Where I've Been...

... Remember, back in January, when I told y'all I got a new, full-time library job? Almost 5 months in, and I'm loving every minute (well, almost)! It's definitely my dream job come true, and I can see now why I had to wait so long for it to happen ... Of course, there have been some rough transitions too. Like desperately missing my people from the University. And realizing that I'm going to be working all day, every day, this summer - instead of being the carefree SummerGirl. There's been an impact on this blog too ...

... I'm posting less. I've got a stack of review books I need to work through (thankfully Kindle copies don't actually "stack," ha!). I started the year reading surprisingly little, but have picked that up lately. There was a space of about two months when I didn't read a blog subscription once (and probably missed some really amazing posts too, sadly). There are weeks where I don't even log into twitter at all. I feel, at times, as if I've slipped off the face of the earth -- but I haven't! Promise! I'm writing (and reading) for three separate blogs now and a local publication. I'm keeping busy, reading and writing and talking about books and all those lovely fun things that I've done here for several years (eep, just remembered: blogoversary approaches very swiftly!) -- and getting paid to do those things. This, my friends, is amazing. It still doesn't feel quite real.

All that's to say: I'm still here. I'm trying to get on a consistent Tuesday/Friday posting schedule, with other posts worked in as blog tours or special features (or forgetful scheduling) dictate. And maybe I'll cook up some blogoversary fun, now that I suddenly remember I have one, haha ...

So what's new with you? What are you reading that's exciting?


Strands of Bronze and Gold

 Strands of Bronze and Gold
Jane Nickerson
Random House, 2013

First, a confession: I've never heard of (let alone read) "The Bluebeard fairy tale," so I went into this reading with no background knowledge. At all. I only knew it was a fairy tale retelling, set in the antebellum Deep South, and that cover is absolutely gorgeous. So. Now you know.

This story ... oh man ... it's sweeping. It's isolated. It's dramatic. It's simple. It's ... well. Yeah. (I should probably also confess I read the bulk of this under influence of low-grade fever, waiting for the first dose of antibiotics to kick in and start kicking germ butt. Therefore, if anything totally oddball pops into the review, you know where it came from, ha).

Following the death of her father, Sophia Petheram's world is flipped upside down when her godfather - the mysterious, and exceedingly wealthy, Frenchman Bernard de Cressac, who is also now her guardian - invites her to come live at Wyndriven Abbey in a remote area of Mississippi. Adjusting to the sultry, heavy heat of Mississippi after a lifetime in Boston is Sophie's greatest challenge. At first. Monsieur Bernard is all doting kindness, showering her with gifts and delighting her with tales of his exotic travels. There's a wild, ancient beauty to the Abbey and surrounding countryside, and Sophia is happy. Then ... loneliness and isolation start creeping in. Dark mysteries of the Abby's previous inhabitants start infiltrating the carefully guarded mystique. And Sophie begins to see that Monsieur Bernard has as much darkness (if not more) in his soul as he does fanciful light. After months of rising tension and struggles, everything comes to a shocking conclusion -- rocking Sophie's world to its core once again.

The careful "world-building" in Strands of Bronze and Gold was mesmerizing. I use the term loosely, since it's not a fantasy world - the setting is our own past, the antebellum Deep South. But it's got a foreign touch, thanks to the eccentric habits of Bernard. And it's an entirely new and foreign life for Sophie, adjusting to slaves and servants and great wealth - and all the expectations and encumbrances that wealth entails. There's a fairly extensive cast of supporting characters, who help guide Sophie through the story, but the spotlight is clearly on Sophie and Bernard. Their interactions, and Sophie's gradual transformation from isolated, naive girl to a wiser, perhaps even fiercer, young lady who takes her destiny into her own hands, create an intense narrative and engrossing story.

Book provided by my public library.


North and South (DVD)

 North and South
BBC, 2004
Starring: Richard Armitage & Daniela Denby-Ashe

While I ended up not watching this treasure with the Indie Janeites as planned, I did purchase and devour it after reading the book. Oh swoon. It was a wonderful viewing experience, and the BBC did a pretty good job of translating book to screen. Especially when you consider they took roughly 3-years-and-change of time and condensed it into a 4ish hour production. Impressive, my friends, impressive.

I'm willing to overlook some of the story-alterations as necessary evils for this condensing, although the one main issue I have is that they made Thornton mean. Proud, a little brash, controlled passion and a little rough around the edges? Definitely. But mean? Nope. So that bugged me a little, having become so acquainted with his character. I understand the "logic" behind the decision (give Margaret a reason to dislike him, quickly), but think it could have been handled differently. Otherwise, I'm okay with the way they played with the story.

DVD provided by my personal library.


North and South

North and South
Elizabeth Gaskell
Penguin, 1996 (original publication 1855)

My journey to this book is an interesting one. Several years ago, a girlfriend suggested I give the BBC miniseries North & South a try, since I like Jane Austen miniseries so much. I tucked the recommendation away in my mental files, and it got lost. Then, on twitter, I saw where Kimberly Truesdale mentioned her next writing project, and got sucked into a hilarious conversation about superpowers, Mr Thornton (whom I knew nothing about) and Thorin Oakenshield (who I definitely have opinions on!) Out of that late night hilarity, we came up with the idea of an Indie Jane read-along of North and South, to culminate in a group watch of the miniseries (it stars the dreamy Dwarf King in a cravat. I kid you not). And so, the reading began ... and I was so, so hooked.

The story itself is ... well, it's quite a bit like Pride and Prejudice, actually. There's the girl (Margaret), who finds herself in reduced circumstances thanks to the nonthinking of her father, and who has been transplanted from the country South to the industrial North of England. And there's this guy (Thornton), who is a little brash around the edges - and definitely broody - not to mention substantially better off than the girl's family, and has been born and raised in this bustling industrial sector. Girl meets guy, and sparks fly. But not the dreamy romantic kind. Oh no, these two get along about as well as cats and rain. Margaret misses the quiet, clean, slower paced South, and fails to see how anyone could prefer the smoke and crowded noise of Milton. She soons finds herself making friends among the workers, and wrapped up in the middle of all the intricate ins and outs of mill town politics. Because her heart and sense of justice tell her things must change, but her prejudice prevents her from seeing the truth of Thornton's arguments. Oh yes, these two argue. It's delicious. And, of course, just as things might be beginning to sort themselves out "as they should," new complications arise by way of a clandestine visit from the outlaw brother, entirely too many deaths in quick succession, and the whisking away of Margaret from Milton back to London. Is all hope lost? Never! This is British literature we're talking about, and our dear writers never leave us in the lurch for long.

I delighted in this reading. There are lines that snagged my soul, and characters I loved to hate. And there's Thornton ... oh, Thornton. He tries so hard, he's so very rough and unpracticed. But he's real. He's flawed. He's human. He's totally on Darcy's level. And Margaret has such a sweet, sweet heart. It makes her prejudices more understandable, because she feels so much for everyone. I've rarely been prouder of a character however, than I was when she up and decided to tackle her life her own way, at the end. It was the perfect lead up to a lovely little encounter in the Library ... Definitely happy I was prodded into reading this gem. Now I can even more fully appreciate Kim's version when it comes out and I have a new author to pursue.

Book provided by my personal library.


At Fault

At Fault
JW Becton
Whiteley Press, 2013

As with the previous installments in her Southern Fraud Thriller series, Becton has managed to write a mystery that not only holds my interest but keeps me guessing the whole time. Julia and Vincent are back together again, following Vincent's recovery from the shooting at the end of Death Benefits, and working on a straight-up insurance fraud ring case. So they think. The scope of the investigation quickly increases, as more and more suspects are added to the list, and it would appear that the "simple fraud ring" is a much bigger operation. When the young daughter of the doctor who tipped off the DOI is abducted, things get really crazy. And if you've read the other two Southern Fraud books, you know that crazy is definitely ... crazy.

Not only is At Fault a riveting mystery in its own right, but Julia's personal investigation into her sister's rape is finally reaching an "end," which opens a new set of worries and distractions. And, of course, there's Vincent. There's no denying there is some major chemistry between the two - we readers have seen it from the beginning - and they finally start to acknowledge it themselves. Swoon. Sigh. Becton builds chemistry and tension masterfully, being real without being lurid. And, thankfully, the crimes in At Fault are not as ... creepy ... as previous incidents have been. (Woman has skillz, people). There is more cursing than before (which in and of itself doesn't bug me too much, since I'd probably swear myself in the context), but Becton has acknowledged this and is retrofitting At Fault to match the standard set in Absolute Liability. All in all, a great next installment to the series, and I'm officially a fan. Which is, you know, saying a lot since it's a mystery series.

eARC provided by author for review.


Summerset Abbey (double review)

Since I read these back-to-back, and the story flows so easily from book to book, I'm pairing my reviews.

Summerset Abbey
TJ Brown
Gallery Books, 2013

(Quick commentary: While I love this cover, and that dress is striking, it is like nothing worn by any of the characters during the course of the novel. Just saying...)

Edwardian England. Not an era I know a lot about, but that didn't come close to detracting from my enjoyment of the story of three young ladies who are not your typical Edwardian society girls. Rowena and Victoria Buxton, and their might-as-well-be-sister Prudence Tate, have just been moved from their cozy London home to the sprawling family estate - Summerset Abbey - to live with their aunt and uncle (the Earl of Summerset), following the death of their father. Sir Phillip raised the girls to be educated, outspoken, and not bound by the rigid rules of society. In stark contrast, Aunt Charlotte is a stickler for society's boundaries, and the girls find themselves in a world that tests their faith - in each other.

Filled with details of an elegant, bygone era (teas, and dances, and the clothes!, oh my) teetering on the cusp of modernity, Summerset Abbey is a tale of both the changing times as a whole, and the personal development of three very different girls. The characters are well drawn, and the tensions and chemistry/interactions are so true-to-life. While Rowena's listlessness and apathy got a bit on my nerves, Prudence's struggle to find her place and Victoria's passionate outspokeness won my interest. There are multiple storylines going on, but not so many that it gets confusing. It made me think of big family gatherings, where everyone is talking at once, trying to get everybody caught up on everything that's happened. But with grace and elegance, of course. Not a bad beginning for what I hope turns out to be a great historical trilogy.

Book provided by my local library.

Summerset Abbey: A Bloom in Winter
TJ Brown
Gallery Books, 2013

(Again: Stunning dress and cover, but not exactly fitting the story. Ah well.)

Picking up not long after Summerset Abbey leaves off, the stories of Rowena, Victoria and Prudence continue to develop - and complicate. Rowena finally gets interesting (ha), and finds herself with a "fake" engagement. Victoria turns her spunk into secretive daring, and almost gets herself killed in the process. And Prudence, ah Prudence, struggling to figure out who she is and where she belongs - her heart finally finds a sense of peace.

A Bloom in Winter feels more historical somehow, with a greater blend of Society functions and looking at what's going on in terms of changing times. Victoria's work with the suffragettes brings to light hidden working aspects of the world, as well as demonstrating that sometimes peoples' passions carry too far. Rowena begins coming to terms with her place IN Society - she was born to a certain role and position, and while she can have ideals and hopes to make changes, she will do so much better from within her elite position. They're growing up, and in doing so becoming more dimensional - and understanding. As before, the entire cast of characters are interesting and dynamic -- I especially love Kit -- and the setting is so elegantly foreign. An enjoyable read, and I look forward to seeing how the trilogy concludes later this year.

Book provided by my local library.


Froi + Quintana

I'm combining my reviews of Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn for two reasons: it decreases spoiler-ism (I hope), and they simply belong together. I can't separate the stories in my head. If you've not read Finnikin of the Rock, you need to. While the events of Froi and Quintana take place some three years after Finnikin, you need to know the back story. You need to know the characters. You need to fall in love with Lumatere. Because if you don't love Lumatere, these books will be ... flat. (Or you could probably read them like a normal person, without the huge emotional investment/toll that I experienced. Oy...but we'll get to that). That said, allow me to try and make sense of my feelings about these books.

Froi of the Exiles
Melina Marchetta
Candlewick, 2012 (originally published in 2011)

Picking up the story three years after Finnikin and Isaboe return Lumatere to peace and life, there's still much unrest among the nations of Skuldenore. After years of heartache and deception, finding peace is difficult, especially for Queen Isaboe. When a Charyn rebel appears in the Valley, below Lucian and the Monts' mountain, with a plea for help in the assasination of the Charyn king (the one who orchestrated the horror of the Lumaterans), Finnikin and his Guard are cautious but curious. As they discuss things, Froi finds himself strangely drawn to this Charynite. And with his undeniable skill, and brains, it's not a surprise when it is decided that Froi will slip into Charyn, under the pretense of being Olivier, the Last Born of Sebastopol, and kill the king. But things are rarely as simple as they seem, and Froi quickly realizes there is more to Charyn than he thought - and more to himself as well.

If the curse over Lumatere was hard and complicated, the curse hanging over Charyn is ten times more difficult. On the day Princess Quintana was born, all pregnant women miscarried, and no child had been born since. The Last Borns were treasured, and through them the curse is promised to be broken. Specifically, through Quintana. But Charyn politics are insane, and Quintana is thought to be at least half-mad and quite probably possessed. Froi knows better than to get involved, with any of it. But ... he can't help himself. And as he finds himself drawn into the complicated network of alliances and grudges and fighting, he discovers that what he thinks he knows is only scratching the surface.

I stayed up entirely too late reading this book. It sucked me in, drew me deep into the story. I became emotionally invested and connected with the characters. Froi, struggling to balance his bonds, to know what to do, to know who he is - he stole my heart. Quintana is a force to be reckoned with, and the entire cast of characters have surprising depth. When it ended, I was left feeling like someone had slammed into my chest, knocking me breathless and hanging over the edge of a cliff. Torture. Book hangover of a scale I haven't experienced since Pegasus. Thankfully, I had Quintana at hand and could quickly pick up the story again -- so do not read Froi without ready access to Quintana. You've been warned.

Book provided by publisher for review.

Quintana of the Exiles
Melina Marchetta
Candlewick, 2013 (originally published in 2012)

After Froi's attempt to escort Quintana to a place of safety goes horribly awry, it's as though the Princess has disappeared. Nobody knows where to find her, and the unrest in Charyn is getting more and more complicated. With Froi and Quintana separated, the story is more complex in its telling, and the chronology gets a little blurred. Marchetta does a great job of making everything work however, and seeing their individual journeys weave and interplay - despite the distance - adds depth. And emotional turmoil. (I almost think she was trying to destroy what was left of my heart).

As Froi struggles to balance his identity as a Lumateran with his identity as a Charynite, he finds himself - and his ragtag family unit - part of a gathering army preparing to find and "rescue" the missing Quintana. This group, fractured and flawed as all of Charyn, has a vision for the future of the country. A future that Froi is destined to be separate from, but determined to help create - for the sake of Quintana and the Little King. Quintana, meanwhile, has found refuge in the Valley, right under the nose of Lucian and Lumatere (and thus wholly and entirely 'safe' from the roving Charynites hunting for her). Hiding in a cave, waiting - fighting - for her life and a chance at comparative freedom, Quintana learns much about herself, and her world. Key in this growth is Phaedra, the complicated-former-sorta-almost-could-be-again wife of Lucian. Phaedra also grows during the time of hiding, growing stronger and more confident, finding her sense of purpose - as well as discovering love.

Love feels like a central theme, actually, stringing all the individual characters and their stories together. Isaboe and Finnikin, Lucian and Phaedra, Tessadora and Perri, Froi and Quintana, Gargarin, Arjuro and Lirah - all of these people discover that what is moving them, what is pushing them into battling their personal demons, ultimately is love. And the ultimate discovery is that Love is bigger than pasts, bigger than boundaries between countries, bigger than prejudices and misunderstandings. Love takes many forms, manifests in different ways, but is - after all - the most powerful force.

The Lumatere Chronicles are masterfully written fantasy, with carefully drawn, complex characters. It's a story that will work its way into your heart while you read, dominating your imagination and creating a bond between you and the people on the page. I'm almost sad to see the end of the series, but Marchetta wrapped everything up so beautifully - leaving a sense of fulfillment, as well as a knowing that the story "goes on" somehow.

ARC provided by publisher for review.


Cover Reveal: Book 3 Seraphina Parrish Trilogy

Today we have VERY exciting news! We are revealing the title & cover of the third and final book in the Seraphina Parrish Trilogy by Michelle Warren. Who else is super excited??