Bright Star (2009)

[Happy birthday, Andy! Not that you read this, but maybe someone’ll tell you about it. Love, Your Sister.]

One of my study group members (I’m in law school) was, er, less than enthralled with whatever it was we were supposed to be doing so took a moment out to look up the upcoming movies for this week. One of them was described as ‘hot Regency chastity,’ I think by the New York Times, and was clearly a costume drama, so we made plans to see it as soon as possible. Directed by Jane Campion, it starts Abbie Cornish as Fanny Brawne and Ben Whishaw as the poet John Keats.

Fanny is young — late teens or early twenties — and rather more interested in fashion than poetry when she makes the acquaintance of John Keats and his friend and collaborator, Mr. (Charles Armitage) Brown. The two come into closer acquaintance and then fall in love, despite the fact that Keats has less than no money and Fanny, whose father is dead, cannot marry him. Nonetheless, they enter into an affair of the heart, and although the world — and Keats’s health — conspire to keep them apart, they find ways to remain together. Continue reading Bright Star (2009)

The Demon’s Lexicon, by Sarah Rees Brennan

I decided to read this book after I read a companion short story that the author posted on her blog; that story is available here. Reading the story doesn’t require knowledge of the book, and vice versa; however, it will fill in a few bits of backstory that may be interesting to some readers. Sarah Rees Brennan, who is Irish, just turned twenty-six, which makes her a smidge over a year younger than I am, and has an MA in writing. This is her first published novel, and it’s the opening of a trilogy.

Nick and Alan are brothers and have been on the run from a coven of evil magicians (all magicians are evil; they feed people to demons) for a very long time now. When a classmate of Nick’s (named Jamie) gets into some possibly supernatural trouble, his sister Mae asks around and finds out that Nick and Alan are the ones to talk to. Unfortunately, of course, Nick and Alan have problems of their own; the coven is about to find them. Unfortunately, Jamie and Mae end up caught up in their drama. Just why are these magicians after Nick and Alan? And why does it seem like Alan is hiding things from his brother? Continue reading The Demon’s Lexicon, by Sarah Rees Brennan

City of Stars (Stravaganza, book 2), by Mary Hoffman

A few days ago I reviewed the first book in this series and expressed my desire to read more. Fortunately, there are (at this point) four books in the series, and I am currently in possession of all of them. (I am also confused as to why they decided to redesign the series starting with book 4. I like it when all volumes in a series match, but apparently other people don’t care as much.) Ms. Hoffman, a Cambridge and University College London graduate, has been writing for children for nearly forty years now; this series has won awards and other kinds of recognition from various sources, including a 2009 nomination for a Carnegie medal for the fourth volume (City of Secrets).

Georgia O’Grady, a twenty-first-century fifteen-year-old English schoolgirl, is more likely to be mistaken for an English schoolboy, with her short, spiky hair, indifferent manner of dressing, and pre-adolescent figure. She’s also horse-mad, and when she finds a winged horse figurine in an antiques store, she saves up for and buys it. Of course, it turns out to be a Stravagating talisman, and she falls asleep and finds herself in Talia. She ends up in a stable in Remora, an analogue for Siena, and they mistake her for a boy, renaming her Giorgio Gredi. There, she finds herself swept up in the annual horse race, to be held shortly. Of course, though, because she is a Stravagante and this is Talia, there’s more going on than just a simple horse race . . . Continue reading City of Stars (Stravaganza, book 2), by Mary Hoffman

The Dream Thief (The Drakon, book 2), by Shana Abe

Apparently The Dream Thief was Amazon.com’s #1 Romance of the Year, and the first book in this series, The Smoke Thief (review here) was RT (Romantic Times)’s #1 Historical Romance of the Year (presumably in different years). The Drakon series is up to four books now; the third volume is entitled Queen of Dragons and the fourth is The Treasure-Keeper. There’s at least one more planned after that, but I can’t find a title. Yet. I’ll report it when I do. Shana Abe has a Tchouvatch dog which apparently is large and white and sheds a lot, and a house full of rabbits, mostly rescued.

This is a book 2, so I’ll cut here. Continue reading The Dream Thief (The Drakon, book 2), by Shana Abe

The In-Between, by R. A. MacAvoy

About the only thing I know about R. A. MacAvoy is that she’s female. Apparently she was born in my (former) neck of the woods in 1949 and attended Case Western Reserve University. This, apparently, allows her to make Cleveland jokes. (It’s okay. The Browns are enough of a joke for most of us.) She now lives in a horse pasture and writes full-time. This book, if I’m not mistaken, was originally published as an Amazon Short in 2005 and sold only as an ebook, entitled The Go-Between, until Sub Press picked it up for a September release.

Ewen Young is a painter by day and a kung fu master by night. His uncle Jimmy is his teacher, and one night, after an art show, several thugs jump him outside as a ‘message’ to said uncle. Soon thereafter, he goes to the kung fu studio and finds Jimmy shot in the head; the man who did it is still there and shoots Ewen in the heart. The next thing he knows, he’s in the hospital, on morphine. But every so often, he — isn’t there. Or particularly anywhere. The nurses accuse him of pulling out his IV, despite the fact that it’s out cleanly. Where is he going? And what’s going on? Continue reading The In-Between, by R. A. MacAvoy

Impossible, by Nancy Werlin

Apparently Nancy Werlin primarily writes ‘literary suspense’ novels for YA/teen readers. She began publishing in the mid-1990s, and Impossible is her first book that is explicitly on the border of fantasy. She has a B.A. from Yale College, and won an Edgar Award for a novel entitled Locked Inside at some point. She was born in Peabody, Massachusetts, and has worked as a technical writer for various software and internet companies, in addition to her fiction writing.

Lucy Scarborough is a normal twenty-first-century girl, living in Massachusetts. Well, a normal girl with a crazy mother who is a bag lady in town, but she’s got a wonderful set of foster parents, Soledad and Leo Markowitz, some good friends, and a date to the junior/senior prom coming up shortly. Until an unfortunate event occurs at the prom, she turns up pregnant, and she finds her mother’s diary. In the diary, she finds out that all of the women in her family, as far back as anyone can remember, are under a curse; they all become pregnant at seventeen and when they give birth at eighteen, if they haven’t completed three impossible tasks (as detailed in a variant of “Scarborough Faire”), they go crazy. Fortunately, she has help, but not much time. Can she accomplish these things and stay sane? Continue reading Impossible, by Nancy Werlin

City of Masks (Stravaganza, book 1), by Mary Hoffman

Mary Hoffman is English; she was born in a railroad town, but moved to London when she was quite small. She has a degree in English Literature from Cambridge and a diploma in linguistics from the University College of London. Just after that, in 1970, she started writing children’s books; to date she has published around eighty of them, mostly shorter works. The Stravaganza series contains her longest works to date. She is married; her husband is half-Indian, and of their three daughters, one (Rhiannon Lassiter) is a published author. In her spare time, she takes Italian classes, presumably at least somewhat as research for this series, at Oxford.

Lucien Mulholland is a fifteen-year-old twenty-first-century English boy, who is unfortunately dying from a brain tumor. Arianna is a fifteen-year-old sixteenth-century Talian girl living in an alternate universe where Remus founded Italy instead of Romulus. The connection? A journal, that allows Lucien to travel in his sleep from England, where he is doing poorly, to Talia, specifically Bellezza (an alternate Venice), where he is hale and healthy. Arianna wants nothing so much as to be a mandolier (gondolier), despite her gender, so she sneaks into town for the trials. There, she meets Lucien, recently traveled and confused, and they get caught up in the politics and plotting of the time. The Di Chimici (Medici) family wants nothing so much as to kill Bellezza’s Duchessa — can two teenagers help stop that from happening? Continue reading City of Masks (Stravaganza, book 1), by Mary Hoffman

Bound, by Donna Jo Napoli

Donna Jo Napoli is a linguistics professor at Swarthmore College and an author of children’s books. She used to have a cat named Taxi, for the sheer joy of calling the cat and watching the neighbors make faces. She takes modern dance and yoga classes for fun, and bakes bread. She has also coauthored a scholarly paper on frogs. I’ve reviewed a couple of her books before — here and here — and while they aren’t always my favorite, I seem to keep coming back for more.

The Cinderella story is a common one throughout many cultures, and Ms. Napoli has chosen to set her variant of the tale in Ming-Dynasty China. Xing Xing’s mother dies when she is very small, and her father remarries, to a woman with a daughter close to Ping’s age. The stepmother (called Stepmother) has decided to bind her daughter (Wei Ping)’s feet, in order that she will be able to attract a man of a much higher social status. And of course, once the father dies, Stepmother treats Xing Xing as if she’s the lowest kind of servant, even so far as to sending her off to try to sell green dates as some sort of false miracle cure to raise money. One day, there is a fair in town, and Xing Xing finds some of her mother’s old clothing (including shoes) to wear into town . . . Continue reading Bound, by Donna Jo Napoli

Cybele’s Secret, by Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier is the author of a number of books, one of which was Wildwood Dancing, which I read and reviewed earlier. This novel is a companion (not a direct sequel; it follows a different character) to that one, and continues the story of the Transylvanian sisters. Ms. Marillier is a musician by training and a writer by vocation; she has been a full-time writer since 2002. Her family emigrated from Scotland to New Zealand many years ago, and she lives in a cottage in Perth, Australia.

Paula is Jena’s younger sister, the scholarly, studious one. She has been helping her father with many of his business matters, and dreams of starting her own rare-book collection. When he mentions that he is going to travel to wherever-it-is, Paula immediately clamors to go along — and is allowed. For in the city, there is a woman named Irene who has her own scholarly haven for women, and Paula would like to study there. They get to town, hire a bodyguard for Paula, and she begins her studies — but something is strange about the piece they have come to town to buy, called Cybele’s Gift. Many people are after it, and things are starting to happen — attacks, sudden withdrawals from the bidding, and the involvement of strange individuals including a pirate . . . Continue reading Cybele’s Secret, by Juliet Marillier