Monday, January 30, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

Wires and Nerve by Marissa Meyer
Published by: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: January 31st, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The first graphic novel from #1 New York Times and USA Today bestseller Marissa Meyer!

In her first graphic novel, bestselling author Marissa Meyer extends the world of the Lunar Chronicles with a brand-new,action-packed story about Iko, the android with a heart of (mechanized) gold. When rogue packs of wolf-hybrid soldiers threaten the tenuous peace alliance between Earth and Luna, Iko takes it upon herself to hunt down the soldiers' leader. She is soon working with a handsome royal guard who forces her to question everything she knows about love, loyalty, and her own humanity. With appearances by Cinder, Cress, Scarlet, Winter, and the rest of the Rampion crew, this is a must-have for fans of the bestselling series."

I just have my fingers crossed that the art lives up to Meyer's storytelling.

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch
Published by: DAW
Publication Date: January 31st, 2017
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Where the Marble Arch stands today in London was once the Tyburn gallows—also known as The Hanging Tree. The walk toward those gallows along Oxford Street and past the Mayfair mansions has a bloody and haunted history as the last trip of the condemned. Some things never change. For both blood and ghosts have returned to those mansions of the super-rich. And it’s up to Peter Grant—England’s last wizard and the Metropolitan Police’s reluctant investigator of all things supernatural—to get to the bottom of the sinister doings."

I so want to lock myself away for a week and read this whole series.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Book Review 2016 #1 - 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.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Book Review 2016 #2 - 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.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Mistress of Paris by Catherine Hewit
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: January 24th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Mistress of Paris, a fantastically readable biography of a nineteenth-century Parisian courtesan who harbored an incredible secret.

Comtesse Valtesse de la Bigne was painted by Édouard Manet and inspired Émile Zola, who immortalized her in his scandalous novel Nana. Her rumored affairs with Napoleon III and the future King Edward VII kept gossip columns full.

But her glamorous existence hid a dark secret: she was no comtesse. She was born into abject poverty, raised on a squalid backstreet among the dregs of Parisian society. Yet she transformed herself into an enchantress who possessed a small fortune, three mansions, fabulous carriages, and art the envy of connoisseurs across Europe. A consummate show-woman, she ensured that her life―and even her death―remained shrouded in just enough mystery to keep her audience hungry for more.

Spectacularly evoking the sights and sounds of mid- to late nineteenth-century Paris in all its hedonistic glory, Catherine Hewitt’s biography tells, for the first time ever in English, the forgotten story of a remarkable woman who, though her roots were lowly, never stopped aiming high."

This does seem "fantastically readable!"

No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien
Published by: Nan A. Talese
Publication Date: January 24th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 592 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Inspired by the real-life experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I, Simon Tolkien delivers a perfectly rendered novel rife with class tension, period detail, and stirring action, ranging from the sharply divided society of northern England to the trenches of the Somme.

Adam Raine is a boy cursed by misfortune. His impoverished childhood in turn-of-the-century London comes to a sudden and tragic end when his mother is killed in a workers' protest march. His father, Daniel, is barely able to cope with the loss. But a job offer in the coal mining town of Scarsdale presents one last chance, so father and son head north. The relocation is hard on Adam: the local boys prove difficult to befriend, and he never quite fits in. Meanwhile tensions between the miners and their employer, Sir John Scarsdale, escalate, and finally explode with terrible consequences.

In the aftermath, Adam's fate shifts once again, and he finds himself drawn into the opulent Scarsdale family home where he makes an enemy of Sir John's son, Brice, who subjects Adam to a succession of petty cruelties for daring to step above his station. However, Adam finds consolation in the company of Miriam, the local parson's beautiful daughter with whom he falls in love. When they become engaged and Adam wins a scholarship to Oxford, he starts to feel that his life is finally coming together—until the outbreak of war threatens to tear everything apart.

From the slums of London to the riches of an Edwardian country house; from the hot, dark seams of a Yorkshire coal mine to the exposed terrors of the trenches in France; Adam's journey from boy to man is set against the backdrop of a society violently entering the modern world."

One Tolkien writing about another set during WWI? Yes please!

The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham
Published by: Bloomsbury Paperbacks
Publication Date: January 24th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 176 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Classic Crime from the Golden Age. Margery Allingham is J.K. Rowling's favorite Golden Age author.

Eric Crowther collected secrets and used them as weapons. Delighting in nothing more than torturing those around him with what he knew, there is no shortage of suspects when he is found dead in the White Cottage. Chief Inspector Challenor and his son Jerry will have to look deep into everyone's past--including the victim's--before they can be sure who has pulled the trigger. The fact that Jerry is in love with one of the suspects, however, might complicate things.

The White Cottage Mystery was Margery Allingham's first detective story, originally written as a serial for the Daily Express in 1927 and published as a book a year later. This new Bloomsbury edition is the only US edition currently in print."

When I read this book I absolutely loved it. Of course that was only a kindle edition and I've been needing a physical copy and I think this just might be the thing! 

The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry
Published by: Crown
Publication Date: January 24th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Beloved author Brunonia Barry returns to the world of The Lace Reader with this spellbinding new thriller, a complex brew of suspense, seduction and murder.

When a teenage boy dies suspiciously on Halloween night, Salem's chief of police, John Rafferty, now married to gifted lace reader Towner Whitney, wonders if there is a connection between his death and Salem’s most notorious cold case, a triple homicide dubbed "The Goddess Murders," in which three young women, all descended from accused Salem witches, were slashed on Halloween night in 1989. He finds unexpected help in Callie Cahill, the daughter of one of the victims newly returned to town. Neither believes that the main suspect, Rose Whelan, respected local historian, is guilty of murder or witchcraft.

But exonerating Rose might mean crossing paths with a dangerous force. Were the women victims of an all-too-human vengeance, or was the devil raised in Salem that night? And if they cannot discover what truly happened, will evil rise again?"

I hadn't heard of The Lace Reader, but this sequel sounds just riveting! Time to get on this series!

The Case of the Counterfeit Criminals by Jordan Stratford
Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 24th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 208 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"This “winner” (School Library Journal) of a history-mystery-science series continues as the Wollstonecraft Detectives--Ada Byron Lovelace and Mary Shelley--take on a case from the celebrated dinosaur bone hunter, Mary Anning.

The Wollestonecraft Girls embark on their most important case yet--the famed dinosaur fossil hunter Mary Anning is being blackmailed. Her precious dog has been snatched and the kidnappers are demanding that Miss Anning authenticate some fake dinosaur bones up for auction at the British Museum in order to get him back. Ada and Mary have just three days to track down the fossil fakers, find the dog, and save the integrity of science!

The game is truly afoot in this quirky caper involving blood-sucking leeches, an asthmatic pug, smoke bombs, secret elevators, diabolical disguises, and wicked word-play."

Come on people! Look at this awesomeness. Oh, and of course the simply charming art of Kelly Murphy.

The Twist by George Mann
Published by: Titan Comics
Publication Date: January 24th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 128 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:

Collecting Year Two #6 - 10 of the ongoing Twelfth Doctor comic adventures!

The Doctor visits planet Twist, the colony with 'the best punk scene this side of the 40th century!' But something is amiss when a murder mystery occurs, leading the Doctor and the planet's inhabitants to question their very origins!

A haunted house also causes problems for the Doctor, having strange ramifications a house should never have... and this one feels decidedly Time Lord!"

My friend George has a new Doctor Who collection out! And it looks like he's going to properly integrate that guitar instead of using it as a lame prop like the TV show does.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Book Review 2016 #3 - Beth Deitchman's Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas

Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas (Regency Magic Book 2) by Beth Deitchman
Published by: Luminous Creatures Press
Publication Date: Ovtober 19th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 302 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Margaret Dashwood hasn't been back to Norland Park since her family was unceremoniously shown the door by her sister-in-law Fanny after their beloved father died. Margaret and her father had a rather large secret that they kept from the rest of the family. They were both magically inclined. Her father secretly taught her spells and when she came of age she discovered that her father had left her a legacy in his study at Norland. Hence the visit. It might be awkward, it might even be painful, seeing her beloved Norland irreparably changed by Fanny's atrocious taste, but it's the only way to secure her legacy, a legacy that is far greater than she ever imagined. The first night she sneaks into her father's study she can't believe all the secret hidey-holes and realizes it will easily take every night of her visit to secure all the hidden treasures. Though one of the treasures is greater than all the rest. She finds an enchanted atlas that her father made for her. He knew how much she loved this book and longed to travel, so he made this very powerful artifact to fulfill his youngest daughters dreams. She is touched beyond measure to learn that she mattered this much to her father. But more importantly, through his correspondence she now has the names of fellow magical practitioners whom she can contact.

Arriving in London Margaret soon receives a response to a letter she sent to one of her father's friends, a Mrs. Bristlethwaite. Though Margaret has longed for magical company, it's her other correspondent who she's more excited about. While at Norland she met a Mr. Ellsworth, an eligible young man who she instantly connected with. He was also heading to London and asked if he could keep up the connection, something Margaret was very much wanting to do. But soon romance takes a back seat to magic when Mrs. Bristlethwaite sees Margaret's atlas and shows her the power it contains and how it can transport them all over the world. The book even contains lists of famous magical artifacts you can visit. Margaret longs to immerse herself in magic, but living with her family who are unaware of her abilities is a bit risky. Luckily a compromise is reached. While Mrs. Dashwood stays in town to look after Marianne during her confinement Margaret will head home to Devonshire with Mrs. Bristlethwaite and be a guest at Barbary Hall. At Barbary Hall Margaret is allowed to revel in her abilities and meet the local coven. But soon the coven is in danger. Magical artifacts are disappearing from all over the world and Margaret and her atlas are uniquely placed to put an end to this dastardly sorcerer who is up to no good. But will a revelation destroy her chances of happiness?

While most people view Pride and Prejudice as the definitive book by Austen, it isn't necessarily mine. Yes, I adore it more than words can say, but to me Austen is Sense and Sensibility. I still remember how it all happened, my introduction to Austen. I had a gaggle of friends senior year in high school obsessed with the Pride and Prejudice miniseries. They would watch the Netherfield Ball scene over and over while giggling. Now I had always viewed these friends as serious scholarly types, we ran a literary magazine and the "free thought" club, yet here was something that made them giddy little schoolgirls. They talked endlessly about spending nights re-reading Pride and Prejudice while taking a bath instead of doing homework. Needless to say, my interest was piqued. After I graduated I bought myself this big omnibus with the tinniest type possible from B. Dalton's with Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma promising myself to spend the summer reading all of Austen. I remember sitting on my bed in my room crying over the heartbreaks of Elinor and Marianne's story. My Austen obsession therefore began and ended with one book.

I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that reviews end up being more about the reviewer than what is being reviewed. I try not to do this too much, but this one time you will really have to indulge me. Because the truth of the matter is that reading Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas recaptured for me that moment when I first discovered and fell in love with Austen. When Margaret and her mother returned to Norland Park for a visit I felt like I was there once again for the first time. Like getting to experience a first kiss all over again. People talk about books being time machines. And they are. But sometimes it's not just world history but personal history that you discover between the covers. I relived a moment that I have tried to recapture before and have failed to. This second book in Beth Deitchman's series seems to capture more of the spirit of Austen's own writing. While I adored Mary Bennet and the Bloomsbury Coven, there's something about having a gaggle of interesting and unique characters thrown together in the most haphazard of circumstances that screams Austen.

But it isn't the other characters that anchor this book, it's Margaret. If I'm honest with myself Emma Thompson had more to do with my picking up Jane Austen than anyone else. Because when I was in high school I wasn't so much of a book nerd as a movie nerd; and I always have to read the book before watching the adaptation, that is an inviolable law. So yeah, book nerd in the making I guess. As fate would have it that Emma Thompson adaptation of Sense and Sensibility figures quite prominently in Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas in an interesting way. The truth is Margaret Dashwood is a very interesting character in that she actually doesn't really have any character. She is a blank. I like how on the Wikipedia page for Sense and Sensibility that they refer to one of John Middleton's sons as just "nameless." She is barely above this, being basically a cypher. To Emma Thompson this wouldn't fly. So she gave Margaret a personality in her adaptation. Margaret has a love of travel and wants to be a pirate and has a great love of a large atlas that Hugh Grant later gifts to her on his visit to Barton Cottage. It's not just in writing this book that Beth Deitchman has inexorably entwined Margaret with this atlas, she is just tapping into what all true fans of Austen know. With just a few lines Emma Thompson was forever to change the image of that little girl that Janeites the world over then embraced.

Emma Thompson gave Margaret a personality trait, imbuing her with something we can relate to and Beth Deitchman has expanded on that framework. Being the youngest of two very different siblings, I was interested to see who she would take after, the romantic Marianne, or the pragmatic Elinor. While Margaret does have the drive and levelheadedness of Elinor when it comes to studying her magic, I would say overall that she takes more after Marianne. It's not JUST the love of poetry and her losing her heart so quickly to Mr. Ellsworth, or even the pining for him hour after hour, it's the way she does her spells. This is a purely brilliant idea on the part of Beth Deitchman. Margaret does all her spells in French. If you remember what was previously said in Mary Bennet and the Bloomsbury Coven, simplicity and intent are the most important aspects of getting a spell to work. Therefore Margaret translating her spells into French, no matter how perfect her pronunciation, is a poetic affectation. She thinks they sound more magical. I literally snorted at this. It's just SUCH a Marianne thing to say! While yes, I can agree with some of Margaret's theories as to magic and poetry, I think her revelation at the end to Mrs. Bristlethwaite is perfect. Oh, and totally Elinor.

A big difference between Mary Bennet and the Bloomsbury Coven and Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas is that in the prior we followed a novice, someone just introduced to the world of magic, while in the later we have a heroine who has been practicing magic under the guidance of her father all her life. While both heroines encounter magical communities on their adventures, Mary still stands separate, while Margaret becomes enmeshed in hers. Both are looking for their place in the world, but Margaret very much wants her place to include those like her, those who can help her on her journey. As I mentioned earlier, it's these unique and interesting characters that help make this book more Austen. The Devonshire Coven is just chock-a-block with characters I fell in love with. From the forthright and indomitable Mrs. Bristlethwaite, to the ever hungry Mr. James, to the kind and gentle Mr. Barrington, each one of these characters is so well rounded, so memorable, you can easily see them finding a permanent place in your heart, just like Mrs. Jennings somehow contrived to do. In fact the only real fault in this book is that it has now come to an end. I could literally spend hours just sitting with these characters in Barbary Hall sipping tea and playing cards while a fire glowed in the hearth.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Book Review 2016 #4 - Gideon Defoe's The Pirates! In an Adventure with Ahab

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Ahab by Gideon Defoe
Published by: Pantheon
Publication Date: October 4th, 2005
Format: Hardcover, 160 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

After the main-mast falls over for the third time in a week the pirate with a scarf reluctantly and cautiously approaches the Pirate Captain about perhaps getting a new boat. After admitting to his number two that perhaps covering the holes in his quarters with dashing pictures of himself isn't the best way to keep a boat afloat, seeing as a stiff breeze could conceivably kill off half the pirate crew and the Pirate Captain himself has never bothered to learn to swim he agrees that they go to Nantucket and Cutlass Liz's boatyard. There they run into two interesting people. One is Ahab, a dour whaler who is searching the world for the great white whale who took his leg off with a big chomp, the other is the Pirate Captain's Nemesis, Black Bellamy. Black Bellamy eggs the Pirate Captain on to buying a boat, The Lovely Emma, which the crew can in no way afford. Desperate to quickly get the cash for fear of Cutlass Liz and her ways of dealing with those who don't pay the pirates go in search of treasure! When that fails they try gambling. When that fails they try putting on a Vegas show. When that fails the pirate in red suggests perhaps they try some piracy? When that fails they just might take up Ahab's quest, they keep running into him and he's now offering a reward equal to the cost of their new boat. But can the Pirate Captain and his crew really succeed where Ahab has failed? And if they do can they succeed before Cutlass Liz gets violent?

What seems like years ago now, probably because it was, I remember seeing a few of Gideon Defoe's Pirates! books at Half Price Books and thinking they looked rather fun. I promptly forgot about them because do you realize the number of books I look at on a daily basis? It's seriously staggering. But shortly thereafter Lauren Willig mentioned them in passing as being hilarious so this confluence of events led me to order the first two books, handily sold as one volume, and I put it on my bookshelf and promptly forgot about them again. Fast forward to 2012 and Aardman Animation has adapted the first book for the screen. David Tennant, Hugh Grant, Russell Tovey, no wait, not Russell Tovey in the US, grumble, grumble, but once again I thought of the books and again promptly forgot. For some reason all my encounters with Gideon Defoe's work was promptly forgotten until his third book, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists, was picked out of the hat for book club in 2016. Not being one to start in the middle of a series I picked up my copy of the first two books, promptly fell in love, ordered the next three books and plundered my way through them all.

The thing is, I've always had a soft spot for pirates. This started quite young with my parents reading Irene Haas's The Maggie B. to me. A young girl wishes for a boat to travel the world in with her little brother. I wanted a boat just like it for myself. A pirate ship in miniature with flora and fauna and the coziest rooms you could ever imagine that weathered all storms. As I grew up there were Lego pirate ships and Playmobil pirate ships that actually floated helmed by my Star Wars figures. There were hideouts down by the railway tracks and in my back yard with hammocks, just like on a real pirate ship. There were other books too like Peter Pan and The Princess Bride, and tons of movies from The Goonies to Muppet Treasure Island to Hook. Finally there was Pirates of the Caribbean, opening night at Point Cinema on the UltraScreen with my girlfriends. Some were there to see Johnny Depp, some to see Orlando Bloom, and some to see an anvil three stories tall. I was there for the pirates!

But these Pirates! by Gideon Defoe, they are a breed apart. They are the love children of Blackadder and the briny deep, with historical cameos thrown in just as much as historical accuracy is thrown out. With this lovability that makes you just want to take them home give them a big feast predominately of ham and tell them a good bedtime story before tucking them in for the night. Gideon Defoe's writing combines the wit and love of footnotes of Terry Pratchett with the absurdity of Monty Python. Yet it's so uniquely his own that while I can draw comparisons all day it will never do justice to a series of books that need to be read for their hats and their love of ham. And I'm not joking that once you start you won't be able to stop until you've read them all. From Darwin and Bobo, the "man-panzee," to Ahab and what hunting the great white whale does to the Pirate Captain's sanity, to Wagner trying to blacken the name of Communism, to beekeeping on St. Helena where Napoleon causes quite a ruckus, to Byron and the Pirate Captain forming a true bromance while the Pirate Captain tries to woo Mary Godwin away from Shelley, you will just pillage your way through Defoe's prose.

Yet what makes this series really unique is that, aside from them being kind of hopeless as pirates, is that the characters names aren't really names, instead being character descriptions. There's the Pirate Captain and his faithful number two, the pirate with a scarf, there's the pirate in green, the pirate with rickets, the albino pirate, Jennifer, and every one's least favorite pirate, the pirate in red. While this could be viewed as just a humorous joke at the readers expense, I mean, think how many times we as readers when faced with a new story with oodles of characters has picked up on a character trait to remember them all by? Instead I don't think it's about readers and the inability to remember names, instead I think it's a clever conceit. While yes, there is a bit of poking fun at stereotypes, I think it actually goes beyond this and is making the character archetypes. The Pirate Captain is THE DEFINITIVE pirate captain. He's the only one that matters, suck it Black Bellamy! Just like the pirate with a scarf is the perfect number two, and the pirate in red is the perfect red shirt for us to hate on. These are the lovable essence of all the pirates we wanted to sail the high seas with as a kid and therefore we gleefully go with them wherever that may be. Even if there might be ghosts. And we all know how scared pirates are of ghosts!

In fact I think that the film by Aardman Animation, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, is doing a disservice to the books. While these pirates are true characters by making them cartoonishly animated it has turned them into caricatures. This movie has lessened them. In the books they are larger than life fiendish friends, on the screen they are a kind of boring movie. Which is really odd when you consider that Gideon Defoe wrote the screenplay. When I think back to when I first saw the movie, it in no way made me want to rush out and read the books, which is such a shame. Think of all those people out in the world who are judging these books based on that movie? The movie has far more "presence" and it's overshadowing these lovely, sweet, and comical adventures. When reading the books I thought how much they reminded me of the TV series Galavant. There's an absurdity and a gallantry and a sense of humor that makes it similar to The Pirates! Plus done as live action, there's a basis in reality with having actors like the brilliant Timothy Omundson bring the characters to life. This humor works best with the dichotomy of the absurd versus the real. Which leads me into my next point, when is there going to be a live action movie with Timothy Omundson as the Pirate Captain?

As for why I chose to pick their adventure with Ahab as my favorite? Partly it's because I had yet to read them hanging out with the Romantics last year, but also it has to do with this balance of fantasy and reality that elevates the humor in these books. In taking The Pirates! and placing them in their natural setting you get to see how atrocious they actually are as pirates. The fact that when they desperately need money to pay for their new boat that actual piracy is their second to last resort shows where their priorities lie. They'd rather look at clouds and have feasts with ham. Again and again it's brought home how not at home they are on the sea. They know nothing about whales! As for mermaids... well, the Pirate Captain did date a rather attractive halibut for three months thinking the rather normal fish was something more... While Black Bellamy may be a successful pirate, he isn't that enjoyable a pirate to be around. He's too suave, too together. I actually like my pirates a little on the lost side. Perhaps that is the one thing that the movie got right? They are a band of misfits, and I love them so much for not conforming to any stereotype. They are archetypes and I love them!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: January 17th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Bestselling author Beatriz Williams brings together two generations of women inside a Greenwich Village apartment—a flapper hiding an extraordinary past, and a modern-day Manhattanite forced to start her life anew.

When she discovers her banker husband has been harboring a secret life, Ella Gilbert escapes their sleek SoHo loft for a studio in a quaint building in Greenwich Village. But her new refuge isn't quite what it seems. Her charismatic musician neighbor, Hector, warns her to stay out of the basement after midnight, when a symphony of mysterious noise strikes up—laughter, clinking glasses, jazz piano, the occasional bloodcurdling scream—even though it's stood empty for decades. Back in the Roaring Twenties, the building hosted one of the city’s most notorious speakeasies.

In 1924, Geneva "Gin" Kelly, a quick-witted flapper from the hills of western Maryland, is a regular at this Village hideaway known as the Christopher Club. Caught up in a raid, Gin lands in the office of Prohibition enforcement agent Oliver Anson, who persuades her to help him catch her stepfather, Duke Kelly, one of Appalachia’s most notorious bootleggers.

Sired by a wealthy New York scion who abandoned her showgirl mother, Gin is nobody’s fool. She strikes a risky bargain with the taciturn, straight-arrow Revenue agent, even though her on-again, off-again Princeton beau, Billy Marshall, wants to make an honest woman of her and heal the legacy of her hardscrabble childhood. Gin's alliance with Anson rattles Manhattan society, exposing sins that shock even this free-spirited redhead—sins that echo from the canyons of Wall Street to the mountain hollers of her hometown.

As Ella unravels the strange history of the building—and the family thread that connects her to Geneva Kelly—she senses the Jazz Age spirit of her incandescent predecessor invading her own shy nature, in ways that will transform her life in the wicked city..."

Obviously I'm buying this because it's Beatriz Williams, but does anyone else think there's something odd going on with that red umbrella and that lady's head?

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
Published by: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: January 17th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 480 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Fans of Star Wars and Divergent will revel in internationally bestselling author Veronica Roth’s stunning new science-fiction fantasy series.

On a planet where violence and vengeance rule, in a galaxy where some are favored by fate, everyone develops a currentgift, a unique power meant to shape the future. While most benefit from their currentgifts, Akos and Cyra do not—their gifts make them vulnerable to others’ control. Can they reclaim their gifts, their fates, and their lives, and reset the balance of power in this world?

Cyra is the sister of the brutal tyrant who rules the Shotet people. Cyra’s currentgift gives her pain and power—something her brother exploits, using her to torture his enemies. But Cyra is much more than just a blade in her brother’s hand: she is resilient, quick on her feet, and smarter than he knows.

Akos is from the peace-loving nation of Thuvhe, and his loyalty to his family is limitless. Though protected by his unusual currentgift, once Akos and his brother are captured by enemy Shotet soldiers, Akos is desperate to get his brother out alive—no matter what the cost. When Akos is thrust into Cyra’s world, the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable. They must decide to help each other to survive—or to destroy one another."

Seriously, this is the number one most buzzed about book for about the last six months people.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Adult Coloring Book
Published by: Dark Horse Books
Publication Date: January 17th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 96 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Enter the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the chosen one who wields the skill to fight vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness. Created by the multi-talented Joss Whedon and beloved the world over, your favorite characters and moments from the Buffy television series are all represented in this engrossing adult coloring book. Containing forty-five intricately-detailed original illustrations ready for you can add your own colors to Buffy and the good guys as well as all the big bad guys!

All artwork is original and created explicitly for this official Buffy adult coloring book.

Includes art from such Buffy regulars as Karl Moline, Rebekah Isaacs, Georges Jeanty, Yishan Li, Steve Morris, Newsha Ghasemi, and others!"

I'm not spending too much time coloring Giles, you're spending too much time judging my Giles obsession. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Book Review 2016 #5 - Mata Hari's Last Dance

Mata Hari's Last Dance by Michelle Moran
Published by: Touchstone
Publication Date: July 19th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

The woman formerly known as Lady Margaretha MacLeod has come to Paris to reinvent herself. Styled as Mata Hari, the "Eye of the Dawn," she has been trying to get work in the various dance halls. But she is too exotic, too foreign. Little do they know she's just a girl from the Netherlands who can spin a tale. At the last place she auditions, the disreputable L'Ete, she is once again turned away, but her luck is about to change. Edouard Clunet, a respectable and successful lawyer saw her dance and wants to act as her agent. The dance halls aren't the place for Mata Hari, she needs a select and refined audience, one Edouard can introduce her to. Her first production is for Clunet's client, Guimet, who has built a library to house his extensive collections and wants to have a ceremony with two hundred guests to open his Place d'Iena. Mata Hari's dance is a sensation. Her storytelling, her risque dances, they electrify the audience and soon she is coveted by all of Paris to perform at their function. But Clunet is clever, he only chooses the best venues with the best hosts, concerned just as much with Mata Hari's image as with her abilities.

Soon Mata Hari is performing one of a kind shows for the Rothschilds, Jeanne de Loynes, and Givenchy. Her habit to also occupy her host's bed lets Mata Hari accumulate beautiful possessions and living quarters, those that her pricey performance fees don't quite stretch to. She is the name on everyone's lips, so of course she is given opportunities beyond Paris which she jumps at. Madrid, Berlin, never did she think she'd play such lavish locations! But now that she has everything she could ever have wanted she realizes what she misses most, that which she ran away from. Her daughter, Jeanne Louise, whom she left behind with her husband when she fled after the death of their son. She has spent so much of her life telling tales and reinventing herself that to open up to Edouard, to tell him a truth, raw and painful, is a revelation. Her success will continue longer than she ever imagined, but it's her past she can never recapture that she wants most. As time goes on her habits with her lovers and her ability to spin a yarn will catch up to her with the most dire of consequences. Everyone has to face the music in the end.

When I was younger I didn't quite know who Mata Hari was. But then again, being told of a great courtesan doesn't seem like the kind of tale you'd tell as a bedside story to a child. So I had these wild ideas about who she was. A seductress, a storyteller, and a spy, all with the most amazing outfits. Someone out of The Arabian Nights like Scheherazade. Someone from antiquity when Gods walked among the deserts. A grand heroine of myth. The truth is she'd probably like the myth in my mind. It wasn't until much later that I learned the truth of her tragic life. Ironically I didn't learn about Mata Hari in any history class but in the episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles that was written by Carrie Fisher, which should have been subtitled "Indy Gets His Groove On." Here was the beginning of the truth I never knew. The woman I thought relegated to dusty tomes was a "spy" during the first world war! While there are those who'd argue that this is old, to me, if a person was alive in the same century I was born that's pretty recent news. Gone were The Arabian Nights delusions and in their place was this woman who defied convention and died for the greater good.

I think where my erroneous impressions of Mata Hari came from was the fact she was a courtesan. Courtesans seem of an older era, when Kings walked through Versailles and a Maharajah took a woman to bed bedecked with jewels. When you think of the turn of the past century when a woman slept around or had a lover she was a mistress or worse. But mistress doesn't do Mata Hari justice. Neither does any of the more derogatory slurs that could be mentioned. She was a true courtesan. She was well educated, skilled, and able to tell the most intoxicating stories. So she accepted gifts of jewels and property, these were never payment, they weren't even really a transaction of any kind, more a thank you for a good seduction. She lived outside the expectations of society. Or at least the expectations of a woman in society. She acted more like a man when it came to whom she took to bed. It was all about desire, hers and theirs, and if they happened to look really fabulous in a uniform, all the better.

By living outside of the proscribed norms it was interesting in how I related to Mata Hari. As in, I didn't relate to her AT ALL. I mean, sure spending a night on your back or a day dancing to be draped in jewels might be some people's ideal life, just not mine. The truth is, she's not the most likable person. It's not just that her morals don't jive with mine, it's something more, something deep down that while I can be fascinated by her I would never like her. In fact, I found it interesting that Mata Hari kind of reminded me of Linda Radlett from Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love. They are both very acquisitive beings who like the finer things in life and don't scruple when it comes to what they want to do. While I like to view myself as carving out my own life, I'd never go for such a drastic trailblazing method. But that is what makes Mata Hari so interesting. She goes big or goes home. More than that though she really knows how to craft a tale. Her lies are so intoxicating and fascinating, that while you might balk at her life choices, you have to admire her style.

Where Moran's storytelling surpasses Mata Hari's is in showing the real purpose of all Mata Hari's storytelling, to mask her pain. Mata Hari's life growing up as Margaretha Zelle, later MacLeod, wasn't the smoothest of journeys to be sure. The situations that she was forced into by the abandonment of her family at a young age eventually resulting in her early marriage would be events best forgotten. When this is compounded by the death of her beloved son you can see why she ran away and rewrote her own story. Many people would give anything to be able to rewrite their past, even pasts not nearly as traumatic as that lived by Mata Hari. A new city, a new name, a new past. She did a marvelous job reinventing herself and creating a legend. But legends are rarely relatable. Through her writing Moran lets us see behind the veil and while you might never quite come to terms with and like Mata Hari, you really feel for her. Her struggles, her pains, her decisions, even the atrocious ones, you just get it, and that's what historical fiction is about, connecting to another person in another place and time.

As for whether Mata Hari was killed because she was a spy? Well, I'm not of the harsh opinion Wikipedia holds that she was too naive and stupid to be a double agent. Because if anything her reinvention shows that she was a clever woman who knew what she wanted and got it. I agree with Moran's inference that Mata Hari's downfall was a judgment on her as a person versus any knowledge or secrets she might have held. Mata Hari didn't fit into the standard mold. She was a woman who lived her life as she wished. Certain men in power couldn't handle this. The world was at war and people were expected to toe the line and behave or all would be lost. Mata Hari went from being a juicy topic of conversation used to titillate to a wanton woman who was out to steal your husband. She was judged for what she did and paid the ultimate price. So what if men did what she did all the time, she was a woman and therefore her death was for the greater good. Yes, her ability to spin stories did come back to bite her on the ass, because she had a honeyed tongue and could make anything sound like truth so how could you believe a word she said? But what this book made me realize is that her story still resonates. She was a woman who lived her life outside of societies expectations and paid for it. Therefore I give you Mata Hari, a true feminist icon! She died for the cause, and can that be said about Isadora Duncan?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Book Review 2016 #6 - Ursula K. Le Guin's The Tombs of Atuan

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin
Published by: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: 1971
Format: Hardcover, 422 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Tenar doesn't remember her life before. A life filled with love and apple trees. She has even forgotten her name. She is the One Priestess of the Tombs reborn in the service of The Nameless Ones. She is now Arha, "the eaten one." Her life of abnegation began at six. Lonely and cold and devoid of friends her days are filled with worship and dark rituals to The Nameless Ones, who dwell beneath the hall of the throne in the place of the tombs. Each day is much the same, passing in routine and ritual in windowless rooms. When she is fifteen, a year after crossing into womanhood and coming into her full powers, she is finally permitted into the undertomb. What should be a wonderful experience, entering her true domain of the tombs and the labyrinth that follows becomes one of her worst memories as she was brought there to punish prisoners of the Godking. Prisoners she leaves to starve to death.

This memory is like ashes in her mouth and she withdraws from the world above of petty conflicts and power struggles seeking comfort in the tombs and in the labyrinth beyond. It is there that her endless days of monotony suddenly change. For it is there she sees a Wizard! She knows instantly what he is and that he is there to steal from her, seeking the long-lost half of the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. The magical ring which, once whole, will bring peace to all of Earthsea. But for now he has brought light into the darkness, her darkness, and she traps him behind the iron door at the start of the labyrinth. Yes, the Ring is in the labyrinth but only Arha can navigate it. So the labyrinth shall be the wizard's tomb, if Arha decides to let him die. She is oddly fascinated with this man. She has lived all her life in seclusion with females all with only one point of view. Here is an outsider who has a different viewpoint and who might just open her eyes. But has Tenar lived in the dark for too long?

There are books that you struggle with initially but eventually pay off in such spectacular fashion that all that you went through was worth it. The Tombs of Atuan is just such a book. Reading the Earthsea series consecutively like I did The Tombs of Atuan is a drastic shift from A Wizard of Earthsea. It's far more formal with a dense backstory about Godkings and Nameless Ones and religion. Not to mention that Arha is hard to initially relate to. She's very standoffish. But you just have to get under her skin, get past all her training that stripped her personality away and watch as she struggles to become someone she can like. As many have pointed out, this is basically the companion story to Ged's journey to becoming a Wizard in A Wizard of Earthsea, what with shifting from a male to a female protagonist. But I think it's so much more. Yes, you could say it's because I'm a girl so that I could relate more, but I felt like Le Guin took Tenar on a greater journey than she did with Ged. Yes Ged traveled and ran from his mistake, but Tenar was there day after day facing her mistake and working out who she was. It was a far more satisfying journey. Sometimes it's about inner change more than anything that makes a story work.

What also helped was that while Ged was important, he was put on the back burner. He wasn't the focus at all just a conduit for Tenar's change. What I find fascinating with this decision of Le Guin's is that she takes a character that we know well after reading A Wizard of Earthsea and makes him mysterious again. Yes, some time has elapsed and he has aged, but he's still Sparrowhawk. Seeing him though Tenar's eyes makes you feel like you're seeing him for the first time all over again. While I do love series where I can follow the entire journey of the characters I love from beginning to end, this time lapse that Le Guin utilizes makes this second book so fresh that I actually heart it way more than the first volume. You could guess what Ged was up to down in the labyrinth and all his plans, but in the end, everything that happened to him hinged on what Tenar did. Seeing her fascinated with and then eventually coming to trust Ged makes you, as a reader, more fascinated with Ged than you ever have before. It's interesting that in stepping back you see more clearly. Personally, I didn't want this story to end. They could have stayed in that maze forever just talking.

Yet it wasn't just the change in perspective that made The Tombs of Atuan so compulsively readable, it was that the location changed and with it the style. Earthsea is basically a generic fantasy land that is predominately water. Yes, it's kind of an unfair generalization, because each island is so unique, but as a whole it's built from the blueprints of other fantasy stories. Here the basis is less fantasy and more adventure. More H. Rider Haggard and Elizabeth Peters. Dusty old cultures whose bloodthirsty customs are a danger to the more enlightened times we are now in. Once I realized and embraced this I came to adore this book. I think this was where I had problems initially connecting. This book is SO different from it's predecessor that it's kind of a culture shock. But what makes it amazing is all the ways it's different from A Wizard of Earthsea. I felt like I was reading some of my favorite Egyptian stories about gods and temples and a plucky heroine. Add to that an underground maze that is so awesome and has so many connotations from all different mythologies and made me think of everything from Labyrinth to Jim Henson's The Storyteller and this book appealed to both the child and the adult in me. I only wish I had read it sooner.

Though the reveal of the connection between Ged's and Tenar's stories is what just blew me away. I have to fully admit that I was reading these books while sick so I might have been a bit slow on the uptake, but when I realized who exactly were Tenar's Gods I was in awe. Yet again did Le Guin make the known mysterious. In A Wizard of Earthsea Ged is fighting an Unnamed force. Victory is achieved by naming it. Tenar is in service to The Nameless Ones. In other words, literally, another way of saying Unnamed. Please do not mock my inability to connect them immediately, as I said, I was sick, but also I think the way the story is written it's made to ingeniously hide something in plain sight. None of Tenar's beliefs seem evil or dangerous at first, so why would her Gods be dangerous? It's only as she grows and learns that it becomes obvious that her Gods might not be kind ones. To then learn they are the world destroying evil that Ged faced? Epic reveal. Plus, it's rather an indictment on religion. To learn that you are serving the forces of darkness? That could quite mess with your mind.

Which leads to the message of The Tombs of Atuan, the very heart of it's maze. This book is all about guilt and redemption. Tenar, in sentencing those prisoners to death set herself on a path. A path she didn't like. The way she takes care of and treats Ged, keeping her prisoner alive and eventually freeing him breaks her chains. She is able to redeem herself through doing an act of kindness, by doing good. While she didn't know that the forces she served were malign, she was able to search her own conscience and realized that what she did didn't make her feel good. Think of the power this book would have on a young reader. If you are trapped in a bad situation there is always hope. There is always a chance to make tomorrow better. I know it might be trite, but it's so true that reading opens your mind. Reading makes you more empathetic, more able to feel and understand and just get it. That's why I never trust people who say they don't like reading. They are shutting themselves off from feeling from becoming the best human being they can be. Read this book and I dare you not to be moved to be better to do better to question everything and to find the right path for yourself.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Book Review 2016 #7 - Daphne Du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek

Frenchman's Creek by Daphne Du Maurier
Published by: Virago Press
Publication Date: 1941
Format: Paperback, 260 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Dona St. Columb has tired of court. What she did with Rockingham shames her. It wasn't an infidelity against her husband Harry, it was a stupid prank that scared an old lady. A prank that has made her rethink her life, fleeing with her two children to Cornwall and Navron. Perhaps reconnecting with nature and leaving the din of London behind will help her to find a new Dona, one she can like. She hasn't been back to her husband's estate of Navron since they were first married; aside from the painting of herself hanging in the master bedroom it is quite different. There's only one servant, the almost impudent but ultimately amusing William, who seems to have run the household according to his whims. Soon Dona starts to suspect William of having another master other than her husband. There are artifacts left in her room that hint at another occupant while she was roistering in London.

But that partying Dona is gone, replaced by one reveling in the trill of a bird call and the smell of a flower. Therefore the Cornish society trying to thrust themselves on her is very unwelcome. Lord Godolphin and his ilk whinging on about French pirates are of no interest to her. Especially when she has formed a bond with the very pirate they hunt. The Frenchman is William's true master and is the one who has been sleeping in Dona's bed while she was away. She stumbled upon his ship, La Mouette, hidden in a creek near Navron. She could have given them up, told the law the secret base of the pirates, instead she joins the crew. With William as her conspirator every moment she can spare is spent with the Frenchman. They fish, they talk, he draws birds and Dona. But soon he must take again to the high seas and Dona wants to accompany him. Will his latest heist bring the law down on him or will he and Dona sail off into the sunset?

Frenchman's Creek was one of a very few books by Daphne Du Maurier that was available stateside when I was growing up, and yet it never caught my interest. I think again it's down to the misapplied moniker of "Romance Author" that Du Maurier was forever burdened with. A problem that isn't just with Du Maurier's unwelcome title but with me. For years I've often dismissed a book because it was labelled a romance. At least by this time in my life I'm willing to not let a book's genre classification sway me. Yet of all Du Maurier's books I've read this is the most romantic, but it's romantic in a way similar to The Princess Bride. There's just so much more than the romance that to brand it as such does the book a disservice. Though, playing devil's advocate, in the Frenchman, Jean-Benoit Aubéry, Du Maurier has created perhaps the ideal romantic hero. He is a classic, a paragon of the romantic ideal. He has poetry in his soul and the desire to capture nature on paper. Who wouldn't want to run away with him?

Even if years ago I could have brought myself to look past the "romance" label of the book I think the period aspect of it would have tripped me up. Frenchman's Creek is set during The Restoration, a time in England where the return of the monarchy and Charles II to the throne spurred a cultural and artistic revolution; as well as a lot of debauchery and excess. I studied this in two different history classes in college, as well as reading a plethora of plays from this time period in my theatre classes, I did mention artistic revolution didn't I? This was heavily in the theatre arena. At this point I hadn't actually hit saturation, that was to come with Charles II: The Power and the Passion. I had REALLY been looking forward to this miniseries airing and at about hour three I was flagging... in fact at about three and a half hours I reached a point where my love of Rufus Sewell couldn't compete with my boredom. So this Restoration revulsion that took place in me made me avoid Frenchman's Creek for too long because it is so fresh and so entertaining that it goes beyond the period trappings to be a timeless tale.

If I were to describe this book to someone who had a slight grasp of Du Maurier's canon I'd say Frenchman's Creek is the opposite of Jamaica Inn. Jamaica Inn is all about a good girl thrown in amongst scoundrels who are evil and bad ship-wreckers, whereas Frenchman's Creek is about a bad girl thrown in amongst pirates who do a world of good for her and are really not that bad a group of fellows. The genius of Du Maurier is that she can write two completely opposite stories and yet make you fall completely in love with both of them. In Jamaica Inn you were praying for Mary to be saved by the kindly gentry, yet here, here the gentry are fools who are to be laughed at and mocked and you are with Dona all the way as she schemes to steal from them with her Frenchman. What's more is that if you think on Dona she's an interesting character. Over the course of the book she turns away from her husband and her children and yet you are rooting her on. You sympathize enough with her that you WANT her to become a pirate. You are complicit in her crimes and you love every dangerous heart-stopping moment. Leave the children behind, take to the high seas!

And it's that desire to leave your life behind that clues you into the deeper meaning of Frenchman's Creek. Just below the surface of all Du Maurier's books you always see her. Even if she didn't openly acknowledge it she used her books as therapy. In Rebecca she dealt with the duality of a wife, who she was meant to be versus who she really was. Here it's the masculine versus the feminine self. She always viewed her creative impulses as masculine, and therefore Dona constantly referring to her adventurous side as masculine, as a cabin boy, makes sense in relation to Du Maurier. This desire to go out into the world, to please yourself, to seek adventure, to do, was in Du Maurier's mind a male impulse. Whereas the homemaker, the mother, that was the feminine self. In the atrocious TV Movie Daphne, you get the barest glimpse into her acting on her male instincts with Gertrude Lawrence. But, like Dona in the end, Du Maurier chose hearth and home, going back to her family. She may have tapped into her male side from time to time, but it was the female side that won out. But more importantly, it's the way she has dramatized this and her other struggles that have left us with such an impressive body of work. Here's to the writer with issues!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: January 10th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Veronica Speedwell returns in a brand new adventure from Deanna Raybourn, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries...

London, 1887. Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task—saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman’s noose in a week’s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.

But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems, and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer—a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia’s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime. From a Bohemian artists’ colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed...."

For the second Veronica Speedwell book we get a new design. Which I like SO MUCH!

The Guests on South Battery by Karen White
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: January 10th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"New York Times bestselling author Karen White invites you to explore the brick-walked streets of Charleston, where historic mansions house the memories of years gone by, and restless spirits refuse to fade away...

With her extended maternity leave at its end, Melanie Trenholm is less than thrilled to leave her new husband and beautiful twins to return to work, especially when she’s awoken by a phone call with no voice on the other end—and the uneasy feeling that the ghostly apparitions that have stayed silent for more than a year are about to invade her life once more.

But her return to the realty office goes better than she could have hoped, with a new client eager to sell the home she recently inherited on South Battery. Most would treasure living in one of the grandest old homes in the famous historic district of Charleston, but Jayne Smith would rather sell hers as soon as possible, guaranteeing Melanie a quick commission.

Despite her stroke of luck, Melanie can’t deny that spirits—both malevolent and benign—have started to show themselves to her again. One is shrouded from sight, but appears whenever Jayne is near. Another arrives when an old cistern is discovered in Melanie’s backyard on Tradd Street.

Melanie knows nothing good can come from unearthing the past. But some secrets refuse to stay buried...."

I really need to delve into Karen White after reading The Forgotten Room!

Dead Cold Brew by Cleo Coyle
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: January 10th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:

Coffeehouse manager Clare Cosi sheds tears of joy when her NYPD detective boyfriend surprises her with an engagement ring. But her bridal bliss is put on hold when a chilling mystery brings a wave of deadly danger to those she holds dear...

After everything Clare and Mike have been through, they deserve a little bit of happily ever after. So when Mike decides to put a ring on Clare's finger, Clare's eccentric octogenarian employer is there to help. She donates the perfect coffee-colored diamonds to include in the setting and the name of a world-famous jeweler who happens to be an old family friend. But while the engagement is steeped in perfection, the celebration is not long lived.

First, a grim-faced attorney interrupts their party with a mysterious letter bequeathing a strange, hidden treasure to Clare's daughter. Next, the renowned jeweler who designed Clare's ring is found poisoned in his shop. Both events appear to be connected to a cold case murder involving a sunken ship, an Italian curse, a suspiciously charming jewel thief, and a shocking family secret. With deadly trouble brewing, Clare must track down clues in some of New York's most secret places before an old vendetta starts producing fresh corpses.

With recipes to die for, including how to make cold-brew coffee at home!"

For my friend Paul. And yes. I will start this series soon.

The Cold Eye by Laura Anne Gilman
Published by: Saga Press
Publication Date: January 10th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the anticipated sequel to Silver on the Road, Isobel is riding circuit through the Territory as the Devil's Left Hand. But when she responds to a natural disaster, she learns the limits of her power and the growing danger of something mysterious that is threatening not just her life, but the whole Territory.

Isobel is the left hand of the old man of the Territory, the Boss—better known as the Devil. Along with her mentor, Gabriel, she is traveling circuit through Flood to represent the power of the Devil and uphold the agreement he made with the people to protect them. Here in the Territory, magic exists—sometimes wild and perilous.

But there is a growing danger in the bones of the land that is killing livestock, threatening souls, and weakening the power of magic. In the next installment of the Devil’s West series, Isobel and Gabriel are in over their heads as they find what’s happening and try to stop the people behind it before it unravels the Territory."

So, "cold" seems to be a theme this week... who am I to question it though?

Doctor Who: Supremacy of the Cybermen by George Mann
Published by: Titan Comics
Publication Date: January 10th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 128 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"For the Cybermen's 50th Anniversary... YOU WILL BE DELETED! This incredible one-off event brings multiple Doctors battling through time to fight the unstoppable Cybermen!

Exiled from Gallifrey at the very end of Time, Rassilon, fallen leader of the Time Lords, has been captured by the last of the Cybermen. Now the Cybermen have access to time travel. With it, every defeat is now a victory. Every foe is now dead -- or Cyberised.

The Legions march across time and space, leaving devastation and converted civilisations in their wake, their numbers growing with every world that falls. Evolving. Upgrading. Reconfiguring. All seems lost. Forever.

Can the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors - each battling the Cybermen alone, on a different temporal front - undo the damage that has been wrought on the universe, before they are converted themselves? Or is this how the universe dies? Not in fire, but in cold, unfeeling metal..."

Um, my friend George writing a comic about multiple Doctors? Hells yes.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Book Review 2016 #8 - Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Published by: Virago Press
Publication Date: 1938
Format: Paperback, 448 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and chain upon the gate... Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done."

As she looks back on the twists and turns that brought her to Manderley, the second Mrs. de Winter can't help but wonder how her life ended up as it did. She had resigned herself to an existence as a paid companion trailing behind whomever had hired her, the reprehensible Mrs. Van Hoppper being her employer at the beginning of her story. That all changed when Maxim de Winter entered her life in his fast car. He was in the south of France fleeing the memories of his dead wife Rebecca and the one thing that blotted her out was the young girl who would become his second wife. Yet perhaps their union was foolish, or Maxim's dream to return to Manderley was unwise. Because back in England their life is haunted by the memories of his first wife, Rebecca. The specter that is hallowed by the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, and is a constant comparative presence for the new wife. Could Rebecca destroy their happiness from beyond the grave? Or will Rebecca need a little assistance from Mrs. Danvers?

When I was young my mother subscribed to The Franklin Library Mystery Masterpieces. Each month a new book would arrive and we'd set it in pride of place on our console bookshelf that housed our most prized possessions, this being the eighties it mainly housed records and our record player. The little nine year old that I was loved that each month another volume would come and expand the display on that orangey wood that just glowed with an inner light. Then one day The Franklin Library sent us the biggest box I had ever seen. They were discontinuing the Mystery Masterpieces and they sent us the remaining volumes all at once. At this time we probably had only ten volumes, so forty-two books showed up one day to our great astonishment and delight.

Until recently these books have been packed away as self space was scare; all but a few choice volumes which I had secreted away. When I was young I loved to spend time reading the spines and looking at the pictures and wondering what the books were about and making up my own stories, especially about The Thirty-Nine Steps, which really disappointed me when I found out what it was really about. When they first arrived I was too young to read most of the titles, and when I was older I was too into movies to bother with books. That all changed. Obviously. But Rebecca, the movie, was like a gateway drug. I adored the film and then I looked on our shelf. There was Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, one of the first books we'd gotten in this series, after the obligatory Agatha Christie volume that is. This particular edition would make it's way into my library and my heart.

Rebecca is that rare book that cries out to be read and re-read over and over again, each time a different interpretation and meaning unearthed. The opening line that transports you, like a dream, to Manderley. You can get lost in the happy valley among the flowers and never want to return from those magical pages. But I don't think that you truly get the book's greatness without knowing the context of Du Maurier's world, mainly her obsession with the Brontes. This is much in the vein of why people don't realize the genius of Northanger Abbey, which is a parody of the Gothic genre, not "serious" like Austen's other books! Du Maurier's first book, The Loving Spirit, takes it's name from a poem by Emily Bronte. More then twenty years after writing Rebecca her misguided biography on Branwell Bronte was published and forever secured her connection to them. Therefore the echoes of Jane Eyre that haunt Rebecca should not be thought a surprise or the least bit unintentional. Du Maurier was writing a new classic that would pay homage to and reflect Jane Eyre. A Jane Eyre for modern sensibilities, if you will.

Just as Jamaica Inn is the Wuthering Heights, so is Rebecca to Jane Eyre, just look at the similarities. The naive young girl ready for love, the misanthropic hero, the crazy wife, the destructive fire. What amazes me is that if you look at just the building blocks of these books they should be eerily similar, yet they aren't. Each book is a classic in it's own right, but the ghost of Jane Eyre isn't the only ghost that Rebecca tackles, after all there is Rebecca herself. While there is that chilling line delivered by Mrs. Danvers "Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?" What we think of as ghosts can take many forms. There are no spectral apparitions here, no things that go bump in the night, but that doesn't mean Rebecca doesn't haunt Manderley.

Rebecca recurs persistently in the consciousness of the second Mrs. de Winter causing her distress and anxiety, but she is also the bosom friend of Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers, more then anyone, works to keep Rebecca alive and in doing so makes her specter part of the foundation of Manderley itself. This is an interesting conceit on Du Maurier's part, because really, this is a ghost story without a ghost. The memory and emotion left behind is what haunts us, and if anyone could do this, it's Rebecca. As Captain Jack Harkness said on Torchwood, "Human emotion is energy. You can't always see it or hear it, but you can feel it. Ever had deja vu? Felt someone walk over your grave? Ever felt someone behind you in an empty room? Well there was. There always is."

Yet Rebecca isn't the only ghost. There's another person who haunts Manderley, she is always there, ever present, but in the shadow of Rebecca. I am of course talking about the second Mrs. de Winter. She is but mere shadow, a trace, a semblance of a person. She in fact has no name but that which Rebecca had, Mrs. de Winter. This is the most fascinating aspect of the book and many others have discussed it's importance, that the heroine has no name. One result of this namlessness is that she is a ghost, a cipher, a way to tell Rebecca's story through new eyes but without complicating the matter by creating a character with backbone.

Of course this is a two edged sword, on the one hand Du Maurier is pushing the second Mrs. de Winter into the background, but on the other hand by creating a blank slate, a character who has no real "character" we are able to put ourselves more easily into her shoes. This literary trick, I mean, really, I want to stand and applaud Du Maurier. By giving use this conduit there are so many ramifications to the narrative. By being one with the second Mrs. de Winter you therefore embrace Maxim, her husband, and therefore not just identify but condone his actions. The genius of Rebecca is that Daphne Du Maurier has made you complicit in murder and you loved every second of it.

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