shifted over the centuries and in different contexts.
book and cup

#113 Minnie's Room: the peacetime stories - Mollie Panter Downes (Persephone) 2002

This companion volume to Persephone book no. 8 Good Evening, Mrs Craven contains ten stories describing aspects of British life in the years after the war. 'Minnie's Room' itself is about a family who are unable to believe that their maid wants to leave them to live in a room of her own. An elderly couple emigrates because of 'the dragon out to gobble their modest, honourable incomes.' The sisters in 'Beside the Still Waters' grumble because 'Everything is so terribly difficult nowadays.'

Persephone book number 34. It is always such a treat to pick up an unread Persephone book. I have to say I loved these stories. I read the war time stories some time ago and enjoyed them enormously. What Mollie Panter Downes manages to do in not very many words - is to paint a picture beautifully of an entire world, past present and future, you hear the voices, see and feel the insecurities and petty snobberies up close. There is remarkable detail in these everyday lives, and therefore the characters become very real, a vividly poignant portrait of England during the late 1940's and 1950's emerges from this slight volume.
nerd gohan

Books 23–26

Title: The Imperfectionists
Author: Tom Rachman
Pages: 287
Rating: 3.5/5
Book: 23/50

As someone who works in the newspaper industry, I felt rather at home with this book and would probably recommend it to my journalist friends. For folks outside of the newspaper industry, I imagine it would come off as a bit of a gloomy read. Not so much a cohesive novel as a series of vignettes from the perspective of various staffers at an English-language international newspaper in Rome.

Title: The Magician King
Author: Lev Grossman
Pages: 400
Rating: 4/5
Book: 24/50

This sequel to The Magicians is decidedly Narnia-esque and, in my opinion, a more thoroughly engrossing read than the first book. Every few chapters we get a flashback to the origin story of Julia, a childhood friend of protagonist Quentin and minor character from the first book who takes on a much larger role in this installment. The story is much more adventure-oriented this time around, and Quentin's lost-soul-child-of-privilege angst, while still present, seems to have toned down slightly.

Title: One Day
Author: David Nicholls
Pages: 437
Rating: 4/5
Book: 25/50

Read this after I saw the movie and quite enjoyed it. Bittersweet love story of two friends over the course of a two decades.

Title: The Affinity Bridge
Author: George Mann
Pages: 336
Rating: 3.5/5
Book: 26/50

Steampunk adventure that I've been meaning to read for a while. Not a huge fan of Mann's writing here, but it's a fun, fast read with a likable pair of protagonists. Apparently it's the first in a series (the third book having come out just recently), and I intend to keep following the adventures of Sir Maurice Newbury, agent of the Crown, and his assistant, Miss Veronica Hobbes.

Two or more rereads (I haven't kept track) brings the reread total up to at least 11.

Books 115-116: Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman and Little Face by Sophie Hannah

Both novels feature the theme of the Changeling Child, where a child is stolen and replaced by another. In the first it is featured in the form of a fairy tale written by characters in the past which is woven symbolically throughout the narrative. In the second, a modern day crime thriller, the nightmare of the stolen and substituted child is utilised without mythic elements.

Book 115: Arcadia Falls .
Author: Carol Goodman, 2010.
Genre: Romantic Suspense. Mystery. Folklore. Gothic. GLBT themes.
Other Details: Large Print Hardback. 605 pages.

The story involves the recently widowed Meg Rosenthal, who is forced due to reduced financial circumstances to take a teaching post at Arcadia School in upstate New York. From the 1920s it had been a famous artist's colony but later became a boarding school. Meg was especially drawn there because she is working to complete her doctoral thesis based on the fairy tales written and illustrated by Arcadia's founders: Vera Beecher and Lily Eberhardt, who were believed to be but never confirmed as lovers. She hopes to gain access to private papers lodged at the school that will shed light on their relationship. However, soon after Meg's arrival with Sally, her moody teenage daughter, one of her folklore students dies in an incident that echoes the tragic death of Lily decades before. This death has repercussions that threaten Meg and Sally along with others.

Ghostly figures in the woods, pagan rites, creepy headmistresses, fog and winter storms, hidden secrets, forbidden passion,and much more; it did rather pile on the Gothic elements though in the main quite effectively. Goodman also does a good job of exploring the mother-daughter dynamic through Meg and Sally primarily though it is a theme that runs throughout the novel.

I'd been intrigued when I heard that this author was weaving in elements of folklore, fairy tales, witchcraft and paganism into her stories and this was recommended as a good introduction. I certainly found it an engaging story with a strong sense of atmosphere and interesting characters. The fairy tale element featuring the haunting tale of The Changeling Girl was well executed along with her use of the woodlands around the school as an archetypal 'dark wood'.

Arcadia Falls on Carol Goodman's site - contains more detailed synopsis and background on the story.

Book 116: Little Face (Spilling CID 01).
Author: Sophie Hannah, 2006.
Genre: Crime. Psychological Thriller. Police Procedural.
Other Details: Paperback. 358 pages.

New mother Alice Fancourt returns from an outing and notices that the front door of The Elms, the large house owned by her mother-in-law where she and her husband David also live, is ajar. David was at home looking after their two-week old daughter, Florence, though Alice finds that he's been asleep. On entering the nursery she begins to scream and insists that the baby in the cot is not Florence. David thinks that she is either lying or having some kind of breakdown. The police are called but is since there is a baby in the house is there any case at all? Alice continues to insist the baby is not hers and her emotional state becomes more erratic while David becomes increasingly hostile towards her.

However, a week later David reports that Alice and the baby have gone missing and so the police become more involved. Collapse )

I found it an amazingly tense psychological thriller and could see why it made Hannah's reputation. The structure features alternating chapters between Alice's first person narration from the day she discovers Florence missing and the third person perspective of the police opening a week later when Alice is reported missing. The alternating time-line does mean the reader has to pay attention though does serve the various twists and turns of the plot very well.

After reading A Room Swept White, I headed back to read this first book in the series. So I was pleased to be able to get more information on the background to the ongoing characters of Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zaile, which by Book 5 had been very established.

'Little Face' on Sophie Hannah's site - includes link to first chapter excerpt and more details.