Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones

murdermagicOriginally, I picked up Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones because Gail Carriger suggested it on her Facebook page. Carriger is the author of one of my favourite steampunk book series and she often talks about books by new authors that she’s reading. I trust her judgement and I was not disappointed.

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore is a young adult historical fantasy novel set in the year 1818 England about a young woman named Annis Whitworth. As it stands right now it is a stand alone novel, but the ending left it open enough to have a sequel or possibly a whole series based on it.

The story starts out with Annis and her aunt Cassia finding out that Annis’s father has been killed in a carriage accident. Annis, however, doesn’t think that her father died by accident — she thinks he was murdered. Why does she think this? Because her father was a spy for the British Empire.

Her suspicions lead Annis to wanting to become a spy herself so she can finish her father’s work, but her attempts seem to be thwarted at every turn. She’s desperate to become a spy because her only other option is to become a governess and teach children the alphabet. That is until she discovers she has magical powers and can sew magic into clothing. She uses this power to sew disguises for herself and her maid Millie. Together they solve the mystery of who murdered her father, stop Napoleon from being released from prison, and become spies for England. #theEnd

Things I liked about Murder, Magic, and What We Wore:

  • The writing style was good, flowed well, and was entertaining and humourous. Jones did a good job of describing the environment and the dresses that each character wore. In a book whose title includes “And What We Wore” this is an important detail.
  • I liked that Annis could sew magic. I myself am a seamstress (kind of…) so I really appreciate books that include sewing references. Annis reminded me a lot of Sophie Hatter from Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones because Sophie, like Annis, could sew magic into hats, but she too was unaware of her power. Annis could make fabric bulletproof, or encourage the wearer to be invisible or feel extreme confidence. Sophie could do the same thing, but with hats. She could make a hat that would make the wearer more attractive, lucky, etc. It’s just a really cool power that I really appreciate.
  • The aspect of Girl Power in this book was great! Annis was a pampered lady who suddenly befell hard times, but rather than take what life gave her she decided to forge her own path. This book is full of strong female role models for girls.

Things I didn’t like about Murder, Magic, and What We Wore:

  • It was sooooooo predictable. There was no surprise at all to the “big reveals” at the end of the book. Maybe I’ve just read too much and am too good and picking up small details, but I felt that the clues Jones dropped were way too obvious and took some of the excitement out of the book.

Overall, I was very entertained by this book. I feel that it’s a good book for young adults as it’s easy to read and full of interesting characters. I gave Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads because while I really enjoyed reading the book I felt the obviousness of the plot took away from the experience. Despite this I look forward to potential sequels.

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Pantomime by Laura Lam

pantomimeOriginally, I picked up this book because it had an interesting cover. I don’t usually judge a book by its cover but in this case the cover just looked so intriguing that I had to pick it up! When I read the back of the book I was further intrigued! I really enjoy gaslamp fantasy novels, The Night Circus  by Erin Morgenstern being my favourite from this genre (it’s so good everyone should go read it right now!). Even though Pantomime falls nicely into the gaslamp fantasy genre it remains unique. Never have I ever read a book with such complicated themes set in a world like this. This book takes fantasy, circus, magic, and rolls in themes like self acceptance, coming of age, LGBTQ+, and intersexuality.

This story is about one person. Gene is a noble girl with a secret. She is both male and female – intersexual. If her secret were to leak out it would be a scandal and she and her whole family would be shunned from society. Then she displays strange magical abilities – last seen in mysterious beings from an almost-forgotten age – The Vestige. Gene discovers her parents are not her real parents and plan to have an unwanted medical procedure performed on her, so she decides she needs to run away from home. So, Gene takes on a new name and becomes Micah Grey, a boy who joins the circus and becomes an aerialist. Micah trains hard and falls in love, but the dark side of the circus forces him to run for his life again.

Honestly, while I really enjoyed this book I felt the story was a bit slow and a little confusing at times. The story hops between Gene’s life as a noble, and Micah’s life in the circus. As the time lines get closer and closer to merging (ie, when Gene becomes Micah) it can get a little confusing as to when things are happening. Despite the slow pace I felt it really picked up near the end as Micah’s secret is exposed and he needs to flee for his life. However, beware! The cliffhanger at the end is real. My library system doesn’t have the second book yet (Shadowplay – 9781509807802, published Jan. 2017) so I have to either buy the sequel myself or wait patiently… heavy sigh.

Another thing I felt was a bit confusing was the Vestige, the ancient civilization that disappeared, leaving only magical artifacts behind.. I felt there wasn’t enough backstory about this and would have appreciated a prologue or foreword describing it in further detail. Perhaps in the next two books more about the Vestige will be revealed as more magic like Micah’s is awakened..

I felt that Laura Lam did a really good job at portraying Gene’s confusion about whether she is male or female. Gene doesn’t quite feel like a female, but not quite a male either. Which is why she is so easily able to slip into Micah’s world. Gene/Micah is a Kedi. An intersexual creature from legend that is the only creature in the world who is whole.

I also liked how Lam described Micah’s confusion about his feelings for both Aenea, his female aerialist partner, and Drystan, the white clown. Micah kept asking himself “Do I like Aenea as a boy or as a girl?” Eventually he decided it didn’t matter and just lets his emotions take over. Despite being in love with Aenea, Micah is still too afraid to tell her about his secret – that he is a Kedi – for fear she will be disgusted with  him and reject him, like someone from Gene’s past did recently. At the end of the book Micah’s secret is revealed! But you’ll have to read the book to find out how both Aenea and Drystan react. #troll

I gave Pantomime 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads because of the unique and interesting premise and characters. Would have taken half a star from the overall score if i could have due to the slow pace and sometimes confusing order of events.

Writing this review has been difficult because I’m not sure which pronoun to use for Gene/Micah. Gene is the female, but Micah is the male. I’m not sure which gender neutral pronouns to use. Further research is required.

 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”
― Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

This quote describes how I feel about the book, kind of. Let me explain.

I originally found a copy of this book in perfect condition at Value Village and thought the cover looked really interesting. I didn’t read the dust jacket or anything before I bought it and simply judged it by the cover. This book has been on my ‘to read’ list for a while but I always found something I would rather read instead. It went completely out of my mind. I decided that while I was driving home for my break from school I would listen to an audiobook. While browsing the Edmonton Public Library EAudiobook collection I happen to come across The Night Circus in the romance section. I thought, why not? I probably won’t get around to reading it otherwise.

So I downloaded it and started listening to it. I was instantly engaged in the world and the characters. The descriptions of the settings and the relationships between the characters felt so real to me. Since finishing this book I have almost been a little obsessed with researching victorian travelling circuses. I didn’t want the magic of this book to end! I feel like if Le Cirque des Reves was a real circus I would be a Reveur for sure. And I’m going to knit myself a crimson coloured scarf for sure!

So in relation to the quote, one day the book was not there and the next it was and I had no warning in how it would affect my life. That sounds really melodramatic… Oh well.

The story follows two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been pitted against each other by their teachers in a challenge where only one can survive. The venue for the challenge is Le Cirque des Reves. The only problem is that Marco and Celia have fallen in love and now must find a way to get out of the challenge with both of them still alive. I loved all the characters in this book and they all felt so real to me.

There were so many things I loved about this book and I’m having a hard time articulating them. I really liked the foreshadowing and how it was incorporated in the text. Poppet, one of the twins who were born in the circus,  has the ability to see the future in the stars. When she sees things she tells Celia about it and it is fascinating to try and figure out when and how her visions will play out. For example, (spoiler alert!) when Poppet says she doesn’t want them to put the nice lady in the ground. When Celia asks which lady Poppet responded that she didn’t know because they looked the same. She doesn’t elaborate any further, but I was able to figure out that it was probably one of the Burgess sisters who would die and I was right.

This book isn’t considered a steampunk novel but I got a similar vibe from it. It’s possible it was because it was set in the same era but there are some other factors that I can’t seem to put words to. I love the movie The Prestige and The Illusionist was pretty good too, and The Night Circus fits into that same genre. I am definitely going to be reading more from this genre and I’m excited about doing more research on Victorian circuses!

PS. I found this tumblog: Calling All Reveurs :3 yay!

A Discovery of Witches

Witches, Vampires, and Daemons, oh my!

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is not your typical boy meets girl story, that’s for sure. But I can tell you this: If you liked Twilight you will like this, and if you didn’t like Twilight then you’ll probably like this. For one thing there are no sparkly vampires. Score! In fact, the vampire in this story, Matthew Clairmont, makes Edward Cullen look like the whiny little bitch he is. Oops, excuse my French, please!

A Discovery of Witches is the first book in the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness. Harkness is an historian of magic and science and this is her first work of fiction. She uses her knowledge of magic and science to create an impeccable blend of the two and to create a cast of characters who are also knowledgeable on the topics. The main character is an historian of alchemy, so we can see where the inspiration came from.

Speaking of the main character, Diana Bishop is a very dynamic character. She is, as mention earlier, an historian of early science, specifically Alchemy. She is also from a very prominent witching family. Her distant ancestor was Bridget Bishop, the first woman to be executed for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials. Despite being from a long line of powerful witches, Diana refuses to let magic into her life. She lives on the cusp of the magical and the mundane, always teetering between one and the other, never finding a true balance.

I find myself able to relate to Diana very well and I felt a connection to her character, even though the only thing we really have in common are our love of tea. Harkness does a wonderful job of writing the character so that the reader is empathetic towards her and is able to feel a connection with not just Diana, but all the characters. When Diana cries, loves and fears so does the reader with amazing emotional clarity. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever loved a fictional character as much as I love Matthew and it’s all because of Diana’s love for him.

The relationship between Diana and Matthew develops slowly, realistically, I should say. At first they are simply interested in each other on a platonic level but gradually they begin to realize that they are in love with each other. One of the devices Harkness uses to show their relationship develops is the way Matthew’s gaze feels on Diana. Witches are able to feel the looks of other creatures (vampires, daemons, and witches) and vampires usually have a gaze that feels like ice cubes. Matthew’s gaze goes from ice cubes to snowflakes. This is a sign that they are becoming more comfortable with each other and that Matthew’s feelings for Diana are softening into love.

One of the things I like about this book is the concept of the secret world of witches, vampires and daemons. I think that’s it very well thought out because of the way the three groups interact with each other. There is a deep felt prejudice that all the races feel for each other and one of the controversial issues that Matthew is trying to figure out is whether witches, vampires and daemons have commons ancestry instead of evolving from three separate sources of genetic material. (Matthew is a professor and geneticist at Oxford, btw J)

Another one of the things I really like about A Discovery of Witches is the analogy between vampires and wolves. There are no werewolves (yet) but the constant comparison between wolves and vamps is a decent substitute. There are too many instances of this analogy to give you an example but the book is littered with them.

The last thing about this book that I want to write about is the plot and the conflict. Now, I am quite intuitive when it comes to story plots and conflicts. Usually I can figure out the who, what, where, when and why, but in the case of A Discovery of Witches I found myself never really knowing where the book was going. In a way it was frustrating to have to wait until the end for the reveal, but it was also refreshing because I, for once, didn’t know what was going to happen before it happened. The conflict in the book is also deceptive. At first you think it’s a conflict between Diana and Matthew, and then you realize it’s a conflict between Diana, Matthew, and some wizard named Peter Knox… or is it? I don’t think we’ll find out the real conflict until the second book is released in July 2012.

I am very excited about the release of Shadow of Night this summer and if you want to know more about Deborah Harkness and her books please visit her website. Also, if you want some information about Bridget Bishop (yes, she really WAS the first woman executed for witchcraft at Salem) you can read all about her here.