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All art is unstable. It's meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author, There is no authorative active voice. There are only multiple readings. David Bowie, 1995

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

'Tomohiro's eyes grew vacant as he sketched...he couldn't stop.'

Ink (The Paper Gods) by Amanda Sun.  June 25

Japanese intrigue and  legend come together in this fascinating YA novel.
The tension builds like the sweep of the calligraphy pen. One moment flowing musical lines, the next, staccato and angry. This off centre flow kept my attention, at once both riveted and yet dreamlike. 

Much of the action is set against Sakura, the backdrop of the cherry blossoms which to my mind become an analogous reference to the flowering of the story.
Upon her mother's death Katie moves to be with her aunt in Japan.
At school she chances upon a break up confrontation between two students. The male student is Tomohiro Yuu.  Katie happens to see a drawing of a girl the two were both arguing about. When the image turns its head and glares at her, Katie's world begins to change. It seems that Katie is a catalyst to Yuu's strange talent, a talent that could destroy him unless controlled.
Yuu is possibly a  Kami, powerful Japanese mages whose ink and blood drawings could create alternative realities and mythical creatures.  This  gift has a dark side, dooming the Kami as the need to draw in ink and blood takes over their being. Their calligraphy is more cursed than blessed.
Visually prompting, the story unveiled with an anime quality that made it even more compelling.

A NetGalley ARC

Friday, June 21, 2013

it grew on me!

Daughter of the Sky by Michelle Diener

It took a while for me to get into Daughter of the Sky. Mainly I think I balked at the shipwrecked child off the coast of South Africa theme (shades of Tarzan). I freely admit that I was sceptical at first.
The thrust of the story is really the Anglo-Zulu war of 1878.
The vehicles for the unfolding of that event are Elizabeth Jones, the rescued child now 20, Lindani her rescuer and Zulu brother, and the English officer Captain Jack Burdell.
Basically, Elizabeth (Little Bird), a shipwrecked child grows up within another culture (Zulu) and does what she can to fight on their side against the oppressive imperialists (The British).  Diener says that the ship wrecked child occurrence was based upon a factual case that happened further to the south of where the events of the novel take place. The description of Elizabeth's rescue is actually quite taking.      
Diener's credentials as an historian and having grown up in this area of South Africa gives credence to her well crafted weaving of the events of the times throughout the story.
In fact her ending Author's note is fascinating to read in relation to the War and the 24th Battalion. Her Bibliography is impressive.
Captain Jack Burdell is an intriguing character. He is not happy about what his life has become and he reflects that, 'All he had left was the oath he had sworn to fight and obey orders.' 
A journal, really a lengthy personal letter to Jack from his father, telling of his father's military career in India fighting the Sikh War is a revelation to Jack. It closely follows Jack's thoughts about imperialistic wars and the arrogance of the English as he's seen it in South Africa. His father writes about in the Sikh War, the British being fooled by superior cunning and tactics. Those events parallel what is happening here in South Africa.  The 24th Battalion took part in both events. This is an amazing piece of historical synchronicity.
The love story of Jack and Elizabeth is poignant . The relationship between Elizabeth and her Zulu brother is wonderful.
Despite my early misgivings, I was fascinated by this story and its historical blending.

A NetGalley ARC

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

just three impossible tasks would break the curse!

The Pirates Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke

'Will he get better? ...I don't know sweetness' ...these are the words of a kindly old wizard to Ananna about Naji.     
And so the story of Ananna and the assassin Naji continues.
Last we saw Ananna she and Naji were marooned on an island with the wizard, Eirnin. 
Eirnin is killed by a monster, Ananna is confronted by a manticore just waiting for the curse on Naji to lift so that she can devour him. The  manticore tricks Ananna into lifting part of the curse on Naji. Man-humans taste the best, particularly those with magic!
Rescue arrives in the form of Marjani returned with a ship, but things just keep getting complicated. There's blood magic involved, there's unrequited love, there's pirates still chasing Ananna and that's just the beginning. Let's not forget those from the mists and in particular, Echo. ...and Oh, what about the starstones!
Blood magic is tricky and then of course there's the curse that binds Naji. The requirements to lift the curse will need nerves of steel and love unselfish.
Does this episode stand alone? Well, you can sort of catchup but believe me reading The Assassin's Curse is no hardship. Another excellent addition to the strange tale of Naji and Ananna.

A NetGalley ARC

a dangerous, deceptively fragile heroine!

The Sword Dancer by Jeannie Lin

A stolen shipment of gold and jade. A dancer, Wen Li Feng, who happens to carry a piece of jade depicting a phoenix, one of a set. A Thief-catcher, Zeng Hao Han  who targets his criminals with unerring judgement. Acting on instinct Han feels that Fi Leng is the key to solving the theft.He is sure that she is involved with the stolen shipment in some way.  After all there is that jade piece! So begins a dance extraordinaire between thief and catcher.   
The mystery deepens and emotions engage in what forThief-catcher Han should have been a straightforward case. For Li Feng it is the very point of survival and solving the mystery of who she is. Here is a story of families and of  reconciliation. Questions flow beneath the surface, recalling the hierarchy of tradition, place and response within the world that Wen Li Feng and Zeng Hao Han inhabit. Questions such as how does a victim become such? who is the victim? what is duty? what is justice? 
Essentially a lively and poignant historical romance, enjoyable in the reading.

A NetGalley ARC

Madeline Robbins...an author to follow!

Althea by Madeline Robbins

Having purchased the Georgette Heyer novels that Amazon had at a fantastic price a couple of years ago, and having started to reread some (… and who knew until I read some intros to the Liaden Universe books by Lee & Miller that they too reference Heyer!), I’m of the opinion that although Madeline Robbins may not be as sharply witty and deliciously observant of Regency culture as Heyer she surely continues in that delightful tradition. Althea by Madeline Robbins certainly is a novel for all Regency Romance lovers.

A LibraryThing early reviewer book

Sunday, June 9, 2013

...those managing regency females!

A Scandalous Plan (Classic Regency Romances) by Donna Lea Simpson

Those managing females certainly abound in Regency novels. Were they so prolific back then? Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer have a lot to answer for.
Now we have Lady Theresa Barclay, daughter of the Earl of Leighton. From the get go she is on the move, solving everyone's problems from the bullying biddies to the newcomer, the gentleman Mr. James Martindale, who has just moved his family to the bosom of her village. So of course Lady Theresa is going to manage his family as well. After all she does complain in the opening pages of how dissatisfied she's feeling after the rush of London. You and I might say that she is bored!
In taking up the challenge to have the Martindale family accepted by the villagers , Lady Theresa might have gone a little too far, but after all, the means justify the ends, don't they? ...and if her heart breaks along the way, well it's all in a good cause, isn't it?
An hour or so pleasant reading.

A NetGalley ARC

...dreams can come true!

The Silver Falcon by Katia Fox

All William wanted to be was a falconer. All his mother wanted him to be was a blacksmith like her. The rescuing of the King's rare white falcon places William's feet on a unforeseen and difficult path that would test and shape him and reveal secrets of kings and commoners. He would experience, fear, poverty, success, love and joy. He would be hunted by powerful enemies and he would talk to kings. He would make true friends and win hearts. His love of falconry would always be his driving force.
Through William's eyes we glimpse fascinating aspects about the art of falconry. In the training of these birds of prey for hunting , seeIing (the sewing together of the bird's eyelids) is part of the common practice. Sickened by this William swears to discover another way to train his birds. As William's story unfolds we are treated to a colourful and intriguing view of life in medieval England during the reigns of Richard and John. 
The power of lords and the highborn over the common people, women as bargaining chips in the carving out and consolidation of landholdings and kingdoms, the attitudes towards religion, towards homosexuality, towards illegitimacy; a time when hunting birds are more valuable than human life. All these aspects of medieval times become grist for the mill.             
When William despaired I could see the reasons, but some of the happenings seemed a tad too unreal or too rushed. Maybe he grew up too quickly, maybe he is trapped more than I would like to think by the constraints of his time. I enjoyed the book and it certainly it held my attention, even when William was less compassionate in his human relations than I wanted him to be. He is after all a man of his times who has already pushed those boundaries.

A NetGalley ARC

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

'I won't be back dearest...you see I have to seduce your sister'

One night with a Rake (Regency Rakes) by Conie Mason and Mia Marlowe

Continuing on with the Regency Rakes series set in 1817, we meet another of the officers held responsible for the crushing English defeat at the Battle of Maubeuge, just prior to Waterloo. Lord Nathaniel Colton and his brother officers are searching for a way to clear their names as intrigue and treachery have been whispered at, but until now unproven. If they can clear their names of that disaster, then their families will not be ruined. This time we watch the road to near perfidy of  Lord Nathaniel Colton as he is manipulated by he slimy Mr. Fortescue Alcock, to bring ruin to another of the contender's for the Royal Bride .  For their services Alcock promises evidence of treachery, or at least evidence of the truth  about Maubeuge to be revealed.
Based on the true search for a royal bride to secure the English throne for one of the unmarried sons of King George III, vulgarly referred to by the press at the time as 'Hymen Race Terrific,' the authors have taken two occurrences as intriguing hooks with which to grab our attention.
This time the royal contender is the Duke of Cambridge. The potential bride is Lady Georgette, the Marquis of Yorkingham's daughter and sister to Colton's dead fiancé, Anne.
Georgie turns out to be quite a stubborn young woman interested in saving unfortunate woman from lives of prostitution. Fortuitously Nate has just won a house of ill repute in cards.
It is at this intersection that the story takes some interesting twists and turns and develops into a romantic adventure with touches of murder and mayhem that fits the times.

A NetGalley ARC

'...when one consorts with assassins one must expect to dance along theedge of a knife...'

In Grave Mercy (Book I): His Fair Assassin, Book I (His Fair Assassin Trilogy) by Robin LaFevers, Duval's words to Ismae describe her life to this point, balanced on the edge of a knife.
This is a fascinating tale of the deadly struggle for thrones, of courts, betrayal, love, death and war.  
Ismae is the Handmaiden of one of the old gods of Belgium, the God of Death, Mortain, or rather Saint Mortain as this god is now called within the church's panoply of saints.  Ismae is an assassin for her god. A god who places his marque on those assigned to die. Mortain determines who will live and who will die, Ismae carries out her god's will. But will Ismae follow her heart or her god?  
Ismae escapes an unbearable situation by entering the Convent of St Mortain. Here she finds her place, and joyfully accepts her new life.
After her training she is sent on a mission by her Abbess to the court of Duchess Anne of Belgium. The young Duchess is beset on all sides, by a chancy Privy Council, by a dastardly  suitor and by the French who want to annexe Belgium. Woven with depth and dexterity plot and counterplots have the young Anne pulled at by an unrelenting yet dithering council all bound by the intricate knots of a traitor within.
Anne's half brother, the bastard brother Duval, is the one Anne trusts, and yet Ismae has been sent by the convent to investigate Duval as the traitor. A traitor for whom there can be only one outcome. However, as she observes the interplay of relationships around the young Duchess,  Ismae is puzzled by various facts that fly in the face of this supposition.
This is a story of crowns, of love, and of two young, yet different women finding themselves.
Never is the title, 'Grave Mercy,' so cleverly pregnant with meaning as after the battle when Ismae searches amongst the fallen for her comrades. This is a moment of revelation for Ismae and the reader. As Ismae  says, 'This is what I want to be. An instrument of mercy not vengeance.'
The idea of balance between justice and mercy is overwhelming. Ismae is forced to confront all that she has previously adhered to. 
After reading this, high on my list of too reads will be the next book in the series,  Dark Triumph.

A NetGalley ARC

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Swoon and sigh!

Ethan (Lonely Lords #3) by Grace Burrowes

That Ethan Grey! A giant of a man with (I'm thinking) just a touch of The Nonesuch. A man of integrity and understanding, yet lost. A man of secrets and shame. A gentle gentleman, hurting yet kind, with his own particular brand of humour.  And Alice is such a great foil for him with her own hurts and secrets and her own brand of courage. A woman of keen intelligence and great determination.  A sweetly redemptive story of life and coming back from the dark past illuminated by acceptance and love. Made the more charming by the level of conversation and banter between the various parties. Well written and thoroughly enjoyable.
I loved, loved, loved it!    

A NetGalley ARC

'Miss Arabella Beckett had always been proud of the fact that she'd never ended up in jail'

An eyebrow raising opening line that grabbed my interest From the start. Questions blossomed and I hadn't even left that opening shot, fired as it were over my readerly bow!
Great internal dialogue enlightens and reveals the quirky character of one Miss Beckett, general fixer of problems and suffragette extraordinaire.    
Arabella seems to have a decidedly interesting relationship with God and I was amused by
her brief, but to-the-point, somewhat understated prayers for help in the  positions she finds herself.
Enter the enigmatic detective Mr Theodore Wilder--and watch the sparks fly.
Add in the search for a group of criminals who are luring young women into prostitution and all the makings of a good story are present.
 This is my first reading of a work by Jen Turano and she is definitely going my list of author's to pursue.
A fun read.

A NetGalley ARC