Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Serpent’s Shadow

the Serpent's Shadow

I’m on a bit of a Mercedes Lackey kick, and re-read The Serpent’s Shadow which is Book One of the Elemental Masters series.  I LOVE this series – a perfect mix of fantasy, historical fiction, and old fairy tales awaits in almost every book. Love, love, love. (Although this is one of those times where you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, since most of the cover art for these books is pretty off-putting).

The Serpent’s Shadow is no exception.  Based on the story of Snow White, this book follows Maya Weatherspoon.  Maya, has recently moved to England from her native India.  She is a physician in her own right, and sets up a practice out of her home in London, while also working out of a respectable hospital and a charity clinic. Daughter of an English doctor and a high-caste Indian priestess, Maya’s mixed blood is central to the plot.

Maya has fled her homeland after the suspicious deaths of her parents.  Unfortunately, the sinister mastermind behind these deaths has followed her to London.  Seeking and searching for her, this enemy wishes to enslave Maya and use Maya’s considerable power for nefarious means.

Maya has not traveled alone, and her household is home to some faithful servants and her mother’s seven “pets” – remarkable creatures who seem to understand more than they should.

The White Lodge in London notices the arrival of someone with great power, and sends Peter Scott, water master, to investigate.  Peter realizes this beautiful woman is both powerful, untaught, and hiding from something.  Against the old-school sensibilities of the white lodge, Peter teaches Maya the Western elemental magic that Maya has inherited from her father’s side.

All the while, her enemy is drawing closer …

I should repeat this quote from the description on Goodreads:

Some will find the author’s Kiplingesque descriptions of India and Hindustani culture offensive. Lackey describes Maya’s enemy as a powerful devotee of the goddess Kali-Durga, though she carefully shows that the avatars of the other deities will not attack her, and has Kali-Durga repudiate her servant in the climactic confrontation. And, though the story is layered, its surface is as glossy and brightly colored as an action comic. But readers who enjoy late Victorian London, Sayers, Sherlock Holmes stories, and a page-turning tale will want to take this one home. –Nona Vero

Some well-phrased criticism wrapping up with a compliment, it’s probably true that the cultural references are a bit insensitive.  However, I love the book for the story itself which indeed is layered.

In particular:

  • I love how Maya is a strong female character and role model.  She may have fled India, but she is smart, independent, generous, and kind.   Despite all the odds stacked against her, she is a female Doctor of mixed parentage, at a time where female doctors were rare all around.  She is not too proud to accept help when it’s offered, and she is clever enough to enlist it when needed.
  • Maya is also a suffragette – although not as outspoken as some, she is quietly fighting for the rights of women.  Indeed, her private practice caters to London’s theater girls and mistresses, and among them Maya assures discretion.  She also uses this to spread the word on important topics for female emancipation, such as contraception.
  • Peter Scott, a tradesman, also seems to be butting heads with “established” class and gender divisions.  He’s part of the White Lodge, but finds it’s old-fashioned sensibilities frustrating.  Founded within the peerage, the group accepted Peter, a working-class man, on his strengths, but refuses to allow others (such as women, Irish elemental masters, other men of low social classes) in to their club. To their detriment!
  • I love how the story of Snow White is adapted for this setting.
  • I find it a fascinating time – London of 1909.  Full of new ideas, new technology, and potential.

I just love this book!  5/5

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Filed under Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Betraying Season

Betraying Season

After reading a few books that were less than stellar, it was nice to pick up something I felt good about again. I loved Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle, and have been trying to get my hands on a copy of Betraying Season ever since.  I ended up splurging and just purchasing a copy, since I was not able to get it through the library.

Penelope (Pen) Leland has accompanied her former Governess, Ally, to Ireland in order to pursue her studies in magic and prove to herself she is as serious about learning as her twin sister, Persy. But with Ally indisposed, Pen is drawn into Irish society by Mrs. Keating and her charming son, Niall Keating. While Niall is doing his best to woo Pen, it is not entirely of his own volition – at least, not at first.  Unexpectedly, Niall finds himself truly falling for Pen, which puts him at odds with his mother’s schemes. Mrs. Keating has plans of her own, and she needs Pen (and Pen’s magic) to help her carry out a sinister plan.

Although VERY enjoyable, it wasn’t quite as good as Persy’s story.  Maybe I just identified more with Persy (who was a self-identified bluestocking from the first) than with Pen.  It was also difficult to watch Pen be completely taken in by both Mrs. Keating and Niall – and to have her trust broken so thoroughly.

I did like that it dealt with (although very very fleetingly) tensions between the Irish and English, and also prejudice against women scholars. Poor Pen is not easily accepted into lessons by her fellow students in magic.

I missed Ally a bit – she was hardly mentioned and hardly part of the plot at all, since she was indisposed or sleeping most of the time.

I also missed the sibling interactions – Pen is so removed from Persy and Charles, and that was one of my favourite parts about the last book.

I DID enjoy watching Pen gain confidence in her magic, and remain strong/true to herself even while she was being swept off her feet and carried in different directions.

Overall, it was a good read.  4 / 5.

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Filed under Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult Books

The Poison Diaries

The poison diaries

I was so excited by the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series that I went on to read another book by Maryrose Wood (this time with The Duchess of Northumberland, apparently), The Poison Diaries.

Boy, was I disappointed.

It looked so promising!

From Goodreads:

A dark, gothic tale of romance… and murder. In the right dose, everything is a poison. Jessamine has spent her whole life in a cottage close to her father’s apothecary garden, surrounded by medicinal plants and herbs that could kill her — although her father has never allowed her into the most dangerous part of the grounds… the poison garden. And so she’s never had reason to be afraid — until now. Because now a newcomer has come to live with the family, a quiet but strangely attractive orphan boy named Weed. Though Weed doesn’t say much in words, he has an instant talent for the apothecary’s trade, seeming to possess a close bond with the plants of the garden. Soon, he and Jessamine also share a close bond. But little does Jessamine know that passion can be just as poisonous as the deadliest plants in the garden — for behind Weed’s instinctive way in the garden is a terrible secret.

This book started of veeeeery slowly.  It was kind of boring in the beginning.  Then it still went about slowly, though with a romance between Weed and Jessamine I thought it might take a turn for the better. Then it JUST GOT WEIRD.  And annoying.

It was difficult to tell who the real villain was – or if there was one – Jessamine’s father? Weed? The mysterious “Prince of Poisons”?

Jessamine was a vapid, annoying girl.  Weed is a strange orphan who relates more to plants than people.

Awful.  I will NOT be reading the sequel.

1/5

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The Hidden Gallery / The Unseen Guest / The Interrupted Tale (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #2, #3, and #4)

A three-for-one today!  After reading The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place Book #1) by Maryrose Wood, I immediately set upon the sequels!
The Hidden Gallery
First up, The Hidden Gallery, which is book #2.  Miss Penelope Lumley continues on with her role as governess to the three Incorrigible children: Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia.  When Miss Mortimer (from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females) invites Miss Lumley into London, Lady Constance (of Ashton Place) decides to move everyone to London while Ashton Place is being restored (after having suffered a great deal of damage at the hands of the Incorrigible three during the disastrous Christmas Ball).  There, Penelope explores London with the help of a somewhat mysterious and often a bit confusing guidebook.  She also meets a new friend – Simon, who is an interesting young playwright.  While trying to suss out the Incorrigible children’s past – and her own – Miss Lumley has a few questions answered and many more to ask. Mysterious fortune-telling gypsies and swashbuckling pirates aside, this is a charming tale that is EVEN BETTER than the the first!!  5/5!
The Unseen Guest
Third in the series is The Unseen Guest and Miss Lumley and her charges are back again.  Home again to Ashton Place, an unexpected Ostrich results in Penelope and the Three Incorrigible children traipsing through the woods. Lord Ashton’s mother has come to call, along with her suitor, Admiral Faucet.  New secrets about the Ashton family are revealed, all while Miss Lumley is contemplating her own somewhat mysterious past.  It keeps getting better!! 5/5!
the Interrupted Tale
The Fourth installment, The Interrupted Tale, continues on attempting to explain some mysteries while leaving others (well and most others) unanswered.  Miss Lumley is invited back to The Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females to make a speech.  When she and the Incorrigible children arrive they discover that things are not quite what they seem, and some unexpected and unwelcome changes are afoot. 5/5!
Some thoughts on all three:
  • DELIGHTFUL!  CHARMING! LOVELY!
  • If you are a fan of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events you will surely love Miss Lumley!
  • The books are short and snappy, and definitely leave more questions open then they close.  I’m eagerly anticipating the next in the series – though I’m not sure when that will be?
  • The narrative style strengthens throughout the three, with often breaks for reflection or education.  I find it fun and amusing.
  • Miss Lumley is a perfect Strong Female Character – she always accomplishes what she sets out to do, and is a stalwart and plucky example of a Swanburne girl.
  • They are definitely more children’s fiction than young adult fiction, but I do find them ever so charming.
  • They definitely all end with more unanswered questions than mysteries they wrap up, but I have high expectations that in time, all will be revealed.
  • They seem to keep getting better and better!!

Love love love!

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The Moon and More

The Moon and More

Emaline is a Colby girl – born and bred.  It’s the summer before college and things seem to be changing more in a few months than in her whole life.

Emaline has been dating Luke since Grade nine, and he seems perfect.  He’s Colby – along with her friends Daisy and Morris, her mom, grandma, (step)dad and sisters.

Theo is a summer resident – super-ambitious, and from New York, he wears designer jeans and takes life as Big Moments.  Emaline’s father – who hasn’t been around most of her life – is around for the summer too. Both think Emaline should dream bigger than beach-town Colby.

It’s a summer of discovering who she is, and who she wants to be.

I normally really like Sarah Dessen, and unfortunately this book didn’t resonate with me.  (Caution: some spoilers ahead).

  • I liked Emaline, though I didn’t really empathize with her as much as I would have hoped.  It REALLY annoyed me that she leaped so quickly from one relationship to another.  It frustrated me that she seemed to be pulling away from her friends and family a bit (though I did appreciate her new relationship with Benji, her half-brother).
  • I really disliked Theo – from the start and all the way through.  I found him vapid, arrogant, and annoying.  He seemed so full of himself and too wrapped up in Making Things Count to see what was really going on. I also felt leaving Ivy in the lurch was totally a Jerk Move.
  • I liked Luke – even when he made mistakes, which confused me.
  • There were a few heavy-hitting topics here: teenage pregnancy (a past issue, not a present one), parenting (in absentia), divorce.  Some not-so-heavy but definitely worthy topics: the transition to college and worries about the future. Nothing quite as deep as previous novels, however.
  • Since so many of her books seem to center around Summer in Colby, it was nice to get a new perspective on the town.
  • My favourite part was probably having Emaline get to know her half-brother, Benji.

Maybe I didn’t enjoy it enough because I had relatively high expectations, after previous books I’ve read.  Or maybe it’s because I have very little patience for protagonists who can’t seem to be single for any length of time (though admittedly Emaline did have a little bit of redemption in the end).

I’m sad that I didn’t enjoy this one as much.  3/5.

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Unnatural Issue

unnatural issue

Today has been a sick day for me – and what better way to bolster my spirits than read an oldie but goodie?  Unnatural Issue was first published in 2011 – so it’s not that old, but it’s been on my bookshelf for a while now.  Part of the Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey, it’s a tale that weaves magic and old tales together into something new and delicious.  I am quite fond of the Elemental Masters series, particularly Phoenix and Ashes which I sadly don’t own but plan to remedy that sometime soon.

Anyway, Unnatural Issue takes the story of Donkeyskin and cleverly adapts it.  Donkeyskin, in case you’re not aware, was a fairy tale first published by Charles Perrault.  There is a King and his beautiful Queen.  The Queen falls ill and dies, but makes him promise that he will not remarry anyone whose beauty is not equal to her own.  The King falls mad with grief, and when he is eventually persuaded to take another wife he wants none other than his own daughter, who is the spitting image of the Queen.  The daughter escapes (with the use of a donkeyskin) and flees to a neighboring kingdom where she takes up work in the kitchen (still wearing her donkeyskin so looking hideous and disguised).  She eventually ends up marrying the Prince of that kingdom and all is well.

Donkeyskin also happens to be the basis for one of my favourite fairy-tale adaptations: Deerskin by Robin McKinley.

The basic plot, then, is not really a surprise.

Suzanne Whitestone is the daughter to Richard and Rebecca Whitestone. Unusually, she has never set eyes upon her father, for Rebecca died during childbirth and Richard, mad with grief, has been a recluse ever since.  Suzanne, raised by the servants, had a simple life and learned her craft from Pan himself – for she is an Earth Master.  She is also the spitting image of her mother.

Richard, whose mind has wallowed and twisted in his long years of grief, longs only for his wife and hates the thought of the child who “stole” his Rebecca from him.  Unfortunately, he turns to Necromancy and concocts a plan to get his dear wife back … no matter what the cost.

Thoughts:

  • Suzanne is fiery, stubborn, and clever.  She’s definitely a strong, plucky female character who accepts help when needed but doesn’t passively lay down when there is work to be done.
  • The story takes place in England/Europe just as the first world war is breaking out, allowing for some alternate history and a glimpse of the horrors of the trenches.
  • If you’ve read any of the other Elemental Masters books then you’ve met already some of the other characters who pop up.  I love having characters carry-over!!
  • Magic, action, history – what isn’t there to like?
  • Yes, the cover is hideous. Alas.

Highly recommended! 5/5

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The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #1)

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place

The Mysterious Howling is book One of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood.  The first thought that crossed my mind when I finished the book was “charming” and the second was “I wish it was longer!” (Lucky for me it’s the first of a series).

Miss Penelope Lumley, a recent graduate from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, has taken her first post as governess.  Little did she know that it would be an unusual post indeed! Ashton Place, a huge estate, is home to Lady Constance and Lord Frederick and now to three unusual children.  Found running wild in the woods, the three appear to have been raised by wolves!  Alexander (age 10ish), Beowulf (age 7ish?) and Cassiopeia (age 4 or 5ish) appear entirely wild at first meeting.  It’s up to Miss Lumley to tame and teach these unusual siblings.

And, as the Goodreads summary puts it: “But mysteries abound at Ashton Place: Who are these three wild creatures, and how did they come to live in the vast forests of the estate? Why does Old Timothy, the coachman, lurk around every corner? Will Penelope be able to teach the Incorrigibles table manners and socially useful phrases in time for Lady Constance’s holiday ball? And what on earth is a schottische?”

Penelope is practical, witty, and idealistic.  She’s a tenderhearted young woman who sets upon her task with determination!

The three Incorrigibles are active, interesting, and eager.  They are fast learners but forever distracted by squirrels!

Lady Constance is young, chatty, and perhaps a bit flighty.  She’s also rather miffed at having three foster children suddenly thrust upon her!

Lord Frederick seems to spend a lot of time at his Gentleman’s club, but why?

Old Timothy is mysterious.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book.  It was a light, quick read, meant for a bit younger audiences, and with enough quirky narrative comments that it reminded me pleasantly of “A Series of Unfortunate Events”, though with less unfortunate events.

I’m quite looking forward to trying out the rest of the series!  4/5

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