Literary Giveaway Blog Hop!

Hi everyone!  Guess what?  As a part of the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop hosted by Judith, I’m giving away one very beautiful hardback copy of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus!  Just fill out the form below and you’ll be entered to win (US residents only, please!).  The giveaway closes end of day February 22 and I’ll announce the winner (provided by the ever helpful on February 23.  The lucky winner will be emailed and given 48 hours to respond before another winner is selected.

Giveaway is now closed!  Standby for winner announcement on February 23, 2012!

Be sure to check out the other participating blogs – see the links below!

  1. Leeswammes
  2. Curiosity Killed The Bookworm
  3. Lit Endeavors (US)
  4. The Book Whisperer
  5. Rikki’s Teleidoscope
  6. 2606 Books and Counting
  7. The Parrish Lantern
  8. Sam Still Reading
  9. Bookworm with a view
  10. Breieninpeking (Dutch readers)
  11. Seaside Book Nook
  12. Elle Lit (US)
  13. Nishita’s Rants and Raves
  14. Tell Me A Story
  15. Living, Learning, and Loving Life (US)
  16. Book’d Out
  17. Uniflame Creates
  18. Tiny Library (UK)
  19. An Armchair by the Sea (UK)
  20. bibliosue
  21. Lena Sledge’s Blog (US)
  22. Roof Beam Reader
  23. Misprinted Pages
  24. Mevrouw Kinderboek (Dutch readers)
  25. Under My Apple Tree (US)
  26. Indie Reader Houston
  27. Book Clutter
  28. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (US)
  29. Lizzy’s Literary Life
  30. Sweeping Me
  1. Caribousmom (US)
  2. Minding Spot (US)
  3. Curled Up With a Good Book and a Cup of Tea
  4. The Book Diva’s Reads
  5. The Blue Bookcase
  6. Thinking About Loud!
  7. write meg! (US)
  8. Devouring Texts
  9. Thirty Creative Studio (US)
  10. The Book Stop
  11. Dolce Bellezza (US)
  12. Simple Clockwork
  13. Chocolate and Croissants
  14. The Scarlet Letter (US)
  15. Reflections from the Hinterland (N. America)
  16. De Boekblogger (Europe, Dutch readers)
  17. Readerbuzz (US)
  18. Must Read Faster (N. America)
  19. Burgandy Ice @ Colorimetry
  20. carolinareti
  21. MaeGal
  22. Ephemeral Digest
  23. Scattered Figments (UK)
  24. Bibliophile By the Sea
  25. The Blog of Litwits (US)
  26. Kate Austin
  27. Alice Anderson (US)
  28. Always Cooking up Something

Soulless by Gail Carriger (The Parasol Protectorate Series)

Gail Carriger’s ‘about the author’ blurb on the back of Soulless includes this little snippet:

She now resides in the Colonies with a harem of Armenian lovers and tea imported from London.

She had me at harem.  But I was also interested to read about a Victorian heroine who came armed with a parasol, a story with steampunk sensibilities, and a new take on the formulaic supernatural world of vampires, werewolves, and other creatures that go bump in the night.

Alexia Tarabotti has no soul.  She also has no marriage prospects as she’s been put ‘on the shelf’ and is a self-identified spinster at 26.  Her Italian looks are far from the angelic, blond-haired, blue-eyed English rose ideal.  And then she kills a vampire with her hair pin and trusty parasol!  The gorgeous werewolf, Lord Maccon, is called in to investigate and quickly uncovers the disappearance of many loner werewolves and vampires.  Together, Lord Maccon and Alexia vow to discover the truth of the missing ‘persons’ only to find themselves in lust and danger.  How will they survive mutual enemies and each other?

I’m still on the fence about this book.  Having such high hopes definitely affected my reading.  Alexia is a clever protagonist – she’s bright, sharp-tongued, strong-willed, and definitely not the stereotypical heroine which was great.  Carriger writes with a saucy British humor that began as a plus, but ended up grating on my nerves.  Her wit began to feel slightly self-indulgent like a mere plot device.  And the love story turned into nothing but a bodice ripper – the type of novel I pledged to stay away from in high school.  I felt a bit mislead by this being shelved in the paranormal fantasy/steampunk section of my local bookstore because this reads like a harlequin romance with a bunch of steamy sex scenes meant to compensate for a romantic relationship lacking in any romance or emotional depth.

The biggest issue I had was Carriger’s need to harp on Alexia’s physical appearance at least once every ten pages or so.  How many times do we need to be reminded of her dark hair, her long nose, her tan skin and all the other Italian characteristics she’s had the unfortunate disgrace of inheriting from her father?  I get that it affects her societal standing – but show us, don’t tell us!  Seemed like a rookie mistake that a decent editor should have fixed – just my opinion.  Perhaps the remaining novels in the series overcome this pitfall.

Not to be a complete debbie downer, the book has its high points.  Like I mentioned, Alexia breaks the mold of weak damsel in distress types and the other characters are often quirky, colorful, and unique in a genre world filled with cookie cutter mimes.  My favorite being the lovable Lord Akeldama, the flamboyantly stylish loner vampire, who lives with a harem of ‘dandies’.  And when the novel throws its characters in harm’s way the action is non-stop, fast-paced, and a fun romp.

Carriger also has a knack for writing delightfully unsettling images such as:

The vampires all laughed uproariously at that.  It was creepy in its lack of decorum.

or this:

Mrs. Loontwill, whose curiosity was chomping at the perverbial bit, burst into the room.  Only to find her eldest daughter entwined on the couch with Lord Maccon, Earl of Woolsey, behind a table decorated with the carcasses of three dead chickens.

At the end of the day, I think this novel is relatively enjoyable if you kind of squint when reading – doing your best to just enjoy the audacity and precociousness of the book’s characters and their shenanigans.  I haven’t made up my mind on whether I’ll continue the series.  If I do, I might try it on audio because I have a feeling I’d have appreciated the story a bit more in that format.  And just so you know – this series is extraordinarily popular, people adore it.  So give it a try if you think it could be your thing!

Emma by Jane Austen – Volume II

Reading Volume II, I was, yet again, amazed at how adeptly Ms. Austen juggles her numerous plots and sub-plots.  She sure knows how to seamlessly weave together an entire town’s worth of story lines:  marriages, gossip, deceptions, schemes, secrets – really, Austen’s awesome.  For a novel to work (at least for me) all the characters must be well developed, interesting, and meaningful to the plot.  Volume II accomplishes this wonderfully – not just in advancing our initial townsfolk, but brilliantly adding several new characters into the mix – most notably, Mrs. Elton and Mr. Frank Churchill.

Two of my favorite scenes occur – Mr. Churchill’s escape to London for a mere haircut (or perhaps some super secret mission to be uncovered later!) and the anonymous gifting of Jane Fairfax’s pianoforte.  Frank’s haircut (I feel improper calling him his Christian name – does anyone else ever feel this way when reading classic literature?) with its silliness is worthy of several genuine chuckles (who knew classic literature could be so amusing!).  And the mysteriously appearing pianoforte much discussed at the dinner party hosted by the Coles adds intrigue worthy of any well constructed detective novel, but also begins to reveal Emma’s true feelings towards Mr. Knightley she’s still very much unaware of.  I love how Austen does that – revealing truths while creating secrets.

I think my biggest revelation so far in this re-read is how much I’m enjoying knowing everything that happens in advance.  Being spoiled allows me to pay attention to the intricacies cleverly woven by Ms. Austen so much earlier on than a first reading would allow.  I particularly love this in respect to Miss Fairfax and Mr. Churchill.

Another striking matter is how little Mr. Knightley has actually been in the story thus far.  He’s far too often holed up in Donwell Abbey seeing to his farming and whatnot.  I find myself pining for his attendance at Emma’s little social dalliances because I am a fangirl.  And fangirls should never be denied.  Despite his solitary nature, Mr. Knightley does fulfill his social engagements, keeping him from hermit status, and his presence is always pivotal to the story and never needlessly wasted.  He may not say much, but what he does say can not be ignored.

Excited to embark upon Volume III where our hero and heroine will finally find their way to one another and all will be well in Highbury!

The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss

Happy Valentine’s Day to all!  Does anyone go all out and relish in the abundance of candy, pink hearts, and mushy greeting cards?  My house doesn’t although there generally is some candy to be had or chocolate covered strawberries.  To honor the holiday this year, I selected the perfect book for a quick read and review!  The Thorn and the Blossom is a high concept novel that arrives in its own slip case (beautifully designed) and once removed unfolds in an accordion-esque fashion.  That’s all I needed to know to add this selection to my shelves – I’m quite easy when it comes to books.

Goss tells the simple love story of Evelyn Morgan and Brendan Thorne.  They meet during college in England and off and on throughout the years, decades, and perhaps, even centuries.  What makes this tale particularly interesting is that Evelyn’s POV is told on one side of the accordion fold, while Brendan’s is on the other.  You decide whether to start with Evelyn or with Brendan and your reading will definitely be shaped by this choice.  One perspective ends rather ambiguously, the other less so, but together come full circle.  I chose Evelyn’s side first as deemed by fate.  Feel free to choose whichever tickles your fancy, but I felt I had made the ‘correct’ decision upon finishing.

Quirk Books loves to publish fun books that experiment with the nature of reading.  I love how willingly they explore various mediums and forms and offer a home to all the quicky, whimsical books rejected by the stodgy, traditional publishing houses.  I’ve enjoyed taking this book off my shelves and showing family and friends – it always gets admired and coveted with the requisite ohs and ahs.  The concept alone makes the $17 worth spending.

The love story, however, is not so pleasing.  At least not for me.  Call me cold-hearted, but nothing within The Thorn and the Blossom earned my adoration.  The books lacks development and depth.  The conceptional form I just finished praising succeeds in enticing readers while simultaneously sacrificing what could have been a sweeping romantic saga.  I never felt attached or invested in either Evelyn, Brendan, or their relationship as a whole.  The ability to see the story from both POVs was clever and successfully served its purpose, but the giddy smile I expected to don upon finishing these 82 pages sadly never arrived.  Obviously, the novel had to be short to make the book readable, but should books value form over substance?  When does a book cease being a book?  You know this argument – art for art’s sake and all that.  Am I a hypocrite for wanting books to experiment but still retain their bookish-ness?

I feel like the Grinch who stole Valentine’s Day.  I can feel my heart shrinking.  Perhaps a heavy dose of candy hearts will ease my moral conundrums!

Of course, many readers take great delight in sweet, magical fairy tales.  For those readers, The Thorn and the Blossom will be a quick, romantic way to spend an hour or two, especially on V-Day.  You could even read it aloud with your significant other, each reading a different side.  My husband would laugh me at of the room at this suggestion.  It would also make a beautiful gift for a bookish friend, but be forewarned that this novel, whimsical as it is, is not appropriate for young children which has surprised several readers.  I personally recommend it more as a work of ‘art’ rather than a brilliant ‘story’, but there is room in the world for both!


Preludes and Nocturnes: The Sandman Volume One by Neil Gaiman

In yesterday’s post, I lamented over my rather cumbersome and disjointed reading of Neil Gaiman’s Preludes and Nocturnes, Volume I in The Sandman.  For the entire first half of the story, I figured graphic novels were just beyond my comprehension and wondered what was wrong with me.  I so fiercely wanted to enjoy this collection because I wanted to adore Gaiman as he’s a super hyped author I’ve never read, but always figured I’d love without question.

Preludes and Nocturnes tells the story of the King of Dreams, younger brother to Death.  In the beginning of the tale, he’s trapped and held captive by an occultist and later, the occultist’s son.  Once he escapes, he begins a journey through dreams and nightmares – across countries and continents – among many pop culture and literary allusions in search of the three lost tools he needs to regain his power.

What you’ll now embark on is not a review, but my rather awkward attempt to struggle through my reading experience – consider yourself warned.

My initial problems were not the illustrations themselves (they are dark, sharply featured drawings capable of subtle twisting and transforming from the ordinary to the grotesque), but rather the flow from one drawing to the next.  I got lost so many times and I’m still sure I misread on several occasions.  Most of my struggles are my own – not Gaiman’s – as this medium is just not something I’m used to.  I’ve learned that graphic novels are not silly drawings that require very little thought or attention.  Instead, the structure of graphic novels actually insists upon a certain level of focus I often don’t find in the normal structure of literature which threw me for a loop and held me captive at the same time.  Once I got the hang of it, the second half flew by and was immensely enjoyable.

All that bitching and moaning aside, I was rather humbled, book snob that I admittedly am.  So for anyone who has ever seen me scoff in the general direction of graphic literature, today I eat crow and offer my sincerest apologies.

As for the story, I loved the three witches in Imperfect Hosts (Macbeth – and perhaps a bit of Hocus Pocus as well), gasped at a particularly shocking moment in Passengers, and was enthralled by the madness of my favorite issue, 24 hours.   But it wasn’t until Death shows up at the end to guide her little brother out of his moroseness that I actually finally felt emotionally involved – like perhaps there was a point to the whole collection and not just moments of brilliance.  Upon some research, I discovered that many readers don’t like this first installment, generally agreeing that the cohesion was lacking – Gaiman himself admits to cringing upon rereading Preludes and Nocturnes.  So I’ll keep going.  Not sure when or how long it will take (there are 10 more volumes!), but I’ll persevere just as Dream did.

I’m not sure I’d recommend this as a place to start for those who aren’t accustomed to the graphic genre.  I believe there are probably many smoother and impactful introductions, Maus – most precisely.  But if you like Gaiman, enjoy a little creepiness, are intrigued by the ambiguousness of dreams and nightmares, perhaps you should give it a look.  I look forward to exploring many graphic novels in my future so if you have a favorite to recommend, please let me know in the comments! And thanks to everyone who left me their recommendations yesterday!

The Sunday Salon: Stories Through Pictures

I had an ‘odd’ week in reading.  Most of the week was spent with Emma, but I also managed a couple of short reads – The Thorn and the Blossom by Theodora Goss and the first volume of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman graphic novel.  All three will get full reviews this week, but reading a classic novel, a high concept novel, and a graphic novel at the same time was definitely an interesting reading experience.  What struck me most was how terrible I am at graphic novels.

In college I read Maus II and enjoyed it – mainly because I had help and guidance from an amazing professor.  But other than a few Buffy comics, my experience with graphic novels is zilch.  And I find them difficult to follow.  Sometimes I read the story/dialogue out of order because I get disoriented and lost.  Does this happen to anyone else?  I assume it gets better with further reading and admit to feeling more comfortable during the second half of The Sandman.  You would think pictures would make a story more accessible and easier to follow, but I don’t always find this true which is kind of confounding.  Do you agree?  Disagree?

I’d like to gain some perspective by exploring this genre more heavily so I need recommendations!  I already want to read Persepolis and Anya’s Ghost, but what else is there?  Should I continue on with The Sandman?  And what about manga?  What’s that all about?  Has anyone re-read a graphic novel retelling of a book they loved?

Next week, I plan on finishing Emma and reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.  I also just started a series I’ve been wanting to read for some time, The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger.  Started Soulless last night and find it quite humorous so far.  Has anyone else read these books?

I hope everyone had a stupendous week and may your Sundays be filled with rainbows, unicorns, and books!

Emma by Jane Austen: Volume I

Note to all readers:  I am passionately in love with everything Jane Austen has ever written, including her juvenilia.  I try to re-read one of her six full length novels a year and this year is Emma‘s turn!

I own three copies of Emma – a beat up Penguin paperback, the leatherbound Easton Press collector’s edition, and the Penguin Threads version designed by Jillian Tamaki.  I’m reading the latter and you can see the GORGEOUS cover I’ve included for your viewing pleasure.  When publishers publish books that are beautiful to stare at – I buy them.  So far, Penguin is Ruler of Book World in this regard.

Let’s get to know Miss Emma Woodhouse, shall we?

“The read evils indeed of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments.  The danger, however, was at present so unperceived, that they did not by any means rank as misfortunes with her.”

So, Emma’s a bit of a selfish, spoiled rich girl and for this reason many readers despise her.  I love her.  Emma and all her flaws are a product of the way she was raised and the societal rules that governed the land during the turn of the 19th century.  She also has no idea how off-putting she can be and honestly believes she’s trying to do right by others in all her plots and schemes.

And oh, how she does scheme!  Emma fancies herself a bit of a matchmaker and spends Volume I encouraging a very misguided match between her friend, Harriet Smith, and one of the village’s most eligible bachelors, Mr. Elton.  Unfortunately, Harriet has grown up in a school for girls with no idea of her parentage and no fortune to speak of.  Mr. Elton is of high birth with a consequential income and influence – far beyond what Harriet could ever hope to marry.  But Emma is determined and convinces poor Harriet to turn down a marriage proposal to modest farmer, Robert Martin.  Spoiler Alert:  All goes awry because Mr. Elton is actually in love with Emma!

Our hero, although we don’t know it yet, Mr. Knightley is Emma’s oldest and dearest friend (16 years her senior).  He’s the only close relation that sees through Emma’s plots and tries to reason with her willful blindness to the rules of who can and cannot marry.  They have several fun, snarky battles that end with Emma’s nose turned up in rebellious stubbornness and Mr. Knightley storming off huffily like a boy instead of a grown ass man.  I love Emma and Knightley – they are my favorite Austen couple for their refusal to act like lovesick puppies, for their mutual respect and ability to call each other on their bullshit, and the quiet, slow development of friendship turned to love.  Their dialogue is some of the best dialogue EVER.  Do not argue.

Despite Emma often being hard to love, she has  moments of redemption.  She visits the poor frequently, always willing to lend a helping hand or monetary assistance.  She spends most of her time wanting to help those around her and not caring for her own marriage whatsoever.  Her relationship with her father is endearing – she wants to always be by his side, despite his silliness (think Mrs. Bennett as a man).  And when she tells Harriet of her mistake, she genuinely fells awful and spends the next few weeks miserable.  Emma has the best of intentions, she just lacks in execution.

Volume I, and really the whole novel, can be summed up with the following quote:

“One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”

Regency England is divided by so many rules and social etiquettes – men/women, parent/child, rich/poor, those of high birth/those of low birth – I could go on and on.  To me, Emma’s main faults are often found trying to overcome these precedents and so I’m thoroughly ‘Team Emma’ and can’t wait to dive into Volume II.

Also, the humor in this novel surpasses Austen’s other works – further proof of her brilliance and how much we missed by her dying so young.

First You Try Everything by Jane McCafferty

When I was offered the opportunity to read First You Try Everything by Jane McCafferty, I immediately said yes based on one single fact – I loved the cover.  Knowing that the book was about the dissolution of a marriage, the cover art on the book jacket is just genius.  You can see it to the left, there – six rows of musical staves slowly unraveling.  The coloration of the title’s font also changes – starting as a rosy pinkish red and ending as a deep maroon with a decidedly blood-like quality.  If the dust jacket told such a great story, surely the novel beyond wouldn’t disappoint.  And yes, I will totally read a book based on its cover art – guilty as charged.

“She hardly slept at all for the next three days.  Each day she felt a little more unhinged.  In certain moments, she was like a tightrope walker, the one who never should’ve been in that business, the one who falls down and looks back up at the rope and thinks, No way.  Never again.  I’m staying right here for the rest of my life.  And then climbs back up.”

Ben and Evvie met and fell in love during college – a time when they were bound and linked by their similarities.  Now in their early forties, something has gone wrong.  Ben confronts Evvie, tells her he’s leaving her, and moves out hoping to share custody of their dog as they were never able to have children.  Stunned, Evvie stoically enters the denial stage of grief, begins plotting outlandish schemes to get Ben to come home, and completely loses her grip on reality.  Meanwhile, Ben is doing his best to juggle his own grief and guilt over Evvie’s obvious slide into mental illness while beginning a new relationship with a woman who’s the absolute antithesis of his first wife.  And oh, the shenanigans that follow!

First and foremost, First You Try Everything was a complete win for me, but my reading was framed and influenced by something currently taking place in my personal life.  My parents are going through a not-so-pretty divorce after 37 years of marriage and my mom is devastated in a major way.  So what this means is that Evvie’s character, no matter how crazy she seems or the outrageous things she does that many readers won’t find realistic, is spot on.  I love how McCafferty shows how Evvie’s passions become obsessions because she’s doing everything in her power to make sense out of her situation and gain some sort of control over these larger world problems since she’s lost any control she ever tenuously had over her own life.  When everything you’ve ever known is ripped out from underneath you, when the co-dependent relationship you’ve defined yourself with has suddenly vanished, your sanity won’t be far behind.

That being said, Evvie isn’t entirely innocent and Ben isn’t really the villain.  The story switches every chapter between their viewpoints which serves the novel well.  Just when you think Ben is irredeemable, you realize how deeply he’s loved Evvie to the point of ignoring his own happiness – and just when you’re ready to cart Evvie off to the loony bin, she gives you a nugget of truth and clarity that stops you dead while you spend several minutes re-reading her observation.  McCafferty’s ability to dig inside the psychological foundations of marriage, human connection, and how easy it is to lose ourselves in other people is simply amazing.

“For these visits home, Ben had been her skin.  Ben had understood that the house of childhood cast a spell, gave her a form of multiple personality disorder, rendered her all the ages she had ever been inside of its walls.  Without him, how was she to navigate the collision of selves?  He’d seemed to love those selves, had lifted photographs out of an album and taken them for his own possessions…Now it seemed to her he’d rejected not just the self she was now, but all those other people too.  The ones whose ghosts still haunted the old house.”

Despite the rather dour atmosphere I’ve described above, First You Try Everything is rich with a dry, witty, dark humor that keeps the story from drowning in its own bleakness.  And while the novel doesn’t end with everything all peachy keen and promises of happily ever after, Evvie and Ben have both begun their journey from rock bottom with nothing but possibilities and hope for the future – with or without each other (you’ll just have to read to discover which!).

So, if you enjoyed Stewart O’Nan’s, The Odds, or the movie, Blue Valentine, I think you’ll find something to enjoy here.  Also, this novel seems tailor made for book groups and will look lovely on your shelves!


About the Author:

Jane McCafferty is the author of the novel One Heart and two collections of stories, Thank You for the Music and Director of the World and Other Stories, which won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize. She is the recipient of an NEA award, the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Award, and two Pushcart Prizes. She lives and works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Check out more tour dates at TLC Book Tours!

Special thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for the book and the opportunity to share it with others!

Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

A.S. Byatt has always been one of those authors I’ve avoided out of intimidation.  When I saw she would be writing the 17th addition in the Canongate Myths series, I thought I’d overcome my fear and give her writing a go.  The Canongate series is a collection of books based on myths written by different authors such as Margaret Atwood and David Grossman.  While I don’t have any particular affinity for mythology, Ragnarok seemed interesting and comfortably short.

Unlike many of the other novels in this series, Ragnarok is not a retooling or a modernization of an ancient story.  Byatt stays true to the purity of this Norse end-of-days myth.  We follow a ‘Thin Child’ as her family evacuates London during the 1940s against the bombing raids and warning sirens of WWII.  They take up residence in the English countryside where the young girl (we’re never told her name) spends her days wondering through fields of flowers, trees, and insects or immersed in a book she’s discovered called Asgard and the Gods.  Asgard tells the story of the Twilight of the Gods – the Norse myth that ends with complete annihilation of every last God, and obviously, the world as a whole.

By far, the ‘Thin Child’s’ present day observations outside of the myth were my favorite parts.  She spends her time in green gardens alive with the noise of nature which stands in direct contrast to the dying world of Ragnarok.  Her religious searching and spiritual questions are fascinating and belie a maturity far beyond what her age might suggest.  She finds the ‘myth’ of Jesus boring and despises the idea of his Resurrection.  She’s much more taken with the brutality and finality of the destruction of the Gods in Ragnarok.  You understand her emotions when you consider that there’s ‘a war on’ and that her own father is caught in the middle, flying high above the earth sending bombs down to destroy the lesser creatures.  She fiercely believes her father will never return home and that his death is inevitable.  Ragnarok becomes a way to process her father’s absence and to immortalize him in the pages of a book.

Ragnarok is short and lives mostly in the telling of this myth.  In that way, this doesn’t read like a typical novel.  Most novel readers will probably be turned off by the no nonsense of Odin, Loki, Thor and their tales – unless you just love mythology.  I was somewhere in the middle of the likability scale.  I suspect most of the Canongate novels offer a wonderful way to learn about mythology without having to pick up something extremely educational, but  Byatt’s contribution thrives to stay among the purely academic.  You’ll learn a lot, but won’t necessarily be entertained while doing so.

Source:  Publisher via NetGalley

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

My third audio book and another fantastic audio experience!  I purchased this at when they were having their massive sale in January. The driving factor in this purchase was that Jennifer Ehle was narrator and that Ed Westwick had narrated the sequel, Clockwork Prince.  Clockwork Angel is the first book in the Infernal Devices series which is the prequel to the Mortal Instruments series.  Follow all that?  I have not read the Mortal Instruments series or anything else by Clare so my opinions are completely limited to this single novel.

Sixteen year old Tessa Gray boards a ship from New York to London after her aunt’s death to live with her brother, Nathaniel.  Upon arriving, a mysterious carriage and two creepy sisters explain that they have been sent by her brother to pick her up – they even have a note from Nate.  We next find Tessa held captive by The Dark Sisters as they are prepping her to marry the Magister (whoever he is!) by teaching her how to use her secret power – the ability to shape shift into other people, dead or alive.  Right before she’s meant to be married off (completely against her will, obviously), a young man, Will, rescues her – bringing her to some place called ‘The Institution’, explaining that she is an ‘Underworlder’, and that he is a ‘Shadowhunter’.  What follows is an exciting romp as Tessa learns about this new world, her true identity, who has it out for her, and whatever happened to her dear brother.

I decided to leave the synopsis vague.  If you read YA, you already know about this book and if you don’t, I think you’ll have a better experience the less you know going in.  The story is exciting, expertly paced, and has really great action scenes that leap off the page.  This story would do well on the big screen.  Another plus – while there are vampires and other supernatural creatures in the story, this book is NOT a book about vampires.  Refreshing.

Tessa is a YA heroine I can enjoy.  She’s sassy, sharp-tongued, and not afraid to voice her opinion – for better or worse.  She also manages to keep the whining to a minimum.  The fact that she is a reader only makes her more lovable. I was less thrilled with the cliched love triangle between Tessa, Will, and Jem.  Thankfully, the romance plot line does not take centerstage and is content to sort of play in the background with just occasional starring moments.  Will plays the tortured soul bad boy with a mysterious past and Jem counters this by being sweet, open,and intelligent with a tragedy all his own.  If you know anything about me, you know I’m immediately Team Will (not that I do that kind of thing…nope, not me!).  Unfortunately, the romance brings nothing new to the table.

I adored the secondary characters who all come to life vibrantly and play vital roles.  A couple of twists along the way kept me turning the pages and I loved the decidedly steampunk vibe throughout.  Clare’s Victorian London comes alive with its rain, chill, and foggy mornings.  The worldbuilding is largely based in reality – seeing the extraordinary born out of the ordinary adds a layer of realism that is always welcome.

I’m not sure how much my experience was improved by listening rather than reading, although I suspect it did help.  Jennifer Ehle’s mastery of various accents brought the characters to life in a way they probably wouldn’t have in my head.  She’s a brilliant actress (and the best Elizabeth Bennett ever) and that definitely shows with her narration.  All 14 hours I spent listening were a delight.  I plan on listening to Clockwork Prince as well, but I’ve decided to read the Mortal Instruments series as a comparison.

While I don’t have a ton of reading experience in the YA genre, I wholeheartedly recommend this story and look forward to exploring the rest of Clare’s work.  The third Infernal Devices book, Clockwork Princess, is set to be released in September 2013.

Side note:  After reading, I was doing some research on the book’s history and discovered a ton of drama involving Cassandra Clare’s Harry Potter fanfiction and the issue of plagiarism.  I honestly don’t care what people do in fanfiction, so this in no way colored my reading and won’t in the future. 

Second Side note:  Does anyone go out and buy hardcopies of audio books they enjoyed?  Or am I all alone in this?