Friday, March 16, 2012

Wizard of Dark Street (fiction) - magic, crime, beauty creams

Pendulum House, with its namesake device swooshing through the parlor in great arcs.
A dragonbone desk and enchanted daggers.
The Gates of Iron, opening into New York City every midnight for exactly 60 seconds.

Welcome to Dark Street, last of the 13 great roads connecting the worlds of humans and Faerie, in 1877 as yet another crime investigation is bungled by Inspector White. In just weeks, Oona Crate will be considered old enough to select her own life path, and she knows that she must become a true detective, ignoring the magical blood that flows through her.

Stereotypes for wizards and witches go by the wayside on Dark Street, as Oona must deal with slippery memories, the Goblin Tower prison, suppliers of contraband, and a most puzzling riddle.

The author has scripted, scored, and recorded a musical introduction to Oona's world that you won't want to miss in a video that charmingly showcases his composing and singing skills.

Look for The Wizard of Dark Street at your local library or independent bookstore.

Book info: The Wizard of Dark Street / Shawn Thomas Odyssey. Egmont USA, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Recommendation: Oona wants to be a detective, not a wizard. Although she is the first natural-born magician in 200 years, she ought to be allowed to cultivate her other talents – as long as she doesn’t get permanently killed in the process.

As Wizard’s apprentice, Oona was learning spells needed to defend humankind if evil forces from Faerie realms attacked; even in the modern world of 1877, the Wizard must be ready. Dark Street lies in the heart of New York City, but ordinary humans rarely find this last corridor between the worlds of Man and Faerie.

But the Wizard’s disappearance, an increase in crimes along Dark Street, and an incompetent police inspector lead her to investigate many things – Why do only young witch girls venture out of Witch Hill? Who has stolen all of Madame Iree’s dresses? Is the blind actor a victim or a criminal?

A new apprentice must be selected since Oona wants to step away from that role, but which candidate will be chosen – witch girl, human young man, snooty Miss Iree, the clever brother? Something is wrong about all this…

Luckily, Oona has enchanted raven Deacon to tutor her in further magic and her own natural curiosity to lead her in detection. Are the criminals after something bigger than just designer dresses? Were her parents really killed by magic instead of an accident?

This first Oona Crate mystery places readers solidly into its 1877 setting and a very magical place indeed. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Becoming Marie Antoinette (fiction) - alliances, intrigue, braces

Everyone knows about Marie Antoinette and how her life ended at the guillotine...
On a World Wednesday, we look at what was it like before she became Queen of France.

This novel begins when she was just a little girl in Vienna, one of Empress Maria Theresa's many daughters, all destined for marriage into political alliances to benefit Austria.

As dentists put gold braces on her teeth and tutors smoothed her accent, Maria Antonia was completely refashioned into a princess in the French style, one whom the teenage Dauphin would desire as his wife.

The young strawberry-blond Dauphine despaired over many things in the unfamiliar French court, especially that her marriage to Louis-Auguste was not consummated for seven years - a male heir to the throne must be produced!

And author Juliet Grey (pseudonym of nonfiction author Leslie Carroll) reminds us that, as queen, Marie-Antoinette never said "Let them eat cake!" First book in a trilogy, to be followed by Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow in 2012.

Book info: Becoming Marie Antoinette / Juliet Grey. Ballantine Books, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Recommendation: As younger daughter of the Empress, Maria Antonia knows her life path already – to be married into a political alliance someday. But as a young girl, she would rather pick wildflowers than practice foreign languages, would rather chase butterflies than learn court etiquette. To her, the French ambassador’s visit to Austria in 1766 was a surprise; his announcement that she was now betrothed to the King’s grandson was a shock! Someday, the Dauphin would become King of France – someday, this shy 10-year-old girl would reign beside him as Queen Marie Antoinette.

However, there was much to be done in the years before their wedding. Antonia’s healthy complexion had to become pale in the French manner, her crooked teeth straightened (yes, she truly wore golden braces, agonizingly painful in their beauty), her accent polished, even her hairline had to recover from all those tight-pulled ponytails of childhood.

In the meantime, smallpox claimed members of the Austrian court and threatened the Empress, another sister was promised in marriage to the far-off King of Sicily, and Antonia finally receives a portrait of the Dauphin, so handsome and serious, waiting for her at Versailles.

At the grand ceremony on the French-Austrian border, a proxy stands in for Louis Auguste who must remain with his grandfather the King of France as they are declared married and numerous treaties are signed. Maria Antonia leaves behind her childhood as she crosses the river, becoming Marie-Antoinette, a young teenager without allies in a foreign court full of intrigue.

Written as a diary, Antonia’s observations about the differences between life with her 15 brothers and sisters in Austria and the scandalous behavior of French courtiers trying to move up the social ladder at Versailles are fascinating. First in a trilogy, Becoming Marie Antoinette ends just as the Dauphin becomes King of France. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.