Jackaby

It is always sad to say goodbye to a good book series. Not that it’s ever really goodbye. The books are always waiting there for you on the shelf or on the Kindle for you to re-visit. Books are comforting that way; they are always just patiently waiting for the next reading.

Things got a little crazy for me to write about this series when I finished the last book (the same day I started reading it; it’s one of those up until 2am because you have to know how it finishes kind of books). This is also the first series since Harry Potter that I pre-ordered the book. Of course, a little differently these days. I ordered the Kindle version so I wake up on release day and there it was, just waiting for me! A bit easier on your day that the agonizing wait for the mailman to show up. So, that should give you some idea of how excited, and devastated, I was for this last book. Last books are nerve-wracking. Will the author answer all the questions? Will they kill off a beloved character? Will they kill off more than one? What new characters will they throw into the mix at the eleventh hour? And as those questions race through your mind, there is one ever-present chant: please don’t screw it up. As a reader, it’s stressful. I can’t imagine being a writer and having to deal with it.

So, to the series at hand. Jackaby. From the start, I adored the idea of this book long before I read it. R.F. Jackaby, a supernatural detective in an alternative Boston-like town takes on an intrepid young woman who’s escaped conformity in Britain for the New World as his assistant.  Jackaby was, as I believe I described in him a previous blog post, a cross between the brothers from Supernatural and the Doctor with a dash of Sherlock. He was delightful. But, and I think this is the coolest part of this series, he was misleading. In fact, the series being called Jackaby is misleading because this is very much a series of books more about his assistant, Abigail Rook, the aforementioned intrepid young woman. Rook is who writes down the stories so they are told from her perspective, Jackaby’s Watson if you like. Unlike Watson though, Rook is very much a leading lady of her own story. She’s the one who likes the detecting work; Jackaby just happens to be the Seer, the person who can see and knows about the supernatural world. Over four books, their partnership is lovely to watch grow but from the start, it is an equal partnership and that is rare even in fiction.

To the last installment of the series, The Dire King. For three books we’ve been leading up to the idea that a single intelligence has been causing all the mayhem in the first three books and now the final goal and villain are revealed. The author did not disappoint. He answered pretty much everything, including some last minute questions he threw in there. He certainly killed off a lot of characters; there were tears. However, as there is a supernatural bent to the story, a few came back, in the end, to make sure there was at least a happier ending that might be expected. As I noted in my review right after finishing reading: In many ways, I could often see the twists coming in this book – subtlety isn’t the point of the plot. These books have always shone because of their characters. These are people I want to be friends with, fight alongside with, have daring, unbelievable adventures with. I am only too sorry to find, as usual, some of the best people I know are fictional. I shall miss Jackaby, Abigail, Jenny, and Charlie.

So, I bid adieu (for now) to this series as I move on to others on my list but I recommend you make the acquaintance of Jackaby and Co. You won’t be disappointed.

 

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Some series are hard to describe…but they are still awesome

Ever read a series and try to describe it to someone and have them look at you like “this sounds nuts?” I have many of those. There is the series that is about assassin nuns in 12th century Brittany who are also daughters of Death (literally). There is the other series about an alternate 1980s where time travel is real and you can actually get yourself into a fictional world with the right skills. And then there is the series I just finished in an alternate supernatural steampunk Victorian England set in a finishing school for lady spies. On one hand, such a description sounds nuts and because of that, people fail to see just how spectacularly awesome this series is.

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Cover from the 3rd book in the series (I love the bladed fan!) 

The Finishing School series by Gail Carriger follows the hijinks of a Miss Sophronia Temminnick and her fellow students as they attend Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. A finishing school which has one purpose in mind: to turn its students into lethal intelligencers. It’s also a floating dirigible which just might make it the coolest boarding school outside of Hogwarts. Over the course of four years, Sophronia and her gang manage to save themselves and the realm a number of times before graduating and gallivanting off on their next adventure.  There are also vampires, werewolves, and a notorious secret society called the Picklemen who are usually up to no good (the name alone is insulting to Sophronia, ladies are apparently not welcome).

Sophronia is a fantastic heroine; she reminded me some of my other favorite precocious and lethal leading ladies, Flavia de Luce and Theodosia Throckmorton. You get those three together in a book and fiction won’t know what hit it. She also has a pet robotic dog, a best friend in one of the sooties running the boiler for her school and the sharpest mind to even try to seduce gossip out of poor unsuspecting evil geniuses in training her school has yet seen. She’s the sort of character you wish you could be like but are secretly exhausted by. As her friends basically say to her often, she has no off switch.

It’s a series you can read fast and you should since it is complete now. You don’t have to wait to find out what happens next and Sophronia and her friends will not disappoint. I am excited now to re-visit and finish the other series Ms. Carriger has which is set in the same universe as The Finishing School books just 25 years later. Dashing off now!

Back on Track…sort of

I am slowly making my way back around to my book challenge for the year. I chose some low hanging fruit (i.e. books I knew I could read in a day) to get myself started up again. I also went through and rearranged my to-read list a bit (some series had escaped me!). I have more left than I thought but I’ll do the best I can!

Low hanging fruit for me meant I could plow through some historical romance novels that were series-based. They are my potato chips of the book world. They are so bad for me and yet delicious and I love them and I can read a ton of them really quickly. So reading through 5 of them in the last two weeks makes me feel like I am getting somewhere!

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I like the redesigns of all the covers for the last book; they are dreamy [from Goodreads]

But, I also finished a series! Go me! Anna and the French Kiss I read awhile back but it was the start of a trilogy (of course) so this week I finished up the other two books. Anna remains my favorite but these other two, Lola and the Boy Next Door and Isla and the Happily Ever After were delightful except well…I am feeling my age. Let me explain. These are essentially chick lit novels for the teenage set. So, they are drama filled. To the max. Where drama doesn’t actually really need to exist. The characters are charming and clever but they’re also 18. And we’re idiots when we’re 18. We make the smallest problems into the biggest nightmares. Rather than talking out a concern with the person we love, we panic, break up with our boyfriend and run off to Paris while melodramatically weeping everywhere and driving our quirky best friend nuts. So in that, the series is quite believable but reading two of the books in quick succession also meant I felt old. However, one of the bonuses of the series, well of the first and last books anyway, is the city of Paris is as much a character as the rest and visiting the City of Lights is, after all, always a good idea.

Next up, more steampunk hijinks from an awesome finishing school on a dirigible and then back to Oz to see if Amy can finally kill Dorothy.

The Lunar Chronicles

I actually remember when I first read Cinder. A friend who had recently been to ALA had picked up a galley and sent it my way because she knew I’d love it. And I did. I am the Cinderella girl after all. Who knew picking a topic for an undergraduate thesis would haunt me so?! But, let’s face it, at this point, I’ve read a LOT of Cinderella re-tellings and Cinder remains one of the more unique and fabulous ones to date.

From the start of the series, what I appreciated was the level of detail that Marissa Meyer was able to bring into the world she was creating and yet not bog her story down with world building. I find this a lot with fantasy and science fiction. The author is so preoccupied in creating the world for her characters that she forgets about her characters. Or her plot. That never happened in the Lunar Chronicles and I think that is because of the strength of the characters Meyer brought to the table.

From Cinder, Meyer moved to Scarlet (Little Red Riding Hood), Cress (Rapunzel) and Winter (Snow White). While I should not have been surprised at how well these fairy tales translated into a futuristic world (one of the main tenets of my thesis after all was how well Cindy does in alternate genres), I was. Each of these tales was cleverly re-imagined for the world that Meyer had built. Scarlet became a farmer whose grandmother goes missing just as a “lone wolf”- type character appears in the local street fighting ring. Cress is a computer genius shut inside a satellite where she can monitor and hack the earth’s systems for the Lunar crown (bonus? her hero ends up blind for awhile – gotta love when they use the old school versions of the fairy tales). Winter is the stepdaughter of the evil Lunar queen, scarred by an attack by her stepmother and yet still more beautiful than her, who is felled by a plague-laced treat.

With each book, the heroines’ tales were woven together until Winter’s story where the Lunar queen (SPOILER) meets her defeat at the hands of them all. I am glossing major details and plot development here mainly because you need to read these books so I don’t want to spoil them too much for you. I adore all 4 heroines and their heroes (check plus to Meyer for also never having a love triangle, square or any other shape) but I will admit to loving Scarlet best which surprised me, she’s not from my favorite fairy tale, but I adored her story and her character as well as her relationship with the other characters especially Winter. She turns into the big sister for the group in a lot of ways and she is never afraid to tell it like it is.

If nothing else, I haven’t seen a series this well edited in a long time. As I work my way through book series this year, I am finding the longer they go, the more they unravel. The author clearly loses sight of where they want to go or they forget their own mythology (BIG pet peeve of mine, not only in books but in TV shows). Meyer never does this and, even though the books grow in page number, they never drag. I can’t think of one chapter, one scene that could be removed. Everything had a purpose towards the final conclusions and that my friends, is very impressive to me. I also must give a slow clap to Meyer for resisting an epilogue. These have not proven to work well (though I kinda like the Harry Potter one even though I know I will go down in people’s estimation for admitting to that) and it wasn’t needed here. Meyer very brilliantly went with “and they lived happily ever after” because, let’s face it, how else do you end a fairy tale? Even one that includes space ships, cyborgs, genetically modified soldiers and trips to the moon.