Of Noble Family: Glamourist Histories Book 5, by Mary Robinette Kowal – A Review

Of Noble Family Mary Robinette Kowal 2015 x 200From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

I am going to miss Jane and Vincent, Mary Robinette’s heroes in her acclaimed Glamourist Histories series. Of Noble Family is the married couple’s fifth and final adventure set in an alternate Regency Britain enhanced by glamour, the loveliest system of magic I’ve encountered. But while their glamoured displays are often breathtaking, Jane and Vincent have taken ether-based illusions far beyond the ubiquitous drawing room decorations created by accomplished young women. In previous books they’ve found practical, if hair-raising, applications for glamour in the war against Napoleon, the Luddite riots, and an escapade involving pirates on the Mediterranean. For this last story the couple will be off to the Caribbean.

When the book opens, Jane and Vincent have been resting after their harrowing exploits on the Italian Island of Murano and enjoying the company of Jane’s family, especially her sister Melody’s new baby boy, who is already showing a precocious ability to see inside glamoured images. But things don’t stay relaxing for long. Vincent receives a letter from his brother Richard that turns their world upside down.

The first shocking piece of news is that Vincent’s father has died of a stroke at the family estate on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Lord Verbury fled to the island in an earlier book to avoid being imprisoned for treason. Since Vincent was badly abused by his father while growing up, the death wasn’t as upsetting to him as it might be, but the bad news didn’t end there. Upon their father’s death, Vincent’s oldest brother Garland inherited the title Lord Verbury, bought himself a new barouche-landau, and then died when the vehicle overturned on the badly maintained road leading to Lyme Regis. Vincent’s middle brother, Richard, was severely injured in the accident, losing one of his feet. In his letter Richard asks Vincent for a very large favor. Continue reading

Evenfall, by Liz Michalski – A Review

Evenfall, by Liz Michalski (2011)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

“In summer the trees are full, but in fall they drop their leaves, and the valley surrounding land crouches below the house like a cat before it springs.  If someone searched very hard, they could just see, from that attic window, the things they hold most dear: the faintest glint of sunlight on water, the white, circling wings of gulls; the remote, unreachable face of the woman they love, telescoping away into darkness.”

As a reviewer, I tried desperately to keep my head about myself as I swam in Liz Michalski’s beautiful novel Evenfall, an un-biased, unsentimental capture of it being my goal …but as a reader, I completely dissolved under its spell and utterly failed to keep my wits.  When you read it, you’ll see that I really had no choice.  It had me.

And so, I must present a review of Evenfall much in the way that Jane Austen presented A History of England, as a partial, prejudiced, and ignorant assessor.

The back of the book would have you believe that the story is about ghosts, one in particular actually, that tries to win back the only woman who ever mattered to him even as he floats around in an amorphous almost-existence.  In reality, the ghost character isn’t much of a character at all, and is essentially used as a way to look at the lives of two women from a third person perspective.  The ghost (Frank is his name) spends most of the book in the attic of Evenfall, the old family stead of the Murphys in rural Connecticut.  The house itself seems to stand as a person, having witnessed the lives of each family member with more clarity than most, along with a cat who fends off the loneliness of an aging woman, and Nina the dog, who is Frank’s biggest fan.

No, the story is really about Gert and Andie.  Tough as nails and seasoned in World War II as a nurse, Gert lives only footsteps away from Evenfall where she’s spent 40 years watching her sister live out the life she should’ve had, with the partner she should’ve had.  Regretful and bitter, Gert is forced to face the past when Andie, her niece, returns home to help bear the burden of cleaning up the Murphy family mess.  Andie isn’t so keen on spending a summer stuck in hicktown, even though she’s running from a few of her own demons (including a pressed-shorts-wearing, expensive-car-driving dandy of a man with a toxic personality and an endless track record of infidelity).  These two women have to figure out how to move forward in summer, move forward in life, move forward as family while coming to terms with their past decisions.  We all suffer from it eventually: those pesky, nagging possibilities and consequences of the roads not taken.  Roadnottakenitis maybe, a condition we all contract sooner or later.  Gert and Anide face it amidst an interesting cast of characters, including a grown up version of a boy Andie used to babysit and a goat…or two.  How will Gert and Andie face their pasts?  Their mistakes? What does it all mean?  By the time the end of the book is looming you realize that, just like in your life, there really are no answers.  Your choices are half chance, just like Gert’s, Andie’s, and everyone else’s.

Michalski weaves a story that positively drips with the hopelessness of summertime romance, the sadness of a life lived under the guise of joy, the true emptiness that fills the soul when it discovers that it can never rest.  The prose is beautiful.  Poetic, really.  The book itself is beautiful.  Tranquil and moving.  Evenfall was a lovely vision of summer-soaked humanity, with our sweaty brows and unspoken affections, and truly a sight to behold.

5 out of 5 Stars

Evenfall, by Liz Michalski
Penguin Group (2011)
Trade paperback (336) pages
ISBN: 978-0425238721

© 2007 – 2011 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

Jane Goes Batty: A Novel, by Michael Thomas Ford – A Review

Jane Goes Batty: A Novel, by Michael Thomas Ford (2011)Our Janeite sensibilities tell us that the notion of Jane Austen as a vampire is pretty wacky. It’s just so hard to visualize “our” Jane as one of the undead, still here after two hundred years, and struggling with life challenges and her condition. Author Michael Thomas Ford understands this too. He has created a trilogy based on our uncertainty, curiosity and proclivity for the burlesque that Austen herself was so fond of. Book one, Jane Bites Back, sold us on the concept that anything can happen in a Jane Austen inspired novel – even Jane as a vampire. It was “light, campy and a bit Buffyish” and we were truly “glamored.” But as any vampire aficionado knows, to be “glamored” means to be under the vampire’s mind spell which does not last forever. After over a year shouldn’t it have worn off, returning us to our cynical, defensive Janeite self? Book two, Jane Goes Batty, would have to be pretty darn good to dispel our doubts and resurrect our confidence. Our fingers were crossed, along with our corset strings.

Our twenty-first century Jane is still undead and living in Brakeston, a small university town in upper-state New York. The success of her novel Constance has changed her life considerably. In 1796 she may have wished to “write for Fame, and without any view for pecuniary emolument,” but now she has both as Jane Fairfax bestselling author. Her fans are arriving by the bus load and camping on her door step, a Hollywood movie crew has descended upon her hometown to film a glitzy star-studded version of her latest novel, and the hope of her next books success has garnered a fat advance. Life sounds pretty good, but not if you are a 235 old vampire who has thrived on anonymity and resisted advancing your powers in the undeadly arts.

Attempting to manage her life sensibly, she has promoted her friend and assistant Lucy to run her bookstore, Flyleaf Books, and welcomed her former lover George Byron (who also turned her) back into her life as a mentor. He is helping Jane to “develop her powers instead of run from them” in case “Our Gloomy Friend,” that pesky Bronte woman should make good on her threats. Her love-life is just where she wants it keeping patient boyfriend Walter in a holding pattern, and the town folk are none-the-wiser of her undead condition. With money, fame, friends and love in ones life, what’s to worry? Plenty. Walters Jewish mother Miriam arrives from Florida expecting her to convert, Jessica, her new demanding editor thinks she is an untalented plagiarist who should be writing a novel as good as Valley of the Dolls, and a vampire attack on one of the movie actors has Jane and Byron pointing fingers at one another. The challenges of keeping her true identity a secret, mastering her vampire skills, and the looming threat of another throw-down with an adversary from the past have her as distracted as Mrs. Bennet on her last nerve.

After the third chapter we remembered why we enjoyed the first novel in this series so much. Michael Thomas Ford is a wicked wit with a scoop of irony on top; a devilish combination that Austen whipped up and has been wowing us with for centuries. The premise of Jane Austen as a vampire is wacky – totally – but after we had been swept up in the frenetic pace, hilarious characters and outrageous parody, we were laughing out loud and startling our cats. Spirited, diverting and impertinent the “conceited independence” of this author knows no bounds. Watch out for a vicious three-legged Chihuahua, Ted and Ned the gay and straight, vampire and mortal, identical twins that we could never tell apart (nor could anyone else), eye rolling one liners by Lord Byron, a deranged vampire turned book reviewer (gulp), a surprise vampire hunter that is too close to home, and a poke at you gentle reader, if you are as inclined as we are to visit Jane Austen blogs and go to conventions in period costume! Our only quibble, and it is more of disapprobation, is that on more than one occasion we wanted to yell at this twenty-first century Jane Austen to find her inner Elizabeth Bennet or channel her Mary Crawford and get past the rag-doll syndrome that she was trapped in. It was almost all happily resolved by the end – like any Jane Austen novel should be – but we won’t tell. Of course Ford has left some plot points dangling that will, we hope, be addressed in book three, Jane Vows Revenge.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane Goes Batty: A Novel, by Michael Thomas Ford
Ballantine Books (2011)
Trade paperback (304) pages
ISBN: 978-0345513663

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Jane and the Damned, by Janet Mullany – A Review

It is 1797, and twenty-one year old Jane Austen’s first attempt at publication, First Impressions, has been “Declined by Return of Post”. Disheartened, but not dejected, she attends the Bassingstoke Assembly with her sister Cassandra. One would think that “to be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love,” not to be turned into one of the Damned! What started as an innocent flirtation with one of the bon ton (but dangerous) vampires, changes Jane’s life forever. Carelessly turned then abandoned, she is now one of the Undead. Struggling to hide her en sanglant urges Jane shares her affliction with her father Rev. Austen who is determined to save his daughter’s immortal soul from damnation. He decides to leave immediately with his family for Bath so Jane may partake the waters, the only known cure for her affliction.

Weak from hunger, Jane visits the Pump Room for the first time meeting Mr. Luke Venning, another of her kind. He quickly convinces her that she needs to feast on him to restore her strength before taking the cure. Jane is revived, but now her vampire desires are heightened and she craves even more blood. She is still determined to stay with her family and take the cure, until Napoleon’s troops invade England and Bath quickly loses the battle surrendering to the French forces. Realizing that her superior vampire skills could be used to oust the French from England, Jane rejects her salvation and accepts the mentorship of Mr. Venning who adopts her as her Bearleader. Training her in the vampire ways, Jane learns how to drink blood to survive and rip out the throats of Frenchmen, all in defense of her country.

Jane is indoctrinated into the vampire world revealing the pleasurable and decadent side of the Damned by reading minds, overpowering mortal thoughts and partaking in feeding orgies. She is even introduced to an infamous Royal who she previously abhorred for his dissipation and vice, but she now befriends as a fellow vampire. She is pleasantly surprised to discover that not all of her kind are narcissistic as they join together to thwart the enemy. As Jane becomes more of a vampire she discovers that she has lost her ability to write and her affection for her family is diminishing, including her dear sister Cassandra. Torn between her new life of pleasure, power and passion or her love of writing and her family, Jane must choose between the decadent life of the Damned or the chance that her books will offer her immortality.

If the plot summary raised both eyebrows, just remember to go with the flow and have fun. Janet Mullany has been touted as the witty love child of Jane Austen and Lord Byron for good reason. She is sharp and acerbic and irreverent; presenting a literary mash-up of a Jane Austen bio-fic, vampires and Napoleonic battles into an adventurous “sick and wicked” concoction.

This is a vampire novel with Jane Austen in it, not vice versa, so be prepared to experience our Jane as never before. The story is high spirited, outrageous and at times shocking (Mr. Austen giving his daughter his blood & Jane ripping out the throats of her opponents), but I am fainthearted and swoon at the thought of a putrid throat. Since my vampire expertise extends to childhood memories of Dark Shadows and the recent movie of the novel Twilight, I can only attest to her Jane being a true bloodsucker and not the vegan variety that sparkles in the sunshine.

For those Janeites who were miffed at the notion of paranormal stuff in your Austen (a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) best to try stumbling upon something more traditional. If you are in the mood for a galloping Regency paranormal spiked with wit, irony and romance, get ready for Jane and the Damned.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane and the Damned, by Janet Mullany
HarperCollins (2010)
Trade paperback (292) pages
ISBN: 978-0061958304

© 2007 – 2010 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

A Bookselling Moment with Jane Bites Back

After years as a bookseller at Barnes and Noble, very, very little surprises me. Working with the public has its charms and delights *cough* but for the most part 99% of my customers are fabulous, very appreciative of my help and excited about the inventory that is stocked in my store. Every bookseller has a favorite story to tell about the most outrageous request for a book or the kid that threw up on them. (My recent customer from hell was an indignant woman who expected me to be able to find a new release with feet binding in the story, but did not know the title, author or if it was fiction or nonfiction.) Last week one of my assistant managers found a pair of men’s underwear draped over the SAT books. Not sure if this was a personal statement about our educational system or a performance art project gone awry, but we all looked at her in horror as she stuffed the tighty whities in the trash. They were definitely not going in the lost and found! 

To be a great bookseller you need to know a little about everything and hopefully a lot about a few things. Most of the staff know that I am a Jane Austen enthusiast and enjoy channeling customers my way with the most obscure Austen book questions like, “Do you know that book with Mr. Darcy in the title?” or “I need Pride and Pestilence by Jane Eyre.”  One of my favorite stories to tell happened two years ago when The Complete Jane Austen was airing on Masterpiece Classic. I wrote about it at the time and you can read the story again here. (it is at the bottom of the post) But tonight, I had another Austen moment at work that just might surpass it.

A gentleman who looked to be in his sixties asked me where the romance novels were. I escorted him to the section and offered help which he declined. Usually, I do not have a lot of male customers asking for romance titles unless they have a list from their wife or girlfriend. I know that may sound like stereotyping, but when it comes to book buying, people’s taste and interests can often be pigeonholed that way. A few moments later the gentleman re-appeared at the information desk and asked me who the author  of Jane Bites Back was? (the new paranormal Jane Austen novel) Having just read and reviewed it myself, I was able to tell him right off the top of my head that the author was Michael Thomas Ford. 

Impressed with my authority and confidence in the book, he shared that it was the funniest book he had read in years and wanted to read the next one. I hesitated to reply. I knew the answer was that it had not yet been published but was so taken aback with his choice in reading that I stared at him blankly until I could regain my composure, all the while secretly smiling and thinking to myself, boy, you just can’t judge a book by its cover. I would never have pegged him as a Jane Austen is a vampire novel reader. When I told him that the first book had just been published two weeks ago and that he might have to wait another year for the second in the series, his face fell. “Another year?” he replied. “Jane deserves better.” 

So, Michael Thomas Ford. You better sharpen your quill and get crackin. Your public awaits.

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Jane Austen Goes Paranormal – Author Janet Mullany Chats about Austen and Vampires

Mr. Darcy and the vampire

The world has truly gone vampire crazy! Blame it on the Stephenie Meyer Twilight series which made hearts and flowers all over a genre which had traditionally been more bloody and less appealing to tweenage girls, and *ahem* ladies. Her aloof and pensive vegetarian vampire Edward Cullen may make hearts swoon by the thousands, but Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy has been doing the broody heartthrob thing long before Edward became an immortal, and he didn’t have to suck any blood to do it!

It was only a matter of time before the two genres collided and vampires invaded Jane Austen’s genteel world (or, had they always been there?). Besides fan fiction that has be around the net for years, the announcement last year of Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford is officially the beginning of the Austen vampire genre. As a bookseller and Austen enthusiast, all this genre bending amuses me exceedingly. When Jane Austen Today reported on The Immortal Jane a new series of vampire themed Austen inspired books in the queue, I was intrigued. Here we go, I said to myself! This latest paranormal offering is by Austen-esque author Janet Mullany. Her cheeky, sexy Rules of Gentility proved she could write about the Regency era with aplomb. It’s a good beginning. She has kindly joined us today to chat about not only The Immortal Jane series, but a second Austen paranormal novella in the works!

I have a new two-book contract with HarperCollins, starring Jane Austen. May Chen, my editor on The Rules of Gentility, asked if I could come up with an idea for something paranormal about Austen. So I said “Duh,” which is my usual writerly reaction, and went off to England to visit my aged father and did some thinking.

I’d been thinking for some time about why historical romance authors consider Jane Austen the granny of us all, and it’s because she is a master of subtext. The only way she could express sexual tension, because of her time and place in history, was by inference and subtle clues. It seems now the explicitness of historical romance means we have to find our own subtexts. (I should put in a plug here, so to speak, for the workshop Pam Rosenthal and I give, Writing the Hot Historical, which we’re giving at RWA Nationals, where we talk about this sort of stuff, and I urge everyone not to use the term pebbled nub and to read Mansfield Park.) So, I discovered another subtext throughout Austen — vampires. 

I admit this probably couldn’t have come about before Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. But I realized that there are characters in Austen’s novels who are clearly vampires –Willoughby, the Crawford’s and Wickham. They exploit and feed off others, they’re amoral and handsome and they wreak havoc. So obviously Austen knew about vampires as well as sex. In my world, vampires = the ton. I absolutely admit that I came up with the most outrageous idea I could and ran with it. 

In The Immortal Jane (working title) she joins forces with vampires to battle the invading French while she’s in Bath to take the waters. It will come out in the summer of 2010, so I’ll be very busy. The second one is ink on the contract and a twinkle in my eye. 

Also in 2010, October from Harlequin, I have another Austen exploration, a novella in an anthology tentatively titled Bespelling Jane, the brainchild of Susan Krinard, who persuaded Mary Balogh to make her paranormal debut as our headliner along with Colleen Gleason, author of the Gardella vampire hunters. We each took an Austen novel (Mary’s is Persuasion, Susan’s Pride & Prejudice, and Colleen chose Northanger Abbey); mine is Emma, my favorite Austen novel. It is a contemporary novella about a Washington DC dating agency catering to the paranormal population. Of course I was influenced by the Harry Potter books, where an alternate society of magicians exists side by side with the real Muggles world, so I have a witch on retainer to the White House, and all the lawyers are, of course, vampires. So are the cab drivers. Naiads and dryads populate the Tidal Basin and cherry trees. It was a lot of fun to write. 

So, yes, I’m becoming known as that writer who does terrible things to poor dear Jane. My theory is that Austen is a big enough girl to survive whatever I or others do to her; in fact, I think she’d find the harrumphing that’s already begun online pretty funny. 

Thanks for joining us Janet. I look forward to reading your paranormal adventures with Jane Austen in Bath, and your contemporary retelling of Emma in the new anthology. Janet has just revealed her beautiful new website Janet Mullany: Where Wit and Passion Meet designed by Haven Rich at Enchanted Web Style. It is certainly eye candy.

Regency Print ca 1818 #1          Regency era Print ca 1818 #2

In celebration she is offering a contest with two prizes, antique prints from ca. 1818, which came from the Warwick Leadlay Gallery in Greenwich, London, specializing in maps and Nelson memorabilia. She tells me that the prints look far better in real life than they do as illustrated here, with exquisite detail and color. The contest ends August 1st so don’t delay. The immortal Jane is watching! 

Author Janet MullanyAbout the author: Janet Mullany was raised in England on a diet of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, and now lives near Washington, D.C. She’s worked as an archaeologist, classical music radio announcer, performing arts publicist, copyeditor, and bookseller. Her first book, Dedication, won the 2006 Golden Leaf for Best Regency, as well as other awards.

You can find Janet Mullany on Twitter, every Thursday at Risky Regencies, and occasionally at History Hoydens.

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