Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Midweek update: I'm moved!

 I'm moved!!!!!

I've not really had a chance to read until this morning, on my commute in to work, so I'm very behind on reviews (never mind the ever-growing backlog, le sigh!).  But we crossed the gigantic hurdle of moving -- from a two-bedroom to a very small one-bedroom -- and are now free from the very stressful situation of a very hateful landlady.

To celebrate (and because my apartment is too messy to share photos of yet!), here are photos of my two cats in their new cat beds. (Yes, the nursery's Moby-Dick/behemoth theme has spilled into the rest of the house.)

What are all of you reading this week?  I'm finishing up Sinful Folk and hopefully starting The Miniaturist, which I miraculously got from the library (I had requested it, anticipating a many month wait!).

I'm behind on visiting and commenting your blogs, and I apologize for that.  We're currently internet-less and likely to remain so for the week, but I promise to hop back into visiting and commenting as soon as I can.  I miss my bookish friends!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Interview with Megan Chance

Earlier in the week I reviewed Megan Chance's Inamorata, a decadent, dramatic, and delicious historical novel set in 19th-century Venice. I'm thrilled to share my interview with Ms. Chance, so read on to learn more about her and her writing. Be sure to enter the giveaway, too!

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

The first piece of fiction I can remember writing was in the fourth grade. It was a short story called “The Horse from Outer Space,” and was about a horse who came from outer space—obviously—to visit a brother and sister. I was horse crazy then, and I had only sisters, so clearly this was a piece of wish-fulfillment. It was also illustrated, complete with a space helmet for the horse.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

Rituals, not really. Routines, absolutely. I am a creature of routine. I wake up, I work out (I have a bad back, so if I don’t exercise in the morning, I can’t sit without extreme discomfort), I check my email and all things internet—generally Facebook, Twitter, etc.—and then plunge in. I usually end up actually writing from between 11 and 4 every day. I like silence and solitude when I write. I am far too distractible for music or cafes. You want me to get nothing done? Send me to Starbucks.

Was Inamorata the original title of your book?

I think the first working title was Immorality, but then I figured out that the story wasn’t about immortality at all, but desire, and changed it accordingly.

When you were writing Inamorata, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

In spite of the fact that I went into the book deliberately meaning to create a questionable relationship between a brother and sister, Sophie and Joseph surprised me constantly with the depth of their connection. The way it manifested itself—the rather magical aspect of it—was not something I’d foreseen. I was never quite sure of where I was going with it, and as they revealed themselves to me, I found them endlessly fascinating. The scene on the Lido, where Joseph recreates the world Sophie sees, and Nicholas begins to understand the nature of their relationship—where does this stuff come from? I have no idea.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

Next to writing, my very favorite thing to do is read. Cooking would be next—baking especially, and I am currently immersed in attempting to master French pastry without having to actually go to France or study with a pastry chef. Wish me luck. Lots of experiments at my house, which is great if you’re not concerned about gaining twenty pounds.

I have a couple of TV shows a season that I watch, but I try not to have too many, because I’d rather read. But this summer I’m obsessed with The 100, and I’ve always been a Three Musketeers fan—I’ve read all the books and I think I’ve seen every movie—so I’m enjoying the BBC series.

Read any good books lately?

Loved loved loved The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I also liked Lauren Owen’s The Quick—an interesting approach to the whole vampire thing. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, which is a great young adult novel by April Genevieve Tucholke—very dark for YA—and another YA novel, We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart, held me captivated. I finished up Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series—more YA that I loved. Finishing out the list would be The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton, Francine Prose’s Lovers at the Chameleon Club, and Maggie Shipstead’s Astonish Me. I also have a thing for classic French literature—the fatalism appeals to me in some sick way. Balzac is a genius. Really, I could go on all day.

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My thanks to Ms. Chance for her time and responses.  You can learn more about her and her books on her website, and you can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Inamorata to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and Canadian readers only, ends 8/22.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Inamorata by Megan Chance

Title: Inamorata
Author: Megan Chance

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 19th Century / Venice / Artists / Supernatural / Romantic Relationships / Sibling Relationships / Immortality)
Publisher/Publication Date: Lake Union Publishing (7/8/2014)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: A succubus, a slighted lover, and gifted twins with a strange intimacy all come together in a tangle of art, sex, and desire in 19th-century Venice.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Love it -- totally spot on for the novel's feel and setting.

I'm reminded of...: Alma Katsu, Lauren Owen

First line: Though it was only a few hours until dawn, it was not quiet.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy.

Why did I get this book?: I've heard great things about Chance's previous novels.

Review: I'll admit that I keep meaning to be super snobbish about Amazon's Lake Union imprint, but then I forget -- and good thing, because I keep enjoying the reads I've come across (I Am Livia and now this one).

Set over a month in Venice in 1879, the novel follows four individuals: Odilé Leon, an immortal courtesan who feeds on genius to survive, gifting the artist in question with immortal fame; Nicholas Dane, a failed poet who never made a bargain with Odilé and is determined to destroy her; Joseph Hannigan, a deeply gifted artist with a disturbingly dark past and an impossible-to-ignore sexuality; and his twin sister, Sophie, who provides sensuous inspiration to her brother.

Odilé is on the hunt for a great genius to gift her curse to, and her sights land on Joseph. But Nicholas is determined to protect him -- and finds himself half obsessed with the artist and his alluring sister. Joseph and Sophie are on the hunt for the perfect patron -- someone to keep them fiscally comfortable so they can avoid the penniless pain of their childhood.

The plot of this novel is straight up melodrama -- in the best way. The Hannigan twins have a back story to make V.C. Andrews proud, and the supernatural elements harken to Anne Rice, Alma Katsu, and Lauren Owen. The setting -- 19th century Venice -- enhances the decadent, decaying allure of our courtesan and the give-and-take between the rich expats and the artists vying for their attention.

While the premise of the novel is fabulously over-the-top, it's the four main characters that make the story grounded and real. In Chance's hands, they are all mufti-faceted and intriguing -- even our "villainess", the succubus Odilé, is sympathetic (in fact, she was my favorite part of the story).

The narrative was a tiny bit too long-winded for my tastes: I felt like the set up for the denouement was perfectly established well before Chance did, and as a result, the conclusion felt a bit rushed for me. Still, there was a deliciously bittersweet ending that caught me up despite myself and made for a satisfying finish.

A delightful escape for summer, or, something for October's R.I.P. challenge, Inamorata has all the right elements for a juicy, slightly titillating supernatural read.

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Inamorata to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and Canadian readers only, ends 8/22.  Be sure to check out my interview with Megan Chance on 8/13 for another chance to win!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Weekend reads and the least interesting person you know...

I've unfortunately become the least-interesting person one could know these days: mostly I'm whining about how uncomfortable I am (Little Reader is about two pounds, according to my pregnancy apps, and I swear, I feel every ounce!) or whining about how much I hate moving.  

So I'll restrict myself to books, for everyone's sake.  My weekend read is Marie-Helene Bertino's 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas.  I was charmed from the first page and can't wait for lunch time to dive back in!

What are you reading this weekend?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Title: Annihilation
Author: Jeff VanderMeer

Genre: Fiction (Sci-Fi / Speculative / Contemporary / Scientific Expedition / Survivalism / Conspiracy)
Publisher/Publication Date: FSG Originals (2/4/2014)
Source: My public library.

Rating: Looooooooooooooooooooooved.
Did I finish?: I did, in one night.
One-sentence summary: A biologist recounts her experience as part of an expedition exploring the forbidden, mysterious Area X -- a mysterious area felled by some disaster that affects anyone who enters it.

Do I like the cover?: Love it -- creepy, evocative, and reminiscent of the expedition journals which are a key part of the novel.

I'm reminded of...:

First line: The tower, which was not supposed to be there, plunges into the earth in a place just before the black pine forest begins to give way to swamp and then the reeds and wind-gnarled trees of the marsh flats.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy or borrow.

Why did I get this book?: I adored Jeff VanderMeer's Veniss Underground and I love his poetic, weird fiction.

Review: I don't always read speculative fiction, but when I do... Okay, that's a wicked lame start, but seriously, I feel like I need to qualify my review. I'm not much for "weird" fiction -- I can be very impatient and/or lazy when it comes to elaborate world-building or well, weirdness -- but now and then I enjoy something, well, odd.

I've long been a VanderMeer fan because his novels have plenty of oddity along with some delicious narrative description and fabulously unforgettable characters. (His Veniss Underground -- a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth -- is a desert island pick of mine.

In this slender, gripping novel -- the first of a trilogy (sorry!) -- VanderMeer creates a world like ours with one outstanding difference: thirty years ago, some event literally reshaped part of the country, and Area X (as the place is now known) is a wild, "pristine" uninhabited preserve closed off by the government. Mostly forgotten by the public, Area X is an unsolved mystery still as there has been no successful expedition into the space: one expedition had all its members kill themselves; another where they murdered each other. The most recent one had members return without notice only to die of aggressive cancers.

Our narrator is a biologist who is part of the twelfth expedition. The novel is her diary from the expedition, and in it she recounts what she knows of Area X. From the first handful of pages, we're plunged into a creepy world where even the other expedition members can't be trusted and our guide, the biologist, carefully parses out details as she sees fit.

As with his other books, VanderMeer's imaginative and poetic narrative style is seen here, too; despite the biologist's dry and pragmatic approach to her job, the events she witnesses and the landscape around her defy neat prose, and there are passages that feel nearly feverish, they're so wild and linguistically fancy. There's delicious tension, plenty of creepiness, and a brisk plot that has one racing to find out what is next.

I adored this novel and read it one night -- a rarity for me since getting pregnant! -- and I immediately got -- and inhaled -- the second book, Authority. (Review coming soon.) I'm on tenterhooks for the final book, Acceptance, which doesn't come out until September.

The publisher has the first chapter posted online for those who are curious; if you like survivalist stories, strange happenings, government conspiracies, and movies like Prometheus or shows like Lost, consider giving this one a read.

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Triple Knot by Emma Campion

Title: A Triple Knot
Author: Emma Campion

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 14th Century / UK / Europe / Royal Intrigue / Marriage)
Publisher/Publication Date: Broadway Books (7/8/2014)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Eh.
Did I finish?: I did not.
One-sentence summary: A rebellious girl takes what she can when she pursues the love of her choice even as her cousin, the King, declares her betrothed to another.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction, NetGalley & Edelweiss

Do I like the cover?: I do -- super gorgeous -- and probably not accurate, costume-wise.  But eye-catching.

First line: Joan's father, Edmund, Earl of Kent, was beheaded when she was not yet four years old.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow.

Why did I get this book?: I love novels about historical figures one rarely sees in fiction.

Review: While most of the bloggers on this tour enjoyed A Triple Knot, I'm sad to say I did not.  Despite the focus on a little-fictionalized royal -- medieval Joan of Kent, cousin of the King, Edward III and eventual spouse of Edward of Woodstock, aka the Black Prince -- I was a bit bored by this plot-and-action heavy novel.

Set between 1338 and 1361, the novel follows the famous "fair" Joan of Kent -- and sadly, she was the heart of my problem with this novel.  Her biggest claim to fame is her beauty, but Campion also paints her as relentlessly good.  Dominated by her bratty, cruel cousin, Ned (as Edward is styled), who is obsessed with marrying her, Joan instead boldly marries -- at 12! -- a man twice her age.  When her family learns of her marriage, their cold response is to declare her marriage a invalid and marry her to another man.  Ned is relentless in his abusive attentions, and powerful figures in English and foreign courts jockey to minimize her power.

So much salacious excitement, yet reading more than half of the book (290 pages) was an exhausting effort.  Campion's narrative style has a kind of distance to it that made me feel disconnected from the characters.  Additionally, our heroine felt static to me: Joan was a naive, overly kind child who never grew out of her passive desire to please everyone and worse, despite the twenty year story arc, she sounded the same on the first page and the 200th page.

Still there were deft and interesting characters and interactions: Joan's rival, so to speak, an experienced courtier, treats Joan with a measure of kindness as she privately advocates to keep Joan from marrying -- or being seduced -- by an older man. Even though she's envious of Joan's connection with a handsome knight, she still offers to help Joan and the knight be public with their relationship.  (I found her more interesting than Joan, sadly!)

As for extras, my review copy only contained a skimpy cast list -- just the royal English family -- and a brief Author's Note detailing some of Campion's choices for her Joan.

Sarah Johnson of Reading the Past has a fabulous review of this book for those tempted but unsure based on my review.  This one just didn't click with me -- I'll admit to being a bit mushbrained at this point in my pregnancy -- so if you're intrigued by Joan, medieval English aristocracy, or the Black Prince, consider this one.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Weekend reads and dreading the next step...

My weekend read is Inamorata by Megan Chance, and I'm finishing up Kate Quinn's Mistress of Rome. (SO GOOD.)

I'm hoping I'll get some reading in this weekend but as we move in three weekends, I suspect I'll be doing more around the house. (Le sigh.)  We're planning to get rid of everything we don't want to move, which feels almost harder than packing what we do want to move!

I'm very ready to be moved, however, so we can get the nursery stuff set up.  We're moving into a one bedroom apartment, so we'll be sharing our space with Little Reader.  I'm hoping to make the bedroom feel cohesive and cute, so fingers crossed. (I'll share pics if we're successful!)

What are you reading this weekend?