Friday, November 30, 2007

Castle Waiting, Linda Medley

Title: Castle Waiting
Author: Linda Medley
Published: 2006, Fantagraphics Books
Category: Graphic Novel
Rating: 6.5/10

Believe it or not, this is the first graphic novel I've ever read. I'm so behind the times here. I was never a comic book reader as a kid, so I just never got into them. But there was a piece about graphic novels in a recent Shelf Awareness email, with a recommendation for this one. It sounded interesting.

Castle Waiting starts out with a brief, and relatively standard, retelling of Sleeping Beauty. But after the princess is awakened by the handsome prince, it takes a sharp left turn out of the traditional fairy tale. The princess rides off with her prince, leaving the castle, still surrounded by bramble, without a ruling family. The town around it degrades to nothing, and the castle becomes a sanctuary for all sorts of misfits. The book centers on a young pregnant woman who flees her abusive husband and arrives at Castle Waiting, where she meets the kind, if odd, inhabitants: the three aging ladies-in-waiting, a bearded nun, a man heartbroken by the death of his family, and a jolly housekeeper and her "slow" son, among others.

This is in no way a traditional fairy tale! It presents some great themes that are actually quite anti-fairy tale. Feminism for one -- a couple of the stories show women shaking off bad men to live independently (and much more happily). And the rest of the stories revolve around acceptance of people who are different. The characters are all oddballs in some respect, but they are wise enough to discover that their differences are not something to overcome or do away with, but traits to be appreciated as something that makes them unique.

My one big complaint was that the book can really be divided into two halves: the first dealing with the pregnant woman getting to know everyone at Castle Waiting, the second telling the life story of the bearded nun. I think these stories were originally published as comic books over a period of time, which could explain the disjointedness. But I kept waiting to get back to the story of the people actually living in Castle Waiting. And then the book just ended.

I liked the illustrations, though I'm no great judge. I did get confused a couple times when I couldn't figure out immediately from the drawings which character (especially the women) was being depicted. But maybe the fault is in me, because I read a PW review that praised the book for the opposite thing. I guess I'm too much a words person. ;)

But this was a positive enough experience that I want to read more graphic novels. So if anyone who has recommendations, please share!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Now even better archives. Oh yeah.

Exciting news! Okay, not really. But it does make me happy.

I have never been satisfied with the way I was archiving my old reviews. I really liked Rosario's method, so I've copied her a bit. I played around with GoogleDocs and realized that I could keep a spreadsheet there, publish it, and then link to it from the sidebar. So voila, the new and improved archives!

You can see the author, title, category, and rating. It was kind of a big job to put together, but it'll be much easier going forward. And I realized that I have over 150 reviews in my archives! Reviews of admittedly varying degrees of quality, but still. Little bloggy, I'm so proud of you. ;)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Simply Magic, Mary Balogh

Title: Simply Magic
Author: Mary Balogh
Published: 2007, Delacorte Press
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 6.5/10

I finished this book maybe 5 days ago, and when I sat down to write this review, I couldn't for the life of me remember what it was about! Never a good sign. But I've read the jacket and it's all come flooding back.

This is the third book in Balogh's Simply series about the four teachers at Miss Martin's School for Girls in Bath. Susanna Osbourne is our heroine this time; she's been at the school from the age of 12, first as a charity student, then as a teacher. She goes to spend a holiday with Frances (the heroine of Simply Unforgettable) and meets Peter Edgeworth, Viscount Whitleaf. (If that name is familiar to you, he appeared briefly as Lauren's cousin at the end of A Summer to Remember.) Susanna dislikes him intensely both because he appears to be a frivolous good-time guy and because his name brings back horrible memories from her childhood. Peter is immediately attracted to her and is thrown to find that he obviously repels her so badly -- he is used to being universally liked. He sets about getting to know her, and Susanna realizes that her first impressions of him were not fair. They become friends, never intending the relationship to go further; Susanna and Peter both know that she is too low on the social scale to be his wife. But after they part, Peter misses her and keeps coming up with excuses to see her again.

Once my memory was jogged about this book, I remembered it quite well, didn't I? But I have to say that it was rather forgettable (I would even say simply unmagical, though that's a horrible joke). Balogh's more recent books have all been comfort reads for me; they are about nice people, who are always honorable and fall in love slowly, with decorum and maturity. I would recommend this book for people who are looking for a quiet love story. The plot line about Susanna's past was interesting when it was finally revealed, but was not exactly thrilling.

But I did enjoy it, though I'm glad I didn't pay hardcover price for it. Of the Simply series, I loved the second one, Simply Love, while Unforgettable and Magic were both just okay. I will probably end up buying this one in mass market when it comes out, because look at the cover!! It's so pretty. Maybe I can resist, but the power of that lush garden landscape might overcome my will power.

Random observation: It makes me feel sort of old when the HEROES of romance novels are younger than me. :(

Simply Perfect, last in the series, is out on March 25.

Monday, November 26, 2007

An Affair Before Christmas, Eloisa James

Title: An Affair Before Christmas
Author: Eloisa James
Published: 2007, Avon
Category: Historical romance
Rating: 7/10

I am so behind on my reviews. But I had a wonderful Thanksgiving, even though I sprinkled salt instead of sugar onto the top of the apple pie. (Oopsie. It will be a family joke forever. And hey, didn't Anne of Green Gables do the same thing once? I'm in good company.) But onward! (as Cindy says) To the new Eloisa James.

An Affair Before Christmas, of course, begins right before Christmas with Fletch (that's the Duke of Fletcher) and Poppy Selby head over heals in love with each other. They both have stars in their naïve little eyes as they head off to be married. Four years later they find their marriage on the rocks. A large part of the problem appears to be that Poppy can't enjoy sex, no matter what Fletch does. He's gotten more and more bitter about it until one day he makes a horrible joke in front of some friends. Poppy is hurt and doesn't understand her husband and is tired of trying (unsuccessfully) to make him happy, so she leaves him and goes to live with the infamous Jemma, Duchess of Beaumont. Fletch wants to just write her off and go get a mistress, but despite everything he's still very much in love with her. Out on her own, Poppy starts to loosen up and discovers a lot about herself, things she enjoys doing when she's not so obsessed with being the perfect duchess.

I didn't love this plot line, but I think it does point out something that must have happened often back then. Women's sexuality was such a taboo subject that lots of women surely felt as Poppy did – sex is something only men enjoy and you just had to grin and bear it. James always takes a refreshingly grown-up and realistic view of marriage among the aristocracy, and she also somehow manages to make a HEA believable within that setting.

This is the second in James's duchess series (after Desperate Duchesses) and it is more closely connected as a series than you sometimes find. The story of Jemma and her husband, Elijah; the Duke of Villiers; and their chess tournaments started in DD continues. Jemma and Elijah's story doesn't advance too much, but we do learn a lot more about Villiers, who is sick unto death from the sword wound he received at the end of Desperate Duchesses.

Definitely pick this up if you liked Desperate Duchesses, and I'd say skip it if that one didn't do much for you. I loved the Georgian setting and I always enjoy James's clever characters and dialogue. It's another ensemble piece, with lots of jumping around among storylines, but I think it's all really well done.

Next in the series is Duchess by Night, out in April. About Harriet, Duchess of Berrow. Is she the one whose husband killed himself?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm about three books behind on blogging, but no time now. I've got turkey to eat and family to see. ;)

So for all the Americans (stolen from C2 because Pooh is always adorable):

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Coolest program evah!

A friend at work put me on to this really cool downloadable software called Library Books. (Here's a write-up and here's where you can download.) It's a little program that automatically links to your library's catalog and retrieves your account info (what you have checked out and when it's due). It's so cool! And really unobtrusive. Here's a screenshot of my desktop's right upper-hand corner. See the little star and the 4? That means I have 4 books checked out.

Then if you click on the star, a little menu drops down listing all your books and when they're due. The icon apparently turns red when you have items overdue.

And there are links to your library's webpage too.

I may never have to pay fines again. Mom, you might even be able to start using the library again! Or have they banned you for life? ;)

Oh, this program is for Macs only. But apparently there is something called Library Elf for PCs.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

DNF: Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, Linda Berdoll

I've been meaning to read Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife forever -- I mean, what Pride and Prejudice fan wouldn't want to see a little bit of Elizabeth and Darcy's HEA? And it seems to be among the more popular P&P sequels. But, I have to say, it didn't do much for me. It seemed like it was all about sex. Really, all about sex -- that title is meant in the literal way (at it like rabbits they are). And as titillating as it is to hear about Darcy's enormous member, it got old really quick.

The writing seemed overly complicated just for the sake of being complicated, if that makes any sense. The constant use of "howbeit" and "compleatly" about drove me mad. I didn't see any new character development, and what new plot lines were introduced didn't interest me all that much. I made it through 100 pages and decided that was enough for me.

But this book did spark a heated debate between Twin and me. I was saying that if Jane Austen had lived today, she probably would have written sex scenes in her books. Twin thinks Austen would be too high class or something. Sheesh. I'm not saying she'd be writing erotica, but I don't think Austen would be at all prudish. Who agrees with me? :)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Summers at Castle Auburn, Sharon Shinn

Title: Summers at Castle Auburn
Author: Sharon Shinn
Published: 2001, Ace
Category: YA Fantasy
Rating: 9/10

I've been meaning to try one of Sharon Shinn's YA books, and Li recommended this one. Ack! I loved it. Really a lot.

Young Corie is the illegitimate daughter of now-deceased Lord Halsing, an important aristocrat of Auburn. She's been raised in the country by her grandmother, a wise-woman witch-doctor, who is training Corie as her apprentice. Corie's uncle Jaxon decides that Corie should spend her summers at Auburn castle with her half-sister, Alisandra, who is now engaged to Prince Bryan, the heir to the throne. The book opens when Corie is 14, as she excitedly sets out on a hunting expedition with her uncle Jaxon, Bryan, and the prince's cousin, Kent. They aren't hunting animals, though -- they're hunting aliora, mysterious and magical elf-like creatures that are almost impossible to catch, but once bound by metal shackles they are made into servants for the aristocracy. Corie has always accepted the presence of aliora without much thought, but this trip opens her eyes to the fact that the aliora living among humans are slaves kept against their will. Over the next few years, Corie goes from naive girl to a young woman aware of the many injustices that exist among the political circles of the court of Auburn. She also begins to see that Bryan is not the wonderful, dashing prince of a fairy tale with whom all the girls (including Corie) are in love, but a very flawed man whose arrogance and cruelty make for a dangerous ruler.

Let me count the ways I loved this book! Corie is such a lovable character -- she is one of those lucky people who makes friends wherever she goes, spreading her affection to high- and low-born without discrimination. (Well, actually with excellent discrimination, but based on important things like kindness and good-will rather than money and position.) And she is such a rebel! Strong-willed and intelligent, she refuses to be coerced into acting in any way she does not think is right, even though it sometimes seems like everyone is against her.

This is very much a coming-of-age story, and I loved seeing Corie go from youthful innocence to wise young woman. The theme of slavery (both the literal slavery of the aliora and the more insidious subjugation of women) are handled so well, with a nice light touch. And the romance is so, so lovely. It's a traditional fairy-tale ending turned completely on its head, resolved in a way that was (to me, anyway) very unexpected and wonderful. And while the overall story is fairly simple, it's just full of lovely, thoughtful details of a fantasy world.


I have to say I was not very comfortable with Bryan's sad demise. Obviously he would have been a horrible king, and Alisandra was painted into a difficult corner, but, DUDE, she murdered him! Seems sort of a bad lesson for young adults, which is upsetting because the rest of the book was filled with such admirable things. Kent and Corie both agree that they could never do such a thing, but I don't think that really makes up for it. And Alisandra's calm attitude toward it all was sort of creepy.

I got this from the library, but I've already ordered a copy because it must be MINE! MINE! :)

Monday, November 05, 2007

No books for me. :(

I went to the bookstore yesterday because I had a 30% off coupon burning a hole in my pocket. And I couldn't find anything to buy! Shocking! Twin's eyes bugged out a little when I came home empty-handed. What's wrong with me?

Everything I picked up I put back on the shelf, deciding that I had something similar already in the TBR that sounded better. Maybe that means my TBR is too big... I do have some books in there I just know are going to be fantastic. But that doesn't keep me from wanting to buy more books.

So, anyone bought anything exciting lately?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Sexiest Man Alive, Diana Holquist

Title: Sexiest Man Alive
Author: Diana Holquist
Published: 2007, Forever (Grand Central Publishing)
Category: Contemporary Romance
Rating: 6/10

I picked this up in the bookstore because it got a nice review at Dear Author. When I flipped it open, I noticed that it's dedicated to me! "To everyone who has ever blushed, stuttered, or had their nose twitch like a rabbit's, this book is for you." Okay, I don't think my nose twitches, but I can certainly blush and stutter. Shy heroines are hard to find, so I'm always interested in seeing one get her man. ;)

Jasmine Burns is even shyer than I am (hard to believe), especially around attractive men. She dreams of becoming an important costume designer, but her extreme shyness has made it impossible, so instead she's been running a tailoring business (for women only) out of her Manhattan apartment. But now she's landed an interview with a really important designer to work as his assistant on a production of Romeo and Juliet. She forces herself to go to the interview and makes a sorry mess of it. Luckily, she does manage to leave behind her portfolio, which the designer loves, and Jasmine gets the job. She soon finds out that Romeo will be played by People's sexiest man, super-famous big-screen actor Josh Toby. Josh is trying to do the play incognito so that he can prove that he's not just a pretty face and that he can actually act. Josh begs Jasmine to create costumes that will hide who he is. This is a problem since Jasmine can't be around him without breaking into a cold sweat. And that's compounded by the fact that Jasmine's sister Amy has the power to reveal people's One True Love, and she's declared that Josh is Jasmine's.

So, the premise is a little ridiculous. I had to force my brain to ignore my two biggest problems with this plot: 1)the idea of predestined "One True Love" is a ridiculous notion (sorry, all you romantics out there) and 2) big-name movie stars are actually aliens sent to Earth to make humans feel inadequate (yes, this tin hat I'm wearing is very fashionable, thank you). But this book was obviously written as a bit of fun, and I was able to take it as such and enjoy it. There are some really funny scenes that had me laughing. I also really liked Jasmine's being a costume designer; I just thought it was interesting (plus, she uses the same sewing machine as Twin and I do!)

And Jasmine's shyness was well done. I did at times actually find myself annoyed by the fact that every human interaction Jasmine went through was prefaced by all the nervous hemming and hawing and pepping herself up to behave like a normal person. At times I was like, OMG get over yourself, it's not a big deal! But then I am often irritated by my own shyness, so obviously she's a believable character. ;)

Spoilers whited out:
I wasn't completely sold on the ending, either that these two could actually have an HEA or the way Jasmine's shyness is all but "cured" by lurve. It is mentioned briefly that the real origin of Jasmine's shyness might have been the rejection she felt by her sisters as a teenager – I didn't feel like this got enough emphasis and I thought it undermined the idea that the confidence she gains from Josh's love is what really allows her to lose a lot of her shyness and to manage life in the spotlight as the wife of such a famous person.

But it was a fast, fun read. There is a previous book in the same series about Jasmine's sister Cecilia (Make Me a Match), and Holquist's next book is about the other sister, Amy. (And I'm not sure I can get excited about that, as Amy did not come off as very likable in this book.)