Book review: Twelve Days of Faery by W.R. Gingell

Twelve Days of Faery (Shards of a Broken Sword #1)

Twelve Days of Faery by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is an original take on a traditional fairy tale plot where unfortunate accidents happen to a prince’s girlfriends/fiancees, and the king has offered a reward to whomever breaks the curse. I enjoyed the first person narrative of the king, who is simultaneously shrewd about ruling his kingdom and oblivious about personal relationships. There is the obligatory mystery of who or what is causing the accidents and delightful world building of the faery world. Interesting backstories are hinted at although not fleshed out.
In fact, my biggest criticism of the book is its novella length. There was so much more in the story that could have been elaborated on, but the short length of the book prevented that from happening. While this book is in no way equal to the author’s Two Monarchies series, it is a pleasant, fun, and unusual story. And the author’s writing is, as always, a pleasure to read.
3.5 stars.



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Book review: The Hanover Square Affair by Ashley Gardner

The Hanover Square Affair (Captain Lacey, #1)

The Hanover Square Affair by Ashley Gardner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book is the first in a historical mystery series. The protagonist is a veteran of the Napoleonic wars and has returned to England with no money, no prospects, and PTSD. This is no light-hearted and frothy mystery but, rather, a gritty story that exposes the underside of London life, some of the horrors of the war and the after-effects for the returning soldiers. (Think more in the style of C.S. Harris and less in the style of Georgette Heyer.)
Captain Lacey isn’t a particular likeable character in the first book, although he has some excellent qualities to him. There is a complicated back story for him, which makes him an interesting and somewhat mysterious character. Sometimes the hints thrown off about his back story come across as a bit manipulative, but you do want to learn more about him. Captain Lacey’s unpredictability and depression weave through the story like a train wreck–you know what’s coming but you can’t look away.
I actually would give this book 3.5 stars, but I also tend to give debut novels of a series the benefit of the doubt. I will definitely read the second in this series to see how the character grows and (maybe) flourishes.
Fans of the Sebastian St. Cyr novels should definitely check this series out!




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Halloween Week Festivities at Sidwell Friends School

Our son goes to a private high school in Washington, DC where the academics are excellent, the kids are (mostly) affluent, and the pressure can sometimes be intense. This is especially true during the last week of October when the seniors have Early Action college applications due (November 1 is the actual due date).
Marcus (on his own) decided that the high schoolers all needed to relax, have some fun, and remember to be children again. So he decided that Halloween week needed to be celebrated. He proposed his idea to student government, who were enthusiastically in favor, and then to the administration, which gave him permission to move forward.
Monday, 10/28, was the first day. Marcus managed to convince a group of his friends to show up to the school at 7:00 am (an hour before school started) to help him decorate the high school. And so it happened.


He also held a photo scavenger hunt (e.g. take a selfie with something orange, take a selfie with someone from every grade, etc.). His first winner emailed him the photos at 8:07 am. (He decided to award 3 prizes that day instead of 1.)
Tuesday, 10/29 was Halloween trivia contest day. And Wednesday, 10/30 was a pumpkin hunt (like an Easter egg hunt, only for pumpkins) and a mummy wrap game.
But Thursday, Halloween itself, was the highlight. A costume contest was held, with winners awarded from each grade. In addition, a faculty and staff costume contest also took place. To Marcus’s delight, the hallways were filled with costumed students and faculty alike, all excited about Halloween. Trick-or-treating with student government staffed stations and some faculty during class also took place. And, at the end of the day, faculty and students alike had some fun, remembered their inner child, and celebrated Halloween together. As the Head of School said, “It almost felt like a real high school.”

We could not be prouder of him.

Book review: Blackfoot by W.R. Gingell

Blackfoot (Two Monarchies Sequence, #2)

Blackfoot by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is the second book of the Two Monarchies Sequence. (“Masque,” which I reviewed earlier, was the first book written but is the last book in the series.) “Blackfoot” starts essentially right where “Spindle” left off, although the actual story starts several years later. The book starts Annabel’s story and continues Melchior’s story. And while there is no actual fairy tale inspiration for this book, it has all the requisite fantasy elements: an interesting heroine who is smarter than she gives herself credit for; a sarcastic and mysterious hero who is wise but not too wise; and an annoying but lovable best friend. The magic remains complex but internally consistent, and the villain is quite scary.
My only disappointment after I finished this book is that there is only one more unread book in the series for me. (I may just have to re-read “Masque” to get all of the inside baseball references.) I can’t wait to see what the author writes next and the rest of her books are on my list to explore.




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Disneyworld & an 18th Birthday

To be sure, we celebrate every trip to Disneyworld. And we certainly celebrate every birthday trip to the happiest place on earth. But this particular trip (the birthday boy’s 61st trip, to be exact) is best known as “the Galaxy’s Edge trip.”
If you don’t belong to the Star Wars fandom, then that phrase has no meaning whatsoever. So for those barbarians, I will explain that Galaxy’s Edge is the new Star Wars land, located in Hollywood Studios in Disneyworld. There is currently only one ride there, known as Millenium Falcon: Smugglers’ Run where you are the pilot/gunner/engineer for the Millenium Falcon. Anything else I said would spoil the surprise and be inadequately descriptive of the ride. But let me repeat the key takeaway here: you are ON BOARD the Millenium Falcon. There are no other words necessary.
The theming of Galaxy’s Edge is pretty amazing, even by Disney standards. Kylo Ren and his stormtroopers make unscheduled but frequent visits. Chewbacca and Rey also appear (and I’m told that there are stories of people who try and hide Chewbacca when the stormtroopers appear). You can play an online game assuming the role of a supporter of the First Order, the Resistance, or an ordinary scoundrel. (I was most displeased when our daughter decided to install surveillance equipment on behalf of the First Order. She will do anything for Kylo Ren.)
Despite her inadequate moral framework, we all had a memorable time exploring Galaxy’s Edge and the rest of Disneyworld, of course, as part of the oh-my-gosh-the-boy-is-legal birthday celebration.

entering Galaxy’s Edge!
blue milk or green milk? (blue is better)
the Millenium Falcon!
on board the Millenium Falcon
waiting to board the ship
Galaxy’s Edge

Book review: Spindle by W.R. Gingell

Spindle (Two Monarchies Sequence, #1)

Spindle by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book is a re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale but to say that is like saying that Shake Shack is just another burger joint. This re-telling of Sleeping Beauty is original, intricate and complex. The magic (or, more accurately, the magics) are complicated and internally consistent. Poly, the heroine, suffers from imposter syndrome (people think she’s a princess) and is courageous and resolute. Luck, the hero, is enigmatic and occasionally annoying (in a good kind of way). Their relationship is simultaneously amusing and touching. The allies and enemies that Poly and Luck meet on the way are well characterized, and the time travel element fits well within a fantasy story (as opposed to a science fiction story). The prose is elegant and accessible, and the foundational elements of the fairy tale are recognizable while, at the same time, the author imaginatively expands the story line.
I read the first two books of this series out of order, but they are both standalone books. W.R. Gingell is a gifted author, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series.




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Summer trip 2019: Hong Kong & Tokyo

Well, more accurately, the 2nd summer trip, this time to Hong Kong and Tokyo—a quick trip as we were gone just over a week. Jade has been in Hong Kong this summer on an internship where she is developing a curriculum to teach disadvantaged Hong Kong kids how to code. (As a math/computer science social conscience Chinese-speaking person, this checks all of her boxes.). She’s had a great substantive summer and also has a great first-hand experience in how democracy should work (i.e. the importance of the right of assembly under the 1st Amendment). The first items the organizers hand the protesters are a mask (to defeat the excellent facial recognition software China has) and a bilingual sign asking the police to stay calm.

sign handed to protesters
bird’s eye view of protesters

It was all quite civilized and British until the Chinese raised the stakes. It still is very safe as long as you avoid the areas where the protesters are (which are generally published ahead of time—did I mention that this was all very civilized?). However, with 10,000 Chinese troops garrisoned in Hong Kong, there is a very real risk of all of this going sideways quite quickly. In fact, I kind of feel like Dr. Strange in Avengers: Infinity Wars when he says he’s looked at 14+ million futures and only sees 1 where Thanos is defeated. I can’t picture that many scenarios, of course, but I don’t see one where it ends well for Hong Kong.


That being said, we had a lovely several days wandering around Hong Kong, including a trip to Hong Kong Disney with the four of us.

Hong Kong Disney
Festival of the Lion King at Hong Kong Disney

There is nothing quite like Disney to restore one’s faith in human nature. Perhaps our family chronicles can be marked solely by meals, trips to a Disney park, and trips to Hawaii.


Tokyo was our next stop. This year is the 20th anniversary of the US-Japan Leadership Program and the last year of George Packard’s leadership of the US-Japan Foundation. The celebration was festive and filled with gratitude and appreciation. Jim and I saw people we hadn’t seen in years as people came from all around the globe to help celebrate this milestone. There were people from every year of the program in attendance. It truly was an amazing experience.

Tokyo
Tokyo with USJLP

Book review: Masque by W.R. Gingell

Masque (Two Monarchies Sequence)

Masque by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


To say that this book is the retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale does the author an injustice. So, yes, “Masque” is a retelling of the traditional fairy tale, but it is one of the most fun and original retellings I’ve ever read. To begin with, the story is set in a setting where both magic and technology exist. But, more interestingly, a murder happens, and the heroine decides she wants to solve the murder. The heroine (who is the narrator of the story) is, in turn, sarcastic, irreverent, funny, and perceptive. I love her. The hero is also a strong character in his own right, but it is the heroine whose story it is and who tells it as she wishes.
The secondary characters are fully formed and engaging in their own right, and the love story is reluctant and adorable.
The only minor flaw in the book is that the mystery is not that complicated–I figured it out shortly after the first murder (and I hate figuring out the murderer before the end). But this book is so much more than the murder mystery and well worth the read.
Note: this is the first book I’ve read by this author, and it looks like this is not a sequential part of but tangential to the Two Monarchies series. I am excited that I have 3 more books (and fairy tale retellings) to investigate!
I highly recommend this book!



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Book review: Madame Fourcade’s Secret War by Lynne Olson

Madame Fourcade's Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler

Madame Fourcade’s Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France’s Largest Spy Network Against Hitler by Lynne Olson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Marie-Madeleine Fourcade was the the leader of a intelligence gathering group, the Alliance, in France during World War II that was instrumental in providing the Allies with key intelligence, including plans of Germany’s rocket program and coastal defenses in preparation for D-Day. The author explains the relative anonymity of her accomplishments as representative of the social mores and expectations of women, especially in France (although certainly true of the time as a whole).
The account of Marie-Madeleine’s life is fascinating–her victories and success are impressive and her failures heartbreaking. The toll of lives lost working for the Alliance network was high (the Nazis executed dozens of Alliance members when it became clear they were going to lose the war), and time and again, networks had to be rebuilt after the Nazis swept in and destroyed them.
This book is a fascinating glimpse into the difference one woman can make, against all odds, against the prejudices of her time, and against a brutal enemy that took no quarter. I highly recommend it!



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Book review: Absolution by Murder by Peter Tremayne

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Absolution by Murder (Sister Fidelma, #1)

Absolution by Murder by Peter Tremayne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Historical mysteries are a tricky balancing act. On one hand, the author should paint a realistic portrait of the period and needs to include the necessary details to describe the setting in which the mystery takes place. On the other hand, the author should also write a compelling and interesting mystery. Often, historical mysteries fall into either the category of a history book with a run-of-the-mill mystery or the category of an interesting mystery with insufficient or inaccurate historical detail.
This book falls into the former category. The author is clearly well-informed about the period (664 AD during a split between the Roman and Celtic churches) and writes about the shifting political alliances and complex religious issues with confidence and authority. But when I am able to guess who the murderer was within 10 pages of the murder, I know the mystery is not compelling. If you want to learn more about this relatively unknown period, the Sister Fidelma mysteries seem like a good way to absorb the information painlessly and easily. And I really like that the main character is a woman. But there are better historical mystery novelists out there–ones who can write knowledgeably about the period and produce a compelling mystery at the same time.



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