Tuesday, April 23, 2013

More Fantasy/Women's Fiction Type Stuff

I had planned to run errands this morning, but the cold front that was supposed to hit in the early afternoon seems to be here now, so it's cool, gray and rainy. That means it's a stay-inside day. I think today may be my "retreat" to brainstorm the next book. There are a few movies I want to watch to set the mood and jump start the creative juices.

After taking more than a week to read A Discovery of Witches, I've gone on kind of a reading binge to finish all my library books before they were due. So, on with the Book Report:

First, my final thoughts on A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. After figuring out that it was essentially yet another rewritten Twilight, I must admit that I had a hard time taking it seriously and was more focused on spotting the Twilight parallels than on reading the book. On the plus side, it fixed a lot of the issues with Twilight, like letting the vampire have done something with his life other than go to high school for nearly a century and giving the heroine some actual abilities and powers. On the minus side, it had a lot of the same pacing issues, with hundreds of pages of hanging out, dating, arguing about whether their relationship was too dangerous and meeting the family in between each little burst of action. It also had some of the same bothersome relationship dynamics, with him being absolutely in control and dictating what she (and everyone else) would do. That's one romantic fantasy I really don't get, but given the success of the Twilight clones, apparently it's a common one. I've read a theory that modern women who feel overwhelmed may long for someone to just step in and take over, but I still don't get that. I'm totally on my own and sometimes get overwhelmed, but what I long for is more along the lines of someone to just call the plumber and get those repairs taken care of so I don't have to deal with it, not someone to dictate how I live my life and control my daily routine. At any rate, there were some interesting concepts and characters in this book, but I think they got rather bogged down in extraneous stuff. I'm curious about what happens next, but not sure I really want to wade through it.

My next read was The Winter Witch by Paula Brackston. I'm guessing by imprint and author blurbs that this falls into the category of historical/women's fiction with paranormal elements -- more paranormal romance for people who don't think they like romance or fantasy. I found the fantasy elements a little frustrating (though I think that was intentional), but I loved the romance. In early 19th century Wales, there's a young woman considered odd by her village -- she hasn't spoken since her father's disappearance when she was a child, and bad things tend to happen to people who are mean to her. Her terminally ill mother is concerned about what will become of her, and the solution comes in a young widower from a town a day's journey away. He needs a wife to keep his position as head drover (they figure that the man responsible for taking the town's livestock to market needs to have a reason to come home) and he finds this girl intriguing. But there's a magical well on his property that a local witch wants, and his new wife is in the way. This silent girl will have to learn to use her odd abilities to protect the husband she's coming to love and the rest of the town. The lovely thing in this book is the slowly evolving relationship between the newlyweds in their marriage of convenience. Neither of them is really ready to be married, so they take their time getting to know each other and discovering the things they have in common. This is made a little more challenging by the fact that she doesn't speak, but they find their own ways of communicating. Like I said, the fantasy side of the plot was frustrating, mostly because the villain was so one-note and obvious, but it's possible that was intentional because part of the problem was that only the heroine could see her for what she was, and she was unable to communicate that to anyone else. The writing style did take a bit of getting used to because the heroine's viewpoint is in first person and her husband's viewpoint is in third person, and the whole thing is present tense. I'm used to reading first-person present because that was common in chick lit, but third-person present is more unusual.

Then there was The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia McKillip, which is an absolutely magical little book, the kind of book that weaves a spell of its own. There's a seaside village where a mysterious bell that no one can find rings every evening at sunset. There's also something odd about the local manor house -- every so often, when you open a door, instead of finding another room you may find an enchanted storybook castle in another world. The lady of the manor is dying, and there's some concern about how her flighty socialite heir will deal with the manor. Everything changes when a mysterious scholar comes to town and starts asking questions about both the bell and the manor and when the heir arrives with her entourage. It's hard to say just why I loved this book so much other than that it really does seem to weave a spell that takes you to this place. There's a nice mixture of wonder and dread with the magic. I love the main characters, and there's a fun twist of a character who isn't what you assume (based on every other book ever written). There's also a nice romance that reminds me why I usually get my romance from fantasy rather than from the romance genre. It involves two of the main viewpoint characters, the bookworm young innkeeper who befriends the visiting scholar and the daughter of the prosperous local merchant who'd prefer to spend her days writing stories about the mystery of the bell instead of being courted by the squire's son. There are some fun misunderstandings not between the couple but involving everyone else and their perception of the situation. Anyway, I read this in practically one sitting and was utterly captivated.

I only have one more library book left, so when I return this batch, I'll have to see if I can find more. I'm not sure quite what I'm in the mood for right now. Maybe I'll put some things on my list on hold and read from the to-be-read shelves in the meantime.

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