Monday, September 30, 2013

The Winner - A Secret No More!

I sincerely want to thank each and every author who participated in My Golden Summer in one way or another. Whether it was the great writers of the past or those who continue to keep their genre alive, I adore all of you and your wondrous books! Thank you thank you thank you! As for my blog readers, thank you too! You have made this summer, and in particular this month, my highest ever for website hits, almost doubling all my other months. You guys rock, I wish I could give each and every one of you a prize... but sadly, I have only one copy of The Secret Adversary... ok, two, because one is my own copy, but you don't get that one! As for the winner... Lara, who like me, love Bletchley Circle! Hope you enjoy the book Lara!

Tuesday Tomorrow

Unbreakable by Kami Garcia
Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 1st, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"I never believed in ghosts. Until one tried to kill me.

When Kennedy Waters finds her mother dead, her world begins to unravel. She doesn't know that paranormal forces in a much darker world are the ones pulling the strings. Not until identical twins Jared and Lukas Lockhart break into Kennedy's room and destroy a dangerous spirit sent to kill her. The brothers reveal that her mother was part of an ancient secret society responsible for protecting the world from a vengeful demon -- a society whose five members were all murdered on the same night.

Now Kennedy has to take her mother's place in the Legion if she wants to uncover the truth and stay alive. Along with new Legion members Priest and Alara, the teens race to find the only weapon that might be able to destroy the demon -- battling the deadly spirits he controls every step of the way.

Suspense, romance, and the paranormal meet in this chilling urban fantasy, the first book in a new series from Kami Garcia, bestselling coauthor of the Beautiful Creatures novels."

So Kami Garcia is striking out on her own... should be interesting! Also, cover lust.

Treecat Wars by David Weber and Jane Lindskold
Published by: Baen
Publication Date: October 1st, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"New York Times and Publishers Weekly Best Selling Young Adult Series. Book Three by international writing phenomenon David Weber. Two young settlers on a pioneer planet seeks to stop a war and to save the intelligent alien treecats from exploitation by unscrupulous humans.

The fires are out, but the trouble’s just beginning for the treecats.

On pioneer planet Sphinx, ruined lands and the approach of winter force the now Landless Clan to seek new territory. They have one big problem—there’s nowhere to go. Worse, their efforts to find a new home awaken the enmity of the closest treecat clan—a stronger group who’s not giving up a single branch without a fight.

Stephanie Harrington, the treecats’ greatest advocate, is off to Manticore for extensive training—and up to her ears in challenges there. That leaves only Stephanie’s best friends, Jessica and Anders, to save the treecats from themselves. And now a group of xenoanthropologists is once again after the great secret of the treecats—that they are intelligent, empathic telepaths—and their agenda will lead to nothing less that treecat exploitation.

Finally, Jessica and Anders face problems of their own, including their growing attraction to one another. It is an attraction that seems a betrayal of Stephanie Harrington, the best friend either of them have ever had. "

It's cats, it's war, it's a book meant for me.

Johannes Cabel: The Fear Institute by Jonathan L. Howard
Published by: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication Date: October 1st, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A Darkly Gripping Comic Fantasy.

Beyond the wall of sleep lies the Dreamlands, a world formed by dreams, but not a dream itself. For countless millenia, it has been explored only by those with a certain detachment from mundane reality, its strange seas navigated and its vast mountains climbed by philosophers, mystics, and poets. Well, those halcyon days are over, beatniks.

Johannes Cabal is coming.

Cabal, a necromancer of some little infamy, is employed by the mysterious Fear Institute to lead an expedition into the Dreamlands, an expedition to hunt and destroy the dread Phobic Animus, the font of terrors, the very source of all the world’s fear. They will enter exotic lands where magic is common and monsters abound. Cabal will encounter witches, vile abominations, and far too many zebras.

And, when they finally come close to their goal, Cabal will have to face his own nightmares. But for a man who communes easily with devils and the dead, surely there is nothing left to fear. . ."

Everytime a new book comes out in this series, I think, damn, I really have to start this series.

Simon's Cat vs. The World by Simon Tofield
Published by: Akashic Books
Publication Date: October 1st, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 96 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Simon's Cat proved his authority in the house. He returned victorious from his adventures beyond the garden fence. He prevailed after the chaotic arrival of a new kitten. Now he takes on the world! Illustrated in glorious full color, this volume explodes from the page with mesmerizing levels of detail. Simon's Cat films have over 360 million YouTube views!"

OMG, this book is so so awesome and I am so humbled that the publishers set me an ARC. If you don't yet know who Simon's Cat is, I pity you for having a sad little life not full of this kitty joy! Also, this is just SO TRUE to cats. The vet one in particular. I mean, a book with no words, yet the stories that it unfolds for those of us humbled enough to be the keepers of these majestic felines.

Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz
Published by: Abrams
Publication Date: October 1st, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Wes Anderson is one of the most influential voices from the past two decades of American cinema. A true auteur, Anderson is known for the visual artistry, inimitable tone, and idiosyncratic characterizations that make each of his films—Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Moonrise Kingdom—instantly recognizable as “Andersonian.” The Wes Anderson Collection is the first in-depth overview of Anderson’s filmography, guiding readers through his life and career. Previously unpublished photos, artwork, and ephemera complement a book-length conversation between Anderson and award-winning critic Matt Zoller Seitz. The interview and images are woven together in a meticulously designed book that captures the spirit of his films: melancholy and playful, wise and childish—and thoroughly original."

Graphic Designer/Film Buff swoon!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Book Review - J.J. Murphy's A Friendly Game of Murder

A Friendly Game of Murder by J.J. Murphy
Published by: Signet
Publication Date: January 1st, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

The Algonquin is having their big New Year's Eve Party. Up in the penthouse Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford are giving the party of the season. Down in the lobby Dorothy is waiting for Benchley to arrive so that perhaps she might have the midnight kiss she has dreamed of. Though things go a little south when the hotel is put under quarantine... they can party, but they can't leave. Which is not a problem so long as the booze holds out. When the new Broadway sensation Bibi Bibelot decides to make a bit of a spectacle, in nothing but her birthday suit and some bubbly, tensions become high, and heated for many of the young bucks. When Bibi turns up dead, things get worse. But with her wit and her friends by her side, Dorothy knows she can solve this mystery before the quarantine is lifted, it doesn't hurt that she has the creator of Sherlock Holmes on hand to help her. Of course she does have to figure out how to kill Woollcott before the night is out... sadly that crime is only in fun, being a "friendly game of murder."

There is nothing better then the perfect book at the perfect time. This book was such a book. I have, in recent years, come to love snuggling down for New Year's with a nice book or movie, preferably with a cat nearby. This past year I got to snuggle down and read about characters who have become dear friends while they celebrated their New Year's... albeit fictionally and nearing on a hundred years ago. But still, I can't think of a more perfect New Year's Eve, so kudos to the publishers for coinciding the release date with the story. I'm a die hard book geek and this made my day.

I loved that J.J. really upped the game in this book. In the previous two installments, the characters have been boozing it up and running hither and yon and being who knows where, and, while always a great read, all that tooing-and-frooing can be a little tiring. So having them locked in the Algonquin was a nice respite from all that rushing about greater Manhattan. Yet, this means we are now working within that greatest of detective tropes, the locked room mystery. Does J.J. settle there? No! He one-ups that and makes the murder a locked room in a locked room, the Agatha Christie fan in me did a double squeal of joy, followed by a polite throat clearing in the manner of Poirot. There is also the method of murder being not apparently obvious, so the suspect is not obvious, therefore the how comes before the who. I'm just giddy now.

As for the "guest stars" who wouldn't be over the moon with Arthur Conan Doyle becoming a reluctant sleuth? I love how Dorothy tries to draw him into their world of fun and games, but the stoic Doyle with his walrus moustache tries to stay apart from the rabble... an endeavour that is bound to fail when Dorothy's involved! Yet nothing warmed the cockles of my heart more then Doyle being all blustery and Woolcott being all blustery and having at each other... the denouement of their butting heads is hilarious. Then there is the game of "murder." I think it's spiffing that J.J. used a game that the members of the Round Table actually played and was able to use this as a framing device for the novel, as well as a wonderful title. 

While no one can beat the witty banter and the amusing scenarios that happen when Parker and Benchley are around; I defy someone to find a scene in a recent book as funny as Robert Benchley trying to work the Algonquin Hotel's telephone switchboard, not only are there a lot of crossed wires, but a lot of information gained that is pertinent to the case; I was grateful for "the lovebirds" being apart for the midnight hour. I'm still not sure how I feel about their romance. They are indeed star crossed lovers, but I think that in order to maintain the light air of this series that they must always, alas, remain flirty friends.

On a final note, seriously, can someone tell me when Philately got so big in mysteries? Is it down to Flavia De Luce? Or was it a trend I never noticed till then... because really people, it's everywhere lately.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Book Review - J.J. Murphy's You Might As Well Die

Your Might As Well Die: Algonquin Round Table Mystery 2 by J.J. Murphy
Published by: Signet
Book provided by the author
Publication Date: December 6th, 2011
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy
Ernie MacGuffin is a truly bad artist. No one likes his art and no one much likes him. He decides to end it all and gives his suicide note to Dorothy Parker figuring she'll understand. Yet Dorothy feels that something is not quite right when she sees the scene of the crime on the Brooklyn Bridge. Something doesn't add up, and to top it off, New York seems to be going cuckoo, now they all love MacGuffin and his work! The paintings values have skyrocketed. Ernie's ex mistress decides to make a little extra for herself claiming that she's a medium and starts holding seances to talk to the deceased Ernie. Parker has Benchley benched for most of her investigation because she has a real seance skeptic to aid her, none other than Harry Houdini! He would give anyone good money to prove that there was contact with the other side. And who's Dorothy to turn up her noise at good money when her credit is no longer good at the local speakeasy.

Detective work is hard, detective work while sober is even harder. Racing around the city trying to figure out all the crosses and double crosses, Dorothy feels like she's in Harpo and Woollcott's famous game of croquet, being played anywhere and everywhere, football fields to rooftops to theatres! While solving the mystery of what truly is going on with MacGuffin is well and good, getting enough money to pay off her bar tap is the final solution.

Again JJ Murphy has delighted me beyond measure. Witty banter, shenanigans, antics, croquet and the sheer joy of a 1920s or 1930s screwball comedy. With the addition of Houdini as a stronger foil than Faulkner in the first installment, the book just hummed along. Also, addressing, even in a sideways manner, Dorothy's struggle with depression and her several attempts at suicide was a nice nod to the fact that Dorothy's life was much more than it appeared on the surface. What really made the book work for me though was two things I have a very strong interest in: art and spiritualism. The whole idea of an artists work being more valuable after their death has led, I am sure, to many artists thinking of pretending to die, I know, I've thought of it, but then, creating a new identity and all that rigmarole, too much effort, especially if the market is soft at the time or if they don't go up in value till a significant time after your "death."

The spiritualism is what also gripped me. I find it interesting that the next book will have Arthur Conan Doyle as the literary guest star, who was a huge proponent of spiritualism, and who in fact was good friends with Houdini, until they clashed over the idea of life after death. Houdini wanted to believe, desperately, but as a showman, he could see through all the hoaxes and tricks better than anyone else. The whole history of this time period, the Cottingly Fairies, the unexplainable versus the people obviously tapping at tables just enthralls me. I went to an exhibit a few years ago at the MET where they showed all these original pictures as "proof" of spirits... while the pictures where interesting, much like Houdini, I think I need some more solid proof. I don't need more proof though as to how much I love this series. It's going to be a long hard wait for that next book, much like Dorothy waiting for a drink.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Review - Jennifer duBois's Cartwheel

Cartwheel by Jennifer DuBois
Published by: Random House Trade Paperbacks
Publication Date: September 24th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 416 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Lily Hayes didn't know that deciding to do a semester abroad in Argentina would be the end of the life she knew. Lily thought it would take her out of her comfort zone, give her a greater view of the world. Instead she's in a prison cell accused of murdering her roommate Katy. As her family comes to her aid, the life Lily really lead in Buenos Aires starts to take shape. The drugs, the men, the conflicts with her host family and her roommate. Everything starts to take shape proving Lily's guilt, which the media devours like a hungry animal. DNA, timelines, secrets, lies, can Lily actually return to the life she had or will her life ever be tainted by what happened to Katy and that cartwheel she did while being interrogated?

When this book was drawn out of the hat at book club (yes, we do trust the caprice of fate for our next reading selection) I was actually intrigued. Despite being another book fictionalizing actual events, the second in a row for book club, I thought that this book could give me something I've been craving, closure. Cartwheel is based on the Amanda Knox trial. Loosely based. Though it should be noted, hitting all the important details of the case from bar owners to feces. Oddly in my family the Amanda Knox trial is a source of contention. Why would this be? Well, my father and I both strongly believe in Amanda's guilt. Everything I've heard and seen makes me certain of this fact. It doesn't mean this is true, this is what I believe to be true. My mother strongly disagrees with my father and I having such a blanket statement of her guilt. So anytime the subject comes up my mother gets exasperated with us for condemning this innocent young girl (innocent my ass is what I usually reply with.) Therefore, subject on contention.

I was hoping that Cartwheel would give me some kind of closure so that I could move on and get to a stage where I didn't feel the need to bring up the Knox case and keep the strife alive. Because dammit, she's guilty and if this book could give me this proof, even ersatz proof, then I could quite literally close the book on all this. But this is just what made me seethe with rage at Jennifer duBois. Life doesn't give us clear cut answers, that's why we turn to books. Life is easier in books. You have a question, you get an answer. Straight forward and easy, hence why many people would rather live in books. She had the chance to write a what-if answer, an ending. An ending that we will probably never get in real life and she blew it. There was no ending, there was no conclusion. To you, Jennifer duBois, I say fuck you.

Yet the ending, or lack thereof, isn't the only gripe I have with this book, not by a long shot. Having a book with multiple narrators is tricky. There has to be balance and variety to keep the book's forward momentum. A bad narrator is the kiss of death, the reader will just check right out of the book. Cartwheel suffers because the book is hard to get into because the narration of Lily's father is mind numbingly dull. Logistics about being there for Lily, money worries, lawyers blah blah blah. I don't care about police policies or the legal system, get to the murder, get to the juicy bits, don't drag the opening to breaking point so that the average reader will just toss the book aside. If I didn't have the hard and fast rule that I finish what I start, and I definitely finish what's for book club, well, this book would have been flung out a window shortly into starting it.

The only bearable narrator was Lily herself. She gave you the first person, though unreliable, narration that was needed. Seeing things through her eyes made the story temporarily work. Where the book really failed is that once the arrest happens we abandon Lily and her thoughts. She's just a person in a box. We get no insight, no revelations. The "ending" sneaks up on us and it's muddled and ill conceived and what really happened!?! We lose Lily's voice and then everything falls apart and there's no more pages. WTF!?! Really, just give us the whatever ending? It's like Jennifer duBois got to the end and threw up her hands and just gave up. Could she really not make up an ending? Isn't that what writers do? I invested time and energy in this book, I deserve closure!

In fact, here's how the book should have ended. Tie everything together and make it interesting. Eduardo the lawyer and his weird wife, make them no longer peripheral, make his crazy wife's return a ploy to distract him from his work because she's being paid to help the case for Lily. Just an idea, because, really, what other purpose do these two characters have otherwise? But what I think would have solved all my issues with wasted opportunities would have been if we had one final narrator at the end, and that narrator was Katy. To get the truth from her point of view, to have her speak from "beyond the grave" and tell us what really happened. Why can't writers just get it right sometimes? Because getting it wrong, well, it hurts us all.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Published by: Scribner
Publication Date: September 24th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 544 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Stephen King returns to the characters and territory of one of his most popular novels ever, The Shining, in this instantly riveting novel about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the boy protagonist of The Shining) and the very special twelve-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless—mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of devoted readers of The Shining and satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon."

A Stephen King sequel? YES! There's a first time for everything, plus I read The Shining in anticipation.

Dead of Night by Charlaine Harris and Amanda Stevens
Published by: Harlequin MIRA
Publication Date: September 24th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From bestselling author Charlaine Harris and rising star Amanda Stevens come two otherworldly tales sure to haunt readers well after the last page is turned.

Dancers in the Dark by #1 New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris

Layla Rue Le May is no ordinary dancer—her partner, Sean McClendon, is a three-hundred-year-old redheaded vampire. When Layla Rue acquires a stalker, she's forced to face the music…and wonder if this will finally be her last dance.

The Devil's Footprints by Award-winning author Amanda Stevens

Years after her sister's unsolved murder, Sarah DeLaune is haunted by the mysteries of her past when two mutilated bodies are found near Sarah's New Orleans home, the crime scene desecrated by cloven footprints. Sarah has always believed that her sister was killed by a man named Ashe Cain. But no one else has ever seen Ashe. Until now."

I have always loved Charlaine's non-Sookie books more then her Sookie books, so I'm glad she finally has time to do some different writing!

Treasure Hunt by Andrea Camilleri
Published by: Penguin Books
Publication Date: September 24th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
" The sixteenth Sicilian mystery in the irresistible New York Times–bestselling Inspector Montalbano series.

In Treasure Hunt, Montalbano is hailed as a hero after news cameras film him scaling a building—gun in hand—to capture a pair of unlikely snipers. Shortly after, the inspector begins to receive cryptic messages in verse from someone challenging him to go on a “treasure hunt.” Intrigued, he accepts, treating the messages as amusing riddles—until they take a dangerous turn."

100% pure cover lust!

A Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron
Published by: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: September 24th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 5352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The thrilling sequel to Sharon Cameron's blockbuster gothic steampunk romance, THE DARK UNWINDING, will captivate readers anew with mystery and intrigue aplenty.

When Katharine Tulman wakes in the middle of the night and accidentally foils a kidnapping attempt on her uncle, she realizes Stranwyne Keep is no longer safe for Uncle Tully and his genius inventions. She flees to Paris, where she hopes to remain undetected and also find the mysterious and handsome Lane, who is suspected to be dead.

But the search for Lane is not easy, and Katharine soon finds herself embroiled in a labyrinth of political intrigue. And with unexpected enemies and allies at every turn, Katharine will have to figure out whom she can trust--if anyone--to protect her uncle from danger once and for all.

Filled with deadly twists, whispering romance, and heart-stopping suspense, this sequel to THE DARK UNWINDING whisks readers off on another thrilling adventure."

More YA Steampunk, yes please!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Book Review - J.J. Murphy's Murder Your Darling

Murder Your Darlings: Algonquin Round Table Mystery by J.J. Murphy
Published by: Signet
Publication Date: January 4th, 2011
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy
"In all reverence I say Heaven bless the Who-dunit, the soothing balm on the wound, the cooling hand on the brow, the opiate of the people." - Dorthy Parker

Dorthy Parker may be at the center of a vicious circle of writers in New York, in fact, THE Vicious Circle... that still doesn't mean that any of them are responsible for the appearance of a corpse under their celebrated round table at the Algonquin. But, as any good writer knows, that doesn't eliminate them from the suspect pool. The fact that the corpse is a reviewer that one or more of them has wished dead doesn't help matters. Once the press gets a hold of the story and starts to sensationalize the scenario, things are libel to get out of hand. Dorthy and her fellow writer, Robert Benchley, decide to solve the case on their own without the cops, who seem to be questioning all the wrong people. Not to mention the cops seem obsessed with the young wannabe writer Billy Faulkner, who Dorothy just knows couldn't have done it. She must make sure that Billy is safe and not prime suspect number one! With her dog's lead in one hand, a cup of tea filled with anything but in the other, and a heart longing for the married Benchley, Dorothy will solve this crime if she has to go to every illegal gin joint, speakeasy and bad play that stands in her way.

The unwieldy cast coupled with the plethora of puns does take awhile to adjust to. But once you grasp who everyone is and what they're notorious for, the story fully captures you. I wouldn't say that it's one of those books you just start and plow through cover to cover, with it's wonderfully short chapters and it's witty dialogue, it's a book you can pick up and set down like a nice snack. You get a little bit of refreshment and go on with your day, mulling over the wonderful little world you've been reading about. It's a nice leisurely stroll to the conclusion, which, when reached, makes you wish that you had a few more hours to bask in the time period. I was left with a happy glow that I still look back on fondly and look forward to having again when the next book comes out. Perhaps this time a who's who and maybe a map would improve the reading experience. Or little bios of everyone... because this wonderful world is made that much more interesting when you know the history. Thanks Wikipedia!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

J.J. Murphy

"There's a reason why they're called the ROARING 20s--there was a flask in anyone's pocket and a song in everyone's heart. Nights were long. Hemlines were short. Jazz was quick, and wits were quicker. The Roaring 20s make for a great getaway, if you're so inclined to make the trip." - J.J. Murphy

J.J.'s Algonquin Roundtable books, besides being addictive reads and totally deserving of a themed month on my blog, where actually my inspiration for this third section of my Golden Summer. Because there is this trend now for authors, in the historic sense, like Dorothy Parker and Josephine Tey, to be crime solvers, not like in some weird twist that the author writing the book is also the crime solver because I think that would be more non-fiction then... or Lemony Snicket... but I digress. J.J.'s books have Dorothy Parker not just as a writer during the Golden Age of Crime Detection, though she didn't write in that genre, but doing the crime detection herself in the most wonderfully witty way. I'm so happy to welcome J.J. back and if I haven't already convinced you to read his books from all my promoting, what do I need to do? Throw a party with a bathtub full of booze? Because, just FYI, my house that I live in actually had a gin still in the basement during prohibition, so I think I could maybe get something going here...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Book Review - Nail Gaiman's Fortunately, the Milk

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 17th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 128 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

There is no milk for the cereal. Fortunately Dad has gone to the corner shop. But he has been gone awhile... he probably ran into someone he knows. When he does show up though apparently it was running into a whole bunch of people he didn't know that detained him. Aliens set on redecorating the planet, pirates who don't know about walking the plank, and dinosaurs who have invented time machines that look like hot air balloons, but are NOT called that. Sure Dad claims to have messed with the space time continuum and is a little late and unbelievable, but fortunately, he has the milk.

For some reason, while I really really love Neil Gaiman I am very choosy about his books. I've never really bothered with his books for really young audiences and in a confession I am sure will shock some of you, I've never been a fan of The Sandman Comics, and I tried, I seriously tried to like those. I was likewise planning on giving Fortunately, the Milk a pass as well, even though this is one of his books that straddles the age gaps, much like The Graveyard Book, which is quite possibly my favorite of his books. I am very glad I didn't. The truth of things is that while books are put in genres and recommended to certain demographics, all books are for everyone and we shouldn't prejudge based on a kooky cover or a bad blurb foisted on the book by the publisher.

I have Neil himself to thank for making me want to read this book, more then just his writing it that is. Back in July of 2013 when I went to his "final ever book tour" he read a bit from this book. While he bemoaned about the hardship of trying to sell a kids book at the same time as an adults book, something James Patterson has mastered with ease, it was his reading of Fortunately, the Milk that made me realize that yes, I need to stop this prejudging of books. So very quickly, in a matter of seconds, I went from not wanting to read this book in the least to wanting to read it immediately. I was put in a situation in which I was exposed to something that I wasn't keen on and it opened my choosy little heart to enjoy this wacky and weird little book.

How can I explain what appeals to me about a book where a dad goes out for milk and ends up encountering pirates, dinosaurs, time-travel, volcano gods, and what have you in his quest for his children's breakfast? It's what would happen if The Doctor did your grocery shopping for you. Now, as you probably know, I'm not just plucking Doctor Who out of thin air or making some sort of weird connection out of nowhere, Neil has written two episode of Doctor Who so far and is a lifelong fan, so this isn't a stretch of the imagination. Add to that the illustrations by Skottie Young... well, the father is depicted as kind of a mash up of Tom Baker and David Tennant, Tennant's hair as it were with Baker's scarf. So Skottie obviously picked up on this Who vibe as well. But it's also the balancing of the totally absurd, Proffesor Steg and the Floaty-Ball-Person-Carrier, versus the totally mundane, picking up milk at the local shop, that is the hallmark of a great episode of Doctor Who.

I kept relating it to the two episodes of Doctor Who with Craig Owens played by the awesome James Corden, where we have the relatable world of Craig and the weird world of The Doctor that keeps seeping in despite him trying to live a life that's more human. But more importantly then all that is that this book is a celebration of dad's who are great storytellers and never let your refrigerator run out of milk so that you can always have your cereal. Thanks to my Dad who fits this unique mold and I am sure has probably referred to coconuts at some point as hard-hairy-wet-white-crunchers, but most likely because he forgot they were called coconuts.

Book Review - Louise Rennison's The Taming of the Tights

The Taming of the Tights by Louise Rennison
Published by: HarperTeen
Publication Date: September 17th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Tallulah Casey, despite any sign of talent or acting ability, is back at Dother Hall in Yorkshire learning to be dramatic in a school with barmy teachers whose credentials are dubious. But school doesn't matter, only boys do. Tallulah is denying that she had a moment with the Dark Black Crow of Heckmondwhite, Cain, and instead thinking about the unattainable Alex and the taken Charlie. Sadly, her moment with Cain has led to the Bottomly sisters threatening her, but what can they do really? I mean, their mother has been trying to shoot Cain for months and has only succeeded in killing a goat. At the school they are trying to find ways to raise money to get a roof again and running water. The local reform academy for boys might just have some monetary interest, but what is the future of the Hall when Charlie has dumped his girlfriend and agreed to go out with Tallulah! Cain and everyone else be damned, especially Lulah's uncontrollable knees. She has a chance with Charlie!

Somebody stop me from reading these books. I mean it, seriously I need an intervention. What was once fun and unique is now a chore. Rennison just keeps writing the same book over and over again and never having any plot or any anything. And people are seriously giving this book five stars? Is it just nostalgia for your childhood? Because, bizarre rap battles and owlets do not make a book. And how is Honey a star in Hollywood? She has a severe lisp! I seriously can almost not be bothered to write this review because Louise was obviously not bothered to write a half-way decent book. Therefore in the tradition of Georgie Nicholson and Tallulah Casey, here is a list like you'd see in the appendix of these books, it's all I can be bothered to do.

What Louise Rennison can do:

  • Funny dialogue
  • Create awkward situations that are humorous
  • Skewer classic plays
  • Barmy characters
  • Insane pets
  • Broody Bronte Boys
What Louise Rennison can't do: 
  • Write a book with a plot
  • Evolve beyond the love triangle (quadrangle?) premise
  • Give us any reason to understand why Tallulah is talented or liked
  • Have the time frame of a book be longer then a few weeks
  • Write this series anymore
What Louise Rennison must stop relying on: 
  • Viking Helmets
  • Concerts/plays being the moment the book builds to
  • Creepy guy moments (Charlie likes her because she is vulnerable? What?)
  • Snog lists
  • "Named" groups of friends, ie, Ace Gang, Tree Sisters
  • Repetitive inner dialogue
  • Insane pets (she's used it once too often, move on)
  • Boycrazy girls
  • Weird lesbian jokes
Rastafari, out yo!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason
Published by: Chronicle Books
Publication Date: September 17th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 356 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes never meant to get into the family business. But when you're the sister of Bram and the niece of Sherlock, vampire hunting and mystery solving are in your blood. And when two society girls go missing, there's no one more qualified to investigate. Now fierce Evaline and logical Mina must resolve their rivalry, navigate the advances of not just one but three mysterious gentlemen, and solve murder with only one clue: a strange Egyptian scarab. The stakes are high. If Stoker and Holmes don't unravel why the belles of London society are in such danger, they'll become the next victims."

I quite literally cannot say how stoked (haha) I am for this book. Ever since Colleen first started talking about it however long ago it was (it felt really long ago because I'm impatient) I've had this on the top of my "To Be Read" list. Finally!

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
Published by: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: September 17th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The second installment in the all-new series from the masterful, #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Maggie Stiefvater!

Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after..."

Everyone I know, even the author Robin LaFevers, has been talking about how good the first book in this new series by Stiefvater is... guess I should get around to it then. 

United We Spy by Ally Carter
Published by: Disney-Hyperion
Publication Date: September 17th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Cammie Morgan has lost her father and her memory, but in the heart-pounding conclusion to the best-selling Gallagher Girls series, she finds her greatest mission yet. Cammie and her friends finally know why the terrorist organization called the Circle of Cavan has been hunting her. Now the spy girls and Zach must track down the Circle's elite members to stop them before they implement a master plan that will change Cammie-and her country-forever.

Get ready for the Gallagher Girls' most astounding adventure yet as Ally Carter's New York Times best-selling series comes to breathtaking conclusion that will have readers racing to the last page."

Here's hoping for a satisfying conclusion!

The Taming of the Tights by Louise Rennison
Published by: HarperTeen
Publication Date: September 17th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Gadzooks! It's another term at Dother Hall for Tallulah and her mates. But can they keep their minds on the arts with all those boys about...After the thing-that-will-never-be-mentioned last term, Tallulah is keen to put all thoughts of Cain behind her. But that seems like that the last thing he wants. Their performing arts college may have been saved by Honey's mystery benefactor, but for how long is anyone's guess. So will Tallulah finally get to wear those golden slippers of applause or will Dr Lightowler swoop down on her glory days? And with Seth and Flossie forever snogging, Vaisey and Jack loved-up and Phil and Jo fondly biffing each other can Tallulah resist the call of her wild boy? Don your craziest tights and Irish dance your way to some surprising and hilariously unexpected answers..."

So, yeah, I didn't really like the second book and so I'm not super hyped about this one... will I read it? Yeah, probably. Also, why have the last two books been parodies of Shakespearean titles and the first a Bronte parody... switch it up on this one maybe, at least that's my feeling. But then again, who listens to me... because if they did, Louise Rennison would be doing an adult series a la Adrian Mole...

Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 17th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 128 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"I bought the milk," said my father. "I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: T h u m m t h u m m. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road."

"Hullo," I said to myself. "That's not something you see every day. And then something odd happened."

Find out just how odd things get in this hilarious story of time travel and breakfast cereal, expertly told by Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Skottie Young."

So, originally, I was kind of "meh" about this book, but then I saw Neil Gaiman in July and he read some of it aloud, and now it's like the book I'm most excited about, well, most excited to share with my Dad for all his heroics of making sure we never ran out of milk over the years.

Deadly Heat by Richard Castle
Published by: Hyperion
Publication Date: September 17th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Nikki Heat and Jameson Rook race to stop a deadly threat from Heat's past as well as an all-too-present serial killer, in Richard Castle's follow-up to the New York Times bestseller Frozen Heat.

Determined to find justice for her mother, top NYPD Homicide Detective Nikki Heat continues to pursue the elusive former CIA station chief who ordered her execution more than a decade ago. For the hunt, Nikki teams once again with her romantic partner, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Jameson Rook, and their quest for the old spy and the motive behind the past murder unearths an alarming terror plot, which is anything but ancient history. It is lethal. It is now. And it has already entered its countdown phase.

Complicating Heat's mission to bring the rogue spy to justice and thwart the looming terror event, a serial killer begins menacing the Twentieth Precinct, and her homicide squad is under pressure to stop him, and soon. Known for his chilling stealth, the diabolical murderer not only singles out Nikki as the exclusive recipient of his taunting messages, he names her as his next victim."

SO glad the magenta cover won out over the lizard like one.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Movie Review - Austenland

Austenland
Based on the book by Shannon Hale
Release Date: August 16th, 2013
Starring: Keri Russell, J.J. Feild, Bret McKenzie, James Callis, Jennifer Coolidge, Georgia King, Ricky Whittle, Rupert Vansittart and Jane Seymour
Rating: ★★★★★
To See

This weekend is the start of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, not that I'm jealous I'm stuck at home and my friend Marie gets to go (damn you Marie, revenge will be mine!) But this does provide me with the opportunity to see Austenland (haha Marie, revenge is sweet!) Austenland and I have had a rocky road. As you may have noticed before, I adore the books of Shannon Hale, heck, I'm even excited about that Ever After High book which is based on a Mattel franchise, and me being a 35 year old I'm not the target market, but hey, books are for everyone. I've been lucky enough to meet Shannon twice, once while she was promoting Book of a Thousand Days, and the second time when she was promoting Calamity Jack. In fact, the first time I met her I was so nervous because I wanted to give her a print of my artwork that I did based on vintage Jane Austen book illustrations, but I couldn't work up the nerve till the second time I met her. It was fortuitous in that she was pregnant with twins at the time, which turned out to be two girls, and the print I ended up giving her was with Jane and Lizzie from Pride and Prejudice... but anyway, I digress. Back to Austenland and our contretemps. The first time I read the book it was all right book wrong time and it just rubbed me the wrong way. I was like a dissatisfied cat. Luckily my aforementioned Jane Austen partaking of Bath awesomeness friend Marie kind of pushed me a little to read it again. Her nudge along with the fact a sequel was coming out made me read the book again and truly appreciate it.

Austenland is about a plain Jane with Darcy dreams who gets to go to a themed resort in England (and confront her addiction) but really, who wouldn't want to go to there? Austenland and Midnight in Austenland are both fun reads and should be embraced if just for the fact they're subtly thumbing their noses at the Jane Austen Mafia, aka JASNA (I have no doubt the people who run this organization are those who Austen would mercilessly parody in her books if she were still around.) When I heard about the movie being in the works... well, all that needed to be said was James Callis and I was counting down the days till I could see it. Mind you, this is before the cameras were even rolling. Once J.J. Feild joined, I knew I was a goner. Ah J.J., you made me come to love Northanger Abbey. You and you alone, ok, and the fact it's an awesome book making fun of the Gothic Genre... but really, it was you. Marie and I had planned on seeing this movie for our August birthday fun time, seeing as Madison has a Sundance theater and it was opening three days after my birthday and ten days after Marie's we thought we were in with a chance... sadly though it wasn't to be. So I have been counting down the days and finally, FINALLY, the wait is over. Of course Marie is in real "Austenland" and I will be in virtual "Austenland"... but at least it's all about Jane. And thankfully, this movie lived up to and exceeded my expectations.

If Clueless and Bridget Jones's Diary combined and was then handed off to Monty Python to do some patter writing, Austenland is about what you'd end up with in a near perfect movie that might just be the best film I've seen in years, and easily the hardest I've laughed in a long time. With the entire script being a goldmine of hilarious quotes, James Callis and Jennifer Coolidge might have come out a little bit ahead in the awesome category. In particular Jennifer Coolidge's Miss Charming's facial beautification routine... we were already quoting it on the way to the bar after the movie. My advice is don't listen to those stupid reviewers over on Rotten Tomatoes, listen to me, GO SEE THIS FILM RIGHT THIS SECOND and take me with you! Each person I went to wanted to see it again, so what are you waiting for? There is just so much going on with background jokes, foreground jokes, James Callis never being silent, I need to see it over and over just to make sure I haven't missed a thing. At least I did spot Shannon in the ball scene!

Let me break it down for you as to why this movie is just full of win. Firstly, perfect casting. At first I was a little, Keri Russell, ok, she's fine, she's not as important as her two love interests in the form of J.J. and Bret 'Flight of the Conchords' McKenzie, but I underestimated her. Keri is able to not only be the perfect surrogate, for me, the Austen loving audience member, but the chemistry with both the male leads makes for a believable and funny love triangle. But if it wasn't for the fact that every character was cast perfectly and every actor and actress seemed to be having so much fun, the three leads would not have been able to sustain the funny. Add to that little jokes just for the actors, like Bret and his Hobbit/LOTRs connection, and layers upon layers of jokes that drives a serious need to see it again, I mean in the flashback Keri seriously had her old Felicity hair. Jennifer Coolidge was, as I have previously said, divine, and I really think that even back when I was reading the book, well, the role has always been hers. James Callis, what can I say, but I've always admired you, Bridget Jones, Battlestar, you made me want "evil" to win... you have some serious comedic talents, so while I love you in period pieces, do more movies like this! And there's just little things that make each scene perfect, the way Georgia King "secretly" skips out of a room, or Ricky Whittle finds yet another way to strip off his clothing... I couldn't stop laughing. But I must say, the casting of Mr. Wattlesbrook was by far the best. Because Mr. Wattlesbrook, aka Rupert Vansittart, aka Fatty Fat Buckle, is none other then Mr. Hurst from the 1995 Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice! Say what? Yes, and it really is just like in P and P when all he did was lay on a couch, giving him the nickname of Fatty Fat Buckle to me and my friends.

Now I must mention the sets. Oh dear lord, they were awesome. I mean, they were so over the top crammed with British kitsch and porcelain, it was optic overload, but it so fit the gaudy opulence of the resort that Mrs. Wattlesbrook was running. Can we have more floral wallpaper? YES PLEASE! Then there are the animals... or lack therefore of live animals, well, except those horses... whoever thought that it would be a good idea to replace every animal with a stuffed dead one, I'm talking, stroke of genius. It added a whole weird, incongruous, Monty Pythonesque humor to it that culminated in the shout out to the creepy taxidermist at the ball. And as a final aside, the house is gorgeous, but the fact that it is the historic seat of the Dashwood family, not Austen, but Hellfire... in that this house in West Wycombe is where the Hellfire Club comes from! The fact that a place of male debauchery has been repurposed for female debauchery... it just gives me a smile, and a great guffaw when reading the locations in the credits when I first realized it.

Speaking of the credits. I'm not going to ruin them for anyone, but seriously, stay for them. If the credits had been used as the marketing campaign, I think everyone would be rushing to the theatre right now. They take what would have been a scene derivative of Lost in Austen, which was sadly eliminated from the DVD because they couldn't get the rights to the song "Downtown," and takes it to whole new heights that have more then a little nod to Flight of the Conchords. And while I'm on the subject of music... well, the movie is full of cheesy wonderfulness that just works so perfectly that I wish the soundtrack included everything from "Lady in Red" to "Betty Davis Eyes!"

As for the movies flaws... I would say that there would only be two, and they fall into the necessary but unnecessarily creepy category. First is the cruelty of Jane's co-worker ex at the beginning of the movie and the fact that Fatty Fat Buckle is just a little too rapey. The first was her impetus to finally go to Austenland, which I get, but did he have to be so boorish? Just slightly demeaning, or even having him just break her teacup would have worked. As for Mr. Wattlesbrook... well, it's like he is in the book, and it is needed to question the motives of the love interests at the end, but, he was just a little too forceful and left a sour taste in my mouth. Just tone down those two scenes and, perfection would be attained. In other words, these two things are the only reason it's near perfect... oh, these and that should would get ride of that dollhouse! Sin! In fact, speaking of sins, I've been prattling on too long, why are you still reading this? You should go and see the movie already, it's make or break weekend!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Book Review - Joanna Challis's Murder on the Cliffs

Murder on the Cliffs (Daphne Du Maurier Book 1) by Joanna Challis
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: November 24th, 2009
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Daphne Du Maurier has begged off another London season to spend some time in Cornwall, a desire her family just can't grasp, but reluctantly agrees to if she will stay with her mother's old nurse, Ewe Sinclaire, an inveterate gossip. Daphne has ambitions of being a writer and the lure of the windswept cliffs calls to her, as does the lost scrolls of Charlemagne watched over by the nuns at Rothmarten Abbey. If she happens to stumble upon gorgeous old houses with a Gothic air, well, so much the better. Little does she suspect that she will stumble upon a corpse on the beach on her very first morning walk.

The body of Victoria Bastion is beautiful even in death. Victoria was the local girl who worked her way into the kitchens of the great house, Padthaway, and then into the heart of Lord David. They were to be married in a weeks time, something that David's mother, Lady Hartley, was hoping to avoid at all costs. But would she murder Victoria just to stop the wedding? Plus David's sister Lianne, well, there are stories about her being touched and "not quite right," their father did kill himself after all. Daphne is welcomed into Padthaway because she has a snob appeal that just makes Lady Hartley giddy. The lady of the manor is able to entertain the daughter of the famous actor, Gerald Du Maurier, and perhaps make a match between her recently available son and Daphne. Daphne views this all as a little unseemly, not the least of which was avoiding the London season meant avoiding matchmaking, but then again, there is an undefinable something about David that attracts her. But she doesn't plan on using her unrestricted access to Padthaway to make a match, no she plans to solve a murder; because Victoria didn't die because of some accident, no matter how much the Hartleys hope that that will be the verdict.

More then anything it is Daphne's presence, as well as her poking around, that gets the investigation going. If it was left in the hands of Sir Edward, the investigator and tenant of the Hartleys, the case would most likely be marked down as accidental and things would continue on as they had, the rich protected, the poor lacking justice. Daphne promises Mrs. Bastion that she will figure out who the killer is and bring them to justice, all hopefully before her parents hear what is going on and demand she comes home. Because Daphne is playing with fire. She is in a nest of vipers and doesn't know which one has the poisonous bite.

When I first saw the movie Rebecca I was instantly in love with the world Daphne Du Maurier had created. I even have a teddy bear named Maxim de Winter. I soon not only feel in love with the book, but sneakily excised it from my mother's Franklin Library of Mysteries and installed it on my own bookshelves, I even carefully penned my name on the flyleaf so that it was "obviously" always mine. Rebecca has soon been followed by a few other titles from my mom's collectible books, which I hope she hasn't noticed, but I think she should have caught it by now if she ever was, but the fact remains that Rebecca is my favorite. Not only is it a classic in every since of the word, but it has perhaps the most memorable and evocative opening line ever: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

Now, keep in mind this in the mid-nineties when I first read Rebecca, meaning no Wikipedia, no handy Amazon UK to get my British books, in other words, only the books or info I could find out in reference books or what was on the shelves at B. Dalton's. Therefore I had Rebecca and Jamaica Inn. That was it, that was the extent of Daphne Du Maurier here in the United States. Sure I found out later that she had written almost forty books, but at this time there where two. But there where books about her and sequels of Rebecca, all fictional, but all about Daphne. Therefore I picked up these books as a hope to forge more of a connection with the author of Rebecca. The first book I picked up was an abysmal sequel called Mrs. DeWinter that not only had none of the magic of Rebecca, but gave me a weird lasting impression of Mrs. Danvers hanging out in a tiny room in a house on a country lane surrounded by Rebecca's clothes... odd and, just, well odd. Years later, with new hope I picked up Justine Picardie's Daphne. This book which alternated between an unknown modern Bronte historian and Daphne Du Maurier and her Branwell Bronte obsession left much to be desired. Therefore when I heard about this series by Joanna Challis I was excited and trepidatious.

Murder on the Cliffs is easily the best meta Daphne Du Maurier fiction I have yet to read, and as you see, I have read quite a few. I will admit that, oddly, Daphne Du Maurier would be the most likely of all authors fictionalized to have actually had a secret career as sleuth just because there is so much we don't know about her life, and there's just so many secrets about her relationships and her sexuality... Of course, there is a certain suspension of disbelief that I had to force myself to accept when I would volubly say, oh, Gerald wouldn't do that, or, what about Menabilly, f this Padthaway, Maderley is based on Menabilly pure and simple. But sometimes the suspension was just too great. The main problem I had was with the few little glimpses we had of Gerald Du Maurier, her larger then life father. Their relationship would be easily classified in the "eww" category. There where many suggestions of incest and sexual molestation, later in Daphne's life she took up her father's ex lover, and there was his very strong dislike of anyone she was involved with. Therefore to have Gerald actively suggesting that Daphne get herself married... well, um, no. Thankfully, Joanna really relegated Gerald to the background so that I was able to push this aside.

Overall though the characters had such life and vitality, all with a slight nod and wink to Daphne's oeuvre. I mean, sure, Daphne's worship of men seemed a little forced, but the way she sparred with "Mr. Brown" was fabulous, especially if you know that this man is, in actuality, her future husband. Joanna was able to take some of the bones of Du Maurier and make them different, more fleshed out, but able to relate to the original text in such a way that it was a fun time getting little jokes, like Castle Mor. Characterization-wise, the apparent arrested development of Daphne and Lianne was a little annoying at times. You would never think that they were 21 and 15 respectively. With Lianne, it's kind of part of the character, with Daphne though... maybe it is a subtle way in which to bring out the possible abuse by retarding her development in some ways? Finally, the Bastion twins, if ever there was a Bronte homage that Du Maurier would approve of, this was it. With their Cathy and Heathcliff mentality, aw, just too perfect for an author who was beyond obsessed with the Brontes. Daphne would smile at this... or at least smirk.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Joanna Challis

"What do I love about the golden 20's? It is truly a glamorous and fun time especially needed after the horrors of the Great War (WWI). I adore Poirot mysteries so built this series with a blend of the two : frivolity, fashion and intrigue - a deadly combination." - Joanna Challis

Joanna Challis is a true kindred spirit to me and many others. She is a lover of old manor houses, endless castles, wild English Gardens, ruins, all things Gothic, and dusty bookstores. Joanna is a voracious reader who could never consume enough and turned to writing herself, penning her first unpublishable 800 page novel at 15. Luckily she continued to write and not only has a book that was a finalist for the Romance Writers of Australia's 2004 Romantic Book of the Year Award, but a few set in Cornwall... notably Murder on the Cliffs, about a young Daphne Du Maurier solving a murder mystery.

While she now lives in Australia, her heart resides on the cliffs of Cornwall, much as Daphne's always did. I am beyond excited to have someone with such similar loves (check out her favorite things) on my blog for my Golden Summer, and I hope you'll give a hearty welcome to Joanna Challis!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book Review - Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Published by: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: September 10th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Cath Avery is off to a rough start at college. Not only does her twin sister Wren not want to be roommates, but she's saddled with the sarcastic and cynical Reagan as her roommate, and Reagan's ever present Levi. Plus she doesn't know where the dining hall is. All Cath wants to do is bury herself in school while working on her Simon Snow fanfic, Carry On Simon. Simon Snow might just be one of the reasons Wren is distancing herself from her sister, as that young wizard and there made-up stories are their juvenile past, not their adult future. But Cath doesn't care, she just wants to write about Simon and Baz. Though her Professor doesn't think that fanfic is anything other then plagiarism. Add in a crush on Levi, the girl's father Arthur having a breakdown, and Wren developing a drinking problem, and it's not surprising that Cath might not "carry on" but move back home and hide from the world.      

I had read online about this new book coming out and I dutifully went to Barnes and Noble and picked it up and brought it home and watched as it was subsumed into my "to be read" pile. The book was getting good reviews, why else would I buy it? And then my friends started reading it, and that's when the real pressure started. You must read this book, the author is the one true successor to John Hughes! The perfect book for Harry Potter fans, and you're a Harry Potter fan so get on it! The five star and occasional four star reviews started littering my goodreads page and I realized that the time had come to bite the bullet. The time had come to read Fangirl. 

I can see why Fangirl has been so recommended to me, but there's another part of me that thinks, naw, it wasn't all that. The book is banking on nostalgia, and it all really depends on if you are in the mood to look back. Do you want to remember what those first few months of college were like? Do you want to remember when a book's release was your entire world? Sometimes yes. Yes I do. Other times? I don't. I waffled while reading Fangirl, part of me was revelling in the past, while another part of me was thinking things struck a little too close to home and that perhaps reading it while in the darkest depths of holiday melancholia is not the way to enjoy a book. 

One thing though I will dispute till my dying day is this book isn't John Hughes, this book is Pauly Shore. No seriously, think about it. John Hughes, in his classic films, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, all deal with the high school experience. Whereas Paul Shore in Son in Law is all about the harsh realities of adjusting to college life and dorm life in particular till you finally just embrace the weird. Just swap out Nebraska for it's neighboring state of South Dakota and viola! Pauly Shore is the voice of a generation just as John Hughes was. A slightly more annoying version, but I defy you to not watch a few minutes of Son in Law if you find it on television late one night. And I double dog dare you to not find some kindred link between the movie and this book.

Getting back to topics more directly related to the book and not involving Pauly Shore, I would say that I strongly identify as a "Fan Girl." Look at my office and you'll find Doctor Who and Firefly and Red Dwarf and Harry Potter. I go to Wizard World Comic Con and "stalk" stars. I go to book signings and covet books from my favorite authors. You will get my signed copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when you prize it from my cold hands! Yet I am not of the fanfic Fan Girl variety. I fell between the gaps on this. I didn't stay home as a kid writing new Doctor Who episodes in lined journals hoping to be a writer on the show. Yeah, I drew the occasional TARDIS on my notebooks, but that's as far as that went.

As for the true fanfic generation, they are younger then me. Kids that were actually kids when Harry Potter was released. Kids who were web and Internet savvy in the womb who went straight home from school to log on and write about Draco and Harry and what their newest adventure was. Or if you're Cassandra Clare, steal it from one of those kids. I know about this culture, I'm just not a part of this aspect of it. Plus, well, I'm not without issues to this either. I've been known to write in the voice of others, it's a talent that some people possess, and obviously Cath excels at it. But I'm with her teacher, Professor Piper, it's not a substitute for real writing. It's an exercise in writing but it can never be anything more. Unless you somehow land a book contract with BBC Books and end up writing official Doctor Who books... then we'll talk.

But did this book wow me? Did it dazzle my eyes and make me sing it's praises. No, it kind of let me down. It embraces my geeky nature, but an offshoot to which I don't belong. It calls to the graphic designer in me with the depiction of Arthur Avery, but his obsessive nature and mental instability was just too real for me. I've come very close to the precipice that he lives on and I like to be entertained when I read, not to look in a warped mirror of might-have-been or might-still-become. Plus the sacrifice of life versus caring for a parent? Yeah, that stung. And little details eventually started to get under my skin till I wanted to scream. Had Levi ever heard of Audible? Seriously, if you "can't read" you find a better way then someone reading aloud to you. Also, little Britishisms! Um, does Rainbow Rowell know about the "Carry On" franchise? Cause that's all about music hall and lowbrow comedy. It's all about the bawdy and all I can think of is if the characters in any of those productions heard about Simon and Baz there response would be "Oh, er, naughty!" My response to this book's hype? "Er, whatever."

Monday, September 9, 2013

Technical Difficulties

Please be patient (I know I'm trying), but there's something that google and blogger messed up wherein my header isn't front and center and is pushing the content usually on the right to the very very very bottom left. So just a note to say I'm aware of the situation and have contacted them to try to get it back in tip top shape in no time! Cheers to all you lovely blog readers!

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King
Published by: Bantam
Publication Date: September 10th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 432 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"New York Times bestselling author Laurie R. King, beloved for her acclaimed Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, consistently writes richly detailed and thoroughly suspenseful novels that bring a distant time and place to brilliant life. Now, in this thrilling new book, King leads readers into the vibrant and sensual Paris of the Jazz Age—and reveals the darkest secrets of its denizens.

Paris, France: September 1929. For Harris Stuyvesant, the assignment is a private investigator’s dream—he’s getting paid to troll the cafés and bars of Montparnasse, looking for a pretty young woman. The American agent has a healthy appreciation for la vie de bohème, despite having worked for years at the U.S. Bureau of Investigation. The missing person in question is Philippa Crosby, a twenty-two year old from Boston who has been living in Paris, modeling and acting. Her family became alarmed when she stopped all communications, and Stuyvesant agreed to track her down. He wholly expects to find her in the arms of some up-and-coming artist, perhaps experimenting with the decadent lifestyle that is suddenly available on every rue and boulevard.

As Stuyvesant follows Philippa’s trail through the expatriate community of artists and writers, he finds that she is known to many of its famous—and infamous—inhabitants, from Shakespeare and Company’s Sylvia Beach to Ernest Hemingway to the Surrealist photographer Man Ray. But when the evidence leads Stuyvesant to the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Montmartre, his investigation takes a sharp, disturbing turn. At the Grand-Guignol, murder, insanity, and sexual perversion are all staged to shocking, brutal effect: depravity as art, savage human nature on stage.

Soon it becomes clear that one missing girl is a drop in the bucket. Here, amid the glittering lights of the cabarets, hides a monster whose artistic coup de grâce is to be rendered in blood. And Stuyvesant will have to descend into the darkest depths of perversion to find a killer . . . sifting through The Bones of Paris."

Oh, sounds like Midnight in Paris but with murder! YEAH!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Author as Sleuth

While by now you have heard from many authors and read my reviews to see that there are plenty of great books out there to appease the beast inside that needs mysteries set during their Golden Age, there is an interesting phenomenon that is occurring within this genre. What I am talking about is an author as the sleuth. Not the one writing the book, no, that is a bit too meta, but that famous authors of the twenties and later, not necessarily even in the detective genre, are now going about solving crimes. The first book I read in this interesting sub-genre was J.J. Murphy's Murder Your Darlings. In this book the witty writer, Dorothy Parker, goes about cracking wise and solving murders. Since then I have kept my eyes open, not just for another J.J. Murphy book, which I always do now, but other books of this ilk. I have stumbled upon both Joanna Challis and Nicola Upson. Challis' books are about a young Daphne Du Maurier, who definitely was of the mysterious writer vein, and Nicola Upson writes about that most famous of Golden Age mystery writers, Josephine Tey. While I'm sure there are more out there that I have yet to discover, I chose two of the authors to profile, sadly the first Tey mystery wasn't set till the thirties, so, like Tey herself, is on the tail end of the Golden Age, and was therefore excluded from this section, though I really recommend them. So, without further ado, I bring you the crime solving exploits of a young Daphne Du Maurier and Dorothy Parker.

And don't forget to check back often as I'll have guest posts from these authors, and don't forget to enter the giveaway. You want free books right?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book Review - Kerry Greenwood's Flying Too High

Flying Too High (Phryne Fisher Book 2) by Kerry Greenwood
Published by: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: 1990
Format: Hardcover, 245 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Something is in the air and it seems to be effecting local pilots associated with The Sky-High Flying School. Bill McNaughton has been arrested for the murder of his father, William, and Henry Maldon's daughter Candida has been kidnapped. In an odd twist of fate, Phryne Fisher was called in to prevent the murder of William McNaughton, Bill's father... though sometimes things don't go to plan. Looking into William's death she realizes that he was a horrid man who abused both his wife and his daughter and, in a just world, his killer could get away with it. Sadly though, in order to save Bill, she must figure out what really did happen, because though he deserved to die, Bill is innocent, not matter what the local police think.

Then there's Candida. Plucked off the street with her bag of sweets falling into the gutter. Candida's father recently won some money in the lottery, money that is now gone thanks to buying a new home and purchasing a plane for the flying school. Though the kidnappers don't know that he is skint. Believing in wealth, they put up with Candida and her demanding ways, she did vomit quite a lot on one of the culprits. Because of helping Bill, Henry Maldon risks calling Phryne for help. She's not the police so he's not going against what the kidnappers said. Phryne knows that they have to act swiftly and comes up with quite a daring and dangerous rescue plan. Here's hoping she can pull it off and get justice for all who deserve it.

Yet again I was struck by how much I just loved this book with it's perfect balancing of the fun and frivolous with the dark and disturbed. There's something so much more that you get that isn't in the television series, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, though I dare say, the series is lovely in it's own rights. Flying Too High is not afraid to have sympathetic bad guys and unlikable good guys. There's a non-traditional feel to the narrative that makes it fresh and original. All this though comes through Phryne. It's her unique views on the world that inspire this non-traditional feel. She has interesting notions of justice which she carries out. Just because someone has been forced into a life of crime doesn't mean they are a bad person. If need be, she will be fluid with the truth if it will help that person out. Likewise, the kidnapping, which is a trope that everyone falls victim to, was made more interesting and original by the fact that Candida handled her situation in a more rational and thoughtful manner and was surrounded by criminals that had more depth, motive, and originality then your random thug. This also led to a very interesting solution cooked up by Phryne. Instead of either a) going to the police against the kidnappers wishes or b) bungling the counter plan that isn't police approved or sanctioned, she goes with c) a plan that works brilliantly.

Also, for some reason, this book really made me think more of the victim of a crime. Here I'm talking about the murder of William McNaughton. At the beginning when his wife is pleading to have his life saved, you think that he's probably a good, upstanding citizen, whose wife loves him dearly and would do anything to save him. You think of him as the good man in a bad situation. Of course, in short order your views are rapidly changing, doing a complete 180. Which brings me to my thought of the day. Why meet out justice for the bad guys? I mean, yes, it's what is legally and morally right, solve the crime no matter who the victim was... but this is fiction. Which led me to another thought. How many times have I sat around watching a murder mystery and been rooting for someone to die? Take Midsomer Murders, I often root for the death and then the more death and more death, but in the end, the killer is just as guilty and evil as the victim. Here, finding out after the death of the man's rotten soul, well, I just wanted the killer to get away. I'm not sure if this is because, like Phryne, I found out after the fact of him being evil, or because of some weird notions I have from watching one too many episodes of Midsomer Murders that if you die you deserve it. Whichever way you look at it, it made me think and made me that much more absorbed in the book.

Now, even though I have for the purposes of my Golden Summer finished reading Phryne, I have a feeling I won't be letting her rest much longer on my shelves. There's just something so compelling in these books, something that I just didn't expect, that makes me want to read more and more of them, thankfully I have quite a few! As it says on the back cover "Imagine Emma Peel as a flapper, and you have Phryne Fisher." While I think Phryne deserves better then comparisons, this is an apt one. She has the same physicality, the same sense of justice, the same remarkable wardrobe. Also the same awesome house. I didn't mention her new house yet did I? She literally bought a house whose address is 221 and then added the "B" because she thought it would be fun on the business cards. That and it's a gorgeous townhouse, with a floor all for Dot AND the funniest servants in Mr and Mrs Butler that one could hope for. I wish I could be invited round for tea just once... but then I'd end up solving crimes and hanging out with Bert and Cec... wait... I don't really see a downside to this plan... it must be put into action now!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde
Published by: Harcourt Children's Books
Publication Date: September 3rd, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Magic has been in a sad state in the Ununited Kingdom for years, but now it’s finally on the rise, and boneheaded King Snodd IV knows it. If he succeeds at his plot, the very future of magic will be at risk! Sensible sixteen-year-old Jennifer Strange, acting manager of Kazam Mystical Arts Management and its unpredictable crew of sorcerers, has little chance against the king and his cronies—but there’s no way Kazam will let go of the noble powers of magic without a fight. A suspenseful, satirical story of Quarkbeasts, trolls, and wizidrical crackle!"

So happy that the US is finally getting the Jasper Fforde Last Dragonslayer books, or apparently "The Chronicles of Kazam" as they are now called. Also, our editions are far prettier then the British ones, just saying... oh, and Jasper book tour, yeah!

Rose by Holly Webb
Published by: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Publication Date: September 3rd, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A Little Princess meets Downton Abbey in this spellbinding new mystery adventure series

Rose isn't like the other orphans at St Bridget's Home for Abandoned Girls. Instead of dreaming of getting adopted by loving, wealthy parents, Rose wants to get a job and be independent. She doesn't need anyone but herself. She finds her escape working as a maid for Mr. Fountain, an alchemist. Unable to ignore the magic that flows throughout the grand residence, Rose realizes that just maybe, she might have a little bit of magic in her too. This new series featuring magicians, witches, talking cats, mist-monsters, and friendships will have young readers in a trance!"

The description has totally sold me on this!

Chimes at Midnight by Seanan McGuire
Published by: DAW
Publication Date: September 3rd, 2013
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Things are starting to look up for October "Toby" Daye. She's training her squire, doing her job, and has finally allowed herself to grow closer to the local King of Cats. It seems like her life may finally be settling down...at least until dead changelings start appearing in the alleys of San Francisco, killed by an overdose of goblin fruit.

Toby's efforts to take the problem to the Queen of the Mists are met with harsh reprisals, leaving her under sentence of exile from her home and everyone she loves. Now Toby must find a way to reverse the Queens decree, get the goblin fruit off the streets--and, oh, yes, save her own life, since more than a few of her problems have once again followed her home. And then there's the question of the Queen herself, who seems increasingly unlikely to have a valid claim to the throne....

To find the answers, October and her friends will have to travel from the legendary Library of Stars into the hidden depths of the Kingdom of the Mists--and they'll have to do it fast, because time is running out. In faerie, some fates are worse than death.

October Daye is about to find out what they are."

A new October Daye book... which reminds me, still haven't gotten the last one. I'm really falling behind on some of my book buying.

Would-Be Witch by Kimberly Frost
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: September 3rd, 2013
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the small town of Duvall, Texas, the only thing that causes more trouble than gossip is magic.

The family magic seems to have skipped over Tammy Jo Trask. All she gets in the way of the supernatural are a few untimely visits from the long-dead, smart-mouthed family ghost Edie. But when her locket—an heirloom that happens to hold Edie’s soul—is stolen in the midst of a town-wide crime spree, it’s time for Tammy to find her inner witch.

After a few bad experiences with her magic, Tammy turns to the only one who can help: the very rich and highly magical Bryn Lyons. He might have all the answers, but the locket isn’t the only thing passed down in Tammy’s family. She also inherited a warning…to stay away from anyone named Lyons…"

This is actually a re-release. But what an improvement on the cover! Seriously, I bought this book when it first came out and will totally re-buy for these covers.

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