Friday, February 24, 2012

February reading

First television, since all the shows I'm currently watching (except Top Shot) are at or near their season finales, and these shows have a connection to the books I'll discuss:

Downton Abbey

Brought to us here in the USA by PBS/Masterpiece Theater. I was getting a little worried about Downton Abbey, Season Two. I may even have fast-forwarded through the episode where a guy showed up claiming to be the Titanic-lost heir.

I don't mind when people act out of character in any story, as long as it leads to them being more interesting as characters, rather than less. For instance, O'Brien, the lady's maid to Lady Grantham, is an unbelievable schemer. She's much nicer this season, and you can trace it directly back to when she erroneously thought Lady Grantham was planning to get rid of her, and did something horrible she's now plagued with guilt over. This also leads to conflict with Thomas the footman, who used to be her ally in all their plots for advancement, because he has no idea why she's suddenly found a conscience.

I understand why O'Brien and Lord Grantham have changed, but not why Mary or Isobel have. I was worried that several characters were dangerously close to becoming cliches I'd prefer not to see in such a...well, masterpiece. :) Fortunately the show is still fascinating, and I'm looking forward to Season Three.

I'll admit that the acerbic dowager countess is now my favorite character (I didn't have a favorite in Season One, because so many of the characters were so delightfully entertaining and flawed), and I'm finding Bates only slightly less irritating than I did last season. There's nothing more annoying than people who choose to be altruistic by hurting everyone who cares about them. There's nothing selfless about that.

Which is not to say I want him to be different. I've said it before - I don't need to like characters to find their situations fascinating. Playing Bates the valet against Thomas the footman (who is just one big steaming pile of self-interest) makes for good storytelling.

And Parenthood. People who know me may find my loving this show to be rather out of character, but I don't think it is. I don't have or want children, I tend to avoid traditional family get-togethers, and crowds involving 5 to 50 people make me nervous (smaller or larger is mostly okay). But I love Parenthood, for some of the same reasons I love Downton Abbey and Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series. Large families are the biological equivalent of boarding schools and medieval castles as far as storytelling goes. Lots of people with different goals are around each other all the time = great setting for conflict = a good story (which is obviously not the same thing as "story I want to live in real life").

My favorite character in Parenthood is Adam Braverman, the eldest, most responsible sibling who -pretty much - always does the right thing. Which is interesting, because the eldest, most responsible sibling was my least favorite of the Bridgerton siblings (not that big a deal, I liked them all, I just liked Francesca and Colin the most).

Books! After re-reading a crazy number of books, I finally picked up something new (to me).

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks
Genre: fantasy

Azoth wants to escape his hellish life in the slums, stealing to pay dues in a street guild where he and his closest friends are terrorized and abused. After mistaking the wetboy Durzo Blint (P4: A wetboy was like an assassin – in the way a tiger is like a kitten) for a kind-looking man, Azoth begs to become Durzo’s apprentice, and enters a world of politics and magic where the dangers are bigger and further-reaching than anything he ever imagined in the slums.

I expected it to be good, and it was. It had many things I love - political intrigue, magic, people who are really good at what they do, impossible choices.

It also had the longest final battle sequence I think I've ever read. After wading through 200 pages or so of blood and gore before reaching "The End", I curled up into a small ball under the covers and whimpered through a minor breakdown over why people are so mean to each other and why we can't just get along.

I know this stunning amount of violence is the direction fantasy is heading (along with many if not most other genres). Brent Weeks is a brilliant writer, one of my favorite authors, repped by my favorite literary agency (because they rep several of my favorite authors), which means I plan to read everything he writes. But because I was expecting violence on the level of The Black Prism (which he wrote after the Night Angel books, and which you should read IMMEDIATELY, if you haven't already) I was a bit stunned by this. I read fantasy despite the violence, not because of it. And I get grumpy when my favorite character is killed.

So I figured I'd take some recovery time, and look for a book I'd been meaning to read for a while, a regency romance with magic in it, and more importantly, no killing.

I went looking for that book, and instead stumbled on

To Love a Thief by Julie Anne Long
Genre: Regency Romance

I think what drew my attention was that the blurb seemed so similar to another book I read and liked recently: Law-enforcing aristocrat falls in love with hot criminal. But in this case, Gideon's plan isn't to reform Lily into a non-criminal so much as to use her talent for making herself whatever she wants to be. He wants her to become a lady, and make the woman he really wants jealous.

Folks, I think I may have just found a new favorite Regency Romance author (along with Courtney Milan, Julia Quinn, and Tessa Dare). I love, love, love Julie Anne Long's voice. Lots of wit, humor, setting, adventure. Not to mention similes and metaphors that do exactly what they should do: emphasize their point rather than distract you from it.

 I'd intended to read To Love a Thief and then read Shadow's Edge by Brent Weeks, but somehow I found myself reading

The Perils of Pleasure by Julie Anne Long
Genre: Regency Romance

Madeleine Greenway is a mercenary who can retrieve anything someone's lost (e.g., if you gave your wife's necklace to your mistress by mistake, and need it back asap). She's been paid to retrieve Colin Eversea from the gallows, and does so at the very last moment, using explosions and a riot. But when she takes him to the drop-off point, someone tries to kill her.

I'm not crazy about the cover, but I love the writing:

P84 quote:

“He had one of those chins what…” One of the innkeeper’s hands went up to squeeze his chin into two little folds. “…a chin what looks like an arse.”
“A chin dimple? A cleft?”
“Not cleft so much as dented, Mr. Eversea. And blue eyes. Went nicely with his costume.”
Dumbstruck silence followed this observation.
The innkeeper sighed. “It’s me wife. If ye gets yerself a wife one day, Mr. Eversea, ye’ll come ou’ wi’ things like that, too, mark my words, mark my words. ‘This matches wi’ that or with this,’ and so on. They talk like that, women do. She makes me look a’ things and give opinions. She’ll turn me into a girl yet.”
This seemed unlikely, but all Colin said was, “Blue eyes and an arse chin. Thank you, that’s very helpful, Mr. Croker.”

P323 Quote (after a group of soldiers have just been ambushed and disarmed by the criminal they were chasing)

Their three muskets lay in a row on the ground like fallen comrades.

And then I stayed up until 5:30 this morning reading the third book and trying not to giggle (or sniffle) too loudly, while my long-suffering husband pretended to sleep through it:

Like No Other Lover by Julie Anne Long
Genre: Regency Romance

I really, really like the heroine of this book.

Cynthia Brightly has committed the unforgivable sin for the belle of the London season. Her rich, titled fiancĂ© breaks off the engagement, and no one in society will receive her, except her friend Violet. She retreats to Violet’s country home, with only five pounds to her name and nowhere to go, determined to use this last house party to find a husband before the scandal catches up with her.
Miles, Violet’s brother, was utterly dismissed by Cynthia while she was still the most desirable debutante. Now that his older brother has disappeared and Miles is the heir to the Redmond fortune, he delights in putting Cynthia in her place. Except things don’t go quite as planned, and he finds himself offering to help her find the husband she needs – in exchange for a kiss.

P10 Quote (after Miles overhears Cynthia (who he's been drooling over) say something really cruel about him to someone else):

The shock, when it arrived, was unnatural and nasty: as though a butterfly had landed on his wrist only to sink fangs into it.

P41 Quote:
The room exhaled Redmond wealth and history and comfort; the way a church always seems to exhale peace and prayers.

With these books I realized I may have just stumbled onto another series based on a family (see, there is a tie-in to all those tv shows). Not just one family, but two feuding ones, the Everseas and the Redmonds. I really, really hope that's the case. Nothing bores me more than cookie-cutter villains, and if the Pennyroyal Green series actually follows two large families, making them heroes of their own books, which makes the other family the villain, then I'm hooked.

So now I'm reading Shadow's Edge, and trying to decide whether to also go on to the third Pennyroyal Green book. I probably will. Along with the book I originally went looking for,

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal....
Genre: umm...Regency fantasy?

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