Saturday, August 30, 2014

Shades of Milk and Honey

So. Shades of Milk and Honey is the first book in the series I recently fell in love with "The Glamorist Histories" by Mary Robinette Kowal. I read and reviewed the second book before reading the first one. You can check out my very favorable review here.  I was of course very excited to read the first book in the series. 

As I expected it was not as good. However seeing as it was the author's first published novel and that the second book was amazing I decided to love it for what it was and not be disappointed.

Shades of Milk and Honey is an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. But despite this key change in history, other aspects of Dorchester’s society are not that different: Jane and her sister Melody’s lives still revolve around vying for the attentions of eligible men.

Jane resists this fate, and rightly so: while her skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face, and therefore wins the lion’s share of the attention. At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Jane has resigned herself to being invisible forever. But when her family’s honor is threatened, she finds that she must push her skills to the limit in order to set things right--and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.
As with Glamour in Glass the worldbuilding was beautiful. The descriptions of how glamour worked were harder to understand but aside from that I found the setting well described and delightful. It had a real Jane Austen feel to it.

In all honesty I don't believe I would have tried the second book if I had read this one first. The plot was cliched, rushed, and the side characters lacked development.  The book seemed to rely on concept rather than on plot, characters, or writing. Don't get me wrong it's a great concept Jane Austen with magic, {read my review of the second book to see how I felt about the magic part of it} but it wasn't enough to carry the whole story.

Because I had already fallen in love with jane and Vincent I got a certain "yessssss!" feeling out of their romance but the writer side of me was increasingly frustrated by the lack of development.

I would not suggest reading this book first. Overall I had a blast reading it but I could see very clearly that if I wasn't already invested in the characters I would not have enjoyed it. I would instead suggest that you do as I did. read the second book and then try the first one for kicks.

Overall rating? Two and a half out of five stars.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Fly Away Home

Fly Away Home is Rachel Heffington's debut novel. Rachel is one of my mentors and friends and it
was her writing that finally made me realize that I wanted to actually sit down and write a book. So of course I am slightly biased going into this review. However I do NOT believe in gushing about a friend's book simply because it is a friend's book. This story is good in it's own right and any gushing i will gush, I believe is fully deserved.
Self Preservation has never looked more tempting. 1952 New York City: Callie Harper is a woman set to make it big in the world of journalism. Liberated from all but her buried and troubled past, Callie craves glamour and the satisfaction she knows it will bring. When one of America's most celebrated journalists, Wade Barnett, calls on Callie to help him with a revolutionary project, Callie finds herself co-pilot to a Christian man whose life and ideas of true greatness run noisily counter to hers on every point. 
The new friendship sparks, the project soars, and a faint suspicion that she is fall for this uncommon man grows in Callie's heart. When the secrets of Callie's past are exhumed and hung over her head as a threat, she is forced to scrutinize Wade Barnett and betray his dirtiest secrets or see her own spilled. Here there is space for only one love, one answer: betray Wade Barnett to save her reputation, or sacrifice everything for the sake of the man she loved and the God she fled. The consequences of either decision will define the rest of her life.
So on to the review!

I am a stickler for good worldbuilding. My favorite books are the ones that immerse me in the story world and make it seem real. Heffington's portrait of 1950's new York was vibrant, enjoyable, and felt true to life. The intimate scenes between two characters or the scenes with just Callie were wonderful as far as world goes. The more crowd scenes were less vibrant but on the whole I really enjoyed the setting of the book. It felt warm and lemonade fizzy.

Characters now. Characters are where Rachel Heffington's true genius lies. These people live. They are witty, colorful, diverse. Callie made a lovely narrator, self aware enough to not be annoying but still delightfully human and prejudiced. Shores, Jules, and Nalia all of whom served as antagonists on varying levels were like pickles. Sour but enjoyable and tangy.  

But the icing on the cake? Wade Barnett. Ohhhhhhhhhhh Wade Barnett.  Even if I hadn't known that Rachel "Character cast" him as Gregory Peck, I would have ended up seeing that most swoon-worthy of actors in my mind. Mr. Barnett has everything you want in a good hero: Witt, kindness, good looks, compassion, faith, failings, and a private yacht. He's a man who smacks his lips over life and makes you want to taste what he tastes.  My favorite thing about him was his comforting presence. He made me feel so safe reading about him and i had no trouble understanding why Callie fell for the man.

And Jerry Atwood! If I had one complaint about the characters it was that Jerry wasn't in it enough. He was a doll an absolute duck and I wanted to hug him on numerous occasions.

Now on to the books one "problem area" the plot. The plot was hole free, and though I guessed how it would end it was a good kind of guessed how it would end. A satisfying guessed how it would end. Personally I wanted more development, development of the romance, development of the theme, development of Callie's journey towards God. While certain aspects of the plot seemed to fall into place quite naturally others felt slightly rushed, like you knew it was coming but you had expected more reason for it to come.

Rachel's writing style is superb. She always picks the right word and her prose is not only light, funny, and articulate it sounds lovely too. If you read it aloud to yourself it just has this snappy, bubbly, buttery feel to it. You can describe Rachel's prose with z words. Zest and zing and zazzy!

The whole novel was full of light, it sparkled and glimmered and glowed. All in all despite the minor feeling of jumpiness I mentioned this was one of those books you read again and again and again. One of those satisfying books you know?

Overall rating? Four out of five stars.

What are three books you find immensely satisfying to read? The ones that make you feel warm and cozy inside and wriggly when the turn out right in the end?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Glamour in Glass

Hello! Thanks to everyone who is reading this first review for my new project "Literature is Not Dead": Glamour in Glass
Today I will be talking about awesome worldbuilding, Jane Austen, and female characters as I review Mary Robinette Kowal's
 *edit* Tissues alert! This book is sad!
After Shades of Milk and Honey debuted to great acclaim and left readers eagerly awaiting its sequel. Glamour in Glass follows the lives of beloved main characters Jane and Vincent, with a much deeper vein of drama and intrigue. 
In the tumultuous months after Napoleon abdicates his throne, Jane and Vincent go to Belgium for their honeymoon. While there, the deposed emperor escapes his exile in Elba, throwing the continent into turmoil. With no easy way back to England, Jane and Vincent’s concerns turn from enjoying their honeymoon…to escaping it. 
Left with no outward salvation, Jane must persevere over her trying personal circumstances and use her glamour to rescue her husband from prison…and hopefully prevent her newly built marriage from getting stranded on the shoals of another country's war.
Why did I read this book? Well Mrs. Kowal is one of the Writing Excuses podcasters and I am totally addicted to that show. It has taught me so much about writing and the fiction market. If I had to pick one podcaster who has taught me the most I would have to pick Mrs. Kowal.  She has such an articulate way of making you understand the tools of writing without laying down set rules.  A couple of weeks ago I read her Hugo award winning story For Want of a Nail and ended up crying over an AI {and I didn't cry about Wall-e even} so I knew she was good.

So did I like Glass? The answer is yes! And here's why.

First of all I need to talk about the world. It was incredible. I felt immersed from the first chapter. This book takes place during the Regency. And it felt like the Regency! the character behaved with Regency manners, had Regency opinions and were not constantly 'ahead of the times" the best thing about the world is that it was completely immersive. I didn't spend the entire time thinking "This is so well done" instead of drawing attention to her worldbuilding skills Mrs. Kowal let me just live in her world. it was only after I was done reading the book that I noticed just how well written the setting and culture was.

That said there was one part of the world that I couldn't stop fangirling about even while I was reading it. And that was the magic.  I tend to be kind of picky about the fantasy I read, I like it to be part of the world and indiscriminate, more like extra science then magic. This book fit that to a T. The glamour was based on the old scientific theory of ether and anyone could use it. It was like an art, some were better than others at it but in world it wasn't magic. Just a fact of life.

And I love that. I love reading about things that aren't real. That get my imagination spinning, and this book let me do that without making it all "magic-y". It was like extra cool physics!

And GLASSBLOWING! There was glassblowing!!!!!!! I can watch glassblowing for hours and I have only ever read one other book that satisfied this obsession of mine. 

It's mesmerizing. 

But enough fangirling about Glamour. Let's move on. 

The twists and ending were well done. I guessed one of the twists but it actually made the book more enjoyable instead of less. And there was another twist that I didn't get until half a page before it was revealed which is what I like to call "the sweet spot". I actually put the book down and cheered I was so pleased with how artfully she had tricked me. 

Now characters. I fell in love with Jane and Vincent. I loved their relationship and their character arcs. I adored the way Vincent was more than a brooding handsome artist and jane was more than a "strong woman". 

Speaking of strong women can we talk for a moment about how awesome Jane's character arc was? During the book Jane has to deal with pregnancy. Because of how tiring working with glamour is Jane couldn't practice her art while pregnant. She was torn between frustration and love for the child inside her. I loved the way this was handled. Children are a gift but no one can deny that they change a person's life. reading this book I found myself wondering what it would be like to find out I was having a child and then realize that it meant I couldn't write. I think I would be just as frustrated and conflicted as Jane.

Jane was a woman who thought for herself. But she didn't go around acting with impropriety and shocking everyone. She was firm that her husband trust her and include her in his life and thoughts but she also respected him. She despised the insipidity of society but she didn't burn her corset and shout from the roof that she was a free woman and didn't need no man. She was strong without bing obnoxious, independent without being a warrior princess. 

And can we just have a round of applause for how Vincent was handled? He made mistakes but he was never portrayed as a chauvinist fool.  They were both human and lovable and I found myself really really liking this side character Mathieu. He was awesome. So were Yves and his mother.  

As to pacing this book kept me turning the pages, loath to put it down but there were no cheap tricks and ever promise of action or tension was fulfilled. 

The writing style was my only quibble. It was written with a Jane Austen influence which I loved but occasionally the narrative switched from old-fashioned telling to modern showing so quickly that it jarred me.  

But all in all it was a lovely, enjoyable book full of wit, excitement, and wonderful characters. I would definitely read it again.

Four out of five stars! Mrs. Kowal is a wonderful writer. I can't wait to read the rest of the books in this series.
Do you have any weird obsessions like watching glassblowing?

Don't forget to be awesome!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Literature is Not Dead

I am not a book snob. Oh I love classics and I loath bad writing as much as the next person but I refuse
to believe that all the good writing has been written. I believe firmly that mediocrity is a threat to modern literature but I also believe that instead of just pointing out the bad we should be openly searching for the good. And that is why I am creating myself this year long challenge for myself.

I am going to try to read at least one modern book a week and review it here. to make it easy for myself I am making a clear definition of modern for myself If the book was written before I was alive it doesn't count. So anything written after 1997 is fair game.

My goal is to try and find as many good, well written, clean modern books as I can. I am a writer and I do not believe that my art is dead. I have always been of the impression that good books are hard to find and I'm trying to prove to myself that that is not true if you just look.

I am a Christian, raised in a conservative household; I have a deep seated love for good, well written books. I am a writer who studies her craft. I am not easy to please. But good books are out there. I just read one tonight. So tune in on Thursday for my review of Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamour in Glass. Warning. There will be fangirling.

Don't forget to be awesome!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Starting Anew

I started this blog awhile back when I joined the classics club. Well I kind of dropped out of the classics club as well as this blog. And I want to get back into it. reading and writing about what I read.

I thought I'd start off with this questionnaire I found on Notebook Sisters.

1. Favourite childhood book: When I was very very little it was "The wolf's Chicken Stew" and then"The Seven Silly Eaters". When I grew old enough to read I favored "Felicity's Surprise" above all other books but I think the book that I loved most in that vague time one calls childhood was Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. Even before I read the book myself I had heard Amy and Mom read it together and I loved it. The culture of 1770's Boston, the beautiful horse, Rab, the stirring words of James Otis. I often pretended that I was a part of the story myself, either that I was Cilla Laphem or some female equivalent of Johnny riding about delivering newspapers and helping spy on the british.   
2. What are you reading right now? Mainly Beta reading for different writer friends. I just finished a book whose title I cannot remember about a little girl who lies to cook. It was a light fluffy delightful read. 
3. What books do you have on request at the library?  I wish I had the next Sara Sundin book requested.  But she hasn't written it yet. 
4. Bad book habit: Not reading when I should and then forgetting about all obligations to gulp down a book in one day. 
5. What do you currently have checked out at the library? Nothing. I am trying not to incur fines but I hope to go tomorrow and get The Help, an Agatha Christie and possibly a Sara Sundin book.   
6. Do you have an e-reader? No. But I do read on the kindle cloud. 
7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once? I generally have at least two going but I have been known to read as many as ten one chapter each, turn about. 
8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog? Yes. I read less unfortunately but I blame it on the writing not the blogging about writing. 
9. Least favourite book you read this year: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Ick Ick Ick Ick. 
10. Favourite book I’ve read this year:  The Help by Kathryn Stockett or Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.  
11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone? Not very often I'm afraid. 
12. What is your reading comfort zone? Classics. Books my sister has read first. Authors I already know. 
13. Can you read in the car? Not if I am hungry. I get carsick when I'm hungry. 
14. Favourite place to read: Flopped on my bed. 
15. What’s your policy on book lending? If I love you and you will give it back int he same condition I gave it to you yes but if I don't know you very well or you have previously not returned a book of mine I will manage to wiggle out of lending you something even if you ask flat out. 
16. Do you dogear your books? No.
17. Do you write notes in the margins of your books?  I underline in devotionals and classics that belong solely to me. 
18. Do you break/crack the spine of your books? I avoid it at all costs.
19. What is your favourite language to read? English. I can't read in anything else but elementary spanish.
20. What makes you love a book? Good, well developed sympathetic character, immersive world, and heart wrenching or heart warming plot.  Yes I have high standards. 
21. What will inspire you to recommend a book? Good structure. If the book limps I won't recommend it even if I like the characters. 
22. Favourite genre: Epic heartbreaking awesomeness. Adventure and high stakes. No magic. None come to mind but I'm always in search of that perfect book. {And yes that's what I try to write} realistically though I love well written "life" stories like The Help, Gone With the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Yearling etc. A sting character arc will always get me. 
23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did): Epic tales of adventure with no magic. 
24. Favourite Biography: I don't like biographies. I like nonfiction about groups of people or ideals or era placement or anthropology or world history or forgotten history or mathematics. 
25. Have you ever read a self-help book? (And, was it actually helpful?) I don't believe in self help. 

26. Favourite Cookbook: My mom's blue binder full of recipes she's cut out over the years. I love cooking. I'm not too big on baking though. 
27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction): Inspirational? One Thousand Gifts  by Ann Voskamp {who incidentally looks a lot like one of my neighbors}. 
28. Favourite reading snack: Chocolate chips. Not that I get them that often. 
29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience: I don't usually read hyped books so this has never happened to me. 
30. How often do you agree with the critics about about a book? I read a lot of book reviews but not generally of books that I read. Make any sense?
31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews? Nicely bash the writing, the structure, the characters, anything about the book that you don't like but if you start getting nasty about the writer or making personal remarks like "this book obviously had little actual work devoted to it" then you have crossed the line. 
32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose? French because then i could read les Mis int he original.
33. Most intimidating book I’ve read: I’m currently reading Middlemarch by George Eliot! And i have downed both Little Dorrit and Gone with the Wind not to mention the brick. Books don't generally intimidate me. 

34. Most intimidating book I’m too nervous to begin: the Giver by Louis Lowry I want to love it but I'm afraid I'll find something problematic in it {I've never read dystopian before} and then not get to read all of it.  
35. Favourite Poet: A. A. Milne hands down. 
36. How many books do you usually have checked out from the library at any given time? Anywhere from none to twenty, usually around eight. 
37. How often do you return books to the library unread? About sixty percent of the time unfortunately I have a habit of not getting anything out for a long time and then getting like thirty and not finishing them all before I have to take them back. 
38. Favourite fictional character: Possibly Atticus Finch also possibly Javert.
39. Favourite fictional villain: Jim Moriarty from Sherlock, yes that a TV Show but it's fictional so it counts.   
40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation: Elizabeth Enright, Noel Streetfield, or Agatha Christie.
41. The longest I’ve gone without reading: No idea whatsoever. 
42. Name a book you could/would not finish: To the Lighthouse. I politely refused to go any further with it and mom laughed and let me read Lord Jim for the end of the school year instead.
43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading? Writing
44. Favourite film adaptation of a novel: Little Dorrit or Anne of Green Gables. 
45. Most disappointing film adaptation:  Ever? Johnny Tremain. 
46. Most money I’ve ever spent in a bookstore at one time: maybe 14 dollars. MAYBE. 
47. How often do you skim a book before reading it? 100% of the time!
48. What would cause you to stop reading a book halfway through? Getting bored. Or hating the author for the disgusting or vague way in which he or she writes. Or discovering that the book has something inappropriate in it.  
49. Do you like to keep your books organized? Random piles, bookshelves, more random piles. 
50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once they’ve been read? Keep them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
51. Are there any books that you’ve been avoiding? The Count of Monte Christo. I've started it and I really like it i just keep putting off finishing it for some reason. 
52. Name a book that made you angry: OTHER than To the Lighthouse! I read this book when I was about fourteen that I can't remember the name of now but it was one of those "Finding yourself" Juvenile Fiction books and it was just about this girl who was horrible and whiny and never did anything but complain about how much she hated parents and then finally she ran away to theater school and when they found her they decided to let her go anyway because she had "grown so much through her journey". She hadn't. It was called "Jenny's Summer" or "Rose's Summer" or something like that.    
53. A book I didn’t expect to like but did: Paradise Lost by John Milton
54. A book I expected to like but didn’t: Who could that be at this time of night? by lemony Snicket. I loved Series of Unfortunate Events this was immensely disappointing in comparison. 
55. Favourite guilt-free guilty pleasure reading: I still read picture books and Whinny the Pooh and the Freddy books and no I'm not sorry.