Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Book Review 2018 #1 - Robert Galbraith's Career of Evil

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
Published by: Mulholland Books
Publication Date: September 20th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 492 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Robin Ellacot's life is about to change. It has changed many times over the last year, professionally from taking a job as Cormoran Strike's secretary to gaining his confidence, allowing her to tail clients as a full fledged investigator, and personally, from getting engaged to Matthew to Matthew's mother dying thus resulting in their wedding being postponed. She has swung with the punches and has everything under control. When she arrives at work one day there's a package addressed to her and she's confident it's just another item on her checklist for wedding prep. She couldn't be more wrong. Within the box is a severed woman's leg along with a Blue Öyster Cult quote from "Mistress of the Salmon Salt (Quicklime Girl.)" While the package was addressed to her it is obviously a message for Cormoran. The leg, severed just as his was, the song, a favorite of his mother's. Cormoran has many enemies in his past, but there are four capable of such cruelty and perversity; Terrence 'Digger' Malley, a mobster, Noel Brockbank, a pedophile whom Strike investigated when he was in SIB, Donald Laing, a domestic abuser whom Strike had locked up, and his number one suspect, Jeff Whittaker, his stepfather whom he believes responsible for his mother's death. Who else but his stepfather would quote that specific song?

The police though think the mobster Malley is their number one suspect and don't follow up on the other leads. Which leaves it up to Cormoran and Robin to track down the other three suspects. Because Cormoran knows he's prejudiced to his stepfather he won't eliminate the other two until he has conclusive evidence one way or the other. But that doesn't stop the memories from flooding in. The horror of the bedsit, finding his mother dead, the trial that acquitted Whittaker. Cormoran, Robin, and even Matthew are being haunted by their pasts, but whose past will prove deadly? When Robin starts to become the focus of the killer her inability to step back from the case leads to a rupture with Matthew while simultaneously bringing her and Cormoran closer together. They travel the length and breath of England trying to track down these three disturbed men, yet perhaps the world of body dysmorphia and those who want to be handicapped and amputated is the most disturbing of all. Especially to Cormoran who can't see why anyone wouldn't want two functioning legs. As the bodies pile up the stakes get higher and the danger more immediate. Can they find the killer before he gets to one of them or are all three men guilty of something and will stop at nothing to protect their secrets?

When J.K. Rowling was revealed to be Robert Galbraith the first book in the Cormoran Strike series, The Cuckoo's Calling, instantly moved up my to be read list, though I take a little bit of pride in the fact that it was on my to be read list prior to the reveal. The first book introduces us to her cast of characters and a crime that needs to be solved, but it's quickly apparent that Rowling is more interested in the characters than the crime. Which is fine, as long as the balance is correct. There needs to be enough of a connection between the characters and the crime in order for them to jointly propel the narrative. This balance wasn't achieved until Career of Evil, the third book in the series. The first two books deal with celebrity and the literary world, which is personal, for Rowling, only tangentially so for Strike. Therefore to have such a personal story, a crime so entangled with Cormoran and Robin, the series not only reached it's zenith, it reached it's full potential. To have fallen in love with these two characters over the course of this series but to have that feeling that their journey could be so much more, to feel the wasted potential, it was almost painful to read. But if I were to compare this series to Rowling's far more famous wizarding series, there too the third volume is where it all clicked for me. So in the future, if Rowling ever starts another series under her own or another name, remind me to give her until the third installment to pass judgment.

Cormoran's relationship with Robin has benefited from this slow burn of narrative construction. In the very first book, almost from the second Cormoran meets Robin, he says to himself that their relationship can only ever be platonic, despite her looks, her talents, and that dress he got her. She is with Matthew, and that is that. Therefore as a reader you also put it out of your mind. They are colleagues nothing more. They will not fall prey to the "Moonlighting Effect!" Yet having just watched all of Moonlighting again, you can clearly see how they failed. The constant bait and switch, the characters acting out of character, and finally just trying to deny there ever was any chemistry to begin with. Here we have seen strangers become friends become colleagues and maybe, one day, they will become something more. When Robin temporarily breaks things off with Matthew and is more and more with Cormoran, she wonders, he wonders, we all wonder, could this be the first step? So while there has been a little of that Moonlighting frisson sprinkled into this latest installment, I kind of do and don't want something to happen. But what I did want was to luxuriate in each and every page as I went on this journey with a couple who might never become a couple...

Because Robin has a complicated past. Long hinted at and finally revealed. I applaud that Robin's assault in college shows what a strong person she is. Yes, she dropped out of college and retreated into herself and stays with Matthew because he's "safe." Yet at the same time she was able to pay attention when she was attacked and come forward and be the key witness to send the rapist to prison. This is such a key insight into Robin's personality. She preservers despite whatever odds are stacked against her. She wants to fight for what is right, she wants to catch the bad guys, she wants to be there, at Cormoran's side, not hiding away in a bedroom staring at the same four walls day in and day out. Despite being published three years before the launch of the #MeToo movement, Robin's story shows us strength through pain. She has taken what many still unjustly view as a stigma and didn't let it define her but let it inform who she became. Before this revelation of hers I didn't so much wonder why she left college, there are myriad reasons for people to do so, but I did often wonder what Robin the psychologist would have been like. Would she have been able to help people in as tangible a method as she does with Cormoran? Or did her attack lead her to the life she was meant to lead? Of course, this is a book so it's all staged to be fate, but to me, Robin is real, and she's a survivor who has come into her own.

Switching gears, for all those people out there who don't read books and instead wait for them to be adapted into movies or TV series I have to really restrain myself from beating them about the head and instead I will take the higher ground and tell them why sometimes books are better for certain narrative techniques. There are things you can do in a book that just don't work in a visual medium. For example the trope of seeing through a killer's eyes works so much better in prose versus tricky POV shots and shaky camera angles on screen where we see their lair or their next victim between some foliage. It's not just that it's a cliche, it's that sometimes it plays the final hand without the filmmakers really realizing it. I will take the movie Kiss the Girls as an example. Now hopefully you won't get mad at me for spoiling a film that came out over twenty years ago based on a book by James Patterson from 1995, but you've had ample chances to watch it before now and if you're honest with yourself, you would have seen it sometime in the last twenty years if you really wanted to. So, my mom was watching the opening of the movie and the killer is narrating, and I said, "I didn't know Cary Elwes was in the movie." So the ending was ruined because I recognized the killer's voice... That can't happen in books! There's so much more tension not knowing and not inadvertently spoiling it for yourself. Books for the win!

Also, Rowling, I mean, Galbraith, doesn't just know the tropes and what works better when, she revels in toying with the reader. The use of red herrings in Career of Evil is masterful, because some are made purposefully obvious and others are hidden, but all the while you're thinking, is this a red herring or is this something else? While red herrings are traditionally thought of as just misleading information that has to be worked through in order solve the crime they are also meant as a distraction. Here's something shiny, is it important? And I was like a cat, pouncing on every single one and playing with it, holding it up to the light, wondering, is this a real clue, gnawing on it a bit, and eventually just waiting for the next one to show up and start me thinking all over again. Even the title of the book is a red herring! The song "Career of Evil" by Blue Öyster Cult makes you think that only one of the three suspects that Cormoran has fingered could possibly be the perpetrator, and Galbraith toys with that assumption again and again. For over four hundred pages the three suspects are deftly juggled with red herrings so that you never know where the finger will finally point. This made me devour this book late into the night wanting to know the answer but at the same time hoping it would never end. Thankfully I have Lethal White now lined up...

Monday, January 28, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
Published by: Imprint
Publication Date: January 29th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 528 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Face your demons...or feed them.

Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war - and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.

Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried - and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.

Enter the Grishaverse with this new novel from #1 New York Times-bestselling author Leigh Bardugo."

Back to Ravka!!!

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
Published by: Bloomsbury YA
Publication Date: January 29th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 496 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In a lush, contemporary fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Brigid Kemmerer gives readers another compulsively readable romance perfect for fans of Marissa Meyer.

Fall in love, break the curse.

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she's instead somehow sucked into Rhen's cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn't know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what's at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall... and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin."

I'm a sucker for fair tale retellings.

The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky
Published by: Redhook
Publication Date: January 29th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 560 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A sweeping tale of clashing cultures, warring gods, and forbidden love: In 1000 AD, a young Inuit shaman and a Viking warrior become unwilling allies as war breaks out between their peoples and their gods-one that will determine the fate of them all.

"There is a very old story, rarely told, of a wolf that runs into the ocean and becomes a whale."

Born with the soul of a hunter and the spirit of the Wolf, Omat is destined to follow in her grandfather's footsteps-invoking the spirits of the land, sea, and sky to protect her people.

But the gods have stopped listening and Omat's family is starving. Alone at the edge of the world, hope is all they have left.

Desperate to save them, Omat journeys across the icy wastes, fighting for survival with every step. When she meets a Viking warrior and his strange new gods, they set in motion a conflict that could shatter her world...or save it."

All the wonderful myths of the North!

The Frangipani Tree Mystery by Ovidia Ya
Published by: Constable
Publication Date: January 29th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"First in a delightfully charming crime series set in 1930s Singapore, introducing amateur sleuth SuLin, a local girl stepping in as governess for the Acting Governor of Singapore.

1936 in the Crown Colony of Singapore, and the British abdication crisis and rising Japanese threat seem very far away. When the Irish nanny looking after Acting Governor Palin's daughter dies suddenly - and in mysterious circumstances - mission school-educated local girl SuLin - an aspiring journalist trying to escape an arranged marriage - is invited to take her place.

But then another murder at the residence occurs and it seems very likely that a killer is stalking the corridors of Government House. It now takes all SuLin's traditional skills and intelligence to help British-born Chief Inspector Thomas LeFroy solve the murders - and escape with her own life."

Everything about this book screams to me that it will be a new favorite series!

The Plotters by Un-su Kim
Published by: Doubleday
Publication Date: January 29th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the novelist dubbed "the Korean Henning Mankell" (The Guardian) comes a fantastical crime novel set in an alternate Seoul where assassination guilds compete for market dominance. Perfect for fans of Han Kang and Patrick deWitt.

Behind every assassination, there is an anonymous mastermind - a plotter - working in the shadows. Plotters quietly dictate the moves of the city's most dangerous criminals, but their existence is little more than legend. Just who are the plotters? And more important, what do they want? Reseng is an assassin. Raised by a cantankerous killer named Old Raccoon in the crime headquarters "The Library," Reseng never questioned anything: where to go, who to kill, or why his home was filled with books that no one ever read. But one day, Reseng steps out of line on a job, toppling a set of carefully calibrated plans. And when he uncovers an extraordinary scheme set into motion by an eccentric trio of young women - a convenience store clerk, her wheelchair-bound sister, and a cross-eyed librarian - Reseng will have to decide if he will remain a pawn or finally take control of the plot.

Crackling with action and filled with unforgettable characters, The Plotters is a deeply entertaining thriller that soars with the soul, wit, and lyricism of real literary craft."

Yes, the Henning Mankell comparison is what drew me to this book...

Death Prefers Blondes by Caleb Roehrig
Published by: Feiwel amd Friends
Publication Date: January 29th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Teenage socialite Margo Manning leads a dangerous double life. By day, she dodges the paparazzi while soaking up California sunshine. By night, however, she dodges security cameras and armed guards, pulling off high-stakes cat burglaries with a team of flamboyant young men. In and out of disguise, she’s in all the headlines.

But then Margo’s personal life takes a sudden, dark turn, and a job to end all jobs lands her crew in deadly peril. Overnight, everything she’s ever counted on is put at risk. Backs against the wall, the resourceful thieves must draw on their special skills to survive. But can one rebel heiress and four kickboxing drag queens withstand the slings and arrows of truly outrageous fortune? Or will a mounting sea of troubles end them - for good?"

Recommened to me by Johnnie Cakes from Murder By The Book, and he's never wrong in his recs! 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Book Review 2018 #2 - Tasha Alexander's A Terrible Beauty

A Terrible Beauty by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: October 11th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

First there was the letter addressed to The Viscountess Ashton. Then there was someone calling Philip's name at the zoo. Then there was Philip's journal placed on her desk. A man on the boat to Greece looked just like Philip. At the Acropolis someone in the dark called out té kallisté, something only Philip would do. By the time she arrived at the villa in Santorini Emily was well prepared for the impossible, the return of her first husband Philip, the Viscount Ashton. Never mind that he died over a decade ago, she would recognize those piercing blue eyes anywhere, though his nose does look a little different. Emily had concocted this trip to Greece as a way to distract her dearest friend Jeremy from the heartbreak and attempted murder at the hands of his fiance, Amity Wells. Little did she know it would prove such a distraction with her first husband back from the dead! Jeremy takes it in stride, it's just another blow to him ever winning Emily, before he had just the one husband to contend with, now there are two! As for Emily's second husband Colin, he is almost more shell-shocked than she. Here is his dearest friend in all the world returned to him and he has betrayed him by marrying Emily, the love of both of their lives. There are so many ramifications. Is Colin and Emily's marriage valid? What about the legitimacy of their two children? Is the villa even Emily's? And the guilt! But none of that matters because Philip has arrived with a shadow looming over him.

Philip insists that after learning of Emily and Colin being happily married that he vowed he would never intrude on their new life together. He has in fact built a new life for himself. Without the largess that came with his title he has had to earn a living and has become a rather decent archeologist. A job he has come to love. In fact he's been working on a site on Santorini for the past few years. He says that his not coming to Emily sooner, despite their proximity, proves his honorable intentions. The only reason he has appeared now is that his fellow archeologist was injured during a storm the night before Emily's arrival and the only place he could think to take him to get medical attention was the villa. Sadly his friend died and Philip's secret has been revealed. Though the inhabitants of the villa soon learn that it is not the only secret Philip has. There are some shady men following Philip and soon he reveals a story that is almost more incredible then his survival in Africa after everyone presumed him dead. Years earlier at a dig near the remains of Troy he found what he believes to be part of Achilles's helmet. The local working with Philip stole it and turned up dead the next day. Ever since then a crooked dealer in antiquities, Demir, has been following and harassing Philip. Demir and his Turkish henchmen have arrived on the island and Philip's life is in danger. Only Emily isn't sure she buys the story. If this is Philip he would never have let anything connected to Achilles out of his sight... Is it possible to put her guilt aside and find out the truth?

A Terrible Beauty is almost like a reset on the Lady Emily series. We're going back to the beginning, back to And Only to Deceive and seeing everything from a different angle. This isn't just "Philip's" story and his perspective on events but also another side to the world of antiquities. Emily reading Philip's journals after his death led to her becoming not just a Greek scholar but a lover of the antiquities that her late husband collected. This is the cornerstone to Emily's journey of discovering and the life and collection she builds over the years. Yet for all her love of antiquities we the readers have only seen certain aspects of this one word that encompasses so much. Antiquities covers the history, the excavation, the cataloging, the restoring, the purchasing, the forging, the collecting, the exhibiting, so many things under one banner. For all her talk of ruins and walking the remains of Troy this is the first book in which Emily's story takes us truly beyond the confines of the museum and the country houses and we get to see an excavation. Oh, and the archaeological sites we see through "Philip's" journey, I felt that at times I was reading an Elizabeth Peters novel about the exploits of Amelia Peabody. But what I found fascinating is that the archaeological work makes sense in regards to Philip's personality. He always relished the hunt, be it on safari or dealing with antiquities brokers, and here he is digging through the very earth in search of buried treasure.

This is why I wanted to be an archeologist for about a hot minute, the buried treasure. But my true love was in making art and no matter how many art history or anthropology courses I took this would never change. Though to truly understand art you need to understand it's history, which is why I took so many art history courses. A Terrible Beauty, besides throwing us back to the beginning of Emily's story took me on a bit of a time warp as well. I was having all these feelings about my first semester in college. SO many things combined to make me oddly nostalgic. One of my friends decided to go back to school and hearing her talk about midterms and finals is giving me all the feels. And with Thanksgiving I was dwelling on how I used that small respite from going to class to catch up on school work, even going so far as to be the odd one out at family gatherings sitting in a corner with flashcards drilling dates for the upcoming finals. Also this fall has been exceedingly cold and one thing that stuck with me from undergrad is that I was always constantly cold. No matter how many layers I put on the Wisconsin weather would defy it. It was twenty-one years ago that I took my first art history course that covered the ancient to medieval world, therefore covering both Greece and Rome. So when Emily was at the Acropolis I was giddy because I knew this! I somehow STILL knew this! It was locked away in the fog of time and cold and flashcards and yet it came back in an instant.

So A Terrible Beauty ended up not being just about Emily dealing with all these emotions and her past but in me going through the same experience on an entirely different level. This book became very personal to me and had me thinking about days gone by. In thinking about your own past, if you're one to overthink things, you start to think about the greater world, and as we're dealing with Emily, the history of ancient civilizations. What I'm getting at is specifically about the art we have left over from these civilizations. The gorgeous white marble statues and ruins that still thankfully stand. Yet in a bizarre coincidence The New Yorker just published an article on the fact that the art we look at and admire is nothing like what those in ancient Greece or Rome admired. Because all statuary, buildings, what-have-you, they were fully painted. Emily actually makes a reference to this when talking to Jeremy at the Acropolis and I was all, I JUST READ AN ARTICLE ON THAT! Yes, I know Emily and Jeremy couldn't hear me, but I just found it such a random coincidence that I couldn't not comment to fictional characters in a book who can't hear me. If you click on the link to the article you'll see what some of the most famous sculptures might have looked like and it's jarring. We are so used to "The Myth of Whiteness in Classical Sculpture" that to see marble covered in kind of cartoony paint makes you realize that sometimes an unfinished look has much more elegance. And now I'm thinking about naked cakes. Thanks Great British Bake Off.

With all this dwelling on the past I find it interesting that all those years ago and even just this past spring when I re-read And Only to Deceive I was 100% firmly in the camp of wanting Philip to somehow be alive. Yes, there would be problems to solve, so many problems, and perhaps Emily would no longer be the wife he had married, but I was sure they would work it out if only he wasn't dead. And here he is! Not dead! And while I would have given anything for Philip to return ten books ago now I was all go away foul demon back to the hell which spawned you! I am under no circumstance going to address the is he/isn't he actually Philip here because, spoilers people, but I am totally going to talk about how his reappearance made me feel, and that was not good. It's interesting how one changes over time. I have been on a long journey with Emily and Colin, going through all their ups and downs and heartbreaks. I've seen them fall in love, fight, make up, get married, and have children. I've witnessed how they have found a balance to working together, relying on each others skills and instincts, knowing when to step aside and knowing when to step in. They have this life they have built together and one person could bring it crashing down. This isn't like now when a divorce and re-marriage could solve things, there's the fact that women were viewed as property and a legitimate heir was needed. Therefore I say this once again, Philip begone!

My not feeling good about Philip's reappearance is nothing to how Emily and Colin feel! Not just the fact that their lives are crashing down around them, but the fact that they feel their guilt anew. During their courtship I don't think I'd ever really thought about how their falling in love must feel. They have always been perfect for each other so after Philip shuffled off this mortal coil it was only natural that they would be thrown together. They are, in my mind, relationship goals. They perfectly compliment each other and are so in love. Yet their love came at a cost; Philip's life. Philip being dead meant they and I didn't over-analyze the fact that Colin was Philip's best friend and Emily was his wife. They both cared for him but in the end his death lead to their happily ever after. Yet in A Terrible Beauty they have to face this fact all over again. And they aren't dealing with nebulous ideas of what Philip would think from beyond the grave, here he is at their villa staring them down across the sitting room and they feel instant shame. How could they have done this to Philip's memory? How could they find love and happiness out of his demise? How could they have not known he was alive all these years living a harsh life while they lived in connubial bliss? This guilt and shame hang over Emily and Colin like a dark cloud. The fact that to their faces Philip is being so magnanimous makes it even worse. How can they be forgiven? Or will the guilt stay long after Philip is gone from their lives one way or another? Perhaps the answer lies in Death in St. Petersburg!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Book Review 2018 #3 - Joe Hill's Locke and Key

Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Published by: IDW Publishing
Publication Date: February 20th, 2008 - December 18th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 984 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Rendell Locke always told his wife Nina that if anything were to happen to him she should take the kids and leave San Francisco, pack up and go back to Lovecraft, Massachusetts, to the family home, to Keyhouse. When Rendell is killed by a disgruntled student Rendell's eldest son, Tyler, can't help but wonder if his father always knew that something like this would happen. That there would come a time when he would no longer be able to protect them and Keyhouse would. That a Sam Lesser would enter their lives and ruin everything. Now a world away from the lives they led, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode, have to decide who they'll be. This is a new start and going to the high school their father attended, Tyler and Kinsey don't want to have the label of victim hanging around their necks. But when Sam Lesser breaks out of juvenile detention hellbent on finishing what he started with their father the Locke siblings realize their lives will forever be entwined with tragedy. Though they will choose if they are the victims or the victors, and the house will help. Because Keyhouse isn't just the family ancestral seat that prosperous locksmiths built... it's so much more as Bode soon discovers.

Bode has been finding keys about the house. These aren't just skeleton keys to open any door in the house, they are keys with specific and unique abilities. One key allows you to walk through a door and become a ghost, another will open a door to anywhere in the world so long as you can picture it in your mind. At first these keys seem a gift, but Sam knows about the keys too. How could a disturbed youth who's lived his whole life on the other side of the country know about the secrets of Keyhouse that even the Locke kids didn't know about? Echoes through time... When Rendell was Tyler's age he used the keys with his friends. He used them for fun. Then one day he decided to use them for personal gain. Everything changed. A dangerous creature was unleashed and Rendell knew one day there would be a reckoning. He didn't send his children to safety, he set them to a warzone and they were oblivious to their danger. Though surviving Sam Lesser's attack has made the Locke kids oddly ready for this otherworldly battle. They can wield the keys for good. With the help of their friends they will set right what their father set in motion all those years ago.

Who hasn't dreamt of living in a big Gothic mansion with magical keys that open doors? There's a magic to childhood where big houses are full of secrets to be uncovered and old keys could open a door to adventure. The Locke and Key series taps into these memories and fantasies of youth and revitalized in me my love of reading. I was having all these feels. I was flashing back to reading Judy Blume's Fudge-a-Mania and the Hatcher family's vacation to Maine where the house had the separate taps in the bathroom, just like in my house. Because the quirks and personalities of houses are something I've always reveled in when reading books. All these callbacks to my childhood and how Keyhouse only lets the young, those who will do no harm with it's powers, uncover it's magic just made me want to pack a bag and move to Lovecraft, no matter it's H.P. overtones. But there's also a darker magic, an adult nature to Locke and Key that is taking what we love and remember from our childhood and subverting it, making it for adult readers. This is the perfect tale of terror in my mind, the nostalgia of youth combined with the horrors of the real world and I wouldn't have it any other way.

What makes this series so unique is that all these fantastical and Cthulhu originated elements are secondary to the journey of the characters and one family's struggle to survive. You care so much about the characters that the fantastical elements are almost a side note, yet one that you readily accept without qualms because if one aspect of your story is so rooted in reality you can't help but accept the fantastical as real as well. Re-reading this series over the last week while getting ready to write this review I was struck by something I didn't notice while reading the series over the course of a month last summer and I really should have because I think it's why the series speaks so strongly to me. This series taps into the same storytelling elements of one of my favorite television series ever, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy had a way of making the fantastical monsters of the week be about the daily struggles of being a teen in high school. Here we have the magic of Keyhouse shining a light on the humanity and struggles of the Locke family. They are two sides of the same coin. This was really brought home to me in the epic final battle, which occurs after Prom, a more Buffy plot device I couldn't think of. Plus, Joe Hill's wiliness to indiscriminately kill characters we've come to know and love? What's more Buffy than that?

Though there is one aspect of the narrative I question and that's this somewhat blanket forgiveness of the baddies. Sam Lesser not only murdered Rendell Locke but indiscriminately murdered his own parents and anyone that helped him in his journey across the United States to finish off the Locke family and because he helps to warn of the ultimate evil that tricked him he's kind of given a free pass. Excuse me? One act of kindness doesn't make up for all the horrors wrought! What's more that "act of kindness" was more an act of revenge. He felt tricked and cheated and would do anything to bring down the person who destroyed him. So how can vengeance be kindness? It's self-serving and therefore not an act of benevolence and therefore Sam Lesser should burn in hell. Forever. And as for that ultimate evil? The fact that a very human person was corrupted by an elder god from H.P. Lovecraft's plain of Leng from the Cthulhu Mythos gives this other human a free pass? As said human, and can I say how hard this is to write without spoilers, lays dying they say that the evil was within them all along, the Lovecraftian creature just flipped a switch to make bad feel oh so good. But the evil was there all along! How does that warrant forgiveness? Yes, it's nice to think we, as humans, can be magnanimous in our ability to forgive, but someone responsible for killing forty-five teenagers in one night isn't worthy of any understanding OR forgiveness. It just sits wrong with me.

While I usually spend most reviews dissecting every aspect of the story the truth is with Locke and Key, more than any other series I've read, the art perfectly balances the narrative so that one without the other wouldn't be Locke and Key. Therefore I have to discuss Gabriel Rodriguez. He has a very detail oriented style, at first I was strongly reminded of this series my grade school library had. In it all the great classics were lovingly drawn out as comics in exacting detail to ensnare reluctant readers like myself. In fact, thanks to these comics I am far more knowledgeable with regards to the plays of Shakespeare and the great classics of literature than I should be. The thing is that while that art style captured my imagination as a child my personal aesthetics have changed over time, so while I admire those capable of that level of detail, the watercolors of Tyler Crook in Harrow County, or Sean Phillips's work from Fatale to Criminal, have mood-oriented styles I can't help but adore. Rodriguez therefore had to overcome my own artistic prejudices and it literally only took a few pages. What makes Rodriguez stand out is his ability to not only draw amazing and lifelike detail but he is able to capture familial resemblances. So much of this comic is the dynamic relationships of the Locke family, and by God, you can tell they are related. Not just siblings, but ancestors, and parents. This is a feat that I don't think enough people applaud. Rodriguez's abilities are what make these characters real people and makes me pity the casting directors at Netflix as they work on the upcoming adaptation.

After leaving a book or television show behind they linger in your imagination but there is rarely something tangible that you can hold onto in the real world. As shows like Game of Thrones and Doctor Who and the fandoms that surround them have become bigger and more and more popular this isn't really the case anymore. There are prop replicas and tie-ins aplenty. Yes, I do personally have an Orb of Thesulah and it does make a rather nice paperweight, but there's a part of me that longs for books to have this same rabid fandom that television shows do. There are certain authors that have inspired merchandise, such as Terry Pratchett, where you can get everything from currency to postage for Discworld, and believe me, I have both. So I was more than a little excited to discover that the world that Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez have created with Locke and Key has developed such a rabid following that we have our own name, and yes, I consider myself one based on the number of Facebook groups I belong to to be a Keyhead. But what's more, thanks to the Skelton Crew Studio the keys are real. THE KEYS ARE REAL PEOPLE! So while I haven't found out how to properly work my Anywhere Key, just being able to hold it in my hand makes me so happy and makes this series that much more real.

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?

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