Month: August 2016

A Clash of Kings, by George R. R. Martin

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In this immersive second novel, the kingdom is unraveling, with multiple claimants to the Iron Throne, and war destroying high- and low-born alike. Again, Martin spares his characters nothing.

The depth of this book is remarkable. Martin’s multiple points of view take us across the kingdom; the collective story is utterly absorbing and the world-building is extraordinary. It is also exceptionally oppressive in tone, with rape and murder, death and betrayal around every corner. The collective impact of it left me exhausted and grateful for a brief reprieve before I wade into book three.

Knowing the darkness of these books, I held off on reading them for a long time; this is not high fantasy (as the young princess character and I like to imagine), but low fantasy, filled with piss and blood and filth. But there are many rewards: the political intrigue and backbiting, the chance to disappear into fully realized characters, and the discovery of a fantasy world that will always live in some corner of my mind.

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The Foundling, by Georgette Heyer

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Another of Heyer’s lovely tales, this one an adventure. The Duke of Sale is an unassuming 24-year-old who chafes under the strictures of his overbearing guardian and devoted servants, who seem to think he is still the child who caught cold too easily. So when he has the chance to solve a problem on his own, out from under the weight of his title, he jumps at it, leading to an almost madcap journey into the countryside, where Gilly finds out who he is as a man and not just a duke. A delightful read, filled with memorable characters and a hint of romance. Great fun for 14 and up, if they don’t mind the Austenesque prose.

 

Four Nights with the Duke, by Eloisa James

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Mia is a desperate duchess to be – she is blackmailing a duke into marrying her. We met the duke in question, Vander, in the last James novel, but he returns, just as headstrong, here. His fury at facing blackmail is enormous, but Mia is even more determined.

There are some wonderful undercurrents in this book, including school bullying and women’s conditioning that “ladies” don’t enjoy sex, but for me, I found Mia’s body consciousness (she is short, curvy, and busty) refreshing. As someone who was deeply self-conscious about the size of my “bosom” growing up, I empathized with Mia’s unwillingness to let her breasts be the one thing people notice about her, current fashions be damned. It is so very hard to change your image of yourself, and when your partner doesn’t know your issues, he or she can easily say the wrong thing, as happens in the novel, repeatedly.

James is always a strong writer, and it is a treat to have a historical romance heroine who is not a traditional size. Well-done, for 18 and up.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling

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NO SPOILERS. Wow, I have missed Rowling’s twisty mind. This wonderful play (in four acts) is more intricate than any return to Potter I could possibly imagine. It takes the established canon for the books and deepens it so that you won’t read the original novels the same way again. Simply lovely. We get to spend time with familiar characters (welcome and unwelcome), and we get to know wonderful new characters that I fell slowly in love with.

Without giving anything away, this play is just as plot-driven as the original books, and it’s steeped in the magic we expect from Rowling. As a theatre person, I had fun trying to figure out how the original production could have created some of the special effects required. I’d also like to say how wonderful it is for Rowling’s work to expose people to reading plays for pleasure. This one is a joy.

Three Weeks with Lady X, by Eloisa James

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Another outstanding romance in this series, though the setting has moved to a younger generation than the early books in the series. Thorn is a bastard son of duke, rich and imperious but untitled. India is a daughter of nobility, but a self-made woman, as she has found a profession in home renovation and made her own fortune. When two strong-willed leads crash into each other, sparks fly, and we get a very enjoyable read. Highly recommended for fans of this genre, 18 and up.

The Retribution of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin

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One of the few times when the phrase “shocking conclusion” has merit. This series has only grown more intricate, and with this, the finale to the trilogy, we are steeped in the realm of nightmare. Having Mara locked and restrained in a psychiatric institute, drugged repeatedly against her will, with no one believing the truth, is all very dark and makes for tough reading. The story does not stay in the darkness indefinitely, but it remains harrowing and intricately plotted. I recommend it, since I was unable to put it down, but this is among the darkest YAs I’ve ever read. Recommended for 17 and up, due to sex, violence, and nightmare fuel.

A Duke of Her Own, by Eloisa James

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The Duke of Villiers is finally seeking a wife (who will serve as a mother for his six illegitimate children), and Lady Eleanor may be just who he needs. Yet there is one other woman that Villiers will consider, and a house party at her home brings Villiers face-to-face with his top two prospects. I like Eleanor enormously in this novel – she is practical, self-possessed, caring, smart, and she owns a pug named Oyster. Most of all, she has the strength of will to demand that she be loved for herself, not for what she brings to the table. The dialogue between Eleanor and Villiers crackles off the page.

Well-plotted, with strong characters, steamy scenes, and smoking hot dialogue, this is James at her finest. For 18 and up.

Revealed, by Tamera Alexander

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Another lyrical Christian fiction from Alexander. I liked this sweet story of an ex-prostitute, thrown together with a man who will never see her as anything other than what she used to be. Both Annabelle and Matthew are well-drawn, in both their pain and their growing confidence. Set in a wagon train from Colorado to Idaho, this western story shows the good and bad in human nature. A great read, intended for an adult audience.

Wards of Faerie, by Terry Brooks

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This fantasy is the first of a trilogy, but I found out, too late, that it is deep in an ongoing series. This makes it tough going early on, as you try to figure out who everyone is and learn about this firmly established world. But once all is established, the story leaps forward and doesn’t let go, focusing simultaneously on a quest for long-hidden magic and on the defense of a mostly-abandoned keep. There is a steampunk feel to the piece, with a medieval high-fantasy setting and airships flitting about.

Author Brooks has his world well in hand, and the POVs from multiple characters ring true. I’m hooked enough to keep going on this trilogy, and will consider starting from the beginning of this world’s series at a later date. For 16 and up, due to violence.

The Evolution of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin

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his YA series has grown much darker in this second novel in the series. 17-year-old heroine Mara Dyer remains an unreliable narrator as her life seems to crumble around her. With this novel, the series takes a leap into suspense, almost into horror.

Mara and her boyfriend Noah are part of the “kids against the world” trope, but it’s made much more realistic than usual, since none of the adults in her world believe her because she’s mentally ill. Is she really hallucinating? Has she made it all up? Or is she being gaslighted by parties unknown? Since the narrative is first person, we don’t know those answers either, and we feel the tension and fear along with Maya. For age 17 and up, due to sex, violence and the fear factor.