Review: Wolf-Speaker by Tamora Pierce

My thanks to Harper Collins UK and NetGalley for a review copy of this one.

This is the second of the Immortals series (my review of book 1 is here) by Tamora Pierce. The one opens with the wolves that Daine once hunted with trying to reach her and thinking over the news they’ve received of her from other creatures of the forest. Daine, now fourteen, meanwhile is heading with her mentor/teacher, the mage Numair Salmalin, their horses including Cloud, and Kitten the dragon baby, towards the pack for they have sent for her help as their new home, Dunlath is in trouble. The two-feet there are cutting down all the trees, mining incessantly, chasing away prey making the place unliveable for them, and ultimately for themselves. When they get there however, they find that it isn’t only the animals who are in trouble. A family of local nobles,the lords of Dunlath, are plotting treason against King Jonathan, and switching loyalties. Here they are aided by a whole group of rogue mages, who have some very powerful magic at their command, and don’t seem to care who or what they destroy. Circumstances become such that Daine is left all alone with only her animal friends and some immortal ones in Dunlath. The only other human helping her at first is ten-year-old Lady Maura, younger sister of the Lady Yolane. Daine begins to learn and practice more of what her wild magic makes her capable of,and these new found powers and her friends are what help her face and defeat the “villains” of the piece.

If anything, I think I enjoyed this one even more than the first book. The first book obviously had to set out the background, and introduce us to the world that Daine lived in, and the friends she found in Tortall, but this one to me felt more rounded as a story. I enjoyed watching Daine, who spends much of the novel away from human company, explore her new powers or rather the new uses she discovers of her magic. This helps her not only to do things she couldn’t earlier but view the world through the perspectives of her different animal friends. This was an element I really enjoyed. Pierce does a great job of highlighting the various things—sounds, smells, sights—that different animals would notice, and making one (even the reader) feel that they were looking through the eyes and mind of the animal in question. The adventure elements for me were fairly exciting as well. But besides these, the book also had some important messages to give. It may be set in a fantasy world, but even there “humans”continue to behave as they do in real life, destroying their environment,surroundings, disrespecting other living creatures for what they think is their own gain.  The other was about needing to understand creatures/life that is different, human or animal, as life, as creatures/people who have thoughts, feelings, concerns, and who shouldn’t be judged as monsters or evil in an off-handed way. Here Maura, who is scared of some of Daine’s “friends” manages to shows Daine how she herself might be prejudiced unfairly against some others. Pierce manages to show us that even people who are “good” aren’t always flawless and may have their own prejudices and discriminatory attitudes that they need to address—another message extremely relevant for our world. Once again a wonderful read, in which I especially enjoyed all the animals and Daine’s interactions with them!

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Shelf Control #23: Emily Fox-Seton

Wednesday again, and time for another Shelf Control post. 
Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR pile. All you do to participate is pick a book from your TBR pile and write a post about it. And link back to the Lisa’s blog of course.

This time, my twenty-third time participating, my pick is a classic of sorts, Emily Fox-Seton by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which comprises the Making of Marchioness and the Methods of Lady Walderhurst. The books have been collectively published as Emily Fox-Seton. The Making of a Marchioness was first published in 1901.

What It’s All About: This is the story of Emily Fox-Seton, a young woman of good birth but little money. She works as a companion/assistant to Lady Maria Bayne, described as both selfish and funny, but one who ends up liking Emily very much. Her fortunes undergo a change when Emily marries and becomes a marchioness. But her husband’s heirs, not too fond of this new change in their lives begin to act against Emily. How she deals with the situation forms the second book, described as having “gothic” elements.

Where and When I Got It: This one is in public domain and I downloaded a copy from Project Gutenberg. (In case you’re interested, it is available here). There is an edition published by Persephone books as well (the cover picture above).

Why I Want to Read It: I’ve read three of Burnett’s children’s books before of which I love The Secret Garden (in fact, it’s one of my all-time favourite books), like A Little Princess very much, and Little Lord Fauntleroy a little less so. Emily Fox-Seton is different however, being one of her novels for adults, so I’m interested to see how it turns out, and how it compares with her children’s books. I’ve heard good things about it, but also read some mixed reviews. There are elements which are not perhaps the most PC but that may or may not be a turn off. Let’s see.

Have you read Emily Fox-Seton or either of the two books? What did you make of them? Have you read any other/s of her books? Which ones, and did you like them? Looking forward to hearing from you!

The Shakespeare Project: Macbeth Act III

The Shakespeare Project is simply me reading Shakespeare and writing about it, act by act. My introductory post about it is here. This of course, as you can see from the title is my third post on Macbeth. The first two, on Act I and II, respectively, are here and here.  Please note that these posts are not spoiler free. Just to recap, so far, Macbeth and Banquo, victorious in battle encounter the weird sisters on the heath, where they foretell that Macbeth will be Thane of Cawdor and then King, while Banquo’s children will be kings though he himself will not.

Macbeth and Banquo Meet the Witches
Source: John Wootton [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

When the first of these prophecies comes true, Macbeth begins to have foul thoughts, and plots to kill the King, Duncan to realise the second of these prophecies without leaving matters to fate. He is weak however, and his resolve wavers constantly, but the formidable Lady Macbeth is there to steer him towards his goal. And so Macbeth murders the King and also his two guards who he successfully blames for the deed. He is crowned King while King’s sons have escaped and ended up being suspected as the true culprits. However, while Macbeth may have made the witches’ prophecies come true, he has already begun to be haunted by his deeds.

The 1994 Penguin ed.

The third Act opens with Banquo reflecting on how Macbeth has achieved all that the witches prophesised, but Banquo suspects that Macbeth is responsible for all of what has come to pass and has certainly not played fair in achieving what he has achieved. Macbeth now enters the scene and commands Banquo to attend a banquet that is planned for later that evening, while also inquiring into Banquo plans for going out riding that day, and whether his son Fleance accompanies him. Clearly, he isn’t simply “making conversation”, and has an ulterior motive in finding this out.

As soon as Banquo leaves, Macbeth’s true thoughts are revealed to us. He begins to think that there is no point in being King if his position were not secure, and if the witches’ prophecies were true, then all that he has done to secure the throne for himself, will end up benefiting Banquo’s sons. And since he can’t let that happen, he decides to challenge fate, charging two murderers with the task of doing away with Banquo and Fleance. And that too is done, by convincing these men that Banquo is responsible for their fate.

Macbeth and The Two Murderers by H.E. Selous
Source: http://www.shakespeare-navigators.com/macbeth/Murderer.html

In the next scene, in conversation with his wife, Macbeth confesses that he is still being plagued by nightmares, and that his mind is not at rest. But he also tells her that he cannot be at peace while Banquo and Fleance are alive. He asks Lady Macbeth to be nice to Banquo at the banquet, but refuses to tell her what he has planned until the deed is done. 

In the third scene, we find the two murderers whom Macbeth has sent to kill Banquo. They are joined by a third, also sent by Macbeth but without their knowledge (I wondered at this point whether the third man was supposed to kill them once the deed was done). The three waylay Banquo and Fleance, and kill Banquo but Fleance manages to escape.

Macbeth in the 1916 film
Source:Unknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Now we find ourselves back at Macbeth’s castle, where the banquet is prepared and Macbeth and Lady Macbeth enter with nobles and attendants. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth welcome the guests and bid them to enjoy themselves. In the mean time, the first murderer returns and informs Macbeth that Banquo is dead but Fleance has gotten away. This naturally shakes him, but he is still happy that Banquo is dead. Lady Macbeth now has to remind him to be attentive to his guests, and Macbeth, back to his pretence begins to comment on how Banquo has still not appeared. Ross remarks that this means Banquo has broken his promise.

Banquo’s Ghost
Source: Théodore Chassériau [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

But just then, Macbeth notices the table is full, but Lennox, another noble insists that there is an empty seat. Banquo has kept his promise after all, even if he has now become a ghost. Macbeth begins to babble while his Lady tries to calm him down and make his excuses to his guests. When Macbeth does finally come to his senses and begins to entertain his guests, proposing a toast to the “missing” Banquo, the latter reappears, causing Macbeth to react once again, wishing the hallucination away.

When Lady Macbeth finds she is unable to get him to stop hallucinating, she sends their guests away. Macbeth, however, continues to be haunted by his thoughts, convinced that the guilty (himself) will be brought to justice. He decides to seek out the witches the next day, and learn the worst that is to befall him.

And so we return to the witches. But before Macbeth arrives, the sisters are chided by Hecate for having revealed their prophecies to one so undeserving. She also decides to work some spells which will give Macbeth illusions, and trick him into thinking that he is above everything, and this will prove to be his downfall.

The Three Witches
Source: William Rimmer (American, 1816-1879) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the final scene of this Act, we find ourselves back at the palace witness to a conversation between Lennox and another Lord. They discuss Duncan’s death for which Donalbain and Malcolm were conveniently held responsible, as may Fleance be for his father’s death, for he fled the scene. Macbeth as they have realised has been handling things far too well. We also learn that Macduff has made his way to England where Malcolm also currently is, and is seeking help from the King to restore to Malcolm what Macbeth has stolen from him. Macbeth is preparing for war, while Lennox hopes that Duncan will return soon to free them from the tyrant, as they now refer to Macbeth.

So it seems that Macbeth’s downfall is imminent, with many things bringing it about. The witches, Hecate, specifically is planning some spells which will have this effects. Macbeth’s own conscience, if one can say that he has one, seems to be making sure that the truth will be revealed from his own lips before long, and is torturing him rightly for what he has done. And the others in the Kingdom aren’t as blind to what has been happening or as naive as to fall for his pretences any more. 

It was interesting in this Act to see Macbeth’s conflicting thought processes. On the one side, he is well aware that it is his ill deeds that are responsible for his nightmares and all that he is facing, while on the other, he continues to do more and more, this time also killing Banquo (even if not by his own hand) at the same time well aware that one ill deed leads to others. He knows why he is going through what he is, the throne has not brought him the pleasure that he perhaps supposed, yet he is getting drawn deeper and deeper in. Now, he doesn’t even made Lady Macbeth privy to his plans, even though she continues to give him courage and support him. But she isn’t as much “in” things as she was initially. Is Macbeth going to end up losing the support he has from her too?

A puzzle that this Act throws up is the true identity of the third murderer, which has been the subject of some discussion, theories ranging from the Thane of Ross to Macbeth himself (see wikipedia here).

Macbeth is now all set to seek out the witches for the second time (first actually since on their first meeting, it was they that sought him out). He wants to learn the worst, but Hecate has other plans in store for him, plotting to bring about his downfall rather than help him. The next Act will tell how that pans out!

Macbeth is truly turning out to be a very complex character. What do you make of him? Do You have a theory on who the third murderer was?

Review: Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce

My thanks to Harper Collins UK and NetGalley for a review copy of this one.

While I’d heard of Tamora Pierce’s books, I didn’t really know what genre she wrote in, but when I noticed these books on NetGalley, and the description, a fantasy which involved a girl who could communicate with animals, I decided to put in a request. Wild Magic, the first of this quartet (the Immortals) was first published in 1992. This is the story of a thirteen-year-old girl, Daine (Veralidaine Sarrasi), who doesn’t have the “Gift”, magic that the rest of her family and community has but has the power to communicate with animals, to the extent that they do as she asks, though at times, they even put themselves in danger to help her as well. She herself however, doesn’t seem to consider that at par with the others’ magic. After her family is killed, she leaves her home and takes up employment with Onua, horsemistress to the Queen’s Riders, female knights and riders who ride with the Queen of Tortall. Here among her new friends, her talents are appreciated and she finds love and acceptance, but she is carrying a secret about her past which she is reluctant to reveal. Her new friends including the mage Numair Salmalin, begin to help her understand her true powers and the wild magic that she has and get some measure of control over it. When they find themselves under attack by enemy forces, which include not only mages but mythical monsters who were believed to be trapped in another realm for some centuries, it falls to Daine to come to the rescue of her new friends.

While the plot of this book sounded interesting, I was a little sceptical about reading it since it is more or less a full-blown fantasy, and at times I find these difficult to wrap my head around. However, I needn’t have been worried,because I got into the story almost immediately and didn’t feel lost or struggling to understand the world or how it worked at any point. The first two characters we meet, Daine, and Onua I took to immediately, and the others we meet in the Kingdom of Tortall were very likeable as well. It was fun seeing Daine’s bewilderment (more than that, the fact that she spoke out her thoughts)in a world where the people don’t seem to behave as they’re supposed to—the nobles aren’t haughty but just like any “normal person”, the power structures don’t seem to work as she expects them to, and more than that everyone is welcoming. Things in this world are far from stereotypical, especially as far as the gender roles are concerned, which was good to see. I could also really connect with Daine because I could relate to her feelings vis-à-vis animals which were very similar to my own and I wished I could have her powers to communicate with them as well. Plus, at times of trouble, the heartbreak and gut-wrenching feelings that she goes through for her animal friends was something I could understand.The story which is obviously only the first of many challenges that Daine and her friends will face was fairly enjoyable as well, giving us the back stories of the characters and the idea of the problem/battle that is unfolding. I can’t wait to read on to the next instalment and see how the story progresses and what lies ahead for the characters. Very enjoyable read, of which my favourite element was the animals and Daine’s friendship with them. Four and a half stars.

Shelf Control #22

Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and appears every Wednesday. This feature is about celebrating the books waiting to be read on your TBR pile. To participate, all one does is picks a book from their TBR and writes a post about it. This is my twenty-second time participating!

My pick for this week is once again a historical mystery, one of my favourite genres–Murder by Misrule by Anna Castle. This is the first of the Francis Bacon mysteries, featuring the real-life character in his own series of fictional investigations. The series (as far as I can tell from Goodreads) has four books so far, the last of which, Publish and Perish came out in 2017. Murder by Misrule was published in 2014.

What the Book is all About: In this one, Francis Bacon must solve the murder of a fellow barrister at Gray’s Inn, and recruits his unwanted protege to do the legwork. The investigation implicates highly placed courtiers reaching from Whitehall to the London streets. On the other side, rival barristers are fighting over the dead man’s clients and legal honours.

Where and When I Got It: I think probably late last year.  This is a free book on kindle, and is still available to download on Amazon India here and Amazon (US) here. (Sorry I can’t post the UK link since Amazon UK wont let me access their kindle store–and no I’m not an affiliate).

Why I Want to Read It: For one because it is a historical mystery, which I enjoy in general, and set in the Tudor era, a period I really like reading about. The fact that it features a real-life character in a fictional setting also interested me, and I’d like to see how the author has combined fact and fiction (whether it is only the character that she has taken from history or other events as well). Also, the general structure of the mystery–a lawyer solving a murder is something like C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake books which are a great favourite with me. So let’s see how this one turns out.

So have any of you read this book or any others in the series? Which ones and how did you like them? Do you enjoy historical mysteries featuring real-life characters? If you do, what books would you recommend. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

October Lazy Wrap Up

We’re two-thirds of the way through november and I still haven’t gotten down to writing my wrap-up post for October mostly because I keep feeling too lazy to do it, at least not the slightly detailed one that I try and do every month.

So, I’ve decided to take the lazy way out and simply list out my reads with links to the reviews, rather than write a description for each. For October, if you read my September Wrap Up and  October Reading Plans post (here), you would have noticed I hadn’t decided on a “theme” as I’ve been doing in previous months, nor did I make up a specific TBR list.

Ultimately, I ended up reading seven books. (I’d nearly finished two more but those got done technically in November and I’ll count them for this month.) My October books were:

Of these, Bleak House was one I only technically finished in October, though I’d been reading it in serial over the past few months. So here are the links to my reviews of each of these

Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer (review here)

Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean (review here)

Third Year at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton (review here)

Bleak House by Charles Dickens (review here)

Listen O’King by Deepa Agarwal (review here)

The Pilgrim of Hate by Ellis Peters (review here)

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman (review here)

And while it is a little late to ask, how was your reading month last month? What did you read? What would you recommend? Looking forward to hearing all about your reads!

Review: Will the Real Carolyn Keene Please Stand Up

My thanks to NetGalley and BooksGoSocial for a review copy of this book.

Inmiddle school at one point my entire (almost, anyway) reading comprised ofNancy Drew. The library that I went to back then had all the different series–theoriginal books, the files, even the Dana Girls books, and I would issue acouple (or more) each time I went. As a child I had also read the BobbseyTwins. And later I also was hooked onto the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys Supermysteriesthat featured both. So of course, when I saw this book on NetGalley, I knew Isimply had to read it. This book isbasically a fictionalised account of the Stratemeyer Syndicate which created anumber of series of juvenile (children’s and teen) fiction from the early 1900sonwards, and whose titles continue to be published to this day. The book beginswith the founder and brains behind the syndicate, Edward Stratemeyer, whoseendless ideas gave birth to many many stories, and moves on to his daughters,Harriet Adams and Edna, essentially Harriet who took on the reins of thecompany after Stratemeyer’s sudden death and carried on the business. It alsotells the stories of some of the numerous ghostwriters who wrote these stories,based off of the outlines that Stratemeyer and later Harriet provided them, butthe focus amongst these is Mildred Wirt Benson who wrote many of the initialNancy Drew stories besides other books for the syndicate, as well as manyothers under her own name. We enter into their lives, get a glimpse of theirpersonalities, of course their work, and the question of which of them couldclaim to be the real Carolyn Keene. The story is anchored around litigationthat took place in the 1980s between Harriet Adams and Grosset and Dunlap, thepublishers over their contract to publish the syndicate’s titles.

Assomeone who enjoyed not only Nancy Drew but some of the other series that the Syndicate brought out, I really enjoyed reading this book. Edward Stratemeyer was a real genius and a fascinating person to read about. One can only be in awe at the sheer amount of ideas that his mind generated. It is also intriguing to see how he was so forward thinking in some ways and yet conservative in others, but overall I found him to be very likeable. Admiration and awe combined with some liking and sympathy are feelings that come into mind over Mildred Wirt Benson as well, who was a pioneer in many ways, intrepid, ready to take on challenges, and one who wrote articles for the paper where she worked and could fly a plane till her dying day (when she was all of 96!!!). Harriet Adams was also worthy of admiration (this word is coming in a lot in this review, isn’t it?) for the way she took charge of and ran the company, facing various challenges, including from her own family, even though she wasn’t in the same mould as her father. But while I did admire her, even feel a little sympathy for her at places, I didn’t really take to her or her sister (as adults). I enjoyed reading how all their stories played out, and in them how some of our favourite stories came into being. While I had a general idea about the Syndicate and that they used ghostwriters including Benson to write their various titles, I had no idea before reading the book just how many books and series they were responsible for. This was a really interesting read, which led me to discover a couple of really fascinating personalities as well!

Review: All these Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth

My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House Children’s UK for a review copy of this book.

Thisyoung adult mystery is the story of Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Calloway, the daughterof a real estate mogul who attends a post prep school, Knollwood Preparatory.She has just received an invitation to be inducted into the very secret club,the ‘A’s’ at the school for which she (and other initiates) will be given threedifficult challenges which will get them to push many boundaries. But Charlie’slife is plagued by another mystery—her mother disappeared ten years ago,literally all of a sudden, and no trace has been found of her. Grace Callowaywas from an ordinary, working class background so the Calloways only think theworst of her—her being a gold-digger and such. On the other hand, her mother’sfamily and friends believe Charlie’s father had something to do with hermother’s disappearance. When Grace’s brother, Charlie’s uncle Hank contacts herwith some information about Grace, she decides to start looking into thematter. As the story proceeds, we start to see different events in differenttimelines from the perspective of Grace, and also of Alistair, Charlie’sfather, besides Charlie herself. Going back and forth in time, the differentpieces of the puzzle start to come together.

While this was a mystery, one of my favourite genres, it was very different from the mystery stories I usually read, with the prep school setting, and Gossip Girl vibes (as the description itself said). But still I found it to be a pretty interesting read. I liked how the story switched between different timelines and viewpoints, which meant that at times, the reader had learnt more about the characters’ (Charlie’s parents and friends and relatives) complicated (very) backstories than Charlie had at that point, and one was waiting to see how she finds out and how it helps her put the puzzle together. Being in a school setting, there are the usual school storylines moving on alongside—escaping curfew, classes,homecoming dance, and even a touch of romance. Though most of the students are the typical prep-school rich kids (a la Gossip Girl), one does like Charlie,even if not many of the other characters. As far as the mystery itself was concerned, it turned out that there was more than one puzzle that needed solving, but about less than halfway into the book, one could more or less workout what the broad answers to the mystery would be and how the two main mysteries were connected. But despite that, I found the book did have me hooked and reading on, both because I wanted to see whether I was right, and how things would turn out for the characters. Also the whodunit I only figured out a little later. Although about 500 pages long (a little over in fact) the book didn’t feel like it was dragging at any point, and kept me interested all through. My rating: 4 stars for this one—for a mystery to get full points from me, it really has to surprise me or have a twist I didn’t see coming, which this one didn’t really. But still, it was a very enjoyable read.