Book Review: Across the Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children, #6) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Across the Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children, #6)
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: January 12, 2021
Length: 176 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: ARC via Netgalley; hardcover purchased

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A young girl discovers a portal to a land filled with centaurs and unicorns in Seanan McGuire’s Across the Green Grass Fields, a standalone tale in the Hugo and Nebula Award-wining Wayward Children series.

“Welcome to the Hooflands. We’re happy to have you, even if you being here means something’s coming.”

Regan loves, and is loved, though her school-friend situation has become complicated, of late.

When she suddenly finds herself thrust through a doorway that asks her to “Be Sure” before swallowing her whole, Regan must learn to live in a world filled with centaurs, kelpies, and other magical equines―a world that expects its human visitors to step up and be heroes.

But after embracing her time with the herd, Regan discovers that not all forms of heroism are equal, and not all quests are as they seem…

A new Wayward Children book is always cause for celebration, and Across the Green Grass Fields is no exception.

In this book, the 6th in the series, we’re introduced to a young girl named Regan. She has lovely, loving parents, and is crazy about horses and riding lessons. At school, she originally had two best friends, Heather and Laurel, but when Heather dared to express interest in something Laurel deemed un-girl-like, Heather became shunned — and Regan learned her lesson. To retain her place as Laurel’s best friend, conformity is all that matters. She has to embrace Laurel’s strict rules about what girls do and don’t do and do and don’t like, if she wants to not end up like poor Heather.

Laurel was one of the “lucky ones,” according to the girls who flocked around her in their ribbons and flounces, praising her developing breasts like they were something she’d accomplished through hard work and personal virtue, not hormones and time.

But when Regan learns an unexpected truth from her parents, she makes the awful mistake of confiding in Laurel, and then realizes that she’s just blown up her own world. Distraught, Regan runs away into the woods, where she sees an unusual door, with the words “Be Sure”. In that moment, Regan is sure that anything would be better than where she is now, and she steps through into an entirely new world.

In the Hooflands, Regan is the only human in a world peopled by different hooved species — unicorns, centaurs, kelpies, and more. She is taken in by a family of centaurs, who adopt her as one of their own and love her fiercely. With the love of the centaurs, Regan grows and thrives — missing her parents, of course, but feeling more and more that she’s finally found a place to just be herself, a place that feels like a real home. And it’s Chicory, the centaur daughter, who shows Regan what a real friend can be:

In Chicory, she had finally found a friend who liked her for who she was, not for how well she fit an arbitrary list of attributes and ideals.

The only downside is that everyone in the Hooflands believes that humans have a destiny. Humans show up rarely, but when they do, they’re meant to save the world…. and then they disappear. No one really knows the how and why of it all, but all believe that sooner or later, Regan will have to confront the Queen of the Hooflands and do whatever it is that’s needed to save the world.

Destiny wasn’t real. Destiny was for people like Laurel, who could pin everything they had to an idea that the world was supposed to work in a certain way, and refuse to let it change. If these people said her destiny was to see the Queen, she would prove them wrong. She wasn’t their chosen one. She was just Regan, and as Regan, she ran.

Through her years in the Hooflands, Regan learns about listening to people and seeing beyond their surfaces, about true friendship and family, among making choices and remaining true to oneself, and about accepting and appreciating oneself, putting aside the unrealistic notions of “normal” and “destiny”. Regan learns to be Regan, and sees that she can be strong and pursue the people and activities that make her feel whole and good.

Across the Green Grass Fields is the first book in the Wayward Children series that does not include the Home for Wayward Children at all, although I imagine that that’s where Regan will be headed next. None of the characters from previous books pop up here either, so this book really can be read as a stand-alone. Still, it fits into the great world of the Wayward Children series, with its portal worlds and missing children and quests for meaning and one’s true place. Obviously, as a fan of the series, I’d recommend starting from the beginning and reading them all!

Across the Green Grass Fields includes illustrations by the amazingly talented Rovina Cai, and although I haven’t received my hard copy of the book yet, I’m already enchanted by the images available on Tor’s website, including this one of the centaur family:

Illustration by Rovina Cai; from Tor.com

The Wayward Children series as a whole is a delightful, magical experience, and Across the Green Grass Fields introduces a wonderful new world and heroine. Highly recommended.

Book Review: Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower by Tamsyn Muir

Title: Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower
Author: Tamsyn Muir
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Publication date: November 30, 2020
Length: 216 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When the witch built the forty-flight tower, she made very sure to do the whole thing properly. Each flight contains a dreadful monster, ranging from a diamond-scaled dragon to a pack of slavering goblins. Should a prince battle his way to the top, he will be rewarded with a golden sword—and the lovely Princess Floralinda.

But no prince has managed to conquer the first flight yet, let alone get to the fortieth.

In fact, the supply of fresh princes seems to have quite dried up.

And winter is closing in on Floralinda… 

The idea of the princess rescuing herself isn’t exactly new anymore, thanks to the (incredibly welcome) surge in grrl-power fairy tale retellings. Still, in the hands of Tamsyn Muir, this princess story feels fresh and so, so entertaining.

Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower is a slim book (with a wonderful cover!), but it’s jam-packed with humor and adventure (and all sorts of guts and gore, but in a FUNNY gross way).

A witch has imprisoned the beautiful princess at the top of a tower. It’s a classic concept — princes will come, battle their way to the top, and win the lovely princess (and a rocking golden sword). The problem is, the very first flight is guarded by a fearsome diamond-coated dragon, and for the first several days, all Floralinda can hear from way up in her tower is the crunch-crunch-crunch of prince bones. Eventually, the princes stop coming, and Floralinda’s tower prison starts to feel dismal.

Joined by a wayward fairy named Cobweb, Floralinda is spurred into action. If the two of them don’t do something about it, she’ll be stuck in the tower forever — and the magically regenerating bread and oranges that felt like a treat at first are just not enough to sustain a princess forever.

Floralinda and Cobweb begin to battle their way down the flights of the tower, crafting weapons and poisons, using their wits and their muscles (Cobweb assigns Floralinda a workout regimen) to defeat sirens, goblins, giant rats, and sorts of other ghastly, deadly adversaries.

I love how Floralinda sheds her princessy exterior, becoming grimier and tougher, turning her silk gown into bandages and her curtain rods into spears, turning into a warrior without ever really meaning to. The relationship beween her and Cobweb is funny and sweet, even though Cobweb spends most of her time hating on Floralinda (even while making sure she’s got the weapons and training needed to kill all the monsters that stand between them and freedom).

Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower is a funny delight, and I’m so glad I treated myself to a copy. I think I’m the last person on the planet who hasn’t read Gideon the Ninth yet, but now that I’ve read this short treat by Tamsyn Muir, I definitely want to read her full-length works too.

Book Review: How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black

Title: How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories
Author: Holly Black
Illustrated by: Rovina Cai
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: November 24, 2020
Length: 173 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

An illustrated addition to the New York Times bestselling Folk of Air trilogy, that started with The Cruel Prince, from award-winning author Holly Black.

An irresistible return to the captivating world of Elfhame.

Once upon a time, there was a boy with a wicked tongue.

Before he was a cruel prince or a wicked king, he was a faerie child with a heart of stone. #1 New York Times bestselling author, Holly Black reveals a deeper look into the dramatic life of Elfhame’s enigmatic high king, Cardan. This tale includes delicious details of life before The Cruel Prince, an adventure beyond The Queen of Nothing, and familiar moments from The Folk of the Air trilogy, told wholly from Cardan’s perspective.

This new installment in the Folk of the Air series is a return to the heart-racing romance, danger, humor, and drama that enchanted readers everywhere. Each chapter is paired with lavish and luminous full-color art, making this the perfect collector’s item to be enjoyed by both new audiences and old.

A beautiful, wonderful book — a must for anyone who loves the Folk of the Air trilogy!

You many have seen my lovefests about Holly Black’s excellent trilogy (which I ended up reading twice in 2020!). I was delighted to treat myself to a hardcover copy of this new book, and so happy to finally have a peaceful day to sit and enjoy it.

In How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories, we are treated to ten brief tales about Cardan, the High King of Elfhame. While the first and last stories in this book take place after the events of the trilogy, the other stories follow Cardan from childhood into adulthood, showing how he became the “cruel prince” we first encounter in the trilogy. This book is told entirely from Cardan’s perspective, so we get a different view of some of the incidents we read about in the trilogy, and understand a little better why Cardan acted the way he did.

The book is illustrated by the very talented Rovina Cai, and it’s gorgeous! I especially love her artwork showing Cardan, but every page has special flourishes and treats to make the entire book a delight.

I loved, loved, loved this slim but lovely book! Don’t start here if you haven’t read the Folk of the Air books — but why not dive into the trilogy, and save this book for dessert?

Book Review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Title: The Midnight Library
Author: Matt Haig
Publisher: Viking
Publication date: September 29, 2020
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

At age 35, Nora Seed makes a choice that should be fatal. Estranged from her best friend and from her brother, let go from an unfulfilling job, with a broken engagement in her past, she’s finally pushed too far when she learns that her beloved cat has died. Nora’s life once seemed full of promise, but now, she sees nothing ahead of herself but more loneliness and bleakness. So she decides to end her life.

But in the moments between life and death, Nora ends up in the Midnight Library, a seemingly magical place where choices are endless. In this infinite library, each volume on the shelves represents a different path her life might have taken. Nora is full of regrets for all the missed opportunities and seemingly wrong decisions she’s made during her lifetime, and in fact, one of the key books in the library is the Book of Regrets, capturing everything in Nora’s life that she wishes she could have done differently.

Under the guidance of Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian who represented kindness and safety at a difficult time in her life, Nora chooses different volumes of her life to try again. In each, she inhabits the life she might have had if she’d chosen differently. From sticking with the swimming career that could have led her to the Olympics, to signing the recording contract with the band that might have launched her into international stardom, to a life pursuing her academic career in philosophy while also raising a daughter with a man she loves, Nora gets to experience alternate realities and how she might feel in each different version of her life.

As in real life, there are no easy answers. While Nora seeks the right life, each ends up with flaws. If only she could find the one that’s perfect for her, she’d be able to stay in it… but with each, there comes a point where she returns to the library to try again.

Over the course of the book, Nora learns to let go of regret. She also learns the importance of perspective — that what she sees isn’t necessarily true for the people she’s interacting with, and that each person’s life can have far greater impact than they realize.

The Midnight Library is so meaningful, and so beautifully written. There are life lessons throughout, but never in a way that feels preachy or patronizing. Nora’s experiences feel real, and in each version of her life, it becomes clearer and clearer that the right life doesn’t equate to perfect happiness, as no life can be nothing but happy. Ultimately, it’s about choosing to live, to find purpose, and to find connection. As Nora progresses, we’re able to journey with her and discover some truths that make perfect sense, yet are rarely said.

I really loved this book, and will be pushing it into the hands of several bookish friends. Highly recommended — it’s uplifting and life-affirming, and left me feeling hopeful and renewed.

For more by this terrific author, check out my reviews of:
The Humans
How To Stop Time
The Dead Fathers Club

Book Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

Title: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
Author: V. E. Schwab
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: October 6, 2020
Length: 442 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name. 

At age 23, Adeline is old to be getting married — and really, she doesn’t want to be married at all. She cherishes her freedom and wants so much more out of life, but when the decision is taken out of her hands, she runs away and calls on the gods for help. Her help comes from a god of darkness, who grants her freedom and immortality in exchange for her soul, whenever she’s had enough of life.

Addie accepts this deal, but soon learns that there’s a trick in what she bargained for. She wanted absolute freedom, to belong to no one but herself, and that’s what she’s been given. But in belonging to no one, all connections have been severed, and from that moment onward, it’s as if Addie never existed. Her own parents don’t know her, and her history has been erased. When she encounters someone, whether for the first or 100th time, they forget her as soon as she’s out of sight.

Thus, Addie is doomed to wander alone, never able to make an impression, never to form relationships, never to have a home. She can’t even find a bed for the night without resorting to trickery — she may pay for a room at an inn, but as soon as the door closes, the landlord has forgotten her, and she’s soon kicked out, taken for an intruder.

Meanwhile, over the course of the centuries that pass, her dark god reappears to offer temptation, enticing her to give up her miserable existence and give herself up to him, once and for all.

Addie is determined and stubborn, and despite the many moments of sorrow and despair, there’s also glory. From a village girl destined for a hard life and an early death, she’s morphed into a world traveler, a muse, and a fearless explorer, seeking out all the beauty she can find, pursuing connections with people even while knowing she’ll be starting over again each day.

Until suddenly, it all changes. One day, she meets a young man in a bookstore, and when she goes back, her remembers her. How is this possible? Who is he, and why does he seem to be immune to the curse that follows her wherever she goes?

It wouldn’t be fair to say more, but I will say that this book is beautiful and unexpected, full of sadness and wonder. It’s a moving love story, but even more, a lovely testament to one woman’s courage and determination to live life to its fullest.

I loved Addie as a character — how fierce she is, and how she manages to survive and to find joy despite the curse that’s intended to leaver her always alone and always suffering. She manages to turn her solitude into a life that few would be able to tolerate, but still, she’s not sorry to have had all those years and the experience they bring.

The premise put me in mind of a book I read a few years ago, The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North, also about someone whom no one can remember — but while that book ultimately frustrated me, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue swept me up in its fantasy and the gorgeous writing.

This is easily one of my top reads of 2020. Highly recommended!

Discworld, #4: Mort

Mort
Published 1987
257 pages

My Discworld Challenge:

Over the summer, I committed to reading the Discworld series! I’m starting a new Discworld book on the 1st of each month, going in order of publication date.

Synopsis for Mort:

It is known as the Discworld. It is a flat planet, supported on the backs of four elephants, who in turn stand on the back of the great turtle A’Tuin as it swims majestically through space. And it is quite possibly the funniest place in all of creation…

Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job.

After being assured that being dead was not compulsory, Mort accepted. However, he soon found that romantic longings did not mix easily with the responsibilities of being Death’s apprentice. 

My rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

My reaction:

This!

This is the book I most often hear people rave about when the subject of Discworld comes up. Now, I finally see why! Mort offers everything I was hoping for in the Discworld series, and which I haven’t quite gotten up to now.

In Mort, Death is scary, unknowable… and also really funny. When he offers gangly, awkward Mort an apprenticeship, it’s a chance for Mort to make something of himself — but he’s not really convinced that he wants to be Death (or an assistant to Death), since he’s not quite comfortable with not being able to intervene when the deaths they oversee seem unfair or unjust.

Eventually, Death decides to take a few days off and let Mort take over Death duties, so we’re treated to scenes of Death going fly fishing while Mort becomes scarier and suddenly starts talking LIKE DEATH DOES, ALL IN CAPS.

It’s silly and funny and clever. The ending doesn’t necessarily make complete sense, but I’ve found that to be true with all of the Discworld books I’ve read so far (this makes 4!!). Somewhere in the last 20% or so, Sir Pratchett piles on a ton of action that doesn’t always stick together, but it’s mostly okay.

My feeling about reading Discworld books so far is that the reader (me) should just sit back and go along for the ride. Even when the plot is clunky (which, by the way, mostly isn’t true in Mort), the writing and dialogue are the real treat and make it all worthwhile.

I’ve actually had a copy of Mort on my shelves for a couple of years now, after winning it in a giveaway, and it’s a lovely hardcover with a ribbon bookmark. The downside of a physical copy, though, is that I couldn’t highlight all the great passages like I do on my Kindle, so unfortunately, I don’t have any handy quotes to share.

That’s okay. Mort was great fun and lifted my spirits in an especially tense week. Just what I needed!

Up next:

December 2020: Sourcery

I’m a little hesitant about going back to another Rincewind book — so far, I haven’t particularly gotten along with that stream of the series. Here’s hoping I’ll like this one better…

Audiobook Review: Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal — and so we reach the end of the amazing Glamourist Histories series!

Title: Of Noble Family (Glamourist Histories, #5)
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Narrators:  Mary Robinette Kowal, Prentice Onayemi, Robin Miles
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: April 28, 2015
Print length: 572 pages
Audio length: 15 hours
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The final book of the acclaimed Glamourist Histories is the magical adventure that might result if Jane Austen walked on the darker side of the Regency…

Jane and Vincent have finally gotten some much-needed rest after their adventures in Italy when Vincent receives word that his estranged father has passed away on one of his properties in the West Indies. His brother, who manages the estate, is overwhelmed, and no one else in his family can go. Grudgingly, out of filial duty the couple decide to go.

The sea voyage is long and Jane spends enough time unable to perform glamour that towards the end of the trip she discovers that she is with child. They are overjoyed, but when they finally arrive at the estate to complete what they expect to be routine legal tasks, they realize that nearly everything they came expecting to find had been a lie. Also, the entire estate is in disarray, with horrifying conditions and tensions with the local slave population so high that they are close to revolt.

Jane and Vincent’s sense of peril is screaming out for them to flee, but Vincent cannot stand to leave an estate connected with his family in such a condition. They have survived many grand and terrifying adventures in their time, but this one will test their skills and wits more than any they have ever encountered before, this time with a new life hanging in the balance.

Allow me to wipe away my tears before I start writing my review…

Not that this book itself is heart-breaking (although it does have its moments) — but simply because I’ve now reached the end of the Glamourist Histories series, and I’m so sad to be done! Over the course of these five books, Jane and Vincent have become so dear to me, and I just hate to leave them and their world behind.

In Of Noble Birth, Jane and Vincent must undertake a sea voyage to the Caribbean, to the Hamilton estate on the island of Antigua, after Vincent receives word that his father has died. His elder brother, the heir to the estate, has been injured in an accident and is unable to travel, so calls upon Vincent to go retrieve their father’s will and settle the family’s affairs in Antigua.

After an arduous journey, during which Jane discovers her pregnancy, they arrive at the Hamilton estate to discover unwelcome surprise after unwelcome surprise. The couple, thanks to Lord Verbury’s manipulations, is unable to leave, and are forced into staying at the plantation, at least until Jane can safely deliver her baby.

Once there, they find deplorable conditions amongst the slave population, a lack of appropriate medical care, an untrustworthy overseer, and a household staff who bear a remarkable resemblance to Vincent and his brothers. Jane and Vincent have a lot on their plates, including Jane’s worrying health, the deceit of the overseer, and the ongoing aftereffects of Vincent’s horribly cruel and abusive upbringing.

While Jane and Vincent are honorable and well-intentioned, they still make mistakes, although they try their best to rectify their errors and to support and protect the people enslaved by Vincent’s father. The severity of the conditions is portrayed sensitively yet without shying away, and I appreciate that Jane is once again not perfect but is given room to learn from her errors.

Glamour itself takes a backseat to the conditions on the plantation and Jane and Vincent’s efforts to protect the people there and improve their lives. There are plenty of new characters, many of whom are quite delightful, and we get an introduction (alongside Jane) to non-European approaches to glamour thanks to the elder women of the plantation.

As with previous books, I felt absolutely drenched with anxiety whenever my beloved Jane and Vincent were in danger, and in particular, Jane’s experiences with a devastatingly high risk pregnancy had me in tears.

Without offering egregious spoilers, I’m happy to say that the series has a perfectly happy conclusion… despite leaving me wanting more, more, more.

Mary Robinette Kowal again narrates her novel, although this time around she’s joined by two additional narrators, Robin Miles (who’s so amazing as the narrator of the Binti books) voicing the women of Antigua, and Prentice Onayemi doing all the male voices. It was a little jarring to me to have someone besides MRK herself narrating, especially having listened to the series pretty much straight through — and this is most noticeable for the voice of Vincent, since I’d gotten quite used to the author’s version. Still, after I got past the initial shock, I finally adjusted and ended up enjoying the listening experience very much.*

*Although the male narrator’s voice for one elderly character sounded an awful lot like Voldemort, which was more than a little distracting! Then again, it’s a truly despicable character, so I suppose it fits.

I also need to mention that Mary Robinette Kowal tends to sneak in little geeky moments throughout the books, not usually too obvious — usually just a wink to pop culture fans. This one made me laugh out loud:

She sighed to cover her agitation. “You are insufferable.”

“I prefer ‘inscrutable.’” He smiled, softening a little at her teasing tone, and because she had allowed the change of topic.

“Inexplicable would be more accurate.”

“Inconceivable!”

She rested her hand on her ever-increasing stomach. “Not any longer.”

He laughed and kissed her on the forehead. “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

“Humph!” But Jane was delighted that she had managed to make him laugh. 

I can’t say enough good things about The Glamourist Histories as a whole. I’m so glad that I finally read/listened to them, and loved experiencing them all in a row, as one cohesive story. The world of glamour is amazingly rich, and Jane and Vincent are simply unforgettable. I know the author is supposedly done with this world… but if she ever goes back to it, I’ll be first in line to get my hands on future books!

Audiobook Review: Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal

Title: Valour and Vanity (Glamourist Histories, #4)
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Narrator:  Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: April 29, 2014
Print length: 405 pages
Audio length: 10 hours, 12 minutes
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Acclaimed fantasist Mary Robinette Kowal has enchanted many fans with her beloved novels featuring a Regency setting in which magic–known here as glamour–is real. In Valour and Vanity, master glamourists Jane and Vincent find themselves in the sort of a magical adventure that might result if Jane Austen wrote Ocean’s Eleven.

After Melody’s wedding, the Ellsworths and Vincents accompany the young couple on their tour of the continent. Jane and Vincent plan to separate from the party and travel to Murano to study with glassblowers there, but their ship is set upon by Barbary corsairs while en route. It is their good fortune that they are not enslaved, but they lose everything to the pirates and arrive in Murano destitute.

Jane and Vincent are helped by a kind local they meet en route, but Vincent is determined to become self-reliant and get their money back, and hatches a plan to do so. But when so many things are not what they seem, even the best laid plans conceal a few pitfalls. The ensuing adventure is a combination of the best parts of magical fantasy and heist novels, set against a glorious Regency backdrop.

More fun with Jane and Vincent! Yes, I’m hooked on this series. Listening to the audiobook for #4, Valour and Vanity, was just as much fun as the first three. I’m only sad that there’s just one more left!

In Valour and Vanity, we’re treated to a high calibre caper. The synopsis is right to describe it as something out of Ocean’s Eleven!

Following a disastrous sea voyage in which they lose all their money and possessions, Jane and Vincent arrive in Venice penniless. To make matters more difficult, their intended host, Lord Byron, has left town on romantic pursuits, leaving Jane and Vincent with no place to go and no funds to pay for lodging or even a fresh set of clothes. Fortunately, a fellow traveler from their ship offers them his generous assistance…

And clearly, there’s more to the story, but I’m not going to give any spoilers! Let’s just say that there are twists and turns, all sorts of sneaky double-dealing, plus helpful nuns, a brave puppeteer*, gondola chases (yes, you can in fact have a chase scene with gondolas!), glass-blowing, and so much more.

*Fun fact: Author Mary Robinette Kowal is a professional puppeteer, so her inclusion of a heroic puppet-master here is just delightful.

Once again, Jane and Vincent are a terrific twosome. They’re unconventional, incredibly talented, and very much in love. They also feel real in the way that they face difficulties and disagreements, react emotionally, talk things through, and find ways to move forward. They don’t have to be perfect around each other — they love each other passionately and accept each other exactly as they are.

The Venice setting is new and different for this series, and provided a great setting for a plot where Jane and Vincent have to navigate without any of their usual allies or safety nets. The action is fast-paced, and the schemes are just oh-so-clever.

One sure sign that you’ve become overly involved as a reader is when you can’t stand for bad things to happen to beloved characters, even if the bad things lead to exciting storylines. This was my only problem with Valour and Vanity — I’m so in love with Jane and Vincent that it upsets me too much when their well-being is threatened, so even though the caper aspects of the story are really fun, I was also incredibly tense throughout! I just needed to know that the characters I care about would come out okay in the end. (Yes, of course they do. After all, we still need to get to book #5!)

This series continues to be a delight, and I can’t wait to start the final book, Of Noble Family. Well… I’m actually dreading it, because I don’t want the series to be over… but still, I have to know what happens next!

For an interesting look at the author’s puppetry career and her transition to writing, check out this article.

Shelf Control #238: Outside the Dog Museum by Jonathan Carroll

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: Outside the Dog Museum
Author: Jonathan Carroll
Published: 1991
Length: 267 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Harry Radcliffe is a brilliant prize-winning architect—witty and remarkable. He’s also a self-serving opportunist, ready to take advantage of whatever situations, and women, come his way. But now, newly divorced and having had an inexplicable nervous breakdown, Harry is being wooed by the extremely wealthy Sultan of Saru to design a billion-dollar dog museum. In Saru, he finds himself in a world even madder and more unreal than the one he left behind, and as his obsession grows, the powers of magic weave around him, and the implications of his strange undertaking grow more ominous and astounding….

How and when I got it:

I found this at a library sale several years ago, and it’s been sitting in an unshelved stack of books ever since.

Why I want to read it:

Well, I’m not exactly sure that I want to read it, which is probably why it’s still sitting in its lonely stack waiting for some attention. I’ve read one book by this author, Bones of the Moon, which was incredibly weird (and also has one of my favorite covers of all time).

Once again, I was drawn to a Jonathan Carroll book because of the cover. (You have to look closely — but look! Doggos!)

I really can’t tell from the synopsis what this book will be like, how weird it’ll be (likely, very), or whether it will end up holding my attention. But, I do love the title and cover!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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Audiobook Review: Without A Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal

Title: Without a Summer (Glamourist Histories, #3)
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Narrator:  Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: April 2, 2013
Print length: 361 pages
Audio length: 8 hours, 35 minutes
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Up-and-coming fantasist Mary Robinette Kowal enchanted fans with award-winning short stories and beloved novels featuring Regency pair Jane Ellsworth and Vincent. In Without a Summer the master glamourists return home, but in a world where magic is real, nothing—even the domestic sphere—is quite what it seems.

Jane and Vincent go to Long Parkmeade to spend time with Jane’s family, but quickly turn restless. The year is unseasonably cold. No one wants to be outside and Mr. Ellsworth is concerned by the harvest, since a bad one may imperil Melody’s dowry. And Melody has concerns of her own, given the inadequate selection of eligible bachelors. When Jane and Vincent receive a commission from a prominent family in London, they decide to take it, and take Melody with them. They hope the change of scenery will do her good and her marriage prospects—and mood—will be brighter in London.

Once there, talk is of nothing but the crop failures caused by the cold and increased unemployment of the coldmongers, which have provoked riots in several cities to the north. With each passing day, it’s more difficult to avoid getting embroiled in the intrigue, none of which really helps Melody’s chances for romance. It’s not long before Jane and Vincent realize that in addition to getting Melody to the church on time, they must take on one small task: solving a crisis of international proportions.

My love affair continues! Book #3 in Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Glamourist Histories is just a captivating as the first two. I simply love the story and the characters and the storytelling!

In Without A Summer, the weather is unseasonably cold, with snow lingering into May and June. Unhappy, desperate people need someone to blame, and so they blame the coldmongers — the glamourists who are skilled in providing cooling for people with fevers, for overly warm indoors during the summer, and to help grocers keep their produce longer. But as any knowledgeable glamourist can attest, it is simply impossible for glamour to affect the weather. Even the relatively smaller amounts of glamour worked by the coldmongers often leads to severe injury or death.

In the midst of the weather crisis, Jane and Vincent travel to London to work on a commission. They bring along Jane’s younger sister Melody, who lacks society or any prospects of a match on her parents’ country estate.

Jane and Vincent soon find themselves involved in intrigue, with a suspected plot involving both the coldmongers and Melody’s Irish Catholic suitor. What’s more, the couple encounter Vincent’s estranged father while in London — a hateful man with lots of power, who clearly wants to make Vincent pay for separating himself from the family and his father’s toxic influence.

The plot quickly becomes complicated and suspenseful, and by the final section of the book, I found myself incredibly worked up and tense with worry over Jane and Vincent’s fate. Rationally, I knew that — with two more books in the series — they’d surely be okay in the end. Still, until reaching the resolution of the high stakes drama, I was fairly terrified over seeing them in mortal peril.

As with the other books in the series, I found this one delightful. Beyond the action of the main plotlines, I just love seeing Jane and Vincent together. Too often, stories of romance end with the wedding ceremony. In The Glamourist Histories, we get to see what a devoted, happy, passionate marriage looks like. Jane and Vincent are deeply in love, enjoy a robust physical relationship, and have a true partnership as equals, pursuing their chosen professions together with grace and trust.

A nice surprise in Without A Summer is getting to see Melody as something other than the pretty, shallow girl she’s been portrayed as so far. Here, she shows surprising intellectual depth and curiosity, as well as commitment and bravery that are quite admirable. It’s a nifty trick of the author’s to make us share Jane’s surprise at Melody’s underlying strength and seriousness — having seen her through Jane’s eyes, we’ve only seen her as the sum of her face, her flirtations, and her standing as the pampered little sister.

Another aspect that bothered me at first, but ultimately made me appreciate the writing all the more, is seeing Jane as flawed. She’s always so strong and good, but in Without A Summer, she allows her unknowing prejudices to influence her interpretation of the events she witnesses. It’s not malicious on her part, but it’s still there, and puts certain characters in grave danger that might otherwise have been discovered or averted sooner.

The audiobook narration, courtesy of the author herself, is wonderful as always. I love her presentation of Jane, Vincent, Melody, and especially some of the young coldmongers they encounter.

I do love this series, and book #3 is a fabulous story. I can’t wait to continue!