Book Review: The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal

Title: The Spare Man
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: October 11, 2022
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Tesla Crane, a brilliant inventor and an heiress, is on her honeymoon on an interplanetary space liner, cruising between the Moon and Mars. She’s traveling incognito and is reveling in her anonymity. Then someone is murdered and the festering chowderheads who run security have the audacity to arrest her spouse. Armed with banter, martinis and her small service dog, Tesla is determined to solve the crime so that the newlyweds can get back to canoodling—and keep the real killer from striking again.

It’s always a treat when a favorite author releases a new book, and even more so when it turns out to be exactly the book I needed!

While I treated myself to a signed copy of The Spare Man (and the assorted goodies that came with it) AND watched an excellent online author talk, both several months ago, it wasn’t until this quiet week between Christmas and New Year that I finally dedicated some time to cuddle up and enjoy the book.

My book and goodies!

I’m happy to say that (a) it was well worth the wait! and (b) the mix of humor, a cute dog, a tricksy murder plot, space travel, and cocktail was just what I needed.

A brief aside: The fate of fictional doggos can be really stressful for readers, so let me just start by saying that GIMLET IS THE BEST and that Gimlet is perfectly fine from start to finish. No dog trauma to worry about!!

Back to the book:

The plot centers around Tesla Crane and her new husband Shal Steward, two madly-in-love newlyweds who just want to canoodle in their luxury suite aboard the ISS Lindgren on their cruise to Mars. Tesla is a world-famous, insanely rich inventor/roboticist, and Shal is a retired detective who’s mad about his spouse.

The couple is accompanied by Gimlet, the world’s cutest Westie. Gimlet is not only supremely adorable, but also key to Tesla’s ability to cope and function: Tesla is dealing with severe pain and physical challenges stemming from a terrible accident that left her with spinal injuries and PTSD, and Gimlet is her magnificent service dog. (Yes, I’m raving a lot about Gimlet — you will too, once you meet her!)

Even on-duty, Gimlet was fully aware that she was, indeed, the most adorable and worthy creature ever assembled by nature or laboratory. Her tail was generating its own electrical current of delight.

Unfortunately, Tesla and Shal’s romantic adventure is interrupted almost immediately by a murder. Inconveniently for the continuation of their honeymoon bliss, being first on the scene at a stabbing also makes them prime subjects. Soon, the couple is caught up in nasty handling by the ship’s security team, forced isolation, ongoing suspicion, and (gasp) interference with their expensive luxury gin of choice.

When Shal is detained as a prime suspect, what’s Tesla to do but start an investigation of her own? With complications such as look-alike bartenders, high-profile magicians, competing robotics entrepreneurs, and more, the quest to uncover the truth and exonerate Shal takes nonstop twists and turns, complicated by the strange effects of space travel, centrifugal force, lagged communications, and more.

The plot is complicated, but the heavier moments focusing on Tesla’s past trauma and her ongoing pain and flashbacks are lightened by healthy doses of banter and doggo cuteness. Each chapter starts with a cocktail recipe — some classics, some invented just for this book — all of which make me want to take up mixology as a hobby.

The Spare Man handles gender, racial, and ability diversity very well, never in a preachy way, but with a matter-of-fact approach that keeps the focus on the story while also portraying a future in which inclusion is just a given.

There’s quite a bit of humor in the book, from Tesla’s long-distance, time-lagged calls with her crochet-loving, insult-spraying lawyer to her descriptions of various characters (my favorite being the huge security officer described as the “wall of Bob”).

Tesla and Shal have terrific chemistry — love and passion, intellectual sparring, deep connection, and unmatchable cleverness. I did wish we’d learned more about their background as a couple — how they met, fell in love, got married — but even without that background, it’s easy to love seeing them together and enjoy the hell out of their interactions.

The murder-mystery plot is convoluted but lots of fun, with plenty of red herrings and distractions, quirky characters and suspects, and some bonkers complications that arise from setting what is essentially a closed-circle mystery onboard an interplanetary cruise ship.

(Note: For more on some key types of mysteries, see this reference or this explanation of the difference between a locked-room mystery and a closed-circle mystery.)

I’ve heard the author (and others) refer to this book as “The Thin Man in space”. Never having read the Thin Man books or seen any of the movies, this comparison doesn’t do a whole lot for me — but after checking out a few quick video clips, I can see how people who appreciate The Thin Man might really find The Spare Man a hoot. But even without this element, the book absolutely worked for me.

All in all, I adored The Spare Man. Murder, quippy dialogue, space travel, and an amazing dog — who could ask for more?

Top Ten Tuesday: Top ten books on my TBR list for winter 2022/2023

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is about our winter reading plans.

So many books to choose from! This time around, my list includes a mix of upcoming new releases and books already on my shelves. My top 10 priorities to read this winter will be:

New releases:

1) Episode Thirteen by Craig DiLouie: I’ve loved every book I’ve read by this author so far, even though they’re always super disturbing. (release date 1/24/2023)

2) The Magician’s Daughter by H. G. Parry: I don’t know much about this one, but it looks good! (2/21/2023)

3) Lost in the Moment and Found (Wayward Children, #8) by Seanan McGuire: If it’s January, it must be time for another Wayward Children book! (1/12/2023)

4) The Stolen Heir by Holly Black: I’m beyond thrilled that there’s a new book in the world of Folk of the Air on the way! (1/5/2023)

5) Backpacking Through Bedlam (Incryptids, #12) by Seanan McGuire: Another series by Seanan McGuire that I love! Of course I’ll read the new book as soon as possible. (3/7/2023)

6) A Sinister Revenge (Veronica Speedwell, #8): This series continues to be so much fun. (3/7/2023)

And books I already own:

7) Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: Although I didn’t completely love Gideon the Ninth, I’m interested enough to want to keep going.

8) A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers: On the other hand, I did love the first book in this series, so #2 is a must!

9) The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal: I bought this right when it came out, and I love everything I’ve read by this author… and I’ve ended up saving this book to read when I can savor it (which hasn’t happened yet).

10) Akata Woman by Nnedi Okorafor: I really enjoyed the audiobook of the first two in this series, so if my library has this one available via audio, I’ll probably go that route… but otherwise, the paperback will do just fine.

What books will be keeping you warm this winter? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on My Fall 2022 TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books on My Fall 2022 To-read List. My list this time is a combination of upcoming new releases and books I already own but haven’t read yet.

My top 10 for fall are:

  1. The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal
  2. Well Traveled by Jen DeLuca
  3. The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
  4. Even Though I Knew the End by C. L. Polk
  5. Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen
  6. Ocean’s Echo by Everina Maxwell
  7. Troy by Stephen Fry
  8. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  9. The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison
  10. Heading Over the Hill by Judy Leigh

What books are on your TTT list this week? Please share your links!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Completed Series I Wish Had More Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Completed Series I Wish Had More Books.

So… last week, my topic was first books in favorite series that were published over 10 years ago, and I definitely did not look ahead to see what this week’s topic would be. As a result, there’s going to be a lot of books/series in common between last week’s and this week’s lists, but that’s okay!

These are all books and series that I love, and I never mind featuring them in a post.

Ten series that are already done, but which I wish had more books:


The Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal

This five-book series has been described as “Jane Austen but magic”, which is okay at a basic level, but just doesn’t convey how absolutely wonderful the characters and world are.


The Expanse by James S. A. Corey

My heart hurt by the time I read the (amazing) conclusion to this 9-book series. Yes, the story is done… but really, I’d happily read more about any of the characters or the worlds of this series.


Newsflesh by Mira Grant

The Newsflesh trilogy blew me away! Who knew zombie books could make me cry? There’s a 4th book that retells certain events from other characters’ perspectives, plus a bunch of spin-off stories, but really and truly, I just want to read more novels about the main characters!


The Parasol Protectorate (and the Parasol-verse at large) by Gail Carriger

I don’t know if it’s really true to say that this series is complete, because the lovely author continues to publish related stories and novellas… but after the five books of the original series, the four books of the Finishing School series, and the four Custard Protocol books, I am highly attached to these characters and would LOVE to see more full-length novels (or another series??) set in this world.


Codex Alera by Jim Butcher

This was such a good series! Six books, great world-building, great story progression — I’d definitely read more!


The Kopp Sisters by Amy Stewart

The seven volumes of this terrific historical fiction series showcase the real-life Kopp sisters as they solve crimes and go off to war in the early 1900s. The author has said that she’s not writing any more Kopp Sisters books any time soon… which could mean never, but since she doesn’t actually say never, I’ll continue to hope for more!


The Mure series by Jenny Colgan

The 5th book in this charming series just came out in June, and comments by the author seem to suggest that the series is now done… but wait! I still have questions! Yes, most characters got a beautifully happy ending, but there are still some loose threads and (I’m sure) plenty more stories to tell. Please, Jenny Colgan????


The Rajes by Sonali Dev

This series of interconnected stories about a large Indian-American family consists of four books retelling Jane Austen classics… But – there are six Jane Austen novels! I’ve read that the Rajes series is now done, but I think I’ll feel incomplete until there are Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey volumes too!


The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune

This sweet, huggable YA superheroes love story trilogy has everything, and it had a very definitive ending — but can I help it if I love these characters so much that I want to see the rest of their lives too?


Bridgertons by Julia Quinn

I mean, yes, the Netflix version will keep me busy for years to come (I hope), and there are always other Julia Quinn books to read — but I felt a bit misty when I finished the books in the series and had to say good-bye to this incredibly entertaining family!


What series do you wish had more books? Do we have any in common?

If you wrote a TTT post this week, please share your link!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Books Releasing In the Second Half of 2022

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Most Anticipated Books Releasing In the Second Half of 2022.

Where do I even start? I want to read ALL the books… but here are ten I’m really excited about.. while also trying not to repeat books I’ve highlighted in other TBR posts already!

  • The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (7/19)
  • The Bodyguard by Katherine Center (7/19)
  • Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid (8/30)
  • Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn (9/6)
  • Be the Serpent (October Daye, #16) by Seanan McGuire (9/6)
  • Fairy Tale by Stephen King (9/6)
  • Drunk on Love by Jasmine Guillory (9/20)
  • The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal (10/11)
  • Scattered Showers by Rainbow Rowell (11/8)
  • Well Traveled by Jen DeLuca (12/6)

What new releases are you most looking forward to? Please share your links!

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Book Review: The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal

Title: The Relentless Moon
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: July 14, 2020
Length: 544 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Mary Robinette Kowal continues her award-winning Lady Astronaut series, which began with The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, with The Relentless Moon.

The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.

Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.

The Lady Astronaut series is an absolute favorite, so I’m thrilled that I finally read my copy of The Relentless Moon.

In the first two books in the series (The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky), we’re introduced into an alternate version of 1950s and 1960s America, in which a catastrophic meteor strike has wreaked havoc on the world. Scientific analysis shows that the planet is on its way to becoming uninhabitable due to the climate change that followed the meteor, and this brings about a global focus on developing a space program. The future of humanity rests on finding a new home for people among the stars.

In books one and two, scientist Elma York is the main character. Here in book #3, The Relentless Moon, a supporting character from the earlier books takes the lead role.

Nicole Wargin is a glamorous politician’s wife. She’s also one hell of a pilot, a former WASP who entered the space program as one of the initial women allowed into astronaut training. Nicole is beautiful, polished, and full of grace, always knowing the right thing to say to the right people. She’s also much more than she appears to be, with secrets from her professional past as well as her own personal struggles that she usually manages to mask.

As the book opens, Nicole is about to join the next launch to the Moon. Her husband Kenneth, governor of Kansas, is poised to announce his candidacy for President. On Earth, protests by the group Earth First are becoming more dangerous and violent day by day — demanding that the space program be abandoned so that government dollars can be focused on helping those who lost so much due to the meteor, and those who — whether for lack of privilege, access, or health — will never be candidates for traveling into space.

Despite the threats, Nicole journeys to the Moon, but things go badly, quickly. The landing mechanisms are damaged, forcing a life-threatening crash landing. It could be an accident… but it could also be sabotage. More problems arise, as small mechanical problems and power outages escalate into situations of increasing danger. Nicole is assigned to help determine if there truly is Earth First sabotage going on, and if so, to stop the perpetrators before the damage becomes catastrophic.

At 500+ pages, The Relentless Moon is a long book, but it flew by. I was completely engrossed in the discussions of life in space and on the Moon, as well as the whodunnit aspects of the hunt to find the saboteurs.

That alone might make for dry reading, but Nicole is a fabulous character with so many layers, and it’s getting to see beneath her surface that makes this a terrific book. She’s smart, sophisticated, and experienced, yet also vulnerable in unexpected ways. Her perspective on the space program, her colleagues and friends, and the pressures of being a public figure are all fascinating, and her personal struggles and tragedies in this book are incredibly moving.

The events of The Relentless Moon happen in the same timeline as those in The Fated Sky, so here, Nicole and her fellow astronauts on the lunar base hear about some of the events from the earlier book as they happen, and we get a different look at what happened and why, as well as information that Elma was not given in The Fated Sky. I love how these two books work together.

A final reveal at the end of The Relentless Moon made me so happy. That’s all I’ll say about it!

The fourth book, The Derivative Base, is due out in 2022, and I don’t want to wait that long! I can’t wait to see how the author wraps up this incredibly masterful and exciting series.

A look back: Series reading in 2020

Remember January? Those good old days when we left our houses? Didn’t think twice about breathing the same air as other people? Sigh…

Back in January, oh so long ago, I set myself some reading goals related to reading book series. And now that 2020 is about to expire (and good riddance!), I thought it was time to check in and see whether I met any of my series reading goals.

Here are the books I set as my priorities for 2020:

The Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal – a five-book series:Status: DONE! I listened to the audiobooks, one right after another, and loved the individual books as well as the over-arching storylines. All-around excellent world-building and storytelling. I just wish there were more set in this world!

The Interdependency Series by John Scalzi – a science fiction trilogy:

Status: DONE! Such a fun sci-fi adventure. I’d been hesitant about reading these books, expecting them to be too much on the “hard” side of science fiction — but thanks to the author’s never-fail humor and snark, the books flew by and were totally entertaining.

The Expanse by James S. A. Corey: More science fiction! Prior to 2020, I’d read books 1 – 3, and my goal was to keep going.

Status: A little bit of progress… I read book #4, but didn’t go any further. Yet. I do intend to keep going with the series, and since the final book is due out in 2021, I suppose I’d better get moving!

Poldark by Winston Graham – 12 books in all, and as of the end of 2019, I’d read seven.

Status: Nope. I didn’t read any additional books in this series, and honestly, I doubt that I will. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read, but now that the TV adaptation has ended, I don’t feel all that invested in continuing (especially since the books from this point out supposedly focus on the next generation of characters).

Folk of the Air trilogy by Holly Black – a fantasy trilogy:

Status: YES, YES, A THOUSAND TIMES YES! Not only did I read the three books early in 2020, all right in a row, I ended up listening to all the audiobooks toward the end of the year. And I loved them so, so much! Such a great story, with fantastic characters.

Those are all the series that I set as my goals at the beginning of the year. I also ended up reading one additional trilogy, not on my original list:

The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club by Theodora Goss: A fabulous trilogy starring the cast-off daughters of famous fictional men — the daughters of Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde), Victor Frankenstein, and more. The books are clever and funny, and feature strong, amazing women having great adventures. Totally delightful.

So, farewell to 2020! And onward to 2021!

Did you read any series in 2020? Any particular favorites?

Check back in January, when I’ll set a new batch of series reading goals for the new year.

 

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.

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!