August 21st, 2012


Book Report: Other People's Books

It's August in Texas and I have my windows open. It's absolutely lovely listening to the rain and being cool. There aren't even any 100-degree temperatures in the forecast, so while it will go back to being summer, it won't be a major whiplash if my body decides it's fall because of today. I'm going to revel in every minute of it, too. I plan to have soup for lunch, and I made muffins for breakfast (I turn into Betty Crocker when the weather gets cool).

Because everyone's probably tired of me talking about my book, I think it's time to talk about other people's books, so I have a catch-up book report.

First, a book that would be ideal reading on a day like today: The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement-Moore. This is a paranormal/gothic YA kind of story in the vein of Mary Stewart. Our heroine is a teenage ballerina recovering from a career-ending injury who gets shipped off to stay with a relative she barely knows in her dead father's family's ancestral home, an antebellum mansion in Alabama. There she learns about all kinds of spooky family secrets and a history that seems to keep repeating itself. It has all the elements of a classic gothic -- the spooky house, the sense of isolation, the seemingly good boy with dark secrets and the mysterious stranger whose motives aren't clear -- but it's got a very contemporary sass. I read it in just about one sitting because once I got into it I couldn't put it down. However, one slight caveat: this is very much a YA book with a lot of the elements that are currently familiar in that genre (the triangle, the Mean Girl, the emo, etc.), so adult enjoyment may depend on tolerance for some of the standard YA stuff.

Then there was a duology recommended by a blog reader, Mairelon the Magician and Magician's Ward by Patricia Wrede. The current edition puts the two books together in A Matter of Magic. I'd describe the first one as Dickens with magic and the second as My Fair Lady with magic, but in a Regency setting. Our heroine is a London street urchin who's reaching the age when she won't be able to disguise herself as a boy anymore, and she's worried about her future. When a man offers what to her is a great sum of money to break into a traveling magician's trailer just to see if an object is there, she feels like she doesn't have much choice. But the magician catches her and then hires her as his apprentice, and she gets more than she bargained for when he turns out to be a real wizard. Later, she has to learn to fit into London society while she's learning to be a wizard. Plus, there are bad guys to fight and magical objects to retrieve. I thought these books were a lot of fun, but I was left wanting more, and that may be because they were written for older kids/younger teens. From an adult perspective, I thought there was a lot more potential depth to be mined in this world and with these characters. For kids, it's a fun magical romp with a hint of romance.

Finally, the book that's been keeping me up late at night for a week, Something Dangerous by Penny Vincenzi. It's a sprawling, soapy family saga, not my usual sort of thing at all, but I stumbled upon it when looking for novels set in World War II. This book turns out to be the middle book in a trilogy about a family running a publishing house in London. It spans the years from the late 20s to the late 40s, going through the Depression, the war and the aftermath of the war. It's mostly about the relationships and loves of the huge cast of characters associated with this family, and I quite frequently wanted to slap some sense into them, but I couldn't seem to stop reading. This is the weird kind of book where when I'm reading it, I can't put it down, but when I'm not reading it I hardly think about it. It's the sort of glitzy saga that was popular in the late 70s and early 80s, and in the 80s they'd have probably made a TV miniseries out of it. I've heard people calling 50 Shades of Grey "cracktastic," where in spite of how ridiculous it is, you can't help but get caught up in it. I'd call this a higher-brow version of "cracktastic." It's well-written and vividly uses the historic settings, but a lot of the behavior is totally whacked. For instance, the ideal of "love" seems to be something you can't help yourself about, that it doesn't matter if he's selfish and unreasonable and maybe a little unbalanced, you can't help how you feel and you're helpless about falling into his spell even though you know it's bad for you -- and this is what true love is. Gag. But then there's the family home turned into a boarding school in the country and the elderly earl drilling the boys to be a home guard and being maybe a little disappointed that there's no invasion, and there's wining and dining and glamour, and there's a mad dash through the streets of London during the Blitz in order to retrieve the sole copy of a manuscript, and it's very easy to get caught up in it all.

However, it's not the sequel I want to run out and get. The first book in the series looks like it spans from the early Edwardian era into the aftermath of WWI, so it's likely going to be very Downton Abbey, only without following the servants, and there were a number of hints dropped in this book that I think were supposed to be meaningful for those who read the first book, and now I want to know the backstory. I don't much care what happens next because it looks like it will be about the 50s into the 80s, an era that doesn't excite me, and there's no war for them to deal with in London, so it's probably all going to focus on the politics of the publishing company and family squabbles and still more unhealthy "romantic" relationships. These are huge doorstopper books, so I'm saving the prequel for a rainy Sunday afternoon in the fall when/if my life starts to calm down. These are very much make a pot of tea and then curl up in a comfortable place and wallow for a while kind of books.

But before then, I have to finish writing the current book. It's good writing weather today, so I wonder how much progress I'll make.