Short-ish Blog Watch Wednesday!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Fun Stuff

Gender bias in literary outlets. Wow, just wow. Anyone who says feminism is outdated and unneeded should look at that.

Have you heard of the giant penguin remains found on New Zealand? Why must the best animals go extinct? Woolly mammoths, now giant penguins... what else have we missed out on?

Did you know How to Train Your Dragon is not only getting a sequel, but a TV series? The first two trailers can be found right here. My life? Is made.

Brandon Sanderson, prolific fantasy author, has plans for a 36 volume series set in his 'Cosmere' universe. I'm impressed by his ambition, and dismayed by the wait times to read them. 
The Hunger Games versus Battle Royale - similarities and differences. I have yet to read BR, but it's been on my TBR since before I heard of the Hunger Games.

The book tour for Sophie Perinot's debut THE SISTER QUEENS has posted its destinations! The tour will be here on March 12 for my review and March 23rd for an author interview! I'd love it if you guys popped by to see.

Deleted unfinished alternate version of Mulan's "Reflection" from the Disney movie. I think I might like this version better? And that's from a diehard Mulan-lover.

Alan Alda, star of MASH, almost died three times on Broadway? I just watched him on 30 Rock (shut up, I am 5 years behind "cool") and his Alan Alda-ness killed me. Also the MASH joke the writers slipped in? SOLID GOLD. "What's all this about a baby and a chicken? I thought this was a comedy show." 

What do you get if mix Downton Abbey and  cats? Downton Tabby.

Check out Run for Your Lives - a 5k obstacle course infected with "zombies". I want to do thiss! And I only run at the gym - but who could possibly resist?

Hey Guys, I made a FaceBook page for AGELESS PAGES REVIEWS. Since GFC is gone tomorrow (le horreur!) I would really, really love anyone who "liked" my page.


Review: The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee

Saturday, February 25, 2012
Author: Tanith Lee
Genre: fantasy, science fiction
Series: Birthgrave #1
Pages: 408 (mass market paperback)
Published: June 1975, republished 2012
Source: bought
Rating: 5/5

She woke from a sleep of countless years, reborn from the heart of a raging volcano. Her body was a masterpiece all men desired, her face a monstrosity that must go masked. Warrior, witch, goddess and slave, she was doomed to travel through a world of barbaric splendour, helped and betrayed by her lovers, searching for escape from the taint of her forgotten race, and the malice of the demon that haunted her.

Tanith Lee's The Birthgrave is one of the best pieces of feminist speculative fiction I have ever read.

The main character is a woman of the old race- humanlike creatures with apparent immortality and powers above and beyond that which we possess. She awakens in a volcano, and is told by the spirit in the fire that she is the last of her kind and will spread a curse of unhappiness across the land, unless she can unlock the secrets to the power and knowledge hidden within herself. Thus she leaves the mountain on a series of adventures, trying to discover the lost truthof her own past.

This book is about power: the power of belief, the power of the Other, and the power of womankind. As our main character, nameless, interacts with the world around her, she takes many roles: that of goddess, slave, warrior, healer. Lee does a fantastic job of painting more primitive human cultures, lost in their own beliefs and unwilling or unable to see the world around them for what it is because of their dogma and fear. Through these cultures drifts our heroine, a complex woman of quicksilver, trying to understand the legacy left her by her forebears.

The focus of her story for me is that while she has the physical and mental powers of her kind, the real victory comes from her strength of will. In a world dominated by men, she is both revered and feared, for while she hides what she can, the men around her- especially those with power- can sense that there is more to her than meets the eye. These men use her for their own gain. Some put her on a pedestal; others suppress her. But they are always watching her, because they know that her substance is something they cannot even begin to guess. In this, she represents the true inner strength of all womankind, forisn't the male of our species always trying to define and understand us? Our nameless heroine runs the gamut of all that men have done in
the effort to realize a definition for the power and beauty ofwomanhood.

But it's the eventual outcome of her quest that is truly refreshing and surprising- through it, she finally comes to understand that there is no need for an outward locus of self. All those confusions and mysteries are there inside her. She is not cursed, but blessed.

Highly recommended.

Review: After the Snow by S.D. Crockett

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Author: S.D. Crockett
Genre: post-apocalyptic, dystopia, young-adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 305 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected March 2012
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 3.75/5
Fifteen-year-old Willo was out hunting when the trucks came and took his family away. Left alone in the snow, Willo becomes determined to find and rescue his family, and he knows just who to talk with to learn where they are. He plans to head across the mountains and make Farmer Geraint tell him where his family has gone.

But on the way across the mountain, he finds Mary, a refugee from the city, whose father is lost and who is starving to death. The smart thing to do would be to leave her alone -- he doesn't have enough supplies for two or the time to take care of a girl -- but Willo just can't do it. However, with the world trapped in an ice age, the odds of them surviving on their own are not good. And even if he does manage to keep Mary safe, what about finding his family?

I so badly want to give this odd little novel 4 stars, but I just can't do. I'm adhering to the GoodReads' strict system of a four being 'really liked it' as opposed to a three's merely "liked it" for S.D. Crockett's debut. I want to really like After the Snow as a whole but I just can't do it. I love love loved the first Part, but Parts II & III wiped out all the building momentum previously acquired. Giant sections where nothing happened for far too long in the mid-portion of the novel killed my waning interest, and the characters introduced during those pages (Jack, Elizabeth, Cath, exception: Dorothy) lacked the interest of the ones from before. Luckily for Willo, Mary and mostly me because I'm self-centered like that and I want to be entertained, damnit, the ending surprised me with its strength. Also, since this book was quite a bit different than anything I've read in a while (I'm told the voice is like that of Saba from Blood Red Road but I've yet to read that one), the review is going to be a bit different from my norm. WARNING: Some slight SPOILERS, implied or otherwise.

The Good:

I loved Willo immediately, even before adjusting to his distinct distracting speech patterns. A very distinct and interesting idea for a post-apocalyptic novel. The twists and surprises are nicely hidden behind the author's narrative sleight of hand. Willo's unique and strong voice is consistent and matures. Crockett manages to nicely wrap up the existing plotlines of novel without being absolutely final. This stands/will stand out in a growing subgenre of YA post-apocalyptic dystopias with the controls of 'settlements' 'the city', the ominous ANPEC, etc. Crockett would occasionally impress me with its imagery or tactility, even in Willo's mangled dialect ("Soon I get the fire lit good, and it make a soft dance on the walls..." p. 26 ARC).The open supported idea that China was the promised land, not America/the West.

The 'Meh':

I didn't dislike the 'dog voice' that Willo hears; he's a very solitary, laconic kid abandoned in the new Ice Age. I just didn't love that aspect, either. The extended hunt-and-chase scenes before Willo and Mary get to the road was one of the few part of the Part I I could've done without. I liked Willo very much, but I didn't emotionally connect to any other character/ feel and buy the emotional weight to the motivations of various people (Dorothy, Callum).

The Bad:

Sometimes I wished for another perspective (Mary's, for example would've been a lovely complement not only for her normal voice but for her experiences), just to give a break from translating Willo-thought into English. Not enough details about the apocalyptic event that caused the issues/what is provided lacks proficient explanation. The ANPEC organization in control of the people (with such actions overt like controlling food, money, nuclear reactors making them a de facto dystopic entity) is also largely mysterious - enhances the aura, sure, but leaves me feeling cheated.

So, in Conclusion:

After the Snow is uneven 304 page novel; it starts strongly to falter midway, only to make up for the lack of action later, but, on the whole, its individuality makes up for the most of its missteps. As a debut and a possible first in a series, I'm feeling more inclined to be tolerant about the large gaps of knowledge in the worldbuilding of this future - with hopes for more details later on.

Newly Added To the Bought/Unread Pile

Preordered: Timeless by Gail Carriger, due out March 1st 2012:

Alexia Tarabotti, Lady Maccon, has settled into domestic bliss. Of course, being Alexia, such bliss involves integrating werewolves into London High society, living in a vampire's second best closet, and coping with a precocious toddler who is prone to turning supernatural willy-nilly. Even Ivy Tunstell's acting troupe's latest play, disastrous to say the least, cannot put a damper on Alexia's enjoyment of her new London lifestyle.

Until, that is, she receives a summons from Alexandria that cannot be ignored. With husband, child, and Tunstells in tow, Alexia boards a steamer to cross the Mediterranean. But Egypt may hold more mysteries than even the indomitable Lady Maccon can handle. What does the vampire Queen of the Alexandria Hive really want from her? Why is the God-Breaker Plague suddenly expanding? And how has Ivy Tunstell suddenly become the most popular actress in all the British Empire?


Sherry Jones's, Four Sisters, All Queens, expected May 8 2012:

When Beatrice of Savoy, countess of Provence, sends her four beautiful, accomplished daughters to become queens, she admonishes them: Family comes first. As a result, the daughters—Marguerite, queen of France; Eleanor, queen of England; Sanchia, queen of Germany; and Beatrice, queen of Sicily—work not only to expand their husbands’ empires and broker peace between nations, but also to bring the House of Savoy to greater power and influence than before. Their father’s death, however, tears the sisters apart, pitting them against one another for the legacy each believes rightfully hers—Provence itself.

Told from alternating points of view of all four queens, and set in the tumultuous thirteenth century, this is a tale of greed, lust, ambition, and sibling rivalry on a royal scale, exploring the meaning of true power and bringing to life four of the most celebrated women of their time—each of whom had an impact on the history of Europe. 

I bought the prequel novella for Four Sisters, as well. It's available now, though I won't read it until I have the full-length novel as well. The novella is titled White Heart and it's cheap!

 "A woman's power lies in her beauty."
For years, Blanche de Castille, the White Queen of France, has lived by this maxim -- passed on by her grandmother, Eléonore d'Aquitaine, as she took the girl to marry King Louis VIII. When her husband dies unexpectedly, however, Blanche finds that beauty is not enough to hold, and command, a kingdom against usurpers eager to wrest the Crown from her woman's grasp. Faced with an English invasion, barons' uprisings, and slanderous rumors, Blanche must look within herself for the strength she needs to guard the throne for her young son. Her bold response shocks the kingdom, and shapes her into the formidable, seemingly heartless mother-in-law to Marguerite of Provence, wife of King Louis IX (Saint Louis) and the eldest of the "Four Sisters, All Queens" in Sherry Jones's forthcoming novel.

Also bought in the last few weeks:
Blood Rights by Kristen Painter. I'd previously had the chance to read (and review - 4/5 stars!) this novel thanks to the publishers and NetGalley, but I needed to know what happened so I acquired all three for my own to have and love.

 The lacy gold mapped her entire body. A finely-wrought filigree of stars, vines, flowers, butterflies, ancient symbols and words ran from her feet, up her legs, over her narrow waist, spanned her chest and finished down her arms to the tips of her fingers.

Born into a life of secrets and service, Chrysabelle’s body bears the telltale marks of a comarré—a special race of humans bred to feed vampire nobility. When her patron is murdered, she becomes the prime suspect, which sends her running into the mortal world…and into the arms of Malkolm, an outcast vampire cursed to kill every being from whom he drinks.

Now Chrysabelle and Malkolm must work together to stop a plot to merge the mortal and supernatural worlds. If they fail, a chaos unlike anything anyone has ever seen will threaten to reign

Flesh and Blood by Kristen Painter, aka #2 in the House of Comarre series:

 With the ring of sorrows still missing, and the covenant between othernaturals and mortals broken, Chrysabelle and Malkolm's problems are just beginning. Chrysabelle still owes Malkolm for his help, but fulfilling that debt means returning to Corvinestri, the hidden vampire city neither of them is welcome in.

The discovery that Chrysabelle has a brother could mean reneging on her promise to Malkolm, something that might make him angry enough to loose the beast living inside him. And fulfilling her vow could prove devastating for Chrysabelle --- especially when you throw in power hungry witches, dead fringe vampires, and the Kubai Mata.

Bad Blood by Kristen Painter - the third and final addition to the Comarre series:

Samhain approaches, bringing with it the final melding of the mortal and othernatural worlds. No one knows just how much power the night holds...

Violent murders occur in Paradise City as counterfeit comarré are systematically hunted. The police and the Kubai Mata have more than enough trouble to keep themselves occupied. As war erupts at home, Malkolm and Chrysabelle head to New Orleans to recover the Ring of Sorrows. Chrysabelle is forced to make a life and death decision and will realize that her relationship to Malkolm may have fatal consequences.

The clock is ticking . .

The truth is, none of us are innocent. We all have sins to confess.

So reveals Catherine de Medici in this brilliantly imagined novel about one of history’s most powerful and controversial women. To some she was the ruthless queen who led France into an era of savage violence. To others she was the passionate savior of the French monarchy. Acclaimed author C. W. Gortner brings Catherine to life in her own voice, allowing us to enter into the intimate world of a woman whose determination to protect her family’s throne and realm plunged her into a lethal struggle for power.

 The last legitimate descendant of the illustrious Medici line, Catherine suffers the expulsion of her family from her native Florence and narrowly escapes death at the hands of an enraged mob. While still a teenager, she is betrothed to Henri, son of François I of France, and sent from Italy to an unfamiliar realm where she is overshadowed and humiliated by her husband’s lifelong mistress. Ever resilient, Catherine strives to create a role for herself through her patronage of the famous clairvoyant Nostradamus and her own innate gift as a seer. But in her fortieth year, Catherine is widowed, left alone with six young children as regent of a kingdom torn apart by religious discord and the ambitions of a treacherous nobility.

Relying on her tenacity, wit, and uncanny gift for compromise, Catherine seizes power, intent on securing the throne for her sons. She allies herself with the enigmatic Protestant leader Coligny, with whom she shares an intimate secret, and implacably carves a path toward peace, unaware that her own dark fate looms before her—a fate that, if she is to save France, will demand the sacrifice of her ideals, her reputation, and the passion of her embattled heart.

Green by Jay Lake - what a gorgeous cover, no? The sequels is beautiful as well - I'll add it on even though I've not yet bought it.

Her exquisite beauty and brilliant mind were not enough to free her from captivity. That took her skills with a knife, plus the power of a goddess.

She was born in poverty, in a dusty village under the equatorial sun. She does not remember her mother, she does not remember her own name--her earliest clear memory is of the day her father sold her to the tall pale man. In the Court of the Pomegranate Tree, where she was taught the ways of a courtesan…and the skills of an assassin…she was named Emerald, the precious jewel of the Undying Duke’s collection of beauties. She calls herself Green.

The world she inhabits is one of political power and magic, where Gods meddle in the affairs of mortals. At the center of it is the immortal Duke’s city of Copper Downs, which controls all the trade on the Storm Sea. Green has made many enemies, and some secret friends, and she has become a very dangerous woman indeed.

Here's the cover for book #2:

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone-one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship-tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

The Scarlet Contessa by Jeanne Kalogridis

Daughter of the Duke of Milan and wife of the conniving Count Girolamo Riario, Caterina Sforza was the bravest warrior Renaissance Italy ever knew. She ruled her own lands, fought her own battles, and openly took lovers whenever she pleased.

Her remarkable tale is told by her lady-in-waiting, Dea, a woman knowledgeable in reading the "triumph cards," the predecessor of modern-day Tarot. As Dea tries to unravel the truth about her husband's murder, Caterina single-handedly holds off invaders who would steal her title and lands. However, Dea's reading of the cards reveals that Caterina cannot withstand a third and final invader—none other than Cesare Borgia, son of the corrupt Pope Alexander VI, who has an old score to settle with Caterina. Trapped inside the Fortress at Ravaldino as Borgia's cannons pound the walls, Dea reviews Caterina's scandalous past and struggles to understand their joint destiny, while Caterina valiantly tries to fight off Borgia's unconquerable army.

Blog Watch Wednesday!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Reviews Posted:

Fun Stuff:

The Academy of Arts and Motions Pictures is just as full of old white guys as you'd assume. 77% male, 94% white. That skews some of the winners, doesn't it?

Apt, amusing and completely missing the point - check out these funny movie descriptions.

The Nebula Awards Finalists have been named. Happy to see Embassytown by China Mieville and the Kingdom of the Gods by N.K. Jemisin. I have God's War waiting to be read - this moves it up a bit!

Want to know what it is like to be an extra on HBO's 'Game of Thrones'? Now you know.

I have a vocabulary of 40,500 words. What about you?

Pop culture's best gays in need of new friends. Damian is the best thing about Mean Girls."You go, Glen Coco!" is part of my weekly vocabulary.

Nicki Minaj - pre-fame, pre-Young Money.. kind of pretty and normal looking? I love Nicki but girl needs to stop messing with her face.

One of the TUMBLRS OF THE WEEK: Jurassic Parks & Rec. I love Jurassic Park with a fierce passion - still - and Parks & Rec is my favorite sitcom currently. Made of WIN.

2/2 for TUMBLRS OF THE WEEK: Downton Abbey & Greendale.  Fans of Community and DA will love it - I don't watch either but am aware of the large fanbases.

Take a look at Brad Pitt's Oscar dates from the past. He's only had 3 (soon 4), and they're not who you think.

Author Lisa Mantchev, of the Theatre Illuminata series, is pretty much adorable.

Art imitating life, life imitating art? Authors of book about Richard Burton/Liz Taylor love affair... have a love triangle all their own.

This is fairly cool - ancient plants 'resurrected' from Sibera's permafrost.  Woolly mammoth next?

Hey did you know the FBI could/might cut off your internet on March 8? Check and see if you're safe.

From Cracked:


Review: Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown

Monday, February 20, 2012
Title: Lies Beneath
Genre: young-adult, supernatural fiction, mythic fiction
Series: Lies Beneath #1
Pages: 315 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected June 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

Calder White lives in the cold, clear waters of Lake Superior, the only brother in a family of murderous mermaids. To survive, Calder and his sisters prey on humans, killing them to absorb their energy. But this summer the underwater clan targets Jason Hancock out of pure revenge. They blame Hancock for their mother's death and have been waiting a long time for him to return to his family's homestead on the lake. Hancock has a fear of water, so to lure him in, Calder sets out to seduce Hancock's daughter, Lily. Easy enough—especially as Calder has lots of practice using his irresistible good looks and charm on unsuspecting girls. Only this time Calder screws everything up: he falls for Lily—just as Lily starts to suspect that there's more to the monsters-in-the-lake legends than she ever imagined. And just as his sisters are losing patience with him.
Finally! A mermaid tail (sorry, couldn't resist a bit of fin, I mean fun) tale that I can finally, actually say I enjoyed reading; one that I didn't hate the main characters, or their romance, or even the mythology behind the sea creatures. Lies Beneath is a success in a genre that has so fat yet to offer many noteworthy titles; this is thanks in part to presence of, as the great Wendy Darling of GoodReads so aptly put it: eeeeevil mermaids. Not the Disneyfied version most common on film and in YA novels (Between the Sea and Sky, I am looking at you) but the twisted, covetous, murderous sirens of Greek mythology. These sirens mermaids have bite; the three females (dominat matriarch Maris, affectionate Tallulah, flawless Pavati) especially typify the kind of mermaid I apparently like to read: vengeful, deliberate and deadly. Lies Beneath also is one of the few all-male POV young-adult novels I've read - unexpected, and very welcome when I realized it.

Calder (have you even seen a caldera? Hmmm....) White is both a creeper and, oxymoronically but believably, a good guy. What's nice about Calder, and reading from his view, is that he's a very self-aware creeper. He doesn't misrepresent his actions (breaking and entering, stalking, etc.) as romance or love, but readily admits his actions are more in line with a "serial killer" than a boyfriend. I liked Calder from the start: his is a strong and distinguished voice from the outset, with just a touch of that self-deprecating humor that I always enjoy. He's obviously and clearly different from his sisters: winter migrations, self-denial disguised as self-control, desire for isolation.  The title itself is also doubly clever when viewed in reference to the male lead character: not only does a monster lie beneath the waters of the placid looking lake, but there are lies beneath his motivations that even he is unaware of. Figuring out Calder's personal history is a recurring subplot throughout, that though it doesn't have the high dramatics of the 'kill Jason Hancock' main plot, has more than enough punch at the end.   

Lily was sadly a weaker effort than her love interest for much of the novel. She found her footing before the end, but on the whole my love for this book is based on Calder, not Lily. I found her wardrobe choices a bit try-hard and the love for Victorian mermaid-espousing poets was a little bit of a reach but I was won over. I was won over and I know the exact moment - it wasn't when Lily slapped Calder's hand for trying to 'hook her hair behind her ear' though I did love it, it wasn't when she was smart and suspicious of the boy she catches following her everywhere she goes - it was when she used a bad Russian accent. Everyone has a bad Russian accent, everyone I hang out with, at least. That was when she stopped being a character and became real. It was also refreshing to read a family with a strong and loving dynamic, one that actually seemed to love each other (the only other recent read I can recall that did the same was The Alchemy of Forever), though that served its purpose as well. Lily's family represents a lot of what Calder lost in his 54( if I mathed that right) 18 years of life: family, love, security, normalcy.

Back to the sisters three most vengeful: Maris, intimidating if somewhat mystifying by the end, Pavati, whose name I read as 'Parvati' nine times before I realized my mistake, and the only-kind-by-comparison Tallulah. (Thematically-relevant/appropriate names? Nice touch, Greenwood Brown.) Their individual characterization is severely lacking, but as a force they are impressive. Even the number of them (school of them? shoal of them? swarm?), three, is reinforced by the Greek legends they pay clear homage to; the most accepted number in tales is between two and five. The girls are born mermaids, as Calder is not. They prey on humans, though not for flesh or for ships as the ancient version did, but for the victim's emotions. They are, as Calder claims to ignorant ears, monsters, not the typical Disney princesses I've come to read and cringe about. Here, in their motivation and craving for human feeling as well as the creation of 'reinvigorated' (made, not born) mermaids, is where Brown diverges from traditional reasoning and branches out into her own version of motives for the watermonsters.To her creative credit, it is both a logical and elegantly simple answer. But first, in order to show why I thought this so great, allow me to wander a moment. This next paragraph may wax slightly spoilery, so avoid if you don't want minor details before reading.

I read a lot of vampire novels; they're heavily published and a lot of my friends, both online and off,  read them as well. They seem to be dropping off in favor of dystopias/post-apocalyptic (or have just adapted, like Darwin predicted) but for a few years there, they were ubiquitous. So either in solidarity (Morganville series) or out of masochistic curiosity (Twilight series), I've more than read my fair share of the genre full of bloodsuckers. Some of those books went out their way to fashion a coherent/unique reason for why the vampires needed blood; others...did not. I enjoyed one type of these books more than the other.  For example, one novel postulated that vampires need the oxygen present in living humans blood to keep their bodies/cells alive 'after death'.  (I don't remember what book this was, but even if it was Twilight, love the concept, hate the execution. But I doubt it was). It was original, it was clever, and it has stuck with long after the book itself was lost. (Someone remind me? Or someone with more powerful Google Fu than I can figure it out?) Anne Greenwood Brown has done something similar with her mermaids: they cannot manufacture their own positive emotions, so they covet and murder and plot to absorb ours/our aura in water. Emotions like joy, hope, excitement, love are more than just sustenance; they're what keep the mermaid/man from falling into an endless depression, and eventually, insanity and death. Clever, right? Without delving into consumption of humans themselves. Random side-note: These Lake Superior merpeople are also apparently somewhat part eel - all four in Calder's 'family' have some electrical abilities both in and out of water that are referred to as 'eel-like' or similar. Major personal kudos for the author and her clever adaptions to the mythic creatures - these are definitely her own version.

Lies Beneath is good, just too short. This is convoluted. This is original and fun and easy to read. It's a fast-paced novel where events happen quickly so this far from a boring read, ever. The conflicts in Calder's life - family versus freedom, nature versus nurture, choice versus requirement, revenge or forgiveness - are all executed so well. His emotional pull between personal happiness and a desire to set something right is never melodramatic. There is a sequel, Water Lily, set for a 2013 release and from Lily's view. All I know is my next mermaid read, Of Poseidon, has a lot to live up to. Also, lastly, superficially: how AWESOME and creepy is that cover with the touch of bloodred? So appropriate and foreboding. Dun dun duuuun. Read this one, guys.

Review: Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

Sunday, February 19, 2012
Title: Scarlet
Author: A.C. Gaughen
Genre: historical fiction, mythic fiction, young-adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 304 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: February 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.75/5

Many readers know the tale of Robin Hood, but they will be swept away by this new version full of action, secrets, and romance.

Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in.

It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin—whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her—that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.

The famous "Will Scarlet" as a girl - I was hooked from the moment I read the synopsis alone on GoodReads. There's a lot to enjoy in this rather short foray into the woods of Sherwood and the realm of the Lionheart, like an enveloping atmosphere from the start and also a lot to lament as well, like overdone and superfluous elements for the book. The good does outweigh the bad in this inventive tale and there is thankfully much to be enjoyed in this fresh and interesting retelling of a beloved and popular legend. A little more length and an editor with a big red pen would've gone a long way to establishing a firmer debut, but new author Gaughen has a unique gem of which to be proud with Scarlet.

The dialect/accent that Scarlet uses is going to be a big deal with this book - it comes off as suitably 'common' but its veracity of use is much in questions. It's certainly distinct, and it works for the most part with Scarlet's persona. Readers will either go with the flow from the outset or hate it egregiously immediately, is my personal prediction. I found myself not minding too much in the beginning, but the repeated and abundant misuses of correct verb tenses did get a bit wearying after two hundred pages, especially when only Scarlet talks that way. Though imperfect, the stylized way of speaking does make for a striking style that A.C. Gaughen uses quite well to illustrate her sense of place - the words do call to mind medieval England, correct or incorrect as the assumption may be. Take this paragraph for instance (from the ARC so small changes might be made before final copies are printed):

"Sherwood were the king's forest, a protected land meant to be his hunting grounds. But England were a country without a king. King Richard, him they called the Lionheart, had taken his lion paws over to the Holy Land. He were off fighting infidels while his people -- my people -- starved. There would be no game left for hunting when he returned. 'Stead of deer, England would be full up of wolves, the biggest among them Prince John."

See? The author's style is very visually striking, all the while setting the scene for the biggest conflict in the novel - the outlaws against the hated thief taker, Guy of Gisbourne (who's characterization is subject to the same abuses of grammar as the rest of the novel: "He were wrapped in violence like it were clothes." p  82, ARC).

Scarlet, though the main character, is inscrutable and shadowy for most of the book - even though it's all from her perspective. From her first sentence about being "Rob's secret" and a "shadow in dark places", one immediately gets the impression that backstage, unseen and unknown are where she prefers to be (as well as touch of foreshadowing about Mr. Robin Hood's relationship to her). As is obvious from her marauding as a man, Scarlet is a woman with much to hide and who wants to be hidden herself. Though a prickly woman (I'm saying some girls slap, but I have knives." p. 220, ARC) , and someone who had broken Four Commandments before a hundred pages, Scar is surprisingly relate-able despite her time and mystery. Scarlet's voice, though marred by her word choices, is strong and clear. Scarlet's backstory and personal history are one of the main components of the plot: Just who is she? How and why did she end up with Robin Hood? I thoroughly appreciated the author's steady hand with the characterization of this prickly woman; her life isn't infodumped expediently and easily, but rather allowed to unfold slowly, with subtle allusions and dialogue for the greatest dramatic impact. I have to say, I absolutely did NOT call the big twist concerned with "Will Scarlet" (outside of the whole woman-parading-as-a-man thing).

This is a retelling, and the bare bones we all know and love about Robin Hood are represented here. Present and account for: Friar Tuck, Little John though here he's called John Little, Much the Miller's Son, Guy of Gisbourne, The Sheriff of Nottingham and that mythic wood, Sherwood Forest. There are differences in the roles these characters are perpetually cast as: Friar Tuck is a drunk innkeeper, Will has a facility with knives instead of swords and is obviously, a woman. Another change to chemistry of the cast: the unnecessary inclusion of a love-triangle between three of the band. Not only does it bring out a side to Robin that I vehemently disliked (the "whore" comment seemed out-of-proportion to the action and just unlike the Robin of this story), but it's just superfluous. Scarlet's attraction to Rob is obvious from the start; her 'interest' slight as it may be, in John Little doesn't feel authentic or relevant to the plot. It adds no forward momentum, doesn't reveal anything noteworthy about any of the characters and is just plain annoying. I wanted to read about the band's escapades - not about John Little's unrequited and too forceful feelings for Scarlet. All the triangle accomplished in the end was a marked increase in my level of antipathy for the character of John Little - Robin himself emerges as the better man easily. 

Gaughen's version of the disenfranchised noble is very similar to the tract he's kept for centuries. Haunted by his actions during the Crusade with Richard I of England, betrayed by his regent Prince John in his absence, Robin is still a man who thinks of the people. Though his earlship confiscated, his duty to his people is his touchstone; it is what keeps him steady in a rocked world. His motivation to help his beleagured subjects is both noble and brings trouble - without his refusal to abandon the peasants of Huntingdon, Guy of Gisbourne would not have come out of London. I also loved Rob for Scarlet - his love for her obvious, even if she is too stupid to see or too self-loathing to believe, and their chemistry is palpable. They are two broken people, Robin because of the Crusades and Scarlet for her past, that both fit well together and have actual spark between them.

The voice was strong and consistent, of that I have no complaints. I only wish I could say the same about the the pacing and action of the book. I have no complaints  - whatsoever - with the dramatic tension of the novel. That was rather roundly and nicely handled, unlike the action scenes. I say "action" but for the most part, there's very little of that in the novel. Saving the conflict for the very end makes for a compelling ending, but for several stretches of rather dry reading as well. I did like that Scarlet was far from a typical or even Maid Marian-like damsel in distress; this is a girl that prefers to do the rescuing to being rescued herself - and does so pretty often throughout Scarlet.

Though the door is firmly closed on the main plotline of the novel revolving around Gisbourne, the author leaves a delicious amount of wiggle room in the ending for several characters. Though this is over, it is not final. I hope the author continues the story begun here - not only is 304 pages a short book for such invigorating reading, but there's plenty of life left in this old legend for Gaughen to give it another go. This is one novel I'd love to see spun into a series.

Review: The Edinburgh Dead by Brian Ruckley

Friday, February 17, 2012
Genre: steampunk, horror, historical fiction
Series: N/A as of yet but possibly in future
Pages: 342 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: August 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

Edinburgh: 1828

In the starkly-lit operating theaters of the city, grisly experiments are being carried out on corpses in the name of medical science. But elsewhere, there are those experimenting with more sinister forces.

Amongst the crowded, sprawling tenements of the labyrinthine Old Town, a body is found, its neck torn to pieces. Charged with investigating the murder is Adam Quire, Officer of the newly- formed Edinburgh Police. The trail will lead him into the deepest reaches of the city's criminal underclass, and to the highest echelons of the filthy rich.

Soon Quire will discover that a darkness is crawling through this city of enlightenment - and no one is safe from its corruption.

The Edinburgh Dead is a powerful fusion of gothic horror, history, and the fantastical.

Having read and been none-too-impressed by Ruckley's first series, a high/epic fantasy set called The Godless World, I wasn't sure what I was in for here, with this interesting mix of genres. From horror to historical fiction, The Edinburgh Dead is strange, odd and a hell of a lot more lively than anything the author has produced to date. Though I've tagged this as a steampunk novel, it takes a backseat to the horror elements as well as being more proto-steampunk than actual steampunk. The funky but largely ignored aspect is rarely mentioned and adds little of note overall to the storyline of the novel. Lead man Adam Quire is an irascible, withdrawn and reclusive main character and can come across as more of an antihero than a straight man in this novel, and is at his best when doing so. 

Adam Quire is a decent man living in an indecent time. Though his elevated standards of behavior and attitude may not seem noticeable or noteworthy for nowadays, in Quire's time it was extreme. With problems in his past and ghosts in his closet at age 37, Quire is no boy. This is a man - one that is deliberate, slow to anger but scary and scarily determined when roused to it. Quire is far from perfect - he even calls himself a "functioning" alcoholic - with trust issues and almost friendless; it's quite easy to fall into rooting for Quire to get his man even as he digs himself deeper and deeper into shit. Well interspersed and varied flashbacks occurring throughout the book provide additional background and personal history for the main character - such as he's an old soldier, strong sense of right and wrong - that Quire himself would never elaborate on presently. Quire is above ALL, a man who strives for justice -- even if that justice is whatever he decides.

Quire's antagonist is both cunning and almost comically evil. While I wasn't too impressed by Ruthven, Blegg was another matter. Him I found entirely foreboding and full of unnameable creppiness. Like Frankenstein's monster, Blegg is eventually outside his master's control and that was when I was most interested in the evil side of the tale. There was some nice and unanticipated maneuvering and sleight-of-hand with the cast of the villains of the piece, but I found their development lacking on the whole. Even the 'good' side of the conflict outside of Quire doesn't rate much better; the strength of this novel lies in the plot and atmosphere, not the characters themselves. There's even a bland hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold to add a touch of romance to all the other goings-on; I just wasn't impressed.

A word for Ruckley's writing here - I was very impressed with the creepy, foreboding atmosphere present throughout The Edinburgh Dead. The unruly and unorganized Old Town, especially compared to the strict and boring New Town, had bustle, and the feel of cobblestones and dirt within an old and dangerous city. This alternate Edinburgh filled with 'medical Prometheanism" came alive from page one, chapter one. This Edinburgh may be creative and fascinating to read about, but Ruckley's imagination fashions a desperate and horrific place where a thriving corpse trade (<SPOILER>and zombies!</SPOILER) make murder and grave-robbery a daily occurrence. It's a city where the living prey off the dead. . .  until one fights back. Like many actual cities and the real capital of Scotland itself, there's a clear disparity between the populace of Edinburgh in The Edinburgh Dead. The poor are largely ignored, save when they can be abused for research. Quire's meddling with the uppercrust nobility reveals a much shadier world than the criminals hiding from Scotland Yard - a world where a gentleman's mere word suffices to avoid an investigation. This subplot of social segregation causes further and all too real problems for Quire in his due diligence after 'nobody' murder victims - it becomes a race against another murder as well as  race to finish the case before Quire can be suspended, thrown off the case, or dismissed. It's both interesting and entirely fitting that one character would say that these were "the most enlightened of times" while concurrently, the most unspeakable and horrific acts are being committed throughout the city. 

The third person was well-utilized here by the author - it shows both a lively (and deadly) Edinburgh as well as all sides of the tangled web of murder, kidnapping, deceit and zombies played out among its cobbled streets. I do wish a bit more detail had been provided and attention had be paid toward the process of creating the reanimated. The ending was actually one of my more favorite parts - rare as that is. Quire managed to wrap up his ties without a cliffhanger, all the while leaving a possibility for more in this vein/series later on. I have to admit, my opinion on this author has been changed.

Added This Week!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012
New NetGalley titles I'm excited about:

All These Lives by Sarah Wylie

Sixteen-year-old Dani is convinced she has nine lives. As a child she twice walked away from situations where she should have died. But Dani’s twin, Jena, isn’t so lucky. She has cancer and might not even be able to keep her one life. Dani’s father is in denial. Her mother is trying to hold it together and prove everything’s normal. And Jena is wasting away.

To cope, Dani sets out to rid herself of all her extra lives. Maybe they’ll be released into the universe and someone who wants to live more than she does will get one. Someone like Jena. But just when Dani finds herself at the breaking point, she’s faced with a startling realization. Maybe she doesn’t have nine lives after all. Maybe she really only ever had one.

 Struck by Jennifer Bosworth

Mia Price is a lightning addict. She’s survived countless strikes, but her craving to connect to the energy in storms endangers her life and the lives of those around her.

Los Angeles, where lightning rarely strikes, is one of the few places Mia feels safe from her addiction. But when an earthquake devastates the city, her haven is transformed into a minefield of chaos and danger. The beaches become massive tent cities. Downtown is a crumbling wasteland, where a traveling party moves to a different empty building each night, the revelers drawn to the destruction by a force they cannot deny. Two warring cults rise to power, and both see Mia as the key to their opposing doomsday prophecies. They believe she has a connection to the freak electrical storm that caused the quake, and to the far more devastating storm that is yet to come.

Mia wants to trust the enigmatic and alluring Jeremy when he promises to protect her, but she fears he isn’t who he claims to be. In the end, the passion and power that brought them together could be their downfall. When the final disaster strikes, Mia must risk unleashing the full horror of her strength to save the people she loves, or lose everything.

Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

Fourteen kids. One superstore. A million things that go wrong.

A huge store isn’t the worst place to be stranded. There’s food and water, bedding and books. But what if it’s not safe to leave? Emmy Laybourne had us from the get-go with her utterly fresh and fast-paced debut.

Six high school kids (some popular, some not), two eighth graders (one a tech genius), and six little kids are trapped together in a chain superstore. Together they build a refuge for themselves inside, while outside, a series of escalating disasters, beginning with a monster hailstorm and ending with a chemical weapon spill, seems to be tearing the world—as they know it—apart.

 After the Snow by S.D. Crockett

 Fifteen-year-old Willo was out hunting when the trucks came and took his family away. Left alone in the snow, Willo becomes determined to find and rescue his family, and he knows just who to talk with to learn where they are. He plans to head across the mountains and make Farmer Geraint tell him where his family has gone.

But on the way across the mountain, he finds Mary, a refugee from the city, whose father is lost and who is starving to death. The smart thing to do would be to leave her alone -- he doesn't have enough supplies for two or the time to take care of a girl -- but Willo just can't do it. However, with the world trapped in an ice age, the odds of them surviving on their own are not good. And even if he does manage to keep Mary safe, what about finding his family?

The Last Song by  Eva Wiseman

Spain had been one of the world’s most tolerant societies for eight hundred years, but that way of life was wiped out by the Inquisition. Isabel’s family feels safe from the terrors, torture, and burnings. After all, her father is a respected physician in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Isabel was raised as a Catholic and doesn’t know that her family’s Jewish roots may be a death sentence. When her father is arrested by Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, she makes a desperate plan to save his life – and her own.

Once again, master storyteller Eva Wiseman brings history to life in this riveting and tragic novel.

Shadow & Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near-impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one unlikely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life– a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha… and the secrets of her heart.

The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats

Cecily’s father has ruined her life. He’s moving them to occupied Wales, where the king needs good strong Englishmen to keep down the vicious Welshmen. At least Cecily will finally be the lady of the house.

Gwenhwyfar knows all about that house. Once she dreamed of being the lady there herself, until the English destroyed the lives of everyone she knows. Now she must wait hand and foot on this bratty English girl.

While Cecily struggles to find her place amongst the snobby English landowners, Gwenhwyfar struggles just to survive. And outside the city walls, tensions are rising ever higher—until finally they must reach the breaking point.

Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, friends and neighbors, allow me to change your lives! Step inside Mosco’s Traveling Wonder Show! You’ve read about them in magazines, these so-called human curiosities, this tribe of misfits—now come and see for yourselves. We’ve got a gent as tall as a tree, a lady with a beard, and don’t miss your chance to see the Wild Albinos of Bora Bora! Ask Madame Doula to peer into your future (only two dollars more if you want to know how you’re going to die).

And between these covers behold the greatest act of our display—Portia Remini, the strangest of the menagerie because she’s a ‘normal’ among the freaks, searching for a new beginning on the bally, far away from McGreavey’s Home for Wayward Girls, where Mister watches and waits. He said he would always find Portia, said she could never leave . . .

Oh, it’s not for the faint of heart folks. If you’re prone to nightmares or you’ve got a weak ticker, you’d best move on. Within these pages lies a tale of abandonment, loss, misfortune for the rich and glory for the poor (and a little murder doesn’t hurt). It’s a story for the ages, but be warned: once you enter the Wonder Show you will never be the same.

The Last Romanov by Dora Levy Mossanen

For almost a century, Imperial Russia has captivated the imagination- the ruthless execution of the royal family, the disputed survival of the heir: it's a cinematic chaos that the masterful Dora Levy Mossanen unravels for her readers. Taking readers deep into tarnished grandeur, The Last Romanov follows Darya, a wise old beauty whose time spent with the Imperial family has haunted her entire life. When the murderous events unfold, Darya is plagued by the prophecy made by the Empress's advisor, Rasputin. She must find the missing Tsarevich Alexis Romanov and restore the monarchy or risk losing her own life.

Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives Of Katherine Of Aragon And Juana, Queen Of Castile by Julia Fox


The history books have cast Katherine of Aragon, the first queen of King Henry VIII of England, as the ultimate symbol of the Betrayed Woman, cruelly tossed aside in favor of her husband’s seductive mistress, Anne Boleyn. Katherine’s sister, Juana of Castile, wife of Philip of Burgundy and mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, is portrayed as “Juana the Mad,” whose erratic behavior included keeping her beloved late husband’s coffin beside her for years. But historian Julia Fox, whose previous work painted an unprecedented portrait of Jane Boleyn, Anne’s sister, offers deeper insight in this first dual biography of Katherine and Juana, the daughters of Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella, whose family ties remained strong despite their separation. Looking through the lens of their Spanish origins, Fox reveals these queens as flesh-and-blood women—equipped with character, intelligence, and conviction—who are worthy historical figures in their own right.

When they were young, Juana’s and Katherine’s futures appeared promising. They had secured politically advantageous marriages, but their dreams of love and power quickly dissolved, and the unions for which they’d spent their whole lives preparing were fraught with duplicity and betrayal. Juana, the elder sister, unexpectedly became Spain’s sovereign, but her authority was continually usurped, first by her husband and later by her son. Katherine, a young widow after the death of Prince Arthur of Wales, soon remarried his doting brother Henry and later became a key figure in a drama that altered England’s religious landscape.

Ousted from the positions of power and influence they had been groomed for and separated from their children, Katherine and Juana each turned to their rich and abiding faith and deep personal belief in their family’s dynastic legacy to cope with their enduring hardships. Sister Queens is a gripping tale of love, duty, and sacrifice—a remarkable reflection on the conflict between ambition and loyalty during an age when the greatest sin, it seems, was to have been born a woman.

Those are all from NetGalley and waiting to be read, though I am particularly excited by the historical fiction in the set (The Last Song, The Last Romanov, The Wicked and the Just, The Sister Queens). Aren't the covers for The Last Romanov and The Wicked and the Just gorgeous? Shadow & Bone also sounds very very promising - high hopes there and for Wonder Show as well.
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