Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Heather Rose Jones

Heather Rose Jones is an interesting mix of modern and historical. Be it biotech or linguistics, she seems perfectly suited for whatever time period she lands in if a time machine were to show up on her doorstep and take her on a journey. Her early life was far flung, from the various corners of the continental United States to several European countries, though she currently calls the Bay Area home. Growing up in an academic family surly spurred her passions for research and teaching. She loves "to share my knowledge with anyone who will stand still long enough to listen." Though who knows how long that would be given her fascinating and diverse interests! Heather has a BS in zoology, after which she spent a decade in medical research, only to go back to school for a PhD in Linguistics from U.C. Berkley where she specialized in the semantics of Medieval Welsh prepositions. While she might have come to my attention due to her fiction writing, I'm amazed at the sheer scope and dedication to all her various interests.

Her "Skin Singer" series of short stories have appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress anthologies, but you can surly guess by now that she wouldn't limit her prodigious talents and interests to just one writing outlet. Heather has written for many non-fiction publications as well on topics ranging from biotech to historic costume to naming practices. As for her Alpennia books, think of them as historical fantasy with a detailed belief system with lesbians. In fact her passion project is the Lesbian Historic Motif Project she began to change the unexamined assumptions about the place and nature of lesbian-like characters in historic fact, literature, art and imaginations. She is also a total geek for historic textiles and clothing, making little doll reproductions of archaeological clothing finds. Is it any wonder with these passions coupled with geeking out over linguistics, historic cooking, and much more that she is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism? There she's known by a far more Welsh handle than Heather, she's Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn. I should just let Heather, or should I say Mistress Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn, take the wheel.

Question: When did you first discover Jane Austen?

Answer: I have a sheepish confession that I read her books well after I’d fallen in love with a number of movie treatments and with the Regency romance genre in general. I was certainly aware that she was the ur-text on which the genre was based. And it isn’t as if I had any aversion to reading novels of the era. (I read Thackeray’s Vanity Fair just for fun back in 1975, after all.) I’m still working on getting a complete collection of the works of Georgette Heyer.

But at some point about 15 years ago I realized I’d never actually read Austen herself, so I marched off to the bookstore and picked up a complete set and read them all straight through. I certainly have my favorites and my less preferred works. (I seem to be alone among my friends in liking Emma, but every time I re-read Mansfield Park, I want to throw it across the room.) I also have audio versions of my favorites in heavy rotation on my anti-insomnia program. (My favorites are the free recordings at Librivox.org, and my favorite narrator is Karen Savage.)

Question: What do you think Jane Austen would think of her impact with so many literary offshoots, from parody to pastiche?

Answer: I tend to be wary of trying to second-guess authors’ attitudes. Even the authors I know personally can surprise me in their take on questions like this. Given the circumstances of her life, I can guess that one of her reactions might be, “Gee, I wish I could have gotten a cut of the take!” I suspect she might be astonished that her work is remembered at all two centuries later. But I refuse to guess at what she might think of all the people re-purposing her stories in the vastly different ways we’ve seen. People have very individual and emotional reactions to that sort of thing, and all of them are valid.

Question: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Answer: My stories are, at heart, the stories I wish other people had written so that I’d have been able to read them at important points in my life. So I’m inspired by the echoing gaps in my literary life that are begging to be filled. I’ve spent most of my life searching through bookstore and library shelves for books that recognize and respect core aspects of my identity: being a woman, being a geek, being a lesbian, being an intellectual. One gets very tired of being told implicitly that one doesn’t exist, or at least, that one isn’t worthy of being included in stories.

On a more practical basis, I’m inspired by the life-long love of European history that began when I spent a year in Prague at the age of ten. (My father was a university professor on sabbatical.) I love immersing myself in the everyday material culture of places, times, and peoples different from my own.

Question: What makes the early 19th century mesh so well with magic?

Answer: Is is heresy for me to say that I don’t think there’s anything special about the early 19th century that makes it suited to magic? Every age, every culture, and every literary genre inspires particular flavors and approaches to magic. I think that the existing popularity of the Regency setting (and of the Regency romance genre in general) made it inevitable that fantasy writers who loved that setting would look for types of magic that fit into it well.

I think some of the key characteristics of Regency magic have to do with the eras and movements it balances between. The Industrial Revolution creates some major challenges for designing a magical world. Do you view it as a threat to pre-industrial magic or as a context for a new industrial-based magic? The social and political shifts in Europe from the remnants of old-style monarchy to more populist governments similarly present a challenge to motifs of magic as an echo of aristocracy or as the basis for a “everyman makes good” plot. To the extent that magic is viewed as anti-rational, any 19th century understanding of magic needs to be in dialog with the 18th century Age of Enlightenment and its consequences for philosophy and religion.

Questions of this sort exist for any historic setting. A Renaissance magic setting will similarly be driven by and need to deal with the social and technological changes in which it operates. The entire genre of Urban Fantasy asks the question of what magic can look like in our current world. So to return to my original answer, I don’t think magic necessarily meshes better with a Regency setting in comparison to other eras. But the setting will certainly generate a particular flavor of magic unique to that era.

Question: The world building and system of magic varies greatly in the regency fantasy genre, how did you go about creating yours?

Answer: I had the setting before I decided/realized it was going to include magic. (The very first ideas for the Alpennia books were much more along the lines of an ordinary historical romantic adventure.) I wanted a form of magic in which it would make sense that the existence of magic hadn’t created massive divergences from our own timeline and historic development. So I looked to existing mystical themes in history and asked, “What if, sometimes, for some people, this actually worked the way that people at the time believed it worked?”

In Daughter of Mystery, the main magical focus is religious in nature. I started with the proposition: what if aspects of folk religion, and especially the folk-religious aspects of the cults of the saints in Catholicism, were a bit more...functional than they are in our world? What if some people could work “miracles” fairly reliably? But what if the nature of those miracles was such that it was impossible to turn them into a science? It was also important to me to treat the religious basis of the magic in a respectful way. As an atheist, it meant the world to me when various of my Catholic friends told me I’d “gotten it right.”

In the world of Alpennia, people have varying levels of ability of magical causation. Some have none; some have so little that you’d need a lot of people working in concert to make anything happen; and very rarely some people have enough ability to produce “miracles” on their own. But alongside this, I imagined that the ability to detect miracles was similarly distributed. Some people can’t see anything unless it has a direct visible manifestation--and most often that could be explained away as chance or coincidence. Some people can perceive the workings of magic itself in sensory form: visions of the forces at work, auditory or tactile sensations. Very rarely, someone has both the ability to work magic and to see the mechanisms by which it works well enough to develop their talents into a reliable practice. If they have the proper guidance. And if society thinks it’s appropriate for them to do so. And if the results of their efforts don’t cause them fatal problems.

Channeling the understanding and practice of magic through religious ritual both created a context for passing along “effective” practices, but also for diluting them into mere rote ceremony. So I had my context in which there was the possibility of a particular individual having and developing significant magical skills, but where that possibility didn’t translate into the development of a “technology of magic”.

In later books, we see that religion isn’t the only context in which the magic in my world manifests. The Mystic Marriage centers around alchemy--a field that my characters treat as if it were purely scientific, but where it’s clear to the readers that the same mystical forces that lie behind miracles are driving the results of alchemical experiments. In my current work in progress, Mother of Souls, we see mystical forces being channeled through other practices such as music and art. But in all cases, the effects can range from barely perceptible to world-shaking, depending on the practitioners and the practice.

Question: If you had to choose between writing only period literature or only fantasy literature, which would win?

Answer: I’ve always refused to accept false dichotomies. I’ve spent most of my writing life feeling like I had to choose between writing characters like me and writing characters that I could sell stories about. Or between writing the stories I wanted to read and writing the stories other people wanted to read. When I had the finished manuscript of Daughter of Mystery in hand, I had to make the very important choice of whether to try to publish it as a mainstream fantasy novel or as a lesbian novel. I refuse to be boxed. I’ve sold purely historic stories (“Where My Heart Goes”, a historical romance short story set in 16th century Italy). I’ve sold purely fantasy stories (the “Skinsinger” series in the Sword and Sorceress anthology series). And I’ve sold historic fantasy set in both the Regency and medieval periods. I will not erase any part of my writing self, not even just for fun in a quiz.

Question: Be honest, have you ever dressed up in Regency clothes just to pretend for a moment you are in the past?

Answer: I’ve been deeply involved in historic re-creation for the last 40 years. In terms of organized events, it’s been mostly in the Society for Creative Anachronism, but I’ve worn costumes from Bronze Age Denmark and pharaonic Egypt all the way up through the 1930s. I love participating in historic themed “set pieces”, especially dinners and similarly structured events. I’ve prepared historic meals scattered over several millennia. (You should see my historic culinary library!) At Worldcon last year, I brought some Alpennian pastries as refreshments for my author’s kaffee klatch, based on a French cookbook of the same era. But I confess, I haven’t yet made a specifically Regency-era outfit. I have the fabric sitting in my stash and I know exactly which dress from my books I want to make. It’s just a matter of time and of having the excuse of what to wear it for.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

Terry Pratchett's Discworld Imaginarium by Paul Kidby
Published by: Gollancz
Publication Date: April 24th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Paul Kidby, Sir Terry Pratchett's artist of choice, provided the illustrations for The Last Hero, designed the covers for the Discworld novels since 2002 and is the author of the bestseller The Art Of Discworld.

Now, Paul Kidby has collected the very best of his Discworld illustrations in this definitive volume, including 40 pieces never before seen, 30 pieces that have only appeared in foreign editions, limited editions and BCA editions, and 17 book cover illustrations since 2004 that have never been seen without cover text.

If Terry Pratchett's pen gave his characters life, Paul Kidby's brush allowed them to live it, and nowhere is that better illustrated than in this magnificent book."

Two things I love in this world: Terry Pratchett and Paul Kidby. I love it even more when they're together!

My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan
Published by: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: April 24th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Set amidst the breathtaking beauty of Oxford, this sparkling debut novel tells the unforgettable story about a determined young woman eager to make her mark in the world and the handsome man who introduces her to an incredible love that will irrevocably alter her future—perfect for fans of JoJo Moyes and Nicholas Sparks.

American Ella Durran has had the same plan for her life since she was thirteen: Study at Oxford. At 24, she’s finally made it to England on a Rhodes Scholarship when she’s offered an unbelievable position in a rising political star’s presidential campaign. With the promise that she’ll work remotely and return to DC at the end of her Oxford year, she’s free to enjoy her Once in a Lifetime Experience. That is, until a smart-mouthed local who is too quick with his tongue and his car ruins her shirt and her first day.

When Ella discovers that her English literature course will be taught by none other than that same local, Jamie Davenport, she thinks for the first time that Oxford might not be all she’s envisioned. But a late-night drink reveals a connection she wasn’t anticipating finding and what begins as a casual fling soon develops into something much more when Ella learns Jamie has a life-changing secret.

Immediately, Ella is faced with a seemingly impossible decision: turn her back on the man she’s falling in love with to follow her political dreams or be there for him during a trial neither are truly prepared for. As the end of her year in Oxford rapidly approaches, Ella must decide if the dreams she’s always wanted are the same ones she’s now yearning for."

Why would I read a book that is compared to Nicholas Sparks? I needs my Oxford fix bad! It's a whole year until I get more Endeavour! 

Murder in the Locked Library by Ellery Adams
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: April 24th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Welcome to Storyton Hall, Virginia, where book lovers travel from near and far to enjoy the singular comforts of the Agatha Christie Tea Room, where they can discuss the merits of their favorite authors no matter how deadly the topic...

With her twins, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, back in school, Jane Steward can finally focus on her work again—managing Storyton Hall, and breaking ground on the resort’s latest attraction: a luxurious, relaxing spa named in honor of Walt Whitman. But when the earth is dug up to start laying the spa’s foundation, something else comes to the surface—a collection of unusual bones and the ragged remnants of a very old book. The attendees of the Rare Book Conference are eager to assist Jane with this unexpected historical mystery—until a visitor meets an untimely end in the Henry James Library. As the questions—and suspects—start stacking up, Jane will have to uncover a killer before more unhappy endings ensue..."

A book retreat themed cozy? YAS! 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Review - V.E. Schwab's A Conjuring of Light

A Conjuring of Light by V.E.Schwab
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: February 21st, 2017
Format: Paperback, 624 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Osaron, the oshoc, the demon made of magic that destroyed Black London escaped his prison using Holland. The Antari thought it was a chance for his world to thrive, instead it was Osaron's chance to become a God again, but not in Holland's dying London, in the vital London, in Red London. Arnes is ripe with magic and the Isle pulses with power and within minutes of his arrival Osaron has the city bowing at his feet. Those who do not submit to his insinuating call will be killed. The Isle turns black and a thick fog creeps through the streets. In the palace the competitors are celebrating the end of the Essen Tasch. Soon those competitors and their entourages will be the only people not under Osaron's spell. The priests of the London Sanctuary place wards all around the Soner Rast in an effort to keep out Osaron's influence and for the moment it is holding. But a plan needs to be formed before people get desperate. Having so many loyal supplicants Osaron abandons Holland and Kell thinks this new prisoner of the crown could work as a lure to destroy the oshoc. Their first attempt fails, Osaron showing far more interest in this new Antari then his previous Antari vessel. That interest makes Kell, Holland, and Lila realize that perhaps they are the only way to destroy him, along with a device rumored to be capable of draining and transferring magic. A device that was last seen on a floating black market, a market that might just hold the true key to defeating Osaron. While the three Antari go in search of their best hope against Osaron, the King, the Aven Essen, the Prince, the Veskans, the Faroans, and the competitors all attempt their own plans to beat Osaron. Whose plan will work? Because with these stakes failure equals death.

And we come to the end. For now. With much fanfare but without much satisfaction for this reader. The Big Bad is banished but instead of tying all the threads together to give us any kind of closure we are given a repetitive book with way too much death. Thought you might learn where Kell came from and the history of that knife with the "KL" on it? Think again and have a few competitors from the Essen Tasch die needlessly. Hoping to learn the history of Lila's false eye? Wait in vain as Schwab describes something with the exact same wording ten or more times over the course of a few chapters oh and here's Alucard's beloved sister dead on the floor of his ship. I'm not saying that this book was Red Wedding levels of death, oh, who am I kidding, I am SO saying it's Red Wedding levels of death. The thing is, this series has never shied away from death and brutality, but this all felt so needless, so out of left field. Just a few pages in with the previous Essen Tasch victor Kisimyr flaking away as she is reduced to ash had me appalled. Shock value is good, but there's a point where it's no longer shocking and I stopped bracing myself for the next death because I became numb and indifferent after Ojka, Jinnar, Calla, Anisa, Lenos, Hastra, on and on, so much death. I seriously believe now that A Gathering of Shadows was written to give us all these characters we'd come to love only to kill them off in A Conjuring of Light. I didn't back anyone to survive because of this cavalier attitude where everyone was fair game. And that's where my problem lies. Schwab doesn't give us a single beat to mourn these characters. The book is constantly pushing the narrative forward and when the survivors make it to the end they want to put everything behind them and move on, never taking the time to grieve. If the author doesn't show sympathy for her own creations how are we as readers supposed to care about their demise? It lessens the impact of the story and for me it made me not care.

So while I came to really enjoy the beginning of this series the second time around I just can not get behind A Conjuring of Light. It's not just this mass slaughter that had me disengaging from the book but the fact that it felt so different to A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows that it didn't feel a part of the overall series. In the first book we basically have two POVs, in the second we have a little more than double that, but here it's a free for all, every character ever gets their chance. All these different characters getting stories doesn't just pull focus away from our central characters, it dilutes the reader's connection to the story. Here's King Maxim, here's Queen Emira, here's a guard you've maybe heard of once before... I get that Schwab wanted to expand her universe, but this was too much too soon. Resolve what you've already started and then build off that. Don't use the conclusion of one story as a starting off point for a ton more. Yes, Schwab has built this great universe, but new people and new powers left and right seriously did not help defeat Osaron. Well, maybe Dracula's did... OK, Alucard. But here's the thing, WTF is up with Alucard!?! All of a sudden out of left field he has the ability to "see" magic!?! And EVERYONE knew about it!?! This was too convenient, too much of a deus ex machina. So Alucard could have told Lila the second he met her she was Antari because of her "magical aura" and being able to see this "aura" leads him to an artifact on the floating black market that makes all the difference in the battle against Osaron!?! Really!?! I mean, REALLY!?! The LEAST Schwab could have done is started to hint at this in the previous volume, instead it was yet another WTF moment of incredulity. I really, I just can't anymore with this book.

The books ONLY saving grace amongst the din of trying to balance all these characters like plates in the air was Holland, the White London Antari. I've always felt sorry for Holland because no matter how good his intentions he always ends up being screwed. Here we get even more of his story, badly typeset by someone who thought it would look "cool" to have his flashbacks different than the rest of the book's copy. He has suffered loss after loss and still he just wants to save his home. He is willing to give up his freedom, to put a cage around his own identity if his London will thrive. This is epic stuff, showing that Holland is the true hero of the series. What's more it leads into an important discourse on freedom. So many of our characters are trapped, Kell by the crown, Rhy by his perceived inadequacies, Alucard by his family, Lila by her station, each and every person we come in contact with has a prison. Some of these prisons are of their own making, some aren't, but that feeling of being trapped is universal. They are all searching for some kind of freedom and their battle against Osaron is able to highlight their struggles both big and small. I think this, more than anything else in the series, is where I connect. Even though I don't currently live in a prison, I have cages of my own making. Obligations, some real, some I force on myself that I struggle with daily. If I could physically and psychologically remove these burdens, I just wonder, what does it feel like to be free? I can't be the only one reading this book and wondering the same thing, and that's how this book just ever so slightly redeems itself, by holding up a mirror to which the readers can actually relate.

Though Queen Emira comes a close second in redeeming this book. I am of the age when everyone I know is either on the precipice of or already has kids. As I've gotten older I've realized that many of the things that make me me is why I could never have kids. I'm not talking the time, the lack of sleep, I'm talking the worry. I seriously worry about everything. I can grind my mind to a halt with "what ifs." Queen Emira admits she never wanted children. Her affinity is with water, ice, and ice breaks. Everything breaks. When she had Rhy she became terrified with worry, thinking about what could happen. The hurt, the pain, the possible death. All the wounds that could be inflicted on her son. These paralyze her and lead her to seeming cold, remote. She is so scared she basically turns herself into stone. The ice queen, hardening her heart because she feels too much. This would be me. I would never sleep, I would never rest, I would be there listening to every little breath my child took just to make sure nothing was wrong. I bought a baby monitor for my cat when he was sick, that's how stressed I get. Like freedom, this was another hard truth that was almost lost in the muddle of multiple character arcs and magical spells. While we readers love to read about things that can't happen and worlds that don't exist unless a book is grounded in something real then you can not emotionally invest, you can not just connect. So while my issues with this book are many and various, Schwab was able, in the quieter moments, to get at something true, and while I don't want to think about how I impose such walls around myself I have to acknowledge, like Emira, that they are there before I can hope to at the very least understand them before I can try to break them down.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book Review - V.E. Schwab's A Gathering of Shadows

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E.Schwab
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: February 23rd, 2016
Format: Paperback, 512 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

In four months a lot can change. Lives have been lost. Lives have been changed. Rulers have fallen. Worlds are in flux. In Grey London the natural succession has occurred on the death of the mad king. But in White London power is what you need to rule, and that comes from a surprising and dangerous source. A source that almost destroyed Red London four months ago on the Black Night when the prince died and his life was tethered to Kell's and Lila Bard, going against all her instincts, helped save a world by putting her neck on the line. Since that night Kell is virtually a prisoner of the crown. If something happens to him Rhy's life is in danger and therefore Kell must never be in danger. Frustrated and ashamed at his part in that deadly night he trains and trains to be the weapon he needs to be to protect Rhy. Lila Bard is also training. That night showed her that she has powers. She might come from a London where magic is dead, but there is magic in her. Reluctantly she is learning from Captain Alucard Emery of The Night Spire. She initially wanted to steal his ship and lead the life of piracy she always dreamt of, but it dawned on her that she doesn't know the first thing about ships and this is a good way to learn. But she is becoming complacent. Life should never be comfortable or safe and when the ship returns to London for the Essen Tasch, a magical tournament between the countries of Arnes, Vesk, and Faro, she decides that like her captain, she wants to compete. The problem is the competitors list is set. So she needs to steal an identity... but little does she know that Kell is also competing under another identity. Juggling multiple identities and The Essen Tasch are such distractions that it might be too late before our heroes realize that Red London is in danger. Again.

A Darker Shade of Magic is such a frenetic book literally taking place over the span of hours the relatively languid pace of A Gathering of Shadows tripped me up. I felt like this book was almost unnecessary to the Shades of Magic series and was wondering if perhaps Tor had told Schwab that they were only interested in trilogies at the time she was selling the series and she turned a duology into something more by just having our characters drag their heels through "The Hunger Games: Red London Edition." But I'd really like to take that back now. The thing with time is that opinions often change. I have often wondered how many books that I disliked and therefore sold I would like if I read at a later time and then I'm gripped by the opposite of buyers remorse, sellers remorse. What if I just got rid of a book I'll love years from now!?! I try not to dwell on those thoughts but re-reading A Gathering of Shadows kind of triggered my sellers remorse because literally what a difference a year made with me and this book, and oddly enough it was literally almost a year to the day! What I found as hundreds of pages of nothing happening turned into a character study where I finally had the luxury of connecting to the characters in a different way. The Essen Tasch which I viewed as the dominate theme of the book was now just something to highlight our characters flaws and strengths, nothing more or less. All the issues I had with Rhy and Kell's relationship previously, while not fully assuaged, I at least got to see them together more and understand their connection versus just being told that they were close. New characters, backstories, wish fulfillment, all these concepts are explored and they gave the series a depth it lacked before. So seriously, I was hasty to judge, so sorry.

Though there is one character I grew to dislike with all this added time I got to spend with her and that's Lila Bard. Oh Lila, I have so many issues with you and the truth is, I shouldn't! When I was younger I dreamt of being a pirate, adding thief and magician on top of that would have made me the happiest girl in the world. But I do. I have so many issues. I think once I realized you were written more as the reluctant anti-heroine in the vein of Becky Sharp I understood you more, but I still don't like you. OK, let's talk about why I dislike Lila! She self-sabotages anything good in her life, be it her berth aboard The Night Spire, or her friendships, because if she feels the least bit safe she runs. Now that's more a problem for a psychiatrist and I can understand where she's coming from even if I'm yelling at her to stay. What my issue boils down to is how selfish she is. Yes she's had a hard upbringing but that doesn't give her the right to screw people over to get what she wants and that is exemplified by her assuming the identity of Stasion Elsor. Stasion Elsor is a man who presumably worked his ass off to compete for Arnes in the Essen Tasch. Of ALL the magicians in Arnes, and seeing as Red London is so magically rich there are a lot of people who could compete, he was selected as one of the twelve competitors. And Lila takes that all away from him because he has the same build as her and she just attacks him in an alley and ships him off to a penal colony! WTF! How is that acceptable? Even Alucard is like, that's too much. Yes, she is using this to push those who have gotten close to her away, but more importantly it shows that she thinks that she deserves whatever she can take. I'm just not OK with this. Becky Sharp at least got what was coming to her and I have a feeling Lila won't.

Yet oddly enough Lila isn't the character I had the most problems with, that would be her captain, Alucard. Here's the thing about creating names in a fantastical story, they have to be close enough to English that you know they're like a more magical version of everyday names but at the same time be easy to read and easy to say. I can still remember LONG before there was a Game of Thrones TV series I went to a George R. R. Martin book signing for A Feast of Crows and almost all the questions asked were how to pronounce character names. Because readers want to know what this new name sounds like. So that there is rule one and Alucard passes that one with flying colors. Rule two is that the name shouldn't make you think of someone else in another story because it will take you out of the narrative. Alice Cooper in the Archie Comics does this for me but I will be quick to point out that the singer Alice Cooper actually came later so it's not the Comics fault. This is where Alucard fails MISERABLY. Because do you know what Alucard is? It's freaking Dracula spelled backwards! WTF Schwab!?! While Schwab claims "YOU GUYS ALUCARD EMERY IS NOT A VAMPIRE. I DIDN'T REALIZE HIS NAME WAS DRACULA SPELLED BACKWARDS I JUST LIKED IT" I call foul. HOW can you look at the name Alucard and NOT see Dracula? Not to mention several books, even ones by my friend Paul Magrs, use Alucard as Dracula's "in disguise" name. I mean seriously!?! And not one editor went, hey Schwab, do you mean to be referencing a book that in your series chronology doesn't come out for another 77 years!?! I just don't get how NO ONE caught this. It's just so freaking obvious and EVERY SINGLE TIME I read his name I inwardly groan and am taken out of the book. At one point I even thought of given him another name to not annoy me, but that just seemed like too much work. But it was Westley if you're interested.

Though I think for me, at least the first time I read this book, the biggest disappointment was the lack of Grey London. Those sections just draw me in every time. There's something about seeing Kell, such a magical being, in this normal historical setting that captures my imagination. Seeing the opposite with Lila in Red London just isn't the same. She was outside the bounds of polite society in her London, never fitting in there, and she's actually attempting to fit into Red London so there's no real excitement to be had in the dichotomy. But I think this is just my desire to make this book more of a traditional Regency Magic book... I should embrace it for it's differences not lament it because I want to see what would happen if the Prince Regent tried to kidnap Kell and force him to do magic for him. And yes, I really really wanted that to happen. But this is just me wanting to be surrounded by the familiar because it gives me comfort and if anything is a comfort read to me it's firstly Jane Austen and secondly anything Regency Magic. On top of this my favorite character is Edward Archibald Tuttle III, AKA Ned. Perhaps this is because I relate most to Ned, and he'd be SO happy I was referring to him as Ned, because that means we're friends, and we are. He lives in this dark grey world and has always believed in magic and he was proven right. Here's someone I can relate to, someone I can love. What's odd to me is going back to Lila, she's the character we're supposed to relate to because she's from our world and we're following her on her adventure, but she has so many negative traits I can never connect to her. Now if Ned was the one who went on this adventure? Well, it might be more interesting... Lila is a survivor and has proven her mettle on the street time and time again so of course she'll succeed, but could Ned? Now I'd read the heck out of that!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Elizas by Sara Shepard
Published by: Atria Books
Publication Date: April 17th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"New York Times bestselling author of Pretty Little Liars Sara Shepard makes her mark on adult fiction with this Hitchcockian double narrative composed of lies, false memories, and a protagonist who must uncover the truth for survival.

When debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, her family at first assumes that it’s just another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness.

Desperate to find out who attacked her, Eliza takes it upon herself to investigate. But as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers. Like why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional, isn’t it?

The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel, until the line between reality and fiction starts to blur and she can no longer tell where her protagonist’s life ends and hers begins.

Fans of Pretty Little Liars, S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, and Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 will be drawn to the drama of feeling like no one is on your side, the high tension of not knowing who you can trust, the hair-raising truths hidden among lies, and a faceless, nameless presence controlling Eliza’s life from the shadows."

I'm all about this book, it's named after me, Miss Eliza right? 

The She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
Published by: Atria Books
Publication Date: April 17th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Ellie Mack was the perfect daughter. She was fifteen, the youngest of three. She was beloved by her parents, friends, and teachers. She and her boyfriend made a teenaged golden couple. She was days away from an idyllic post-exams summer vacation, with her whole life ahead of her.

And then she was gone.

Now, her mother Laurel Mack is trying to put her life back together. It’s been ten years since her daughter disappeared, seven years since her marriage ended, and only months since the last clue in Ellie’s case was unearthed. So when she meets an unexpectedly charming man in a café, no one is more surprised than Laurel at how quickly their flirtation develops into something deeper. Before she knows it, she’s meeting Floyd’s daughters—and his youngest, Poppy, takes Laurel’s breath away.

Because looking at Poppy is like looking at Ellie. And now, the unanswered questions she’s tried so hard to put to rest begin to haunt Laurel anew. Where did Ellie go? Did she really run away from home, as the police have long suspected, or was there a more sinister reason for her disappearance? Who is Floyd, really? And why does his daughter remind Laurel so viscerally of her own missing girl?"

I want to know why her new beau's daughter reminds her of her own!

In Prior's Wood by G.M. Malliet
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: April 17th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Agatha Award-winning author G. M. Malliet has charmed mystery lovers and cozy fans with her critically acclaimed mysteries. In Prior's Wood, featuring handsome spy-turned-cleric Max Tudor, won’t disappoint.

Newly returned from investigating a murder in Monkslip-super-Mare, handsome Max Tudor wants nothing more than to settle back into his predictable routine as vicar of St. Edwold’s Church in the village of Nether Monkslip. But the flow of his sermon on Bathsheba is interrupted when the lady of the local manor house is found in a suicide pact with her young lover.

Lady Duxter’s husband rallies quickly from the double tragedy―too quickly, it is murmured in the village. Lord Duxter already has offered his manor house to a motley crew of writers, including Max’s wife Awena, for his writers’ retreat, and he insists the show must go on.

When a young girl goes missing and a crime writer becomes a target, DCI Cotton asks Max to lend his MI5 expertise to the investigation.

Many suspects emerge as the scope of the investigation widens beyond the writers to villagers who had crossed swords with the insufferably smug crime author. But Max begins to wonder: was the attack on the writer only part of a broader conspiracy of silence?"

English country cozy death!

The Mechanical Devil by Kate Ellis
Published by: Piatkus
Publication Date: April 17th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When archaeologist Neil Watson unearths a long-buried mechanical figure in a Dartmoor field, he is determined to discover the truth behind the bizarre find.

Soon, however, the sleepy village becomes the focus of press attention for another reason when two people with no apparent connection to each other are found shot dead in nearby Manor Field, seemingly victims of an execution-style double murder.

DI Wesley Peterson is called in to investigate, but the two murders aren't his only problem. The daughter of a local MP has gone missing and the pressure is on to find her, especially when it's revealed that she has a connection to one of the murder victims. And Wesley's own life is thrown into turmoil when a woman he helped on a previous investigation finds herself subjected to a campaign of terror...

Is there a link between the double murder and the accidental death of a young history student in Manor Field twenty years ago? And just what is the true identity of the Mechanical Devil?"

So many interconnections, but I really want to know about the mechanical figure! 

Shot in the Dark by Cleo Coyle
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: April 17th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A new smartphone dating game turns the Village Blend into a hookup hot spot, until one dark night, when a gunshot leaves a dead body behind and the landmark coffeehouse becomes the center of a whole new scene--a crime scene.

As Village Blend manager Clare Cosi attempts to finalize a date for her wedding, her ex-husband becomes addicted to making dates through smartphone swipes. Clare has mixed feelings about these quickie matchups happening in her coffeehouse. Even her octogenarian employer is selecting suitors by screenshot! But business is booming, and Clare works hard to keep the espresso shots flowing. Then one dark night, another kind of shot leaves a dead body for her to find.

The corpse is a successful entrepreneur who became notorious for his "hit it and quit it" behavior: prowling for women on dating apps, then devastating his conquests with morning-after insults. Though the NYPD quickly arrests one of his recent victims, Clare finds reason to believe she's been framed.

Now, with the help of her ex and crew of quirky baristas, Clare starts "swiping" through suspects in her own shop, determined to find the real killer before another shot rings out.

Includes a bang-up menu of tempting recipes."

A new brew for you!

Noir by Christopher Moore
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: April 17th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The absurdly outrageous, sarcastically satiric, and always entertaining New York Times bestselling author Christopher Moore returns in finest madcap form with this zany noir set on the mean streets of post-World War II San Francisco, and featuring a diverse cast of characters, including a hapless bartender; his Chinese sidekick; a doll with sharp angles and dangerous curves; a tight-lipped Air Force general; a wisecracking waif; Petey, a black mamba; and many more.

San Francisco. Summer, 1947. A dame walks into a saloon...

It’s not every afternoon that an enigmatic, comely blonde named Stilton (like the cheese) walks into the scruffy gin joint where Sammy "Two Toes" Tiffin tends bar. It’s love at first sight, but before Sammy can make his move, an Air Force general named Remy arrives with some urgent business. ’Cause when you need something done, Sammy is the guy to go to; he’s got the connections on the street.

Meanwhile, a suspicious flying object has been spotted up the Pacific coast in Washington State near Mount Rainer, followed by a mysterious plane crash in a distant patch of desert in New Mexico that goes by the name Roswell. But the real weirdness is happening on the streets of the City by the Bay.

When one of Sammy’s schemes goes south and the Cheese mysteriously vanishes, Sammy is forced to contend with his own dark secrets—and more than a few strange goings on—if he wants to find his girl.

Think Raymond Chandler meets Damon Runyon with more than a dash of Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes All Stars. It’s all very, very Noir. It’s all very, very Christopher Moore."

Hell, I'd be interested just for the San Francisco angle, Moore is just MORE!

Coyotes by Sean Lewis
Published by: Image Comics
Publication Date: April 17th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 128 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Women are going missing in the City of Lost Girls, a border town in the desert. Officer Frank Coffey is trying to get to the bottom of this when he meets Red, a thirteen girl with a katana blade and a mission: murder the Werewolves stalking the border picking women off one by one. When it's discovered that the Wolves are the men of these villages, both Red and Officer Coffey are thrown together in a thriller of mythic proportions with he lives of their friends and loved ones in the balance."

Oh, I hope my local library gets this! Yes, I have a rule, I'm not allowed to buy graphic novels until I read them first. 

The Case of the Perilous Palace by Jordan Stratford
Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 17th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 192 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The history-mystery-science series concludes as the Wollstonecraft Detectives - Ada Byron Lovelace and Mary Shelley - take on a case by royal request.

Ada's imperious grandmother has absolutely shut the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency down--until they get a case from a princess, that is.

The princess Alexandrina Victoria, age 9 (who will grow up to be Queeen Victoria), is the most closely watched girl in England. She is never alone. Every morsel she eats is catalogued. Every visitor overseen. Every move noted down. She has but one thing of her own--a sketchbook she uses as a secret diary, where she records her private thoughts in code. But now, somehow, that sketchbook has disappeared.

And so the princess enlists Ada and Mary to figure out what has happened to the sketchbook without arousing the suspicions of her minders. A most clandestine case indeed! One that will involve breaking into Kensington Palace and uncovering a host of surprising royal secrets...

This funny, Christmas-time romp of a caper will delight history and mystery fans alike."

What's this "last" BS!?!

Before Mars by Emma Newman
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: April 17th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Hugo Award winner Emma Newman returns to the captivating Planetfall universe with a dark tale of a woman stationed on Mars who starts to have doubts about everything around her.

After months of travel, Anna Kubrin finally arrives on Mars for her new job as a geologist and de facto artist in residence--and already she feels she is losing the connection with her husband and baby at home on Earth.

In her room on the base, Anna finds a mysterious note, painted in her own hand, warning her not to trust the colony psychiatrist. A note she can't remember painting.

When she finds a footprint in a place that the colony AI claims has never been visited by humans, Anna begins to suspect that she is caught up in an elaborate corporate conspiracy. Or is she losing her grip on reality? Anna must find the truth, regardless of what horrors she might discover or what they might do to her mind."

Mars, it's the new thing that all books should have in them!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Book Review - V.E. Schwab's A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E.Schwab
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: February 24th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 416 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Through a linguistic quirk no one can understand there are four parallel Londons. All in their own worlds, separated from each other like the pages of a book, but all in the same location along the curve of the same river. Though the rivers do not have the same linguistic oddity that London does, instead London is on the banks of the Thames, the Isle, and the Sijlt depending on which London. Once there were doors connecting all the Londons together and perhaps that magical transference is why they share the same name. But the doors had to be closed. One of the worlds became infected by magic and Black London fell. Or at least that's the name Kell has given that world. Kell is an Antari. His one black eye marks him out as being one of only two people in all the Londons able to travel between the worlds. Kell comes from Red London, Arnes, the only London still magically thriving. White London, being closest to the fallen city is now dying too, a vicious and dangerous place with power hungry people and maniacal leaders. Farthest from Black London is Grey London, the London of England and a mad king locked away in a palace while his son waits to rule. Grey London will soon become a refuge for Kell when his illegal habit of collecting artifacts from other Londons gets him into trouble when he is give a powerful relict from Black London. This magical artifact could destroy his world and he needs help. That help comes in the form of Delilah Bard, a Grey London thief who has been waiting her entire life for an adventure. Helping Kell save his world sounds like an adventure worthy of her. Because if you don't risk your life, did you really live?

Much like Murder, Magic and What We Wore this is another book that takes the Regency Magic building blocks and goes in an entirely unexpected direction. We start out in the London we know so well, there's a mad king on the throne and his power hungry son. But here OUR London is just a starting off point. The aptly named "Grey" London, if just for the rain and soot and not it's lack of magic, is utilized, but just to familiarize ourselves with what to expect going forward with the magical worldbuilding. Like Grey London's Lila we need to get a grasp on what we are about to delve into with Red and White London. Lila is our avatar, our touchstone in A Darker Shade of Magic. Red London is, in my mind, a more Renaissance Faire Game of Thrones world. There's more pageantry and partying, in fact the Prince Regent from Grey London would probably love to rule over Arnes! This world that Schwab has built is more in keeping with books considered traditional fantasy fare. This really intrigues me because so much of Regency Magic is about trying to infuse the fantasy into our world, shoehorn it in if you will, whereas here there are no pretensions, it's an all out fantasia and that's what makes this book so unique. As for White London? That world is like some dark Scandinavian shit y'all. The closest I can think of is Vikings meet Fortitude... and that's dark. But again, something you wouldn't expect in the dainty drawing rooms of Regency England and that's perhaps why I'm most drawn to the White city.

The fact that I can find something to love in each and every one of the different Londons just shows how Schwab 100% nailed the worldbuilding. But I don't want to talk about the worlds here as a whole I want to talk about how she was able to ground the magic in reality and describe it in a logical way that fit into the narrative so that it didn't feel like necessary but clunky exposition. Magic here is based on the elements, the building blocks of the world around us; fire, water, air, earth, metal, and bone. This is all explained to us by a magic set that Kell has brought from Red to Grey London for a collector of magical ephemera. While waiting for the buyer to appear he meets Edward Archibald Tuttle III, Ned. Ned isn't a collector, he's an enthusiast, which are people Kell tends to avoid. But on this one day he's feeling generous and shows the learning tool to Ned. This small box contains a little of the basic five elements, it's not considered good manners or good in general to talk about being able to control bone. There's water, sand for air, earth, oil for fire, and metal. This is how you learn what your elemental affinity is. Because magic is fickle. Not everyone has talent and most only have a connection to one element, sometimes two, but three is really rare. Because Kell is Antari and can use blood magic he can also control all elements. But to me I just like the simplicity of the system. Now I'm not using simplicity as an insult, because this is a complex world that Schwab has built, I'm using it as a compliment, in the it's easy to understand and grasp and therefore the magic is more real because you can understand it. See, that's a compliment.

But I wouldn't be me if I loved everything about a book now would I? I have now read A Darker Shade of Magic twice and it's not quite as good the second time around. Scwab has given us such a fast-paced read that the first time you're almost stumbling over the words just trying to get to the next page, not picking up on each and every detail in the need to know what happens to Kell and Lila. So reading it a second time I wasn't racing because I knew the outcome and therefore I started to catch little inconsistencies. This all boils down to the way Schwab writes. You'll be reading a paragraph and she'll mention someone standing and you will be convinced that they were sitting just a second ago. So you'll go back and only about 50% of the time does she say they've moved and it's usually buried deep in the text and is just brushed aside in passing. You know the saying, don't bury your lead? You should also not bury important things like a characters physical location. Because while she does say they've moved 50% of the time the other 50% of the time she doesn't. They're sitting, they're standing, they're here, they're there, it drove me slightly batty. I like to know what the characters look like and where they are, and most of the time I just didn't know where they were! I don't know if you're like me, but when I read I visually picture everything and when a new piece of information arrives I readjust the scene, like quickly panning the camera to another location. But here it was like I was playing some of my old MMORPGs where my character would jump from one location to another because of lag. I didn't like that when I played games, and I sure don't like it when reading a book.

Though this writing quirk is something that can be lovingly beaten out of Schwab given good enough editors. Come on Tor, I believe in you! What can't be fixed, at least in this installment of the trilogy, is that I just don't get the Kell/Rhy dynamic. Rhy is the royal prince whose family "adopted" Kell. So it's brotherly to an extent, but Kell willing to give up/bind his life to Rhy doesn't sit right with me. Rhy comes across as Red London's answer to Captain Jack Harkness but without the whole bothering to save the world. He's insecure and annoying. There has to be SOME reason other than this brotherly love for Kell to risk so much. Kell recounts a story of when Rhy was younger and got kidnapped and Kell saved Rhy's life almost at the cost of his own. It's a touching story, but for me I only felt Kell's need, not any justification for the act. It's more like Kell is so used to saving Rhy that he views it as his job. This has the effect of making Rhy more dependent on Kell and therefore more jealous of his "brother" which leads to the whole, oh shit I need Kell to magically save my life yet again. Rhy's rebellion at this need makes him a selfish ass. Sometimes you do need help, sometimes you aren't the best or the brightest, but doing something stupid just makes you stupid. Now you're saying I'm missing the point, that this shows that everyone is vulnerable and that love conquers all... that's not how I read it. To me it came across that a spoiled prince was an imposition to his "brother," who is treated more as a magical orphan slave than a sibling, yet again and it would have been just to have Rhy's actions have consequences that affected him and not others. Hence I don't get Kell/Rhy... just let the prince die.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

V.E. Schwab

Victoria Schwab, AKA V.E. Schwab if she's writing for adults and not YA or middle grade or just embracing the whole J.K. Rowling book readers are sexist vibe, is a #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen books. She had an eclectic childhood with a British mother, a Beverly Hills father, and a southern upbringing leading to some interesting linguist habits if you are lucky enough to meet her. Her love of fairy tales and folklore has made her someone who is obsessed with writing about magical portals, just look to Kell's abilities in her Shades of Magic series. Because, if anything, doors are what seem to define Victoria's life. A wandering soul she has never settled on just going through one door. Why would you when you could try to go through them all? This lead her to changing her major six times when she was at Washington University in St. Louis. Physics, Film, Set Design, Art History, English, Communication Design doesn't seem so unsettled when you look at all the jobs she's had; department store clerk, assistant caterer, personal chef, dog daycare attendant, bookstore clerk, writer. I for one am very glad she finally landed on writer.

Her "wicked case" of wanderlust means she's not even settled in where she lives, splitting her time between Nashville (where she grew up), rural France (where her family lives), and Edinburgh (where she buried her heart), as well as touring to promote her latest book. But as she's haunting the Paris streets or trudging up English hillsides, or even tucked into the corner of a coffee shop she's dreaming up monsters and stories, because the fact is wandering is a good way to "stir up stories." All those questions that can be drawn from old tales of what is under that burrow, where could that door lead, what about the "places between, and the cracks where reality slips into something darker, stranger?" For the constant reader who loves hearth and home over the wider world, it's wonderful to be a fan of an author who, while sharing similar loves from BBC Shows to baking cookies, also is the exact opposite. She goes out into the world and then brings back the stories, twists and turns them, and makes them into echoes of this world and others. I can't wait for her next adventure to make it to print! I need a good escape.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Fates Divide by Veronica Roth
Published by: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: April 10th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the second book of the Carve the Mark duology, globally bestselling Divergent author Veronica Roth reveals how Cyra and Akos fulfill their fates. The Fates Divide is a richly imagined tale of hope and resilience told in four stunning perspectives.

The lives of Cyra Noavek and Akos Kereseth are ruled by their fates, spoken by the oracles at their births. The fates, once determined, are inescapable.

Akos is in love with Cyra, in spite of his fate: He will die in service to Cyra’s family. And when Cyra’s father, Lazmet Noavek—a soulless tyrant, thought to be dead—reclaims the Shotet throne, Akos believes his end is closer than ever.

As Lazmet ignites a barbaric war, Cyra and Akos are desperate to stop him at any cost. For Cyra, that could mean taking the life of the man who may—or may not—be her father. For Akos, it could mean giving his own. In a stunning twist, the two will discover how fate defines their lives in ways most unexpected."

I like duologies, you get it all so much quicker than longer series. 

Speakeasy by Alisa Smith
Published by: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication Date: April 10th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In this literate and action-packed historical thriller, set during World War II, a plucky code-breaker fights to keep a deadly secret as her Bonnie-and-Clyde past threatens to catch up with her.

Thirty-year-old Lena Stillman is living a perfectly respectable life when a shocking newspaper headline calls up her past: it concerns her former lover, charismatic bank robber Bill Bagley. A

romantic and charming figure, Lena had tried to forget him by resuming her linguistic studies, which led to her recruitment as a Navy code-breaker intercepting Japanese messages during World War II. But can Lena keep her own secrets? Threatening notes and the appearance of an old diary that recalls her gangster days are poised to upset her new life.

Whom can she really trust? Is there a spy among the code-breakers? And who is it that wants her dead?"

Code-breakers and dark pasts? Oh...

The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse by Alexander McCall Smith
Published by: Pantheon
Publication Date: April 10th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the beloved and best-selling author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series comes a heartwarming tale of hope and friendship set amid the turmoil of World War II.

Val Eliot, a young woman working on an English farm during the war, meets Mike, a U.S. Air Force pilot stationed nearby. When Val rescues a Border Collie named Peter Woodhouse, who is being mistreated by his owner, she realizes the dog would actually be safer with Mike. And so Peter Woodhouse finds a new home on the air force base, and Val finds herself falling in love. Peter Woodhouse becomes Dog First Class, a canine mascot on the base who boldly accompanies the officers on their missions, and Val becomes Mike’s fiancée. But then a disaster jeopardizes the future of them all, and Peter Woodhouse brings Ubi, a German corporal, into their orbit, sparking a friendship that comes with great risk but carries with it the richest of rewards.

Infused with Alexander McCall Smith’s renowned charm and warmth, The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse is an uplifting story of love and the power of friendship to bring sworn enemies together."

It's apparently a World War II kind of week... 

A Prickly Problem by Jacqueline Kelly
Published by: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: April 10th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 112 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In this story in the Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet chapter book series, Callie must help the family dog out of a prickly situation.

When the Tate family dog, Ajax, has a run-in with a porcupine, things get prickly―and dangerous―quickly. It'll take Callie's quick thinking and doctoring, along with a little help from Dr. Pritzker, to make things right. Will Ajax learn to leave other critters alone?"

It's still so weird to me the left turn this series took... 

Friday, April 6, 2018

Book Review - Kelly Jones's Murder, Magic and What We Wore

Murder, Magic and What We Wore by Kelly Jones
Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 19th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Miss Annis Whitworth has spent the majority of her life reading gossip columns and advising her friends on what to wear. Her only worries have been the strain her Aunt Cassia is putting on the postal service with her voluminous correspondence and when she might see her father again because he is almost constantly abroad for work. When her father's man of business, Mr. Harrington, arrives one day a rather cryptic greeting reveals that Annis will never see her father again, he has died and left his daughter and his sister destitute. They were completely dependent on his military half-pay and now have nothing, not even his silver pocket watch with his wife's portrait was recovered, only two handkerchiefs which Annis embroidered for his birthday. That watch is an item which could come in handy what with their scarcity of funds, as could access to her father's overseas accounts. Cassia though is practical and has spent her life raising Annis with very unique life lessons in an attempt to make her more self-reliant. Therefore Annis will embrace the horror of shapeless ready-made black mourning gowns and a possible life of employment. Yet Annis knew something about her father she didn't know if it was polite to mention... he was a spy. In fact the handkerchiefs recovered conceal a coded message and she knows that she needs to get them into the hands of the War Office because her father might have died for this intelligence and was possibly murdered for it.

Though Annis shudders to be seen in the black bombazine! Therefore a little tailoring prior to visiting the War Office is necessary... tailoring that her new maid, Millicent O'Leary, points out is actually magic! The best seamstress can't change bombazine to brocade! This gives Annis an idea. What if the War Office could use her skills? What if they need a glamour artist? Then her and Aunt Cassia's life needn't be completely uprooted. A "Mr. Smith" though quickly shuts down Annis's daydreams and instead she must face the bleak future that Cassia is laying out for them, including a trip to an employment agency! Annis would literally chose any future but this, even marrying a man who wears horrid waistcoats! It is Millicent who puts forth the idea of Annis becoming a dressmaker. Though Aunt Cassia and her helpful friend Miss Spencer agree that this would be beyond the pale. Annis would lose her reputation and would never recover. But what if this little experiment were done outside of London and in disguise? A new plan is formed, against Cassia's better judgment. They are to relocate to Flittingsworth, a small town between London and Dover, where Miss Spencer has her own shop, and so soon shall "Madame Martine" the glamour artist! But will Annis have the time to maintain two identities, get all Madame Martine's work done, and solve her father's murder? Perhaps with a little magic.

Murder, Magic and What We Wore is a wonderful addition to the Regency Magic genre. Somehow it complies to all the rules of the genre while simultaneously taking all the building blocks and turning them on their head. Instead of finding a worthy husband when finding herself destitute Annis finds a purpose in an occupation she excels at while sneakily maintaining that ever important reputation. While being the biggest fan of Jane Austen it is a bit depressing that every book is about putting a ring on it. That wasn't a viable option for many women and the whole point about Regency Magic is taking this framework that Austen bequeathed us and making it something more. Yet time and time again while creating this wonderful genre all the stories at the end of the day end with matrimony. As Kelly Jones herself said on my blog "I was craving a Regency fantasy that wasn't a romance. I love romance, but I also love stories about work, and family, and friendship, and responsibilities. I wanted to read about a girl who was too busy with other things to fall in love" and how little did I realize I wanted it too! While there is a possible suitor with Mr. Harrington, he's off to the side, in Annis's rear view mirror. Sure one day she might have time for him, but not right now. Now is Annis's time to shine, to show the world what she can do, not as someone's significant other, but just as herself, for the first time. And Annis is magnificent, and with Aunt Cassia and Millicent we have a comedy of manners that sometimes edges into a level of farce only Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers were capable of.

Yet the humor never detracts from this females first theme that is carried into every aspect of this book. Yes, it might be shocking for some to realize that women can be funny and kick ass at the same time but I defy them to read this book and not come to this conclusion. While being set in 1818 this book is oddly timely with the #MeToo movement. The truth of the matter is #MeToo was a long time coming. Especially in any time period where there are oppressed classes there is a chance for some scum to take advantage. Here it is a rather odious man who happens to be the nephew of a Lady Prippingforth who Millicent worked for, and his habit of taking what he wants from female staff is deplorable. Millie was thankfully spared because he locked her in a cupboard to "save for later" and was able to escape, but many many others weren't so lucky. It just so happens that he is in Flittingsworth and sees Millie and continues his reign of terror. Once Cassia hears of this she helps Millie and Annis learn how to protect themselves from such attacks. If you're a fan of the film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, you know that visceral thrill seeing Lizzy Bennett kick ass. Instead of a well placed gaze to show disgust, Millie can now take him down with a well placed knife. This pro female empowerment in a time period when you don't usually think of it as such is magnificent. Get that rapist out! The truth is a timely tale can be set anywhen, so long as the message is still relevant.

At the heart of this female empowerment is Cassia. While she is very clever to maintain the outward appearance of a very respectable maiden aunt, through her charitable work and her lessons imparted to her niece you grow to love this modern woman who is able to work within the system and get it to work to her advantage. I couldn't help drawing comparisons to another strong female character in literature, that of Margaret Schlegel of Howards End. While separated by almost a hundred years with Margaret firmly in Edwardian not Georgian England they both have the same animating spirit. Here are two women who believe in expanding their minds through literature and music. They have cultural pursuits, humanitarian pursuits, they believe in thinking and speaking and saying what's on their mind while still understanding discretion. They feel deeply yet are able to keep that stiff upper lip. It's very rare to find a complete connection to a character in literature, especially one that lives in another time. You might see a shifting reflection of yourself but never fully understand them. In all Austen's canon I most connect to Elinor and Fanny, but still I have moments where I diverge. The first time I read Howards End by E.M. Forster though, it was like Margaret and I were one. Murder, Magic and What We Wore let me have that experience all over again with Cassia. Maybe I'm not one hundred percent like her, but I want to be, and having that kind of role model, perhaps Cassia can make me a better person.

While there is so much that I love about this book, from how the theme of female employment perfectly melds with the magical system to how Millie starts to channel her inner Cato Fong, there is one thing I felt was underdeveloped, and that's the villainous shenanigans that follow on the heels of the murder of Annis's father. Unlike many Regency Magic books Kelly Jones nails the history, so that isn't were my issues reside. My quibbles are that all this spycraft doesn't really stand on it's own, it's like a shaky house of cards, you try to analyze it too closely and it collapses. Napoleon is trapped on Elba, first this person on this boat is going to free him, than this other person on this other boat is, too many changes with a slew of people whose names I can not for the life of me remember from one second to the next. It's a confusing profusion of underlings. Whereas the Big Bad was too obvious. I read another review that said the villain was so irredeemably evil that they almost became a caricature. I wouldn't say it that harshly... but, that reviewer had a point. Either hide the puppet master a little more efficiently, or straighten out the ranks of his organization so that they do the heavy lifting and he can more easily hide in plain sight. I do like my Napoleonic spycraft, but the wonderful madcap infectious fun of the rest of the book isn't brought to bear on this rather important piece of the puzzle. We know the what, we know the why, we just get muddled along the way but thankfully it's handily resolved and I await another installment in Annis's adventures!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Kelly Jones

Kelly Jones is easily as much of a fangirl of Regency Magic as I am judging from her debut in the genre, Murder, Magic, and What We Wore, which is a treasure trove that mines the genre for the best of the best. But one would expect that combination of the literary and the historically studious from an author who received a Bachelor of Arts in English and Anthropology, two subjects I wished I'd taken more classes of in college. Growing up in San Francisco she was introduced to Jane Austen at a young age and I'd like to think that that helpful librarian is what spurred her into getting a Master’s in Library and Information Sciences from the University of Washington after she finished her undergrad. Over the next fifteen years on her way to becoming an author she surrounded herself with books; working in libraries and bookstores until she finally decided to focus on her writing. Nowadays when Kelly isn't writing she's teaching workshops for writers of all ages on such diverse topics as just writing a novel to superpets to the science of chickens. Sadly Shoreline Washington is a bit far for me to commute for a workshop...

Getting back to the chickens... not only does she keep chickens that are sadly not showing any aptitude for magic but her first book was about chickens! Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer is about twelve-year-old Sophie and her magical chickens. The book is illustrated by Katie Kath and published by Knopf Books For Young Readers and got a slew of awards. While I have yet to read this book, or it's sequel which comes out later this year, if it is anywhere near as funny or original as Murder, Magic, and What We Wore, I see many awards in Kelly's future. And given her diversity in interests, from "magic, farm life, spies, sewing, the odd everyday bits of history, how to make sauerkraut, how to walk goats, superheroes and what makes them so super, recipes to make with a lot of eggs, anything with ghosts (particularly friendly ghosts), how to draw chickens that actually look like chickens, and any story she’s never heard before" I can't wait to see what she'll write next... though I would like to put in a vote for a sequel to Murder, Magic, and What We Wore!  

Question: When did you first discover Jane Austen?

Answer: As a young person, I was a strong reader with a small public library, and everyone worked hard to keep me from running out of (reasonably appropriate and interesting) books. So, my mother and one of the librarians introduced me to Jane Austen in middle school. I'd never realized a classic could be funny!

Question: What do you think Jane Austen would think of her impact with so many literary offshoots, from parody to pastiche?

Answer: I think she might be a bit surprised to see how many of us share her sense of humor, more than 200 years later! (I know I worry whether anyone will find my writing as funny as I do.) But I think she'd be pleased that other writers understood that she was capturing a world in her stories, and to see how they imagined that world in theirs.

Question: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Answer: I tend to pull bits of stories from the world all around me. For Murder, Magic, and What We Wore, part of the inspiration was Florence Nightingale's Cassandra (early Victorian, I know!), where she talked about upper-class ladies (like herself) losing their minds for want of useful, valuable employment. I love and value the work I do; so what would it feel like to be prevented from doing it by society? Regency England was a time when women could cross class boundaries -- think of Emma, Lady Hamilton. But what would cause a lady to deliberately step down society's ladder, instead of up? What would that lady risk, and why, and what would it feel like?

I find amazing pieces of actual history, too, and try to let those lead me. What were women doing in 1818? Who had power? How did they use it? What did the world look like? The more history I learn, the more I question my own assumptions -- and I consider that a gift. The chapter heading quotes are my answer to anyone who tries to tell me "But a woman could never have -- " Really? Are you absolutely certain about that?

I also write the books I want to read, and I was craving a Regency fantasy that wasn't a romance. I love romance, but I also love stories about work, and family, and friendship, and responsibilities. I wanted to read about a girl who was too busy with other things to fall in love. What would it look like if Jane Austen had written and published a novel about a lady writer who did not marry? It bothered me that I couldn't quite imagine such a story.

Question: What makes the early 19th century mesh so well with magic?

Answer: That it was a time of great change, all over the world, including technological change. Magic fits best into times where anything seems possible, and where it would be used in new ways. I also particularly enjoy the way science and magic can fit together, so I like to think that the scientific advancements of the previous century would have had an impact on magic as well.

Question: The world building and system of magic varies greatly in the regency fantasy genre, how did you go about creating yours?

Answer: I love puzzling out a world from the clues an author includes. One of the things I love about reading Austen outside her time is that she doesn't explain anything, but a reader can pick up what's important to the characters as the story progresses. I like to treat magic and how it interacts with a novel's world the same way.

For this book, I thought about magic as creating things that could not be manufactured -- couldn't be designed and passed on to someone else to produce. It's artisan-magic, perhaps -- something where the person with the magic can't avoid getting their own hands dirty. And that means that a lady who's talented in something other than ladylike accomplishments like music or painting might not be able to use her talent, or at least might not profit from it. I love the ways that practicality and magic interact: what would you need magic for, if you were wealthy? What couldn't you get any other way? I try to think about the social questions as well: In a society with a wealth gap the size of Regency England's, would the lower classes have any experience of magic at all, unless they had it themselves? Or would it be almost indistinguishable from the other privileges of wealth -- just another way to one-up Lady So-and-So? What would people in that particular time be concerned about, or be unable to accomplish any other way?

Question: If you had to choose between writing only period literature or only fantasy literature, which would win?

Answer: It would be a tough choice, but I'd choose fantasy. My first novel, Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, is a contemporary fantasy about a girl learning to care for magical chickens, after all! I cannot stop asking "what if?"

Question: Be honest, have you ever dressed up in Regency clothes just to pretend for a moment you are in the past?

Answer: Alas, I haven't managed to make the clothes yet so that I can wear them! Instead, I take out the sewing patterns and dream about having a sewing talent like Annis does (and the patience to figure out how to use it!) But I had an amazing amount of fun looking through fashion plates to see what Annis would wear and what she would sew.

It's a funny kind of pretending for me, though. I never wish I was actually in the past, because I know my family history. I'd be the Irish maid, not the English lady -- and I have no illusions about the challenges that Irish maid might face. I suppose that's why I choose fantasy over history: I want to try on a world where I could be something my ancestors couldn't dream about.

Author Photograph © Susan Brown

Monday, April 2, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. Harris
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A brutal murder draws nobleman Sebastian St. Cyr into the tangled web of the British royal court in this gripping historical mystery from the national bestselling author of Where the Dead Lie.

London, 1814. As a cruel winter holds the city in its icy grip, the bloody body of a beautiful young musician is found half-buried in a snowdrift. Jane Ambrose's ties to Princess Charlotte, the only child of the Prince Regent and heir presumptive to the throne, panic the palace, which moves quickly to shut down any investigation into the death of the talented pianist. But Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, and his wife Hero refuse to allow Jane's murderer to escape justice.

Untangling the secrets of Jane's world leads Sebastian into a maze of dangerous treachery where each player has his or her own unsavory agenda and no one can be trusted. As the Thames freezes over and the people of London pour onto the ice for a Frost Fair, Sebastian and Hero find their investigation circling back to the palace and building to a chilling crescendo of deceit and death..."

If you weren't already a fan of murder and Frost Fairs, that cover, damn, that should sell you with all it's Taboo vibes! 

A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee
Published by: Pegasus Crime
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"India, 1920. Captain Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee of the Calcutta Police Force investigate the dramatic assassination of a Maharajah's son, in the sequel to A Rising Man.

The fabulously wealthy kingdom of Sambalpore is home to tigers, elephants, diamond mines, and the beautiful Palace of the Sun. But when the heir to the throne is assassinated in the presence of Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant 'Surrender-Not' Banerjee, they discover a kingdom riven with suppressed conflict. Prince Adhir was a modernizer whose attitudes―and romantic relationships―may have upset the more religious elements of his country, while his brother―now in line to the throne―appears to be a feckless playboy.

As Wyndham and Banerjee desperately try to unravel the mystery behind the assassination, they become entangled in a dangerous world where those in power live by their own rules―and those who cross their paths pay with their lives. They must find a murderer, before the murderer finds them..."

I don't remember if I'd heard of this series until now, but it just goes to show that a good cover will make you read the blurb, and a good blurb will make you read the book!

Date with Malice by Julia Chapman
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The second book in a delightful new English village mystery series set in the Yorkshire Dales.

When a pensioner turns up at the Dales Detective Agency and tells Samson O’Brien that someone in her old people’s home is trying to kill her, he dismisses her fears as the ramblings of a confused elderly lady. But after several disturbing incidents at Fellside Court, he begins to wonder if perhaps there is something malicious at the heart of the retirement community after all.

With Christmas around the corner, Samson is thrown into an investigation that will require all of his detective skills. He also needs the help of the tempestuous Delilah Metcalfe in order to infiltrate the local community, which Samson turned his back on so long ago. Against the background of a Yorkshire winter, Samson and Delilah must work together to uncover the malevolence that is threatening the lives of Bruncliffe’s senior citizens; a malevolence that will come perilously close to home."

It's not JUST because I love the cover with it's cheesy skull that makes me want to read this book, it's death in the Yorkshire Dales!

The Secrets of the Bastide Blanche by M.L. Longworth
Published by: Penguin Books
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2018
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When a scandalous author moves to the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence, Verlaque and Bonnet are called in to investigate whether he’s haunted by more than just his past, in this delightful new mystery from M. L. Longworth.

One hot summer night, Aix-en-Provence is aflutter with news that controversial author Valère Barbier, who once shared dinners with French presidents and all-night drinking bouts with rock stars, has moved into La Bastide Blanche, a grand house left empty for decades. But Valère’s ideas of a peaceful retirement are quickly dashed. Rambunctious neighborhood children, a fast-talking gossip of a housekeeper, and a rival novelist filter through the home at all hours of the day—and by night there are unseen visitors with more sinister intentions.

While Antoine Verlaque investigates Valère’s sordid history, his wife and partner, Marine Bonnet, questions why the estate was abandoned in the first place—and what they both find raises more questions than answers. Is Valère imagining the ethereal cries that fill the bastide at night? Is he losing his mind? Or have these ghosts returned from Valère’s checkered past to haunt him?"

How have I never heard of this series? This is the seventh book!

Miss Julia Raises the Roof by Ann B. Ross
Published by: Viking
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"With her husband Sam off on a trip to Europe, Miss Julia reckons it's about time to roll up her sleeves and be of some use to her community. It's then that she hears that the nosy do-gooder Madge Taylor and the new pastor Rucker are embarking on a mission to buy up the vacant house next door to Hazel Marie and establish a group home for wayward teenagers. No stranger to taking in the down-and-out herself, Miss Julia is shocked to learn Madge and the pastor are keeping the project a secret. When Miss Julia and Hazel Marie start investigating, though, they uncover a far less philanthropic plot for the house that even Madge doesn't know about--one that could change the quiet, peaceful neighborhood forever."

For my mom, this is one of her favorite series!

A Magical Match by Juliet Blackwell
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2018
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Witch and vintage store owner Lily Ivory faces her most difficult mystery to date with a case of mistaken identity that hits close to home...

Lily Ivory and her friends are planning a 1950s-themed brunch to benefit the local women's shelter. When a figure from her past shows up unannounced, threatening her unless she returns something that belonged to him, Lily's fiancé, Sailor, steps in to defend her. After the same man is found dead later that day, Sailor is the primary suspect. He swears he's innocent, but multiple witnesses ID him as the perpetrator of the assault. Lily vows to clear his name...only she's not sure where to start with the mounting evidence against him.

When she sees Sailor in the neighborhood despite knowing he's in jail, Lily starts to wonder if there could be a doppelganger in San Francisco. When she's not busy helping customers find matching outfits for the upcoming event, searching for a vintage wedding dress for her own nuptials, and dealing with an ill-timed magical cold, Lily begins to suspect one of her magical foes is targeting her loved ones in an attempt to weaken her."

YAS to witches in San Francisco!

School for Psychics by K.C. Archer
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2018
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An entrancing new series starring a funny, impulsive, and sometimes self-congratulatory young woman who discovers she has psychic abilities—and then must decide whether she will use her skills for good or... not.

Teddy Cannon isn’t your typical twenty-something woman. She’s resourceful. She’s bright. She’s scrappy. She can also read people with uncanny precision. What she doesn’t realize: she’s actually psychic.

When a series of bad decisions leads Teddy to a run-in with the police, a mysterious stranger intervenes. He invites her to apply to the School for Psychics, a facility hidden off the coast of San Francisco where students are trained like Delta Force operatives: it’s competitive, cutthroat, and highly secretive. They’ll learn telepathy, telekinesis, investigative skills, and SWAT tactics. And if students survive their training, they go on to serve at the highest levels of government, using their skills to protect America, and the world.

In class, Teddy befriends Lucas, a rebel without a cause who can start and manipulate fire; Jillian, a hipster who can mediate communication between animals and humans; and Molly, a hacker who can apprehend the emotional state of another individual. But just as Teddy feels like she’s found where she might belong, strange things begin to happen: break-ins, missing students, and more. It leads Teddy to accept a dangerous mission that will ultimately cause her to question everything—her teachers, her friends, her family, and even herself.

Set in a world very much like our own, School for Psychics is the first book in a stay-up-all night series."

Just seems like a very ME book. 

Something Wonderful by Todd S. Purdum
Published by: Henry Holt and Co
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A revelatory portrait of the creative partnership that transformed musical theater and provided the soundtrack to the American Century.

They stand at the apex of the great age of songwriting, the creators of the classic Broadway musicals Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music, whose songs have never lost their popularity or emotional power. Even before they joined forces, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II had written dozens of Broadway shows, but together they pioneered a new art form: the serious musical play. Their songs and dance numbers served to advance the drama and reveal character, a sharp break from the past and the template on which all future musicals would be built.

Though different in personality and often emotionally distant from each other, Rodgers and Hammerstein presented an unbroken front to the world and forged much more than a songwriting team; their partnership was also one of the most profitable and powerful entertainment businesses of their era. They were cultural powerhouses whose work came to define postwar America on stage, screen, television, and radio. But they also had their failures and flops, and more than once they feared they had lost their touch.

Todd S. Purdum’s portrait of these two men, their creative process, and their groundbreaking innovations will captivate lovers of musical theater, lovers of the classic American songbook, and young lovers wherever they are. He shows that what Rodgers and Hammerstein wrought was truly something wonderful."

And this book is for my brother! 

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