Monday, January 26, 2009

A Good One!

A Dangerous Affair:  A Novel of Victorian England A Dangerous Affair: A Novel of Victorian England by Caro Peacock

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
It has been six months since the events in A Foreign Affair, and Liberty Lane has settled in London with her unusual household. She is starting to feel a financial pinch, however, and understands that her life cannot continue as it has been. Working as a music instructor does not provide the income she needs to care for her horse, herself, and provide lodgings for herself and her roommate. A letter from her brother in India--boldly telling her that she should marry Daniel Suter--combined with a visit from an aquaintance in Parliament sets her on a path to investigate a murder.

A Foreign Affair was a good book (I rated it four stars), but it was not amazing. It set the background for Libby and her friends, and it told a good story, but it suffered from a malady that often afflicts the first book in a series; it had to provide the set-up for the rest. Now that the stage is set, the readers don't really need to know the struggle that Liberty went through to create herself as an independent woman in London. Now we can get to the good stuff: how she lived as an independent woman. And that's what this book is: Good Stuff.

Caro Peacock fills this book with a delightful level of detail. She clearly knows the period, and she knows the side of life that Dickens was only ever willing to hint at with his Fallen Women. Liberty is not a Fallen Woman (not even in the eyes of someone like Dickens), but she is also not an Angel in the House. She is a character that takes risks in order to live life as she feels necessary. Reading only canonical books from the early Victorian period (such as our friend Dickens) may give the impression that Liberty is an anachronism, but she's not. One of Peacock's gifts is to show that a woman like Liberty could have existed. The Victorian period was not so staid and moral as history has made it out to be, and Peacock helps to reveal something closer to reality.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand (Kitty Norville, Book 5) Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand by Carrie Vaughn

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
I found this book to be a disappointment. Unless I misremember, a "dead man's hand" is a corspe's hand soaked in wax and used as a thief's tool. There was no dead man's hand in this novel.

Since it takes place in Vegas, it could be that the "dead man's hand" refers to a hand of cards, at which point I would have to say that I find that level of punning to be painful.

The book itself was entertaining. Kitty goes to Vegas to get married and runs into all sorts of trouble with hunters and the supernatural community in general. Hmm. That sounds like the other books in this series--except the wedding part. I find it strange that the next book is going to be released in March. Perhaps these two should have been released together as one book? I can't speculate about that too much, except to say this one ends with a cliffhanger, which has not been Vaughn's habit to date.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Stepsister Scheme

The Stepsister Scheme The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
(I don't know if anyone would consider this a spoilery review, so please be warned . . .)

Danielle is the princess formerly known as Cinderwench. Predictibly, she's having a hard time settling into her new role in life, despite the fact that she genuinely loves her husband. She has a hard time establishing a relationship with her servants, as she finds it difficult to tell them what to do and to allow them to do their own work. She doesn't enjoy learning the protocol she needs to know. However, all that changes when her stepsister, Charlotte, reappears in her life. One assassination attempt later, Danielle finds that she must become assertive if she is to live--and if she is rescue her husband, currently at the mercy of her stepsisters. She has the help of Snow, a witch with mirror magic, and the mysterious Talia, known popularly as Sleeping Beauty.

The Stepsister Scheme is an engaging read, and I've been looking forward to reading it ever since talking to the author, Jim C. Hines, at a conference in Minnesota in 2006. I used to study fairy tales as an academic area of pursuit, and I can say that Hines has clearly done his research. He knows the older, darker, alternate versions of these tales quite well. However, he doesn't bludgeoun (sp?) his readers with that knowledge. Instead, it unspools slowly as their history becomes relevant to the plot. Shrek 3 used many of these same princesses to tell a far different story. In that movie, their passive traits (ex: Sleeping Beauty's ability to fall asleep at will and trip soldiers with her body) are used to save the day. Here, Hines tells the story of women that refuse to be passive and reshape their various curses into strengths.

I liked this book, and I look forward to the sequel, The Mermaid's Madness, promised in October 2009. The cover copy made this book sound like it was going to be much funnier than it was, but once I adapted to Hines' humor, that wasn't an issue for me any longer. The next novel has the potential to be stronger (and maybe funnier?) now that these characters have been established in their roles.

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