Monday, January 21, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley
Published by: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: January 22nd, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Although it is autumn in the small English town of Bishop’s Lacey, the chapel is decked with exotic flowers. Yes, Flavia de Luce’s sister Ophelia is at last getting hitched, like a mule to a wagon. "A church is a wonderful place for a wedding," muses Flavia, "surrounded as it is by the legions of the dead, whose listening bones bear silent witness to every promise made at the altar." Flavia is not your normal twelve-year-old girl. An expert in the chemical nature of poisons, she has solved many mysteries, sharpening her considerable detection skills to the point where she had little choice but to turn professional. So Flavia and dependable Dogger, estate gardener and sounding board extraordinaire, set up shop at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, eager to serve - not so simple an endeavor with her odious little moon-faced cousin, Undine, constantly underfoot. But Flavia and Dogger persevere. Little does she know that their first case will be extremely close to home, beginning with an unwelcome discovery in Ophelia’s wedding cake: a human finger."

The highlight of a new year for me is a new Flavia de Luce book!

Miraculum by Steph Post
Published by: Polis Books
Publication Date: January 22nd, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The year is 1922. The carnival is Pontilliar’s Spectacular Star Light Miraculum, staked out on the Texas-Louisiana border. One blazing summer night, a mysterious stranger steps onto the midway, lights a cigarette and forever changes the world around him. Tattooed snake charmer Ruby has traveled with her father’s carnival for most of her life and, jaded though she is, can’t help but be drawn to the tall man in the immaculate black suit who conveniently joins the carnival as a chicken-biting geek. Mercurial and charismatic, Daniel charms everyone he encounters, but his manipulation of Ruby turns complicated when it’s no longer clear who’s holding all the cards. Daniel is full of secrets, but he hadn’t counted on Ruby having a few of her own.

When one tragedy after another strikes the carnival - and it becomes clear that Daniel is somehow at the center of calamity - Ruby takes it upon herself to discover the mystery of the shadowy man pulling all the strings. Joined by Hayden, a roughneck-turned-mural-painter wrestling demons of his own, Ruby engages Daniel in a dangerous, eye-opening game in which nothing is as it seems and everything is at stake.

Steph Post has firmly estblished herself as one of the most original and captivating voices in contemporary fiction, and with Miraculum she has written an unforgettable novel that is part Southern Gothic, part Noir, part Magical Realism, and all Steph Post."

Ever since The Night Circus I have been drawn to books about carnivals, add in a dash of Magical Realism and a dollop of the Gothic and you've hooked me!

The Witches of St. Petersburg by Imogen Edwards-Jones
Published by: Harper Paperbacks
Publication Date: January 22nd, 2019
Format: Paperback, 480 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Inspired by real characters, this transporting historical fiction debut spins the fascinating story of two princesses in the Romanov court who practiced black magic, befriended the Tsarina, and invited Rasputin into their lives - forever changing the course of Russian history.

As daughters of the impoverished King of Montenegro, Militza and Stana must fulfill their duty to their father and leave their beloved home for St. Petersburg to be married into senior positions in the Romanov court. For their new alliances to the Russian nobility will help secure the future of the sisters’ native country. Immediately, Militza and Stana feel like outcasts as the aristocracy shuns them for their provincial ways and for dabbling in the occult. Undeterred, the sisters become resolved to make their mark by falling in with the lonely, depressed Tsarina Alexandra, who - as an Anglo-German - is also an outsider and is not fully accepted by members of the court. After numerous failed attempts to precipitate the birth of a son and heir, the Tsarina is desperate and decides to place her faith in the sisters’ expertise with black magic.

Promising the Tsarina that they will be able to secure an heir for the Russian dynasty, Militza and Stana hold séances and experiment with rituals and spells. Gurus, clairvoyants, holy fools, and charlatans all try their luck. The closer they become to the Tsarina and the royal family, the more their status - and power - is elevated. But when the sisters invoke a spiritual shaman, who goes by the name of Rasputin, the die is cast. For they have not only irrevocably sealed their own fates—but also that of Russia itself.

Brimming with black magic, sex and intrigue, The Witches of St. Petersburg is an exquisite historical fiction debut novel filled with lush historical details from the Romanov era."

I've been really drawn to Russia lately, add in a little magic, and it's like someone is reading my wish list of books to read!

Happiness by Aminatta Forna
Published by: Grove Press
Publication Date: January 22nd, 2019
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"London. A fox makes its way across Waterloo Bridge. The distraction causes two pedestrians to collide - Jean, an American studying the habits of urban foxes, and Attila, a Ghanaian psychiatrist there to deliver a keynote speech. From this chance encounter, Aminatta Forna’s unerring powers of observation show how in the midst of the rush of a great city lie numerous moments of connection.

Attila has arrived in London with two tasks: to deliver a keynote speech on trauma, as he has done many times before; and to contact the daughter of friends, his “niece” who hasn’t called home in a while. Ama has been swept up in an immigration crackdown, and now her young son Tano is missing.

When, by chance, Attila runs into Jean again, she mobilizes the network of rubbish men she uses as volunteer fox spotters. Security guards, hotel doormen, traffic wardens - mainly West African immigrants who work the myriad streets of London - come together to help. As the search for Tano continues, a deepening friendship between Attila and Jean unfolds.

Meanwhile a consulting case causes Attila to question the impact of his own ideas on trauma, the values of the society he finds himself in, and a grief of his own. In this delicate tale of love and loss, of cruelty and kindness, Forna asks us to consider the interconnectedness of lives, our co-existence with one another and all living creatures, and the true nature of happiness."

A fox causes a confluence of events in London? Yes!

Escape from the Palace by Santa Montefiore and Simon Sebag Montefiore
Published by: Aladdin
Publication Date: January 22nd, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 224 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Mission Impossible and James Bond have nothing on this wily bunch of rabbits who are pledged to protect the Queen of England - and the President of the United States - from a dastardly plot in this charming second novel of the Royal Rabbits of London series.

Life is an adventure. Anything in the world is possible - by will and by luck, with a moist carrot, a wet nose and a slice of mad courage!

Little Shylo Tawny-Tail is proud to call himself one of the Royal Rabbits of London, a secret order who live under Buckingham Palace and fight evil across the world. But high up in London’s famous skyscraper, the Shard, the horrible ratzis are plotting to cause chaos during a visit from the President of the United States. And when the Grand Burrow is attacked and Shylo is kidnapped, it looks as though they might just manage it! Can Shylo escape in time to save the day?"

Really depends on the president doesn't it? But long live the Queen!

Hilda and the Great Parade by Stephen Davies
Published by: Flying Eye Books
Publication Date: January 22nd, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 200 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Book two in the Hilda Netflix TV Tie-in series offers new never-before-read content in this illustrated chapter book, picking up where Hilda and The Hidden People left off.

Meet Hilda - explorer, adventurer, avid sketchbook-keeper, and friend to every creature in the valley! Well, almost every creature. We rejoin our favorite blue-haired heroine to find her warding off the nightmarish Marra, rescuing weather spirits, and searching for the elusive black hound. And she's still got to make it to the Sparrow Scout badge ceremony on time! There is no shortage of unexpected twists, turns and new friends in this latest installment of the Hilda fiction series."

I love that the Netflix series is exposing more and more people to the wonder that is Hilda. Now go back and read Luke Pearson's original books! 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Book Review 2018 #4 - Tasha Alexander's The Adventuress

The Adventuress by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: October 13th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Jeremy, the Duke of Bainbridge, has dedicated his life to achieving the title of the most useless man in England. He wants to live a life of semi-debauchery and avoid all the society mothers trying to snare him for their daughters. He knows he will have to wed eventually, his younger brother Jack would never forgive him if he inherited the Dukedom due to Jeremy's licentious lifestyle. But Jeremy claims his dear friend Lady Emily holds his heart, and since she is happily married, his finding connubial bliss is never going to happen. Emily sees his infatuation as nothing more than hyperbole and is proven right when Jeremy falls victim to the wiles of an American buccaneer. Amity Wells is the dream woman, she might even be more debauched than Jeremy! She knows what he needs even before he does. So what if she's a little loud, a little beyond the pale, she's the girl for Jeremy. A girl who Emily realizes she will never be friends with within minutes of meeting her. Yet Jeremy is Emily's oldest and dearest friend and for him she will make an effort. She will stick her courage to the sticking place and celebrate his engagement in the extravagant manner to which Amity is accustomed.

Amity plans a grandiose engagement party on the French Riviera with her parents footing the bill. There are excursions everyday, on land and on sea, nightly walks along La Croisette, delicious dinners, and sumptuous breakfasts. Amity even prides herself on organizing a lads night for Jeremy and his friends at the local casino where there will be dancers direct from Paris. Though that particular festivity ends differently than anyone expected, with Jeremy's friend, Chauncey Neville, dead in Jeremy's suite of an apparent suicide. Emily isn't convinced this dear, sweet man would have ended his life in such a fashion. Yet Emily's husband Colin tells her that with suicide it's not like their murder investigations, they aren't neatly wrapped up, there will always be questions which they will never know the answers to. Emily isn't sure. Even if Colin doesn't want to investigate she feels it necessary to start a discreet investigation. This will at least distract her for the forced joviality of those remaining after Mr. Neville's funeral and Amity's brother Augustus who puts her on edge. But soon weird things start to happen to discredit Emily. Could she be getting close to a truth someone wants hidden? Or does Amity just want her out of the way?

Years and years ago I became obsessed with this miniseries I kept stumbling upon on one of the higher cable channels in the middle of the night. I had no idea what it was called because I would always find it after the opening credits and would usually fall asleep before the end credits rolled. Remember, this was the nineties. Not everyone had computers they could access and find the answers they sought in an instant. As for my trusty TV Guide, well... it didn't list the higher channels in some sick game it liked to play with me where it loved to leave me in ignorance. And yes, I fully believe it was sentient and thought this was funny. Therefore I spent years in ignorance clutching to the few facts I knew. The miniseries starred Carla Gugino, the star of the Thanksgiving Pauly Shore classic Son in Law, and that the house from the Brideshead Revisited miniseries was in it. It turns out I was watching the 1995 adaptation of Edith Wharton's unfinished novel The Buccaneers. The story is about four eligible and wealthy young American girls who go to England to marry into the aristocracy. If I had known these women were called buccaneers perhaps I would have figured out the title earlier. But as it was, all I knew is I wanted to be one, despite not being the daughter of a robber barren. I could become British through an advantageous marriage! And yes, this dream is still with me.

My obsession with these young buccaneers is what enthralled me with Tasha's The Adventuress. I was getting to read a murder mystery with a buccaneer at the center, Amity Wells! Dream come true! Like Emily, there was something I instantly disliked about Amity, but at the same time I was drawn to her. The little chapters spaced between Emily's narrative showed a different side to Amity. Could Emily be an unreliable narrator in this instance? Could Amity really want to befriend Emily? Amity being so "American" as the Victorian Brits would put it left an interesting impression in my mind. She's very layered, making her a far more worthy adversary for Emily than some of her past cases gave her. This is a girl who has a secret, yet at the same time her desire for freedom and to get out from under her parents makes her almost reckless in the way she's willing to morph herself into Jeremy's perfect mate. This made me think of her as a kind of Victorian mean girl. She's outside the pack, but also setting the rules. It's an interesting dichotomy. I couldn't help thinking of her as Emma Roberts from American Horror Story or Scream Queens. She comes into any situation and can be either the ringleader or the victim depending on how she decides to play it. But underneath there's iron. She's getting her way and just playing her part to get it.

Though Amity's most interesting purpose within the story is not how she affects Emily as a person with all her Americanness, but how just her presence will forever change Emily's relationship with Jeremy. Even if Emily doesn't believe for an instant that Jeremy is hopelessly in love with her and is convinced he's using it as an excuse to avoid marriage, losing his constant attention and devotion that she is constantly plied with is a blow. She views that she is losing the Jeremy that she's always known. He's not flirting with her, he's not as attentive, he's not pissing off Colin with comments about how he and Em would make the perfect couple. In other words, his attentions are firmly on his fiance and Emily has to come to the cold hard conclusion that this annoys her. She liked being the center of Jeremy's world. She liked all the attention she was getting. Whenever she was feeling down Jeremy could boost her ego with a few remarks. And throughout the story she views this change as a negative. The fact is that Jeremy has grown up and Emily hasn't. You can see the lie clearly when Emily tells Amity that Emily's relationship with Jeremy will be in flux until it settles into the new pattern of them both being married. We've followed Emily on all her adventures and her behavior to Jeremy has never changed. Luckily for Em things turn out all right for her in the end.

But this change in Emily and Jeremy's relationship brings to the fore one very important question. Does Jeremy really love Emily? Yes, he obviously loves her as his closest and dearest friend as she does him, but could Emily be so blind that she's never realized that Jeremy is indeed in love with her? I think she is. What's more, I think Colin knows and is a bit exasperated that Emily, his astute wife who is able to see murder where everyone else sees suicide, can not see behind the flirtatious ways of Jeremy to see his real feelings are a deep and abiding love. I don't just have my observations that I've coupled with Colin's, oh no, for the first time in Amity's storyline we see how Jeremy felt about an incident that happened in A Fatal Waltz: "That kiss. That kiss. Could it be that, at last, he had found someone who could make him forget another kiss, on a cold day in Vienna? A kiss that ought never have happened, but that still consumed him, even after all these years?" He was CONSUMED by his kiss with Emily! CONSUMED! If he hadn't loved her before he obviously has been in love since that day and it makes me pity Jeremy and just want the best for him. To have a love that is never to be? He deserves some happiness. He deserves someone who loves him like Emily loves Colin. Oh, how my heart breaks for him.

And because I don't feel like ending this review on a sad "Poor Jeremy" note I'll end it on the Roman Feast that Amity was planning for the excursion to Nice and the visit to the ruins at Cimiez. Everyone was throwing themselves into this feast that would let them live in the decadent style of a Roman if just for a night. Well, everyone except Colin, who would not be caught dead in a toga, and Emily, who prefers Greece to Rome. There's a part of me that awhile back would have been all for it. I didn't know anything about Roman feasts, except vomitoriums, because obviously growing up kids remember the disgusting stuff. Within the story they mainly talk about the clothes and that eating is done while reclining, something I can never believe is good for the digestion. But I know OH so much more all thanks to Sue Perkins, Giles Coren, and their show, which used to be available on Hulu, The Supersizers. The Supersizers "went" to different time periods and "ate" different decades, and the weird title shift is what happened between season one and two. For the finale of season two they "ate" Ancient Rome. I was fully nauseated by the whole episode. Seeing as a feast might start with such "tasty" dishes as brain and rose petal patina I'm saying right now, you are NEVER getting me to EVER participate in any kind of authentic Roman Feast. You can see why Emily wants to stick to Greek foods!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Book Review 2018 #5 - Tasha Alexander's A Fatal Waltz

A Fatal Waltz by Tasha Alexander
Published by: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: May 20th, 2008
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Not every country house party ends in murder, but this one will. Oh, if only Emily had had the sense to stay home. But no, she agreed to come to the home of a man she detests in order to support her dear friend Ivy. Ivy's husband Robert needs the political support of their odious host, Lord Fortescue, if he's going to make it in government. The only bright spot in the whole endeavor is that Emily gets to spend the weekend with Colin Hargreaves, her fiancé. But that bright spot is soon eclipsed by the Austrian Countess Kristiana von Lange. Kristiana makes it very clear that she and Colin have a past, possibly a present, and maybe a future, and there's nothing that Emily can do about it. This leaves Emily impotent with rage as Kristiana insinuates herself into the political talks among the men after dinner while Emily, trying to keep Ivy's best interests in mind, demurs and retires with the women, much to Lord Fortescue's approbation. In fact leaving the dinner table is the only thing Emily has done right in the eyes of their host. Emily's hackles are raised and another guest, Mr. Harrison, conveniently has a plan to get back at Lord Fortescue.

If Emily hadn't been so turned around by Kristiana, maybe she would have realized that Mr. Harrison didn't have her best interests at heart and maybe Emily could have seen there was a murderer among them. Instead their host is shot dead and dear Ivy's husband Robert is arrested for the murder. Once back in London Emily tries to piece together the information she has at hand with rumors and suppositions. Robert even gives her a few clues and everything points to a nefarious plot in Vienna. Emily can't exonerate Robert from London, so she packs up her bags, grabs her trusty sidekicks, Jeremy, Cecile, and Cecile's odious dogs, and heads to the town of her romantic rival. Little does she know that she is being followed by Mr. Harrison and her beloved Colin. And though she loathes to do it, she approaches Kristiana for help, which is denied. Kristiana will only help if Emily will forfeit all claims to Colin, something Emily knows, deep in her heart, she could never do. As the danger mounts and Emily makes alliances with the oddest assortment of artists and villains, she worries that she will be unable to save Robert, herself, or Colin. Could this be the end of all of them?

There's a realness to this installment that deepens your connection to Emily and her world. Up until this point it's not that her world was shallow, but that the stories dealt with situations that weren't too far removed from the world Emily inhabited. She was investigating her own little sphere of the world and crimes that were closely adjacent to it, maids that might be murderers. We've seen the strictures and the societal surface one must maintain, but at the same time it felt more in the realm of romanticized historical fiction with the denouement tied up nicely with a bow. Yet Victorian times weren't all fluff, there were real concerns, real problems, and here we are digging deeper into those issues and forging a stronger connection to Emily as Emily herself forms a stronger connection to the world around her. The first time this struck me was when Lord Fortescue has the hundreds and hundreds of birds from their shoot laid out for display during lunch. This excess, this cruelty to animals, this is the real world the landed gentry inhabited and exploited. House parties weren't wonderful social gatherings, they were sanctioned murder, even if your host didn't bite the big own.

Then there's the death fog Emily remembers engulfing London when she was a child. The poverty, the anarchists, every little thing makes Emily's world more real. Her world is grounded in truth, in a world we can see every night when we turn on the news. She is no longer sheltered, she is becoming an educated woman who we can relate to more than even before when she was just a pampered princess destined to marry royalty, if her mother had had a say in it. As Tasha writes in her afterward, this introduction of the horrors of the world is being done purposefully to make Emily a socially conscious being. And in becoming socially conscious Emily herself is becoming more real to us. Sure, we all occasionally dream of the life Emily had, being blissfully ignorant and free to flounce around the house being indulgent, but a fantasy can not last in the long run. Lady Emily's adventures would have no long term sustainability. There's only so many wrongfully accused kitchen maids a series can contain, and by expanding Emily as a person you expand her horizons. Therefore a series that could have petered out a few volumes in is releasing it's thirteenth volume this fall.

All this realness means that there is real danger and real consequences. Yes, we've had death and danger before, but Emily treated it breezily, it was there but it would be overcome and there would be no consequences except for the guilty. Here the danger is palpable. The threat of Mr. Harrison and his bullet calling cards, while yes, a little like something a Bond villain would do, upsets Emily's world of luxurious hotels and Sacher Tortes. Having to make alliances with anarchists who are dangerous themselves and are scared of Mr. Harrison gives you an idea as to this man's villainy. And while I knew there were more books in the series, I couldn't help but be drawn in and think, as Colin and Emily were, that they might not survive. This question being raised makes Emily and us realize the true dangers of Colin's job. He has faced this kind of situation again and again. In fact Kristiana hints that that is why she never left her husband for Colin, because the distraction of a wife could endanger him. Which makes Emily wonder, is Colin in her life worth the constant risk of losing him? Can she live like this? Real danger means you might not want to have to face the answers to real questions.

But for the longest time Emily views Kristiana as a far bigger danger to her and Colin's happiness than the looming specter of death. While I could groan at the introduction of a love triangle, this one never falls into the typical tropes. There was something fun about Emily having competition for Colin. You knew, deep in your heart, that Colin could never stray. At least not now that he's met Emily. But that doesn't discount the importance of this woman in his past or her powers over him in the present. Every chance she got Kristiana was pulling on Emily's strings and getting just the rise out of her she wanted. Historical Fiction with a romantic bent seems to always marry off their couples in too rapid a fashion and then have a happily ever after that only occasionally sees bumps of the romantic kind. That's why I love that Tasha hasn't married off Colin and Emily just yet. There's more believability that Kristiana is a threat. There's a playfulness in this what-if scenario. Competition can bring out the best in people, but not with Emily in this instance. It brings out all her bad qualities, and again, it makes her more real, more relatable. That Lady Emily Ashton could get her hackles up over her true love? Just shows it can happen to any of us.

Though for all it's realness, the most important aspect of A Fatal Waltz to me is it's most memorable character, the city of Vienna itself! I've never been and oddly enough have never really given much thought to this city that was literally the center of an artistic and cultural revolution, but now I want to pack my bags and go. Right. Now. Of course I'd prefer to go in winter with the snow falling in beautiful drifts as Emily enjoyed it, but as long as I can go to all the cafes and walk all the streets I think I could find true enjoyment. But alas, I don't know if such famous personages would be peopling the cafes. So could I literally get a time machine and go when Emily went? To see Klimt paint and dance to a Strauss waltz actually conducted by Strauss! To visit Sisi, the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, though I have a feeling I'd need to take Cecile with me to get that invite. Even if I didn't know how well traveled Tasha is, you can tell in reading the book that Tasha has been there, she's walked in Emily's steps before she even put pen to paper. This just makes the city so real that as I said earlier, it's a character onto itself! It's not just buildings, but memorable people and a feeling, something that makes you want to go back there even if you've never been because somehow Tasha has made this city an old friend.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
Published by: Wednesday Books
Publication Date: January 15th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From New York Times bestselling author Roshani Chokshi comes a novel set in Paris during a time of extraordinary change - one that is full of mystery, decadence, and dangerous desires...

No one believes in them. But soon no one will forget them.

It's 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.

Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history - but only if they can stay alive."

The first highly anticipated YA book of the year! 

The Flimflam Affair by Bill Pronzini
Published by: Forge Books
Publication Date: January 15th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Flimflam Affair is the latest charming historical mystery in Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Bill Pronzini's detective series.

Carpenter and Quincannon, Professional Detective Services is a fixture in San Francisco at the dawn of a new century. While the future is unclear, Sabina and John know one thing for certain; they will protect their clients from flimflammers, thieves, and murderers, and do whatever it takes to run these dregs of society into the arms of the law.

Sometimes, that requires a subtle touch. Professor A. Vargas, self-styled medium extraordinaire, and his partner Annabelle, use guile and trickery to swindle bereaved men and women eager to contact the spirits of deceased loved ones. John and Sabina must not only unmask these charlatans, but also solve the riddle of an impossible murder in the midst of a séance.

Other cases involve brute force and personal danger. Such as the theft of a burglarproof safe mysteriously emptied of gold bullion. And John’s pursuit of a ruthless gang of counterfeiters, whose leader appears to be a man from John’s past in the Secret Service―a man thought long dead.

Adding spice to these exploits is Sabina and John’s personal relationship, which is rapidly progressing to an exciting new level."

Step right up for some Steampunky goodness! Also San Francisco and a séance!

End of Day by Mae Clair
Published by: Lyrical Underground
Publication Date: January 15th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 232 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The past is never truly buried...

Generations of Jillian Cley’s family have been tasked with a strange duty - tending the burial plot of Gabriel Vane, whose body was the first to be interred in the Hode’s Hill cemetery. Jillian faithfully continues the long-standing tradition - until one October night, Vane’s body is stolen from its resting place. Is it a Halloween prank? Or something more sinister?

As the descendants of those buried in the church yard begin to experience bizarre “accidents,” Jillian tries to uncover the cause. Deeply empathic, she does not make friends easily, or lightly. But to fend off the terror taking over her town, she must join forces with artist Dante DeLuca, whose sensitivity to the spirit world has been both a blessing and a curse. The two soon realize Jillian’s murky family history is entwined with a tragic legacy tracing back to the founding of Hode’s Hill. To set matters right, an ancient wrong must be avenged… or Jillian, Dante, and everyone in town will forever be at the mercy of a vengeful spirit."

A vengeful spirit? A family vow to protect a town? Just the Gothic goodness you need on a bleak January day! 

Miss Mink: Life Lessons for a Cat Countess by Janet Hill
Published by: Tundra Books
Publication Date: January 15th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 48 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"This whimsical collection of twenty cat-approved life lessons for living your purrfect life is accompanied by gorgeous, lushly detailed paintings.

Miss Marcella Mink and sixty-seven of her favorite feline friends live happily in her big house by the sea. But there was a time when Miss Mink was not so happy. When Miss Mink created her own business -- a feline-friendly cruise company for cat lovers and their furry companions - she found she no longer had time or energy for herself or her friends. For advice she turned to her cats, who always seemed so happy, healthy, well-rounded, well-groomed and well-rested. It was not long before the Cat Countess was feeling shipshape again. Collected here are Miss Mink's twenty cat-approved lessons, from the benefits of a good grooming and an afternoon nap to valuable advice on friendship and diet."

Janet Hill's exquisite artwork is paired with valuable life lessons, even if you don't aspire to be a cat countess. Though who wouldn't aspire to such a wonderful title?  

Friday, January 11, 2019

Book Review 2018 #6 - Tasha Alexander's That Silent Night

That Silent Night by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: October 20th, 2015
Format: Kindle, 63 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Colin and Emily have fled to town to run a few last minute Christmas errands and to avoid their neighbors. It's not that they haven't enjoyed the festivities at Montague Manor, though Colin did refer to them as The Festival of Horror, there just comes a time when enough is enough. For Colin that point was reached at the proposed daylong charades tournament that would include the entire population of a neighboring village. Therefore they are ensconced in their Park Lane house while the snow blankets the city ignorant to the fact that a different set of neighbors is about to cause them a bit of a bother. While Colin finishes some work for the Palace Emily finishes a chapter in the newest Elizabeth Mary Braddon book and looks out the library window to see the most astonishing sight. A woman has appeared out of nowhere and all the warmth of Emily's cozy library has vanished. The woman's clothes are out of date but more disturbingly she had no coat. On such a cold night Emily knew she must help and rushed out into the swirling snow to find no trace of the woman. Not even a footprint. Colin claims that this is what happens from reading sensationalist literature but Emily is convinced otherwise. The next morning their new neighbors, the newly wed Leightons, ask if they can borrow some coal as the delivery vehicles can not come through. Emily and Colin gladly offer up the coal as well as an invitation to dinner. Mrs. Leighton shares a strong resemblance to the lady Emily saw in the street, but tries to brush it off. But when she finds out the young newlyweds have returned from Switzerland where Penelope was taking a cure for her nerves... could it be the young bride is connected to the disturbing sight that Emily saw? And can Emily help her before Penelope is beyond hope and committed?

As I sat down to read That Silent Night there was a bite in the air and the first hint of snow was forecast. In other words, I had circumstances align perfectly to read this tale. Unlike Tasha's previous holiday offering, Star of the East, which went for the more Agatha Christie tradition of all the suspects snowbound in a manor house, here she went for the more ghostly Christmas narrative. Because while Dickens popularized and in some ways standardized this tradition of ghostly tales told around the fire with A Christmas Carol, he didn't start this tradition which goes all the way back to Shakespeare. Just think of some of the most famous ghost stories of all from The Turn of the Screw to The Woman in Black. These stories are framed by people sitting around a fire and trying to scare each other with tales of the otherworldly and supernatural while Christmas Day draws ever nearer. In fact an article that resurfaced this past weekend from last year, "A Plea to Resurrect the Christmas Tradition of Telling Ghostly Tales," is something I couldn't agree with more after reading That Silent Night. Tasha taps into this tradition and delivers what I easily believe to be a true holiday classic deserving to be read on Christmas Eve that while a part of the overall series can easily be read by anyone unfamiliar with the exploits of Emily and her husband Colin. Over the course of her two Christmas novellas Tasha has written almost pastiches of Wilkie Collins's work, moving from The Moonstone to The Woman in White. But it's the atmosphere of Collins's The Woman in White that makes it a perfect augmentation to this tale. There's more ambiguity, more mystery, and definitely a supernatural bent. That in fact is why I love this tale so much. Tasha doesn't discount the supernatural. She leaves us with ambiguity.

Yet with all the Wilkie of this story in the end it comes down to the Dickens of it all. Not just because Colin is bemoaning Dickens and the pestilential carolers but because That Silent Night couples the ghostly Christmas tale with a social conscience. Dickens strongly believed in showing us the worst of humanity not just to make us feel better but in order to educate us so that we can help others. Christmas might be a time for spooky stories but it is also a time for giving. And not just giving thanks. Emily's social conscience has evolved over the course of the series with many worthy causes being taken up, from suffrage to the plight of the factory worker to female education reform to name a few. Here we see a world of suffering most strongly connected to Dickens, that of orphanages. Through the course of Emily and Colin's investigations into Penelope's past and the ghostly form appearing in Park Lane they end up at an orphanage that Emily says is bleaker than even Dickens could write. The reality of what an orphanage is like, especially during the Victorian era, is terrifying. While the man in charge of running the establishment admits it lacks a certain warmth and holiday cheer he says the sad truth, that at least it's better for the kids than being out on the streets. But it also shows how easy it was for someone to fall through the cracks. In the 1800s, in fact any time before people's identities were so closely monitored and enforced through identification cards and passports and online profiles, you could literally just disappear. You could be lost to this other world of poverty and despair. But in true Dickensian spirit, while we might wallow in misery for a short time, in the end we get our happily ever after. It wouldn't be Christmas if the cockles of our hearts weren't warmed in the end.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Book Review 2018 #7 - Tasha Alexander's Uneasy Lies the Crown

Uneasy Lies the Crown by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: October 30th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

The Queen is dead, long live Bertie? No matter how indomitable Emily thought the Queen or how hard the Queen fought against the inevitable by keeping her son out of politics, somehow Emily has to grasp the fact that Bertie is Bertie no more but Edward VII. But that is the least of Emily's worries at the moment and scandalizing her mother at the Queen's funeral is the one bright spot in her day. Colin was called away from the funeral luncheon to the Tower of London due to a murder and Emily, as is her wont, followed. A body had been found in the room where Henry VI was murdered. The dead man staged to look like the long dead king with a sword run through him and the costume to match. Colin thinks this is a threat to the new king and that the king's mother new it was coming. On her deathbed Queen Victoria gave Colin a letter with instructions, the last she would give him: Une sanz pluis. Sapere aude. "One and no more. Dare to know." He didn't even show Emily the note until after what they found in the Tower. Colin didn't want to betray the Queen's trust. But with the Queen dead and her son possibly in danger he knows he needs Emily's help.

There has also been another letter. And as much as Emily loves the idea of the Queen sending her husband mail from beyond the grave Colin assures Emily this isn't the case as neither note was written in the Queen's hand. The second note contained a map of the Tower of London and the drawing of a medieval lance. Was this note hinting at the murder? Is it a clue to another murder yet to come? When the body of a second victim turns up in Berkley Square murdered in the manner of Edward II, poker and all, it is clear that someone is sending a message, only Colin and Emily don't agree what that message is. Colin is convinced it is a clear and present danger to Bertie, while the more Emily digs into the lives of the victims themselves and not the way they were murdered she sees an entirely different picture. She thinks they are revenge killings. The first victim beat his wife, the second victim was a pimp who killed one of his girls who happened to have known the first victim's wife. All the couple know is that thanks to a local costume shop there are at least two more murders to come. Yet Colin's notes seem to have less and less to do with the murders and more to do with Henry V... could they be dealing with two disparate cases? And is Bertie even in danger?

There are as many different types of authors as there are book genres. There are the decent authors, you can enjoy their work but will probably never pick up another one of theirs. There are the bad authors, those whose books you want to fling across the room and are consumed by rage as you force yourself to finish. There are the really bad authors who make you so depressed you never want to read again and end up in the land of book melancholia. On the other end of the spectrum you have the good authors, the ones who you will always seek out their new book and make sure to read everything they have ever written. But then there is the rarest category of all, the great writers. Writers who you not only want to devour every word they have ever written but who inspire you. They make you want to read everything. They make you curious to know more. They make you have a voracious appetite that will never be satisfied to read and read. They open the world to you and you dive right in. I have always considered Tasha a good writer, but over her last few volumes, starting around The Adventuress and A Terrible Beauty I started to notice a shift. Tasha was bound for greatness and she has confirmed this with Uneasy Lies the Crown.

This volume just spoke to me on so many levels, but in particular I really connected to the glimpse of Colin's family history and how it connected to Henry V and Agincourt. I was so connected to Cecily Hargrave and her husband William that anyone that stood in their way I wanted to psychically harm. Especially the mean girl Cecily was staying with while her husband was off fighting in France. Right here, this shows Tasha's greatness. Not just in creating characters I love but in bringing history to life. My British history is pretty sketchy prior to the Wars of the Roses. It just happened that in undergrad the way they structured the British History classes meant that the first class was the Wars of the Roses up to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and then the Glorious Revolution up to the present day, but my teacher was sick a lot so we only got to the Boer War. What I knew about medieval England was what I gleaned from Art History and my own personal studies. Therefore this little slice of medieval life had me wanting to read anything I could on Henry V. I wanted to pull down all my Philippa Gregory books and go on a binge. Then I wanted to watch all the miniseries I could, from adaptations of The White Queen to watching Edward the King with Timothy West. I wanted to take everything British and ingest it via osmosis. I haven't felt this invigorated as a reader in years.

But for how British I feel there is one thing I will NEVER get about England, and that is their obsession with controlling France. In fact when did they finally stop calling the British Monarch the King/Queen of England and France? I think I have some studying to do on that... Trying to see this ongoing conflict from the English point of view you can see, they're a tiny island, they want all the land they can get, how else do you think they became an empire? But from the logical point of view, France is a different country just leave them alone. Back to the British POV, yes, they did control many countries in their Empire... but I just don't get it. I guess my thinking is just too modern. A country should be it's own thing. They can have connections and allegiances, but they shouldn't be controlled or governed by any outside force. I believe in autonomy. This is oddly still very relevant as England and Spain have just started negotiations about Gibraltar. And here's my opinion on that, why they hell does England even still have Gibraltar? That's just crazy. Gibraltar should either be it's own entity or part of Spain. I don't get that there should be any confusion over this. But then England has been holding onto the Falkland Islands forever with an iron grip. And this folks is why I never play Risk. I don't want world domination.

Though we are here in the waning days of the British Empire and their world domination in that we are no longer in the Victorian Age, we are now in the Edwardian Era. An era that captured the heart of us Americans because of Upstairs, Downstairs, as well as other PBS shows from the aforementioned Edward the King to the spin off series featuring Francesca Annis as Lillie Langtry, Lillie, and even The Duchess of Duke Street. Americans, me included, became enamored with this era. But what I am most excited about currently is what this means for Emily. Queen Victoria, despite being a woman in power didn't believe in women having power. The most powerful hypocrite in the land, that's our Vicky! So while a man may be in charge of the country we are moving towards women's suffrage, we are moving towards more equality, we are moving towards Emily possibly being on more of an even footing with her husband as an agent of the crown in her own right. Possibly. What I love about Colin is while his work and society have never viewed his wife as his equal when it comes to his work, he has never taken that stance. He's always let Emily accompany him wherever his case might lead, from palaces to slums. But now with Bertie in charge? Those like this book's loathsome chauvinist Gale of Scotland Yard might have to eat their hat.

Yet for me, personally, such loyalty to a monarch is a little baffling. I think this has a lot to do with my disillusionment living in the United States at this moment in history. The whole "Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'" Yeah, that's not me. Yet it is Colin. The journey Colin takes through this narrative is fascinating. He was very devoted to Queen Victoria and has never had much of a favorable option of Bertie. But Bertie lived the life he was allowed to have so he will obviously be undergoing a seismic shift with the changing of the guard. Seeing him wonder if he even wants to stick around and continue as an agent of the crown is an interesting crisis of faith. Especially if Gale of Scotland Yard is in the mix. Comparing this crisis to his ancestor William who was a literal knight in shining armor on the battlefields of France is interesting. There's a connection down through the generations that doesn't just show the family's loyalty to the crown, but the chivalric instincts that make Colin such a good man and make him want to make his country, his world a better place. Colin is literally a modern day night. And you know what the thing is? We might all dream of a better world, a happily ever after with the person of our dreams, but the world, at this moment, needs men and women like Colin. Where's the armor when you need it?

Monday, January 7, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

Slayer by Kiersten White
Published by: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: January 8th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes a brand-new series set in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that introduces a new Slayer as she grapples with the responsibility of managing her incredible powers that she’s just beginning to understand.

Into every generation a Slayer is born...

Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers - girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watcher’s Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.

Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.

Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One - she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.

As Nina hones her skills with her Watcher-in-training, Leo, there’s plenty to keep her occupied: a monster fighting ring, a demon who eats happiness, a shadowy figure that keeps popping up in Nina’s dreams...

But it’s not until bodies start turning up that Nina’s new powers will truly be tested—because someone she loves might be next.

One thing is clear: Being Chosen is easy. Making choices is hard."

While I'm very hesitant about new entries in the Buffyverse, I still can't help being excited!

The Wicked King by Holly Black
Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 8th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The enchanting and bloodthirsty sequel to the New York Times bestselling novel The Cruel Prince.

You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.

The first lesson is to make yourself strong.

After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.

When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world."

Holly Black writing more about faeries? Yes please!

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
Published by: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: January 8th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 144 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A taut, gripping tale of a young woman and an Iron Age reenactment trip that unearths frightening behavior.

The light blinds you; there’s a lot you miss by gathering at the fireside.

In the north of England, far from the intrusions of cities but not far from civilization, Silvie and her family are living as if they are ancient Britons, surviving by the tools and knowledge of the Iron Age.

For two weeks, the length of her father’s vacation, they join an anthropology course set to reenact life in simpler times. They are surrounded by forests of birch and rowan; they make stew from foraged roots and hunted rabbit. The students are fulfilling their coursework; Silvie’s father is fulfilling his lifelong obsession. He has raised her on stories of early man, taken her to witness rare artifacts, recounted time and again their rituals and beliefs - particularly their sacrifices to the bog. Mixing with the students, Silvie begins to see, hear, and imagine another kind of life, one that might include going to university, traveling beyond England, choosing her own clothes and food, speaking her mind.

The ancient Britons built ghost walls to ward off enemy invaders, rude barricades of stakes topped with ancestral skulls. When the group builds one of their own, they find a spiritual connection to the past. What comes next but human sacrifice?

A story at once mythic and strikingly timely, Sarah Moss’s Ghost Wall urges us to wonder how far we have come from the “primitive minds” of our ancestors."

You've got shivers too right? I also think I need to build a ghost wall...

White Stage by Kara Barbieri
Published by: Wednesday Books
Publication Date: January 8th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"White Stag, the first book in a brutally stunning series by Kara Barbieri, involves a young girl who finds herself becoming more monster than human and must uncover dangerous truths about who she is and the place that has become her home.

A Wattpad break out star with over a million reads! Now expanded, revised and available in print and eBook.

As the last child in a family of daughters, seventeen-year-old Janneke was raised to be the male heir. While her sisters were becoming wives and mothers, she was taught to hunt, track, and fight. On the day her village was burned to the ground, Janneke - as the only survivor - was taken captive by the malicious Lydian and eventually sent to work for his nephew Soren.

Janneke’s survival in the court of merciless monsters has come at the cost of her connection to the human world. And when the Goblin King’s death ignites an ancient hunt for the next king, Soren senses an opportunity for her to finally fully accept the ways of the brutal Permafrost. But every action he takes to bring her deeper into his world only shows him that a little humanity isn’t bad―especially when it comes to those you care about.

Through every battle they survive, Janneke’s loyalty to Soren deepens. After dangerous truths are revealed, Janneke must choose between holding on or letting go of her last connections to a world she no longer belongs to. She must make the right choice to save the only thing keeping both worlds from crumbling."

Brutality and a Goblin King means I'm raring to read this!

The Au Pair by Emma Rous
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: January 8th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"If V. C. Andrews and Kate Morton had a literary love child, Emma Rous' The Au Pair would be it.

Seraphine Mayes and her twin brother, Danny, were born in the middle of summer at their family's estate on the Norfolk coast. Within hours of their birth, their mother threw herself from the cliffs, the au pair fled, and the village thrilled with whispers of dark cloaks, changelings, and the aloof couple who drew a young nanny into their inner circle.

Now an adult, Seraphine mourns the recent death of her father. While going through his belongings, she uncovers a family photograph that raises dangerous questions. It was taken on the day the twins were born, and in the photo, their mother, surrounded by her husband and her young son, is smiling serenely and holding just one baby.

Who is the child, and what really happened that day?"

Usually if a book is compared to another author I love I'm leery... but the combination of Kate Morton with V.C. Andews has fascinated me in this case!

The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye
Published by: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication Date: January 8th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 432 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The new and exciting historical thriller by Lyndsay Faye, author of Edgar-nominated Jane Steele and Gods of Gotham, which follows Alice "Nobody" from Prohibition-era Harlem to Portland's the Paragon Hotel.

The year is 1921, and "Nobody" Alice James is on a cross-country train, carrying a bullet wound and fleeing for her life following an illicit drug and liquor deal gone horribly wrong. Desperate to get as far away as possible from New York City and those who want her dead, she has her sights set on Oregon: a distant frontier that seems the end of the line.

She befriends Max, a black Pullman porter who reminds her achingly of Harlem, who leads Alice to the Paragon Hotel upon arrival in Portland. Her unlikely sanctuary turns out to be the only all-black hotel in the city, and its lodgers seem unduly terrified of a white woman on the premises. But as she meets the churlish Dr. Pendleton, the stately Mavereen, and the unforgettable club chanteuse Blossom Fontaine, she begins to understand the reason for their dread. The Ku Klux Klan has arrived in Portland in fearful numbers--burning crosses, inciting violence, electing officials, and brutalizing blacks. And only Alice, along with her new "family" of Paragon residents, are willing to search for a missing mulatto child who has mysteriously vanished into the Oregon woods.

Why was "Nobody" Alice James forced to escape Harlem? Why do the Paragon's denizens live in fear - and what other sins are they hiding? Where did the orphaned child who went missing from the hotel, Davy Lee, come from in the first place? And, perhaps most important, why does Blossom Fontaine seem to be at the very center of this tangled web?"

If you gobbled up Jane Steele you'll be sure to want to check out Lyndsay Faye's newest book! 

Queen Victoria by Lucy Worsley
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: January 8th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 432 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The story of the queen who defied convention and defined an era.

A passionate princess, an astute and clever queen, and a cunning widow, Victoria played many roles throughout her life. In Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother, Widow, Lucy Worsley introduces her as a woman leading a truly extraordinary life in a unique time period. Queen Victoria simultaneously managed to define a socially conservative vision of Victorian womanhood, while also defying its conventions. Beneath her exterior image of traditional daughter, wife, and widow, she was a strong-willed and masterful politician.

Drawing from the vast collection of Victoria’s correspondence and the rich documentation of her life, Worsley recreates twenty-four of the most important days in Victoria's life. Each day gives a glimpse into the identity of this powerful, difficult queen and the contradictions that defined her. Queen Victoria is an intimate introduction to one of Britain’s most iconic rulers as a wife and widow, mother and matriarch, and above all, a woman of her time."

Lucy Worsley has become the go to historian for all things British and her newest book isn't an exception so be sure to check it out, especially if you're suffering from Victoria withdrawals... 

Friday, January 4, 2019

Book Review 2018 #8 - Tasha Alexander's Death in the Floating City

Death in the Floating City by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur
Publication Date: October 16th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

As a child there is always that one person whom you are thrust into a relationship with because of your parents. The greatest joy of growing up is that there comes a time when you no longer have to associate with them and can relegate them to your past. Which is exactly what Emily did with Emma Callum. Emma ran off with an Italian Duke and Emily never thought of her again. Until Emma reached out for help. She had heard of Emily's success in solving crimes and is in desperate need of her assistance. Stranded in Venice Emma doesn't even speak Italian and her father-in-law Conte Barozzi has gone and gotten himself murdered and her husband Paolo is missing. If there was ever a time for Emily's help it is now. But even murder can't fully change someone and as Emma flirts with Emily's husband Colin instead of answering their questions Emily wonders if it was wise to help her old nemesis. Though Emily and her husband are professionals and they will do the job asked of them despite the hindrance of Emma. Their first clue is a ring that was found on the Conte's body and a historian is needed.

Luckily when they arrived in Venice a note was waiting at their hotel from a local scholar turned bookseller inquiring after the ring. Emily is hoping Signore Caravello can help answer a few questions as to the ring's provenance. With his magnifying glass he finds two initials next to the maker's mark, BB and NV. Because the ring was found in the possession of a Barozzi, it's assumed that this belonged to some relative. Emily, now with the help of Singnore Caravello's daughter Donata, searches for this relative and finds Besina, who lived in the 15th century. Yet their one hope of confirming her as the ring's owner is dashed when the painting that just might have shown her wearing it is vandalized. What's more the Barozzis sworn enemies, the Vendelinos, swear that the ring is theirs and has been missing for centuries. Soon Emily and Colin are juggling not just a murder, but valuable missing books, a possibly forgotten legacy, a medium whose reputation was destroyed, the Conte's probable mistress and her jealous husband, and most disturbing of all, a person dressed as a plague doctor following Emily through the canals of Venice. Yet the crucial question is, can they solve the crime in the present by finding out what happen to Besina all those years ago?

There is a plethora of books set in Venice, and the truth is the setting doesn't make the book but a well written book can make the setting, forever linking the two in your mind. Death in the Floating City perfectly fits into the pantheon of books set in Venice that were instant classics for me, from Daphne Du Maurier's Don't Look Now to Mary Robinette Kowal's Valour and Vanity to Susanna Clark's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. These are all books that show Venice as imperfect yet lead you to fall in love with the city despite it's issues. I'm not talking about the fact that it's sinking into the seas, but the Italian way of life as it was back in the day. As I think of it in my mind as women's rights, marriages, and whores oh my. Courtesans, mistresses, and illegitimate children were all par for the course in Venice. What's so fascinating though is the way Tasha writes so that there's our modern POV then there's Emily's POV, which is Victorian but constantly working to break the shackles and think more modern, and then the Venetian POV which is far more fluid and modern, but that fluidity and the resultant issues drives the plot forward. It's literally a culture clash at it's most dramatic and I couldn't put it down.

What really drove the narrative in this installment was that the secondary story instead of being journals or letters that are concurrent with our story was instead the story of Besina and her ill fated love to Nicolo Vendelino way back in 1489. At first I was prejudiced against this story because being set in Italy and the couple in question being from warring houses I was sure this would be Tasha's take on Romeo and Juliet and personally, that isn't a favorite play of mine. Yes, it's a classic, I mean, it's Shakespeare after all, but not all Shakespeare floats my boat. Oh how wrong I was to compare it to that play of the Bard's. This secondary storyline soon became my favorite part of Death in the Floating City and I had to restrain myself from jumping ahead to see how it played out. The best way I can describe the story of Besina and Nicolo is that it's like Sarah Dunant decided to write her version of Drake Carne and Morwenna Chynoweth's star-crossed romance from Poldark. Much as with the two young lovers on Poldark, my heart was continually breaking, hoping for Besina to break free and be with Nicolo. Their story is tragic and heartbreaking and achingly perfect. Because, if I'm being honest, much like how Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, sometimes perfection isn't a happily ever after.

Even though my attachment to Besina and Nicolo is the reason I lost my heart to this book I can not discount all the other awesomeness contained within the pages of Death in the Floating City. The menacing plague doctor like the "child" in the raincoat in Don't Look Now is haunting, but that's just the tip of the iceberg! There's Caterina Brexiano, the maligned medium! There's Brother Giovanni with his knowledge of books and his hunt for the truth. As for the books? Oh dear me, I swoon at the valuable books and illuminated manuscripts contained within these pages. But the vapors don't stop there. The gorgeous illuminated manuscripts contain secrets not just in their detailed artwork but on the very pages they were written. Secrets hidden in art? This is Lady Emily's version of The Da Vinci Code, but next level, because instead of being bogged down with religiosity we are on the hunt for the story of Besina and Nicolo! A love lost to history recovered! This book didn't just make me want to go to Venice, it made me want to delve back into my art history studies. Oh, I do love a good illuminated manuscript. If only they all held such secrets as the ones Tasha has dreamed up!

It should be a truth universally acknowledged that we all have in our past some frenemy. Imagine the theme song to Veronica Mars playing here... While Emily never considered Emma her friend, she was in one of those situations where friendship was forced on her and it turned sour, or shattered like her doll's face when Emma destroyed it. Whether it's similar to Emily's case or just a friend from childhood that proved themselves a complete and utter two-faced bitch, there's someone in everyone's past whom we'd rather avoid but some lingering sentimentality, AKA the sign that you are the better person, makes you willing to help if they reach out a hand. That is the situation Emily faces. While there is that deep temptation to just laugh from afar, something that social media makes so easy in this day and age, there's the other, more juicy feeling that you can prove to them that you are the better person. You hope that your help will finally awaken some kind of gratitude in them, but as is often the case, as Emily sees, they are just the same person but older. You can see them more clearly for who they are and you pity instead of hate them. But still, reaching out that hand and being the better person? Priceless.

Now here's a question I have for the floor. Hopefully you have been encouraged by Alexander Autumn to pick up one or all of Tasha's wonderful Lady Emily series and I want your expert opinion. Is this the first time that Emily's writing is shown to be definitely written from a future date for an audience? Because Emily has a throw away line about how her identification of NV would prove to be entirely inaccurate, proving this was written at a later date. Also at the same time she says "as you will see" where the you is us, meaning, definite knowledge of an audience. Now I don't have any problem with this, seeing as an author that Tasha greatly admires, Elizabeth Peters, used such devices in her Amelia Peabody series which is another series I love. In fact, there's a part of me, a part that will reference but will not spoil the ending of this book, that noticed a certain resolution that mirrors an event that takes place at the end of the sixth installment in that series, The Last Camel Died at Noon, that makes me think, Tasha did this on purpose. If she did this for that very reason, that's cunning. But also if you think about it, this is the first case that Emily and Colin take that doesn't literally land on their doorstep, so that could have been why there's a change as well... either way, I'll be waiting to see if this writing quirk happens again. Onwards to the next book!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Book Review 2018 #9 - Tasha Alexander's A Crimson Warning

A Crimson Warning by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur
Publication Date: October 25th, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

As Emily dances a man burns. How could she have thought the ballroom she was in was stuffy once she learns of the fate of Mr. Dillman? The heat as he was burned alive chained to his office window is horrible to contemplate, yet Emily and Colin must, as Colin has been sent in by the crown to investigate. But it's information they glean from Mr. Dillman's fiance, Cordelia Dalton, that shines a light on the investigation and shows a disturbing pattern. The day of Mr. Dillman's death the Sanders household was defiled with red paint and it was revealed at the ball that their daughter, Polly, was the illegitimate offspring of Mr. Sanders and a maid. Polly's betrothal to Thomas Lacey was ended and any chance she had of a good marriage went up in smoke. Cordelia informs Emily and Colin that Mr. Dillman's house was similarly vandalized the week before. What could Mr. Dillman's secret have been? If the revelation of Polly's parentage is anything to go by whomever is leaving these threatening and very public warnings seeks to out the deepest and darkest of secrets of the ton and Mr. Dillman's secret might just have followed him to the grave.

Soon more homes are vandalized and what seemed at first mildly titillating and a field day for gossips has the ton gripped in terror. How each family approaches their secret shame depends on how bad their crime. Some wait with baited breath, some flee England, some openly expose their own secrets, and some choose to take their secrets to the grave. Emily and Colin can see no connection between the victims aside from the fact that they had something to hide, which could apply to anyone they know, from the highest ranking individuals to their dearest friends. Soon their investigation narrows on a few individuals; Mr. Foster, a politician being groomed for Prime Minister, his best friend and policy shaper Mr. Barnes, who could never rise to power on his own being half West Indian, Mrs. Winifred Harris, an inveterate busybody, and the outlandish Lady Glover, whom the vandal appears to be in contact with when she's not taking her zebras for a stroll in the park. But if this individual wants to cause as much damage to as many individuals as possible why are they targeting Cordelia Dalton, someone peripheral to the first victim? When she goes missing it becomes clear Mr. Dillman is more important than the other victims. He might just be the key to catching this odious criminal and stopping their stranglehold on the city.

A Crimson Warning takes place about a year after Emily and Colin's last adventure in France and we get to see them settled into their new life in London. While I initially thought I was being mildly cheated by not getting to see Emily and Colin merge their households and their staff with all the ensuing chaos, I realized that I should never question Tasha because she knows what's right for her characters. The relative calm of the Hargreaves household is needed to serve as a counterpoint to the mania that is gripping the town. If they had a household in disarray while the town was balancing on a knife's edge the book would have ended up too frenetic. You need moments of calm, especially in a murder mystery, where you can gather your thoughts and let your heart stop racing with a nice cup of tea or glass of port. I think this is why I don't like action films, they don't understand the need for proper pacing. But then again, in an action film they rarely have a plot and if you were given a moments respite you might notice this. Whereas Tasha's writing is perfectly plotted, with just the right hints, red herrings, and reveals that you are enthralled until the very last page.

But what made me breathe the biggest sigh of relief? Because a year has passed since Colin was a total controlling dick in France, justifiable in his mind not mine, Emily and him have worked out their respective rolls in their marriage and in their investigations, smoothing over the bumps from his being reactionary and overprotective. Colin isn't shutting Emily out and Emily in turn isn't sneaking around behind his back trying to help while still trying to be a dutiful wife. They know where their strengths lie and know that they will ask for the others help when it is needed. When Colin flits away into the night to follow a new lead he has faith that Emily knows he doesn't need him at the moment, but the second he does he will call her into action. While Emily knows he won't interfere with her own line of inquiry and will even be there to help should she need it. They are in balance and oh how this made me happy. But not nearly as happy as when Emily stopped by Mr. Dillman's and the butler let her in to search the victim's possessions. Emily thought he let her in because she was so convincing in her justifications to him, but really it's because the butler had heard of the successful partnership of her and her husband. They have a reputation! A good one! This made Emily understandably flattered and made my heart sing that her reputation now proceeds her!

While Emily is shocked to discover that she is now known for something more than being a little eccentric, A Crimson Warning is fascinating in that it's all about discovery. What do the people you know everyday have to conceal. Because it's made quite clear that when the scarlet mark appears on their door they know exactly to what secret it pertains. And most of the secrets are quite scandalous. Therefore it is quite surprising that of all Emily's friends the one most worried about finding their doorstep covered in paint is Ivy! Ivy has a secret! This really proves that you never really know someone. Because from the outset Ivy has always been depicted as the perfect Victorian bride. A perfect wife supporting her husband and a perfect mother now that she was blessed with a daughter. Of course Emily is always trying to corrupt her with sensational literature and port, but to all outward appearances Ivy is just perfectly normal. Though in a London filled with secrets normal apparently means she must have a secret as well. The way Tasha draws out the reveal with Ivy's journal entries is deliciously suspenseful. Will we learn Ivy's secrets from her own lips or from a red slash on her door? I'm obviously not going to spoil it, other than to say it's perfect.

Now though I need to address a serious question I have to raise. Is it possible to marry a fictional character who isn't just fictional but also dead? I'm talking about my complete adoration of Mr. Dillman. That fiance of his, Cordelia Dalton, sure lucked out in locking that one down, that is until he was murdered of course. Why my love of Mr. Dillman? Well, beyond the fact he is a good, kind man who takes care of his workers and has a social conscience, he is also bookish and encourages Cordelia to read literature that even Emily thinks is a little scandalous and therefore wants to read immediately! But more than that, he creates these amazing scavenger hunts for Cordelia that has her searching all over museums to find the right object that then ties into another stage of the hunt that ends in going through Mr. Dalton's library where Mr. Dillman has secreted a surprise for his fiance. I mean, my heart literally melted. I love scavenger hunts and literature, if someone cared about me this much to stage this amazing game, not once but often? That is the man for me ladies and gentlemen! The fact that this game ties into the overall plot just shows how much I love and adore Tasha's series. She creates memorable characters we love and care for but who also serve a purpose dramatically.

One aspect of Tasha's writing that is mentioned again and again in the pull quotes used for the back of her books is that Lady Emily has a sparkling wit and that humor imbues all her adventures. I'm not going to disagree with this statement. In fact I think all books need humor in order to work. Not just because I love me a little snark, but because you get a better sense of someone's personality by laughing with them. A Crimson Warning seems to me to notch up the humor a bit than previous installments. Again I think this is a balancing act that Tasha has carefully staged. Emily's life is calm while Rome burns, and the jokes become more prevalent the bleaker the situation Emily finds herself in. This installment we see even more of the horror of the lower classes in London and the humor is a nice way to combat the stark reality of the situations that Emily finds herself in. The humor never diminishes the suffering she sees, but it's a nice counterpoint to the suffering and helps to further form her social conscience with her wanting to do more and fight for women's suffrage with the Women's Liberal Federation. But all that analysis aside, nothing has made me laugh heartier recently than Emily's observations on Lady Glover and her zebras to Ivy: "Zebras, Ivy. Zebras," I said. "Why are we not better acquainted with this woman?"

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Book Review 2018 #10 - William Goldman's The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: 1973
Format: Hardcover, 399 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Buttercup grew up on a farm in Florin. She was a reputed beauty, the great Count Rugen and his wife one day visited the farm to see for themselves. They saw a girl with potential, if she'd bathe, and the Countess saw a very attractive Farm Boy. Though Westley never took notice of the Countess, his heart belonged to Buttercup. The day Buttercup realized she loved him in return he set out into the world to make their fortune. The day he died was the worst of her life, but she emerged from her suffering the most beautiful woman in the world. A woman who could never love again. When Prince Humperdinck offered her his hand in marriage, she was straightforward with him, as he was with her, she will never love him yet she will marry him because otherwise he will kill her. When she is unveiled to the people of Florin they instantly idolize her and the Prince, a warmongering bloodthirsty man, realizes that his plan to have his bride kidnapped and killed framing the county of Guilder is going to go off perfectly. He didn't count on the man in black. The Prince's three assassins, Inigo, a wizard with a sword, Fezzik, a giant that can't be beaten, and Vizzini, a Sicilian with the most cunning mind in the world, kidnap Buttercup with little problem. But when they are crossing Florin channel to Guilder they realize they are being followed. Their pursuer is the man in black. First he bests Inigo, then he bests Fezzik, once he bests Vizzini, Buttercup and her ransom are his. Though that isn't his plan. Buttercup boasts to this masked man that her Prince will come, the masked man says that she is heartless and he should just kill her. That is when the game changes. With fire swamps and out-sized rodents, miracle men and six-fingered swords, can true love find a way back from being mostly dead? Or will evil triumph? After all, life isn't fair.

Ask anyone of my generation what their favorite film is and I bet they answer The Princess Bride. Sure, there are other films of note, from Star Wars to Willow to Empire Records, but The Princess Bride IS the film of my generation. We watch it when we're sad, we watch it when we're happy, when we used to gather in each others apartments in college and had time to waste we'd put it in the VCR. It's the biggest, snuggest, comfort blanket there is. Yeah, suck it gravity blanket you have nothing on The Princess Bride. I can still remember when I first watched it. The summer of 1988 was the hottest on record in Wisconsin. We didn't have central air but the way the upstairs rooms were designed in my house my parents room, my brother's, and mine all had connecting doors. We pulled the shades down, we placed one air conditioning unit in my room and another in my parents, opened all the doors and lived in those three rooms for the summer, leaving occasionally to go to the pool or the movie theater and one memorable outing to Perkins when the air raid sirens went off. I was lucky in that my room became the TV room. We had a tiny TV/VCR combo unit my Dad had gotten for his art gallery and we placed it on an old table we had and rented all the tapes we could. One of these was The Princess Bride. I was instantly in love with it. I watched it again and again, my face inches from the TV as Inigo and Westley fought along the Cliffs of Insanity. I checked out that tape so much that summer that the video store let me buy it off them eventually, and I still have that old copy, though many different DVD releases have been purchased since. In college I was lucky enough to see it on the big screen, but it's an odd experience seeing it with a bunch of drunks who recite every single line of dialogue. But then again, it is the film of my generation.

I don't know when I realized there was a book written by William Goldman. For years I believed there was an S. Morgenstern and William Goldman was a hack, but what can I say? I was an impressionable ten year old and I wanted to believe that a book this wonderful, this magical was real. Of course it IS real, but in it's own special way. But the truth is when I first picked up this book I couldn't see it for what it was. I loved the book because of the movie, and the book seemed to fill in all these little gaps for me. Therefore I felt like this book was the film's bible, an annotated version of the film where I was just waiting for my favorite lines to appear. I finally knew why Fezzik was so scared to be left alone in Greenland! I FINALLY understood the fencing banter between Westley and Inigo on the tops of the Cliffs of Insanity. I knew where Fezzik found the four white horses as well as why he rhymed. All these pieces fell into place and I developed an even greater love of the movie. But as that was happening I was also falling in love with the book. There are rare occasions when I love a book and it's adaptation. There are even rarer occasions when I love them but admit that they are two totally different things. Yet here this is true. The movie adaptation of the book is funny and wonderful, but also a lovely fairy tale with oodles of romance. The book, the book is snarky and barbed and self-aware and almost an anti-fairy tale and yet it stands on it's own and is a classic in it's own right. The Princess Bride as originally written by William Goldman is a mine of the meta (meta was already a thing but just) and takes what is expected and subverts it. Pirates and thieves are good while Princes are bad and it's all just perfect, in a way all its own.

Yet there is an irony built into the book. This book is "abridged" wherein Goldman omits all that he thought boring and insinuates his own voice over the voice of "Morgenstern's" with the liberal use of italicized text. These interruptions, along with the introduction, are the framing device that, tweaked here and there, became Peter Falk reading to Fred Savage in the film. While the interruptions are entertaining, being an author fictionalizing his own life and then commenting on another author who doesn't exist, the introduction is a little self-indulgent. There's a bit too much "Hollywood" and not enough grounding in reality. The pool scene which seems to be a Dudley Moore fantasy from any of his various seventies and eighties films is just a bridge too far. Therefore I would seriously like any of you who've read this book to answer truthfully, how many of you have actually read the introduction after the first time you've read the book? Just as I thought. None of you! I can not count how many times I've read The Princess Bride, but I'm pretty darn sure I've read the introduction exactly two times: the first time I read the book and then this time. The irony in all this is that the readers are abridging an "abridged" book as they read it. I've often wondered why there's never been a version released without the introduction, or in this anniversary edition's case, the two introductions. Perhaps it's to show the readers that are under the same delusion I was that Morgenstern is nothing more than the creation of Goldman, and that while the introduction is uneven and pretty unnecessary, it shows the complete breadth of Goldman's talents. Who knows? Perhaps we may get answers in five years when the inevitable fiftieth anniversary edition is released...

Those people who have only ever watched the movie and never read the book are missing out because they never get to see the depths of the friendship between Fezzik and Inigo. Yes, they were wonderfully brought to life by André the Giant and Mandy Patinkin and you could see the friendship between them, but in the book their friendship is the backbone that holds the story together. This is especially seen when they enter the Zoo of Death! At this point if you haven't read the book you're wondering WTF is the Zoo of Death!?! Well, the Zoo of Death was obviously not included in the film for budgetary reasons. Why have Count Rugen's little torture chamber for Westley buried underground beneath four levels of animals that the Prince loves to hunt and kill when a smaller chamber accessed via a tree would serve just as well? But the movie's loss is our gain! Because here we can see that their codependency is based on actually caring for each other. They followed Vizzini because they both were searching for a purpose in life and Vizzini made that purpose easy, just do as he said. Yet while entering into that partnership the two outcasts found each other. Inigo will gladly trade rhymes forever when Fezzik is down, and each knows how to push the others buttons, not out of malice, but in order to have the other be the best person they can be. The reward of all this is in the end when Fezzik saves the day. He learns to think on his own and starts to become more than just a frightened little boy but a man. In fact I would say that, at least in the book, these two are the stars. We never learn much about Buttercup or Westley's backstory, but Inigo and Fezzik have these fleshed out pasts that lead to this adventure and you can see their futures stretching out in front of them, and you just want to be on that adventure as well.

Which makes you wonder, is there ever going to be another adventure? Ten years after The Princess Bride Goldman did write another short story under the pseudonym of Morgenstern, The Silent Gondoliers, which was reissued in 2001, which was right when people were wondering if Buttercup's Baby was going to be out soon. The thing is I don't really know what's up with Buttercup's Baby. For those who don't know when the twenty-fifth anniversary edition was released twenty years ago now there was almost a hundred new pages added to The Princess Bride. No, it wasn't Buttercup going to her training, or anything omitted from the original text as a joke, it started out with a new introduction by Goldman in the vein of his original introduction, some young woman hitting on him for no reason, followed by some references to a son he never had, you get the idea. What was fun was he expanded on the missing "Reunion Scene" which I'm sure if you're a hardcore fan you wrote in for. And no, I'm not going to spoil that for you. After much toing and froing, including references to Stephen King, whose books Goldman has adapted for the screen many times, you get to the meat, a new chapter! We see all our favorites, Fezzik, Inigo, Westley, Buttercup, and their daughter Waverly. Yes, that's right, they have a daughter who is soon to endure a kidnapping, much as her mother did years before. It's a very solid beginning to a new story that ends on a literal cliffhanger. So I can't help but wonder why did Goldman write it? He could never hope to eclipse the success of The Princess Bride and making Buttercup's Baby into a movie would be verboten, so why? My best guess is that this was a little gift to the fans, a thank you for all the support over the years. Will we get more? I don't know, and honestly, I don't think that was ever the plan, and Goldman's getting up there in age. But ask me again in five years...

Newer Posts Older Posts Home