Friday, May 18, 2007


I read three books while on Tour, so I shall review them in short here:

Child of a Rainless Year, by Jane Lindskold

This novel started out well - nine-year-old Mira's spent her life under the care of her selfish, eccentric mother, her silent servants, and her intriguing house full of mirrors. When her mother mysteriously vanishes, her mother's "trustees" place her in the care of loving foster parents, under the condition that these same parents change their names, move away from New Mexico, and vow never to return. Years pass, and Mira develops into an artist who stifles her talent by teaching, because she still harbours the fear the the people who made her mother disappear might do the same to her if she calls too much attention to herself. When her now-elderly stepparents are killed in a car wreck, Mira discovers that she legally owns that mysterious house she used to live in in New Mexico, and goes down there to find out the truth about her mother, her mother's disappearance, and her stepmother who tried looking for her as well.

While the novel earns points for having a middle-aged (51-year-old) heroine, after the first few chapters, the novel becomes as dull as dirt. The author lavishes attention on the house, how Mira helps to paint/renovate it, and the minor investigative escapades Mira goes on to find out more about her mother. The central concept of the house and its powers is de Lint-esque, but still irritatingly vague to me and I never could understand what magic Mira was supposed to possess, exactly, or how two houses built on significant locations could engage in magical-architectural catfights over who rules the town. Many supporting characters and details seemed superfluous, just there to provide Mira with snippets of info about her Mom, eat some southwestern food, and depart. The ending twist was a surprise, but the climax where Mira learns the truth seemed out of place with the staid, unhurried, introspective tone of the novel. Meaning, the ending was exciting, but the rest of the novel had done very little in the way of leading up to it, stylistically, tonally, and narratively.

Crush du Jour Rating:

Adrian's easily distracted (translation: "Snooore!" C)

Scandal in Spring, by Lisa Kleypas

Now this novel was a refreshing read after the dusty Child. It's cheesy, it's romance, it's got a peek-a-boo cover with a "literary" scenic picture on the front and the steamy man-on-woman seduction pose underneath. But boy, was it fun to read!

It turns out that this is the final book in a series (starting with Secrets of a Summer Night, It Happened One Autumn, and Devil in Winter) about a foursome of Wallflowers - girls in Regency-era Britian who haven't been able to get husbands for various reasons (according to the books - poverty, sass, a delibitating stutter, respectively), who all managed, against the odds, to garner hot, understanding husbands (rich working-class industrialist, English Earl, and a rakish Vicount, respectively) - all except one: the youngest, Daisy. This book is her turn.

In Spring, Daisy, unlike her now-pregnant sister Lillian (heroine of Autumn), would rather read books and daydream then socialize with proper young men, and after several unsuccessful seasons her Royal A-Hole of a father has laid down an ultimatum: find a husband by May, or be forced to marry Matthew Swift, his second-in-command and heir-apparent to his company. Daisy and Lillian are understandably appalled - not only because they remember Matthew as a cold, gangly sycophant, but in taking over the company he (and Daisy, presumably) would have to move to New York, possibly separating the sisters for good.

Lillian's husband, the Earl, arranges a get-together at his estate, and invites several young men (as he is sympathetic to Daisy's plight to find any husband who isn't Matthew Swift). Daisy is nonplussed when Matthew shows up, and he's filled in somewhat, if you know what I mean (where did that six-pack come from??) and is even less plussed when she discovers he has absolutely no idea of her father's ultimatum. Daisy swears she'll never marry him (because he could only want her for her father's company, after all), Matthew swears he cannot marry her (because of his *cue spooky music* dark paaaast), but needless to say things don't go as planned.

There were a few things that stretched the imagination, but they were all so enjoyable and fluffy and funny that they hardly mattered. I still found myself puzzling over how Matthew, working at a business office, could have acquired such a bodacious bod over a few short years, or where Daisy got the idea to seduce Matthew the way that she did (her excuse is, I may be a virgin, but I'm very well read), or how three paragons of romance (the three husbands of Daisy's friends) could stand to be in the same room together without the world tilting dramatically under the combined weight of their staggering handsomeness, sensitivity, and well-muscled thighs.

Maybe it was the fact that the book was incredibly funny - scenes like Daisy and Matthew entering into a devious, seven-hour-long, Machievelli-inspired game of lawn-bowling; or Lillian's child being delivered by a veterinarian; or Daisy pretending to have a relationship with another dude to make Matthew jealous only to discover that her pretend paramour suddenly wants a real relationship. I was giggling along with the hilarious dialogue. I also liked how the three married Wallflowers were incorporated into the story with their own little epilogues, but without stealing the real show away from Daisy. Perfect? No. Great Lit-rah-chur? No. Entertaining - hell yeah.

Crush du Jour Rating:

Topher says, "Sure I'm goofy, but you luv me anyways!" (Translation: "It was intended to be fluffy and entertaining - and it succeeded on all counts." B+)

Melusine, by Sarah Monette

This was a much more serious read than Scandal in Spring, but through excellent narrative voice, rich imagery, and fascinating characters, I've already ordered the sequel, The Virtu, from the library.

In the city of Melusine, two very different characters with similar pasts find themselves in heaps of trouble. Arrogant court wizard Felix, after having his secret past as a teen prostitute humiliatingly made public, punishes himself by returning to his lover/torturer/mentor Malkar, who uses their reunion to destroy the Virtu (magical whatchamacallit that organizes the magic of Melusine), then blames Felix for it, and enspells Felix into a madness that prevents him from clearing his name. Meanwhile, cat-burglar-for-hire Mildmay finds that someone in the city with many strings to pull is out for his blood, and isn't above murdering his friends and allies to get to him.

How these two end up together, and their various adventures along the way, is what drives the narrative of Melusine. Monette sets up a lot of intricate world-building (rigid magical doctrine, Melusine's political organization, counting systems that measure in groups of seven) that basically dumps the reader in a new world point-blank. There are never any moments of "and he had lived a septad, that is, seven years" that pause to explain the world's perspectives, instead, the reader slowly picks up on it while reading the entire novel, the way a foreigner slowly picks up the language simply by remaining in the country long enough. While initiatingly frustrating, I did feel I was eased into it because the first puzzlers introduced ended up being irrelevant details such as job-descriptions that don't have anything to do with the characters or time-measures that don't need to be remembered right away. By the time the details that do need to be remembered come up, the reader usually has a grasp of what they mean. Which is pretty cool.

Plus, the characters are fantastic. Felix, being crazy, anguished, and in pain for about 90% of the novel, has a much darker, more eloquent narrative voice, but Monette switches between his narrative and Mildmay's rougher, foulmouthed point of view regularly so that Felix never has time to be perceived as emo and Mildmay's slang-filled rants end before they become tiresome. In this way, the pacing was kept up and the characters never crystalized into caricatures. So while a lot heavier and serious than Spring, I still had a great time reading it thanks to Monette's beautiful language, superb characterization, and quick pacing.

Crush du Jour Rating:
Patrick is enthralled. (Translation: "Wondrous and dazzling." A-)