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The Grand Tour: of The Purloined Coronation Regalia

Authors: Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Cecelia and Kate, vol. 2

My rating: 4 of 5

Following their weddings, cousins Kate and Cecy–along with their husbands Thomas and James and Thomas’s mother Lady Sylvia–embark on a grand tour of the Continent, a honeymoon to be remembered. Or, well, that’s what it was supposed to be. And it certainly is. Memorable, that is. Nearly from the start, the party find themselves confronted with strange happenings–mysterious visitors, falling ceilings, magical illness, secret messages, and strange magical rituals performed in ancient ruins, among others. Certain that something odd is going on, they begin investigating, because really, could these people ever leave something that intriguing alone?

The Grand Tour proved a solid follow-up for Wrede and Stevermer’s first volume, Sorcery & Cecelia, although with some marked differences. If I could compare the first volume to Howl’s Moving Castle, then The Grand Tour could better be compared to one of Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody stories, just with magic. The dates are completely off, of course, as is the location, but the whole well-to-do British travelers in foreign parts getting involved in mysteries and intrigue involving some antiquity or the other? Definitely fits here. As for the writing, this volume is told more as journals or memoirs as opposed to letters, so the tone is a bit different–actually quite a bit, really. There’s a touch of dissonance at first, to be honest, like the authors are figuring out who their characters are all over again when seen in this different light. After that first bit, though, you get to see more of the characters’ individualities coming through, you get more facets to them than might have been seen if this were also told as correspondence. And the characters are, well, quite the characters. Without the decorum demanded by Regency-era society, they might be quite shocking, and even while attempting to exercise decorum, they push the bounds at times. But in a very enjoyable sort of way. On the whole, I quite enjoyed The Grand Tour and would recommend it to those who enjoy Regency-era stories, historical fantasy, and intrigue.

 

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Wisdom’s Kiss

Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock

My rating: 4 of 5

You might say that there were many different things–different people’s lives interacting–that ultimately contributed to the debacle that later became known as Wisdom’s Kiss. The Princess Wisdom (better known as Dizzy) herself, for one, what with her tendency to belie her name and throw herself headlong into drama and adventure. The Duke Roger whom she was to wed, as well, although he was truly a pawn in the hands of his overbearing and scheming mother. Then there was the dowager queen Benevolence, Dizzy’s grandmother, who with her far-too-intelligent cat Escoffier discovered the schemes of said Duchess. Less immediately obvious, yet equally influential, were the presence of Trudy, a young kitchen maid with second sight; Tips, her childhood sweetheart; Felis el Gato, Tips’ mentor and a grand performer; and the Emperor of the whole land himself. But it was the interweaving of these individual lives that allowed even the possibility of such an event, one that would shape the course of the land for generations to come.

I’ve enjoyed Murdock’s writing before in her story Princess BenWisdom’s Kiss actually ties in with this earlier novel, although it is certainly not necessary to read the one to enjoy the other. They’re more loosely connected tales rather than anything like a series. Wisdom’s Kiss is really fascinating in the way it’s written. You don’t really get any straight-up narrative, although the sections taken from Trudy’s memoirs read essentially like a regular novel. But for the most part, the story is told in letters and diary entries and, yes, even articles taken from an encyclopedia. It’s honestly enough to be a bit hard to piece together where the story is really going at times, although everything comes together nicely by the end. And I did enjoy the different perspectives and the way the different characters’ personalities came through from the different sources. It was interesting–and something I haven’t seen done much–to see the same character from multiple different perspectives, including their own; it gives a different appreciation for the individual. As for the writing style itself, I’ve heard the author’s writing described in the past as “frothy,” and I can’t honestly think of a better word to describe it. There’s a lightness and wit to it, even in the sections where things seem dark and awful–but in this particular story, there’s also a busyness and a constant activity from all sides that I might almost better compare to the fizz you get when you first open a soda. I think that this is one of those stories that would tend be polarizing; you would either love all the novelty and the different perspectives or it would drive you mad trying to keep up and make sense of it all. Personally, however, I enjoyed Wisdom’s Kiss and look forward to reading more by this author.

Note: It’s implied at the end of the story that this is a retelling of Puss in Boots . . . and I guess it sort of it, but I would never have caught it if it hadn’t been mentioned directly. For what that’s worth.

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The Legends of River Song

Authors:  Jenny T. Colgan, Jaqueline Rayner, Steve Lyons, Guy Adams, & Andrew Lyonsthe-legends-of-river-song

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Professor River Song. The mysterious woman who traipses backwards through the Doctor’s life, growing younger even as he grows older. Archaeologist, psychopath, convicted murderer. Child of the TARDIS. A veritable lifetime of spoilers and secrets and untold wonders. Little surprise then that her diary is her closest and best-guarded confidante. And luck those who get to sample its contents.

The Legends of River Song is a collection of short stories set in the same universe as Doctor Who, but focusing particularly on the fabulous Professor River Song. I believe (haven’t taken the trouble to go back and check) that they’re all written as though taken from the pages of her diary; at any rate, the memorable ones were. The collection is quite a mixture of tales, but I think all will appeal to those who enjoy Doctor Who and River’s character in particular. “Suspicious Minds” by Jacqueline Rayner was probably my favorite Doctor/River story both because the story was interesting and, even more so, because she nails the characters of Eleven and River so well, particularly the unique dynamic between the two. (And it’s really interesting to have Eleven described through River’s eyes!) “Death in New Venice” by Guy Adams and “River of Time” by Andrew Lane were both excellent just River stories that flesh out her character nicely. “A Gamble of Time” by Steve Lyons is, while scientifically paradoxical, quite an interesting and exciting story as well. Personally, I found “Picnic at Asgard”  by Jenny T. Colgan to be the big disappointment of this collection (which is really tragic, since it’s the first story in the volume; don’t be discouraged, and push past it). Mostly, I felt that Colgan just missed River’s character, perhaps only by a hair, but enough for the story to feel off the entire time I was reading it. Still, overall The Legends of River Song is a nice little collection that I enjoyed and would recommend.

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Emily the Strange: the Lost Days

Authors: Rob Reger & Jessica Gruneremily the strange the lost days

Illustrators: Rob Reger & Buzz Parker

Emily the Strange, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

Emily Strange is definitely Emily Strange, even when she doesn’t know it. Which is a good thing when she finds herself alone in the tiny town of Blackrock without a clue what she’s doing there–or what her name is or how she got there or anything else about herself! This is where a genius mind, a maniacal dedication to writing down everything, and a cunning ability to win over cats and local cafe girls comes in very handy. Especially when it becomes clear that she’s in town for some purpose . . . if she could only figure it out!

I might have mentioned this before, but I love the Emily the Strange books. I admit, I’ve read them all out of order, but in this case, I almost prefer it that way. The way this (the first) volume is set up, you come into the journal right with Emily–having no idea who she is or anything about her. Granted, her character shines through even in those circumstances, and yes, it would be fun to get to know her that way . . . but I liked knowing a bit about what was going on. I think it let me focus more on what on earth’s going on (?!), you know? I really, really enjoyed the development of the story through the journalistic form–I mean, I always enjoy that in Emily’s stories, but it suits this particular volume especially well. The plot is one that would only work with a crazy, amazing girl like Emily, but here it’s absolutely brilliant. And the lists–this book is absolutely chock full of top-thirteen lists, and it’s great! And of course, the stunning, imaginative black-and-red sketches scattered throughout, here supplemented with photographic snapshots–a perfect complement to the story and writing style. Seriously, these books are underrated and I would highly recommend them, whether you start with Emily the Strange: the Lost Days or one of the later volumes in the series.

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Emily the Strange: Stranger & Stranger

Authors: Rob Reger & Jessica GrunerStranger and Stranger

Illustrators: Rob Reger & Buzz Parker

Emily the Strange, vol. 2

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Emily and her feline companions are not thrilled to be moving yet again. Never mind that they’re a large part (okay, the whole part) of why the family has to move so frequently, what with Emily’s pranks, midnight prowls, unusual golem, and general, well, strangeness. Life in their new town of Silifordville doesn’t seem like it will be all bad though, and Emily quickly settles in to work on her most recent scientific experiment, a Duplicator. Things get very interesting when she gets a bit too reckless with said experiment and . . . duplicates herself. The possibilities are endless! But is this other Emily a new BFF and co-prankster/scientist/crazy cat-lover, or will she turn out to be a dangerous evil twin possessing a genius equal to the original?

I really, really enjoy the Emily the Strange series. They are not your average “always do the right thing, empathize with others, etc.” sort of story, for sure. What they are is quirky, funny, smart, dark, and full of self-confident girl power. Not right for everyone, I’m sure, but loads of fun in my opinion. The entire story is told in journal entries, and Emily’s unusual (extremely brainy and non-at-all socially inclined) personality shines through brilliantly throughout. This was sort of weird, but effective, in Stranger & Stranger because of some of the weirdness that occurred with the Duplicator. If you pay attention, you can definitely see differences in Emily’s personality throughout . . . very interesting indeed. I also love all the mad/brilliant science, art, rock, and feline love that permeates the story throughout. And don’t get me started on how cool all the actual art in the book is: sketches (many in red) of the most bizarre nature, diagrams, mock-photographs, etc. Plus, this particular volume has a fun band-names motif going throughout. I guess what I’m trying to say is that for those who enjoy a fun, darkly humorous, and definitely strange story with excellent art and a strong female lead (at only 13, no less!), Stranger & Stranger is definitely for you–so check it out!

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Justin Case

Author: Rachel Vail

Illustrator: Matthew Cordell

Is there anyone in the world with more worries that Justin Krzeszewski? Whether it’s the first day of school (hey, third grade can be scary!), class projects, the complications of friendships, things that go bump in the night, or his grandma’s jello, it seems Justin always has something daunting on his mind. Still, what better person to demonstrate great bravery than he who has much fear? And as Justin faces his fears, he grows into a person others respect and look up to . . . . Yet another thing to be terrified of!

I very much enjoyed reading Justin Case. It is heartwarming and funny, and it vividly brings back the trials of third grade (which seem absolutely ancient history to me on a usual day). I enjoyed the journal-like tone and setup–I think it displays Justin’s character (which is excellently developed) in a very natural manner. (I really loved the “it’s not that I’m scared, it’s just that that . . .” moments; his tsundere-like fibs are very cute.) There are also some great friendships and family relationships in this story. Justin Case is a humorous, endearing tale that I recommend particularly for kids around Justin’s age (and for parents with kids around that age), but also for anyone interested in a good story.

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Emily the Strange: Piece of Mind

Authors: Rob Reger & Jessica Gruner

Illustrators: Rob Reger & Buzz Parker

Busy, busy, BUSY! As if completing final projects for homeschool, retuning her golem, keeping her cats in line, and working on her newest line of inventions weren’t enough, Emily Strange receives a letter from her dear dead ancestors (don’t ask how that works; it’s a Dark Girl thing) telling her to take a trip to Seasidetown. Supposedly, when Emily gets there, her own Dark Girl powers–and related supply of the oh-so-useful black rock–will awaken. Unfortunately, there’s no sign of her black rock when she gets to Seasidetown. Even more unfortunately, there are wanted posters everywhere–with HER face on them!

I really enjoyed geeking out over Piece of Mind. Emily’s personality and style are supremely interesting, and the catchy journalistic writing is great fun to read. The plot is well crafted and ties together with the previous volumes enough to make if fun for someone who’s read them, but not so much as to lose someone starting out with this volume (the fourth of the set). I love the attitude, love the cats, love the random, slightly freaky scribbles. Basically, I loved Piece of Mind. Read it . . . if you’re strange enough to.

Note: Super random, but I love the haiku dedication.

 

 

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