Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Book Review 2017 #1 - Jane Austen's Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Published by: Doubleday
Publication Date: 1814
Format: Hardcover, 496 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Fanny Price is a burden to her poor and ever expanding family. Her two maternal aunts decide to help their disadvantageously married sister by taking Fanny in at Mansfield Park, separating the young girl from the only family she has ever known and her beloved brother William. She is to be raised with her four cousins, Tom, Edmund, Maria, and Julia. Given all the advantages they have but never once allowed by her aunt, Mrs. Norris, to ever think herself their equal. If it wasn't for the kindness of her cousin Edmund to that undersized ten year old Fanny would have despaired. Instead she has grown up knowing her place and hopelessly in love with Edmund. But it is the eldest, Tom, who is causing trouble. He has racked up debts that require his father to sell the living of the local parsonage that was to be Edmund's and the Grants move in. This wouldn't have been a catastrophic event except for what happened next. Fanny's uncle, Sir Thomas Bertam, was called away to Antigua, taking Tom with him. The power vacuum at Mansfield Park was filled by Mrs. Norris. She sees this time as coming into her own, she finds a dunderhead of a fiance for Maria, and encourages an intimacy with the parsonage, an intimacy which is far more interesting to the inhabitants of Mansfield Park when Mrs. Grant's two siblings, Henry and Mary Crawford arrive. Mrs. Norris hopes to marry Henry to Julia and Mary, well Mary initially thinks only of Tom, until she begins to see what Fanny sees in Edmund. But the trouble caused with Henry and his ever roving eye, going from Julia to Maria to Fanny will change Mansfield Park forever.

When I first read Mansfield Park I took a bizarre pride in being one of the few to actually love it more than Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. I thought anyone who didn't view it as Austen's best work was deluded and therefore not worth my time. I have often felt myself against the Austen mainstream. Bucking treads and going my own way and listening to my heart and not to academic discourse. Because if there's one thing I can be certain of it's that Jane Austen herself would despise many of the people who populate the higher ranks of her so-called "societies." So for years I held firmly to my beliefs of the superiority of my tastes without giving thought to how much change is inflicted by time and circumstance. When I first re-read Mansfield Park I felt like I had been slapped. It was a rude awakening to not find the book I loved at eighteen. But since then I've realized that each re-reading of Austen leads to a fluctuation in my rankings and this time wasn't any different. I was again back to embracing Fanny and adoring Mansfield Park. What I realized is that why I connected to Mansfield Park as a teenager and why I reconnected to it now was because both times in my life I was facing similar issues. I was going through a time where I felt slighted, imposed upon, where I was nothing more than a tool to be of use to other people. I was part of their life but I didn't have one of my own. My identity was subsumed into theirs, nothing more than a dogsbody. Just like Mrs. Norris treats poor Fanny. Oh Fanny, how I feel your pain all over again. The rest of your readers labeling you as dull don't get what it's like to live your life. I do and I am united with you, the constant, put-upon servant. I hope I'm just as lucky in my happily ever after.

While I was reconnecting to Fanny and her small world that is perfectly contained and intimate, I, as well as Austen, was ruminating on how the wider world works in general but also the world's influence on small family groupings. In particular the idea of selling off your child and how that child fits into a new family dynamic. While yes, I will grudgingly admit that with Antigua there is an underscoring of slavery, the real slavery Austen was interested in here is adoption. And while she might have been telling the story about Fanny's adoption into her cousins' family, I think it was actually a thinly veiled reference to her own life. Jane's brother Edward was "presented" to his wealthy relatives Thomas and Catherine Knight, the same relatives who gave Jane's father the living at Steventon, when he was twelve and Jane was five. Edward became their legal heir and left Jane's family unit. How might this have effected young Jane? Could she have written Mansfield Park as a way to handle this trauma in her life? I personally think she did. Because while everything turned out alright for Fanny as it did for her brother Edward, one might say that the first half of Mansfield Park is her real feelings and the second half is her hopes and dreams. In the beginning Mansfield Park is really a scathing indictment of what it is to live under the roof of relatives who view you as lesser than. Again and again Fanny is pushed aside and put-upon. And that doesn't even cover the emotional underpinnings of being separated from her beloved brother William. There is alienation and longing just seeping off these pages. Part of me thinks it's a little cruel of Jane to write a book that her family couldn't help but see as reflecting their own lives, but then in the end she flips it. The life Fanny left wasn't worth living. This is where I think Jane goes a little fanciful. She wishes so much for this happily ever after to be the case that the turn around is more a fairy tale than realism. But I hope she realized that her brother, in the end, like Fanny had a good long life.

This then leads into the complication of a nature versus nurture scenario. Fanny comes out the best of all the young females raised in the Bertram household. She is well behaved, loved, and gets the man of her dreams. Whereas Julie elopes and Maria, well Maria leaves he wealthy husband for Henry Crawford who then tires of her so she must leave him and live the rest of her life in seclusion. If we can assume they all had the same base nature we see that the cossetting of Maria by Mrs. Norris and her constant grinding of Fanny under her boot-heel had the exact opposite effect. Tom was likewise going to the bad but his severe illness reformed him. Therefore Mansfield Park is showing us again and again that it's the nurturing that matters. That hardship and strife make for a better person. Look even to Fanny's own siblings, those that are overly loved, like her youngest sister, are beyond hope, but Susan, the sister who is ignored and put-upon, she is worthy and therefore comes and joins the inhabitants of Mansfield Park. But while it is shown in all the cousins it is magnified and expanded upon with the Crawfords. Henry and Mary were raised by an uncle with very lax values. After his wife, their aunt died he brought his mistress under his roof, therefore exposing Henry and Mary to this want of propriety. Again and again they are shown to lack a moral compass. They say things that are painful for Fanny to hear. In fact, their complete want to sympathy even leads Mary to hope that Tom dies so that Edmund, whom she loves as best she can, will be a man worthy of her. What I find interesting is that Austen tries to make you forget for awhile that the Crawfords are undesirables due to their nurturing. They are "reformed" and viewed as eligible spouses. But in the end their character will out. As Edmund laments, if Mary had just been raised differently, her kind nature could have overcome all. Poor Edmund, but lucky Fanny.

That is lucky Fanny if you really like Edmund. In fact while most people refer to this romantic duo as sticks-in-the-mud I think that they are being unfairly lumped together, most likely because mud is sticky. The truth is the problem doesn't lie with Fanny, it lies with Edmund. He's just wallowing in the mud. Oh Edmund, I want to like you, but Fanny formed an early attachment to you from some small kindnesses and now we're stuck with you as our hero. The fact is Edmund is more than a little too preachy for my tastes. In the beginning he's always pointing things out to Fanny about how she should feel, how she should think about a situation. He forms her sense and her sensibility and then what does he do? He throws it all out the window when it comes to himself. He points out all the flaws that Mary's character contains and then promptly falls in love and she's an angel. Hence the drop back to reality at the end really amuses me. But the truth is if he had just practiced what he preached that scenario would never have happened. Fanny is stalwart. She sees the flaws, and, oh dear, the pain she feels as Edmund is always making excuses and backpedaling. Fanny can never fully like Mary, not just because she is her romantic rival, but because she is a flawed individual that isn't worthy of Edmund. What is interesting is that Austen never redeems the Crawfords. She toys with us that she might, but in the end, they are literally the white trash of the time with the loosest morals around. And while, as a writer, it would be fun to play a preacher against a loose woman, as a reader being one with the character who is on the outside looking in, it's just painful. And Edmund causing such pain to Fanny? Makes you dislike him all the more. He's such a hypocrite!

But as much as Edmund annoys me I can overlook many of his flaws when comparing him to Henry Crawford. Because Henry Crawford is a far more troublesome character. It's not that he's basically an idiot, it's that we're expected to believe that he has reformed. That he actually "fell" for Fanny. I don't for a second believe this. I think it was a game to him to start with, which he clearly admits, but I don't think if ever became real. I don't think he ever loved Fanny. I think he loved the idea of falling for Fanny and fooled himself into believing it was the truth. He loved the concept not the actuality. He loved the challenge of capturing the heart of the only woman he'd ever met who didn't fall for him. Austen seems to say that Fanny would have been at risk if her heart hadn't already been taken by another. I call BS! With Fanny's morals she could never have fallen for Henry's insincere flatteries. And the thing is I just don't know how to handle this turn-around. Did Austen actually want us to believe it? Like how she tried in vain to redeem Willoughby at the last minute in Sense and Sensibility? At least with Willoughby it makes a kind of sense, because the connection between him and Marianne was something that was real, was palpable to the reader. Here it's just hollow gestures. And then, when he runs of with Maria at the end? We're supposed to believe that he just couldn't help himself? I'm sorry, but if he actually did love Fanny then he would NEVER have done such a thing. And to have Mary blaming Fanny for Henry's wayward behaviour? Yes, I know it's meant to put the final nail in the coffin of Mary and Edmund, but still... of all that happens in books that I am able to believe as true, from magic to dragons, I can not nor will I ever believe Henry Crawford's turn-around.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Grabe's a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley
Published by: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: January 30th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the wake of an unthinkable family tragedy, twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce is struggling to fill her empty days. For a needed escape, Dogger, the loyal family servant, suggests a boating trip for Flavia and her two older sisters. As their punt drifts past the church where a notorious vicar had recently dispatched three of his female parishioners by spiking their communion wine with cyanide, Flavia, an expert chemist with a passion for poisons, is ecstatic. Suddenly something grazes her fingers as she dangles them in the water. She clamps down on the object, imagining herself Ernest Hemingway battling a marlin, and pulls up what she expects will be a giant fish. But in Flavia’s grip is something far better: a human head, attached to a human body. If anything could take Flavia’s mind off sorrow, it is solving a murder—although one that may lead the young sleuth to an early grave."

I adore Flavia. I adore how she is always able to find trouble around every corner... she's like the 12 year old Jessica Fletcher. 

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albery
Published by: Flatiron Books
Publication Date: January 30th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong."

Cult author dies? YES! 

Poet Anderson... In Darkness by Tom DeLonge and Suzanne Young
Published by: To the Stars
Publication Date: January 30th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Multi-platinum recording artist and Blink-182 founder Tom DeLonge once again teams up with New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Young to continue the award-winning, critically-acclaimed transmedia project—Poet Anderson—inspired by a Stanford University study on how your dreams can effect your reality.

In the Waking World, Jonas Anderson works as a doorman for the Eden Hotel, dividing his free time between seeing his girlfriend, Samantha Birnham-Wood, and visiting his comatose brother Alan. In the Dream World, he is Poet Anderson, a Dream Walker, a guardian of the Dreamscape charged with protecting sleeping innocents from the nightmares that threaten both worlds.

But Jonas remains tormented by his own nightmare—his failure to rescue Alan from the Dreamscape and free him from his coma. Together, Jonas and Alan fought side-by-side against the night terror entity known as REM. Even though they defeated the vicious monster, Alan continues to waste away in a hospital bed while Jonas’ guilt eats away at his soul.

REM may have lost a battle, but the war continues. His Night Stalkers roam the Dreamscape, hunting for Jonas and the other poets capable of traversing the waking and dreaming realms. And now, demonic shadow creatures are possessing the spirits of dreamers and using their bodies to enter the Waking World.

Jonas can no longer avoid his destiny. To save reality from the maelstrom of nightmares, Poet Anderson will have to sacrifice the Dreamscape..."

I'm pretty on top of it when it comes to anything book related, so HOW did I not know that Tom DeLonge is now a writer!?! 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Book Review 2017 #2 - Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Published by: Max Press
Publication Date: 1811
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Elinor is pragmatic about the death of their father. They have lost their home and they will find a new one and carry on. Her younger sister Marianne has opted for another approach, misery exponentially increased by any dear memory of her father and the beloved house they all shared. Their mother is perfectly happy wallowing with Marianne while watching her step-son and his odious wife Fanny destroy Norland Park, that is until that odious Fanny insinuates that Elinor isn't good enough for her brother Edward and Mrs. Dashwood can not remove them fast enough from Norland Park. Thanks to kind relations they are able to leave the odious behind and settle at Barton Cottage, part of Barton Park were Mrs. Dashwood's cousin Sir John Middleton resides. There they have a new social circle of relatives and friends and Marianne is drawn to one in particular, Willoughby. Willoughy is the same in all her sensibilities and they are soon as thick as thieves and their engagement is expected to be announced daily, much to Colonel Brandon's dismay. Yet the announcement never comes and Willoughby takes off to London and they hear no more from him. So when Sir John's mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings, invites the two girls to accompany her to London Marianne jumps at the chance. But London will be a proving ground for the young girls hearts. Will either of them find a happily ever after or are their hearts destined to be forever broken by their first loves?

It seems odd to me that in a high school that actually had a good English department where I read many classics I never read any Jane Austen. By the friends I made through various bizarre and arcane clubs I was introduced to her via the Colin Firth miniseries in February of my senior year. This was on my level, being more into films than books at the tender age of seventeen, it was the perfect bridge from one art form to another. At that time I was adamant that I wasn't going to college in the fall, and I in fact didn't, but that doesn't mean I was averse to learning and reading and I took it upon myself that summer to acquaint myself with the classics, many of which had been made into films starring Emma Thompson. She was a powerful bridge to Austen and also to Forster, though the most powerful of all was anything to do with Monty Python. The summer of 1996 was spent on my side porch reading classics I never thought I would ever pick up. Though it was to Austen I felt the most visceral a connection. Sense and Sensibility was the first book of hers that I read and I remember towards the end reading it in my bedroom because of the copious sobbing that accompanied my reading. When Edward arrived at Barton cottage to declare his freedom and his desire to marry Elinor, I just sat in my window sobbing. I never knew a book could do this to me. I was forever converted to Austen and through her I found the love of classics that my family always wished for me.

Do to what is happening in my life at the moment I've been feeling old. Which might account for why I noticed the characters ages so much on this reading of Sense and Sensibility. When I first read this book I was the same age as Marianne is for most of the story so I could feel a kinship with her and totally identify to being that age, even if I like to think of myself more as Elinor. As I've grown older I've still felt that kinship, that connection, but never internalized the ages of the characters as a did on that first reading. Marianne and Elinor are young, Colonel Brandon and Mrs. Dashwood are old. Or so I've always thought. For the first time ever I noticed their ages. The flannel waistcoat wearing Colonel is 35 and Mrs. Dashwood is about 40. Which gave me an "oh dear" moment. I am OLDER than Colonel Brandon who was thought too old for love and closing in fast on Mrs. Dashwood. Yes, I could say that obviously people married younger in Regency times because the life expectancy was shorter, but I literally have friends I went to high school with with kids in college. If my life had taken an entirely different and unexpected route I am old enough to have an Elinor and Marianne and Margaret of my own! So needless to say I felt myself on this realization seeing things more from the "elderly" point of view. Oh, Colonel Brandon, you are a youngin...

Comparing Sense and Sensibility to Austen's other work is interesting in that despite having a plethora of female characters to root for she usually has one heroine, an Emma or a Lizzy, yet here she has two. Given that one is so reserved and the other so melodramatic it's as if she's split her heroine in half. Yes, we could analyze that her book originally necessitated two leads because it was written in epistolary fashion before being dramatically changed in the edits, but I think it's more fascinating to look at this in the classical sense, as in Plato's Symposium. Mary Shelley was strongly influenced by Aristophanes' myth of primal man being cut in two necessitating two beings that need each other because they originally were one when writing Frankenstein. Who's to say that Austen wasn't as well. Some reviewers note that as the book progresses Austen isn't sure which personality aspect she wants to win the day. Should Elinor and her logic or Marianne and her emotion get the HEA? I don't see this. I think that while yes, Elinor's ending might be more satisfying, they both get the endings that Austen intended all along. But what's more important is that each learns valuable lessons from the other, who they need. Marianne needs some of Elinor's grounding, while Elinor needs to not bury her emotions so deep. If they were one we'd have the perfect heroine. But perfect heroines are overrated, I need mine with some flaws so I can root for them.

But just having people to root for isn't nearly as fun as having someone to root against. Lucy Steele is that person. What's interesting is that each time I read this book I get a different take on Lucy. Obviously you can't NOT hate her, she's keeping Elinor and Edward from their HEA. But there's so many different faces to Lucy, the fake friend, the gold digger, the manipulator. She's ambitious and jealous and won't take no for an answer. I mean just the way she controls Elinor with her confession of her secret attachment to Edward! Gaw, she should die for that. Oh, let me destroy all your faith in the man you love AND make you suffer in silence because you're such a good person you'd never tell another soul! And then as a parting blow, let her think I married Edward and not his brother, ta! Yet for all that one thing that Edward and Elinor always remarked on didn't seem that much of an issue to me, and that is Lucy's lack of an education. Yes, it meant she was limited, but it wasn't until this reading that I really caught how stupid she is. Her speech is grammatically incorrect and her overuse of the word "was" is just annoying and wrong. I think the reason this had never struck me before is that if you haven't read Austen, well, it's kind of like Shakespeare in that you have to get into the groove of the writing style. So obviously when I first read it I wouldn't have picked up on it. All the other readings, well, I wasn't the grammar Nazi I am now. So this time? Oh Lucy, I hate you for a whole slew of new reasons.

Yet the character that I hate the most is Willoughby. And this is a hate that has grown over time. I remember when I first saw Emma Thompson's adaptation of Sense and Sensibility I felt cheated that she didn't keep the scene where he "redeems" himself. He really wasn't that bad in my mind. Now I can see why she didn't, he doesn't deserve ANY redemption. The reason is all in his seduction of Eliza. Reading this book for the first time at 17 an unwanted pregnancy didn't seem that horrific. In fact, they were kind of popularized by movies like For Keeps? Interesting fact, it was filmed here in Madison, Wisconsin. OK, Molly Ringwald and her ironically Darcy named heroine aside, I just didn't think it was a big deal having a baby. Because I didn't understand Regency England. Colonel Brandon's ward having a baby out of wedlock is the worst thing that could happen to any woman. To be seduced and left with a parting gift that would arrive nine months later is the most vile thing I man can do, especially to a well bred woman, and even more especially when he could have just paid a prostitute. It was the game of destroying her that made if more fun, no matter what he said after the fact about her TOTALLY having his address, because he could have made it right! Once discovered by his benefactress he could have married Eliza and made everything right in the world. Instead he marries an heiress and regrets not marrying Marianne and never gives another thought to Eliza. He deserves NO FORGIVENESS! NONE AT ALL! If this book has one flaw it's that Austen feels a little bad for him. She wrote him that way, she can't now apologize for it!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Book Review 2017 #3 - Natasha Pulley's The Bedlam Stacks

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley
Published by: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: August 1st, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★ 
To Buy

Merrick Tremayne worries he may be going insane. Yes, prolonged removal from society for recuperation on his family estate in Cornwall doesn't help, but he has precedence; his mother went insane at about his age and is locked up in an asylum. A very nice asylum, but an asylum nonetheless. She claims she saw a stone statue move and Merrick is sure that he has just seen the same thing. Therefore the arrival of his old comrade in arms, Sir Clements Markham from the East India Company with his wife Minna is a welcome diversion. Clem wants Merrick to go with him to Peru and smuggle out some cinchona cuttings because India is in desperate need of quinine, which is made from the bark of the cinchona trees, and the Company is sick of paying the Peruvian monopoly. Merrick is uncertain, before his injury he wouldn't have questioned his ability to pull off this heist, but now? Yet Clem is insistent that the expedition needs Merrick. Their destination is New Bethlehem, lovingly christened Bedlam. The Tremayne family has a connection to that town going back generations. Merrick's grandfather lived there for awhile learning to speak Quechua. Therefore if their cover as "mapmakers" is exposed Merrick's connection might save their lives. Merrick accepts. Mainly because if he is going insane he might as well go out with one last great adventure. With their guide, Raphael, who is the local priest in Bedlam, Merrick learns that what is commonly accepted by the world at large isn't necessarily so once you get off the beaten track. There is danger in the woods, statues that are revered, and a mystery surrounding Raphael... how could this young man have known Merrick's grandfather for a start?

I love magical realism. I love seeing the world we know and love with that little something extra. That spark of magic that makes everything just that much more marvelous. Most people think of magical realism in a modern setting yet, when you think about it, my most favorite subgenre of all, Regency Magic, is magical realism but set in an historical setting. Because I love nothing more than magical historical fiction. Seriously, I can't think of a combination of all the disparate things I love coming together perfectly than in this motley blend. Which is why I love The Bedlam Stacks. Sure, it's set some twenty-two to thirty-nine years after the Regency, depending on whether you believe the Regency ended when Queen Victoria took the throne or before, but it has all those wonderful elements that I love about Regency Magic. There's the real, human need for quinine, but there's also the deeper human need for fables and folk tales and how they come to be. This gives The Bedlam Stacks a mythical quality. There's what is real and what people believe to be real. And Sir Clements Markham's 1859 journey for cinchona actually happened. It happened entirely different, but the core, the basic framework is there. Which is why the magic is so easily grafted on. It's believable that in this foreign country you could wander into a land that time had forgot. Because magic is just something we don't understand. As I remember Philippa Gregory saying in a talk once about writing The White Queen, she wrote the witchcraft as witchcraft because that is how it appeared to the people of the time. This merging of the magical and the historical results in a fairy tale that would be worthy of Doctor Who. Early Doctor Who. Because there's your learning moment and then there's your adventure.

But then there's the Steampunk element. As you probably have guessed over the years by my reading choices and some of my sartorial choices at conventions I have fully embraced Steampunk in many aspects of my life. And there is this element here. Though I would go further and analyze this more, because I think most people are basing this label on the cover coupled with Merrick's insistence that the statues in Bedlam are clockwork. Needless to say covers are designed to sell and Merrick is very much mistaken. Yet I do believe that categorizing The Bedlam Stacks on the outer fringes of Steampunk isn't wrong. The reason I believe this is because of the lamps. Yes, the lamp on the cover is one of them. Sure, they have clockwork in them, but it's not the clockwork in my mind that makes them Steampunk. What makes them Steampunk is that they are utilizing technology and knowledge available to them and creating something new and functional. Much like the fantastical creations in Steampunk based on steam power being the only option these lamps use clock gears to constantly stir up the pollen of the trees in the woods that give off light. The Bedlamites have made something that is completely unique to their region, trees with lighted pollen and a tendency to go boom, and found a way to make it work for them. Throughout the Stacks, there are just little things here and there that show the ingenuity of these people, but there is no greater example than in these lights. I also very much want one for myself.

While the Steampunk elements might be a fascinating aspect of this book it's not why I am so in love with it. What got me was the human element. The connection that each and every character has to the other. Clem and Merrick, who have a strained friendship, in fact prior to his injury Merrick didn't even think they would consider each other friends. Seeing them put through their paces and how their comradely nature erodes is a feeling anyone who has traveled with friends will relate to, and they didn't even have the ability to have the whole music/no music while driving argument. The business nature of Clem versus the more exploratory nature of Merrick allows Merrick to forge connections in Bedlam with the locals. He becomes a part of their community. And as the community of Bedlam is made up of all injured or disfigured people Merrick's leg injury doesn't seem like such a burden anymore. He is considered more fit than the majority of the residents. This, more than sitting in Cornwall with his brother, does more to help him recover than anything else. Yet it's his constantly evolving friendship with Raphael that is the cornerstone, the bedrock, the ONE THING, that this book is about. Two men, from totally different cultures and times, coming together to be friends. The layers of Raphael's reluctance that are broken down and through over time, that let Merrick see who he truly is, that's almost the most magical aspect of The Bedlam Stacks. Though I do have this caveat, their relationship is ambiguous to whether or not it evolves into romantic feelings. Some people are all for this, some people are not. I have no problem with this and do agree that what they felt for each other was love, but I'm uncertain if I think or want it to be romantic in nature. At the end this reveal seems a little forced. They love each other and I don't think it needs definition.

Throughout the whole story, magical and human, I have come to one conclusion, I would die of altitude sickness. I had kind of thought this in passing before but now I have 100% certainty. I would die. This started years ago when watching An Idiot Abroad with Karl Pilkington when he made it three-quarters of the way to Machu Picchu and gave up requesting a Sir David Attenborough-esque voice-over. I'm pretty sure this would be me. Is the journey worth the reward? Worth the pain? Well The Bedlam Stacks made me think 100% no. As Natasha Pulley said, she had no idea the horror of altitude sickness and now her research made sense once she experienced it first had. The inability to think, like you're living in a fog. The headaches, the nausea, the incapacitation, all of it! Weird asides like Sir Clements Markham being unconcerned his team were being followed, because he didn't have the ability to care or worry! Yet the nail in my coffin was the whole nosebleeds issue. As in you get them all the time up there where the air is clear. Here's the thing. I have a lifelong fear of nosebleeds. Why you might ask? Well, I used to have them daily. Also horrifically. Once I had a nosebleed while in Milwaukee when I was little that lasted the entire trip, two full days. I just laid on my uncle's living room floor thinking everything in his house is white what will he do if I get some blood spattered about... he went ballistic when he thought I broke his toy robot, which I didn't by-the-way. Once in grade school I got a nosebleed at recess that soaked my entire sweatshirt before I could get to the nurse's office. This all culminated in my having to have my nose cauterized in 2002. Therefore to willingly go somewhere where this could happen? Sorry I'm out. Ah books, showing us places we could never go to. Now that's magic.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: January 23rd, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 432 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Set amid the legendary Mitford household, a thrilling Golden Age-style mystery, based on a real unsolved murder, by Jessica Fellowes, author of the New York Times bestselling Downton Abbey books.

It's 1920, and Louisa Cannon dreams of escaping her life of poverty in London.

Louisa's salvation is a position within the Mitford household at Asthall Manor, in the Oxfordshire countryside. There she will become nursemaid, chaperone and confidante to the Mitford sisters, especially sixteen-year-old Nancy, an acerbic, bright young woman in love with stories.

But then a nurse―Florence Nightingale Shore, goddaughter of her famous namesake―is killed on a train in broad daylight, and Louisa and Nancy find themselves entangled in the crimes of a murderer who will do anything to hide their secret...

Based on an unsolved crime and written by Jessica Fellowes, author of the New York Times bestselling Downton Abbey companion books, The Mitford Murders is the perfect new obsession for fans of classic murder mysteries."

I have literally been waiting MONTHS for this book. MONTHS!

Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutscher
Published by: Picador
Publication Date: January 23rd, 2018
Format: Paperback, 432 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Babylon Berlin is the first book in the international-bestselling series from Volker Kutscher that centers on Detective Gereon Rath caught up in a web of drugs, sex, political intrigue, and murder in Berlin as Germany teeters on the edge of Nazism.

It’s 1929 and Berlin is the vibrating metropolis of post-war Germany―full of bars and brothels and dissatisfied workers at the point of revolt. Gereon Rath is new in town and new to the police department.

When a dead man without an identity, bearing traces of atrocious torture, is discovered, Rath sees a chance to find his way back into the homicide division. He discovers a connection with a circle of oppositional exiled Russians who try to purchase arms with smuggled gold in order to prepare a coup d’état. But there are other people trying to get hold of the gold and the guns, too. Raths finds himself up against paramilitaries and organized criminals. He falls in love with Charlotte, a typist in the homicide squad, and misuses her insider’s knowledge for his personal investigations. And as he gets further entangled with the case, he never imagined becoming a suspect himself."

Just everything about this appeals to me, that time between WWI and WWII in Germany is rife for this kind of story.

The King of Bones and Ashes by J.D. Horn
Published by: 47North
Publication Date: January 23rd, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the bestselling author of the Witching Savannah series comes the first book in a fascinating trilogy following the quest of a young witch to uncover her family’s terrifying secret history...

Magic is seeping out of the world, leaving the witches who’ve relied on it for countless centuries increasingly hopeless. While some see an inevitable end of their era, others are courting madness—willing to sacrifice former allies, friends, and family to retain the power they covet. While the other witches watch their reality unravel, young Alice Marin is using magic’s waning days to delve into the mystery of numerous disappearances in the occult circles of New Orleans. Alice disappeared once, too—caged in an asylum by blood relatives. Recently freed, she fears her family may be more involved with the growing crisis than she ever dared imagine.

Yet the more she seeks the truth about her family’s troubled history, the more she realizes her already-fragile psyche may be at risk. Discovering the cause of the vanishings, though, could be the only way to escape her mother’s reach while determining the future of all witches."

I just need a really good new witch series. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Book Review 2017 #4 - Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Published by: Library of America
Publication Date: 1962
Format: Hardcover, 900 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

The Allied Troops failed. The Axis powers won and divided up the spoils. Nazi Germany claimed the eastern United States while Imperial Japan created the Pacific States of America from the western coast and the Rocky Mountain States became a neutral buffer zone. It has been fifteen years since the end of the war. Fifteen years living under new laws, adapting to new cultures. Fifteen years of trying to forget the freedom Americans once had. But everyone has handled the situation in a way unique to themselves. Robert Childan has flourished under Japanese domination. His shop, American Artistic Handcrafts Inc. deals with objects from America's past that the Japanese just love for their historicity. He has learned his trade well and understands the respect and protocol his clients demand. From Nobusuke Tagomi, a high ranking Japanese trade official dealing with a visiting Swedish industrialist, to the Kasouras, a young couple in love with Americana, Childan will go beyond what is necessary to please his customers. But soon his confidence in his life and his store will change forever when an item he has is accused of being a forgery.

Of course it is a forgery, there is no way that there are enough Colt .44s from the "wild west" to supply the demand for them, but Childan doesn't know he's just collateral damage from two disgruntled employees who work for his supplier, the Wyndam-Matson Corporation, trying to go out on their own making jewelry instead of forgeries. One of these two men is Frank Frink, a man desperately hoping no one ever finds out he's Jewish and daydreaming that his wife, Juliana, will return to him. But Juliana is in the Rocky Mountain States where she's gotten involved with a man, Joe, who's obsessed with a book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, written by Hawthorne Abendsen, The Man in the High Castle. Abendsen never forgot his freedom and his book is about an Allied victory in WWII. A past and present that could have been. As powers are at play trying to once again change history and divide alliances with the Germans wanting sole control of the world, one woman will learn the truth and perhaps it will set everyone free.

Back when I was more of a film buff than book geek I was very much aware of the controversy surrounding Blade Runner and which release of the film was the true vision of Ridley Scott, similar to the issues surrounding Terry Gilliam's Brazil which lead to me buying a cheap VHS transfer for the directors cut at a Doctor Who convention. This desire for truth lead me to seek out and read the source material, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. My introduction to his terse almost choppy writing style is forgotten in the fogs of time, or in this case a really long train trip to New York, but I still remember my film TA's awe that I bothered to go to the source. This has always kind of shocked me, an adaptation doesn't exist in a bubble and the original source material, be it book or play, is always worth reading. When The Library of America came out with a "four volumes of the 1960s" omnibus deluxe edition containing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I jumped at the chance to upgrade my tatty paperback movie tie-in. It wasn't until Rufus Sewell signed onto the adaptation of The Man in the High Castle that I noticed that it was one of the four books in this volume I'd bought.

From that moment I knew I needed to read this book and yet, as so often happens, time was against me but once again my blog's theme months came to the rescue. I would read The Man in the High Castle this November no matter what! As it turned out this book is tailor made for me. I have a love of historical fiction but I also have a love of Steampunk. And think about this, what is Steampunk but a more typical alt history in that it leans towards the fantastical? This book combines all this into a wonderful mashup that occasionally has some over-the-top science fiction elements. But being the type of author Philip K. Dick was I think we can forgive him Nazis colonizing Mars, all the ensuing space race jargon, and those super rockets that get you from Germany to San Francisco in a matter of minutes not hours because he uses them so sparingly. In fact his using these fantastical elements so sparingly makes them have a greater impact than if it was all about aliens. Because the truth is this book isn't heavy on the plot, it isn't about great world changing events, it's about a select few people and how they deal with the world around them and learning their truth. And a search for the truth is how I first found Philip K. Dick in a wonderful sense of synchronicity. The Man in the High Castle is a character study and I loved that.

The lead characters are Robert Childan, Nobusuke Tagomi, Frank Frink, and Juliana Frink, and none of them are fully sympathetic, which makes them human and therefore far more interesting. Childan is grasping and obsessed with his status, think of an Arnold Rimmer not in outer space but dealing antiques in an alternate San Francisco. Tagomi is I think the most fascinating, someone who the readers would see as an enemy, but is drawn so complexly, who is so multifaceted, that he instantly becomes the hero of the book. He's constantly being pushed outside his comfort zone, forced to face situations he could never have envisioned, and yet he rises admirably to all challenges. Childan and Tagomi represent the more Japanese side of the Axis powers, and what I connected to was this glimpse into a culture that is so dependant on status and behavior. This book gets you into another mindset, makes you question how you see the world around you. I couldn't help noticing parallels to Michael Crichton's Rising Sun and how that book also gave us this tantalizing acress. For me Frank was almost a non-character, because he was really just there to connect Juliana to the rest of the narrative. And while Philip K. Dick obviously suffers a bit from the objectification of women who are in thrall to men that was not only prevalent but expected at the time, the turn around at the very end put this trope in it's place.

One thing that runs through this character driven book as a unifying force is the voice of the oracle through the I Ching. While the characters constant reliance on this device of cleromancy might in clumsy hands have conceivably bogged down the narration, Philip K. Dick handles it in such a deft and skilled way that it becomes a character of it's own. He either really knows his stuff or is really good at making it look that way. This device is also where the biggest most thought-provoking elements of The Man in the High Castle arise. The idea that the oracle has access to alternate dimensions that can be achieved through higher thought and belief, that truth can be divined? Shivers up my spine. The scene where Tagomi is trying to come to grips with all that he has suffered and done over the course of the book as he sits on that park bench looking deep into a broach designed by Frank and reaches awareness because the Wu of the piece moved him and for an instant he comes into our world, not the alternate world he has always lived in, it's like the book transcended. In that moment The Man in the High Castle was no longer a character study, but a religious experience connecting all of the universes. This book became MORE than a book. It became an experience to never forget.     

An experience that relies heavily on Philip K. Dick being meta before meta was really a thing. The book that drives Juliana and much discussion about what-ifs and could-have-beens in The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. A book that shows the Axis powers losing and the world becoming very much like the one we live in. Just think on that. From our POV we're reading a book about an alternate outcome to WWII while the characters in that book are reading a book about an alternate outcome to WWII that is similar to how our world actually is. So much fun is derived not in seeing the horror the world could have been in had the Allies lost, but in seeing how Abendsen wrote this other world. The subtle changes that still led to the same result. So much of this book is chaos theory in action. The world is a house of cards, change one thing, change so many things. Because the Allied Forces lost not because of anything that happened during the war but because of the assassination of FDR prior to the war. Change one thing change everything. And yet, somehow, the oracle sees the truth at the heart of it all. Perhaps the changes within Abendsen's book to our truth are inaccuracies on his part. As to why he would have inaccuracies in a book he'd written? Well, you'll just have to read this one to find out.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Book Review 2017 #5 - Patricia Briggs's Burn Bright

Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 6th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★ 
To Buy

Bran is MIA after helping rescue Mercy in Europe. This leaves his son Charles in charge of the Aspen Creek Pack. Instead of Anna and him being on the outer fringes of the pack and living in their home that is more a haven than anything else they are ensconced in Bran's house, Pack HQ, and Bran's wife Leah isn't taking too well to having house guests. She's used to having the pack in and out of her house at all hours, but not her step-son and daughter-in-law underfoot. It's almost a relief when a crisis arises. The hills behind their small Montana town are filled with wolves that are under Bran's protection but can not live amongst the pack. A danger to themselves and others, they live off the radar. These wildings are often left to their own devices but can call on the pack in times of crisis. One such crisis has arisen. Men have shown up in the woods. Well armed and prepared men. They have abducted Hester, a member of the pack, and her Fae mate Jonesy has called for help. Due to the remoteness of their location it's a miracle that Anna and Charles arrive before Hester is gone. The ensuing fight leaves many dead but even more questions that need answering. These militant attackers came into the Marrok's territory and attempted to take a pack member under his protection when they knew Bran was gone. They were too well prepared and well informed, indicating an enemy that is well funded and a possible mole within the pack. Yet there is a surprise in store. One of the attackers is known to Anna. He was there when she was abused in her old pack. Charles would kill him if the man wasn't already dead. Hopefully there will be no more death. With that goal in mind the strongest wolves set out to visit the wildings and when Anna meets the werewolf artist Wellesley and connects with him everything starts to make sense. The puzzle pieces are falling into place. But will they be able to accept what is revealed?

An ongoing perk of being a blogger is access to NetGalley where you can request digital advance reader copies of books. Yet NetGalley is a double edged sword, not just because you might end up requesting so many books there's no chance you'll ever finish them, of which I am guilty, but because sometimes instead of allowing you to request a book, in it's place, taunting you, is the "I Wish" button. Of course sometimes they do grant wishes, they tell you right there as you're desperately clicking the button hoping it will transform into a request one. Of all the authors I've read through NetGalley over the years I have never gotten such a thrill at seeing a book listed as with Patricia Briggs. Those gorgeous covers by Dan dos Santos though are always followed by nothing more than a wish. Yet in these instances my wishes have all been granted, thankfully without some nefarious deal with a fairy on the back end; just a request for my honest opinion, and my honest opinion is that I love Patricia Briggs and all her books set in the world of Mercy Thompson. Yet it's hard to review these books if just for the simple reason that after fifteen installments it's hard to find something new to say... except this time there is something new to say, and that's my realization that I love the Alpha and Omega series more. As long as there aren't any more horses. Yes, I entered this world through Mercy's adventures, but I relate more to Charles and Anna. At first I was wondering if it's because with only five books under their belt they had less baggage, but as seen here this series carries Mercy's baggage as well as it's own. Therefore I thought, perhaps it's the more focused narrative with less characters, but here we dealt with a pack bigger than the Columbia Basin Pack. In the end it comes down to the fact I relate more to Charles and Anna. They are more introspective, more removed. They are a part of their pack yet cherish their alone time, and that's something I can relate to.

As for the Aspen Creek Pack, they really take center stage in Burn Bright. Aside from their first adventure, Charles and Anna have been traipsing all over the continental United States and rarely have time to take in the Montana air. This time isn't downtime either, with Charles's farther Bran MIA after helping rescue Mercy in her previous adventure, but Charles being placed in charge of the pack means he's stuck on his home turf. Therefore, for what I feel is the first time, we're really getting a firsthand look at the pack. It's not filtered through Mercy's memories or passed down gossip that eventually gets to Charles and Anna, it's on the ground and immediate. We get to not only see the pack, but see what they are like without Bran present, who is such a dominate force he can overpower any plot line. And while each and every revelation of how the pack structure works was interesting to me, what I was most drawn to was the insight into Leah. Leah is Bran's mate, a mate who no one likes. Sometimes it seems that Bran doesn't much care for her either. In each and every one of her appearances, be it Mercy's stories or Charles's, she comes across as a really self-centered and bitchy stepmother. I won't say wicked, because she's never done anything altogether malicious, but she's always appeared to be cut from the same cloth. Burn Bright started out in this same vein and yet, while Leah never changed we readers finally got insight into how she became the way she is and the benefits of that. It's often the case that being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes lets you empathize with them and so it is here. We got to the bottom of her rage and came out seeing her with new eyes. She has even earned the respect of Charles, and that's saying something.

We also learned about "secret" pack members. Enter the wildings! Oh, how I love that Patricia Briggs has taken a word that is so heavily associated with Game of Thrones and George R. R. Martin and made it her own. The wildings, instead of being people just living behind a really big wall are werewolves, occasionally with their mates, who can no longer live in a pack setting. They are either too damaged or too dangerous, or a combination of both, to be allowed entrance to the town of Aspen Creek. Some of them occasionally can join the pack hunts, but most of the time they are secreted away on their own large parcels of land under Bran's supervision. Why this resonated with me so strongly is that I've felt for awhile that the black and white nature of who deserves to live and who deserves to die due to their behavior in this fictional universe was needing some grey. Having Charles as executioner to Bran's judgment was harsh. Bran seemed to make Aspen Creek a haven for the damaged, but only up to a point. Yet now we find out that he's actually been hiding his people out in the woods to protect them instead of giving them a fatal punishment. It makes Bran more human to me. He's no longer this untouchable, this unknowable force, he has a heart, and not just for Mercy. This is also seen in the expanding of Leah's past. The superhumans are coming down to our level and that just makes this a more relevant series. Briggs has always explored the all too human side of suffering with her series, and this is another great entry into seeing ourselves more clearly through something that is "other."

All the wildings could be considered crazy, to an extent. It's almost as if Briggs is creating her own spectrum, from unable to take human form to will kill you rather than look at you, we see a wide range of problems. Yet all this boils down to the notion of what makes us crazy and who cares for crazy. I was drawn to the first problem, what makes us crazy. Due to things that have been happening in my own life I felt the importance, the weight of this question. Is it environmental factors? A genetic disposition? An outside factor like drugs? Or, as we are in a supernatural world here, magic? With each different wilding we see a different presentation of madness, and yet, Anna shows that by approaching the situation with compassion these issues can be dealt with. With how Anna carefully deals with Wellesley we see what it is to be an Omega. She is the carer. She has had so much pain inflicted on herself that she knows what others who are injured need. So much of the book ties back into Anna's past traumas, in other words perhaps a re-read of her introductory short story from On the Prowl is needed, that we see there is no instant cure. Anna is still recovering. Her marriage and mystical connection to Charles didn't automatically heal all wounds. In fact, through dealing with her problems and then helping the Wildings, Anna is finding her place in the pack. Your damage, your illness, your problems, whatever they may be, they don't make up who you are, they inform who you become, and Anna is becoming an amazing heroine. My heroine.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: January 16th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Members of an Egyptian expedition fall victim to an ancient mummy’s curse in this thrilling Veronica Speedwell novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries.

London, 1888. As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker. His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.

But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past. Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything..."

EGYPT!!! Also, Deanna Raybourn I think is the #1 author out there who I want to see at a book signing that I haven't met yet, just FYI all booksellers in the Midwest! 

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin
Published by: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: January 16th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the New York Times bestselling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and The Aviator’s Wife, a fascinating novel of the friendship and creative partnership between two of Hollywood’s earliest female legends—screenwriter Frances Marion and superstar Mary Pickford.

It is 1914, and twenty-five-year-old Frances Marion has left her (second) husband and her Northern California home for the lure of Los Angeles, where she is determined to live independently as an artist. But the word on everyone’s lips these days is “flickers”—the silent moving pictures enthralling theatergoers. Turn any corner in this burgeoning town and you’ll find made-up actors running around, as a movie camera captures it all.

In this fledgling industry, Frances finds her true calling: writing stories for this wondrous new medium. She also makes the acquaintance of actress Mary Pickford, whose signature golden curls and lively spirit have earned her the title “America’s Sweetheart.” The two ambitious young women hit it off instantly, their kinship fomented by their mutual fever to create, to move audiences to a frenzy, to start a revolution.

But their ambitions are challenged by both the men around them and the limitations imposed on their gender—and their astronomical success could come at a price. As Mary, the world’s highest paid and most beloved actress, struggles to live her life under the spotlight, she also wonders if it is possible to find love, even with the dashing actor Douglas Fairbanks. Frances, too, longs to share her life with someone. As in any good Hollywood story, dramas will play out, personalities will clash, and even the deepest friendships might be shattered.

With cameos from such notables as Charlie Chaplin, Louis B. Mayer, Rudolph Valentino, and Lillian Gish, The Girls in the Picture is, at its heart, a story of friendship and forgiveness. Melanie Benjamin perfectly captures the dawn of a glittering new era—its myths and icons, its possibilities and potential, and its seduction and heartbreak."

I think this is the Benjamin who is going to be the first author of 2018 at the Wisconsin Book Festival... or it could be Chloe... 

Deadly Sweet by Lola Dodge
Published by: Ink Monster, LLC
Publication Date: January 16th, 2018
Format: Kindle, 265 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"For fans of Hex Hall, The Magicians, Practical Magic, and Food Wars!

Anise Wise loves three things: baking, potion making, and reading her spellbooks in blissful silence. She might not be the most powerful witch, but enchantment is a rare skill, and her ability to bake with magic is even rarer. Too bad one wants witchcraft on their campus. Anise’s dream of attending pastry school crumbles with rejection letter after rejection letter.

Desperate to escape her dead-end future, Anise contacts the long-lost relative she’s not supposed to know about. Great Aunt Agatha owns the only magic bakery in the US, and she suddenly needs a new apprentice. Anise is so excited she books it to New Mexico without thinking to ask what happened to the last girl.

The Spellwork Syndicate rules the local witches in Taos, but as “accidents” turn into full-out attacks on Anise’s life, their promises to keep her safe are less and less reassuring. Her cranky bodyguard is doing his best, but it’s hard to fight back when she has no idea who’s the enemy. Or why she became their target.

If Anise can’t find and stop whoever wants her dead, she’ll be more toasted than a crème brûlée.

Who knew baking cakes could be so life or death?"

Because I NEED my Sabrina fix until the new series is a go on Netflix! 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Book Review 2017 #6 - Philip Pullman's La Belle Sauvage

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: October 19th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Malcolm Polstead is pretty content with his life. With his faithful daemon Asta at his side he helps his parents run their establishment, the Trout Inn, located in Godstow. The best part about the Trout is all the academics that frequent the pub due to it's proximity to Oxford. Malcolm is a bright lad and his school leaves something to be desired but he's able to fill in the gaps in his education through the conversations that swirl through the pub. He also benefits greatly from the Abbey located directly across the Thames. The nuns look on Malcolm as one of their greatest friends, whether he's helping Sister Fenella in the kitchen or Mr. Taphouse in the shed. All his free time is spent in his little canoe, La Belle Sauvage, traveling on the Thames. It's a life of little worries, with the dishwasher Alice Parslow being the only throne in his side. Though little does Malcolm know that everything is about to change when three distinguished gentlemen arrive at the Trout one night and question him about the Abbey. Soon there are rumors swirling that the nuns are caring for a baby of great importance. Malcolm quickly learns the truth, they are indeed protecting a young baby girl, Lyra Belacqua, and it's a matter of an instant for him to realize that he will protect her with his own life if it came to that. Being at Lyra's side means Malcolm has unwittingly become a focal point for various organizations and their needs, both nefarious and otherwise. The one he chooses to ally himself with, due to a horrific incident he witnessed, is called Oakley Street and his contact is Hannah Relf, a member of the research group studying the alethiometer. Malcolm's a valuable asset and his information, particularly concerning a disturbed man with a three legged hyena daemon, are very important. Yet soon a cataclysmic event will prove Malcolm's love for Lyra and his true worth to Oakley Street, if only he can outrun the laughs of that hyena.

La Belle Sauvage is a rare book in that not only did it meet my expectations it exceeded them. Reading this book has actually made me more excited for the rest of the series not less. I literally don't know how I'm going to handle the wait until The Secret Commonwealth which is hopefully coming out next year, not next week like I wish it was. Yes, it's not perfect, the cataclysmic and biblical flood goes on too long, the ending is abrupt with a lot of new concepts introduced but not yet fully explored, but these are pacing issues similar to His Dark Materials in that Pullman views the three volumes of each series as just one of three sections of a single book. In simple parlance, a book in three parts. A book in three parts that have their endings randomly decided by the length and by the arc of each section. Yet almost all problems that I have can be glossed over by the wonder that is Malcolm Polstead. There are many characters in the world I love, but there are few that I feel an instant connection with and have every fiber in my being devoted to protecting them. One such character in recent years was Neville Longbottom. Neville is just so vulnerable and sweet and had such a tragic backstory that if anything had happened to him I would have rioted. Malcolm is similar but in an entirely different way. He's gregarious and competent and smart and just loves the world and I want to shelter him from the harsh realities that are to come, much like Hannah Relf with regard to Oakley Street, but at the same time I know he can take the world on. If I had a kid I would love for him to be like Malcolm, he's just the sweetest most wonderful kid ever. I see him as a miniature Nick Frost, all 4' 6" of him just sauntering into the pub and going up to the elderly patrons and slipping into their conversations like he'd been doing it for fifty years and he knows all about what it's like to have lumbago. There's so much I want and hope for him, but even if it all comes to nought he'd run the best pub in the world if that's what he fell back on.

Malcolm's goodness and humanity is balanced by a rather odious organization that forms at his school. Through the Consistorial Court of Discipline, an arm of the church, a league is formed, The League of St. Alexander. This league's job in all schools is to inform on people in honor of St. Alexander who turned in his own parents for worshiping false idols. Teachers, parents, friends, neighbors, anyone is in danger from this group if these children decide they aren't loyal to the church. The children who join quickly become the power structure in Malcolm's school with the headmaster being ousted for trying to dismiss the league. Many teachers soon vanish as they are supposedly being "reeducated" in the ways of the church. Every lesson must start with a prayer, or else that teacher faces removal. Malcolm's school becomes a haven for fear and hate and while I'm sure Pullman had been planning this book for years and taking things from the historical context of the church one can't help feel that it's oddly prescient. They are like little Hitler Youths where the zealotry brings out the worst in everyone. Living in a country where hate, fear, racism, bigotry, and sexism, are all alive and well and spouted by those in charge, to have a league indoctrinating this in those who will one day lead? It makes me shudder. Really, think how terrifying this is, children can be vicious and merciless and they can make an accusation against anyone and have adults believe them and applaud them. Their bad behaviour is being rewarded! The scores they can settle all because they have righteousness on their side? The fear and hate they can spew because they have a little enamel badge on their lapels!?! I want to hope that this isn't the future we're building here, but more and more it looks like it is.

Though these terrifying thoughts, though they need to be processed and dwelt on, just added another level to the book while not taking away my enjoyment. What truly gripped my attention was all the spycraft. THIS is what I expected Tinker, Tailer, Solider, Spy to be! La Belle Sauvage is like Oxford academia meets Bletchley Park and I loved every single second of it. And, in fact, so many academicians were involved in the world wars and the cold war that this makes total sense. Yet while things like Oakley Street passing messages in acorns made me wildly giddy, the true success of the spycraft here is that we focus on two characters that are new to the game. There's the higher ups, the lords and ladies, but it's the lowly reader of the alethiometer Hannah Relf and her naivete and her relationship with Malcolm as a sort of den mother that make me just love this story. Firstly there's just cute little things like Hannah hating crosswords, which figured prominently in the placing of code-breakers at Bletchley Park and were favorites of the famous Oxford resident, Inspector Morse. Or the books Malcolm borrows from Hannah, and for some reason here Agatha Christie being in all universes makes sense whereas I've had issues with things from our world being in Lyra's world previously. Perhaps because it felt more grounded in the world of Oxford than the land of the dead... But the book once again goes to the bigger issues: how do you know you're on the right side? Hannah has been working for years for Oakley Street without really questioning who they were or why she was doing it, only that she trusted the man who approached her. When she brings Malcolm in it's then she starts to go, "hang on a minute, am I working for the good guys?" In this world basically anyone working against the church is good because the church wants to propagate ignorance and indoctrination, so Hannah is on the right side. But just the fact that she questions them, much like Malcolm questioned The League of St. Alexander shows that they are on the side of knowledge. They do not blindly follow.

With having such weighty issues as false faith, hate culture, and subversion, I find it odd that once again Pullman sidesteps some fairly important sexual issues. Again, I don't know if this is because of his audience or what, but I feel like obliquely talking about it is doing more harm than good. The disturbed man with the three legged hyena daemon, Bonneville, believes he is Lyra's father. He had also just finished serving time for a sexual offense in which Mrs. Coulter was the witness for the prosecution. The only way that he could believe he's Lyra's father, despite Malcolm's insistence on Bonneville being deluded, is if Bonneville had been intimate with Mrs. Coulter. Either they were in a consensual relationship, much like Bonneville and one of the younger nuns, and Mrs. Coulter decided to punish him for some reason and get him sent off to jail which I wouldn't put past her, or, and this is my belief, he raped Mrs. Coulter and assumed the pregnancy was from the rape and not from Lord Asriel's relationship with her. Whatever way this actually played out I think skirting the issue does damage to the story in not explicitly saying that rape is bad. This could have been, and how I hate myself for using this phrase, a teaching movement. Rape is bad. Period. Later in the book when Alice and Malcolm are attacked by Bonneville at the mausoleum it is hinted at by the blood on her legs that Alice is Bonneville's latest victim. But again, it's not spelled out. There seems to be this barrier that Pullman has set up that IF he were to state these things baldly then childhood innocence would be lost. But hinting at it is far worse. State it. Remember it. Then let the story continue with this knowledge firmly in place. But then again, Pullman casually drops using Malcolm as bait for a pedophile for the benefit of Oakley Street and the only one who objects to that is Hannah. So maybe there's some issues that Pullman needs to address in himself with regards to what is and isn't acceptable even in a fictional universe.

As I previously stated there was a lot thrown at us readers in the last chapters of the book, lots of supernatural fairy tale aspects with otherworldly beings that are not in the least handled. Of course, seeing as the gyptians refer to these phenomena as "The Secret Commonwealth" and that's the title of the second book I'm not too concerned about getting my answers eventually... but there is ONE thing that I wondered throughout La Belle Sauvage and have been wondering ever since I first read The Golden Compass and hope that the answer is near at hand. Lord Asriel has some "otherworldly gifts" as his manservant told Lyra on Svalbard. Whatever he needs, be it beautiful glass windows or a child to sacrifice, he sets his mind on it and it appears. Now Malcolm has a strange phenomenon happen to him, an aura in his eye, which he mentions to Hannah. Of course, he adorably mishears it and calls it his aurora. But the first time it happens is the night he meets Lord Asriel and helps him to see Lyra at the Abbey and then gives him his canoe. Later it happens again when he looks at the card Lord Asriel left for Malcolm in the canoe and it sways Malcolm to take Lyra to her father than just back to the nuns. Again it happens when Alice and him have lost Lyra and they see the place she is being kept high on a hill. Could Asriel be guiding Malcolm to help him protect Lyra and reunite them and this aurora is the signal? We've never seen what Asriel's will looks like from the one it's being acted on. Could it be a simple corona of light in the eye? Could it have origins with the fairies? Or could this be a gift of Lyra's... it is seen that she is a bit of a fairy child. Well, only time and Philip Pullman's next book can answers these questions. So I will stew on them until the next book. And no, I'm not going to stew patiently.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Book Review 2017 #7 - Jane Austen's Persuasion

Persuasion by Jane Austen
Published by: Max Press
Publication Date: 1818
Format: Hardcover, 255 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Anne Elliot is to be pitied. It's not just that her father and eldest sister are vain foolish creatures who care only for rank and money it's that these traits led them to convince Anne to break her engagement to Commander Frederick Wentworth, thinking he would amount to nothing. Seven years later there is finally peace, though not in Anne's heart. She still loves Frederick Wentworth, now a Captain and a wealthy man. Yet she knows she will never be lucky enough to get a second chance to be his wife. Instead she is to move with her family to Bath. They have been forced to give up their ancestral seat of Kellynch Hall due to their straitened circumstances. And in a twist of fate their home is to be let to Captain Wentworth's sister and brother-in-law. What's more Anne is to spend some time with her younger sister Mary at Uppercross, a mere three miles from Kellynch Hall, delaying the painful separation from home and yet seeing it in the hands of strangers who might have become Anne's family! Mary married Charles Musgrove, whom initially paid court to Anne, whom Charles's two sisters, Henrietta and Louisa, would have rather their brother had married. It's Henrietta and Louisa who become the center of the social life around Uppercross as Captain Wentworth visits his sister and decides that one of these two fine ladies will become his wife. Not only has Anne lost the love of her life but she must now watch him court another, her own bloom faded. Though the course of love is never smooth, Louisa meets with a tragic accident which tears at the soul of Captain Wentworth while Anne meets her father's heir, her cousin Mr. Elliot, who sets his sights on Anne's heart, a heart that is receptive to his advances at first. Can Anne find love again after so many years being thwarted? And who will win her heart? The old flame or the new?

For certain reasons Persuasion is the one book by Austen I'm least likely to turn to when needing an Austen fix. This has nothing to do with the book itself and everything to do with the 1995 adaptation. While for most adaptations I'm able to appreciate them to varying extents and then leave them behind, I just can't with Persuasion. To me the adaptation and the book are one. I find this ridiculous. I really don't know where this came from. When I re-read Pride and Prejudice I don't always see Colin Firth! He might be the best Mr. Darcy but depending on my mood Mr. Darcy could be any number of very good Darcys out there. Yet Captain Wentworth is Ciarán Hinds and Anne Elliot is Amanda Root and Mr. Elliot is Samuel West. And here's the thing; I HATE them all in this adaptation. It's not that they're wrong for the roles per se, it's just that my mind actually revolts at this casting, or maybe it's the directing, I just can't. Amanda Root with that emotionless placidity and those horribly high collared dresses, Samuel West with his smarm, and Ciarán Hinds? Just all the no. Now this isn't like my seething hatred of the 1999 adaptation of Mansfield Park, because nothing will ever match that, this is just the actors entering my subconscious and making the book less than. Because the book is brilliant and if I could just somehow succeed at untangling the two it seriously would better my literary life and I would be ever so grateful for purifying my love of Austen. Perhaps intense therapy by watching the 2007 version over and over again might help? Yet the irony of it all is that unlike Frances O'Connor I actually really like the three leads. In other things obviously. In fact I quite admire Ciarán Hinds, just never as a romantic lead. As for Samuel West? He really has grown on me over the years, plus if I ever get annoyed with him I can just watch him getting killed in Howards End and we're all good. As for Amanda Root she redeemed herself with The Forsyte Saga. Now if only I could have the book be the book and the movie be the movie!

I will say I succeeded far better this time around at trying to make this separation a reality. "Forcing" myself to think of Rupert Penry-Jones was very helpful. But more than that it's how having re-read Austen's entire oeuvre in such quick succession I was struck by how mature her writing had become and all other issues faded away. This makes it all the more heartbreaking that she died so young seeing what her writing could have evolved into. Her six books are all classics, but with Persuasion we see Austen at the top of her game. She's a more confident writer, willing to take narrative risks and in the end creating what I think is her most approachable book for modern readers. Where this really shines is in the almost stream of conscious panicked flow of her thoughts when she encounters Captain Wentworth again for the first time. Even if Andrew Davies in his introduction hadn't pointed this observation out to me I know I would have latched onto it and other moments like it. There's something about these sections that pulse with life. It captures to an extent not just how you think when under pressure but it's almost as if Austen has perfectly captured what it's like to be in the midst of a panic attack. The whooshing of time and thoughts, the way time expands and contracts, the rushed half composed thoughts just pushing against you: [A] thousand feelings rushed on Anne, of which this was the most consoling, that it would soon be over. And it was soon over. In two minutes after Charles's preparation, the others appeared; they were in the drawing-room. Her eye half met Captain Wentworth's, a bow, a curtsey passed; she heard his voice; he talked to Mary, said all that was right, said something to the Miss Musgroves, enough to mark an easy footing; the room seemed full, full of persons and voices, but a few minutes ended it. Charles shewed himself at the window, all was ready, their visitor had bowed and was gone, the Miss Musgroves were gone too, suddenly resolving to walk to the end of the village with the sportsmen: the room was cleared, and Anne might finish her breakfast as she could.

Who couldn't feel for Anne in that moment? The crush and press of all those people in the room and knowing that "the one" was among them. Much like Mansfield Park we, as readers, are in an interesting position having not been there for the courtship of our hero and heroine. "The One" has already been found and the love is already there. But here it's more unique in that it was lost. Anne is a different kind of heroine to any of Austen's previous heroines. She found love at a young age but was dissuaded and therefore lost the love of her life. Unlike Darcy who is rejected by Elizabeth their love wasn't cemented so a similarity of situations doesn't exist. All Austen's heroines have at some time thought they have lost the love of their lives but unlike Anne they haven't had to wait almost a decade for a happily ever after. If you start to lose hope after a few months, imagine the pain bearing this weight year after year? She lost everything to care for her family, to tend to the duty due to the Elliot name and yet by some miracle she is given a second chance. She is past her prime, as can not be said enough by Austen as she tells of the faded bloom that Anne once possessed, and yet there is hope from the ashes. She regains her beauty as she regains the belief that Captain Wentworth hasn't forsaken her. Their love is just as strong if not stronger. It has endured. And while I begrudge the 1995 adaptation I do agree with it's tagline as "A Fairy Tale for Adults." This isn't about finding perfect happiness as a young teenager, this is about love enduring, how even when you're at the age when society has written you off as being hopeless with regards to finding a mate it can still happen. Seeing as I'm not the teenager I was when I first picked up Persuasion being told that it can still happen is a magical message indeed. I will of course ignore the fact that they met while teenagers and that Anne's older sister named Elizabeth is probably on the shelf forever. See, I can delude myself in some regards!

With Austen's more mature authorial voice she's also willing to tackle more "real world" problems. She began this in Mansfield Park by actually deigning to talk about the war and here she continues that and compounds it with depictions of licentiousness, poverty, and illness. So while she might still rush her endings she is braver in depicting the larger world around her through the filter of the drawing room instead of having anything untoward happen off book and open to interpretation. Which brings me to the Musgroves. While one could make fun of the Musgroves as being a family that tends to fall and injure themselves, a lot, I see this as just a vehicle in which Austen is showing the precarious nature of health in that day and age. At this time in her life Jane was probably thinking quite a lot on life and death as she was slowly dying herself. Unlike in other books where deaths are just backstory here they're more present, more real. Death is the end of any story, happy or otherwise. Maybe it's just the fact that health care is constantly in the news that this aspect of Persuasion struck me so forcibly, but life was precarious. Life is still precarious. Yes, we have had amazing advancements in medical care but there is still suffering, there is still lack of access, there are still people like Anne's friend Mrs. Smith! Poor and in pain and trying to reclaim some of their lives. And Mrs. Smith is herself an interesting character. How exactly are we meant to deal with her? She was Anne's equal now fallen on hard times. Therefore she deserves our pity. And yet... This and yet is because she withholds key information from Anne and only decides to tell her when she thinks it will bring herself gain. This is all water under the bridge and Mrs. Smith is congratulated as helping reunite the happy couple and she gets the help she needed. But she got it in such a scheming way that I still don't know what to make of her. And here is the power of Austen. Complex characters that make us think. I might in the end not like Mrs. Smith, but I pity her and admire her balls.

The characters though I can never admire on any level are Anne's father and her eldest sister Elizabeth. Sir Walter and Elizabeth are perhaps the most self-centered vainglorious characters Austen has ever written. And the thing is, I don't think she wrote them as comedic relief, no matter how hard you laughed when hearing how many mirrors Sir Walter had in his dressing room or how he will only observe people under natural light. I believe that she wrote them to be a social commentary on Bath. If you've read anything about Austen's life you know she lived in Bath for a time and that she hated every moment of it. In Northanger Abbey we get a taste of Bath life but all the characters are passing through. They've only made Bath their temporary destination. They are tourists, nothing more, and it's not these people that Austen seeks to lambaste. It's those who have chosen Bath as their permanent residence. Whether she's commenting on the town because of the type of people it draws or on the people themselves, one thing is certain, as Austen has written Anne's family they are true denizens of Bath. When Kellynch has to be given up Bath is the obvious choice, for personality type more than for financial straits. Here Sir Walter and Elizabeth can glory at all the people who want to be near them and they in turn can fawn over their Dalrymple cousins. It's a symbiotic relationship of people who are leeches in a town that leeches your will to life. It's no wonder Anne hates the town so much, who wants to be around a swarm of self-centered assess who long to be trendsetters whom everyone follows? No thank you. As for the whole "Anne losing her bloom" perhaps it was a combination of Bath coupled with the lose of Captain Wentworth. Bath sucked Austen's will to write and it was her fallow period, therefore it's no wonder when reclaiming her voice she decided to shout to the rooftops her hatred of the Roman town.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

The English Wife by Lauren Willig
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: January 9th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From New York Times bestselling author, Lauren Willig, comes this scandalous novel set in the Gilded Age, full of family secrets, affairs, and even murder.

Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life in New York: he's the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he's recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she's having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay's sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?"

Finally the new Lauren Willig book enters the world. Sadly I'm already in need of the next!

Last Stop in Brooklyn by Lawrence H. Levy
Published by: Broadway Books
Publication Date: January 9th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"It's the summer of 1894, and an infidelity case has brought PI Mary Handley to a far corner of Brooklyn: Coney Island. In the midst of her investigation, Mary is contacted by a convicted man's brother to reopen a murder case. A prostitute was killed by a Jack the Ripper copycat years ago in her New York hotel room, but her true killer was never found. Once again it's up to Mary to make right the city's wrongs.

New York City's untouchable head of detectives, Thomas Byrnes, swears he put the right man behond bars, but as Mary digs deeper, she finds corruption at the heart of New York's justice system, involving not only the police, but the most powerful of stock titans. Disturbing evidence of other murders begins to surface, each one mimicking Jack the Ripper's style, each one covered up by Thomas Byrnes.

As Mary pieces together the extent of the damage, she crosses paths with Harper Lloyd, an investigative reporter. Their relationship grows into a partnership, and perhaps more, and together they must catch a killer who's still out there, and reverse the ruthless workings of New York's elite. It'll be Mary's most dangerous, most personal case yet."

Jack the Ripper? Yes, I'm a sucker for anything that macabre! 

The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: January 9th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"After being commissioned to find a rare book, Librarian Irene and her assistant, Kai, head to Prohibition-era New York and are thrust into the middle of a political fight with dragons, mobsters, and Fae.

In a 1920s-esque New York, Prohibition is in force; fedoras, flapper dresses, and tommy guns are in fashion: and intrigue is afoot. Intrepid Librarians Irene and Kai find themselves caught in the middle of a dragon political contest. It seems a young Librarian has become tangled in this conflict, and if they can’t extricate him, there could be serious repercussions for the mysterious Library. And, as the balance of power across mighty factions hangs in the balance, this could even trigger war.

Irene and Kai are locked in a race against time (and dragons) to procure a rare book. They’ll face gangsters, blackmail, and the Library’s own Internal Affairs department. And if it doesn’t end well, it could have dire consequences on Irene’s job. And, incidentally, on her life..."

If it's about libraries I'm in no matter how supernatural, cheesy, what have you. 

Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys
Published by: Atria Books
Publication Date: January 9th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Servants and socialites sip cocktails side by side on their way to new lives in this “thrilling, seductive, and utterly absorbing” (Paula Hawkins, #1 New York Times bestselling author) historical suspense novel in the tradition of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile and Ken Follett’s Night Over Water.

The ship has been like a world within itself, a vast floating city outside of normal rules. But the longer the journey continues, the more confined it is starting to feel, deck upon deck, passenger upon passenger, all of them churning around each other without anywhere to go...

1939: Europe is on the brink of war when young Lily Shepherd boards an ocean liner in Essex, bound for Australia. She is ready to start anew, leaving behind the shadows in her past. The passage proves magical, complete with live music, cocktails, and fancy dress balls. With stops at exotic locations along the way—Naples, Cairo, Ceylon—the voyage shows Lily places she’d only ever dreamed of and enables her to make friends with those above her social station, people who would ordinarily never give her the time of day. She even allows herself to hope that a man she couldn’t possibly have a future with outside the cocoon of the ship might return her feelings.

But Lily soon realizes that she’s not the only one hiding secrets. Her newfound friends—the toxic wealthy couple Eliza and Max; Cambridge graduate Edward; Jewish refugee Maria; fascist George—are also running away from their pasts. As the glamour of the voyage fades, the stage is set for something sinister to occur. By the time the ship docks, two passengers are dead, war has been declared, and Lily’s life will be changed irrevocably."

They didn't even have to compare it to Death on the Nile for me to want to read this book!

Say No Moor by Maddy Hunter
Published by: Midnight Ink
Publication Date: January 9th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Tour escort Emily Andrew-Miceli’s plan to boost her business with social media threatens to backfire in merry old England.

Hoping to reach an expanded clientele of senior travelers, Emily Andrew-Miceli invites a handful of bloggers to join her group’s tour of England’s Cornwall region. But when the quarrelsome host of a historic inn dies under suspicious circumstances, Emily worries that the bloggers’ online reviews will torpedo her travel agency.

To make matters worse, Emily is roped into running the inn, and not even a team effort from her friends can prevent impending disaster. As one guest goes missing and another turns up dead, Emily discovers that well-kept secrets can provide more than enough motive for murder."

Anyone else feel like singing some Rex Manning? 

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor
Published by: Crown
Publication Date: January 9th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A riveting and relentlessly compelling psychological suspense debut that weaves a mystery about a childhood game gone dangerously awry, and will keep readers guessing right up to the shocking ending.

In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.

In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he's put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank . . . until one of them turns up dead.

That's when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.

Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest reader."

A hint of Sherlock Holmes by chance?

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