Staff Review: Books 1 & 2 of The Lovegrove Legacy

Originally posted on Tuesday, 03 March 2015 at ROPL.org.

If you’re like me, maybe you don’t find Regency romances interesting and you avoid fantasy. If you love both of those things – and even if you don’t, keep reading. Why? Because it turns out that sometimes, when you put two things together that you don’t like – they produce something you might love.

Of course, this isn’t always true (and the opposite isn’t true – after all, I love mint and I love chocolate, but I certainly don’t like them together). But if you give me a Regency (or Edwardian/Victorian) setting and sprinkle it liberally with magic? I love it (unlike that mint chocolate chip cookie you’re thinking about right now) and maybe you will, too. If you already like those genres, together or separate, you’ll certainly find something to like in this series.

Alyxandra Harvey’s new series, The Lovegrove Legacy, is set in 1814 London (in the middle of the Regency period). It’s the story of three cousins; Gretchen, Emma, and Penelope. Unbeknownst to the three girls, they are descents of a very strong magical family, but as the three cousins soon find out – there’s a reason their abilities have been hidden.

The first book, A Breath of Frost follows the three cousins, but primarily focuses on Emma as she tries to figure out why their magic has been hidden from them. The second book, Whisper of the Dead, picks up where the first left off, but instead of focusing on Emma, we change to Gretchen. Although the primacy focus of each of the these first two books is on a particular cousin, Harvey provides us with plenty to read about the other two – along with the love interests that flit throughout their lives.

In many ways, The Lovegrove Legacy is a Regency romance — there’s a season, there’s swooning and handsome men and beautiful dresses. But there’s also magic, lots of magic, and danger. Harvey’s world is similar to our own, but with a twist of magic that will leave you excited for the third book. .

Check out both of these books from the library! If you like them, you might also enjoy the Ceclia & Kate trilogy by Patricia C. Wrede (previously reviewed on ROPL).

Staff Review: Cecelia & Kate (trilogy)

Originally posted on Tuesday, 20 January 2015 at ROPL.org.

Sometimes what you’re missing is a little magic. If you’ve ever felt that way and enjoy a good mystery (or three) plus a whole lot of fun – keep reading! Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer trilogy, Cecelia and Kate, is exactly what you’ve been waiting for. Beginning in 1817, Sorcery and Cecelia follows the story of two cousins: Kate and Cecelia and their adventures in magic, growing up and falling in love.

The first of the three books, Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, is told in letters between the two cousins. We follow Kate as she spends the season in London, while Cecelia is stuck back at home. Enduring their aunts, irritating boys, Kate’s cousin Georgy and promise of magic, the two girls write back and forth, giving us a fun and entertaining look at their daily life and adventures. The novel comes to a satisfying and fun end, good enough to stand on its own, but definitely leaving you wanting to spend more time with the two cousins.

The second novel, The Grand Tour, picks up not long after the first. Though this novel, too, is told through the written word, unlike the first, the two girls are traveling together so there’s no need for letters. Instead, we’re treated to Cecelia’s deposition and Kate’s journaling. While the format is slightly different, The Grand Tour measures up very well against Sorcery & Cecelia. Newly married, Kate and Cecelia are off on a honeymoon – across Europe! But being that they’re both intimately involved in magic (one way or another), nothing’s ever simple! But, of course, it is quite a lot of fun.

The third, and sadly final, novel of the trilogy is The Mislaid Magician: or Ten Years After. Here, as with Sorcery and Cecelia we return to the letter writing format. But unlike the previous two, we’re treated to the letters of Cecelia and Kate’s husbands, which prove to be equally entertaining as the two girls’ letters. Set back in England and ten years after the events in The Grand Tour, the third book follows up on Cecelia and her husband’s attempt to find a missing magician and a startling discovery – related both to magic and the newest mode of transportation in England – the steam engine! Kate and her husband take charge of Cecelia’s children and have their own, related, adventures. This time, though, Kate’s sister Gerogy has her own entertaining storyline.

At the heart of each of these three novels is a combination of magic and mystery. Wrede and Stevermer manage to weave these two concepts together with ease and humor. If you’re looking for a fun romp through the early 1800s, look no further.

If you like the Cecelia and Kate series, you might also like these books:

Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series:

  1. Etiquette & Espionage
  2. Curtsies & Conspiracies
  3. Waistcoats & Weaponry
  4. Manners & Mutiny (coming soon)

Kady Cross’ Steampunk Chronicles:

  1. The Girl in the Steel Corset
  2. The Girl in the Clockwork Collar
  3. The Girl with the Iron Touch
  4. The Girl with the Windup Heart

Ysabeau S. Wilce’s Flora Segunda series:

  1. Flora Segunda
  2. Flora’s Dare
  3. Flora’s Fury

Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Castle series:

  1. Howl’s Moving Castle
  2. Castle in the Air
  3. House of Many Ways

Cat Valente’s The Girl Who … series:

  1. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
  2. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
  3. The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two
  4. The Boy Who Lost Fairyland (coming soon)

Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and books by Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce.

Staff Review: Afterparty

Originally posted on Tuesday, 13 May 2014 at ROPL.org.

By Daryl Gregory
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Reviewed by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Daryl Gregory’s novel is not about drug use, religion or the future … Or, technically, it’s about all of these things. But it’s also about relationships, love, what it means to be alive and breathing. But at its heart (and it does have one of those, a rather big one, too), Afterparty is about what’s real.

Most of the novel is told from Lyda’s point of view. She’s a partial creator of a drug which seems to be making an appearance on the street. This drug, originally created to be helpful, has the strangest result from an overdose – a person gets religion. But, if it’s caused by a drug, is that religion at all? Lyda doesn’t think so, after all, the god she sees is a hallucination.

As one of the creators of the drug, Lyda’s determined to stop its spread. There’s only one problem: she’s in a mental hospital.

Afterparty follows Lyda on her journey – of love, self-discovery, loathing, redemption and, ultimately, the truth. Gregory sprinkles the story with a few cleverly written pop culture references as well as additional points of view. He picks many of our side characters and turns them, if briefly, into main characters. He gives us just enough clues to lead us to the answers that Lyda’s searching for (some many find them before she does, though I didn’t).

The book blew my mind in a few places. The world that Lyda lives in is close enough to our own that, aside from the ability to print drugs on demand, it could be our own. But at its heart, it’s a science fiction novel (which is where you’ll find it on our shelves). Afterparty is reminiscent of William Gibson’s (informal) series: Blue Ant Trilogy and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital series (near-future science fiction that takes place in worlds similar to our own – I highly recommend both of these series).

Gregory’s book is clever and entertaining, but it’s a little deeper than that. We’re given a close look at our future (although the novel is mostly set in Canada, it could be, in some ways, any technologically advance country/large city) and it’s not pretty. But Afterparty is not devoid of hope — we do find an answer to what’s real and we’re left wondering if it even matters at all.

Staff Review: The Grandmaster

Originally posted on Saturday, 10 May 2014 at ROPL.org.

Directed by Wong Kar Wai
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Reviewed by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

grandmaster01If you like kung fu movies, then you’ve probably heard of Bruce Lee – you might even have watched some of Lee’s movies. But you may not have heard about the man who taught Bruce Lee, Ip Man (often written as Yip Man). His rank was that of grandmaster and while he’s most famous in the west for being Bruce Lee’s teacher, he has quite a legacy in China.

Wong Kar Wai (known for movies such as In the Mood For Love, Chungking Express and Happy Together) finally released his long awaited Ip Man movie. The Grandmaster is a mixture of fact and fiction. Tony Leung Chiu Wai plays Ip Man, but there are a number of other characters, notably Zhang Ziyi as Gong Er, who are not real. Instead of a biopic of Ip Man, Wong Kar Wai does what he’s known for, creating a movie that is about the mood and feel of a specific time in history (1930s China) and a rather moving character study.

The Grandmaster features plenty of kung fu, but it’s less about the fighting itself than the art of fighting. The movie, while giving us some history of Ip Man, is more focused on showing us how people survived in 1930s China. We follow Ip Man as he must leave his wife and child and eventually go to Hong Kong. And while Tony Leung Chiu Wai acts superbly, the heat of the story belongs to Zhang Ziyi’s character. Gong Er is the daughter of another martial artist, a rival of Ip Man’s.

Her story is central and we flit in and out of it throughout the movie. Gong Er is beautiful, strong and a martial artist in her own right. But she is also a woman and thus she’s forced into sacrificing her life, basically. The scenes between Gong Er and Ip Man are full of emotional and sexual tension. Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi play well off of each other and Wong Kar Wai did an excellent job matching them up.

grandmaster02There are several fights, but the highly is Zhang Ziyi’s improbably battle next to a train. I will not spoil this scene, though. It’s best enjoyed within the context of the film. The secondary characters (Ip Man and Gong Er being our main characters) play out their own stories. My biggest complaint is that Wong Kar Wai made a new cut of the film, before it was ever released and Chang Chen’s character, “The Razor” Yixiantian, is barely in the movie (for a great Chang Chen film, also starring Tony Leung, check out John Woo’s four hour masterpiece, Red Cliff) .

Fan of Wong Kar Wai won’t be disappointed with The Grandmaster. But if you’re looking for something that focuses more on Ip Man and has a lot of kung fu, you might want to check out Donnie Yen’s Ip Man movie. But if you’re looking for something a little deeper, a little darker (in all senses of the word) and much more surreal, The Grandmaster is the right movie for you. Wong Kar Wai’s focus on the art of kung fu is what gives The Grandmaster it’s life, while Ip Man moves the story forward and Gong Er gives it heart. Check it out, it’s a beautiful movie, if nothing else.

grandmaster03

Staff Review: Elementary (S1)

Originally posted on Saturday, 10 May 2014 at ROPL.org.

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Reviewed by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Everyone’s familiar with the BBC show, Sherlock, now into its third season. But I’m guessing you probably don’t know Elementary, CBS’ Sherlock Holmes show. You should! It is amazing.

I know what you’re thinking, this can’t be any good – how can there be an American Sherlock? Well, technically we’ve already had an American Sherlock Holmes (the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock films, which are fantastic) and CBS’ Sherlock Holmes is definitely English.

English actor Johnny Lee Miller plays Sherlock Holmes, recovering drug addict/alcoholic and consultant to both Scotland Yard (in the past) and the NYC Police (present). He lives in New York City and although there’s an occasional foray to England, most of the shows take place stateside. Holmes’ Watson is one of the things that makes Elementary an extraordinary show. Yes, Dr. Watson is a former doctor, but she’s not the bumbling idiot of yesteryear Watsons. Elementary’s Dr. Watson remains, as all Watsons do, a foil for Sherlock, but she’s more than just a foil.

Lucy Liu plays Dr. Watson as fully as Martin Freeman’s in Sherlock. But she does what Freeman can’t. She brings diversity to a very British institution and she creates her Watson, not as a side kick or a love interest, but as a fully developed character whose personality isn’t dependent on Sherlock Holmes. Liu’s Watson had quit being a doctor long before she met Sherlock. They meet because Sherlock’s father asked her to be a sober companion for Sherlock.

Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu have excellent chemistry and their scenes together are always brilliant. Miller’s Sherlock is quirky and more akin to Downey Jr. than Cumberbatch’s. Lucy Liu’s Watson is smart, clever and brilliant in her own right, making her a better Watson (in my opinion) than any previous incarnation. Together, they match wits with two NYC cops, Aidan Quinn’s Captain Gregson and Jon Michael Hill’s Detective Bell. Together, the four of them make a fantastic team.

CBS mixes Conan Doyle’s world with that of our own, bring us familiar characters (Mycroft Holmes, Mrs. Hudson and Moriarty, to name a few). But they do so with a twist, a much appreciated modern take on Sherlock Holmes that reflects our world today.

Elementary is much more of an investment than Sherlock. Unlike the 3-episode format of the BBC series, CBS’ show is a network show, netting 23 episodes per season. It’s worth the investment, though. The long-running nature of network shows means that we get more depth to our characters are more involved story arcs that are both personal and work-related. It also means that our side characters often become more than that. I do concede that it’s not quite as clever as the BBC version, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be. Instead, it’s more alive, more heartfelt and much more real than other versions. Even if you strip away the fact that it is, in fact, Sherlock Holmes, what you’re left with is still an excellent hour of crime television. It’s well worth your time.

Staff Review: Dorothy Must Die

Originally posted on Tuesday, 06 May 2014 1 at ROPL.org.

By Danielle Paige
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Review by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Everyone knows the story of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. She was the girl swept away in a tornado and eventually found her way home. But did you know she went back? And things in the Land of Oz are not as nice as they seem in the stories. Dorothy Must Die is the story of what happens when you get too much of a good thing.

Amy’s life is miserable. She lives in Kansas and she hates it. She and her mom have a pretty terrible relationship and everyone at school makes fun of her for living in a trailer. Then, one afternoon, there’s a tornado. Her mother leaves her and Amy’s left in the trailer and suddenly, and for no reason she can figure out (at least at first) she ends up in Oz. Only this isn’t the Oz from the books. Instead, this Oz is a mess.

Danielle Paige’s book, the first in a series, follows a similar pattern to the original Wizard of Oz. Amy, like Dorothy, has a mission. But instead of following the yellow brick road to find her way home, Amy must find Dorothy. And then she must do the unthinkable – she must kill her. But along the way, just like Dorothy, Amy picks up some friends. Paige does a fantastic job turning what we know about Oz on its head.

Party gothic fairy tale, part adventure story, Dorothy Must Die is a fun ride. You’ll meet some familiar characters and some new ones – and none of them are what you’d expect, and that’s just fine. There have been a lot of Wizard of Oz reworkings, but none of them are quite as fun as Paige’s.

What are you waiting for? Reserve a copy and join Amy on her adventures!

Staff Review: Hyperbole and a Half

Originally posted on Tuesday, 06 May 2014 at ROPL.org.

By Allie Brosh
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Review by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Sometimes books just speak to us. They somehow encompass parts of our lives that we never even realized needed to be addressed. Allie Brosh’s book Hyperbole and a Half is one of those books. Originally started as a blog (you can find posts not included in the book on her blog), Brosh’s drawings turned into a strange kind of web comic. Except it wasn’t a story about aliens or superheroes she was telling, it was her own story.

Hyperbole and a Halfis, in a way, a biography, but it’s so much more (and you can find the library’s copies in the graphic novel collection). Brosh covers plenty of different topics (and there are few in the book that weren’t originally on her blog). Many of her stories talk about her childhood and how she ended up the way she is today. But some of her best drawings and stories are those that everyone can related to. Especially her sections on depression and being an adult.

Brosh’s drawings might seem crude, but they are anything but. She manages to make her words come alive with the pictures. She displays lots of emotion through what appear to be drawings done in paint. It’s not just the drawings or her writing that makes the book good, instead, it’s the combination of both and the fact that we can all find things in Brosh’s stories that we can identify with.

Hyperbole and a Half is for everyone. It’s funny, heartbreaking and serious – sometimes all at once. And when you finish, you’ll want to start all over again. Don’t forget to check out her blog and to clean all the things! (Trust me, you’ll get that one eventually.)