28 August 2013

Night Film

Summary from Goodreads:
A page-turning thriller for readers of Stephen King, Gillian Flynn, and Stieg Larsson, Night Film tells the haunting story of a journalist who becomes obsessed with the mysterious death of a troubled prodigy—the daughter of an iconic, reclusive filmmaker.

On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years.

For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself.  Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world.  The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more.

Night Film, the gorgeously written, spellbinding new novel by the dazzlingly inventive Marisha Pessl, will hold you in suspense until you turn the final page.

About a million years ago (not really), I read Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics and loved the shit out of it.  Weird school teacher-student relationship that winds up with bad/crazy/unexplained stuff going down in the woods?  Yes, please.  Now Pessl is back with a horror movie novel and, whoa ever, is it crazy.

First up: I have to thank Random House Reader's Circle for sending me an ARC of Night Film.  I won it, a contest entry I apparently forgot about, so thank you for drawing my name.

Second:  Holy crap.  Is this the best, best novel to read in the dog days of summer.  It will put so many chills up your back that you'll need a fuzzy blanket, warm cocoa, and the urgent need to sleep with the lights on.  There is a point in this novel where reality and belief and scaring-the-hell out of oneself starts to blend in a really cracked out way.  Nothing in this book is real (practically dripping with major Hollywood script bait here).

So, if you want to read a super crazy-weird-multilayered-creepy-trippy-ballsy-intricate-bullshitting-notbullshitting-realist-magical-magicalrealist-surreal-sublime novel, Night Film is for you.  If not, well, you're missing something really fun.

Dear FTC: I won a copy of the ARC from the publisher.

23 August 2013

The Trouble With Being a Duke (At the Kingsborough Ball #1)

Summary from Goodreads:

Sometimes happily ever after…

Anthony Hurst, Duke of Kingsborough knows the time has come for him to produce an heir. But first he must find a bride. When he meets the most exquisite woman at his masquerade ball, he thinks his search is over…until the breathtaking beauty runs off. With few clues other than her figure, her scent, and the memory of her kiss, Anthony must find his mystery lady.

…needs a little bit of help.

Isabella Chilcott can scarcely believe it: she is finally at the Kingsborough Ball. As a child, she dreamed of dancing a waltz here and now, thanks to a gorgeous gown she’s found in the attic, Isabella is living her fairytale fantasy. And she’s waltzing with the Duke of Kingsborough himself! But she must escape before he discovers her secrets…for she is not who she pretends to be, and falling in love with Prince Charming is the last thing she can allow herself to do…

I love the idea of a series where all the books take their start at a single event (see also Sopha Nash’s Royal Entourage series). Sophie Barnes’s new series At the Kingsborough Ball takes it’s start at the titular masquerade ball – once an anual event but on hold while the new Duke of Kingborough mourns his father. This ball marks his entry into the Marriage Mart, an event greatly to be desired by all the marriageable misses of the ton. Anthony meets a masked young lady in a beautiful, if out-moded, gown and before he can discover her identity the ball descends into chaos when a guest is shot (setting up at least the next book, if not more). For the young lady, Isabella Chilcott, it is a lucky escape. She’s not an invited guest, she snuck in wearing a gown she found secreted away in the attic at her home in the nearby village, but she dreamed of attending the Kingsborough Ball for years. Now that it’s likely she’ll be married off to a man she does not love, she decided to take the chance. Catching the duke’s eye was not in the plans. When Isabella arrives home, it is to discover that her parents have been keeping a few secrets of their own….

Although I liked this first book, I kept thinking there was something else I was looking for. I don’t know if “every day” is the right term but it felt like a bit more dash was needed in places (for instance, the Lady Harriet plot seemed to fizzle out just when it seemed good and the Mr. Roberts plot as well). Isabella’s mother read very oddly to me – I don’t want to spoil that plot element too much but the whole insistence on Isabella marrying a stuffy, stuck-up, weaselly (think Mr. Collins but much more middle-class potential wife abuser) “business” man just rubbed me raw for too many pages to make the mother’s objections to Anthony believable. And then there’s the whole business with “mean girls” in the village. I think the story would have had a tighter plot if it had been edited down about 50 pages or so. I had a few issues with some of the language usage – was having one’s cover blown an accepted phrase in Regency England? I would think “being rumbled” was more appropriate. “Infamous” is also used several times in instances where I think “famous” would be better. Also, Lady Crooning is referred to as Mrs. Crooning at one point which is definitely something that should have been caught in the edits. I know some people don’t notice those things or find them annoying but they do stick out to me.

20 August 2013

The Bookstore

Summary from Goodreads:

A witty, sharply observed debut novel about a young woman who finds unexpected salvation while working in a quirky used bookstore in Manhattan.Impressionable and idealistic, Esme Garland is a young British woman who finds herself studying art history in New York. She loves her apartment and is passionate about the city and her boyfriend; her future couldn’t look brighter. Until she finds out that she’s pregnant.

Esme’s boyfriend, Mitchell van Leuven, is old-money rich, handsome, successful, and irretrievably damaged. When he dumps Esme—just before she tries to tell him about the baby—she resolves to manage alone. She will keep the child and her scholarship, while finding a part-time job to make ends meet. But that is easier said than done, especially on a student visa.

The Owl is a shabby, second-hand bookstore on the Upper West Side, an all-day, all-night haven for a colorful crew of characters: handsome and taciturn guitar player Luke; Chester, who hyperventilates at the mention of Lolita; George, the owner, who lives on protein shakes and idealism; and a motley company of the timeless, the tactless, and the homeless. The Owl becomes a nexus of good in a difficult world for Esme—but will it be enough to sustain her? Even when Mitchell, repentant and charming, comes back on the scene?

A rousing celebration of books, of the shops where they are sold, and of the people who work, read, and live in them, The Bookstore is also a story about emotional discovery, the complex choices we all face, and the accidental inspirations that make a life worth the reading.

After reading and loving The Bookman’s Tale (review) I was quite interested in reading a love story set in a bookstore. This starts out very promising, with Esme getting ditched by her a-hole blue-blood boyfriend Mitchell and in need of a part-time job with someone willing to work with the fact that she is a) not a US citizen and on a student visa and b) pregnant. The Owl is a goofy, quirky, only-in-New York sort of store, a cross between The Shop Around the Corner and The Strand. And then Mitchell comes back on the scene….

I wanted to like The Bookstore more than I did. Esme has pluck. She’s very sweet and kind, if na├»ve. But what she doesn’t have is gumption. How many of you have seen The Holiday with Kate Winslet? Iris from The Holiday is Esme in this book except Esme doesn’t have an adorable neighbor played by Eli Wallach to make her watch a whole load of great Hollywood films and grow a spine. Esme has the odd cast of characters at The Owl, many with very sad stories, who don’t even recommend/force her to read some good books to read on top of her (seemingly non-existent but it must exist since she’s in grad school) art history reading. She does, however, have the emotionally abusive and distant boyfriend who hangs around way too long, railroads her into an engagement, and introduces her to his family who are so fanatically blue-blooded and snobby they might be crazier than a bag of feral cats. Even though Esme puts her foot down with Mitchell’s father, she never gets the chance to give Mitchell the old heave-ho because he ditches her again so we, as readers, have no pay-off to seeing Mitchell disappear. We just get a mopey, weepy Esme (who admittedly goes through a medical scare) with only a teeny spine who somehow manages to stay in grad school although we don’t see her go to school often and doesn’t really develop a relationship with the character who is quite obviously meant to be her real love interest (from the moment he was introduced – it was like he had a great, big flashing arrow over his head) until the very end.

A book with a lot of promise but I wished for a stronger heroine.

13 August 2013

The Convenient Marriage (audiobook and book)

Summary from Goodreads:
Unconventional, warm and witty, this Georgian romance by Georgette Heyer unusually begins with a marriage rather than ending with one. When Horatia Winwood steps in to marry the Earl of Rule, the disappointed suitor of her elegant sister, it is the luxuries of high society life that she becomes entranced with rather than her husband. And yet, despite the countless misunderstandings, spats and blunders, somewhere along the line, this marriage of convenience turns into the real thing.

Who likes more Georgette Heyer?  Specifically Heyer that is read by Richard Armitage?  The Convenient Marriage is the last of the three Heyer romance novels Armitage narrated so I started it on the way back from Indianapolis.  Love.  Then I read the unabridged novel once I got home (thanks, nookbook).

The Convenient Marriage is a bit different from the other two in that it is set in the Georgian period, rather than the Regency but it sparkles all the same.  Perhaps even more. I just loved Horry, with all her scrapes and her stutter. She's so bold and brash and a teenager. Such great character development on Heyer's part to leave Horry's stutter alone, that getting married, growing up, gaining self-confidence, etc., didn't cure her stutter and Rule loved it as part of her.  Rule is also a fantastic Heyer hero - not a rake but a very confident, virile aristocrat who doesn't have any hang-ups (contrast that with so many current historical heroes).  The development of the relationship between Horry and Rule was so good - how does one broach the possibility that one has fallen in love with one's spouse when you've both previously agreed to the Georgian version of a sort-of open marriage?  Also, there's a great dueling scene, for Errol Flynn fans.

One quibble: what exactly happened to Louisa, Rule's sister? She confided all to Horry but it was off the page....are we to assume that Lethbridge had a similar plan for Louisa as he had for Horry?  This is where Heyer's tactic to leave the salacious details to the imagination leaves much to be desires.

Audiobook specifics:  I had wondered how Armitage was going to play two different rakes with his luscious rake-voice.  Fear not, he plays it off wonderfully.  Also, his foppish, lisping twitter was perfect for Crosby Drelincourt.

12 August 2013

Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom

Summary from Goodreads:
For anyone who has ever loved a Jane Austen novel, a warm and witty look at the passionate, thriving world of Austen fandom

They walk among us in their bonnets and Empire-waist gowns, clutching their souvenir tote bags and battered paperbacks: the Janeites, Jane Austen’s legion of devoted fans. Who are these obsessed admirers, whose passion has transformed Austen from classic novelist to pop-culture phenomenon? Deborah Yaffe, journalist and Janeite, sets out to answer this question, exploring the remarkable endurance of Austen’s stories, the unusual zeal that their author inspires, and the striking cross-section of lives she has touched.

Along the way, Yaffe meets a Florida lawyer with a byzantine theory about hidden subtexts in the novels, a writer of Austen fan fiction who found her own Mr. Darcy while reimagining Pride and Prejudice, and a lit professor whose roller-derby nom de skate is Stone Cold Jane Austen. Yaffe goes where Janeites gather, joining a pilgrimage to historic sites in Britain, chatting online with fellow fans, and attending the annual ball of the Jane Austen Society of North America—in period costume. Part chronicle of a vibrant literary community, part memoir of a lifelong love, Among the Janeites is a funny, touching meditation on the nature of fandom.

Yet another instance of my fellow booksellers knowing my weak spots.  Among the Janeites was handed to me while I was in the cafe line ordering a mocha.  No conversation, no "hey, you like Jane Austen," just the tacit understanding that a lit studies book about Jane Austen is an auto-buy for me.

Yeah, I'm a Jane-ite.  There are a lot of us in the Jane Austen fandom, and we run the gamut from covert to overt.  Like Yaffe, I probably fall somewhere in the middle of the Jane-ites: not over-scholarly so I like to have fun with some of the Austen-universe fan-fic if it has a good concept/is well-written/the reviews are good, but not so enthusiastic that I regularly play dress up and read all the fan-fic as well as writing my own (though, when I make it back to the UK someday, Chawton et al. is on the list of places to visit along with Gads Hill and Haworth; I've already visited the Jane Austen Centre in Bath).

Yaffe strikes a good balance in all her research and interviews.  She walks us through the intricacies of buying a (correctly styled) Regency gown, complete with underthings and corset.  The corset proves to be a problem, particularly because it lends a certain shape without which her gown can't be fitted (having worn a corset once myself, I sympathize with all her complaints - and I was singing, so mine was only lightly laced, but it still sucked to wear).  She even (bravely) interviews someone who I think most of the other Janeites avoid.  Plus many points for being polite but I still think she thinks that he's a loon (dudes, I think he's a loon - Jane Fairfax got knocked up by Emma's brother-in-law before the start of the novel? uh, no).

07 August 2013

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria (Pink Carnation #10)

Summary from Goodreads:
Colonel William Reid has returned home from India to retire near his children, who are safely stowed in an academy in Bath. Upon his return to the Isles, however, he finds that one of his daughters has vanished, along with one of her classmates.

Having served as second-in-command to the Pink Carnation, one of England’s most intrepid spies, it would be impossible for Gwendolyn Meadows to give up the intrigue of Paris for a quiet life in the English countryside—especially when she’s just overheard news of an alliance forming between Napoleon and an Ottoman Sultan. But, when the Pink Carnation’s little sister goes missing from her English boarding school, Gwen reluctantly returns home to investigate the girl’s disappearance.

Thrown together by circumstance, Gwen and William must cooperate to track down the young ladies before others with nefarious intent get their hands on them. But Gwen’s partnership with quick-tongued, roguish William may prove to be even more of an adventure for her than finding the lost girls…

Let me get something off my chest.  Ahem, Lauren Willig's publisher...tap, tap...yes, you.  I, as one of Lauren's loyal readers, am really annoyed at you for publishing Miss Gwen's book IN A PAPERBACK ORIGINAL INSTEAD OF A HARDCOVER.  Very annoyed.  I'd sick Miss Gwen and her parasol on you if I could manifest her in the real world.  I have a beautiful line of hardcover novels on my shelf that are now spoiled by a paperback.  Luckily for you the Pink Carnation stories can't be spoiled by format changes.

Back to Miss Gwen and Colonel Reid.

As a reader, it was such a delight to have Miss Gwen develop fully from her dragon-like chaperone role into deeply dimensioned heroine.  As much as she would despise the word.  She has so much armor built up over the years that it was a delight to watch those layers peel away through her interactions with Colonel Reid and how befuddled she gets when those pesky things called "feelings" start to get in the way of clear, rational thinking.  There is a point, very late in the book, where your heart just breaks for her.  It's hard to imagine the Miss Gwen of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation provoking sympathetic feelings; she was only slightly less terrifying than the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale and we really don't meet that dragon until The Masque of the Black Tulip (book two).  Speaking of "old" Miss Gwen - is it just me, or did she age backward in the series?  Because I would swear that she seemed much closer to sixty in book one but here she's obviously in her early forties (and had much less gray and grizzled hair here).

Colonel Reid also gets to shine.  In The Temptation of the Night Jasmine he seems like a jolly Scot of retirement age whose past amorous affairs have not resulted in easy lives for his children (Alex is fine because he is a legitimate son but Jack, being half-caste, has a very bumpy road....).  Here, we see how much he recognizes that he hasn't been a good father, particularly to the daughters he sent to England, and how much it pains him to own up to that fact.  His natural boisterousness is a great contrast to Miss Gwen's stand-offish personae; he makes a great foil.  I just loved him.

And then there's the simple fact that our hero and heroine are very much outside the norm for romances.  Even Vaughn, likely in his late thirties or early forties at most, is a conventional romance hero.  Miss Gwen and Colonel Reid are middle-aged and both looking for a second chance at a happy relationship.  So few romance novels have older heroines (older heros are slightly more common) so I applaud Willig for giving Miss Gwen her chance.

The Eloise-and-Colin framing story inches along toward a big decision but they get their own mystery in the form of the fabled Berar treasure.  But they also get saddled with Jeremy (turd) - Colin's cousin and step-dad - if they wish to actually find the treasure.  This was a nice diversion and I wonder how Lauren is eventually going to wrap up that relationship.  I expect a happy ending.

At this point in my review, I usually update my heroine rankings for the Pink Carnation series.  The standings after The Garden Intrigue
While I liked Emma, she didn't top Letty and Arabella in the heroine rankings (she's probably duking it out with Mary or Laura - after Caroline Murat, Lady Vaughn won't scare her). Augustus, on the other hand, doesn't fare so well in the hero ranking. After Geoff, Miles, Turnip, Vaughn, Richard and Andre (tied), and Alex, the only hero Augustus tops is Robert the Duke of Dovedale (who still strikes me as a wet blanket, sorry). He's probably tied with Alex. He has very tough competition.
However, Miss Gwen and Colonel Reid are so different from the previous Pink Carnation couples that I'm having trouble.  Plus, Colonel Reid is Alex's father, so putting them in competition seems just wrong.  So they get to be on a little pedestal all by themselves.  I think Miss Gwen would like that.

And now we must wait over a year for Sally Fitzhugh's book because Willig teased us with a bit of a chapter about Turnip's little sister.  I think she's going to give Letty and Arabella a run for their money.

06 August 2013

Matilda, read by Kate Winslet

Summary from Goodreads:
“The Trunchbull” is no match for Matilda!

Matilda is a sweet, exceptional young girl, but her parents think she's just a nuisance. She expects school to be different but there she has to face Miss Trunchbull, a kid-hating terror of a headmistress. When Matilda is attacked by the Trunchbull she suddenly discovers she has a remarkable power with which to fight back. It'll take a superhuman genius to give Miss Trunchbull what she deserves and Matilda may be just the one to do it!

Jackie gets full credit for finding this new audiobook edition of one of my favorite, favorite childhood books (apparently, Matilda is only 25 this year...which is weird because I would swear that I read it before age 10). Penguin Audio put out a Matilda audiobook READ BY KATE WINSLET!!

Breathe, breathe.

It is so, so, SO good. Winslet has an excellent reading voice and distinctive accents for each character (who knew that she had all those different voices in her?). I loved all of it. The only complaint I had (if it is a complaint) is that she's so dynamic in her reading that it was hard to get a middle-range volume set (was listening in the car so road noise was an issue) so perhaps the sound engineer needs to take another look.

BUY BUY BUY!  Run, do not walk to the store and BUY!!

04 August 2013

What the Bride Wore (Bridal Favors #3)

Summary from Goodreads:

Jade Lee's hot Bridal Favors series is set in a daring, high-energy Regency world where deep longings, secret scandals, and the competition for social stature are all set against the glittering weddings of the season.

Grant Benton, Earl of Crowle, finally has the funds he always pretended to have, and what he wants now is a woman. That woman is Lady Irene Knopp, who spends her days helping debutantes plan their weddings. A recent widow, Irene longs for love again, but she's afraid to risk her heart, especially to the notorious Grant Benton.

That blurb may be one of the most inaccurate blurbs I’ve ever read. What really happens is that Grant, following in his father’s moronic hellion/drinking/gambling footsteps manages to lose the family estate whilst retaining an old fabric mill. He strikes a bargain to buy back the property in X number of years. Grant finds that he has a flair for designing highly sought-after, rich fabric and the mill becomes successful. The family property is improved, the value increases more than Grant can afford, and it is appended to the current owner’s daughter’s dowry who, in a plot twist provided just to add grist to the family in-fighting mill, is betrothed to Grant’s younger brother who has been working as the estate manager (and, hence, was improving the property as a good manager would). Meanwhile, Grant has met Lady Irene Knopp, a widow of three years who works as a fabric buyer for a dressmaker/shoemaker/wedding planner (? – I was a bit hazy about this). They want each other but Grant seems to think he wants an aristocratic wife (at first) and Irene doesn’t want to betray her husband’s memory. But then they both wise up, especially when someone starts trying to kill Irene. Or Grant (that’s not terribly clear, either).

First off, Grant, for all that he loves to design fabrics, is an idiot. As successful a businessman as he’s become, the idea that he would not realize that property can accrue value makes no sense particularly when the deal was struck not for the original selling price but the current market value of the property. Add to that how angry he is at his brother for making improvements to the property, especially when Grant was paying no attention to any of that, it’s just a ridiculous plot point for needless tension.

Second, this is not an accurate Regency historical. It’s just a contemporary with Regency-ish window dressing. Aside from the issues of property ownership, etc etc, what really stuck in my craw was a ball given by a character (who is the dress-shop designer/owner?) who has married up (in a previous book in the series – and I didn’t realize this was part of a series until I was far enough into the book that I no longer cared about what happened). This ball is so highly sought after that only those members of the ton who had settled their accounts with the shop are invited because so many members of the ton are behindhand in their payments and the shop is in trouble. Er, no. This character is not an influential society matron or member of the nobility like Lady Jersey or the Duchess of Richmond and members of the ton would rather die than pry their pocketbooks open to settle a dressmaker’s account simply to obtain an invitation from a social nobody. They wouldn’t care at all.

I skimmed the book from here on out. I am, unfortunately, not that interested in the conclusion to this series.