Sweet Trouble

Rants, raves, book reviews and one girl's thoughts on life, the universe and everything.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Book Review: L.A. Meyer's Bloody Jack, Libba Bray's Great and Terrible Beauty

L.A. Meyer creates a fiesty young heroine in Mary "Bloody Jack" Faber. The first novel of the series is entitled Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy, which is rather a mouthful but keeps with the time period of the book. In a Q & A that is included at the back of the book, the Mr. Meyer explains how he was listening to old Irish folksongs of young women who went to sea to be with their love. He took that germ of an idea, brought forth young Jacky and created a tale that has action, adventure, pirates, pathos and true love. It is not just a book for girls, but for young people of both genders (and adults, too, as I enjoyed it thouroughly.)

Young orphen Faber finds herself in a boys clothes. Upon discovering that boys have an easier time upon the streets of London in 1797 her accidental deception becomes deliberate and the newly christened "Jack" applies for service as ship's boy in Her Magasty's Royal Navy. This is only the beginning of a story that is at times part Judy Blume, part Patrick O'Brian and yet all new at the same time.

The sequel, Curse of the Blue Tatoo (full title being Curse of the Blue Tattoo : Being an Account of the Misadventures of Jacky Faber, Midshipman and Fine Lady) is, sadly, landlocked. The delightful Jacky is sent to a finishing school for girls in Boston. While there she encounters any number of colorful characters, many of which have stepped right out of the history books. Unfortunately this particular instalment will lose any male readers who may have been lured in by the adventure of the first book. Not to say that Jacky doesn't encounter her share of adventure, it's just of an entirely different flavor.

Meyer makes up for the boarding school tale by returning to the high seas in his third book of the series entitled Under the Jolly Roger : Being an Account of the Further Nautical Adventures of Jacky Faber. I haven't had the pleasure of reading this one yet, but as it seems to involve a more mature Jacky returning to the high seas, it is high on my library wish list.

It may be obvious that I enjoyed Meyer's plucky heroine, unfortunately I brought home Libba Bray's much acclaimed A Great and Terrible Beauty which turned out to set in a boarding school much like that I had just encountered in Blue Tattoo. There were so many similarities, from snotty boarders to intimidating school matrons that I had trouble enjoying Ms. Bray's novel. In fact I only got about two thirds of the way into the book before realizing that I didn't really care about finishing it. I may try again at some point, but for now I'm afraid this is one reader who won't be giving the novel a rave review.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Amusing Meta-Blog

It cracks me up that the Blogger spellcheck recognizes neither the word blog nor blogger.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Book Reviews: Caroline Stevermer

As noted a few blogs back, I recently brought home from the public library a bunch of books containing A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer, it's sequel A Scholar of Magics, Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer and it's sequel The Curse of the Blue tattoo.

I started with a College of Magics. This is an interesting sort of Elseworld Edwardian period piece, but the book jacket made my husband roll his eyes and ask if it was a Harry Potter rip off. I had finished the book by that point and hadn't gotten that vibe once, but I can see how he could jump to such a conclusion. This synopsis is more or less: A girl is sent to boarding school and discovers that not only is magic real, but they teach it at her school!

Similarities aside, the protagonist is an engaging young woman and the story is much more concerned with the historical aspect of "finishing schools for ladies" (which was predecessor to women's colleges) than it is magic. I found it to be an entertaining read and was pleased to find it's sequel to be even more so. A Scholar of Magics features a secondary character from the first book and focuses on the male equivalent of the girl's school. Think snooty Oxford with magical wards, add an American Wild West star and hush-hush research for a magical weapon along with an irrepressible, independent graduate of the girls school into the mix and you have an unusual and rollicking good read.

As fun as these two were, the third book in this alternate reality interests me not at all. Of the first two I'd even recommend the author's joint venture with Patricia Wrede as being the better novels. Stevermer and Wrede are good friends whose playful correspondence turned into the novels Sorcery and Cecilia, or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot and it's sequel The Grand Tour. The two writers role played in their letters, with each writing to the other's character, in the process creating a story. The resulting novel alternates the letters, the whole thing being told through an exchange between cousins in a Jane Austen-esque setting with a twist or two. I wish I had friends like that!



Meyer's books and Bray's will be reviewed in another blog.

Book Reviews: You mean I'm supposed to keep track?

I have begun to blog with more regularity now and find that I gravitate towards discussing the literary versus the personal. In order to make my blog more relevant, interesting or search friendly I've been checking out the whole blog phenomena a bit more aggressively. I was shocked to find five out of eight book oriented blogs visited in the past thirty minutes are keeping track of the number of books they read during a year.

We're supposed to keep track? Urgh. Um, gee, I wonder if my library will give me a print out. Plus, there's the whole sticky "do re-reads count toward the total?" What about Young Adult literature? Maybe they only count for half, except for Potter of course which should count for three, except of course I read it in about six hours so maybe not.

In addition to such quandaries as the ones listed previously, there is the fact that shouting out what number you are on is just plain tacky in my book. Not only are you declaring your reading superiority, you are also making yourself seem foolish. If you are reading to meet some arbitrary goal, are you reading the book for the book's sake? Of the blogs I saw, 50 seems to be the magic number. Why is fifty better than 25, or 75. If a person only reads ONE book in a year and it's a great book and it changes their life, then in the long run that is going to matter more than someone who chugged through a bunch for the wrong reasons.

This is one blogger game I won't be playing. My book reviews will have to speak for themselves, and the curious can do the math if they really want to know numerical counts. Be warned though, that it won't be accurate since not every novel I read makes the cut. I can at least guarantee that anything listed here was read for no other reason than it looked like a good book.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips = Super, Entertaining and "Ph"un

This one goes out to the ladies: if you like to read and haven't discovered Susan Elizabeth Phillips...get to a bookstore or library now! I tend to forget how very enjoyable her novels are until the new one comes out. I just finished her newest hard back release "Match Me if You Can."

"Match Me if You Can" is fun, and often funny. Full of lively characters in an engrossing but not overly heavy tale, this novel is set in the same alternate Chicago as several of her other books. It features cameos by characters I'd met before, but doesn't rely on the reader knowing their stories. I think of it as a sort of a bonus to returning readers, but not a detriment to new ones. SEP delivers strong female characters who retain their femininity and deal with everyday issues like nagging mothers and old cars with panache and flare. From the first few chapters most readers will know exactly who ends up with who, but the getting there is so much fun that I found I couldn't put the book down. Only a grumpy husband who prefers to sleep with the light off kept me from reading through the night to finish it!

As I said, Match Me if You Can is new in hardback. If you like to buy your novels, go ahead and start at the beginning with some of the cheaper paperbacks. Here's a list I found on SEP's website. The Chicago books are all loosely related, but can be read independently. The other's are all stand alone stories.

The "Chicago Stars" books, with descriptions from the Author's website:

It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
  • The Chicago Stars story begins with Phoebe Somerville and Dan Calebow

Heaven, Texas by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

  • Bobby Tom Denton and Gracie Snow

Nobody's Baby but Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

  • Cal Bonner and Dr. Jane Darlington
Dream a Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

  • This is not an official Chicago Stars book, but continues the story of the Bonner family begun in Nobody's Baby but Mine. Also contains Ethan’s story

This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

  • Conclusion of the Chicago Stars

Stand Alone Novels:

Ain't She Sweet

Breathing Room

Just Imagine

First Lady

Kiss An Angel

Honey Moon

Hot Shot

Fancy Pants

Breathing Room is one of my all time favorite romance novels. Of the others listed here, First Lady, Kiss an Angel and the Chicago series are the ones I find to be the most memorable. This Heart of Mine in particular contains poignant scenes that stick with you for years.

I've only just discovered the author's website and signed up for her newsletter today. I've been reading these books as they come out for a good ten years now but never thought to look her up online. The internet creates an interesting sort oaccessibilityty and "new" fanbases for authors that was not available elsewhere. Apparently Ms. Phillips' fans call themselves "Seppies" and have a lively community presence on the web. Check out the website at the easily remembered: http://www.susanelizabethphillips.com/


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Library Blues

Well, I am disappointed in my libary. I've gotten QUITE accustomed to their e-mail reminders of when books are due to be returned. I took three back on Sunday that felt as if they had been around the house a very long time indeed and I was right: they were ten days overdue and cost me three whopping dollars. Now three dollars may not sound like much, but when you figure that it's half the price of a paperback, well. It adds up. Shame on them for not sending me an e-mail. It's all their fault. Money Grubbers.

While there I picked up:

  • A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
  • A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer
  • A Scholar of Magics by Caroline Stevermer
  • Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer
  • Curse of the Blue Tatoo by L.A. Meyer

I think I'm leaving off one that slid under the seat in the car. Forgive me if I don't tromp outside to find out.

I also read The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde. It lacks the elegance and whimsy of The Eyre Affair. It's not a bad book persay, but it takes some getting into and even then leaves one rather unfulfilled. Clearly a first novel (he wrote it first but publishers passed on it) and may have been more palatable before learning what he was capable with in the four books that preceded it to print.

The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce picks up after eight other novels in her Circle series, but oddly enough is able to stand completely on it's own. Worth waiting for, and more adult than previous entries. This is probably because our protaganists are now 18-ish instead of 10 as they began in the first novel.

Last but not least, my mother bought for me Inkspell by Cornelia Funke, the sequal to the delightful Inkheart. I'll probably save it for a rainy day, or at the very least till after I've read all of the libary books and A Breath of Snow and Ashes which FINALLY came from Amazon.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

On Books

I haven't posted much about what I've read this summer, because while diverting, very little has been worth actually recommending. Things like Harry Potter hardly need an unknown blogger touting their horn, and apparently even the Eragon sequel Eldest has garnered a wider audience than anyone expected.

Since May I have read Julie Garwood's newest novel Slow Burn, many of Karen Robard's, all but one of Linda Howard's and a slew of Luann Rice books. The first three writers all fall into that mystery/suspense/romance and after more than one of any book by these fine ladies I start knowing "who done it" far too early in the book. Still for fans of Julie Garwood's other FBI books, I can't reccomend Slow Burn enough. Luann Rice writes much more personal tales of personal growth and families, although they too are romances and have some have their share of suspense or mystery. Be warned that the two newest novels: Summer's Child and Summer of Roses, along with the reissued Stone Heart deal with very uncomfortable (for me) tales of spousal and child abuse.

One of the more interesting things I've read recently was loaned to me by a friend. 9 Highland Drive by Michael Winerip. Mr Winerip is a writer for the NY Times who took two years off to live in a group home for the mentally ill, and this work documents that time. It is a very interesting read, if uncomfortable for me at time. A very deal family member of mine has had many encounters with various mental health hospitals, and the sections where the author describes visitng the locked hospital floors were an uncomfortable reminder of parts of my childhood.

A new author I saw in a Denver bookstore, and then looked up when I returned home is Shannon Hale. She has published three delightful novels for the young adult market: The Goose Girl, it's sequal Enna Burning and a stand alone tale called The Princess Academy. These three, all available at my public library, were probably the freshest tales and most fun I had reading of anything I have listed here.

It has been a long summer and it seems as if I have spent most of it waiting for big "event" releases. First there was Harry, and then a lesser event to the public but highly anticipated by me the new novels by Diana Gabaldon (A Breath of Snow and Ashes) and Tamora Pierce (Will of the Empress), the later of which was pushed back from September release date to October. With my recently aquired and hard earned birthday money (you don't think it was hard earned? I had to turn 32 to get it!) I ordered both of these from Amazon and find myself frustrated that they haven't shipped yet, in fact the estimated arrival date is October 20. What happened to the old pre-order policy of "order it now and we will ship it when it arrives." If this keeps up it's going to be back to the local Barnes and Noble for me. Or even Costco, which already has Snow and Ashes!

Not-so-shopaholic Blues (and Red and Greens)

I've always thought that those highly organized folks who got all of their Christmas shopping done by the end of summer were a.) a little anal, b.) a little nuts, c.)missing out on the season just a bit, d.) too organized for their own good and e.) had too much money, 'cause who can afford to do that? My animals' shots are due in the summer, followed by a whole slew of August and September family birthdays so that always soaks up any extra moola we might have!

Despite this mindset, I came home from Costco today after a toilet paper run and realized that I'm pretty much done with our eighteen month old son's Christmas. What with one thing and another, including a buy one get one of Fisher Price Little People sets this past spring, the kid has more toys and goodies stashed around this house than he needs. In fact, some of this stuff may stay stashed and become part of his birthday next April! Holy Cow!

In various hiding places around the house we have for our son:

The Little People Village play set

The Little People Airport play set

24 hand puppets

2 tents and a connecting crawl tube

various books

Now, if only the in-laws and my parents were as easy to shop for...Hmm, It also occurs to me that the cats still need their annual shots. Oh well.