Friday, April 29, 2016

Book Review - Galen Beckett's The Master of Heathcrest Hall

The Master of Heathcrest Hall (Mrs. Quent Book 3) by Galen Beckett
Published by: Spectra
Publication Date: March 27th, 2012
Format: Paperback, 736 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Night and day start and stop when they wish. No almanac can predict the umbrals and lumenals. The red planet Cerephus grows brighter in the sky, easily seen during even the sunniest of lumenals. Despite all evidence to the contrary a grand conjunction looks imminent in the heavens. Ivy is convinced that she and Rafferdy have stopped the Ashen by trapping Gambrel behind one of the doors in the house on Durrow Street, but there is an ominous warning, "when twelve who wander stand as one, through the door the dark will come." Ivy is also plagued by dreams, dark and prophetic during the umbrals and the man called the black stork has visited again, warning her that the Ashen, the first ones, the ancients, the darkness between the stars are coming and they are hungry. But what is Ivy to do? She is pregnant and stuck in Invarel, unable to do much but read. One book in particular, The Towers of Ardaunto, might hold the key. While a seemingly lurid Gothic romance, Ivy is quickly convinced that it is actually about something much more. She thinks it is about her husband's childhood friend, Ashaydea, who was transformed into the White Thorn, the blade of the king's black dog. When Ivy learns the book was written by one of her father's fellow magicians she realizes that perhaps she misjudged some of the members of her father's magical order. Perhaps they are not all evil? Especially as these members are being killed for something they all possess.

The world is changing outside Ivy's windows as her confinement is enforced. The king has died and there is a lot of hemming and hawing about placing the crown on the head of his daughter. Any woman could be a witch these days, so can she be trusted? With the arrival of Huntley Morden on the shores of Altania the king's black dog, Lord Valhaine, uses the situation to his advantage, incarcerating the princess and seizing control for himself, casting down the crown. But Lord Valhaine is in thrall to Gambrel's High Order of the Golden Door and he will do their bidding, preparing the world for the arrival of the Ashen. Invarel devolves into a police state, with the government waging war against all of Altania, from it's people to it's Wyrdwood. The university is shuttered, knowledge is dangerous, magic even more so. Those who can are fleeing to their country estates, for those who must remain there are privations. Revolts are a regular occurrence, troops are everywhere, and The Theatre of the Moon is forced to remain open, entertaining the troops baser instincts. The puppet government starts to turn against those previously loyal to the crown and Mr. Quent is sent to prison. His death is one of many that will happen before the war ends, because it is war. Rafferdy joins Huntley Morden, Eldyn aids the rebellion, the two old friends now comrades in arms. But it's Ivy and her power that might save Altania. Ivy and a White Thorn.

There are books that you fall into and never want to leave. Yes, you NEED to know how it all turns out, but at the same time you're trying to think of ways to actually hide yourself in the pages of the narrative like Thursday Next and ignore the fact that there is an end in sight and you're getting closer to it each day. Just skimming The Master of Heathcrest Hall for this review was a dangerous task, I felt myself being pulled back into the story. I had to forcefully remind myself again and again that I had a job to do, and that job was to convert others to this series so that we can all go and live there together. Perhaps a little cottage just down from Heathcrest Hall? That would do me just fine. We can make our own subdivision of real people in this fictional world! The world that Galen Beckett has created is just as real to me as that created by J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin. I know I will think about it often and long for times when I can dip into the pages again. But while I was reading it I had one major concern, and that was the safety of all these friends that I held dear and whether they would make it out alive, but more importantly, get their HEA. For a book with such great dangers and magical destructive forces that kill many it might seem unrealistic that everyone gets a HEA. But you know what I say? Who cares! This is fantasy, this is magic, this is the way I want all my books to end. Everyone ends up with love in their lives and a place in the world! What better ending is there?

One aspect of this volume that I wasn't so sure of at first was Ivy's prophetic dreams of prehistoric Altania. It felt like The Clan of the Cave Bear with magicians, but not in any fun and cool mashup. I think the reason I didn't at first like this plot contrivance was that it felt a little hokey doing this as a cold open for the book. The reader needed to be reconnected to Ivy before being shoved into her subconscious. Once the "dream" was more integrated into the plot I really started to like it. I started analyzing the dream for significance. Of course Galen does tie it all in together seamlessly in the end, I still think it needed a better initial set up. Because what this dream is really about is tying Ivy to her lineage. Forging a connection to all the witches that came before her. Basically, she's Buffy meeting the First Slayer, the Primitive. Think how long it was on Buffy the Vampire Slayer before we got into this mythos? Four long seasons. The episode that reveals the Primitive, "Restless," is one of the best pieces of television writing ever. We are shown dreams that are obviously connected to each member of the Scooby Gang that work there way to the reveal of the Primitive. Yes, Galen has forged a connection between us and Ivy, but that connection needs to be reestablished before diving headfirst into the mythos of this world. In fact, I think this slightly awkward opening is the only thing I can take issue with in this book.

What Galen does do seamlessly is continue expanding the magical system of his world. While there are the three set "categories" of magic with Magician, Witch, and Illusionist, he starts adding in people that fit between these hard and fast definitions. The most obvious is seen with Ivy's sister Rose. Rose isn't a witch, not being a descendant from any famous line like Ivy is, but she isn't without abilities. Rose sees colors. Perhaps they are only colors of magical people, because that is all she does see, but who knows? Anyone else want a spin off for Rose? It's clear that she is able to see the health and vibrancy of Ivy's unborn son, and it's Rose who realizes that Ivy has miscarried because the color is gone. But more importantly Rose answers the question that has been plaguing her family for years. She figures out how their father lost his mind. He didn't lose it so much as transfer his mind into the house on Durrow Street, giving it his consciousness and therefore protecting what was inside the house. He looks through the wooden eyes, he watches over his family. In fact Rose is able to see where he is in the house because his color appears, and she is even able to communicate with him. I love that Rose has this ability, not just because it shows the range of worldbuilding that Galen went to, but because it takes Ivy's sisters from being just background scenery from a Jane Austen novel and makes them integral to the plot.

But above and beyond all these magical "categories" there is Lady Shayde, she who was Ashaydea, Mr. Quent's childhood friend. I CAN NOT stress how enamored I was by her character development, because once again Galen shows that in his world, while men are important, the women are the true power. Lady Shayde at first defies explanation, she is a product of magic but something more, something unique, a tool that was created, but a creation in which she was complicit. She is the most feared of all and in fact if it wasn't for her, evil and Gambrel would not have been vanquished and the Ashen would have won. But what's so unique and provocative about the way Galen tells her story is it's with a story within a story. Ivy discovers the book, The Towers of Ardaunto, and she realizes over time that it's not just a lurid Gothic romance, but a bleak story about the making of a White Thorn. At first Ivy thinks that it was the book that gave the magician Mr. Bennick the idea to make Lady Shayde, but she eventually realizes that this is in fact the reverse. Another of her father's magical circle wrote The Towers of Ardaunto after knowing the story of Ashaydea. Shivers. Literally. Like The Tales of Beedle the Bard but written by Mrs. Radcliffe or Charlotte Bronte. In fact, is there anyway I could like read all of The Towers of Ardaunto? I'm not joking. The excerpts made me NEED this book in my life as well.

What was most powerful in this story though was the use of photography. Yes, it's not really "photography" and is an image captured by an illusionist and then projected onto a plate and printed, but it's basically the magical equivalent of a technology we are familiar with. What is so powerful is that Eldyn aids the rebellion more than anyone else by documenting the truth with his "impressions." Because an impression captured by an illusionist can not lie. Like photography before Photoshop, think how much of history, of The Truth, was brought to the masses through photographs? Words are well and good, but an image is literally worth a thousand words. Eldyn's capturing of the soldiers attacking students helps to shift the feelings about the government. The government says one thing, but here's a picture showing it as it happened so you can decide for yourself what the truth actually is. Being able to see an unadulterated image aids in the dissemination of knowledge. This new medium isn't just revolutionary, it aids the revolution. As an artist I love how Galen has, in a fantasy world, shown how an artistic medium has literally changed worlds. Yes, this might be fantasy, but fantasy reflects us and our society and our world. Therefore whenever people say they don't like a certain genre, I say give it a chance. Who knows what kind of book will reflect something back to you and perhaps open you mind.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book Review - Galen Beckett's The House on Durrow Street

The House on Durrow Street (Mrs. Quent Book 2) by Galen Beckett
Published by: Spectra
Publication Date: September 28th, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 704 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Ivy has more than she could ever have wished for. When she went to Heathcrest Hall she had hoped to earn enough money to open up the family house on Durrow Street and remove her sisters from odious familial obligations. Now returned to Invarel she has opened up her old home, with her husband and former employer Mr. Quent by her side. The house undoubtedly belonged to a magician, but to Ivy and her sisters it is home despite all it's oddities. The ever watching eyes carved out of wood, which tend to be unnerving to the workers refurbishing the house, are there to protect Ivy's family, constantly observing their well-being and safety. But what else might they be protecting? Ivy's father was a great magician and the house definitely has its secrets. Soon a door is discovered bricked up behind a wall, and awhile later it's mate on the other side of the room is stumbled upon. Doors of great craftsmanship and beauty that no one would rightly cover, unless they needed protecting. Items in the house are also behaving curiously. The clock on the mantel is more accurate than the most up-to-date almanac and there's a journal of her father's that Ivy discovers is slowly revealing it's entries in a haphazard manner. If Ivy knows her father, all this is to lead her on her path to becoming the heroine and savior of Altania her father believes her to be.

But distractions are in Ivy's way, in the form of societal obligations. Mr. Quent is always busy. Before he was away from home all the time, but now that he's in Invarel he's just as occupied, rising in the ranks of society. While Ivy's sisters are excited about the prospects of their higher stations, Ivy has hundreds of concerns, from bringing her sisters out into society, to new friendships with the likes of the great Lady Crayford. With unrest in town can she trust these new acquaintances? Because a dear old friend, Dashton Rafferdy, is at the heart of the unrest. Rafferdy has taken his father's seat in the Hall of Magnates. Being so politically placed is making a man of this rake. The king is ill, he is in fact dying, and factions are forming within the Citadel. There are two waring parties of magicians, and Rafferdy is on the wrong side, not aligning himself with Lord Valhain, the king's black dog who has the terrifying Lady Shayde as his personal weapon. With the lack of rebellions and risings associated with the "rightful king" Huntley Morden these other magicians are determined to keep the rebellion fomenting by publicly turning against magic itself. Because magicians will be blamed for terrorist acts. Even illusionists are threatened. Yet could all this be tied to the threat Ivy and Rafferdy faced before? Could all this be in aid of the Ashen? And will they attempt an even greater rising, this time at the Evengrove? But most worrying of all, what happens when the red planet Cerephus gets even closer?

It is a rare occurrence for an author to create a group of characters and make you love each and every one of them. It's even rarer for this to happen in a love triangle. I quite literally can not think of one where all three of the characters held equal space in my heart. And if you say you actually like George Wickham I will smack you right now! He was so up to something from his first appearance in Pride and Prejudice. There is always a weak link. One character that just isn't up to snuff and therefore you're secretly rooting for them to fail. Since the first page of The Magicians and Mrs. Quent I was shipping Ivy and Rafferdy. By the very title of the first book you know that Ivy isn't going to end up with him. She's going to end up with the, at that point unknown, Mr. Quent. So going further into the narrative Mr. Quent already had a black mark against him. I didn't know him but I knew he was going to cause trouble. And then he arrives and is stalwart and upstanding and just an all around good guy. Yes, I still wanted Ivy to be with Rafferdy, but I couldn't fault her marrying Mr. Quent, he is so wonderful in his own way. Galen Beckett has created his own little Catch-22. He has made such wonderful characters that I am conflicted as to who would bring them greater happiness. I keep thinking, it HAS to be Rafferdy because he helped Ivy defeat The Vigilant Order of the Silver Eye and she makes him a better man! But then she completes Mr. Quent who was so wounded by the death of his first wife all those years ago. Seriously, if this was a pick your own adventure book I would be screwed.

Of course there is always an exception to every rule. It's like it's own rule am I right? So when I say "I love every character" what I mean is "I love every character except..." And I'm not talking about the characters that you are meant to hate, because you eventually come to love hating them. I'm talking about the characters you just don't like. In this case it's Eldyn. You're probably saying, who's Eldyn right about now. In my review of the first book I mentioned him in passing as Rafferdy's best friend. In this review I've glossed over him almost entirely with lumping him in as one of the illusionists, which he is. Yet he is one of the three principal characters in this series and a third of the narrative belongs to him. So perhaps I should explain why I've omitted him. In The Magicians and Mrs. Quent he has a rather boring storyline about his sister and some rebels. These sections were excruciating. If I had to read about him at least Rafferdy could be present right? The fact that he didn't die in the first book was a major source of contention with me. I should have given more credit to Galen. Because in The House on Durrow Street if there's one surprise it's the redemption of the character of Eldyn Garritt. I know. I'm as surprised as you that my opinion could be changed so drastically.

With books this big it's hard to cover everything that happens in one review. I could write several reviews of The House on Durrow Street and never repeat myself and still have things to talk about. But this redemption of Eldyn is, I think, the most interesting. Yes, his learning to become an illusionist and eventually a performer at The Theatre of the Moon is fascinating, as is his paramour Dercy, but what's more surprising is that Eldyn's story is the driving force of this book. The simple line of "even illusionists are threatened" from above encapsulates more than you can imagine. Because what lies underneath is a dark mystery that keeps you turning the pages waiting to find out the truth. Because illusionists are turning up dead. Of course only fellow illusionists could make this connection. Eldyn, in trying to support that rebel loving sister of his is straddling the world of the church, where he works as a clerk, and the world of illusion, where he is learning his art. The church has strong opinions on illusionists, all of them bad. But it's only through being a part of both of these worlds that Eldyn is able to see the greater picture, to uncover the conspiracy of the church using magic to exert control. They are harming and harnessing magic to their own purposes. Purposes that are almost too dark to discuss. But when you see the full extent of the conspiracy in it's reveal you will be astounded and hopefully agree with me that you were seriously doing a disservice to Mr. Garritt. 

With Mr. Garritt being revealed as an illusionist the three branches of magic are represented in our three protagonists, Mrs. Quent, the witch, Rafferdy, the magician, and Eldyn, the illusionist. What's interesting about Galen's worldbuilding is that he doesn't just go into the customs and mores of society, he goes far into outer space and alien forces, and closer to home with genetics. Because witch, magician, and illusionist are all born this way. Which given that illusionists are homosexual I think it's nice to have someone pointing out even in a fantasy world that they are born that way. It's genetics people not something that is in need of deprogramming. Witches are born to witches, in fact it is very rare for a witch to have a male child, but if she does that child is an illusionist. Magicians just descend down the male line of the seven great houses with some having the power and some not. Hence the Hall of Magnates is literally littered with real and wannabe magicians. What comes about in The House on Durrow Street is a distinct segregation of the types of magic and fear-mongering. The magicians in power in the Hall of Magnates use their influence to make war on magic, particularly the "natural" magics of witches and illusionists, though if push comes to shove they will totally use those "natural" powers for their own gain. Likewise they instill fear in the populace to hate all magic, hiding their own. Because of all the branches of magic, magicians are the most easily corrupted by the power they need in order to work their magics.

Going back to outer space I have one question lingering at the back of my mind, and that is, is this world of Altania perhaps our future? Go with me on this, it's kind of a reverse Star Wars with our future looking like our past, but it's possible. The days and nights are of varying duration and the planets are all akimbo, but perhaps over time that could happen. Ivy talks of a time when days and nights were fixed. Here in our world after the winter equinox we gain a few minutes of sun every day until the summer equinox where we lose a few minutes of sun every day, unless you live at the equator and then it's twelve hours of light and twelve hours of dark everyday, year round. But this is to do with the moon and the tides and the planets. Now imagine something happening to knock them off course, or even just as time passes and the planets paths start to degrade, might Ivy's world come to be? Could night and day no longer be dependable? Could Earth's rotation be random? I wonder how this plays into crops and trees and even grass. And here again is why I love this book, it makes me think, it makes me imagine. I wonder about things and question things that I thought of as just accepted. Yes, there are stories I've read about night falling, forever, but never have I read a story where it's handled so deftly and also so woven into the society and their customs. I seriously just need more of this world, more of this story. I literally never want it to end. Ever.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
Published by: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: April 26th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"All her life, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love's death. She doesn't believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem, but as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she's not so sure anymore."

I seriously have all the previous books signed and yet I have yet to read them, while everyone I know tells me I have to read them... perhaps I should read them?

Murder the the 42nd Street Library by Con Lehane
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: April 26th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"This first book in an irresistible new series introduces librarian and reluctant sleuth Raymond Ambler, a doggedly curious fellow who uncovers murderous secrets hidden behind the majestic marble façade of New York City’s landmark 42nd Street Library.

Murder at the 42nd Street Library follows Ambler and his partners in crime-solving as they track down a killer, shining a light on the dark deeds and secret relationships that are hidden deep inside the famous flagship building at the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue.

In their search for the reasons behind the murder, Ambler and his crew uncover sinister, and profoundly disturbing, relationships among the scholars studying in the iconic library. Included among the players are a celebrated mystery writer who has donated his papers to the library’s crime fiction collection; that writer’s long-missing daughter, a prominent New York society woman with a hidden past, and more than one of Ambler’s colleagues at the library. Shocking revelations lead inexorably to the traumatic events that follow―the reading room will never be the same."

OK, yes, part of this is my love of NY, part of this is my love of a good murder mystery. But combining the two? Yeah, totally for me! PS, adore this library!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Book Review - Galen Beckett's The Magicians and Mrs. Quent

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent (Mrs. Quent Book 1) by Galen Beckett
Published by: Spectra
Publication Date: July 29th, 2008
Format: Hardcover, 512 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

The three Lockwell sisters, Ivy, Rose, and Lily are trying to hold onto the threads of their gentile lives. But it is hard when none of them stand a chance of making a good match due to their penury. Meanwhile their home is entailed upon the death of their mother to an odious cousin and their father had an accident years ago that left him basically an invalid. Though the eldest daughter, Ivy, holds out hope. Her father was a great magician and she believes his madness must therefore be rooted in the work that he loved. It only stands to reason that if she were to find the cause then he can be returned to them whole. Once their father is back everything else will work itself out. Yet women can't work magic and Ivy's social circle is very small, so how to meet a magician? Oddly enough her odious cousin will provide an introduction to someone who might just help. Dashton Rafferdy has spent the majority of his life wasting it away at parties and dinners and balls being the wittiest one there, much to his father's dismay. Lord Rafferdy has long told his son that life is more than what Dashton currently makes of it and he is about to learn the startling truth of this statement when he finds out he is a magician.

Thrown together by chance, Ivy and Dashton forge an immediate connection that could solve many problems while creating many others, but the fate that brought them together is a cruel mistress and she soon rends them asunder. Ivy's mother drops dead and what little savings Ivy had set aside are decimated by hidden bills. Living on the sufferance of their cousin who immediately took possession of their house, Ivy's goal is to take a job as a governess in order to save enough to reopen their old home on Durrow Street and relocate her family there. Moving out of Invarnel for Heathcrest Hall Ivy's world is expanded beyond what she has ever known. She thought she was smart and well informed, in fact the perfect person to be a governess, but as she takes up the care of Mr. Quent's two young cousins she realizes that there is so much she never knew. All of Altania is in danger. It isn't just the disparity between classes causing unrest, but highwaymen fomenting revolt involving the darkest of magics. While closer to home Ivy learns of magicians planning the most dangerous of acts. Will Altania be able to survive the very ground beneath their feet rising up? And will they owe their survival to one whom they never would have expected?

When The Magicians and Mrs. Quent came out I had been spending four years trying to find a book as magical as Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. They were fruitless years of toil. One day I walked into my local Borders and they had this new book by the unknown Galen Beckett featured in the science fiction section with a little card underneath handwritten by one of the employees saying it was recommended for fans of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Looking at The Magicians and Mrs. Quent I had such hope that I didn't want the standard trade paperback release but I wanted it in hardcover. Luckily the Science Fiction Book Club had a hardcover copy which I ordered and promptly shelved, where it sat for eight years waiting for me to read it. I was worried. Maybe I had built up my hopes too high and nothing could live up to them. Why else would I purposefully go out of my way to track down a specific edition only to leave it untouched for so long? One of the reasons I actually started Regency Magic was to get around to all these books I had bought in the hope that they were a fraction as good as anything written by Susanna Clarke. I have been surprised time and time again by how different all these authors approached the same idea creating such remarkable and varied books. And The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is easily one of the remarkable ones. It's high fantasy worthy of George R. R. Martin combined with the Gothic lure of Jane Eyre and The Turn of the Screw with the manners of Austen and the back alleys of Dickens. I very quickly fell in love.

While no one featured during this year's Regency Magic could beat Beth Deitchman for being the most Austen of the bunch, what with her books being continuations of Austen's own work, but Galen Beckett comes in a close second. The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is like seeing your favorite Austen characters in a new setting with them all interacting despite which book they appear in. I don't know if anyone reading this has watched Dickensian, but the conceit behind it is that instead of each book Dickens wrote existing in it's own individual world all his books were in the same world so therefore all his characters could co-mingle. The series started with Inspector Buckett from Bleak House investigating the murder of Jacob Marley from A Christmas Carol, and it went on from there making merry havoc with Dickens's work but somehow being appealing in that way like setting out your Dickens Village is at Christmas and thinking about how all the stories would overlap. All of Galen Beckett's characters owe a debt of gratitude to the characters that came before. The Lockwell Sisters have more than a dash of the Dashwoods. While their odious cousin owed much to Mr. Collins. As for Dashton Rafferdy, he kind of combines the best of the rakes. And when Rafferdy is hanging out with his best friend Garritt they could easily be a Darcy and Bingley double act, but more flashbacks to their college days what with all the drinking. But while they all have an echo of these previously beloved characters at the same time they are 100% their own.

Looking at other people's reviews one of the things that I notice people took issue with was in this three part book one of the parts switches from third person to first person narration. This was a ballsy move on Galen Beckett's part to shake up the middle of the book. It could either work or it could fail and give the whole work a pretentious vibe like the author was trying to be clever; and yes, I'm looking at you John Scalzi with your Redshirts codas! I of course don't agree with the many, surprise surprise, and perhaps for the first time ever think that this moved paid of entirely. And it paid off for many reasons. Most importantly the second part is when Ivy leaves Invarnel and is a governess at Heathcrest Hall. This section of the book is mimicking both Jane Eyre and The Turn of the Screw, two famous books who used first person narration. Therefore to get the vibe right this section needed to be written in a similar style. Gothic books cry out for that intimate writing and therefore I think it was needed. This also let us forge a stronger connection to Ivy and actually get inside her head. This didn't just help us bond with the book but it helped us have more of a vested interest in the characters by feeling what she felt. But I don't think the full impact of Galen Beckett's choice was felt until Ivy returned to Invarnel and was thrust back into the comedy of manners that is the high society taken straight from the pages of Austen. Before we reveled in these little party scenes but now we see the triviality of it all. These people are entirely unaware of what is at stake and completely blinded to the danger that is coming. By seeing through Ivy's eyes our eyes were opened to the bigger picture and now we can't understand how we ever related to these insipid people who just don't get it.

Another aspect of the book I was surprised people took issue with was the worldbuilding. Personally, I loved it. This is a very different yet parallel world to ours. What I connected to most was the way in which day and night formed this society. The way the planets work in this world is far different from ours, and I'm guessing more than a little irregular which I hope we'll sink our teeth into in the later volumes. Here in our world after the winter equinox we gain a few minutes of sun every day until the summer equinox where we lose a few minutes of sun every day, unless you live at the equator and then it's twelve hours of light and twelve hours of dark everyday, year round. Whenever I think of the shifting of day and night I think of that line I love in the Doctor Who episode "A Christmas Carol" that refers to the winter equinox as being "half-way through the dark." But enough about Doctor Who, in this world night and day are all over the place. Lumenal is the time of daylight while Umbral is the time of night. There are long Lumenals and short and middling, there are long Umbrals of twenty-two hours of darkness. Sometimes you are waking when it's full dark and other times you sleep very little because the light will return so soon. I find it fascinating that instead of sticking to a strict clock of waking up and going to bed at the same time no matter what lightness or darkness the sky possesses that their schedules are far more fluid. Despite the strictures of society they are willing to be more indulgent when it comes to their circadian rhythms and I find this interesting. While I wouldn't want to live in this world of inconstancy and the dire need for an almanac, I like reading about how it effects these characters.

Of course I've written a rather wordy review by this point and have barely mentioned the magic. Seeing as this is Regency Magic perhaps I should get around to it? The magic in this world is clearly divided by the sexes and I could go into talking about what these two halves, the witches and the magicians, have and don't have, but instead I'm going to talk about where the magic resides, because this is what speaks to me. The danger and the magic in Altania comes from the forests and the darkness. The most basic of human fears come from where danger could be found. Stories and folktales sprung out of these innate fears, fears of the forest and the dark. The fact that the magic is found in this world where our fears are born just fascinates me. I took a forestry class years ago in undergrad where I wrote a paper on the depiction of forests in Twin Peaks drawing on myths and legends and how evil was thought to reside there. We have a primal fear of forests and what if it's with very good reason? What if all our worst nightmares were real? What it there really was something in the dark to be scared of? What if the evil that resides in these places is magical and far more dangerous than we could ever expect? Unlike some of the other magical systems that I've read about this one seems somehow more viable to me. It speaks to the idea of what you can achieve if you could only embrace your fears. I can't wait to embrace the next volume of this series to see what happens next and if it will scare me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Galen Beckett

Much as my Regency handle should Mr. Darcy drop by is Miss Eliza, Mark Anthony also has an alias, that of Galen Beckett, though I don't believe his was to ensnare an Austen hero, but more to give that right fantastical authorial feel to his Mrs. Quent trilogy. Mark spent his childhood summers in a Colorado ghost town falling in love with the mountains as well as the fantasy stories he read "pushed" on him by a pair of older sisters. Of course this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has read his Mrs. Quent trilogy which is a delicious combination of magic and nature. Instead of veering into the realm of fantasy right away he initially trained as a paleoanthropologist. Along the way it wasn't so much human evolution which called to him, though you will see that it does work it's way into his writing, but the evolution of man that is reflected in myth and the literature of the fantastic. This shift shouldn't have surprised anyone, what with Mark growing up on a steady diet of Tolkien, McCaffrey, and LeGuin.

Mark was interested with "how myths and archetypes provide mirrors to our mundane, everyday lives. I think there’s a lot in myth that we can learn from, and fantasy provides a wonderful means for exploring those ideas." Of course there is one outlet that has been a constant for many years for those wishing to go into fantastical realms, and that is Dungeons and Dragons. Mark got his literary start penning novels and short stories for various Dungeons and Dragons game settings. After ten years of writing for Dungeons and Dragons the first book in his Last Rune series, Beyond the Pale was published. Sadly Mark's pointed out there is not any magic to getting published, but lots of work, perseverance, and being willing to keep going after multiple rejections. You just can't give up, and he even has a day job. But his exploration of the idea that reason and wonder need not exist in conflict reached it's pinnacle, in my mind, with his next big project which began with a binge reading of 19th Century classics and asked the question, "What if there was a fantastical cause underlying the social constraints and limited choices confronting a heroine in a novel by Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë?" You'll have to read his Mrs. Quent trilogy to get that answer, but let's go to Mark for answers to some other questions.

Question: When did you first discover Jane Austen?

Answer: I came very late to the dance! I remember my older sisters talking (excitedly) about Jane Austen when I was younger. And of course I read the prescribed amounts of English literature in high school and college. But somehow Austen’s novels were never on the syllabus.

So I was well along in my 30s before I decided that I really hadn’t read as many 19th century novels as I wished. I started in on Dickens, Shelley, Wilde, the Brontës, and of course Austen. And just as I had years before, upon first reading The Lord of the Rings, I felt that an entire new world was opening up before me as I devoured Pride and Prejudice. It was a world I loved so much, I couldn’t resist creating my own version of it!

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

Answer: I would never be so bold as to try to guess what Jane herself would think of it all—she was a far better judge of people than I! But I do think that any work which made a genuine (and genuinely wry) attempt to seek the point of this achingly silly and marvelous game we call life is something she would have approved of. So while zombies shambling around Netherfield Park for no apparent reason might get a sideways look, I think a delightfully clueless stand-in for Miss Woodhouse in 1990s Beverly Hills might win an approving nod.

Question: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Answer: I don’t think it’s so much where inspiration comes from that’s important—it really can come from almost anywhere. Novels, movies, music, scientific works, histories, walks out doors, ancient ruins, even the pixelated art in a video game—all are things that have inspired me at some time or another. What’s important are the connections that can occur between any and all of these things. When you are suddenly struck by an unexpected link between two thoughts that didn’t seem related at all, that’s when the spark happens.

For The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, it was the connection I glimpsed between the circumstances of women in Regency and Victorian England and scientific work that had been done using mitochondrial DNA to trace the lineage of most European women back to seven “clan mothers” who lived many thousands of years ago. What if, my brain that is ever inclined to make things fantastical postulated, those seven women had been witches?

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

Answer: It really does, doesn’t it? I think maybe because on the one hand it was a time of reason and mastery—when people were trying to understand the world, and to force an order upon it. Yet on the other hand there was so much they didn’t really understand, and so much that they had marvelously wrong. It makes it fun to imagine a world in which all those things they thought were true, but weren’t, in fact really were.

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

Answer: I tried to keep the magic as limited and focused as possible. As I mentioned, I started with a premise that there were seven clan mothers back in the misty past who became witches, and from whom all witches were descended. Magicians, who are always men, traced their origins to the same time period, and were born of an opposing magic. So the tension between the sexes that existed in 19th Century England took on new meaning in my alternate realm of Altania—it went back to a magical conflict lost in the mists of time, but now coming to a head after all these millennia.

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

Answer: Well, clearly with The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, I didn't want to choose, and so did both at once! But since you are forcing an answer to such a dreadful question, I would have to say that fantasy would win. It’s my nature to look at everything through a lens of magic and myth and wonder. If you ask me to write a Western novel, or a mystery, or spy thriller, It’s pretty much a guarantee I’m going to find a way to sneak magic into it!

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

Answer: Well, I did wear a puffy shirt to a Renaissance festival once. Does that count? :)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Love, Lies and Spies by Cindy Anstey
Published by: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: April 19th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In Love, Lies and Spies, Cindy Anstey's hilarious homage to Jane Austen, a lady with a penchant for trouble finds a handsome spy much more than merely tolerable.

Juliana Telford is not your average nineteenth-century young lady. She's much more interested in researching ladybugs than marriage, fashionable dresses, or dances. So when her father sends her to London for a season, she's determined not to form any attachments. Instead, she plans to secretly publish her research.

Spencer Northam is not the average young gentleman of leisure he appears. He is actually a spy for the War Office, and is more focused on acing his first mission than meeting eligible ladies. Fortunately, Juliana feels the same, and they agree to pretend to fall for each other. Spencer can finally focus, until he is tasked with observing Juliana's traveling companions . . . and Juliana herself."

Yes, I was drawn to this because of the cover... but it still sounds awesome. 

You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day
Published by: Touchstone
Publication Date: April 19th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The instant New York Times bestseller from “queen of the geeks” Felicia Day, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is a “relentlessly funny and surprisingly inspirational” ( memoir about her unusual upbringing, her rise to internet stardom, and embracing her weirdness to find her place in the world.

When Felicia Day was a girl, all she wanted was to connect with other kids (desperately). Growing up in the Deep South, where she was “home-schooled for hippie reasons,” she looked online to find her tribe. The Internet was in its infancy and she became an early adopter at every stage of its growth—finding joy and unlikely friendships in the emerging digital world. Her relative isolation meant that she could pursue passions like gaming, calculus, and 1930’s detective novels without shame. Because she had no idea how “uncool” she really was.

But if it hadn’t been for her strange background—the awkwardness continued when she started college at sixteen, with Mom driving her to campus every day—she might never have had the naïve confidence to forge her own path. Like when she graduated as valedictorian with a math degree and then headed to Hollywood to pursue a career in acting despite having zero contacts. Or when she tired of being typecast as the crazy cat-lady secretary and decided to create her own web series before people in show business understood that online video could be more than just cats chasing laser pointers.

Felicia’s rags-to-riches rise to Internet fame launched her career as one of the most influen­tial creators in new media. Ever candid, she opens up about the rough patches along the way, recounting battles with writer’s block, a full-blown gaming addiction, severe anxiety, and depression—and how she reinvented herself when overachieving became overwhelming.

Showcasing Felicia’s “engaging and often hilarious voice” (USA TODAY), You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is proof that everyone should celebrate what makes them different and be brave enough to share it with the world, because anything is possible now—even for a digital misfit."

Yes, I'm a bad Felicia Day fan in that I have yet to read or buy this book. But I think my laziness has paid off because she's doing a book signing for the paperback near me. So really, it was a plan, not laziness.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Book Review - Heather Rose Jones's The Mystic Marriage

The Mystic Marriage (Alpennia Book 2) by Heather Rose Jones
Published by: Bella Books
Publication Date: April 28th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 264 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Antuniet Chazillen has been living in self-imposed exile from Alpennia. She longs to go back to Rotenek but that isn't an option. Even if she were to return no one would take her in. Ever since her brother was executed for treason and her mother committed suicide anyone bearing the name Chazillen has been ostracized. The driving force in her life now is to show the world that not everyone bearing the name Chazillen is worthless. To this end she has devised a plan with a rare alchemical text she found in Prague. If she can master the book's recipes to create precious gems of power she could present them to Alpennia's ruler, Princess Annek, and prove she can be of use to the crown and regain her standing. But wanting and doing are two very different things. Not only is her work hindered by a lack of funds, but she is being chased across Europe by someone who will stop at nothing to get their hands on the text she found. After she is discovered in Heidelberg she realizes that she must return to Alpennia earlier than she had planned in order to live long enough to restore the tattered shreds of her honor.

Jeanne, the Vicomtesse de Cherdillac, is a social butterfly. Flitting from party to party and lover to lover. Yet lately the petulance of these young women who rotate through her bedroom isn't as entertaining as it once was. And then one night Antuniet appears at her door. They knew each other peripherally years ago before Antuniet's hasty departure. It intrigues Jeanne that of all the people Antuniet knew in Rotenek she chose her. But Antuinet's only other option was her cousin and Jeanne's former lover Barbara, and somehow going to Barbara would have been too much for her pride to bear, and Antuinet has always been proud. In fact all the bedraggled Antuniet asks of Jeanne is help in securing a patron so she can continue her alchemical work. Jeanne tries her best but finding money for a dubious trade for a disgraced outcast tries even her formidable skills. But Jeanne won't abandon Antuniet, she will stick by her as she mends her flirtatious ways and develops a tendre for the alchemist. Though returning to Rotenek didn't dissuade Antuniet's malevolent shadow. Soon enough the protective Barbara and her lover Margerit, the crown's thaumaturge, come to Antuniet's aid as well. But Antuinet and her heart are vulnerable. Will she be able to repair her reputation and find love, or is it all too late?

Sometimes book series don't start out as series. The author writes a tale and for some reason or other the characters won't leave after the denouement. Whether it's their inability to leave the author's subconscious as they keep chatting away or rabid fans salivating for more, sometimes a stand-alone morphs into a series. It feels like this is what happened here. The first book set in Alpennia by Heather Rose Jones, Daughter of Mystery, focused on Anuniet's cousin Barbara and her lover Margerit. They had their story and got their happily ever after. There was an ending and it felt final. Yet here they are again getting into new adventures and new scrapes. You're probably wondering why I'm pointing this out. I should be happy at their return not dwelling on the whys. But I'm dwelling. I find this book's setup problematic. The thing is, if you are going to write a series in such a way that each volume has the secondary characters stepping forward into the limelight, the previous volume's characters need to know enough to take a step back. They aren't the focus anymore. Only someone forgot to give Barbara and Margerit this message. It makes sense that they would appear, Barbara and Margerit's actions in the previous volume having had such an effect on our two new heroines. But did they have to take up at least half of the narrative? I felt that this gave short shrift to Antuniet and Jeanne. It was THEIR time to shine, and they felt secondary.

I think this problem comes down to the fact that this book is stuck in the middle, and sorry, not sorry, for getting that song in your head. And by middle I'm referring to it's length. It could easily go either way. To go shorter, really pare down and omit Barbara and Margerit almost completely. This would give you a shorter, sweeter story. Yet I am not included in this direction. The Mystic Marriage has such court politics and machinations it's like a Ruritanian Game of Thrones. So make it like Game of Thrones! Make it a thousand plus pages! Don't just have four characters POVs have more. Have Anna, the little alchemical assistant have her say! Have Barbara's little country cousin have a chapter or two. Make this book the doorstop book to end all doorstop books. Make it the epic it wants to be! I just feel like there's so much I'm missing in this world, the details of a dress, the architecture of an alchemist's laboratory. So much is hinted at but then never developed further. I talked about this with Daughter of Mystery and how the writing felt elliptical. Here I was happy to see more time spent on the smaller details, such as the refining of the precious gems, but seriously, I craved even more. It's rare for me to say make a book longer, and editors today seem to only want books short and sweet, but The Mystic Marriage needs to expand to reach it's full potential. It needs to be fired a little longer.

What really helped me to connect to The Mystic Marriage more so than the previous volume was I felt the arcane elements were easier to understand. Thaumaturgy and the working of miracles still feels a little beyond my keen. I don't quite fully understand the process and I felt that the mysteries were left lacking definition and therefore left me a little cold. Fluctus this and fluctus that... it would help to understand a little better what fluctus even was in my humble opinion. But alchemy. I'm on far stronger ground here. Whereas we can question if miracles and magic ever really did happen, alchemy DID. I'm not saying it worked, but I'm saying that it was studied and was an accepted "science" of the time. Even if your only exposure to alchemy is the Philosopher's Stone in Harry Potter or the more detailed chemical marriages in Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy, you have a grounding in it so that you are more easily able to understand what Antuniet is up to than what Margerit was. What I found particularly interesting from my point of view was the crossover of the alchemical practices and how it relates to things such as metalwork. I haven't done metalwork in many years but crucibles, flux, fire, all that I used is here used in similar yet different ways and I found that fascinating.

But it wasn't just the alchemical work itself that intrigued me, but the outcome. Antuniet was making stones, well gems really, that would have influence over people. So my first thought was, if this is the actual case with alchemy people have every right to fear it! Before I'd only ever heard of the Philosopher's Stone, which was used to increase your life, and turning lead into gold. But the work that Antuniet does is basically used to control people. Say what!?! Alchemy is basically rohypnol! Antuniet even worries that one of her stones set in a ring is responsible for Jeanne's feelings towards her. If Antuniet is worried about this how can she, in good conscience, give this power to the crown so that they can basically control their ministers? I can see the benefit for helping people with health issues, but to actually CONTROL THEM!?! I really have issues with this concept. It's taking away free will. It's like in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season six episode "Dead Things" when The Trio use a Cerebral Dampener to make any woman their willing sex slave. It's not just wrong it's a violation of basic human rights. While you could say at least Annek's counsel "knows" the rings do something, I don't think she told them the whole truth... This just brings up a LOT of the more negative connotations of what "magic" can do. Is it even right that Antuniet made these influencing gems?

Which brings me around to the whole alchemy not really be respectable. Well, if you're controlling everyone's free will I'm not surprised alchemy has a dubious reputation! Of course it's hinted at that most alchemists are charlatans, but still, if Antuniet's morals were a little more lax, dear god! What I'm getting at is that question I wondered in the previous volume as to the acceptability of magic and witch hunts. I really like that Heather Rose Jones came back to this because I felt this was something that needed addressing. So yes, witch hunts do happen! Evil magicians are run out of town. The only reason "mysteries" and thaumaturgy are acceptable is because they have the cloak of religion giving it respectability. Which has an interesting counterpoint in the relationships of Antuniet and Jeanne, and Margerit and Barbara. Margerit and Barbara are accepted as a couple because of their eccentricity and status, whereas Antuniet and Jeanne raise eyebrows because Antuniet used to be respectable and one of the society that is now looking at them askance. Just like the veneer of religion covers a multitude of sins, so does the right combination of eccentricity coupled with title and wealth. The lower down the social ladder, the less acceptable it is to be an "other." You could in fact say that Jeanne and Antuniet face their own witch hunt with the lesbian backlash. The marriage of the mystical and mundane controversies just goes to show all the levels this book is working on. But don't worry, luckily love conquers all as long as you are willing to fight the good fight. Love wins.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Book Review - Heather Rose Jones's Daughter of Mystery

Daughter of Mystery (Alpennia Book 1) by Heather Rose Jones
Published by: Bella Books
Publication Date: February 18th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 264 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Margerit Sovitre is in her first season. Though she'd rather be spending her time on scholarly pursuits in Rotenek than dancing in the summer playground of the rich in Chalanz. But she's never even been to Rotenek. Never walked the fabled streets of the University there. She's spent her life in Chalanz with her Uncle's family, always feeling out of place except for those rare moments talking to her cousin Nikule about the University and forming unrealistic dreams. But all that might be about to change. Her enigmatic godfather has arrived in Chalanz early. There are rumors about a duel that made it desirable that he leave Rotenek early; but more pressingly it is obvious he is dying. Margerit knows that she has a small inheritance coming her way that might get her out from under her Uncle's power, but during his last days on earth she forges a connection to Baron Saveze and he leaves her everything that he can; which is quite a lot. No one knows why he did this. Was it a whim to anger his nephew Estefen who inherited the title and has spent his life borrowing on his expectations? Was it to give Margerit the life she always wanted? Whatever the reason it upends the lives all those connected to the Baron, in particular Barbara.

Barbara is also an enigma, even to herself. But then again the Baron loves his games of secrets and shadows. She was raised by the Baron to be an Armin, a bodyguard with special skills and rights. Though female Armins are rare the Baron got away with this breach in tradition by his eccentric lifestyle. But they had an arrangement, when he died Barbara would learn her name and gain her freedom. Instead he has given her to Margerit and insisted that she remain with his goddaughter until they are both of age. What at first seems like an unholy punishment soon becomes a new way of life as Barbara becomes close to the scholarly Margerit. Margerit's fortune means that she will be able to have the life she dreamt of, with Barbara's help. While maintaining the appearance of a respectable heiress for her family's sake she can studying to her heart's desire. Though the money is a temptation to desperate men, and there is none more desperate than Estefen. Moving her household to Rotenek, Margerit starts studying the mysteries all while playing the game of disaffected debutante. Though as time goes by her scholarly side keeps asserting itself. Will her studies put her in even greater danger? It's lucky she has Barbara to protect her, even from herself.

Ruritanian Romances are tricky. They have to strike just the right balance of realism and suspension of disbelief. Couple this with worldbuilding that has an alternate history that is not clearly defined and you're stuck with a book that you're struggling to connect to. The main problem I had was this disconnect between Alpennia and the rest of Europe. With the religious practices and the magic that takes the forms of mysteries appealing to the saints Alpennia has a very distinct and unique culture. Yet there are constant references to mysteries written elsewhere, like Lyon in France. So how exactly is the world outside Alpennia different from the world of our history books? Alpennia being at one and the same time a part of our world yet outside of it how are we to grasp onto what has actually changed in our world for the alternate history angle? There seems to be a distinct lack of creating a framework for the worldbuilding in which we'd be given the information when we need it most. While this could be done to have us form a bond with the characters first and the world second, you can't understand what the characters are going through unless you know the world they live in.

I almost feel like Daughter of Mystery was at a disadvantage by being a Ruritanian Romance. I have too many questions that are left unanswered, whereas if Alpennia had been in an entirely alternate world that mirrored our own, then I would certainly have less questions. But it's not just the Ruritanian aspect I have problems with. Heather Rose Jones has an odd way of writing that adversely affects the worldbuilding. Her writing is very elliptical and what she is omitting isn't for clarity's sake! It's like she just didn't want to write about something and decides to skip it. And what she skips seems like some rather important stuff. For example we spend all this build-up to Margerit's ball she's throwing in Chalanz only to not see a single moment of the ball. And this example is just a throw-away example, it's not necessary to the world like many of the omissions are. When she arrives in Rotenek I felt at sea. As for the academics? I kind of just let it flow over me and took in what I could. Because to balance her sparsity she occasionally goes for the massive info dump. This is almost worse than nothing, because then you know there's all this stuff you should remember but it was presented in such a way that you have no chance in hell of remembering a tenth of it.

For all the worldbuilding issues I did come to like the world, despite it's imperfections. The truth is, if you're looking for the "Regency" of it all, you're not really going to find it here. Instead, in true Ruritanian style, we have intrigue and high romance and royalty worthy of the House of Medici or The Musketeers. There is this old fashioned feel to it that harks back to the Renaissance, when learning was a vocation, and I really found this fascinating, in the same way a Patrick Rothfuss book is. The truth is Daughter of Mystery doesn't really coalesce as a book until we reach Rotenek and we're in this medieval town with duplicitous scholars and scheming courtiers. Though again, what is almost the most perfect section of the book is brought down, not this time by the structure, but by how the court intrigues ensnare Barbara. For the first time in the book I was furious at Barbara. Yes, you can see why she's doing what she's doing, but her motives aren't explained properly to Margerit and it looks as if the court has turned Barbara's head. I mean, yes, you could say, as if anything could turn Barbara's stubborn head? But it seems to be done just to make us doubt the connection and love our two heroines share. It feels like a cheap shot. Yes, Barbara can navigate this world expertly, but that doesn't mean she should.

This being "Regency Magic" though the magic of it all matters. I can definitively say that not another book I've read has handled magic in this manner. Not only does that make Daughter of Mystery unique, but fascinating as you delve into the magic system. Because the magic system isn't magic, per se, it's faith manifested as miracles. But it's also not as reliable a system, as shown through Margerit's studies. Not every prayer is heard. Mysteries are complex and a word replaced could change the intent and instead of protecting an entire town only the relics of a long dead saint are protected. It's a capricious system that is itself mysterious. Learning with Margerit we see what works and what doesn't, we are with her on her journey as she systematically learns how to work mysteries. I also just like the idea that magic is referred to as mysteries, because they are both about deception and illusion. But as seems to be the case with this book, now I have more question I need answered. For example, religious persecution. Witch hunts were often done in the name of faith, so in this Alpennian world are witches outcasts? Because usually people who see visions aren't treated that well... so what's the stance? Also, is it because of the mysteries that religion is still such a strong force? Because I'd expect the church's hold to eroded a bit by now. Perhaps The Mystic Marriage will answer some of these questions for me...

But the "mysteries" ie, magic, aren't the only mysteries in this book. And these other mysteries are much more problematical. While yes, I could have liked a better understanding of the mysteries of the church, they at least weren't pedestrian and predictable. They actually had some mystery about them. As for Barbara's mysterious past... well, Poirot would have been laughing to think that anyone would have found it not patently obvious. Barbara isn't a dumb woman. She is in fact very smart and has a lot of cunning to go along with her other more physical skills. To think that she has spent years and years with the answer under her nose makes no sense. Yes, she worked for a secretive man, but would she really rely on his word that one day she would know as good enough? No, she wouldn't. It just doesn't make sense. It's literally a mystery to me! It doesn't make sense that the only reason she looks into her own mystery is because of the threat it poses to Margerit. I don't think she needed love to have her face her past, her own natural curiosity should have done that. As for the mystery as to whether they love each other, I will answer with duh. While yes, I could say that these contradictions make Barbara more human, instead I'll say it makes her fickle and Margerit did have every reason to worry about being left behind. So yes Barbara, you inadvertently knocked this book down, and for someone so graceful I find that quite shocking. Also you're not mysterious, you're just eccentric.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

A Death Along the River Fleet by Susanna Calkins
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: April 12th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Lucy Campion, a ladies’ maid turned printer’s apprentice in 17th-century London, is crossing Holborn Bridge over the murky waters of the River Fleet one morning when, out of the mist, she sees a specter moving toward her. Frightened at first, Lucy soon realizes the otherworldly figure is in fact a young woman, clearly distraught and clad only in a blood-spattered white nightdress. Barely able to speak, the woman has no memory of who she is or what’s happened to her. The townspeople believe she’s possessed. But Lucy is concerned for the woman’s well-being and takes her to see a physician. When, shockingly, the woman is identified as the daughter of a nobleman, Lucy is asked to temporarily give up her bookselling duties to discreetly serve as the woman’s companion while she remains under the physician’s care.

As the woman slowly recovers, she begins―with Lucy’s help―to reconstruct the terrible events that led her to Holborn Bridge that morning. But when it becomes clear the woman’s safety might still be at risk, Lucy becomes unwillingly privy to a plot with far-reaching social implications, and she’ll have to decide just how far she’s willing to go to protect the young woman in her care.

Susanna Calkins has drawn a richly detailed portrait of a time in history and a young woman struggling against the bounds of her society in her next absorbing Lucy Campion mystery."

Ye olde thyme murder mystery? Sign me up!

A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain
Published by: Pegasus
Publication Date: April 12th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When brilliant FBI agent Kendra Donovan stumbles back in time and finds herself in a 19th century English castle under threat from a vicious serial killer, she scrambles to solve the case before it takes her life―200 years before she was even born.

Beautiful and brilliant, Kendra Donovan is a rising star at the FBI. Yet her path to professional success hits a speed bump during a disastrous raid where half her team is murdered, a mole in the FBI is uncovered and she herself is severely wounded. As soon as she recovers, she goes rogue and travels to England to assassinate the man responsible for the deaths of her teammates.

While fleeing from an unexpected assassin herself, Kendra escapes into a stairwell that promises sanctuary but when she stumbles out again, she is in the same place - Aldrich Castle - but in a different time: 1815, to be exact.

Mistaken for a lady's maid hired to help with weekend guests, Kendra is forced to quickly adapt to the time period until she can figure out how she got there; and, more importantly, how to get back home. However, after the body of a young girl is found on the extensive grounds of the county estate, she starts to feel there's some purpose to her bizarre circumstances. Stripped of her twenty-first century tools, Kendra must use her wits alone in order to unmask a cunning madman."

So, despite the obvious fashion faux pas on the cover, it's so evocative that I must read this book. I MUST!

Masks and Shadows by Stephanie Burgis
Published by: Pyr
Publication Date: April 12th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 300 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The year is 1779, and Carlo Morelli, the most renowned castrato singer in Europe, has been invited as an honored guest to Eszterháza Palace. With Carlo in Prince Nikolaus Esterházy's carriage, ride a Prussian spy and one of the most notorious alchemists in the Habsburg Empire. Already at Eszterháza is Charlotte von Steinbeck, the very proper sister of Prince Nikolaus's mistress. Charlotte has retreated to the countryside to mourn her husband's death. Now, she must overcome the ingrained rules of her society in order to uncover the dangerous secrets lurking within the palace's golden walls. Music, magic, and blackmail mingle in a plot to assassinate the Habsburg Emperor and Empress--a plot that can only be stopped if Carlo and Charlotte can see through the masks worn by everyone they meet."

Seriously people, after reading Stephanie's Kat, Incorrigible series, I will read ANYTHING she writes.

Sherlock Holmes: The Patchwork Devil by Cavan Scott
Published by: Titan Books
Publication Date: April 12th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 228 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"It is 1919, and while the world celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Holmes and Watson are called to a grisly discovery.

A severed hand has been found on the bank of the Thames, a hand belonging to a soldier who supposedly died in the trenches two years previously. But the hand is fresh, and shows signs that it was recently amputated. So how has it ended up back in London two years after its owner was killed in France? Warned by Sherlock’s brother Mycroft to cease their investigation, and only barely surviving an attack by a superhuman creature, Holmes and Watson begin to suspect a conspiracy at the very heart of the British government..."

Another book in the Titan series in which my friend George Mann has written!

Kick Kennedy by Barbara Leaming
Published by: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication Date: April 12th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy was the incandescent life-force of the fabled Kennedy family, her father’s acknowledged “favorite of all the children” and her brother Jack’s “psychological twin.” She was the Kennedy of Kennedys, sure of her privilege, magnetically charming and somehow not quite like anyone else on whatever stage she happened to grace.

The daughter of the American ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, Kick swept into Britain’s aristocracy like a fresh wind on a sweltering summer day. In a decaying world where everything was based on stultifying sameness and similarity, she was gloriously, exhilaratingly different. Kick was the girl whom all the boys fell in love with, the girl who remained painfully out of reach for most of them.

To Kick, everything about this life was fun and amusing--until suddenly it was not. For this is also a story of how a girl like Kick, a girl who had everything, a girl who seemed made for happiness, confronted crushing sadness. Willing to pay the price for choosing the love she wanted, she would have to face the consequences of forsaking much that was dear to her.

Bestselling and award-winning biographer Barbara Leaming draws on her unique access to firsthand accounts, extensive conversations with many of the key players, and previously-unseen sources to transport us to another world, one of immense wealth, arcane rituals and rules, glamour and tragedy, that has now disappeared forever. It was a world of dukes and duchesses, of grand houses, of country house weekends, and of wild rich boys. But it was also a world of blood and war, and of immeasurable loss.

It was a time of complete upheaval, as reflected in the life of this most unlikely and unforgettable central character. Kick Kennedy reveals her story, that of a young girl learning about love, sex, and death--and doing it all at warp speed as the world races toward war and then reels in the war’s chaotic aftermath. This is the coming-of-age story of the female star of the Kennedy family, and ultimately a tragic, romantic story that will break your heart."

Seriously, I'm not a Kennedy nut, it's just that until the death of her first husband she would have been the Duchess of Devonshire, and even after her death the Devonshires and the Kennedys were close, and this just fascinates me. 

I Know What I'm Doing and Other Lies I Tell Myself by Jen Kirkman
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: April 12th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"New York Times bestselling author and stand-up comedian Jen Kirkman delivers a hilarious, candid memoir about marriage, divorce, sex, turning forty, and still not quite having life figured out.

Jen Kirkman wants to be the voice in your head that says, Hey, you’re okay. Even if you sometimes think you aren’t! And especially if other people try to tell you you’re not.

In I Know What I’m Doing—and Other Lies I Tell Myself, Jen offers up all the gory details of a life permanently in progress. She reassures you that it’s okay to not have life completely figured out, even when you reach middle age (and find your first gray pubic hair!). She talks about making unusual or unpopular life decisions (such as cultivating a “friend with benefits” or not going home for the holidays) because you don’t necessarily want for yourself what everyone else seems to think you should. It’s about renting when everyone says you should own, dating around when everyone thinks you should settle down, and traveling alone when everyone pities you for going to Paris without a man.

From marriage to divorce and sex to mental health, I Know What I’m Doing—and Other Lies I Tell Myself is about embracing the fact that life is a bit of a sh*t show and it’s definitely more than okay to stay true to yourself."

I mainly know Jen from @midnight, but that alone makes me want to buy this book. 

Friday, April 8, 2016

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, 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.

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