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A Little Finishing School Goes a Long Way

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I had been dying to read, Etiquette & Espionage, the first book in Gail Carriger’s new Finishing School series ever since her adult series, the Parasol Protectorate, concluded last spring.  I even pre-ordered it, something I almost never do because I was so darn excited…maybe it was the book trailer that suckered me into actually pre-ordering but then again who am I fooling? I was planning to download the book on its release date anyway.  But I’ll let you decide for yourself…watch this trailer and tell me if it doesn’t make you want to run out and buy (or download and read as in my case) this book.

video source via Youtube

I don’t plan to prattle on like I usually can during a book review, particularly because Carriger’s books are reviewed pretty extensively and really I just want to gush about a few points and be done with it.

Here’s the cliff notes version:

Basic summary: Fourteen-year old Sophronia Temminnick is a bit of a handful who likes climbing trees and tinkering with gadgets more than refining her ladylike manners…much to her mother’s great chagrin. So said mother enrolls her daughter in a finishing school but it’s not your typical finishing school…I mean, yes, the girls do learn the more genteel manners like how to execute a perfect curtsy but they also learn how to finish the finer points of espionage, diversion and sometimes even how do dole out death. Thereby that’s how we find ourselves following Ms. Temminnick and her friends in their first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality as they help discover and thwart a fiendish plot. 

Review:

–Adorable adventure romp filled with lots of droll humor and witty conjectures just as one expects from a Carriger novel

–Very Steampunk meets Harry Potter with lots of classroom scenes where Sophronia and her friends learn how to curtsy, flirt, pick locks, spar and all other forms of relevant finishing school courses

–YA novel not focused on boys, dating and the inevitable love triangles! Amazing, I was so happy about this!

–Delightful dirigibles, gadgets, inventions, mechanimals, spying…need I say more?!

–Acts as an almost prequel to the Parasol Protectorate series, where the reader discovers the young versions of Beatrice Lefoux, Sidheag Maccon (aka Lady Kingair), and Genevieve Lefoux.  For me, it was as though I was able to peak behind the curtain at their early life even those I am well aware of how it all turns out. It gave even greater depth to their well-remembered adult characters.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I look forward to reading the next installment, Curtsies & Conspiracies, this fall.

Available at your favorite online retailers:

Amazon

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February, it’s been a blast!

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The first half of February was a relatively productive month.  I finished editing my not-yet-published draft’s first two chapters to a point where I was happy enough with its progress to send to three lucky friends (who I like to think of as my own personal beta readers) for review. 

The second half of the month was mostly marked by gallivanting around New Orleans and then later Vermont.  So, given my lack of free time and subsequent fatigue, the second half wasn’t too industrious.  I haven’t even looked at my manuscript in a couple of weeks, and only managed to write one blog post. While I did manage to get some book research accomplished in New Orleans, my shenanigans at night compromised my ability to be too productive during the day.  It wasn’t fruitless though and I’ll post some reflections from my trip sometime next week.  On a positive note, I also uploaded the first two chapters to Penguin-hosted Book Country, an online community for writers and readers.  So if you have an account on Book Country, you can read the first two chapters and get a better sense of what The Fly Tower will be about and offer constructive comments and critiques. This weekend I will start editing again, and I’m very excited to delve back into the world I created.  Also, I’ve given myself a strict July 1st deadline to have the remaining manuscript ready so I can start the submission process (ie find an agent, scout publishers, etc) so here’s to a productive Spring! 

Goodbye February–it was an unbelievable blast but now it’s time to get back to work!

Cajun Carousin’ to Mountain Meandering

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I’ve been living a Rock’n’Roll lifestyle, traveling first to New Orleans and then to Killington, VT with barely three days between trips.  It’s been exciting, ridiculously fun…and a bit exhausting.

So Sunday morning, I was lounging away at the ski resort debating whether I was motivated enough to get any editing or blogging accomplished when I found myself struck by the extreme contrasts on how I spent the last two Saturdays.  Given that the thought of doing any real work was a bit daunting, I decided to fritter away my time by cataloging said vacations.

The recap:

Morning:

New Orleans, 9:30AM: AWAKE. For some odd (and greatly distressing) reason, my friends and I woke up super early this first morning in NOLA. After a day of travel and hitting Bourbon St until 3AM, we still rolled out of bed before a decent hour (and by decent, I of course mean noon).  I just didn’t understand it.

Killington, 9:30AM: ASLEEP. Thank God!

Afternoon:

New Orleans: After getting ready, the girls and I finally managed to sneak out of the hotel around noon, and hopped in a cab to Mahoney’s Po-Boy Shop. The adventure began here with our charming local NOLA driver, albeit he was a blatant racist. Though I imagine he’s the type who wouldn’t consider himself racist. You know the type, like your older racist grandpa who served in the military and makes off color comments about pretty much very other ethnic group or demographic except his own.  While I find racism abhorrent, he reminded me of my grandfather so I largely ignored his prejudicial comments and instead focused on his anecdotes about the city. Luckily, it was only a 10-15 minute cab ride because the comments had almost reached their all too uncomfortable limit when we arrived at our destination.

On to the food:  Mahoney’s. We shared three delicious po-boys (Fried Oyster, Shrimp & Fried Green Tomato, and Roast Beef) plus we each indulged in a round of Bloody Marys that were pretty darn delicious.  So a little toasty now and very full with food, we sauntered back to the hotel, taking our time to check out the cute artisan shops along the way. A quick stop at the hotel and then we were hopping back in a cab, this time headed to the Old New Orleans Rum Distillery.  Upon entering, they served us a Mango Peach Tea (spiked with rum of course) and then led us on the tour.  Honestly, the tour was pretty decent but I got a little bored and just wanted to get to the tasting already…and boy it was an awesome tasting! The tour guy just poured out TONS of samples of each of their 5 rum selections, and you could have multiple tastings of each type if you wanted. So good! I liked their Cajun Spice Rum (a specialty rum infused with cinnamon, cayenne, nutmeg, etc) the best so I picked up a bottle and a very cute wooden spoon with a hot buttered rum recipe carved into it. With all this excitement over, we grabbed dinner and then commenced to take a very long evening nap.

Killington: Lazy morning followed by lunch at Wally’s. It’s an old-timey diner complete with its own fresh orange juicer conveyer belt system.  All the food is always delicious and so fresh.  My boyfriend and I decided on Bloody Marys so this is the only part of the comparison that makes an appearance two weeks in a row. 🙂  I drank about 1/3 of mine before the food came out so I was already feeling a bit “relaxed” when my boyfriend made arrangements for our snowmobiling tour through the mountain.

Since I was still feeling my afternoon drink, I said ‘sounds awesome but you drive.’ It was really amazing! Since I’ve only skied once (and not that well), I had never been high up in the mountains during any of our VT vacations.  It was so delightful to sit back while he zipped us around.  It was lightly snowing and everything was covered with brilliant white snow–not the yellowy dank snow we get in New York.  So beautiful! It really made me want to learn to ski so I could make my way into the mountains more often.  At one point, our tour guide stopped to take a picture of us and as we started back down the trail, there was a woman snowshoeing downhill with a baby swaddled to her front, and I thought that’s awesome and crazy and where the heck am I??!!! I mean it was a ski resort not the wilderness.  Astounding! With our snow adventure over, we joined our friends in the hot tub.  Nothing better than soaking in a hot tub after a cold weather excursion though it was still snowing at the time so it was a little brutal on the face (not to mention that the jets were a little aggressive) but overall I was warm and content!

Evening/Night:

New Orleans: Left the hotel at Midnight. While I’m no wallflower, I wholly admit that starting a night out at midnight is a younger girl’s game but missing Saturday night out in NOLA wasn’t really an option.  My friends and I were all a little disorientated from our nap but preserved and ended up having a crazy night out.  I won’t go into details except to say I made it back to the hotel at 5:30 AM.  Don’t worry nothing too scandalous happened just lots of bar hopping and meeting/flirting with random groups of boys. Good times! Yay, girls’ weekend! It had been way too long.

Killington: Our group headed to the Wobbly Barn, a steakhouse and weekend nightlife venue.  First, we headed downstairs to the restaurant for a leisurely dinner (and an amazing glass of Meritage for me).  After dinner, we went upstairs for some dancing.  The band was already in full swing.  My boyfriend pulled me to the dance floor almost immediately and I don’t think we stopped dancing for three hours.  It was so much fun! Around 1AM we headed back to the hotel and went to sleep on the earlier side, and when I say earlier I just mean I didn’t see the sun rise this Sunday. 🙂

End result: New Orleans was a roller coaster of drinking and eating at night tempered with city exploration and book research during the day.  Killington was a relaxed vacation with outdoor sports and spending time with the boyfriend.  Both weekends were so much fun but just so different.

Smugglers, Dirigibles, and Valentines, O My!

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Last month, I reviewed Heather Hiestand’s novella, Captain Andrew’s Flying Christmas, the first title in her Steampunk Smugglers series.  If you read my review, then you know I wasn’t overly impressed.  However, I decided to give Hiestand another chance. Why? Because despite the obvious flaws in the first story, it definitely had an interesting premise and some solid world-building. So with Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, I choose to indulge with Captain Fenna’s Dirigible Valentine. And I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised with this one. 

Background: Three years ago, Terrwyn Fenna was arrested during a smuggling raid and consigned to London’s corrupt Newgate Prison. During her imprisonment, she was subjected to significant torment and sexual exploitation– abuse that ultimately resulted in pregnancy.   With a little bit of luck (and lots of help), she managed to escape just prior to giving birth. 

Flash forward two months later: Terrwyn lives in hiding outside of London, desperately trying to maintain a low profile.  Unfortunately, her safe haven is compromised when she encounters a few officers from the British Air Force. She flees and avoids getting recaptured by securing command of a new airship and resumes the family smuggling business. All of her focus centers on rebuilding her air pirate reputation and keeping her daughter safe. As you can imagine, her harrowing experiences in prison have left her uninterested in men. That is until she finds herself increasing drawn to Ian Cavil, one of her crewmen.

Ian is no stranger to imprisonment himself. In fact, he has only recently escaped his enslavement aboard a military airship run by the Blockaders, a government group that kidnaps unsuspecting men and forces them into military service. Smuggling life proves to be advantageous for the duo until Terrwyn is discovered by an old enemy. The ensuring drama draws both Terrwyn and Ian back into the clutches of those who would enslave them, and they must work together to maintain their freedom.

Captain Fenna’s Dirigible Valentine is far better than the author’s first attempt.  The plot has a clearer focus and more streamlined storyline.  The sequel’s longer length probably has the added benefit of allowing the plots to resolve themselves more naturally rather than forcing a happy ending. My big complaint with this book centers on the lack of real depth given to the main character regarding her heinous abuse in prison.  Hiestand never really explores the long-lasting emotional trauma except in a way that feels too one-dimensional for such a strong topic. It’s as though she wanted her character to be flawed but didn’t want to really touch on the dark aspects of sexual abuse.  That said Terrwyn is a likeable, more fully fleshed out character than the first installment’s heroine so I give the author credit for imaging a stronger main character this time around.

A bit of warning: this story isn’t very Valentine-y or overly romantic despite the name (or its romantic side plot for that matter).  However, I recommend Captain Fenna’s Valentine Dirigible if you want a quick, fast-paced read filled with airships, mechanicals, automatons and adventure.  Even though it is the series’ second title, there is enough background information present to make reading the first title unnecessary. 

Find it at any of your favorite online retailers:

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iTunes

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Recap on book and blog pages

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This week has been killer–not just in terms of surviving the frosty New York weather but also in terms of getting any sort of creative work accomplished.  Luckily last weekend proved more fruitful as I finished the second round edits on Chapter 2.  During the week, all I managed to achieve was a write-up for The Fly Tower’s long overdue series page.  Tentatively, I’m referring to the series as the Consortium Chronicles but that might very well change.  I hope to get the book page up early next week…it’s basically done, it just needs a little more smoothing out and a touch more moxie before I post.

In the meantime, check out the series page:

Consortium Chronicles

A Touch of Madness

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Whether it is a dark and magical romp as in The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern or a hard-hitting scifi war novel as in The Forever War, I’ve definitely been spending most of my time immersed in fantastical worlds.   So, in an effort to diversify, I’ve chosen other fiction or nonfiction titles amid a run of scifi/fantasy ones.  How’s it working out? Not so great.  Maybe it’s me or maybe it’s the books I’ve selected but overall my recent experiences branching out have been a bit lackluster.

My latest selection was The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveny.  To be honest, it sounded just like the kind of book I’d enjoy.  It centers around Dr. Gabriella Mondini, a formidable young women who (gasp) practices medicine in 16th century Venice under the mentorship of her father who is also a physician.  Ten years into an extensive journey, her father writes her letter stating he never plans to return home. Not only has her father abandoned her, but without his mentorship, her position in the medical world is threatened by those less than enlightened male doctors.  Therefore, she decides to set a course to find her father and bring him home.  The remainder of the book follows her exploits as she zigzags across Europe.

A woman doctor bucking the system in a male dominated establishment way before the bra-burning Women’s Lib took effect 400 years later! This is my kind of lady.  It really should have been a great read.

Unfortunately, I was never able to really connect to the work.  I had read some reviews warning that the plot was slow-moving but most agreed it was well worth it–though for me, I really wish I had heeded my own internal warnings and cut my losses about 1/3 of the way in.

Don’t get me wrong. The book is beautifully written–all accounts are lyrical, whimsical, and poetic. The medical details and historical contexts are very well done. Part of the plot revolves her undertaking to complete a book about various maladies and cures.  I found it interesting to learn about early medical treatments for mental disorders and to discover how the medical field viewed mental illness in the 1590s…the causes were varied, some even believed melancholy was derived from a blue moon.  These simple, superstitious beliefs are truly representative of early medicine and this author’s ability to showcase these ideas is wonderful.

However, the book contains absolutely no real action. Everything interesting that happens is described rather than shown.  So many great moments felt stilted and cold because I couldn’t identify with the main character or her plight.  She is a woman traveling alone (except for a couple of servants) during a very dangerous time in history–religious inquisitions, witch trials, and women’s rights abuse just to name a few things. Several times she has to pose as a man to avoid all manners of harm.  Horrible tragic events happen to her and those around her.  Yet the troubles are not palatable.  Often, I found myself thinking “well that sucks” and moving on without any further consideration.  I really, really wanted to love this book.  I just didn’t.  That said I have no doubt there are people who loved this book and had trouble putting it down.

To give this book a read, you can find it at any of your local online retailers including Amazon, B&N, and iTunes:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

iTunes