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REVIEW:  The Masked Songbird by Emmie Mears

REVIEW: The Masked Songbird by Emmie Mears

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Mildly hapless Edinburgh accountant Gwenllian Maule is surviving. She’s got a boyfriend, a rescued pet bird and a roommate to share rent. Gwen’s biggest challenges: stretching her last twenty bucks until payday and not antagonizing her terrifying boss.

Then Gwen mistakenly drinks a mysterious beverage that gives her heightened senses, accelerated healing powers and astonishing strength. All of which come in handy the night she rescues her activist neighbor from a beat-down by political thugs.

Now Gwen must figure out what else the serum has done to her body, who else is interested and how her boss is involved. Finally—and most mysteriously—she must uncover how this whole debacle is connected to the looming referendum on Scottish independence.

Gwen’s hunt for answers will test her superpowers and endanger her family, her friends—’even her country.

Dear Ms. Mears,

I hate to say but the start of this book is rather pedestrian. Put-upon heroine Gwen has a job she likes working for a boss from hell she loathes. Her boyfriend is a shit – which is obvious to all even Gwen – but she puts up with him anyway making me want to shake her numerous times. She is in debt to her eyeballs, and gets rained on both literally and figuratively. So far it’s not much different from countless romance (Chick Lit) novels we’ve all read.

Then Gwen suffers a horrible accident at her workplace and, after dragging herself into the bowels of the building, drinks something and is eventually found and taken to hospital. Slowly, very, very slowly, she begins to experience the growth of her new powers while still not understanding how she got them or what to do with them.

Meanwhile, she becomes better acquainted with a neighbor who is apparently working for Scottish independence and keeps running afoul of some mysterious bully boys and girls who want to silence him at any cost. From the blurb, I knew that the Independence vote was important but this thread is tenuously woven through the opening half of the novel to the point where it almost disappears besides Gwen’s haplessness. Where’s the AYE! I wondered?

I know that Gwen’s initial description and background is supposed to mimic the typical mild-mannered superhero but it also cuts too close to the downtrodden romance heroine trope that I loathe – Dump shit on her head until lurve saves her.

There are also some editorial continuity issues I was surprised to encounter in a Harlequin book. While I dislike visiting Ochlassieland, I noticed a curious lack of UK/Scottish slang/words/terms here except for every once in a while when someone might utter an “och, aye.” A little more might have helped me feel the setting better.

Gwen’s boyfriend is a annoying twat. He’s self absorbed, answers for Gwen and thinks he’s entitled. Thankfully, there’s another male character I can root for in Taog – and thanks for including a pronunciation guide to his name early so I didn’t spend half the book thinking is name vaguely rhymed with bog.

Roommate Magda is delightful too – though she veers between roommate and flatmate. With Magda’s fashion savvy and skills, when Gwen finally goes out to fight evil, she’s dressed for success – even if the stretchy material of the tights does give her a wedgie.

As for the mystery of Gwen’s un-looked-for skills, the explanation makes a weird kind of sense or at least it’s enough for me to play along from home. As for the villain, she’s a piece of work, though the other reason for her actions remains elusive for a long, long time.

Finally, the plot gets down to business and the explanations come thick and fast though often in expository, “let me stand here and tell you everything” fashion. Part of the book’s charm is how clueless Gwen can be as she works to master her powers and understand the evil intentions of the villains. However this same cluelessness, continued on for chapter after chapter, ended up frustrating me and causing me to start to skim to the finish.

This book was a bit darker than I thought it would be – bodies litter the ground by the end – and Gwen’s crime fighting more haphazard. It also dragged, a lot. The outcome was positive though the cost was dear. From what I can tell, there is a sequel planned for Gwen and Co. What it will be about is something I can’t guess. Honestly I’m torn as to whether I want to continue since I found large amounts of this story unsatisfying and am grading it at a C-.

~Jayne

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Monday News: Amazon’s Campfire, sound technology at new David Bowie exhibition, new reader & author conference, and real-life inspired superhero c

Monday News: Amazon’s Campfire, sound technology at new David Bowie exhibition,...

Mr. Bezos, who built Amazon from its dot-com roots as a bookseller into one of the country’s biggest retailers, knows the psychology of writers, several past attendees said in interviews. “You come to this exclusive event, you are treated fabulously and you get access to the next Steve Jobs, who happens to control how many books you sell,” one said.

Employees at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle have to pay for their perks, down to the treats from vending machines. And the company is famously tough on its suppliers; the Hachette conflict is just one example. At Campfire, however, there is no stinting. –New York Times

The proprietary technology can shape audio zones within a room, so when you enter a gallery you could hear the audio feed of the main exhibit but as you approach smaller installments along the walls the audio switches over to the appropriate feed. Instead of using IP streaming, GuidePort uses the same unlicensed bands designated for Wi-Fi to send a broadcast recording (think FM radio), meaning timing is perfectly synched with any video on display.

I experienced it first hand, and I must say I was impressed. As I meandered into the main gallery, Bowie’s 1973 performance of “Starman” on the BBC’s Top of the Pops started wafting in through my headset before I even rounded the corner to see the main multimedia exhibit. As I walked over to smaller video displays, Starman faded out and the on-screen interviews faded in. –Gigaom

Back to RUDC, unfortunately, not everyone can come. I want to keep it small and intimate. There will be 300 people max. 50 featured authors, 15 featured bloggers, and 235 readers/everyone else. While I would love, love, love to have a million people come, that’s not possible. One, I don’t think I could find a hotel big enough. Two, RT does that and it’s so overwhelming that I barely have time to say hi to my favorite authors, let alone fangirl and stalk them all week. With only 225 readers, you won’t have to ninja fight off other readers for time with your favorite author.  (Just, don’t ask. I’ve done some things…)

But what will make RUDC stand out from every other author/reader conference out there is there will be no panels on writing, editing, agent-getting, nada. I know figuring out what brand of yoga pants you can wear for an entire week without changing/washing (because of deadlines) and not look like a hobo is very important.  Or finding out that your favorite author will cry into a tub of nutella while eating it by the spoonful because she thinks her rough draft is the worst thing ever written in the history of the world. Hearing that will make you realize that she’s just like you and you guys can be soul-mates. But do you have the courage to walk up to that table and tell her so? Yeah, didn’t think so. That table at panels can be somewhat intimidating because it’s a literal and figurative barrier between you and the authors. –Literary Escapism

Recall is almost like an astral projection: While his body lies stricken in a hospital bed, his spirit roams around, dispensing karmic justice by projecting memories into your mind — do good and you get a dose of good memories, do bad and, well, you get the idea. At his side is Given, who’s based on Roz — and she’s called that because her love for Recall is a given. Roz says David approves all the story and art choices, and he relishes his editorial role.

“The one thing that brought him back, was the comic,” she says. “He would wake up, he would do his little finger things, he would make himself known, he would make his voice heard with regard to the comic that would bear his story.” –NPR