Five reasons to read the Finishing School series by Gail Carriger

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MADEMOISELLE GERALDINE’S FINISHING ACADEMY FOR YOUNG LADIES OF QUALITY was established 1820 as an institution of finer learning, higher manners, and social graces for young women who wish to present their best selves to society. Our young women learn modern languages, dance, music, household management, etiquette, and finishing from the finest instructors on land or in aether. And each morning, after breakfast, every student recites, with religious solemnity, the school motto, ut acerbus terminus: TO THE BITTER END.

Our students don’t just learn to curtsy—they learn to finish—both the right kind and the wrong kind of finishing. But please note that our alumni are not simply assassins. A graduate of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s would never complete an engagement in a way that was messy, unbecoming of a lady, or attracting of attention. They are discrete, they are subtle: they are ladies of quality.

(from the Finishing School website, http://finishingschoolbooks.com/the-academy)

Want to have a heap of fun? Step one: Get your hands on Etiquette & Espionage. Step two: Keep reading until you’ve read all four book in the series.

And better yet: Get the audiobooks! These books deserve a nice, relaxed listen.

I read Etiquette & Espionage years ago, when it first came out (review), and had a deliciously lovely time with it. So why did I stop? I’m not exactly sure, except (a) my dreaded aversion to series-reading raised its ugly head and caused me a fatal lack of interest by the time book #2 was released, and (b) somehow in the interim, I’d convinced myself that the series had too juvenile a tone to appeal to me in the long run.

Wrong on both counts. What was I thinking?

All these years, I’ve managed to believe that I wouldn’t enjoy the Finishing School series, and as a result, I ended up depriving myself — until now! — of the pleasure of reading these super silly yet totally wonderful books.

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

So, if any of you either haven’t heard of the series, or heard of the books but aren’t convinced that you should give them a try, here are five reasons why they need to be at the top of your MUST READ or MUST LISTEN lists, ASAP.

1) Fantastic world-building: The world of the Finishing School is full of Victorian manners, proper English ladies and gentlemen, lots of tea, and all sorts of supernatural beings — who are an accepted and honored part of society, thank you very much. Vampires, werewolves, and ghosts exist, mingle with humans, and are received in the finest of homes. A steampunk sensibility is in the forefront throughout, so expect lots of gears, dirigibles, mechanical servants and soldiers, valves, frequensors, and the like.

2) Strong female characters: The finishing school of the series title is a floating school housed in a dirigible, in which “young ladies of quality” become finished — in the dangerous arts of espionage, artifice, and assassination, among other important subjects. The most talented of the girls may have careers ahead of them as intelligencers, or may be destined to marriage to high ranking gentlemen so they can work their wiles behind the scenes. In any case, the young women we meet have backbones and brains, are handy with all manner of weaponry (I love Sophronia’s bladed fan), and can out-think any and all bad guys on a moments’ notice. Main character Sophronia and her best friends Dimity, Agatha, and Sidheag aren’t afraid to fight, scheme, flirt, and lie in order to protect each other and the people they care about. What’s more, Sophronia especially doesn’t particularly care about the rules of society, and is determined to set her own course and grab her own destiny, no matter whether others want to take her choices away.

3) Sense of humor: From the smallest of touches to the sublimely ridiculous, Gail Carriger’s writing has just enough arch humor to make every moment fun without crossing the line into dumb jokes. The conversations and descriptions all add to the overall sense of never taking things seriously, broken only when there are moments of true sorrow or tragedy, which the author is equally good at conveying. For snippets of the awesome writing and dialogue, check out some of my Thursday Quotables selections — here and here,

4) Terrific narrator: This is why I so highly recommend the audiobooks. The narrator is amazing! Moira Quirk captures the wickedly funny nature of the dialogue through her sharp-edged delivery, phrasing, and rhythms. She lends distinct voices to Sophronia and her friends, as well as to the oh-so-amusing vampire Professor Braithwope and the countless other unique characters, capturing the class differences with ease… and making me laugh out loud on a regular basis. (Note to self: Stop listening to funny  audiobooks in public.)

5) Visits from familiar friends: Prior to writing the Finishing School books, Gail Carriger had already collected a devoted following of her Parasol Protectorate series (which I adore). Although Finishing School is set approximately 25 years before the start of Soulless, book #1 in the Parasol Proctorate, there are quite a few familiar characters who appear in both series. Conveniently, since we’re talking about supernatural beings, there’s no reason why everyone’s favorite vampire, Lord Akeldama, can’t be a major player in Sophronia’s world too — looking as fashionable and fabulous as always, of course. Some of the others making appearances, large or small, in the Finishing School books are Sidheag Maccon and Genevieve Lefoux, plus a few others we see more or less in the shadows, going unnamed, but awfully familiar, like an inscrutable butler and a sandy-haired Beta werewolf.

Convinced yet?

In each book, the storyline builds on itself, adding to our knowledge of the characters’ inner lives and personal strengths, and then showing them in action as they team up to stop the bad guys and pretty much save the world, or at least, the British Empire. As this series is YA-targeted, the main steam in the story comes from the boiler rooms, not from sexytimes — if you’re looking for adult sexual encounters, check out the Parasol Protectorate books. Still, the Finishing School books contain some truly spectacular romantic moments, a love triangle that’s more than your typical YA three-sided geometry, and a crossing of class and race lines that make Sophronia a woman far ahead of her own time.

But let’s not get too serious about all this. The Finishing School books are good, silly, fun  — amazing characters, dynamic plot, loads of steampunk detailing, and dramatic, hair-raising escapes and adventures.

Please, please, please go check this series out! You’ll thank me. I promise.

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Thursday Quotables: Manners & Mutiny

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Welcome to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!
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Manners & Mutiny by Gail Carriger
(published 2015)

One more from the Finishing School series! I’m on book #4 — the last one!! — and I’m really loving it. I’m so glad I took the time to listen to the audiobooks. The narrator does a perfect job at conveying the silliness and adventure of it all. The whole book is just so enjoyable. I’ll just share a random paragraph that I came across today, which is odd and quirky and funny… in other words, a great example of what these books are like!

Nothing could be more confusing to the poor man than Sophronia at that moment. He fell back on etiquette. What else was an Englishman to do when confronted with a wicker-chicken-wearing leather-clad tremulous smile? He drew the only ready weapon he had — manners. “Good evening, miss…”  He trailed off.

And from earlier in the book, as main character Sophronia, chaperoned by her older (and newly married) sister, prepares for a dinner party:

“Oh, Sophronia, please behave yourself. I know finishing school saw you turn over a new leaf, and you have been golden this past week, but don’t hurl any food at anyone? Please?”

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Add your Thursday Quotables post link in the comments section below… and I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week too.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

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Thursday Quotables: Waistcoats & Weaponry

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Welcome to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

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Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger
(published 2014)

I’ve finally returned to Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series, and I’m finding it absolutely delicious. After all, what’s not to love about a floating finishing school that specializes in the arts of spying, seduction, and assassination? All this, and proper deployment of handkerchiefs and eyelashes too.

It was a drizzly January evening, 1853, the sun recently set, and Professor Braithwope was currently twirling back and forth along the thin plank that stretched from the forward-most squeak deck’s railing to the pilot’s bubble. He was leagues up in the air.

Sophronia had watched the professor run that particular plank with deadly grace the very first day she came aboard Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. She’d never anticipated watching him dance along it. Admittedly, he danced with no less grace than he ran, performing some sedate quadrille with an imaginary partner. However, he was doing so while balancing a flowerpot on his head, one that contained Sister Mattie’s prize foxglove. Before his troubles, Professor Braithwope would never leave his room without a top hat occupying that sacred spot on his glossy brown coiffure. But for months his behavior had become increasingly erratic; witness the fact that he also wore an old-fashioned black satin cape with a high collar and scarlet lining. His fangs were extended, causing him to lisp slightly, and he punctuated his quadrille with a maniacal laugh that, if inscribed for posterity, might have been written as “Mua ha ha.”

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Add your Thursday Quotables post link in the comments section below… and I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week too.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

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Thursday Quotables: Poison or Protect

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Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

NEW! Thursday Quotables is now using a Linky tool! Be sure to add your link if you have a Thursday Quotables post to share.

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Poison or Protect by Gail Carriger
(published 2016)

A steamy, definitely-for-adults novella from Gail Carriger’s supernatural/steampunk world — great fun!

She was like opiates — expensive, intoxicating, and deadly in large doses.

And another little sample:

She had acquired female friends before, but in the manner by which she acquired pierced ears (necessary for her image and to prove to the world that she could).

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Click on the linky button (look for the cute froggie face) below to add your link.
  • After you link up, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

Take A Peek Book Review: Karen Memory

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Karen Memory

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

“You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I’m one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It’s French, so Beatrice tells me.”

Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, begging sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.

Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper yarn of the old west with a light touch in Karen’s own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science.

 

My Thoughts:

I picked up a copy of Karen Memory when it came out last year, and thanks to trying to finish up a reading challenge, I finally took it off the shelf and read it. What fun!

Karen’s voice is distinctive — maybe a little jarring at first, getting used to her grammar and word usage (especially “of” instead of “have”, as in “would of”…, etc). The first-person narrative by Karen lends a Western grittiness to the tale that really adds a lot in terms of flavor and setting.

The steampunk elements are enjoyable. I tend not to enjoy steampunk that gets so involved in the description of gears and pistons and steam engines that plot and character suffer. This is not the case in Karen Memory. The gadgets and gizmos serve the story, not the other way around.

The plot is engaging and exciting, as Karen takes on the bad guys, backed up by the do-gooder US Marshall, his Comanche partner, and the women of Madame Damnable’s. While I wished that some of the supporting characters were a bit more developed (it was hard to get a feel for several of the working girls as distinct people), overall the cast of characters is diverse, flavorful, and quite entertaining.

All in all, Karen Memory is a great romp of a read. Definitely quirky and unusual, it was a nice change-up for me from the somewhat heavy books I’ve been reading lately.

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The details:

Title: Karen Memory
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: February 3, 2015
Length: 350 pages
Genre: Steampunk
Source: Purchased

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Thursday Quotables: Karen Memory

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Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

NEW! Thursday Quotables is now using a Linky tool! Be sure to add your link if you have a Thursday Quotables post to share.

Karen Memory

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
(published 2015)

I’m at about the halfway point in this steampunk-western whose main characters are the working girls (“seamstresses”) at Madame Damnable’s fine house. It took me a few chapters to get into Karen’s speech patterns, but by now, I’m totally charmed:

I could feel Priya watching. When I looked at her, she gave me a flicker of a smile. I wondered if she was figuring out how, in this house, we lived together mostly by doing one another favors. I mean, I know there’s houses where it’s every girl for herself, and constant knives in the back. But Madame won’t cotton to that, and any girl who tries to import that sort of behavior and don’t take a warning or two winds up plying her trade elsewhere. Madame’s even less keen on mean than she is on drunk. She might forgive a girl who miscalculates how much liquor she can hold, as long as she don’t do it regular.

Another moment of unabashed Karen:

I liked to have turned my head and spat, but I remembered at the last minute that I was out on the street and ought to comport myself as a lady. Cussing aside, but it was too late to rein that wagon.

And finally, a little passage giving a flavor of life in the city — what to do before heading out for a day of errands:

Then we checked the barometer, which was uncharacteristically heartening, and I flipped open the morning paper to check the Mad Science Report. No experiments were scheduled, and no duels had been announced — at least among the Licensed Scientists — but you never knowed when a giant automaton was going to run rogue unscheduled. Mostly the city makes the inventors keep to the edge of town. Mostly.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Click on the linky button (look for the cute froggie face) below to add your link.
  • After you link up, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

Shelf Control #34: Karen Memory

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Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Karen MemoryTitle: Karen Memory
Author: Elizabeth Bear
Published: 2015
Length: 350 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

“You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I’m one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It’s French, so Beatrice tells me.”

Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, begging sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.

Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper yarn of the old west with a light touch in Karen’s own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science.

How I got it:

Bought it!

When I got it:

At the beginning of 2016, when the paperback was released.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve had my eye on this book since reading pre-publication publicity. I love the idea of a steampunk western tale with a Jack-the-Ripper element, and the main character sounds amazing. Plus, this book will help me complete a reading challenge category this year, so I’m extra motivated.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!


For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control

Book Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass

Aeronauts WindlassI’ll admit it up front: I’m a Jim Butcher fan. I’ve read all of the Dresden Files novels (15 so far), and various and sundry related stories, novellas, and graphic novels. Heck, I own the DVD of the (sadly short-lived) Dresden Files TV series. I binge-read the six volumes of the Codex Alera series a few years back. So, I guess you could say there was a decent chance that I’d love The Aeronaut’s Windlass too.

Yup. I did. Loved it a bunch.

The Aeronaut’s Windlass is the first book in a new series (The Cinder Spires), and it’s a remarkable feat of world-building. The book is set in a world in which mankind lives in huge, multi-storied towers (which are miles high and about two miles in diameter) that function as independent countries. The surface of Earth is dangerous and uninhabitable, covered by mists that conceal all sorts of dangers. Commerce is conducted in the air by fleets of airships that use etheric currents and power crystals to swoop, soar, dive, and attack.

Our loyalty is to Spire Albion (which I assume is more or less England, between the name and all the tea-drinking), and we meet a sprawling cast of characters right from the start. The main hero is Captain Grimm, commander of the AMS Predator, a non-military ship that makes its money from privateering. Grimm has a shadowy past that includes a dishonorable discharge from the Fleet, but from the first instant, it’s clear that he’s brave, noble, and a kick-ass air captain.

In addition to Captain Grimm and the crew of the Predator, we meet Gwen, a military recruit who stems from the very upper crust Lancaster family, which basically holds the monopoly on crystal production; Gwen’s cousin Benedict, who is a genetically-mixed warriorborn human; and Bridget, a large, self-conscious girl who finds an inner core of strength and courage.

And let’s not forget my very favorite character (and I suspect he’d resent anyone but himself being considered the hero of the piece): Rowl of the Silent Paws tribe, kit to Maul, chief of the Silent Paws. Rowl is a cat, and the cats in this book absolutely rock. They’re fierce warriors with an elegant and intricate system of power dynamics, clan politics, and etiquette. They mostly look down on clumsy humans, apart from the few (like Bridget, whom Rowl refers to as Littlemouse) who can speak Cat fluently.

Littlemouse was in danger, doubtless a prisoner, and the humans could not be trusted to handle her rescue with appropriate violence. They might be willing to leave someone alive, and Rowl was not prepared to tolerate incompetence where his personal human was concerned. He had just gotten her properly trained.

The action kicks into high gear when Spire Albion is attacked by a Marine contingent from Spire Aurora (Spain, as far as I can figure). The attack is sudden and devastating, and seems to have a sinister mastermind behind it whose motives are unclear. The good guys seems to be constantly outnumbered and outgunned, and the danger is vivid and terrifying — especially when highly venomous icky things called silkweavers seem to be serving the Aurorans, killing and maiming everything in their path.

Our little band of heroes is aided by a master etherealist, who has strange and inexplicable powers that allow him to see the unseen currents all around him, and his apprentice Folly, who’s another amazing and wonderful character. Folly is odd and off-kilter, but is possessed of incredible skill and instinct and comes to the rescue more than once (or twice, or thrice).

It’s all quite thrilling and absorbing. Jim Butcher does many things well, and he truly excels at writing action sequences. The extended airship battles are breathtaking, with booming cannons and swooping maneuvers, and a brave captain who never waivers in the face of enemy attack. (Okay, maybe I have just a teensy crush on Grimm at this point, but can you blame me?)

As always, Butcher knows just how to mix tense drama and high danger with sparkling, witty dialogue. The scenes narrated by Rowl are, of course, my favorites, but you don’t have to turn many pages in a Butcher book to find some clever wordplay or smart-ass retorts to lighten the mood.

Gwen sighed, and fetched another pair of mugs for the etherealist.

“Lovely,” Ferus said, and gulped some more. “Perceptions of etheric energy change from mind to mind, just as you and Sir Benedict demonstrate with your weapons crystals. And if one changes one’s mind, that also changes the nature of those perceptions. This will allow me to perceive those energies in ways in which I would not normally be able to do so.”

“You’re getting drunk,” Gwen said slowly, “so that you can experience etheric energy differently?”

Ferus held up his mug and said solemnly, “Think of it as goggles for one’s mind, instead of one’s eyes.”

The Aeronaut’s Windlass is a BIG book, over 600 pages. That would be huge, in and of itself, but considering this is just the first in a series, reading it feels like a pretty major undertaking. If I didn’t already know and love Jim Butcher’s books, I might be scared off, I suppose. There’s obviously much more yet to come in this series. While the book’s conclusion wraps up the first wave of battle, it’s clear that the war is just getting underway, and there are major questions left unanswered.

I struggled a bit at the beginning to understand the structure of the Spires and some of the fundamentals of the world of this book, but the action and the characters drew me in immediately, and it didn’t really take all that long for the more obscure elements to start to make sense and feel natural. By about the midpoint, I really hated to put the book down. And now that I’ve finished, I can say with certainty that I’m all in. I can’t wait for more of this excellent series, and just wish I could move straight on to the next book, instead of having to wait the year or two it’ll probably take for #2 to be released.

You really can’t go wrong with a Jim Butcher series. Fans will absolutely want to dive into the world of The Cinder Spires, and I think The Aeronaut’s Windlass is a great introduction for people who haven’t read his books too. (Although, if you haven’t read any Butcher, I’d urge you to run right out and find a copy of Storm Front, the first Dresden book).

So there you have it — a lengthy review which all boils down to: I loved this book. Go read it.

I’ll let Rowl have the final word, because he deserves it:

Each creature had something it excelled at, he supposed. Humans could manage knots easily, and cats could do everything else.

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The details:

Title: The Aeronaut’s Windlass (The Cinder Spires, #1)
Author: Jim Butcher
Publisher: Roc
Publication date: September 29, 2015
Length: 630 pages
Genre: Fantasy/steampunk
Source: Purchased

Take A Peek Book Review: Prudence by Gail Carriger

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.


prudence

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

When Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama (Rue to her friends) is given an unexpected dirigible, she does what any sensible female would under similar circumstances – names it the Spotted Custard and floats to India in pursuit of the perfect cup of tea. But India has more than just tea on offer. Rue stumbles upon a plot involving local dissidents, a kidnapped brigadier’s wife, and some awfully familiar Scottish werewolves. Faced with a dire crisis and an embarrassing lack of bloomers, what else is a young lady of good breeding to do but turn metanatural and find out everyone’s secrets, even thousand-year-old fuzzy ones?

My Thoughts:

First disclaimer: I absolutely adored Gail Carriger’s first series, The Parasol Protectorate, which is (so to speak) the parent of her new series, The Custard Protocol.

Second disclaimer: I felt mostly led down by the author’s YA series (The Finishing School), which was published in between these two, and in fact I did not continue reading past the first book.

So where do I stand in terms of Prudence?

One could not blame a people for disliking vampires. Vampires were like Brussels sprouts — not for everyone and impossible to improve upon with sauce. There were even those in London who disapproved of Dama, and he was very saucy indeed.

Like Brussels sprouts and vampires, I’m afraid that Prudence isn’t for everyone… and sadly, it ended up not really being for me. Even with sauce.

I had very high hopes. The character Prudence is the metanatural offspring of the unforgettable Alexia Tarabotti, heroine of the Parasol Protectorate books, and her ultra-sexy (and furry) Scottish werewolf husband, Conall Maccon. Prudence is also the adopted daughter of fan favorite Lord Akeldama, a highly fashionable vampire who has an impeccable sense of proper social behavior and expects his little ward to always be appropriately attired.

In the novel, Prudence (who prefers Rue, thank you very much) almost immediately takes to the air on board her very own dirigible (painted to resemble a giant ladybug), along with her best friend Primrose (that would be Ivy Hisselpenny’s daughter, for you PP fans), Prim’s twin brother Percy, and Quesnel, a dashing young man with the most exquisite violet eyes. Off they float to India, encountering along the way a variety of shapeshifters, troublesome (and unattractive) vampires, and all sorts of officials who keep getting in their way. Our intrepid little crew has a jolly time dodging danger, solving mysteries, and having many cups of tea. This being a steampunk world, there are also lots of gadgets and gizmos, steam-powered elephant head trams, and a challenging journey through the aetherosphere.

I could tell it wasn’t quite gelling for me by the very fact that I seemed to constantly find other things to do rather than read. There’s nothing terribly wrong with Prudence… but it really felt like just more of the same to me. It’s all very quippy and sharp:

“Virgil?”

“Yes, Lady Captain?”

“Keep an eye to the accessories, please. There may be a lioness around with a taste for parasols.”

“Is that some kind of code, Lady Captain?”

“My dear young man, I only wish it were.”

There are lots of detailed descriptions of the clothes and the machinery — but it just doesn’t feel new any more. The characters here are mildly entertaining, but there are only the briefest glimpses of Alexia and Conall, and the younger generation simply can’t hold a candle to them. It’s fun to see Lord Akeldama and some of the familiar werewolves again, but this story is really about Rue and company, and I didn’t find their characters particularly compelling or engaging.

Will I read the next book in the series (Imprudence, scheduled for release in 2016)? Let’s put it this way: If someone hands me a copy, or if I happen to see it at the library on a day when I’m in between books, then sure, I’ll give it a go. But I definitely don’t feel the need to track it down the second it’s released, and if I don’t read it, that’s okay too.

I know people have asked whether this book is for adults or young adults. My answer is — I don’t know. I believe the book is being marketed as adult fiction, but with 20-year-old main characters having very larky adventures and only a hint of romance and future lustiness, it could really go either way.

Listen, this book may absolutely delight many, many readers. For me personally, it felt like a much-anticipated visit back to a cherished vacation spot… only to find upon arrival that it’s not quite as delightful the second time around. Prudence doesn’t tread enough new ground or have characters who grab me enough to make the repeat visit to this world feel fresh.

Gail Carriger is an amazing writer with a flair for funny one-liners and a talent for inventing worlds that seem familiar but are most decidedly other. I hope that she’ll create new worlds to delight us with in the future, and I look forward to reading about them when she does.

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The details:

Title: Prudence
Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: March 17, 2015
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Steampunk, adult/young adult fiction
Source: Purchased

Book Review: The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon

Book Review: The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon by S. S. Taylor

The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man's CanyonIf you love adventurous kids, mysterious maps, hidden canyons, and steam-powered everything, you won’t want to miss The Expeditioners, the first installment in what promises to be a very exciting middle grade series.

The West kids — Zander, Kit, and MK — are the orphaned children of famous explorer Alexander West, who rose to fame and fortune exploring new lands, then died under mysterious circumstances, leaving the three kids to fend for themselves. And when I say new lands, I really mean New Lands: Several decades earlier, after computers and electricity were proven unreliable and were discarded, explorers discovered New Lands hidden amidst the lands already known. Apparently, all those earlier maps were wrong, and the globes we all rely upon are really just quaint relics. The current world includes places such as the New North Polar Sea, Fazia, and Deloia, and exploring and cartography are among the most esteemed and  sought-after vocations.

Unfortunately, the BNDL (Bureau of Newly Discovered Lands) is in control and is awfully shady. Current policy seems to be to discover resource-rich new worlds and then plunder them for all they’re worth. It’s becoming clear to the West kids that perhaps their dad wasn’t entirely pleased with BNDL’s approach — and it’s starting to seem that the feeling was mutual. The kids are being watched, and when our narrator, Kit, receives a package from a stranger in the market, it sets off a chain of events that will lead the kids into danger as well as excitement.

As The Expeditioners moves forward, Kit and his siblings, along with their new friend Sukey, daughter of a famous explorer herself, set out to solve a puzzle left behind by Alexander. Hidden maps and secret codes lead the gang to a daring escape from BNDL agents and on a mad cross-country dash toward a legendary treasure lost centuries earlier in the canyons of Arizona. The government wants the treasure too, and it’s a race to see who will find it first — if it exists at all.

I read this book with my 11-year-old (who still likes me to read to him at bedtime — hurray!). Let me just cut to the chase here — we both loved The Expeditioners.

The world-building is terrific, as we are introduced to a steampunky society in which the ability to build, tinker, and create is of utmost importance, as are big heaps of courage and a willingness to leap into the unknown. The author takes our own world and technology and spins it into something at once familiar yet completely new. There are no cars, but that’s okay: People travel by steam trains, dirigibles, even steam-powered bicycles and IronSteeds, steam-powered mechanical horses.

The West kids are all talented and honorable. Zander, the oldest at 14, is brave and protective; Kit is a budding cartographer like his dad, and little sister MK can fix anything. Along with their pilot friend Sukey, they demonstrate courage and conviction over and over again, relying on their smarts to get in and out of tight scrapes, with an absolute devotion to one another and to their mission.

A hint of preachiness creeps in when the kids begin to understand the unscrupulous dealings of BNDL and realize how poorly the indigenous populations of the new worlds are being treated. Of course, the PC-lecture tone didn’t faze my son, but I found it a bit heavy-handed.

The storyline is tightly woven and packed with action. After the initial chapters, which seemed about to bog down in exposition, the pace picks up, and we get to truly know the West kids through their adventure, seeing their initiative and daring, as well as their commitment to their father’s memory and to their family as a whole.

Black and white illustrations by Katherine Roy add to the hip feel of the book, bringing the kids to life and adding in details such as gears, clockwork, and goggles that really enhance the story.

The ending makes clear that there is more to come, as the children complete their treasure-seeking adventure and are given a fresh opportunity for new experiences in a new setting. (I’m being intentionally vague here — you won’t get spoilers out of me!) My kiddo and I are both looking forward to seeing how Zander, Kit, and MK fare along their new path, and we really can’t wait for the next Expeditioners book!

Summing it all up: The Expeditioners seems like a perfect choice for middle grade readers, and it’s smart, savvy, and hip enough that parents will enjoy it too. A decidedly different adventure story that’s full of intellectual challenges too, with brave, independent characters of both genders and a range of ages, set in a steampunky American Southwest — this book is one I could see appealing to a wide audience for years to come.

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The details:

Title: The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon
Author: S. S. Taylor; illustrated by Katherine Roy
Publisher: McSweeney’s McMullens
Publication date: 2012
Genre: Middle grade fiction
Source: Library