Sunday, January 24, 2016

Queen of the Tearling (Book Review)

Title: The Queen of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
Publication: HarperCollins, 2014
Genre: YA Fantasy, Book 1 of 3
Plot: Kelsea, the crown princess of the Tearling, has been brought up in seclusion in the woods, far away from the realm’s capitol, tended by a devoted but strict couple preparing her for the day she turns 19, at which time she will ascend to the throne. There are just a few small obstacles: her uncle became regent after Kelsea’s mother died and would rather kill his niece than give up his power; the Tearling kingdom has a bitter enemy threatening to invade; and Kelsea has few resources other than the remnants of her mother’s guards, a talisman she cannot control, and her own untested instincts which include a hot temper. Kelsea’s defense of the kingdom is a classic battle of good vs. evil with a cast of interesting characters, such as the loyal Queen’s Guards, a mysterious underworld mastermind, an abused wife from the rival country of Mortmesne, a wily former bookmaker who becomes the kingdom’s financial guru, and an evil rival Queen.

Audience: Fans of YA fantasy; authors such as Elizabeth Marie Pope, Kristin Cashore, Tamora Pierce

What I liked: Just when you think you’ve read enough YA fantasy, and you’re tired of the same old plot – young woman (who thinks she’s plain) slowly becomes aware that she is the only one who can save the kingdom, but must learn to use her power as well as figure out her complicated romantic situation. Here, however, the author combines the elements of adventure, romance, magic, and suspense in a way that made me feel it was completely new, despite the familiar plot devices. One of the most intriguing characters is Fetch, a masked man who lurks in the underworld, a cross between Robin Hood and political leader. He challenges Kelsea to put aside her fears and live up to her potential, to claim her throne and be the Queen the Tearlings need. She develops a serious crush, but he seems too old to be a romantic possibility yet says he is not her father, the other logical possibility.

What I disliked: Overall, I loved this book; was a little disappointed in the sequel, and eagerly await book 3 in the spring. Although the book is set in the future, it has an appealing medieval feel. It is a pity that all the religious characters are depicted as evil or weak but I am hoping Father Tyler will survive to become a hero.
Movie: Supposedly, Emma Watson is interested in producing the movie and playing Kelsea but such deals often fall through.  I think she would be perfect for the part.

Source: I got this book from the library for my sister last summer but didn’t have time to read it myself. Thanks to her enthusiasm, I saved my copy for a long plane trip where it was the perfect entertainment.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Fairy Tale Girl (Book Review)

Title: The Fairy Tale Girl
Author: Susan Branch
Publication: Illustrated Hardcover, Spring Street Publishing, November 2015
Genre: Memoir/Coming of Age (first of two books)
Plot: This is a charming and beautifully illustrated memoir from the very talented Susan Branch, following her from childhood through her first serious relationship and unhappy first marriage.  She captures the warmth of her family and friends, as well as her discovery of her artistic talent and her growth as an artist and writer.  She asks if your life reflects who you really are and reveals how she came to recognize she had lost part of her true self while married to someone who cared only about his own accomplishments.

The book begins and ends with her flight (in several senses of the word) from California to Boston to begin a new phase of her life. It was the same year I graduated from college – we should have met up and worked on a plan together as I did not have a fully developed plan for my future either!

Audience: Branch’s fans are wide ranging and include Anglophiles like me and artistic/craftsy types who are inspired by her creativity and belief that anyone can develop her own artistic skills. This book is also a coming of age story and will appeal to those who remember the classic Seventeenth Summer.

What I liked:  My Betsy-Tacy friend Cindy Price recommended Susan's work to me slightly more than two years ago (I don’t think Susan has read Betsy-Tacy yet but she certainly loves books so perhaps it is just a matter of time). I followed a trip she made to England with a group, which sounded like so much fun and resulted in its own book.  I also bought her 2014 calendar which contained delightful illustrations as well as recipes, favorite quotes, and anecdotes, and cheered up my dreary office.  This memoir, which is based on her diaries, is the first installment of several autobiographical books, not written in chronological order.  It is chatty and fun, even when discussing serious topics, and celebrates female friendship.  In fact, reading it felt like having a long talk with a dear friend one hadn’t seen recently (or, in this case, had never met!).  My favorite part was when her friend Diana gives her a gift certificate to a crafts store.  This leads to the purchase of paints and experimenting with different types of art, all of which are delightful.  It really makes the book to be taken along with Susan on the Alpine Path as she asks herself, “Where do I start?” and tries different things, with replicas of these projects captured in the book.  She is talented in a way that is not intimidating and invites others to exercise their own creativity.  

I also enjoyed Susan’s purchase of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking to add an upscale element to her culinary skills. I was reminded of using this cookbook when I was in school to make Napoleons for a French class party.   I seem to recall it took my mother and me the best part of several days!  The results were impressive and very tasty, although not as perfect as Julia’s version. 

The book itself is designed to appeal to readers who love Susan’s illustrations. It includes watercolors, recipes, photographs and other mementos.  An expedition to see the Beatles made this reader feel she was right there!   The book also features a ribbon bookmark (when I worked in publishing, I was able to insist on this feature once or twice – it is costly but a certain type of reader like me just loves them).

I am not far from Martha’s Vineyard where Susan lives and works - I wish we could watch an episode of Downton Abbey together as we are both huge fans (although she likes Daisy, who I find very annoying).

What I disliked: Susan repeatedly says she grew up in a pre-feminism era where she was conditioned to submerge herself in her spouse. This may be true but it was painful to read about their relationship and the treatment she endured; on the other hand, haven’t we all occasionally been that way about people everyone else knew were wrong for us?  Still, the tone was very melancholy.   I look forward to reading about how she moves on in her forthcoming book, Martha’s Vineyard, Isle of Dreams, which appears to begin where this one ends.

Social Media: Susan’s blog is just like her books: you will feel you are chatting with a friend.   You can also follow her on Twitter or read one of her earlier books.  Click here to see if one of Susan’s book events will be in your neighborhood.  I have a conflict on April 30th (Swan Lake!) but will catch her another time.

Source: I received this book from Susan’s publicist Jocelyn Kelley in return for an honest review.

Images copyright to Susan Branch

Friday, January 1, 2016

Indian Summers – Season 1, Episode 9 – Season Finale – Recap

My viewing (and recapping) of the last two episodes was delayed by a trip to Edinburgh and London but overall I enjoyed this series.  I did, however, lose a lot of my sympathy for Alice and Aafrin, as the moral focus of the story line shifted to Ian, now despised by all the self-righteous Brits because he took the stand on Mr. Sood’s behalf. Even worse from his and the viewer's point of view, his testimony was useless and Mr. Sood has been condemned to death (in addition to being falsely accused, he has a good argument for police brutality).
Back to the American gold diggers: Madeleine is trying to persuade her brother not to leave for Chicago. The next minute Eugene dies of malaria – he had been recovering from a previous bout but somehow this has to be Cynthia’s doing: she had moved him to an unpleasant part of the Club although I thought he was staying with Ralph. I never figured out why she didn't engineer the break-up of the engagement once she knew that there was no fortune for her precious Ralph.