As part of my Once Upon A Time springtime festival, I decided to finish the Lady Trent series. This has been a favorite series of mine, although I fell behind after the second book. The fifth and final book in the series, Within the Sanctuary of Wings, will be released on April 25, which gives me the opportunity to basically read the series right through in the next month.
I started Once Upon A Time by rereading the first book and reacquainting myself with Isabella. A Natural History of Dragons covers Isabella’s childhood and her early obsession with dragons. It is told in retrospect, by Lady Trent as an elderly woman looking back over her life – this one represents the first in her series of memoirs. By the time she is writing this book, she is a grande dame of society, no longer subject to its strictures by dint of her accomplishments.
Brennan does a fine job establishing Isabella’s character as a child who is deeply attracted to biology, to dissection, to “natural history,” which is really the Victorian name for “biology” at a time when society frowned upon girls being interested in intellectual pursuits. While she has constructed an entirely fantasy world, it is firmly based in the history of this one, with Scirling as a stand-in for Britain, with all of the shibboleths of Victorian culture.
One of the complaints that I read in other reviews of this series was that it was slow-moving, and that there weren’t enough dragons. I understand that criticism. If the reader is looking for a series like Eragon, or even Temeraire, where there is dragon/human interaction and overt magical intrusion, this is not that series. Essentially, Brennan has taken a character like Freya Stark or Isabella Bird and transplanted her into a world where dragons are real. This book shares much more with Amelia Peabody than it does with Harry Potter.
This first book in the series also describes Isabella’s first adventure to Vystrana, which is Eastern European in custom and description – a place like Hungary or the Czech Republic. Isabella is really hitting her stride during this expedition and maintains her adherence to many of the upper class customs and niceties of Scirling. She is under the protection of her husband, Jacob, and they are newly married, their explorations thus being both draconic and connubial. Isabella is not an easy wife, and Jacob is uneasy in his decisions. As was the case during that era, Isabella went directly from the protection of her father to the protection of her husband, and her unwillingness to be so limited is evident in both of those relationships.
I don’t want to spoiler too much, so I’m not going to say more in this review. Once I get to book 2, the major spoiler of this book will be revealed, but for now, I will leave it at this. This was a 4-star read for me.
I have somehow managed to never read one of her books, although I've heard such good things about her! I'm interested, but I have no idea where to start! If you're a fan, give me your top two in the comments below. If you've read one and liked it, let me know!
Are you going to be watching American Gods on Starz next month? Do you want to read (reread) the book before the series starts?
Join me for a RAL starting on April Fool's Day.
Tag your posts #AmericanGodsRAL
The series premiere is April 30th!
For many years, one of my favorite bloggers held a spring-time festival of all things fantasy, folklore, fairy tale and myth. He called it the Once Upon A Time Challenge, and it generally lasted between the first day of spring (the vernal equinox, which is today) and the first day of summer (summer solstice, June 20). Unfortunately, it seems to have gone by the wayside, since I went looking for it today and was unable to find any sign that it's coming back in 2017! He also had some of the most wonderful images, which I have borrowed for this post!
This is a major bummer for me. As fall, to me, is all about gothic literature, supernatural, terror, and crime, spring, to me, has developed into an opportunity to dive into epic fantasy and fairy tales. In spite of the fact that Once Upon A Time has been consigned, apparently, to the past, I'm going to move forward with the quest.
The Way of Kings/Words of Radiance: I've been holding off on starting Sanderson's Stormlight Archive because I know that Sanderson is planning somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 more books, and therefore it will be frustrating, and I will likely shuffle off this mortal coil before he finishes. Nonetheless, the third book is planned for release in November, so I'm going to read the first two books for this project.
Lady Trent: I'm a huge fan of Marie Brennan's Lady Trent series, which is all about combining intrepid Victorian lady explorers in skirts with dragons!. I've read the first two books, and the fifth and final book is going to be released on 4/25. I'm going to reread the two first books, and then continue on with the final three to complete this series!
Series Rewatch TBD: I'm vacillating here between Grimm and Once Upon A Time. I've watched more of Grimm than OUAT, but I'm way behind on both. I'll advise once the decision is made. Suggestions are welcome.
Multimedia: I've been planning on re-reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for a while, and while I am at it, I wouldn't object to watching the companion series.
American Gods: I've owned this book for years, and haven't ever gotten around to reading it. The series begins in April on Starz, and it looks amazing. I need to read this book, and I need to read it soon!
There will be more than this - fairy tales and folklore and fantasy will abound. I'd be interested in getting together a group read of something, if anyone else is interested!
To my fantasy reading friends, Tor.com is offering a free download of Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings on March 23 & 24. This is the first book in his Stormlight Archives series - the third book, Oathbringer, is scheduled for release November 14!
One of the things about reading a long series is that it can take several books for me, as the reader, to hit my stride in the same way that it can take several books for the author to hit her stride.
I've been enjoying this series, but at about the 75% mark in this book - the eighth in the series - I realized something. J.A. Jance writes horrible female characters. Aside from Joanna Brady, who is all things wonderful: bright, sexy, interesting, committed to justice, pretty badass, all of her women suck. SUCK.
Jance's portrayal of most of the older women in the series is incredibly, endlessly, one-dimensional and irritating. Joanna's mother is a superficial hypocrite who needs to be bitch slapped into next week. She is also just a little bit older than I am, which makes her utter lack of depth annoying as fuck to me, personally. We add Butch's mother to the mix, another older woman who seems to have been hit with the nasty stick more times than I can count.
Why is it that all of the older men get to be multi-dimensional characters whose flaws are balanced with fine, positive and at times even noble qualities, but every woman over the age of 50 doesn't work, has no real interests outside of being judgmental, and is a shallow bitch? Where is the local woman D.A. who has been a hardworking prosecutor in pursuit of justice for 20 years, whose been balancing work and family successfully for decades and whose children think she's amazing (I mean, hello, we exist!)? Where is the female bank manager? Marliss Shackleford, the gossip columnist, is essentially all of the negative qualities that I mentioned, whose horribleness is subsidized for profit. Could we please have a female character OTHER THAN Joanna Brady who engages in something more socially meaningful than being married and judging everyone within a 25 mile radius? Because that would be great.
So, Jance, this is bullshit. Fix it.
You’ve already had the chance to read Obsidian’s thoughts on this Agatha Christie mystery. As she was reading, it was pretty clear to me that she wasn’t loving it, which caused me to try to reach back into my past to the first time I read this book.
Because this is one of my favorite Agatha Christie non-Poirot books, but I don’t think it was the first time I read it. What I like about it is its simplicity, which sounds really strange because the plot itself is quite convoluted. But the premise is simple: mysteriously attractive young man meets bright attractive young woman at beautiful country home, mayhem, murder, hijinks and romance ensue. The rest of it, to me, is just gravy. It is a first class romp, madcap and occasionally harebrained. It’s a grown up Nancy Drew mystery, with Virginia as Nancy and Anthony as Ned Nickerson, wandering about Chimneys in the dark with torches, running into umbrella stands and finding corpses.
I can’t take it seriously, but I can seriously enjoy it. I understand why it isn’t for everyone. Obsidian did such a good with the plot summary and analysis that I’m not going to bother with it myself. My review is about how this book makes me feel. Nothing she said is inaccurate – it is convoluted, obscure, occasionally silly, and the characters behave like ninnies from time to time. Inspector Battle is wonderful, but OB’s dig about his “twinkle” is well deserved.
It took me more than one reading for it to worm its way into my affections, and at this point it is a comfort read of the highest order.
I don't often share personal stuff about my kids, but my son's band played their first "real gig" last night, so I thought I'd share one of the videos I took. The quality is pretty horrible, but it's still cool.
He's an intern at a local music school, and this is their intern band. They played at a Blues Festival to raise money for the school. He's the lead guitarist & sings this one.
I can't figure out how to stop the autoplay, so I apologize if this is annoying!
I used to read Stephanie Plum until I lost patience with the series - the humor lost its charm and began to just irritate me, and the eternal love triangle between Joe, Ranger & Stephanie, along with the constant references to blood rushing to Stephanie's girl parts just lost me.
Brandy Alexander is pretty much the exact same set up. Brandy is a broke "reporter" rather than a broke "bounty hunter." Bobby is Brandy's high school sweetheart, the hot cop who broke her heart, and is Joe Morelli's alter ego. Nick Santiago is Fredman's answer to Ranger. The Philadelphia setting is an echo of Evanovich's blue-collar Jersey. It has everything that Stephanie Plum has, except for Grandma Mazur (and Grandma Mazur is basically the best part of the Plum series).
Honestly, this book walks right up to, and may in fact cross, the line of plagiarism.
If I'd never read Stephanie Plum, maybe I would find this book funny. Since I've read Stephanie Plum it feels stale. It also feels like theft. I'm honestly not even sure how to rate it because of this element.
Reading: Right now, I'm on a crime binge. I've been reading Peter May's Lewis Trilogy, set in the Outer Hebrides, catching up on the happenings in Three Pines, Canada, and hanging out with Joanna Brady in Cochise County, Arizona.
Watching: Since I have already watched all of Poirot (at least once), I'd been looking for a new mystery series. I stumbled on Murdoch Mysteries, a series out of Canada, set in Victorian era Toronto. It is totally delightful, and I've watched the first five seasons. I also watched the first season of Bletchley Circle, which is only three episodes, and thought it was amazing. And, in honor of the current Russian spy scandal, I decided to watch The Americans. I'm only two episodes in, so I haven't made any decisions.
Making: I'm stitching a Halloween sampler, and working on a quilt for my father-in-law!
Cleaning: I went into my son's room armed with a shovel and dressed in a haz mat suit. Not really, but I did actually clean his room. It was disgusting. We had a long talk about hygiene, rodents, and filth.
Organizing: My craft projects. I'm getting ready to shift my craft room into one of the other bedrooms so we can update what is now the craft room with new flooring and paint!
Buying: I'm trying to avoid buying, actually! I did buy some candles from Bath and Body Works, since they were on sale. I have a Peach Bellini candle burning right now, and it smells wonderful!
Planning: A trip to Disneyland in June! Can't wait!
Wanting: A new sewing machine. I have my eye on a Cotton+Steel edition Bernina. I've never bought a new sewing machine for myself.
Hoping: For a big tax refund. Or at least that I don't owe several thousand dollars. What's up with you?
I just saw Grim's post about grad school, and merely commenting wasn't enough for me!
I had to happy dance!
So exciting! Congratulations, Grimlock!
I am not a fan of hot weather. Several years ago my parents took leave of their senses and moved to Arizona as snowbirds, so I am occasionally compelled to visit the Southwest, which is not my favorite place in the world (no offense intended to my bookish friend Linda Hilton). But, if one is forced to go to Arizona, February is a good time to go.
I paid them a visit over the weekend - we went on a little overnight trip from Phoenix to Tombstone, and then stopped at the Mission San Xavier del Bac, which is considered one of the premier examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States. The collage above has images from both places. Many of you may already know that I am a huge fan of Willa Cather, so seeing the Mission was like stepping into the pages of one her last and greatest novels, Death Comes for the Archbishop.
I also started reading the Joanna Brady series by J.A. Jance, which are set in Cochise County. Not great literature, they are an eminently readable series of books with a strong Southwestern flair. I read four of them in a binge, and started the fifth. My dad had been addicted to them for a while, so I think I already have 12 of them on our shared kindle account.
I'm back in the windy, rainy PNW now, and the sun is just coming up. It looks like I brought the dry weather with me, for at least today!
Laurie Colwin died very young.
I discovered her when I was in law school - a friend of mine had picked up her last book A Big Storm Knocked It Over: A Novel and pressed it on me with the fervor of an evangelical, telling me that this book, this book was everything to her. I didn't know it then, but Laurie Colwin was already dead of a heart attack.
I read A Big Storm Knocked It Over, and then went on to read Happy All the Time, a book that I still own, that I left out in the rain and has a cover that separated and then dried in wrinkles, and Family Happiness, and then I discovered Laurie Colwin's food writing, and I read this book, and More Home Cooking, both of which I checked out of the public library.
And then I learned that she had died, a year before I had even discovered her and I felt grief because there would be no more books by Laurie Colwin and I hadn't even known it.
Home Cooking is an oddly wonderful book, a collection of stories about food written by someone who told stories about food and friendship and how food is friendship, and sometimes friendship is food. She's funny and self-deprecating and would have been a lovely person to sit down and have a meal with, and I've always wanted to make her gingerbread. Maybe someday I will.
However, I want to talk about a thing that happened to me in December. My office had put together an elimination of bias training for the lawyers. The training was presented by a psychologist who works for the University of Oregon - and he started the training by talking about bias in the context of the human brain. He went on to talk about how the human brain is absolutely masterful at categorizing things - our minds can observe a penguin, an eagle, an ostrich and a finch, and we immediately recognize and categorize all of them as birds although they bear very little physical resemblance to one another. From an evolutionary perspective, this is a remarkable feat. He talked about how easy it would be to write a computer program to recognize the color blue in an image, and how difficult it would be to write a computer program to recognize a bird in an image because computers aren't nearly as good at categorizing things as the human brain.
This is all super interesting as it relates to bias, of course, because our brains are constantly categorizing things - including people - and if we aren't careful with our categorizing it can turn into unconscious (or conscious) discrimination.
As he was explaining all of this, I had this personal moment of geek, where I thought to myself - aha. That's exactly what Agatha Christie has Miss Marple doing. She is exercising her skills of categorization in ways that are simultaneously broader and narrower than the way that an average person categorizes. Marple doesn't categorize by social class or sex or wealth so much as she categorizes by event and psychology, drawing parallels between, perhaps, the fish monger's crush on a post mistress and the murderer's attraction to the victim's sister.
All of this is simply to say that Agatha Christie was clearly a woman ahead of her time. I did manage to keep my mouth shut during the training, and not burst out with "OMG, that's exactly what Miss Marple does, except it's different because . . ." and out myself as the total dork that I am. I was pretty proud of myself for that.
Anyway, about this book. It's fine - introducing us to Miss Jane Marple, who isn't nearly as sweet as you think she is.
I've filled another 3 spots!
1. Gothic: Secrets in the Mist by Anna Lee Huber
2. Love is Murder: Death in Kenya by M.M. Kaye
3. Man in a Kilt: Highlander Untamed by Monica McCarty
4. Free space: Death in Zanzibar by M.M. Kaye
5. Young Adult: Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima
6. Blown Away: Trade Wind by M.M. Kaye
7. Guy/Girl Next Door: Emma by Jane Austen
I had a hard time deciding between Rogue and Blown Away for Trade Wind. I ultimately decided on Blown Away because there is actually a part of the book where the heroine, Hero, is actually blown off her ship in a storm and is hauled onto Rory Frost's ship, the Virago. Also, I was totally blown away by the book..
With respect to Emma, again, there were a few squares where I could put that one! I went for Guy/Girl Next Door because the fact that Mr. Knightley is Emma's neighbor was integral to the story. If there'd been a friends to lovers spot, I might have put it there. I also considered Wedding Bells for Emma, but ultimately decided on the other square.
Finally, with respect to Young Adult, I filled that square with Gray Wolf Throne, the third book in a YA fantasy series that strongly focuses on the romantic travails of Raisa and Han Alister. It's a fun series that I've read before & have been listening to in audio format.
So, Rogue and Historical Romance are my next two targets. I just started another M.M. Kaye epic, The Shadow of the Moon, which will certainly fit in Historical Romance, if no other squares that fit better crop up.
I am 50.
This is the worst thing I've ever seen.