Monday, August 19, 2013

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Willful Impropriety : 13 Tales of Society, Scandal and Romance edited by Ekaterina Sedia -- Young Adult Historical Fiction/Historical Fantasy

These thirteen tales take place in the changing society of the Victorian era. The world was still reeling from Darwin's shocking confessions and the Queen in mourning for her beloved Albert, social rules still mattered and one misstep was costly. The teenagers in this story openly defy convention and turn the rules upside down. Some of the teens fall in love with the wrong person for reasons of class or even gender. Some of the teens are awkward and some openly rebel against traditional gender norms by identifying with the opposite sex. They discover sensuality and sexuality and come of age in a society where people couldn't accept them for who they really were. I liked some of the stories a lot, some only a little and others I found confusing.

In At Will by Leanna Renee Hieber, a young actress becomes a star in Shakespeare's cross-dressing roles thanks to the mysterious man known only as Smith. Portia adores the freedom to play a woman one day and a man the next, until she falls in love. Then she desires to be known for her true self. She'd give it all up for love, if she could. This is an OK story. I expected some magic to appear in the story but it's straight historical fiction with elements of realism. I found the way the story was told a bit tedious. Everything is related by the main character in passing so it doesn't really engage the reader. The message is a bit heavy-handed and the ending is awkward but it's not too bad.

The Unladylike Education of Agatha Tremain by Stephanie Burgis has nothing to do with Kat or the Guardians, which is disappointing. It's a new story about a girl who was raised by an absent-minded scholarly father. Though her governess was strict, Agatha has finally found the will to dismiss the woman and begin a study of magic. Just as she reaches the age to be presented, her estranged aunt shows up to ruin Agatha's like. First, she insists on taking Agatha to London to be presented and then she reveals secrets that force Agatha to go against what she believes in. Only one other person gives her the courage to stand up to the villains. This story is a bit awkward. The beginning starts off well and sets a good story. The villains are especially nasty and I felt horrible for Agatha. I had to keep reading to see how she handled the situation. That part ended up very rushed. In the middle and at the end is a strange romance. I wasn't expecting it, I don't believe it's accurate for the period though I understand the message aimed at teens. I was really hoping for more about the Guardians so this was a bit of a let down. It's not my favorite story.

In Nussbaum's Golden Fortune, by M.K. Hobson a young man, Astor Nussbaum, has discovered a magical scroll which will make him a fortune. Anyone who knows about the scroll is after Nussbaum for their own purposes, including some thugs and his friend Peter Oesterlische. Oesterlische desires to wed an heiress and he has plans to cut out Nussbaum and gain a fortune. There are a lot of twists and turns in this story. It was entirely unpredictable until the very end. I liked the magical elements and I wish there had been more space allowed to explain more about the scroll and the magic of an alternate 1889 New York. The conclusion is a bit shocking. I didn't expect it at all but in many ways it's more realistic than the typical fairy tell ending. This is one of the better stories in the collection.

The Colonel's Daughter by Barbara Roden follows the pattern of a typical period romance story. A strong-willed, high spirited teenage girl befriends her new ladies' maid, a girl from the streets. Together, they must find a path to happiness. This story is one of my favorites in the collection. The ending is rushed so I wish it could have been longer. This is a sweet, simple story for lovers of traditional or sweet romances.

I was excited to read Mercury Retrograde by Mary Robinette Kowal. It was a bit confusing at first because I didn't understand what was happening. This story doesn't really include magic but the heroine relies on the importance of star charts and planet alignments to chart her destiny. I thought she handled her romance badly, typical of a young heroine. Her hero is quite worthy though and I liked this sweet little romance. It's predictable but again, for those who like sweet, traditional style romances, this one is a good one.

False Colors by Marie Brennan is for anyone who loves Persuasion, Horatio Hornblower, Master and Commander (i.e. British Naval stories). The main character, Simon, a young lieutenant in Her Majesty's Navy is at home on the sea but awkward on land. He doesn't poses a title or fortune, only one sickly sister Victoria. He dreads an upcoming ball but it happy his best friend Harry will be there by his side. At the ball, a surprise, an old friend, a bully and a duel manage to change Simon's destiny The big reveal wasn't such a surprise for me. I did wonder at the beginning. I liked this story a lot. It was much better than a certain series I enjoyed in the beginning. There are many great period details and lots of action and adventure. This is one of my favorite stories.

Mrs. Beeton's Book of Magickal Management by Karen Healey has the same basic premise as The Colonel's Daughter. However, this one has the extra added element of magic. How fun if Mrs. Beeton's simple book could actually be a guide to household magic? How would Mrs. Beeton handle a crisis of a villain intending to impose his will on an innocent? The young heroine, a ladies' maid is the only one with the knowledge to uncover a villain, but because of her sex, she isn't allowed to study magic at university like the young gentlemen in the story. They must combine knowledge and will to save the fair maiden. This is my favorite story in the collection. It has sweet romance (more than one), magic, a really nasty villain and lots of excitement. I only wish there had been more space to fully explain the magical theory behind the action. This one is great for fans of Sorcery and Cecilia and other Jane Austen + magic style stories.

The Language of Flowers by Caroline Stevermer is a departure from her usual historical fantasy. It's a straight historical story about a young lady who admires her fearless, beautiful and much-admired older sister. The heroine, Olivia, uncovers some secrets that lead to surprising truths. Though this story is largely predictable, I liked it. The message at the end is very realistic and it came as a surprise. It departs from the usual storyline in these sorts of novels. If you like the Regency Romances published by Signet and Zebra, you'll probably like this short story. It's nothing like her novels though so her usual fans may not like it.

The Dancing Master by Genevieve Valentine features a heroine who is awkward and a bit peevish. She has no interest in her upcoming Season and is convinced she'll never be a success. She's certain she's doomed to failure despite the dancing master her parents have hired. Even her governess is a better dancer. Leah is mortified when her mother invites her cousin William to stay. She knows how that story ends and wants no part of it. The ending of the story may confuse you. I'm not certain why what happened was such a betrayal or why it happened the way it did. I'm confused about Leah's feelings. I think she's confused so the ending comes across as awkward. I liked William and wish the story was about him.

The Garden of England by Sandra McDonald tells the story of The Secret Garden from the point-of-view of an Indian maidservant. I absolutely love this idea. It makes MUCH more sense, realistically, than the actual novel and shows the reader what English society in India was like and how the English viewed Indians. I felt sorry for Ashna but I liked her curiosity and sense of adventure. What happens after she arrives at Misslethwaite Manner is exciting and the ending is all that I could have wished. It also takes Ashna out of the original story so there's no complications in rewriting the plot. This is a great rewrite and one of the best written stories in this anthology.

Resurrection by Tiffany Trent reveals the difficulties of life on the streets in Victorian London. Life for a female was even more difficult, so the main character chooses to live life as a boy. While running mysterious errands, his job takes him to the home of a noted surgeon. Jonathan meets Dr. Grace's spirited daughter who also dares to defy convention in different ways. The period details in this story are excellent. I guessed at what the mysterious packages were, that much was obvious. There's not much explanation as to Dr. Grace's motive or why the thugs tried to kill Jonathan. The ending is really unrealistic. The villain just capitulates with no good excuse and gives in to bullying. It has a happy ending but an unconventional one. I really liked Willie but she's very unrealistic for her social class at that time. I would have liked to know more about her, her thoughts and feelings and how she turned into a rebel instead of repetitive passages about delivering packages and running from thugs.

Outside the Absolute by Seth Cadin features a gender-bending main character. It's a bit confusing when the pronoun changes from she to he and back again. It took me awhile to figure it out and we don't know whether Sam was born Samantha or Sam until the very end. There's a group of young, bohemian artists living and working together who plan an exhibition of their work, which would not be allowed in any official art exhibition. It's similar to Les Miserables in that the young people want to overturn society. There's a romance that's unconventional even by today's standards. I was so confused and lost in this story, I consider it the weakest of them all.

Steeped in Debt to the Chimney Pots by Steve Berman takes place in winter 1884 in London where a sprite and a young man conspire to rob the Folk and humans alike for their own gain. Apparently the characters were introduced in a previous story which left me confused about what was happening. I don't like stories about supernatural beings. I can't really describe this story because I just didn't know what was happening. I put it down and went to sleep instead.

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