Friday, July 29, 2016

Science Fiction

For me, my turning into a bookworm all started with science fiction. The reason is two fold. When I was younger I rarely read at all. Instead I watched lots of movies. In particular I watched a LOT of Star Wars. When I mean I watched a lot of Star Wars, I mean really a lot. I mean an entire summer just watching the original trilogy over and over. When I found the Star Wars Expanded Universe in the form of Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire, I felt as if a whole new world was open to me. I give Timothy Zahn almost all of the credit for turning me into the bookworm I am now and I hope one day to tell him that in person. He took characters I already loved and gave them new adventures for me to devour. The second half of my conversion was due to Douglas Adams. After high school I spent that summer reading all of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as well as all of Jane Austen, but that's another story. Those books by Adams are still a touchstone for me. I remember how it felt to hold them with the circular embossing on the covers while I laughed at the absurdity of Arthur Dent's predicament. It almost makes me want to curl up on the side porch in blistering heat and re-read the full trilogy, as this would be the cheapest form of time travel. But the truth is over time I have moved away from science fiction and more to it's counterpart of fantasy. I remember years ago the heated discussions online of the divide between science fiction and fantasy despite them being shelved together in bookstores. It all came down to dragons. So perhaps I like my imaginary worlds to have a few dragons these days. This means that my science fiction reading has lapsed of late. So more than anything I'm trying to reconnect with my roots here. To go back to imaginative storytelling with a science base and the occasional spacecraft. Here's to worlds without dragons! And of course Star Wars!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Book Review - Barbara Taylor Bradford's The Cavendon Luck

The Cavendon Luck by Barbara Taylor Bradford
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: June 7th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 512 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

The Cavendons and the Swanns have weathered tragedy and loss but have always had luck and the wherewithal to marshal their resources and come out on top. They will need that luck more than ever as the clouds of war start to mass over Europe. They see hard times coming and retrenchment will happen, but as long as they can stand as a united front they are undefeatable. The eldest "D" Dierdre is more aware of the dire situation they all face than the rest of the family. After the sudden death of her husband she returned to her covert work with the government. Burying her sorrows in work with a purpose. Now her work has a purpose much closer to home. Her sister-in-law Cecily has a devoted employee whose family is still in Berlin. To make matters worse they are Jewish intellectuals. Dierdre will use her connection at the war off as well as an old friend to attempt to save one family of the millions that will die. But this is just one part of the larger war machine that is starting up. On the homefront there is preparations to be made, jams to be canned, inappropriate alliances to be quashed. While once war breaks out there are children fighting in the fields to worry about, danger from the skies, and worry every single day. Not all the Cavendons will live to see the end of the war. But life during wartime the cruelest of sacrifices are to be dreaded, though sadly expected.

For some reason I feel duty bound to have liked this book or to find something positive to say about it but the only thing I can think of to say is that it was insipid. And that's being kind. Each volume in this trilogy, please say it's only a trilogy, has been declining in quality and the rapid descent from The Cavendon Women to The Cavendon Luck has made me question the need to keep the first two volumes on my bookshelves. Each book has had less and less to make it work to the point where I was severely struggling to even finish The Cavendon Luck. It is not a joke to say that when I hit the half-way point in this book I had to put it down for almost a month to steel myself to push on through to the end. Now I'm not saying this was as heroic as those brave fishermen Bradford incongruously writes about evacuating troops from the shores of Normandy... but I did feel like I was at war with this book just to get through the next page let alone the next chapter with waves of repetitive and self-congratulatory writing buffeting me about. The entire book was a stagnate quagmire with no forward momentum. There's no desire to read on to see the characters develop and grow, which they of course don't. In fact Bradford is continually stating the characters ages in an apparent need to remind us that time is indeed moving, because the sad fact is, Cecily at fifty-something is the exact same as she was as a teenager. And Taylor reminding us? Well, that just shows she knew the flaws existed and didn't bother to fix them.

But what is remarkable about The Cavendon Luck is that this must be the most asinine handling of WWII I have ever read. This can be broken down into the covert antics pre-war and the stock vignettes during the war. And seriously, I'm not sure which is worse, you'll have to decide. And yes, you can make your decision from my review, I'd never force anyone to read this book. As it was stated earlier, the oldest "D" aka Dierdre, is in "intelligence." A well-known secret in the family that NO ONE talks about or has actually bothered substantiating with Dierdre. So Dierdre takes up much of the narrative with attempting to get the family of Cecily's worker out of Germany. My problem with this is that firstly, Cecily's assistant is a new character, so why should we care about the plight of people who we aren't emotionally invested in? Yes, this might sound callous because all human life is important, but narratively speaking it was Bradford's job to make us care. And she doesn't! But most importantly it's the ludicrous codes and pet names that Dierdre uses in her daily work calling her contacts that makes this plot line unbearable. If this had been done tongue-in-cheek, like say The Avengers, it could have worked. But every time Dierdre was referred to as Daffy Dilly or the weather was mentioned as to gauge how things were in Germany, gag me now. Please. It took something that should be fascinating and made it cartoonish. Just no. And as for that family needing evacuation? Oh, they'll be evacuated and then their plot line will be left dangling with a quick sentence later on thrown to us as a bone.

Yet little did I know that "Daffy Dilly" would be sophisticated to what came later. I groan just even remembering it. For some reason Bradford decided to handle the war itself in the swiftest and most oblique way possible. Little vignettes with people we may or may not know in different defining moments of the war, from the London Blitz to Dunkirk, all book-ended by long quotes from Churchill. And oh gee, wasn't Churchill just the best! It just seems such a weird way to handle the war. A book that's been all about the personal connection to these two entwined families becomes something akin to a WWII special shown for Veterans Day on PBS. A highlights reel of what the brave British endured. But of course we can't have the war overshadow our story, it's only about a fifth of the book. So why even have the war in the book then? I just don't get the handling of time in this series. To luxuriate and draw out say a three week period where the family goes to Europe and have the same page count for the entirety of the war makes no sense. Time stops and starts, juddering about, stagnating and then whooshing by at the speed of light taking many family members in it's wake. But this writing style has been problematic from the beginning it's just in the final volume that I have to say enough is enough. No more of this doggerel.

Sticking with the war, I really want to know how the Cavendons and the Swanns were so omniscient. The ENTIRE book leading up to the war was them discussing the fact war was coming. Yes, war was looming ever since the strictures forced on Germany at the end of WWI, but to have everyone talk about it so blithely and confidentially seemed wrong. There's preparedness and then there's omniscience that comes from a modern writer wanting to make her characters seem smarter and more prescient. Yes, it's great that the WI played such a key roll and actually their jam making and preserves might be one of the only interesting parts of this book, and makes me want to learn more about that, but then there's the flip side. I'm not talking about the whole Churchill is the future and will save us, which is a whole other kettle of fish, I'm talking about Cecily, in particular, being confident in the coming war and not just being a savvy business woman with scaling back her fashion empire, but strategically buying warehouses that the army would need which she would then lease to them. There's a word for that. War profiteering. So not only did I become sick of the love-in between the Cavendons and the Swanns, but I grew to despise them because they come above all else and they will stoop to anything when it comes to preserving the family home. Even profiting from death!

Going beyond the war, looming or otherwise, the basic framework of the D's has always been very much influenced by the Mitford sisters. In this installment it got absurdly so. In fact so much of the D's and in particular their trip to Germany was ripped right from the life of the Mitfords that I felt it was veering on plagiarism. Bradford even compounded this problem by mentioning the Mitfords at one point. If you've read any of the biographies written on or by the Mitfords the whole feel of Berlin was lifted almost verbatim from their pages. Yes, this series originally intrigued me because it was like a mirrored Mitford life, but once it left homage and veered into stealing outright, this has become the darkest timeline. Just don't read this series anymore. From the beginning of the book I was thinking that this series would continue on because poor DeLacey has never been showcased. Turns out DeLacey is the Pamela or Unity Mitford of our tale, first relegated to the sidelines and them unceremoniously killed in an air raid. And, as someone who felt sorry for her, I came to the conclusion that her death was the best for all of us. Hopefully it means no more books about the Cavendons. Seriously. This is my biggest wish for the future.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K.Rowling
Published by: Arthur A. Levine Books
Publication Date: July 31st, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places."

So, perhaps all those years reading scripts and then later plays for my theater major paid off in the fact I'm the only one not bitching that this isn't written in prose. 

Midsummer Nights Mischief by Jennifer David Hesse
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: July 26th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"As the Summer Solstice approaches in idyllic Edindale, Illinois, attorney Keli Milanni isn't feeling the magic. She's about to land in a cauldron of hot water at work. Good thing she has her private practice to fall back on--as a Wiccan. She'll just have to summon her inner Goddess and set the world to rights. . .

Midsummer Eve is meant for gratitude and celebration, but Keli is not in her typically upbeat mood. The family of a recently deceased client is blaming her for the loss of a Shakespearean heirloom worth millions, and Keli's career may be on the line. With both a Renaissance Faire and a literary convention in town, Edindale is rife with suspicious characters, and the intrepid attorney decides to tap into her unique skills to crack the case. . .

But Keli weaves a tangled web when her investigation brings her up-close and personal with her suspects--including sexy Wes Callahan, her client's grandson. The tattooed bartender could be the man she's been looking for in more ways than one. As the sun sets on the mystical holiday, Keli will need just a touch of the divine to ferret out the real villain and return Edindale, and her heart, to a state of perfect harmony..."

Aside for calling someplace in Illinois idyllic... seriously, murder, Shakespeare, Ren Faire, writing fest, yes, yes, yes, and yes!

City of Wolves by Willow Palecek
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: July 26th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 112 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Alexander Drake, Investigator for Hire, doesn’t like working for the Nobility, and doesn’t prefer to take jobs from strange men who accost him in alleyways. A combination of hired muscle and ready silver have a way of changing a man’s mind.

A lord has been killed, his body found covered in bite marks. Even worse, the late lord’s will is missing, and not everyone wants Drake to find it. Solving the case might plunge Drake into deeper danger.

City of Wolves is a gaslamp fantasy noir from debut author Willow Palecek."

Gaslamp fantasy? Yes please! 

The Adventuress by Tasha Alexander
Published by: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: July 26th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Emily and husband Colin have come to the French Riviera for what should be a joyous occasion - the engagement party of her lifelong friend Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge, and Amity Wells, an American heiress. But the merrymaking is cut short with the shocking death of one of the party in an apparent suicide. Not convinced by the coroner's verdict, Emily must employ all of her investigative skills to discover the truth and avert another tragedy."

I feel with Tasha's books it's wait five minutes and you'll get a new cover. So here's a new cover! I remember last fall when this book was first released Tasha told me there'd be a new cover by the paperback, and here it is. Well, whatever the cover, even though I admit I DO like this one, what really matters is the wonderful content by Tasha!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Book Review - Paula McLain's Circling the Sun

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: July 28th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Beryl Markham would go down in history as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, but her story began when she was just four-year-old Beryl Clutterbuck and her family came to British East Africa so that her father could train horses. Within a year her mother and older brother returned to England but Beryl stayed with her father in Africa. She grew up wild and free, in love with the horses, the land, and the natives. Over the years her father attempted to tame her with governesses and schooling, but Beryl was too willful and wild. That would change when her father announced that he was being forced to sell their farm. He couldn't afford to keep it and had agreed to take a job in South Africa. At sixteen Beryl had a hard choice to make. She could either go with her father or she could accept the proposal of marriage that their neighbor, Jock Purves, had put on the table. Beryl reluctantly agreed to marry Jock, hoping that her life would continue on in much the same why it had. She was wrong. Beryl bucked at the constraints of marriage and soon took off. She left her husband behind and took to training horses, eventually becoming the first licensed female racehorse trainer. She had many ups and downs in her career training horses and in her love life. But it was the love triangle between her, Karen Blixen, and Denys Finch Hatton that shaped her most. Denys was the love of her life and he was the one who first showed her how to fly. And oh, how she soared.

Beryl Markham is an interesting character to read about for those intrigued by Kenya during it's heyday. Because she arrived in the colony at such a young age with her family and stayed there for much of her life her story is like getting the best of Elspeth Huxley and Isak Dinesen. You get the pioneering beginning and the decadent lifestyle Kenya became notorious for all with one person. Add to this that it is written by a modern writer, Circling the Sun has more approachable prose than the dense morass of pretension that tended to flow out of Isak Dinesen. This book is a good starting off point for those wanting to know more about this fascinating time period, but I can only hope that after dipping in they'll dig deeper. Because for everything this book gets right it gets ten things wrong. It presents an easily digestible and palatable version of events that doesn't uncover the whole truth. Circling the Sun is like the Lifetime Movie version of what really happened in Kenya, stupid framing device and all. Yes, it is hard to get at the truth of what really happened during this time period seeing as the Happy Valley Set were all highly literate and writing their own skewed version of events, but there's just something so flat about this book in the end that you can't help wanting there to have been something more, some insight.

For someone who broke all the rules and was a woman ahead of her time McLain's depiction of Beryl is just flat. There is no passion, no life breathed into her. You forge no connection to McLain's subject. She never becomes alive, forever staying as ink on a page, a dry dusty woman who would have been forgotten by history if not for Ernest Hemingway's interest in West with the Night. At the beginning of the book with Beryl's childhood you feel an inkling that this will be an epic story full of insight, up there with Huxley's The Flame Trees of Thika. But as the book progresses it starts to rely heavily on telling us not showing us, the death knell of any story. As Beryl is trying to regain control of her life it almost feels as if McLain is channeling this desire for control to the point where the construct of Beryl is not even letting the reader in. This makes the book become flatter and flatter and more atonal as you progress. What little interest you had in Beryl is completely gone as she is written out of significance by McLain's bland storytelling. At the very end of the book there's a last ditch effort by McLain, perhaps realizing that she had failed to do Beryl justice, where she speechifies about freedom, but it's too late. It comes across as preachy and fails entirely to get the point across she was attempting to make.

Yet what I did find interesting is that McLain was actually, for a time, able to make topics that I would normally hate interesting, IE horses and flying. McLain might not have captured Beryl, but she did capture the spirit of horses and racing that predominated Kenyan society. I have never been a horse person, and never will be, though I will admit to liking the spirit of the races that grip the country every May with the Kentucky Derby. The horses and how Beryl rehabilitated several and got her license, that was all oddly fascinating. What I found bizarre though was that for a woman known for flying there was a disproportion in the book. McLain lavishes so much on the training of the horses by the time she gets to Beryl and her flying it's kind of like, there's no time left, I'm wrapping it up, story's over. Say what? I just read hundreds of pages about mud near a certain lake and how it could help a horse with injured limbs yet Beryl gets up in a plane and it's all, whatever, you don't need to know about this. Seeing as Beryl was forever seeking freedom, wouldn't that translate well into writing about flying? Not to mention her freakin' book she wrote on it!?! But as I said before, for every one thing that was right another ten things were wrong.

What I found most wrong and strongly objectionable was the depiction of Karen Blixen, who most people will know by her pen name, Isak Dinesen. Because of her book Out of Africa people have this very romanticized version of Karen Blixen that lives in their head. This wasn't helped by the movie. Personally, I don't get it. The book isn't well written. Period. This isn't a point I'm ever going to argue with people because in my mind just pick up the book and read it and if you can actually finish it, I'm sure you'll come around to my POV. Sure, the movie might be pretty, but Redford? Really? The reason I mention the reverence for the book and it's author is that it felt like McLain had a need to preserve the integrity of Blixen instead of telling the truth. She handles Blixen with kid gloves, Beryl is always talking about how wonderful she is and how guilty she felt for being trapped in a love triangle with her. Here's the truth. Everyone in Kenya couldn't stand Blixen. They viewed her as a pretentious pill who always thought she knew better than everyone else. This isn't just from all the history books I've read, a family friend knew her. So I would have far more preferred a bit of truth-telling than coddling the image of an author that in my mind doesn't really even warrant that title.

But there's a lot of truth omitted in this book... This is in fact where I finally lost patience with Circling the Sun. I felt like McLain was forever circling the truth but was never brave enough to come out and say it. She kept Blixen the paragon her readers believed her to be and made Beryl a little more... I don't know how to say this, relatable by bending the truth? Palatable? Because McLain makes Beryl a hard working woman who occasionally falls prey to her desires, and that's not true. The scene that really got me was Beryl's disgust at Idina Sackville's sex party. Beryl was actually a very promiscuous woman. Now I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, especially given the time and the climate of Kenya, it was basically expected, and she might indeed have had issues with Idina's party. Yet McLain makes it seem that Beryl is a bit of a prude. Which is anything but the truth. The truth is she had sexual relations with many of the men in her life, yet here the truth is bent to make her relationships with these men seem just friendships. Oh, and the straw that broke the camel's back? Yes, McLain discusses in detail the abortion of Denys's baby after their first sexual encounter. But does she talk about the later abortion? The fact that when Denys died she was pregnant again? Nope. McLain doesn't. And in the end that one final omission made me throw up my hands and view this book NOT as historical fiction of a real person but pure fantasy. That isn't what I read this book for. I wanted insight, truths, to get under the skin of Beryl. If that's what you want as well, look elsewhere.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review - Sarah Waters' Fingersmith

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Published by: Riverhead
Publication Date: October 1st, 2002
Format: Paperback, 548 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Sue Trinder has grown up in Lant Street. She has never left this slummy Borough of London, and has never wanted to. She has lived her entire life in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, who makes her living farming babies. But Sue was the only baby that ever mattered to Mrs. Sucksby. They live with Mr. Ibbs, who makes his living in the roundabout manner of taking in dubious goods through the back door and sending it out the front in a slightly different "legitimate" form. The rest of the household is made up of Mr. Ibbs' invalid sister and John Vroom, a man with a love for dog skins, and his simple girl Dainty. This is Sue's world entire. And they are as dear to her as family. One day an acquaintance, known to all as Gentleman, arrives with a plan to make all their fortunes using Sue. Mrs. Sucksby has always told Sue that she would be the making of them all and now Sue has her chance.

Gentleman has been posing as an artist, a Mr. Rivers, for a Mr. Lilly, who lives out west in the Thames Valley. Mr. Lilly has a niece, Maud. Maud is where their fortune will be found. Gentleman has been seducing this isolated girl in hopes of getting at her fortune through marrying her but has hit a brick wall. Maud's maid, who was their chaperon, has taken ill and now Maud isn't allowed in the presence of Gentleman. Gentleman has decided to fix that. By installing not only a new chaperon, but one that will help him pursue his interests with Maud. With Sue on the inside it is a win win situation. They will compromise Maud, throw her in an insane asylum, and split her vast fortune and live like toffs. What could possibly go wrong? In a world where there are plots within plots, games within games, and you don't know who's playing who, there are a lot of ways this could play out... and perhaps it won't be to everyone's liking.

Fingersmith is an amazing book if you were to redact the final two-thirds of the book. Divided into three parts the second and third parts are repetitive. Waters showed us in that first-third what she was capable of, and if it had ended there this could have been a true classic. But instead she chose another course. Yet I wonder if this drawing out of the narrative wasn't purposeful. Yes, she could have had a tauter more compact story, but that would defeat the Victorian aspect. I think being overly long and taking the narrative straight into "I don't care land" is a staple of true Victorian writing, or Victorian-esque in this case. Like Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, which Fingersmith strongly emulates, it overstays it's welcome by several sections. Looking back onto the other Waters book I've read, The Little Stranger, I realize now that that book really did have the perfect ending. You weren't sure what happened and it ended a bit mysteriously. If Waters had done that with this book, ending on a cliffhanger and being all mysterious, I would have been blown away and ranked it up there with some of the finest short fiction with the likes of Shirley Jackson. Instead she went the route of Wilkie Collins, and you can't really blame her for that.

Yet I can blame her for the repetitive nature of the storytelling. The Woman in White might have overstayed it's welcome but it was always moving forward. By having two different narrators with Sue and Maud, we see the exact same events at least twice. With the second section with Maud narrating I was almost skipping pages going, OK, I've already read this all from Sue's point of view, let's get to the part where we left off with Sue so that I get to the forward progression of the narration. Though once we move forward, back to Sue, we go back to the ending of part one! We have learned so much from Maud that it is painful to then have to live through Sue's excruciatingly slow journey to see Sue learn all that we already know. One step forward, two steps back. That cliffhanger to end part one... it will blow you away. Yet it is soon nullified and made pointless by all the other twists and turns and cliffhangers that come after it. The impact is lost in the dragging narrative. It got to the point where it was like watching M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, I kept not only waiting for the next not really shocking twist, but I got good at predicting what it would be, and in the end you really didn't care. So, by all means, read this book, just don't read past part one.

Though this book can't be discounted just for falling prey to the tropes Waters is emulating. She does an amazing job of capturing the seamy side of Victorian London. Sometimes you're reading about other times and think, now that would be a nice place to visit. Not here, not this world. And I think that's what makes the world of the book so real. You feel as if this is probably the most accurate depiction you've ever read of this time period. It's filthy and dirty, it's creaking corset stays on a large woman who never washes herself and the secrets she hides within her bodice. Maud's penchant for gloves, though not of her own doing, at least is some kind of barrier to the grotesques that are discussed. But even they are tainted. Yet it's the unrelenting depravity and filth combined with characters who you don't just dislike, but who have nothing good or nice ever happen to them that wears you down in the end. Sure a little history of Victorian pornography is well and good, but after awhile, you say enough is enough. This book grinds you down, and in the end, you are relieved that it is done.

The secret of Mr. Lilly and his pornography collection builds on this seamy underbelly that Waters has exposed. The Victorian London she is depicting isn't the one we really see in the literature of the day. While Victorians were far more into sex, sensationalism, and penny dreadfuls than popular authors of the day were willing to depict, it is still a little taboo. Over time the image that has arisen in popular culture is of the Victorians being a very prudish lot. They never talked about sex and didn't even know quite how one went about it, like the old Pete and Dud sketch where children are conceived through sitting on warm chairs and the eating of good meals. The last few years at the steampunk convention I go to I have attended a panel on the "Forbidden Image." Which is a "selection of erotic images from the Victorian era and classical images known to the Victorians ... but forbidden by polite society!" The images, ones that would no doubt be in Mr. Lilly's collection, show that these things did indeed exist. Any new technology soon goes to sex, just look at the internet. So is it any wonder that as soon as there was photography there was pornography? Fingersmith doesn't just depict Victorian England as we know it, but as it actually was.

Which leads to Sue and Maud. This book is perhaps most famous because it continues in Waters tradition of depicting lesbianism in different eras. Sapphic love has been around as long as there have been humans, but outside of pornography, it wouldn't have been openly discussed in Victorian times, despite it existing. Here Waters is breaking down another door, going all out with what would be a taboo subject and making it believable and compelling. For all the repetition and all the tropes she falls victim to in her writing of Fingersmith, there is the other side of the coin. All that she does right. A more accurate depiction of the times, relationships that are real, making us readers see that this world of times gone by was just as real as the "now." I also defy anyone to not find Sue and Maud's sex scene quite steamy. With their bodies connecting it makes us feel for them, and no, not in THAT way. It's a scene that makes them both so vibrant and alive that even if you hadn't found some connection to the characters, this one moment will make them real for you. Because more than anything, that is what this book does, make Victorian England real. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Imprudence by Gail Carriger
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: July 19th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger comes the delightful sequel to Prudence.

Rue and the crew of the Spotted Custard return from India with revelations that shake the foundations of England's scientific community. Queen Victoria is not amused, the vampires are tetchy, and something is wrong with the local werewolf pack. To top it all off, Rue's best friend Primrose keeps getting engaged to the most unacceptable military types.

Rue has family problems as well. Her vampire father is angry, her werewolf father is crazy, and her obstreperous mother is both. Worst of all, Rue's beginning to suspect what they really are... is frightened."

So... um... I haven't really gotten around to the first book yet, because, well, I want to re-read The Parasol Protectorate first and I just haven't had time to indulge... perhaps this summer?

The Complete Chi's Sweet Home Part 3 by Konami Kanata
Published by: Vertical Comics
Publication Date: July 19th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 480 Pages
To Buy

This collects volumes 7 through 9 and should be bought immediately. Or at least I should buy it immediately because I don't have these volumes, having borrowed them from the library. So nice of them to collect them in handy collections just for me!

The Branson Beauty by Claire Booth
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: July 19th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Branson Beauty, an old showboat, has crashed in the waters of an Ozark mountain lake just outside the popular tourist destination of Branson, Missouri. More than one hundred people are trapped aboard. Hank Worth is still settling into his new role as county sheriff, and when he responds to the emergency call, he knows he’s in for a long winter day of helping elderly people into rafts and bringing them ashore. He realizes that he’ll face anxiety, arguments, and extra costs for emergency equipment that will stretch the county’s already thin budget to the breaking point.

But he is absolutely not expecting to discover high school track star Mandy Bryson’s body locked inside the Captain’s private dining room. Suddenly, Hank finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation, with the county commissioner breathing down his neck and the threat of an election year ahead of him. And as he wades deeper into the investigation, Hank starts to realize he’s up against a web of small town secrets much darker and more tangled than he could have ever imagined.

In her captivating debut novel, Claire Booth has created a broad cast of wonderfully compelling characters, and she perfectly blends humor with the emotional drama and heartache of a murder investigation."

I love small towns cozies with dark secrets, perhaps that's why I was drawn to this book?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Book Review - Wesley Stace's Misfortune

Misfortune by Wesley Stace
Published by: Back Bay Books
Publication Date: January 1st, 2005
Format: Paperback, 560 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

A young baby boy is being thrown out with the trash. Unwanted and alone a chance of fate has him picked up by the richest Lord in the land, Lord Loveall. Lord Loveall has been mourning all his life for his dear departed sister and when he sees this baby he assumes it to be a female and a chance to have his sister back. But Lord Loveall can't just miraculously have an heir, a quick marriage is arranged with his sister's old governess, Anonyma, who has stayed on as resident librarian at Love Hall to catalog the works of her icon, the poetess Mary Day. Anonyma agrees to raising "Rose" female because Mary Day had some interesting theories on gender and Anonyma sees a chance to put her heroine's thoughts into action. An experiment if you will. For many years the couple are able to keep up this farce, until one day the world crashes down on them in the form of puberty and Rose can no longer hide who he is.

Rose flees in the middle of the night without a trace, unable to face what he is or his feelings for his best friend. He takes to the continent and eventually ends up where all those pilgrims seeking answers often end up, the Levant. Rose's journey won't be an easy one, through awkward sexual awakenings, near death fever dreams, and chance encounters, Rose begins to embrace the odd life that he has been given in this strange world and the companions in his journey who truly love him. Though while he has been traveling, trying to put himself back together, things aren't going so well at home, where Rose's absence is duly noted. The familial vultures have swooped in to claim what they have always lusted after, Love Hall. A scandal would be so unbecoming so Anonyma withdraws into the works of Mary Day... what does she have now that Rose has fled? It will be up to Rose to save the day, once he saves himself.

Misfortune is a Dickensian tale with at LGBTQ mindset. Full of interesting incestuous characters I felt that it never quite lived up to it's full potential due to the shifting narrative that, in the end, opted for a shorter, sleeker story with annoying time jumps, instead of becoming a book of true Dickensian girth. Now I'm not saying that I wanted every detail on Rose's debauched journey to Turkey, but covering such an expanse of time as a fever dream seemed indulgent of the author. In fact, that might be the crux of my problem, the modern sensibilities thrust into this Victorian age by Stace's whim alienates me from the story. Stace says in an interview in the back of the book that he didn't want to be drawn into the trappings of the time period, a carriage is a carriage, not a barouche, not a gig. By having Misfortune be a modern book set in the past he seems to be wanting to make the book more of a post modern statement piece than a quality read.

By breaking convention he is writing a book that will appeal more to those who have never read Dickens or historical fiction while leaving those of us who love 19th century literature and period pieces cold. Coupled with the fact that he pulls a complete Dickensian HEA that was obvious from page one, his tendency to use some literary tropes and abandon others just goes to show that he was gratifying himself instead of his audience, plus exactly HOW was Rose to inherit... she being a she? Many such little questions bothered me throughout. Though my biggest problem with the book that has nothing to do with Stace might just be a side effect of this lack of interest in the historical details. This problem being that the cover illustration shows clothes incorrect to 1820. Yes, I know I should let this go, but the thing is, I remember the day I picked up this book on a table in Barnes and Noble and it was those lovely Regency clothes that sold me on it...

Yet in the end it's not covers nor conceits that are the root of my issues, Rose is what's problematical to me. Firstly, the sheer self-centered delusions indulged by her parents scares the shit out of me. That two adults could contrive to raise a boy as a girl is just wrong to me. I know in this day and age there are a lot of people who talk about wanting to raise their children gender neutral so that they can come into their sexuality on their own. Personally, I think this is bullshit. It takes awhile for children to become aware of things, just look to Rose for an example, and by at least not setting down for them the basics, well, you are going to get one f'd up kid, again, look to Rose. Children need to understand the world around them in order to find their place, wherever that may be. By taking away Rose's knowledge of the world around her with regard to her body, that's just so many levels of wrong. At least her father Geoffroy has some excuse, obviously being insane, but Anonyma, the cold amd calculated way she sees changing her child's sex as an experiment just makes me want to slap her so hard. While yes, this does lead to some amusing situations, in the end, I felt such sorrow and pity for Rose that at times the book became hard to read.

The collusion to keep this lie up just fills me with rage. Personally, the fact that they were able to pull it off for so long makes me a little awestruck. I personally don't see how they did it. I liked that they mentioned that all paintings with genitals shown were hidden, because that was a problem I really had. How, in an English Country House, with the great artwork that is usually in said houses, were they able to keep Rose in the dark? The secluded environment helped, but still, how? Recent studies have shown that people in the 19th century weren't so repressed sexually as we like to imagine. Yes the book has Anonyma lecturing a young Rose on what is private and what is public, and never stripping or lifting of skirts... but still... how? Rose was raised with two other children and they never once lifted a skirt or whipped it out of their pants? That is giving those kids some amazing, I would say unbelievable, restraint. Were they sewn into their clothes? Because that's the only way I see this happening, otherwise, I just don't buy it. I can't buy it. There's too much suspension of disbelief needed here and that just doesn't work for me.

And yet... if we take a step back and look at the larger picture, not those hanging at Love Hall, forcing Rose into a female role is almost equivalent to forcing any child into any role. While yes, as I've said, I do thing it's important to show kids how the world works but I also think it's important that once they grasp the basics that they be allowed to be who they are. However they want to identity themselves, dress themselves, whatever, it is important to be who you are no matter what society thrusts on you. It is your right to choose your own identity and that is the final message we are left with from Rose. He has this unique upbringing, then the upheaval and identity crisis, but in the end he finds out who he truly is. So in one regard, though I had many issues with the book, I'd kind of like to make any bigot I can find read it because the sorrow and pity that you feel for Rose as he finds himself, that might be the first step to understanding those who don't fit the binary world. So yes, issues with the book, but not issues with the message? I know, it can be as confusing as Rose's situation at times, but sometimes even a book that I just don't engage with can connect and resonate on a deeper level with regard to certain issues. Sure, this book is flawed, but so are all of us. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Historical Fiction

I'm one of those people who loves reading about history. But I have a problem with history. Almost never does it ever end in a neat and tidy way. Preferably with a bow tied on it. Because history isn't a story; while there is a beginning, a middle, and an end to events, well, they might not be satisfactory ends. That's where historical fiction comes in! Historical fiction is like a balm. While there might be historians out there who rail against history being warped or what have you, it's not JUST about the history and the what ifs and the might-have-beens. It's about reading about past lives, becoming a part of that past. Stories are a way for you to forge this connection. But this shouldn't be confused with books written in another time about that time. Like Jane Austen writing about her world isn't historical fiction, but Georgette Heyer or Lauren Willig writing in the future about Austen's world IS historical fiction. Because a key to historical fiction is that distance, that step back that adds that little bit of omniscience to the writing. Plus hearing the writers modern voice capturing another time makes it somehow more real, more relatable for us modern readers. But the universal truth of us modern readers? We like to sneak into the past between the pages of a good book.

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