Sunday, June 25, 2017

Fiction Review: The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn

Harper Voyager is one of my favorite imprints these days.  In addition to publishing this delightful novel, they also published the magnificently fun, original, and heartfelt Wayfarers space operas The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers.  They also published another excellent Jane Austen-inspired novel, this one a fantasy, called Heartstone by Elle Katharine White.  Heartstone is a feminist Pride and Prejudice with dragons!  Needless to say, it's awesome.  Another great thing about Harper Voyager is that their books are all (I think all of them, but at the very least all of these books) paperback originals, which means they aren't published first in hardback.  This is great for those who are budget-conscious but still want to read the newest books.

Kathleen A. Flynn's The Jane Austen Project is, I really hope, the first in a series.  This was definitely one of the better Jane Austen-themed novels I've read, and I've read a good many of them. They're often pretty trite and saccharine, which is ironic, since Austen's books are so incisive, smart, and biting in their satire. Flynn's novel has an original premise, involving a doctor from a future in which time travel is possible, who is sent with a male colleague to befriend Jane Austen and her family in order to obtain copies of her letters and the purported finished version of her unfinished (in our time) novel, The Watsons. The protagonist is a strong, confident and smart woman, which suits an Austen homage, and the romance in the book is very modern and not the whole point of the protagonist's life. Fun and smart.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Cookbook Review: Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn by Chitra Agrawal

Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn is a beautiful new cookbook from Brooklyn Delhi owner and chef Chitra Agrawal from Ten Speed Press.  It is filled with gorgeous photographs of food and ingredients, and beautiful illustrations.  Every recipe comes with a full-page overhead photo (like the one on the cover), and all of the photos are full of color.  All of the food sounds absolutely mouth-watering.  I have tried a lot of these dishes at restaurants, and never imagined the I could actually make them myself!  Dosas (scrumptious, very thing and crisp crepes made of rice and lentil flour), idli (rice and lentil cakes), and roti (yummy fried flatbreads) are some of my favorite dishes from southern Indian restaurants, and they are all represented here with very clear recipes that explain these admittedly complicated dishes in a straight-forward way.  This is not to say these recipes are super easy or short; in fact, many of them are pretty long, but again, they're clearly explained.  The dosas, idli, and roti are classic Indian dishes, but there are also lots of dishes that are less traditional takes on Indian flavors, like chickpea salad with summer vegetables and avocado; lettuce dosa wraps with curried potato and chutney; stuffed shishito pepper fritters; and pan-roasted masala peanuts.  This is a lovely book, and the recipes are good, but don't expect super easy and fast home-cooking!
(I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Monday, January 2, 2017

YA Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

A Shadow Bright and Burning is the first book in a new YA fantasy trilogy called Kingdom on Fire.  I love YA and I love fantasy, but in the long wake of The Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent, etc., there has been a continuing onslaught of YA fantasy with badass heroines.  Now, I am definitely behind this trend, but it also means that it's increasingly difficult to find something original in this genre.  A Shadow Bright and Burning was a lovely surprise.  I hadn't heard of this book, which was released last fall, so I didn't have high hopes.  This was a beautifully written book, with a wonderfully complex, imperfect, and strong female lead character, and many wonderfully drawn secondary characters.  It was also a relentlessly engrossing and exciting adventure.  I am so excited to read the next book in this trilogy, which does not come out until this coming fall, unfortunately.  Cluess has not only created wonderfully complex characters, but also a very clear and fascinating picture of the world that these characters live in.

A Shadow Bright and Burning takes place in an alternate Victorian England, mostly in London.  This is a world in which there is magic, and witches, magicians, and sorcerers.  A decade before the book begins, a witch and a magician opened a portal that let the Ancients, six grotesque and truly horrifying monsters into the world.  Sorcerers are the only people standing between humanity and these very frightening and original creatures.  The main character, Henrietta, is discovered in a horrible boarding school and turns out to be the first female sorcerer in centuries.  She is believed to be the prophesied one who is going to save England.  The book covers Henrietta's training alongside a few dashing young men in the home of a gentleman sorcerer in London.  There are a few hints of Jane Eyre throughout this novel, particularly in the beginning.

In addition to all of the magic, training, and adventure, there is also a fair amount of subtle and well-done social commentary.  Henrietta is an excellent and very strong woman, and she faces a lot of discrimination, ridicule, and even violence due to her gender in a world dominated by men and very strict rules for the behavior of women.  Cluess does not shy away from a fairly realistic portrayal of what it would be like for a strong-minded woman in such a world.  The book also deals with issues of class.  Cluess does an excellent job of articulating the differences between the statuses of the three types of practitioners of magic in this world (witches, sorcerers, and magicians).  Sorcerers are highly lauded in this society, and they are all upper class men.  Witches, female practitioners of magic, are banned, and if discovered, are put to death.  Magicians are male practitioners of magic, and they are banned from practicing and from training new magicians.  This is due to the fact that a witch and a magician were responsible for letting the Ancients into the world.  Cluess deals with class and gender in a smart, and nuanced manner and is never heavy-handed, and yet she gives you a strong sense of empathy for all of the main characters, and especially Henrietta.

This was a wonderful read: original, smart, fascinating, and great fun.

(I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Boden X Roald Dahl Children's Clothing Collection


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


 Fantastic Mr. Fox

 James and the Giant Peach

The Twits