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?

Friday, January 5, 2018

Book Review 2017 #8 - Rick Geary's Lover's Lane

Lovers' Lane: The Hall-Mills Mystery by Rick Geary
Published by: NBM Publishing
Publication Date: July 17th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 80 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

On September 14th, 1922, shots rang out near an old abandoned farm used by the New Brunswick locals as lovers' lane. No one went to investigate and it wasn't until two days later that the bodies of Edward Hall, an Episcopal priest, and Eleanor Mills, a member of the church choir, were found. They were staged side-by-side with their feet facing a crab apple tree. A hat obscured Edward Hall's face so only his calling card propped against his shoe gave a hint as to who the male victim was at first. While both victims were shot, the female multiple times, besides having her hand placed on Edward Hall's thigh her throat was also slit from ear to ear, it was later discovered that her tongue and surrounding organs had been removed as well. Around them their love letters were scattered, an apparent judgment from the killer on this adulterous couple. Edward Hall was a pillar of the community and a favorite with his lady parishioners, though he ended up marrying spinster Frances Noel Stevens, an older woman who happened to be an heir to the Johnson and Johnson fortune and lived with a mentally handicapped brother. Yet most of the community knew of his affair with the talented chorister, who herself was trapped in a loveless marriage. The case soon became a media circus, yet almost everything was badly handled, like Edward Hall's calling card which was handed through the gathering crowd for scrutiny. The crab apple tree was even denuded of branches by souvenir hunters. But the crime baffled the police, who didn't even know who should investigate, the bodies being found in the next county from where the victims lived. But again and again the investigation lead back to Mrs. Hall. Could she, with the help of her wealthy family, have killed her husband just as he was ready to elope with his mistress? For now, the case remains unsolved.

It's a wonderful thing to discover a new author and realize you have their entire back catalog to work through. I was lucky enough to stumble onto Rick Geary one dreary day at the library. I wasn't feeling the best and I wasn't at my local branch, but they had such a lovely display in their graphic novel section featuring several books I'd been wanting to read, from Alison Bechdel to the history of the Carter Family. And there, in between Fun Home and The Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song was Adventures of Blanche by Rick Geary. Needless to say I actually took the whole display home with me. Geary's style seemed vaguely familiar but I was soon lost to the narrative, Geary had taken his grandmother's old letters as a starting off point and then lovingly embellished them to be more dramatic and more of their time, with murderers running rampant and famous painters walking in and out of frame. I quickly finished this slender volume and went to look up Geary online. Having worked for both National Lampoon and MAD during my childhood back when I devoured those tomes it's no wonder his style was familiar to me with his people that all look like they have cat whiskers for jawbone definition. He was a part of my past and very soon he was to become a part of my present when I realized that he had written oodles of true crime graphic novels! Nine of which I devoured last year and I can't wait to finish the remaining few.

Here's the thing about me. I LOVE true crime. I went through a period where all I watched was police procedural shows from Homicide: Life on the Street to all the iterations of Law and Order and I especially worshiped Unsolved Mysteries. Because I realized I don't really like true crime that happens now, I like true crime that happened then. I am not joking when I say that if I had a time machine I'd just go back and see who all the famous killers and kidnappers were. Who was Jack the Ripper? What really happened to James Ellroy's mother that turned him into the writer he is today? I don't just want, I NEED to know! When I was in undergrad I saw a very interesting one man play about the kidnapping of the Lindbergh Baby. With all the new speculation about what really happened and Lindbergh's Nazi leanings I decided that the first book I'd check out in Geary's Treasury of XXth Century Murder would be The Lindbergh Child. I couldn't have been happier. This book, this series, combined two things I love, true crime and art. While many people might take issue with how simple his drawing style is, nothing more than line work, there is a place for ALL kinds of graphic novels in the world and this style suits the pared down, spare, clean way he lays out the crime and methodically analyzes it. Maps and cross sections of buildings make Geary the David Maccaulay of True Crime! In each of Geary's books I've read he has told and shown the crime more succinctly than any other author I've ever read. He has a gift for distillation and visualization that is remarkable.

But all this could apply to any one of his books I picked up from The Borden Tragedy: A Memoir of the Infamous Double Murder at Fall River, Mass., 1892 to The Murder of Abraham Lincoln. Here I want to talk about his handling of the Hall-Mills double murder that happened in the fall of 1922. This book just struck me so forcibly I can't quite understand why. It's almost as if I have a weird connection to the crime. It felt familiar somehow and yet, I'm sure I'd never heard of this crime before. While it lead to a media circus what I was drawn to was the more personal nature of this story. So many of the great unsolved crimes are serial killers who were never caught, yet here it's just an adulterous couple at the center of the media firestorm. Plus, the way the crime was committed, the removal of the organs that allowed Eleanor Mills to sing, plus having her favorite song removed from every copy of every hymnal in the church, I agree with the victim's daughter, it sounds like a crime committed by a woman. In fact, that's one thing I really like about this series by Geary, he shows that despite public opinion, women are just as capable of committing really heinous crimes. While this case was never solved, and was very much muddied by an attention seeker known as "the pig lady," Edward Hall's wealthy wife and family were tried and found not guilty. And yet the tale does have a sense of closure. Because a woman had to have committed the crime, and whether it was Frances Noel Stevens or another female parishioner whose advances were spurned by the priest, you have a handle on the probability of who the culprit was. Yes, Frances could have used her money to walk away from a crime she committed, she did act very oddly over the days following her husband's disappearance. But unlike Jack the Ripper, you can clearly see the motive if not the culprit.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Book Review 2017 #9 - Elizabeth Hand's Wylding Hall

Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand
Published by: Open Road Media Sci-Fi and Fantasy
Publication Date: July 14th, 2015
Format: Kindle, 148 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Julian Blake was a temperamental genius. His manager knew that if Julian stayed in his bedsit in London all summer he'd get no work done and mourn the death of his girlfriend Arianna who committed suicide. So Wylding Hall was let. Julian's British acid-folk band Windhollow Faire would secret themselves in the country for the month of August to work and reconnect. It was a summer that would produce an album named after the grand estate they stayed at that would be under everybody's Christmas Tree that December but would also lead to the disappearance of Julian Blake. A disappearance linked to a white haired girl who mysteriously appeared on the cover of the album whom no one remembered seeing. But then a lot of mysterious things happened that summer. Weird hallways and chambers that went on forever. A library that only two people ever found. A room with hundreds and hundreds of dead birds. A tune in the air that Julian couldn't help humming. And the walks in the woods that the locals warned them never to take. Yet the band and the other people who came in and out of their lives back in that summer in the seventies never compared notes, until now. Now there's a documentary being done about the album, inspired by construction that has unearthed discoveries at the house, and secrets are being revealed. The shape of things is starting to come into focus, but it doesn't seem possible. In the end it comes down to a photo in the local pub, a song Julian unearthed, and a half-naked girl with feathers on her feet.

Sometimes there's a confluence of events that come together just right that elevates an experience to another level. This occurrence started at a joint birthday party where fate decided the next book club selection would be Wylding Hall and ended in an extremely rare consensus that we all liked the book while we dunked fruit into delectable chocolate. But we all agreed, it wasn't just the book, it was something in the air. It's almost as if we were haunted and the book manifested itself for our entertainment. The waning days of summer had set in, mirroring the time frame of the events that happened to the members of Windhollow Faire as August drew to a close and their lease on the hall was up. Despite reality versus fiction and the present versus the past there was this connection that made the book almost real. It's such a short read, a mere 148 pages, and yet I just wanted their summer to be endless and for me to be able to live in this spooky yet somehow homey world. What aided the book so well was the suspension of disbelief was possible through Elizabeth Hand grounding the book in the real world. If she hadn't got the music scene of the time just right nothing else could have fallen into place, and yet she did it. Making this story of the real world yet somehow not quite of it, like the characters had walked through a fairy ring and everything was just slightly distorted. Like when Sergeant Howie ventures to Summerisle in The Wicker Man, the townspeople seem a little off, a little unwilling to talk, and pictures that might illuminate events are quickly hidden away. The balance between believability and the unknown is perfectly struck here.

Yet the way Elizabeth Hand chose to tell the story was an interesting one, yet it did present problems. She goes the route of many a documentary with each of the characters telling their part of the story, therefore capturing that feeling of reality, we've all seen this before. We could be watching a VH1 Behind the Music special about Windhollow Faire after all. Yet given the brevity of the book I had issues with the dramatis personae, it took awhile for their character traits to come through and in the interim I was lost. They were written too similarly and what was odd in my mind, there wasn't a hint of unreliability and their stories all synced up. Maybe I'm just too used to unreliable narrators and Agatha Christie trying to pull one over on me. There was just a sameness to them as Elizabeth Hand quickly cut from one POV to another. It took me quite awhile to realize that Lesley was a female, and seriously, can authors NOT use two too similarly named characters, like Jonathan and Julian? I'm not proud of this but I totally stereotyped the characters to remember who they were, the folklorist, the girlfriend, the dead guy, you get my drift... and not all of them were flattering monikers, just something so I could quickly tell who was who. A really good writer is able to distinguish the different characters enough with their voices that this shortcut of mine wouldn't be a necessity. I felt like it lowered the book. But you could argue that Elizabeth Hand wanted to sew confusion from the start. That she wanted her readers to not get a firm grip on anything. If that was the case? Good on her! See, I'm totally willing to see the other side of things because books are fluid, what the writer intended and what the reader gets could be different, but that doesn't mean both aren't true at the same time.

Though what enchanted me most was the era. Ghost stories just seem to work better when set in a time before technology ran rampant. But I've come to realize that for a ghost story or supernatural spookfest to really catch me there has to be something I connect to. More and more this isn't character driven Victorian stories but more modern pieces set in the not-too-distant past. Like the 70s and 80s. There's a reason why The Conjuring series is doing so well and has so many spinoffs and why so many people have embraced Stranger Things. These are eras that have a distinct look and feel, a time when to get a hold of your friends you had to hope they got your message left with a family member on the one phone in their house or you'd just show up and pray their parents knew where they were. A time when plans couldn't be easily changed. A time when I was innocent and to see that innocence turn malevolent, there's something supercharged about that. Here it's the 70s, and it's perfect. Not just for the distant haze that memory has given me about the decade in which I was born, but because of this insidious supernatural phenomena creeping around the familiar. We have the isolated house, one lone phone, and this kind of golden haze and heat hanging over the events. Therefore when there are clouds or cold, you know something is going to go wrong. There's strange things happening in the house, it's rambling and easy to get lost in. A library that almost no one has found. Yet all of it could be explained away. Everything could be just too much indulgence, until there's proof that this isn't the case. Proof that comes almost at the very end.

Yet that ending is really abrupt. The whole book is kind of a summer idyll interspersed with supernatural phenomena. There's a laziness to it, not in that it's badly written, but in the luxurious pacing. You just want to inhabit the story but then they leave the house, put out the album, and then this interview happens years later... and as for Julian's fate... well, we aren't given anything concrete, we aren't given anything really. That throwaway line about one of the band members maybe seeing him years later doesn't count in my mind. I became invested in these characters lives and I didn't just want the story about THAT summer and their one "hit" album, I wanted to know what came after. How did Lesley become a star? How did Nancy, the girlfriend, end up a professional psychic in Florida? But more importantly, these interviews are all happening not just because of some anniversary for an album that achieved cult status but because there is work being done at the house. Work that uncovers artifacts of archaeological as well as personal interest to our characters. There seems to be a momentum throughout the book that they will all reunite and return to Wylding Hall and yet that never happens. It felt as though right when Elizabeth Hand was about to bring all the different threads together she decided instead she'd finished and just cut the work off prematurely. This is a three-quarters finished story. There is no final act. And THIS was the only bone of contention me and my fellow book clubbers had. Where is the resolution? Where is the final chord?

Because if we are to compare this to a song, they all have a beginning, a middle, and an end. All stories do too. But this one apparently won't. Yes, I have to accept this. I have to concentrate on that which worked so well. What I'm talking about is the purpose of fables and myths and epic songs, all that which goes into folk music. All these tales were told not because they were used as entertainment, but to impart warnings. "These are songs that have been around for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. They existed for centuries before any kind of recording was possible, even before people could write, for god's sake! So the only way those songs lived and got passed on was by singers." These songs were things that needed to be remembered. Things that needed to be known so that danger wasn't stumbled into blindly. While the Brothers Grimm might have gone a little too far with the moralizing, all tales that are passed down are done so with intent. There's a reason the locals get their backs up when these musicians come in asking about what shouldn't be talked of. Though logically IF the locals wanted them to behave perhaps some truth about the village and it's local legends could have warned them off. But that's not the purpose of villagers in these stories, their purpose is to see the strangers blithely walking into danger and keep their mouths shut. The danger that lies in the woods and lures Julian away with the fairies. It's this root of what folk music and folklore is that grounds the entire book in the human experience of tradition. So while it may falter, it still resonates.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Book Review 2017 #10 - Philip Pullman's Once Upon a Time in the North

Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: April 8th, 2008
Format: Hardcover, 104 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Lee Scoresby has set his balloon north in the hopes of finding some work. He's recently become an aeronaut, having won the balloon on a hand of poker. Though teaching himself has been a little hairy, something his hare daemon Hester would agree with, what with the balloon coming with only half a copy of The Elements of Aerial Navigation. One day he will find an intact copy of that valuable guide, until then as he lands in Novy Odense his number one goal is to line his pockets, which are perilously empty. And in a town built on every kind of oil imaginable not to have enough for a drop to fix his pistol feels downright shameful to Lee, so he sets out in search of some job leads. Stowing his balloon he walks to the nearest bar to look for employment and to wet his whistle and realizes he's walked into a town in the midst of an upheaval. There's to be an election that week for mayor and the incumbent looks to lose to the ex-senator Poliakov who's taken a strong anti-bear stance. Poliakov is a cunning man who is working with the powerful Larsen Manganese mining company which has supposedly just struck it rich in Novy Odense. All this Lee learns from a rather chatty poet, Sigurdsson, who happens to make his money as a journalist. While all these political machinations should be of some concern to Lee he's more interested in a distressed sea captain in the bar. Lee's interest in this man will put him in the center of all Novy Odense's problems and unit him with a powerful ally, the armoured bear, Iorek Byrnison.

While I picked up Once Upon a Time in the North when it first came out almost a decade ago I couldn't bring myself to read it because at the time this slim volume was THE END. This would be it from Philip Pullman with regard to his magnum opus, His Dark Materials. There were rumors and whispers that there would eventually be more but until the announcement this spring I just couldn't bring myself to read this story about when Lee and Iorek first met. I couldn't take the heartbreak that their story was over even if this was just the beginning chronologically. But what's odd is I'm really glad I waited. The book isn't just a great read, it's so relevant now that it is shocking. I mean it couldn't be more timely and it made me wonder, does Philip Pullman actually have an alethiometer? To so accurately depict the political climate almost a decade in advance is spooky. There's an election with Russians causing havoc, there's a charismatic leader whose entire platform is the removal of illegal immigrants taking jobs from the community in order to secure his win while really he's there to aid big business and the military industrial complex and line his pockets all the while having thugs working for him behind the scenes with his own personal army and the press in his pocket. I mean, seriously!?! Russians! Poliakov/Trump! Bears/Mexicans! Novy Odense Courier and Telegraph/Breitbart! It's spookily accurate. But what this does is rise the book from not just a story with bears and balloons into a fable for our time. Fairy Tales are there to teach people lessons, and I think the lessons shown here are ones that need to be taken to heart so we never end up in this situation again.

Yet the book wasn't all relevant to today, after all Lee Scoresby is a cowboy and a Texan through and through so Once Upon a Time in the North also deals lovingly with all the wonderful western tropes we've come to love to this very day. There's a reason Westworld would work in the real world as well as on the screen. Lee has a soft spot for the ladies yet he's honorable, giving advice to lonely women while not tarnishing their virtue. He's a crack shot, when his gun actually works. He has a weakness for gambling, but luckily with Hester by his side she'll keep him on the straight and narrow. He does what is right even if it gets him into a whole heap of trouble. Plus, there's something about a cowboy in a situation that is so beyond his ken that calls to me. Like Ethan Chandler on Penny Dreadful, he's without a home and in a foreign land and falling into a dangerous adventure but his moral compass will steer him right. There is also a villain from Lee's past! Poliakov has one Mr. Morton in his pay, an assassin from America whom Lee had a previous run-in with, though he knew him by the name of McConville. They had a set-to in Dakota Country that had elements of Deadwood and more than a dash of Pinkerton justice gone wrong. Like Dashiell Hammet's Red Harvest, there's a trail of bodies in this man's wake, friends of Lee, and Lee isn't about to let him get away this time. With the politics and the vengeance I feel that this book actually can stand on it's own. In fact, I think that not only can anyone read it, but that this would be a good starting point for anyone considering reading Philip Pullman's work. Yes, there are some spoilers, but the microcosm of characters is so rich that I would recommend Once Upon a Time in the North to anyone. Even those skeptical of fantasy.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 2nd, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Of course I want to be like them. They're beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him--and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself."

Holly Black going back into the realm of fairy? Yes please!

The Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer
Published by: Pegasus Books
Publication Date: January 2nd, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the author described by the London Times as "the most remarkable historian of our time” comes a stunning, high-concept time-travel adventure that is perfect for fans of S. J. Parris and Kate Mosse.

December 1348. What if you had just six days to save your soul?

With the country in the grip of the Black Death, brothers John and William fear that they will shortly die and suffer in the afterlife. But as the end draws near, they are given an unexpected choice: either to go home and spend their last six days in their familiar world, or to search for salvation across the forthcoming centuries – living each one of their remaining days ninety-nine years after the last.

John and William choose the future and find themselves in 1447, ignorant of almost everything going on around them. The year 1546 brings no more comfort, and 1645 challenges them in further unexpected ways. It is not just that technology is changing: things they have taken for granted all their lives prove to be short-lived.

As they find themselves in stranger and stranger times, the reader travels with them, seeing the world through their eyes as it shifts through disease, progress, enlightenment, and war. But their time is running out―can they do something to redeem themselves before the six days are up?"

Oh, time travel from the perspective of someone from 1348? Yes! 

The Lost Season of Love and Snow by Jennifer Laam
Published by: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: January 2nd, 2018
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The unforgettable story of Alexander Pushkin’s beautiful wife, Natalya, a woman much admired at Court, and how she became reviled as the villain of St. Petersburg.

At the beguiling age of sixteen, Natalya Goncharova is stunningly beautiful and intellectually curious. At her first public ball during the Christmas of 1828, she attracts the romantic attention of Russia’s most lauded rebel poet: Alexander Pushkin. Finding herself deeply attracted to Alexander’s intensity and joie de vivre, Natalya is swept up in a courtship and then a marriage full of passion but also destructive jealousies. When vicious court gossip leads Alexander to defend his honor as well as Natalya’s in a duel, he tragically succumbs to his injuries. Natalya finds herself reviled for her perceived role in his death. In her striking new novel, The Lost Season of Love and Snow, Jennifer Laam helps bring Natalya’s side of the story to life with vivid imagination―the compelling tale of her inner struggle to create a fulfilling life despite the dangerous intrigues of a glamorous imperial Court and that of her greatest love."

Anyone else think that a cold January day is perfect from some Russian intrigue? 

Death Makes a Prophet by John Bude
Published by: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: January 2nd, 2018
Format: Kindle, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"'Small hostilities were growing; vague jealousies were gaining strength; and far off, wasn't there a nebulous hint of approaching tragedy in the air?'

Welworth Garden City in the 1940s is a forward-thinking town where free spirits find a home-vegetarians, socialists, and an array of exotic religious groups. Chief among these are the Children of Osiris, led by the eccentric High Prophet, Eustace K. Mildmann. The cult is a seething hotbed of petty resentment, jealousy and dark secrets - which eventually lead to murder. The stage is set for one of Inspector Meredith's most bizarre and exacting cases.

This witty crime novel by a writer on top form is a neglected classic of British crime fiction."

Nice wordplay in the title in this re-release of some classic British crime fiction!

Scones and Scoundrels by Molly MacRae
Published by: Pegasus Books
Publication Date: January 2nd, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The new mystery in the Highland Bookshop series, bringing together a body outside a pub, a visiting author determined to find the killer, and a murderously good batch of scones...

Inversgail, on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands, welcomes home native daughter and best-selling environmental writer Daphne Wood. Known as the icon of ecology, Daphne will spend three months as the author in residence for the Inversgail schools. Janet Marsh and her business partners at Yon Bonnie Books are looking forward to hosting a gala book signing for her. Daphne, who hasn’t set foot in Scotland in thirty years, is . . . eccentric. She lives in the Canadian wilderness, in a cabin she built herself, with only her dog for a companion, and her people skills have developed a few rough-hewn edges. She and the dog (which she insists on bringing with her) cause problems for the school, the library, and the bookshop even before they get to Inversgail. Then, on the misty night they arrive, a young man―an American who’d spent a night in the B&B above Yon Bonnie Books―is found dead outside a pub.

Daphne did her Inversgail homework and knows that Janet and her partners solved a previous murder. She tries to persuade them to join her in uncovering the killer and the truth. To prove she’s capable, she starts poking and prying. But investigating crimes can be murder, and Daphne ends up dead, poisoned by scones from the tearoom at Yon Bonnie Books. Now, to save the reputation of their business―not to mention the reputation of their scones―Janet and her partners must solve both murders. And Daphne’s dog might be able to help them, if only they can get it to stop howling..."

Scotland, books, and murder? Some of my favorite things!

The Pyramid of Mud by Andrea Camilleri
Published by: Penguin Books
Publication Date: January 2nd, 2018
Format: Paperback, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The latest in the New York Times bestselling series has Italy's favorite detective uncovering corruption and mafia ties in the world of construction and public spending.

On a gloomy morning in Vigàta, a call from Fazio rouses Inspector Montalbano from a nightmare. A man called Giugiù Nicotra has been found dead in the skeletal workings of a construction site, a place now entombed by a sea of mud from recent days of rain and floods. Shot in the back, he had fled into a water supply system tunnel. The investigation gets off to a slow start, but all the evidence points to the world of construction and public contracts, a world just as slimy and impenetrable as mud.

As he wades through a world in which construction firms and public officials thrive, Montalbano is obsessed by one thought: that by going to die in the tunnel, Nicotra had been trying to communicate something."

While I adore Penguin and all the covers for their Montalbano books, anyone else annoyed by the word placement of "of"? 

For Audrey with love by Philip Hopman
Published by: NorthSouth Books
Publication Date: January 2nd, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 32 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When two young rising stars—Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn—cross paths for the first time—it's magic . . . literally, the perfect fit!

All the famous ladies want a Givenchy dress—actresses, opera singers, princesses and the wife of a president. When Audrey Hepburn has to figure what to wear for her next movie, she approaches Givenchy, but he's too busy to design something just for her. When encourages her to try on clothing from within his collection, they're both stunned by what they discover.

Philip Hopman brings us a stylish and compelling picture book about fashion and friendship that fits like a glove!"


Winterhouse by Ben Guterson
Published by: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: January 2nd, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An enchanting urban fantasy middle-grade debut―the first book in a trilogy―set in a magical hotel full of secrets.

Orphan Elizabeth Somers’s malevolent aunt and uncle ship her off to the ominous Winterhouse Hotel, owned by the peculiar Norbridge Falls. Upon arrival, Elizabeth quickly discovers that Winterhouse has many charms―most notably its massive library. It’s not long before she locates a magical book of puzzles that will unlock a mystery involving Norbridge and his sinister family. But the deeper she delves into the hotel’s secrets, the more Elizabeth starts to realize that she is somehow connected to Winterhouse. As fate would have it, Elizabeth is the only person who can break the hotel’s curse and solve the mystery. But will it be at the cost of losing the people she has come to car for, and even Winterhouse itself?

Mystery, adventure, and beautiful writing combine in this exciting debut richly set in a hotel full of secrets."

Middle School me demands I buy this book. The cover, the concept, all of it, sold!  

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