Book Review: Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

Author’s note: I won an ARC for this book earlier this year. The book itself comes out in hardback tomorrow, November 5.

Also, if you’re here for the #WriteMotivation update, I’ll be posting mine on Thursday this week.

curtises-and-conspiracesI’ve mentioned before that I kind of adore Gail Carriger’s novels, and while I’m patiently (okay, not so patiently) awaiting the Parasol Protectorate Abroad, I’ve been happily enjoying her venture into YA with the Finishing School series.

Curtsies & Conspiracies is the sequel to Etiquette & Espionage, about Sophronia Temminick and her stay at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. For the first time in recent memory, the dirigible school is making its way to London, which is very exciting. However, the trip itself is more than what it seems, and Sophronia is just the person to get to the bottom of it.

Sophronia was, once again, a delight to read about, and in this book we really get a chance to see her character grow in unexpected ways. That was easily my favorite part of the book: not the plot itself, but seeing how Sophronia faced the challenges the new semester threw at her, and more importantly, seeing how she dealt with the consequences of her actions.

I wish I could say more about it, but so much of that is near the end of the book and tied up in the story that it would be a major spoiler to discuss, and it was so, so wonderful to discover it along the way. I loved how it brought home that all these characters operate in the varying grey areas of morality. They make decisions and make mistakes and they have very good reasons for doing what they do, even if what they do isn’t the right thing by any stretch of the imagination.

Plus, there was this bit, near the end, that sums up Sophronia so succinctly I might have hugged the book:

“Why is it always your problem to fix?”
“Because I see that there is a problem when no one else does.”

That, I believe, is why Sophronia will be my favorite character forever: because of how much she sees and how willing she is to actually get involved. She’s brilliant, and I’m so excited to see how she’ll continue to grow over the course of this series.

For fans of the Parasol Protectorate series, going to London means getting the chance to see some of the other characters we already know and love. The roles they play within this story are important, so they’re not just tossed in as Easter eggs for fans, but it still made me squeal with glee.

I enjoyed the plot, though not quite as much as the character development we see from Sophronia, and a sort-of love triangle was introduced, which I still haven’t decided how I feel about it. I did like getting to see a little more from Vieve, and I loved the friendship that’s building up between Sophronia and the other girls in her age group, but particularly Dimity.

Curtsies & Conspiracies is a great follow-up to Etiquette & Espionage, and I really can’t wait to follow this group of characters into book three.

Book Review – Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

etiquette-and-espionageIf you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you may recall that 1) I like steampunk a lot, and 2) I kind of fell in love with Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series last year. So you can imagine my absolute GLEE upon finding out her next series would be a YA steampunk series called The Finishing School, set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate, only about 25 years earlier.

The first book, Etiquette & Espionage, came out earlier this year, and I snapped it up the second I got a chance. And I enjoyed it just as much as I hoped I would.

Our main character is Sophronia, a 14-year-old who is far too curious (and not nearly ladylike enough) for her own good. When her mother finally despairs of ever getting Sophronia to be presentable, a solution appears in the form of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. In less than an hour, Sophronia is packed off to the school to, at the very least, learn to curtsy properly.

What Sophronia finds, though, is that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s isn’t just any old finishing school. The girls there are being trained in covert operations, as spies and assassins.

But the finishing school isn’t the only surprise for Sophronia. Someone at the school has stolen something very important, and there are a lot of very powerful people who want it back. Sophronia’s first year at finishing school promises to be an interesting one.

We have a whole slew of brand-new characters, a couple of old familiar faces, and a whole slew of new settings, not the least of which is the Finishing School itself.

“My goodness,” said Sophronia. “It looks like a caterpillar that has overeaten.”

And it did. It wasn’t so much a dirigible as three dirigibles mashed together to form one long chain of oblong, inflated balloons. Below them dangled a multilevel series of decks, most open to the air, but some closed off, with windows reflecting back the dying sun. At the back, a colossal set of propellers churned slowly, and above them billowed a massive sail–probably more for guidance than propulsion. A great quantity of steam wafted out from below the lower back decks, floating away to join the mist as if responsible for creating it. Black smoke puffed sedately out of three tall smokestacks.

Sophronia was enchanted.

Allow me to reiterate that:

AIRSHIP. ASSASSIN. SCHOOL.

It is just as cool as it sounds. Sophronia, being a very curious character (and being at a school that encourages such things as long as you can get away with it), spends much of the book exploring Mademoiselle Geraldine’s and all its myriad nooks and crannies. It’s fascinating, and I loved what we got to see.

Sophronia herself is a great deal of fun. She’s such a proactive character, clever and quick on her feet, and usually the one to figure a way both into and out of trouble. I really enjoyed being in her head and watching her figure out the mystery at the school.

(Also, I read Bumbersnoot as a steampunk K9 from Doctor Who. I think that actually makes it a little better.)

Plus, as a fan of the Parasol Protectorate series, it was great to see the younger versions of characters I’d come to love from those books. Each familiar face made me squeal with glee, but they’re introduced in such a way that you don’t have to know anything about the previous series to enjoy them.

Carriger’s writing is, as always, an absolute treat to read, with a perfectly hilarious and Victorian voice that makes her novels so much fun. Between that and the amusing character names, I don’t think I quit grinning throughout the entire book.

If I had a quibble, it would be with the final fight scene. I was a little confused at times about what was going on, and I was surprised Sophronia could slip in and out of it as well as she did. But the rest of the book was good enough that it didn’t really affect my overall enjoyment of it.

If you like steampunk, you really need to read this book. If you’ve never read a steampunk novel, then Etiquette & Espionage is a really good place to start.

Nimrod, NaNoWriMo, and November #WriteMotivation

Happy Halloween!

In other news, yay for alliteration!

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably saw me yammering on about the Nimrod Conference for Readers and Writers all day Saturday.

This is the first time I’ve been to Nimrod, and I went for one major reason: Gail Carriger was one of the featured speakers. And I’m a little bit of a fan.

I enjoyed the hell out of her workshop (about Gothic tropes in steampunk) and she had one of my favorite quotes from the entire conference during the very first panel of the day:

“Loving failure is a really good skill to develop as an author.”

Considering the conference was about the balance of risk and skill with writing, I found it appropriate. Because, let’s face it, once you start sending stuff out, you are (more than likely) going to become intimately acquainted with failure and rejection.

Not to mention, this totally happened:

Timeless - Autographed

Yes, overall, it was a good day. 😀

November #Writemotivation Goals

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Yes, November is another #WriteMotivation month, which coincides nicely with so many of us doing NaNoWriMo. If you’d like extra incentive for completing NaNo — or just want more people to cheer you on — check out #WriteMotivation. It’s a great group.

If you’re doing NaNo, add me as a buddy! You can get to my profile by clicking on that shiny ML icon in the sidebar.

I have all of two goals for the month:

1. Finish freelance articles by November 12.

2. Write 50,000 words on the NaNo novel.
Why yes, it is going to be the crazy Star Wars/Twilight/Fifty Shades fanfic-parody-Frankenstein thing mentioned originally in this post. I have no idea how it will turn out, other than horrible, but it will be epically FUN to write.

And now, I’m going to wander off and pretend NaNo doesn’t start tomorrow. (Or really, tonight, since I’ll start writing at midnight!)

The Critic Gets Beautified

Beautiful Blogger Award

I feel pretty, oh so pretty…

So this past week I was awarded the Beautiful Blogger award, thanks to Candace Gauger. (Well, I guess two awards: the Beautiful Blogger Award and the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award, but I’m just picking one because numero uno, I like this icon better, and…well, yeah, that’s pretty much it.)

ANYWAY.

I met Candace through NaNoWriMo and we’ve gotten to hang out more at the stuff going on throughout the year. She is also kind enough to beta read my WIP. You should go say hi!

According to the rules, I’m supposed to give you seven things about me and pass the award along. Let’s face it, you probably already know way too much about me.

So let’s do something different. I’ll give you seven random lists of seven random things.

The last 7 lines I wrote for Camp NaNo

“Assuming we can get everything we need tomorrow morning…” Ari calculated the travel time in his head. “A week and a half, barring any more unforeseen disasters.”

Mason groaned. “It’s going to be a long week and a half.”

#

For the longest time, Kiral stared at the sea.

It wasn’t like the ocean in the south, near Chibron. There it was warmer, calmer. Here, even from her distance, Kiral could see how the water peaked with whitecaps, with waves that were likely as tall as she was.

The last 7 songs played on my iPod
“Pretty Fly for a White Guy” by the Offspring
“Dreamin'” by Weezer
“Terrible Affliction” by Abney Park
“Herr Drosselmeyer’s Doll” by Abney Park
“A Whole New World” from Aladdin
“So Long, Toots” by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something

The last 7 books I read
Timeless by Gail Carriger
Impossible by Nancy Werlin
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Heartless by Gail Carriger
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Blameless by Gail Carriger

Seven favorite movies
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Boondock Saints
Star Wars: A New Hope
The Incredibles
Beauty & The Beast
Some Like It Hot
Batman Begins

Seven favorite authors
Courtney Milan
Loretta Chase
Brandon Sanderson
Gail Carriger
Edgar Rice Burroughs
R.A. Salvatore
Nora Roberts

Seven songs that are significant to my stories
“Beauty and the Beast” from Beauty and the Beast
“Once Upon a December” by Deana Carter (from Anastasia)
“Victorian Vigilante” by Abney Park
“Evil Man” by Abney Park
“I Still Remember” by Blackmore’s Night
“Dancing Mad” by the Black Mages (From Final Fantasy VI)
“Be Prepared” from The Lion King

And seven more people upon whom I will bestow this award!
Dyadic Echoes
Becca Weston
Leigh Caroline
Rebekah Loper
Quid for a Quill
Jen Russ
Cheyenne Campbell

The Reading List 2012 – Update

I realized this week, as I finished Graceling by Kristin Cashore and Impossible by Nancy Werlin, that I hadn’t checked in on my original reading list since March.

Also, after this week’s awesome news, which was pretty much like the entertainment gods saying “Happy early birthday, Michelle!”, this slipped my mind.

Here’s where I stand:

My 2012 reading list

Hector wanted to be in the picture.

Kindle books:
As You Like It by William Shakespeare
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

Fiction:
Endymion by Dan Simmons (Just started)
The Ancient by R.A. Salvatore
Long Lost by David Morrell (currently on loan to my roommate)
A Coral Kiss by Jayne Ann Krentz (Screw it. Life’s too short to read romance novels you don’t like.)
If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein
The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Nonfiction
The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire by Susan Ronald
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain
Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham
Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey

Story by Robert McKee

I’m more than halfway done!

New stuff added to the to-read list It’s been slow going, partly because I’ve been editing and then plotting out a new WIP, partly because a lot of these books are outside my normal genres (or are just plain huge, as in the case of The Wise Man’s Fear), and partly because I kept discovering new writers and recommendations from friends that I just had to read right NOW. (See: The Parasol Protectorate.)

In fact, that new stack you see just to the right here are books that have been added to the “unread stuff on my shelf” over the past two months. (Including a birthday gift from my roommates. GUESS WHICH ONE THAT IS.) 😀

However, it’s progress, and it’s also broadening my horizons. I’m insanely glad I made myself sit down and read The Shadow of the Wind, and the nonfiction books I’ve finished so far have been really, really helpful in terms of studying the craft.

Are there any books you didn’t think you’d like that you ended up loving once you read them?

July #WriteMotivation: Week 3 Check-in

In serious news: My prayers go out to the victims of the Aurora shooting and their families. This horrible act just breaks my heart.

In less serious news: I had a guest review posted on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books this past weekend, for Courtney Milan’s Unveiled for the RITA Reader Challenge.

In completely unrelated news: Apparently this blog posts marks #125. Huzzah?

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

July goal updates:

1) Finish August Buzz articles by July 13.

2) Read 1 book a week.
And this past week has been:
Nether Bound by Bonnie Rae
Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
Blameless by Gail Carriger

Guards! Guards! lived up to the hilarious first three pages (which is all I’d read when I posted last week). It’s absolutely brilliant, and if you ever wondered what it would sound like if Douglas Adams wrote a fantasy novel, well…this is your answer.

Must…find…more…Discworld!

3) Update blog twice a week.
Last week I got two updates in, and I’ve got one scheduled and (hopefully) two more to add. I think I can keep this pace up through July, but I think it’ll slow down again come August and Camp NaNo. Yes, again. Yes, I’m crazy.

What are you guys reading? Anything I should add to my list?