Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What I Read in December 2015 Part I

What I Read in December 2015 Part I ...

My Sister's Keeper by Beverly Butler--Young Adult Historical Fiction

My Sister's Keeper Mary James was forced to make a visit to her older sister Clara to help care for the children and assist Clara when her new baby comes. Mary doesn't get along with her fussy older sister and thinks her sister was lucky to catch a man like Ellery. Where Clara is tough and tart, Ellery is kind and fun. Mary's one consolation is that there is at least a new town of men to admire her beauty. One terrible night a fire rages through Peshtigo and Mary and her family are forced to run for their lives. Entrusted with the care of two-year-old Ida, Mary is forced to make difficult decisions that will mean either life or death. A local farmer Sigvard, is willing to help if Mary will let him.

This book does not shy away from the tough stuff. It's obvious the author did a ton of research on the Peshtigo fire and included all the gory details. The book also deals with the aftermath of the fire and it's not pretty. This book is not a fairy tale and there's a bit of an ambiguous plot thread at the end. There's a hint of a romance but not much. Most of the book is focused on the sisters' relationship and the fire. Mary is an unlikeable character at first. She's vain and spoiled but for some reason I sympathized with her. Clara is also unlikeable but yet also sympathetic. She has 3 young children, lives miles away from her family and her husband doesn't always respect her wishes. The relationship between Mary and Clara felt very realistic as did the chapters set during the fire.

Not many people have heard of this fire because it happened the same night as the great Chicago fire. I read a bit about the fire in One Came Home and saw the town featured on the National Geographic Channel show "Diggers." The history in the story wasn't all that interesting except for the fire but if you don't know anything about the fire, you will learn a lot. A good read for young adults and adults but not for younger children or sensitive readers.

Newt's Emerald  by Garth Nix-- Young Adult Regency Romance/Young Adult Fantasy

Newt's Emerald Lady Truthful "New" Newington is becoming a young lady. At 18 she is expected to put aside her hoydenish ways and stop chasing after her male cousins. On the eve of her birthday, her father shows her the Newington Emerald - a gem so rare, so brilliant and so large and so unlike an ordinary emerald. This gem contains magical properties that no one really understands. On the dark and stormy night of Newt's 18th birthday, the emerald goes missing. Newt's father is stricken with brain fever and her cousins dash off to find her a new emerald. It's up to Newt to head to London and properly investigate. As a young lady of Quality, Newt is not allowed to investigate wharves and ale houses on her own but as her cousin, Henri, the Chevalier de Vienne, she can do all those things and more to uncover the emerald's whereabouts. With a little magical help from her great-aunt Lady Badgery, Newt is disguised as a man. The real Henri is off to a monastery so no one will suspect a thing. However, someone does suspect that "Henri" is hiding something. Charles, Major Hartnett, late of the 95th Rifles, suspects Henri is a French spy. With Napoleon magically imprisoned in the Rock of Gibraltar, his supporters could band together to release him and a dangerous magical force upon the world. Major Hartnett agrees to help Newt/Henri to search for the emerald which he suspects has fallen into the wrong hands. The pair are led on a dangerous journey involving pirates, a lovelorn young lady, the haunt ton and a malignant sorceress.

This traditional Regency with a mystery at it's center is based largely on the writings of Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and Aubrey Martin and it shows. The author has cursory knowledge of the time period based on reading those novels. It's VERY obvious he loves Georgette Heyer and he borrows names (Newt's mother's name was Venetia) and situations from the incomparable Heyer. Unfortunately, that is a big problem with this novel. I never really felt immersed in the world. Random things like dress designs would be tossed in without really feeling natural. Another big problem with this story is the sorcery. It's not incidental in the way other books of this genre incorporate magic. This sorcery is a little too high fantasy for me. I had a hard time following the concept. Why can Newt only do local weather magic? Who can do sorcery and why? How do they learn? What does the Newington Emerald DO exactly? Why is it so important? What is a stone nymph and what does fey mean? None of these questions are answered. The villain's motive was too simple and the ending too easy. I did, however, enjoy the adventure, however improbable it was. The romance is sweet in a very Heyer and Austen manner with lots of bickering back and forth and Newt trying to break convention.

The characters are good but not entirely memorable. My favorite was Lady Bagerley. She's a bit mischievous and lots of fun. I also liked General Leye. He seems the male equivalent of Lady Bagerley. Newt is also a great character. She's fun in a hoydenish way and if you're looking for a story where girls rule, this is it. Newt is a kick butt sort of girl. She's no simpering miss. She may be a chit but she doesn't act like it. Though I hate romances based on deception, I liked her relationship with Major Hartnett and the way Newt dealt with her feelings. He's a bit gruff and misogynistic but he has his good qualities. I can see why he loves Newt but not so much the other way around.

I liked this book well enough but it doesn't hold a candle to Sorcery and Cecilia or Marissa Doyle's Leland trilogy. I give Garth Nix a LOT of credit for trying a Regency fantasy story in 1991 before that was a thing and for even writing a Regency romance as a man under his own name.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave comments and or suggestions for QNPoohBear, the modern bluestocking.