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Showing posts from March, 2008

The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner

I finally got around to reading this one after reading review after glowing review by a host of well-known authors, among them Tamora Pierce, Neil Gaiman, and Holly Black. The Privilege of the Swordis indeed high, swashbuckling fantasy that reads like a cross between Georgette Heyer and Guy Gavriel Kay. And for the first half of the book, I really enjoyed it.

Katherine is a very nice young noblewoman from the country. When her uncle, the Mad Duke, offers to raise her family out of impending poverty in exchange for Katherine coming to live with him in the city and training as a swordswoman, she doesn't even think about it twice. To save her family (and perhaps make a good marriage in town), Katherine jumps at the chance. Trouble is, her uncle really does appear to be "mad" and, in lieu of joining him in his bouts of debauchery and midnight carousing, Katherine is left to fend for herself. After her initial horror at wearing men's clothes, she surprises herself by takin…

Tamar by Mal Peet

This one's been sitting on my TBR shelf for awhile now, waiting for me to work my way around to the right mood. When I finally did, I was sucked in by the first line.
In the end, it was her grandfather, William Hyde, who gave the unborn child her name. He was serious about names; he'd had several himself.One day, out of the blue, William Hyde asks his son to name his daughter Tamar. He explains that when he was a Dutch resistance fighter working for the British during WWII, their code names were taken from rivers in England. His son assumes it was his father's code name and agrees to name her Tamar.

After this brief introduction, the story jumps back in time to follow two young Dutch secret agents, code names Dart and Tamar. The two friends parachute into the occupied Netherlands in the dead of night. Tamar is charged with organizing the fragmented resistance efforts. Dart is his wireless operator. When they arrive, Tamar finds he is based out of the farm where a young woman…

A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson

Once again Ibbotson shows how apt she is at expressing just how her character is feeling, in such a way that the reader sets the book down in her lap and sighs, "Yes. That is exactly how it feels." She stood for a long time looking at the verses in which Emily Dickinson had chronicled her heartbreak. Loneliness had taught Harriet that there was always someone who understood--it was just that so very often they were dead, and in a book.I remember feeling that way when I was a teenager. The first time I read Middlemarch,passages fromA Tale of Two Cities, most of Shakespeare. Certainly Dickinson. The feeling of making contact on the page with someone long gone, at a time when it is so difficult making any contact at all in real life.

When we first meet Harriet, it is indeed difficult to find an aspect of her life that is not dreary and isolated. Kept on an unbelievably tight rein by her scholar father and spinster aunt, her only outlet is the weekly ballet lessons that have some…

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A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

What wordy, frothy fun Ibbotson's books are. Perfect going on a trip books. In fact, reading them makes me wish I was going somewhere, as her heroines always seem to be off somewhere new and exciting and exotic. But since I am not going anywhere (exotic or otherwise) in the near future, getting lost in them has proved a wonderful balm for my It's mid-March and Still Snowing blues.

Anna is a Russian countess whose family is forced to flee their wealth and their home after her father is killed in the Russian Revolution. Completely displaced, living in a flat in London with her former governess, she determines to support her ailing mother and younger brother by taking a job as a maid at the country estate of the Earl of Westerholme. Rupert, the young Earl, is recently home from the war, wounded and desperately trying to save the destitute estate he didn't want to inherit in the first place. You see, he promised his older brother just before he died that he would do anything in…

A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson

Set in Austria and London just before and during World War II, A Song for Summerfollows a young woman named Ellen Carr who takes a job as a housekeeper at an unusual private school in the Austrian Alps. I knew this book and I would get on when Ellen first arrived at Schloss Hallendorf to find a tortoise on wheels speeding across the lawn.It looked much as tortoises do, its neck extended, its demeanor purposeful--but fastened to its back end was a small platform with two wheels on which it scooted as if on roller skates.

"It's Achilles," said Sophie. "His back legs were paralyzed and he was dragging himself along. We thought we'd have to have him destroyed and then Marek came and made him those wheels."Soon after the well-equipped tortoise, Ellen encounters Professor Chomsky who teaches metalwork and swims naked in the lake at all hours, Professor Ritter who teaches drama and encourages the children to be kitchen utensils and to give birth to themselves, and …

Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost

I came across a mention of Halfway to the Grave on Rachel Vincent's blog and decided to give it a try because the notion of a main character who is a half-vampire intrigued me. How does one become half a vampire, and what wicked cool/unbelievably lame attributes come with the package?

Cat Crawfield's mother had an unfortunate encounter with a vampire and five months later Cat was born. Her reclusive mother raised her to hate the darker half of herself, encouraging her to actively hunt the undead as a way of atoning for the fact of her existence. Being the good egg that she is, Cat obeys her mother and spends her youth isolated and alone, always in pursuit of her next victim.

Now 22 and about to start college, Cat firmly believes her mom's mantra: all vampires are evil and must be destroyed. Then one night a routine hunt goes bad when the vampire in question manages to take her prisoner, threatening to kill her unless she reveals who she is working for. Turns out this vampir…

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

I've been savoring this one. I mean, I read a chunk every day, don't get me wrong. But if something happened to come up at night during my normal reading time, instead of muttering, "Vital point," like I usually do, I was up for it.

Watch a movie? Sure.

Clean out a few more boxes from the study? Let's do it!

Because I just didn't want this book to end. It more than lived up to the expectations I had, having heard such wonderful early reviews. And I was so pleased that it did because the initial prospect of a Rumpelstiltskin retelling was not all that attractive.

Let's face it, in its original form it's an awful fairy tale. Awful Dad sells his nameless daughter to Awful King in exchange for money. Awful King threatens nameless daughter with death unless she is able to spin straw into gold. Otherwise he'll marry her. Then to top it all off, creepily Awful Dwarf appears and saves nameless daughter's bacon....in exchange for her potential first-born c…

Rose Daughter--le Livre d'Artist

Last year my fabulous mother-in-law gave me this book for my birthday. Only 1,000 gorgeous limited edition copies were created and one of them resides in my home. It is, hands down, the most beautiful book I own and the truth is I don't have an appropriately lovely manner in which to display it. So it sits on my dresser where I can gaze at it daily and trail my fingertips across the rose brocade. I first saw it when I came across the CMF Gallery website and fell in love with Anne Bachelier's beautiful, haunting illustrations.

They seemed to perfectly capture Rose Daughter's illusory quality. The uncertainty as to what kind of a beast he truly was. The allegorical character names. The inescapable feeling that it could all have happened somewhere. And perhaps did. That Beauty could have been anyone. Your own sister. A close friend.

Thumbing through the heavy linen pages, it is clear this extraordinary book is a labor of love that could only have been created by someone who tr…