Tuesday, August 30

Gwen Rowley: Knights of the Round Table-Lancelot

From the back of the book
Lancelot du Lac is the greatest knight of a peerless age, blessed by the Lady of the Lake with extraordinary military prowess. His fight ability has earned him a place at King Arthur's side, but the powers the Lady has given him come at a terrible price.
Elaine of Corbenic is struggling to hold her impoverished family together. The keep is a wreck and the peasants, starving, are on the brink of rebellion. Elaine's father is obsessed with finding the Holy Grail, and her older brother, maimed by Lancelot in a joust, is a bitter drunkard. Without a dowry, she has little hope for the future.
Incognito, Lancelot rides into Corbenic on his way to the king's tournament. He finds the practical Elaine irresistible. Thoroughly dismayed when she reveals her contempt for "Lancelot", he must face his own arrogance to win her hand. For only with Elaine at his side will Lancelot have the strength to free himself from the enchantments that bind him...
This was an interesting reworking of an old tale, reversing common assumption and casting a traditional hero in a poor light and a traditional anti-hero(ine) is a positive role.
The medieval world building is good and I thought that there was just enough magic introduced to place the story firmly in the legend category (as opposed to fictionalized history) but without tipping it over into pure fantasy.
The romance was believable, due to the very well developed characters.
I enjoyed this spin on a familiar story and look forward to finding copies of further books in this series.-Lynn

Friday, August 26

Phil Rickman: The Remains of an Altar

From the back of the book-
In high summer, darkness descends on Elgar's England.
Shadowed by the Malvern Hills, the village of Wychehill is no rural paradise but an uneasy mix of embittered farmers, escapees from the city and a pub with a reputation for drug dealing. Called in to investigate an unsettling series of road accidents, Merrily Watkins stumbles into a barbed tangle of alienation, murder...and the fatal pursuit of an archaic secret.
Another winner from mystery master, Phil Rickman. Here the story focuses more on local politics than the spiritual and could have been a bit dull and preachy but great pacing and larger than life characters make this a page turner. I particularly liked the secondary plot where we get to see some very good character development for Merrily's daughter Jane. Here she finally seems to be learning that she's not as mature and capable as she has previously thought and that there's no shame in seeking help.
As always the sense of place is haunting and the mystery complex but not convoluted. Truly a wonderful read.-Lynn

Wednesday, August 24

Gail Carriger: Soulless

From the back of the book-
First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.
Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire-and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.
With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia is responsibe. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?
I was almost put off this book in the first chapter when the heroine is found at a ball with a parasol. It just seemed so very wrong. However, I gave it a chance and I'm glad I did, things improve as the story goes on.
The world building is very good. Here paranormal creatures are recognised members of society. And just like the rest of society they are neither all good nor all bad but each species has its mixture of both. Cultural differences between the old and new world attitudes to the paranormal are wide but believable. Best of all, to my mind, the author doesn't get bogged down explaining the technology but focuses on the structure of society and her characters place within it.
The overall tone is light-hearted and there are some comic moments thanks to a vapid mother and half sisters and a best friend with no taste in hats.
I quite enjoyed this steampunk with a paranormal twist and I will be following up the rest of the series, with one tiny caveat. I'll be leaving quite some time between tales. Though I found the book vastly entertaining I feel that too much of this author's voice too soon would get irritating and I don't wan to spoil my fun.-Lynn

Tuesday, August 16

Maybe This Time – Jennifer Crusie

Andromeda Miller left her husband, North Archer, after only a year of marriage – after his uncle died North became increasingly absorbed in the family law business and Andie felt less and less important to him. Andie’s ready to wed again, to author Will Spenser, a man who is North’s antithesis in every way – he not only looks different (tall, blond) but unlike North Will’s genial, amiable, stable, and won’t forget about her because of the demands of his job. All Andie needs now is to return to North the decade’s worth of monthly alimony cheques she never wanted, and she can have the grown up, settled adult marriage she knows is right for her.
Despite her certainty and clarity of purpose, Andie somehow finds herself agreeing the take care of North’s orphaned wards for a month, with the assistance of a housekeeper. Their mother died delivering Alice, now eight, and their father, then grandmother, then aunt died in relatively quick succession, and none of the nannies North hired would stay on. Carter has been kicked out of the schools he was sent to, and the children are apparently decidedly odd. School teacher Andie feels quite sure there’s nothing here that she can’t sort out, with the aid of a plan, love, kindness, compassion, acceptance, structure and good food.
Within minutes of arriving, and clashing with housekeeper Mrs Crumb, Andie finds herself asserting her position as North’s wife. There’s no question the mansion is spooky, and the children are a little stranger than one might expect, even given their unhappy lives to date, but there’s more going on here that Andie realises, and before it’s all over she’ll be haunted, possessed, and invaded by a cast of unwanted family members and extended hangers on.
It’s not easy to capture the flavour of Crusie’s most recent novel; like all her recent work it combines a romance narrative with multiple other story lines to provide a deep, textured, satisfying whole. Maybe This Time is also peopled with some outstanding characters, including the couples’ mothers, hippy Flo and society matriarch Lydia, psychic Isolde and searcher Dennis, North’s brother Sullivan and his reporter girlfriend Kelly, and the spirits of the dead. Second only to Andie and North are Alice and Carter, who are more fully fleshed than the plot moppets that usually stand in for children in this genre.
I also like the dialogue – for some reason Andie’s response to another insight from Flo on how she and North are astronomically compatible really resonated:
“You know what I’d like for Christmas, Flo? Boundaries. You can gift me early if you like.”
I thought the way Andie began disconnecting from Will without realising it was beautifully done, and I also really liked the way Crusie set up and depicted the biggest difference of opinion between her hero and heroine – the existence of spirits. How? You’ll just have to read it to find out! - Alex