Friday, March 29, 2019

Book Review - Joe Hill's N0S4A2

N0S4A2 by Joe Hill
Published by: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: October 15th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 720 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

When Victoria McQueen was eight she crossed a bridge between Lost and Found. Her family had just returned home to Haverhill, Massachusetts from their summer vacation and her parents were fighting. Again. Her mother couldn't fight her bracelet with the butterfly on it and worried she had left it back at the Lake. Vic, unable to take the fighting, jumps on her bike, a Raleigh Tuff Burner, and takes to the trails behind her house. In a fit of pique she decides to go to the Shorter Way Bridge. She's been forbidden to go near the derelict and condemned structure but today she sees the light on the other side and just rides past the chain blocking the entrance. She expected to come out on the other side of the river, instead she comes out in an alley behind Terry's Primo Subs in New Hampshire. This is the restaurant where they always stop on the way home from the Lake. And there, behind the counter, they have her mother's bracelet. By this point Vic is feeling sick. She barely makes it home across the bridge and takes to her bed. When she awakes she has no memory of this journey. She will repeat this trip many times over the years finding that which was lost on the other side of the Shorter Way Bridge only to forget. On one of her journeys she meets Maggie. Maggie has been waiting for Vic because she also has powers. They are both able to poke a hole in reality, but not without a price.

Though there's a bigger danger out there on the inscapes than the price they pay for admission. There's the Wraith. Maggie begs now thirteen year old Victoria to promise to never go looking for the old man and the car. Charles Talent Manx "saves" kids by spiriting them off to "Christmasland" in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the vanity plates reading NOS4A2, a private joke. At the age of seventeen Vic can now barely ride her Tuff Burner and is spoiling for a fight and has spent years hearing about kids going missing, kids she is sure Manx has taken. She goes looking for trouble and ends up just where Maggie never wanted her to go, the Sleigh House. Manx's home in this realm is in the mountains of Colorado surrounded by pine trees with Christmas ornaments hanging from every branch. She barely escapes with her life, being saved by a young boy on a motorcycle. Lou is her hero and Manx goes off to prison to rot. Lou and Vic make a life together. They have a son, Wayne, and Vic becomes a rather successful children's book author with her Search Engine series. But the children of Christmasland won't let her get away with what she did to Manx. They reach out to her and listen as her sanity falters. As she's trying to repair the years of damage she has wrought on those she loves Manx escapes and takes Wayne for a ride in the Wraith. Vic's life is in free fall and she knows that the time has come to end Manx and Christmasland once and for all.

I picked up this book over the holidays because I think horror kind of lends itself to that time of year and with a place called Christmasland how could it not put me in the right frame of mind for Christmas and New Year's? Here's the thing though, this book is more a "Christmas in July" book taking pains to contrast the snowy environs of Christmasland with the sweltering heat of a summer day. Therefore it felt off reading it around Christmas. This should be read when the air conditioning is on high and the glare of the sun is so bright you can't bear to look at the heat haze over the pavement. When you decide to watch Fargo because watching that movie during the winter just depresses you but in the summer it's the perfect meteorological pick-me-up. The extra irony in this is that if there's one author I view as the go-to author for behemoth beach reads it's Joe Hill's father, Stephen King. Of all the Stephen King books I've devoured over the summer months, from The Shining to Under the Dome, I can think of only one of his books I've read during the winter months, and that's Misery. Therefore it seems right to me that N0S4A2 should be a summer read. Of course a little belatedly. Plus, it ties into the whole horrific concept of "Christmas in July." Christmas should only be seen as soon as Thanksgiving is done and dusted. Also, who really would want every night to be Christmas Eve and every day to be Christmas Day? Only a really warped mind... the mind of Manx.

Like how his father writes, Joe Hill has written a behemoth book here, coming in at over seven hundred pages! And at least in the case of this story that is several hundred pages too long. This book is just drawn out when making it shorter would have given it a bit more punch. Again, looking to his father, the new adaptation of It was only a little over two hours and yet it handily covered all the salient points of a book that's over a thousand pages long. And there we have a far bigger cast. In fact all of Stephen King's really big books deal with large casts of characters, so it makes sense that their stories would need to be longer. But here? Here we have two main characters and three important secondary characters, and a handful of tertiary characters. That is not enough characters to warrant this length! In fact I'm kind of scratching my head as to how exactly AMC is going to stretch this book out for ten episodes when it airs later this year... wait, never mind, scratch that. They made almost nothing happen for hours and hours on The Terror, they'll find some way to make it last ten hours, even if one hour is just a young Vic riding around on her bike... But this does show to me the need for editors to be like, "Hey Joe, you know sometimes less is better?" I'd rather have a tight story that delivers than a rambling story that has a few key things I kind of liked. This is again when I need to remind myself to read Joe's shorter fiction, because I have a feeling he'd rock the short story. His books usually have just enough plot to be a short story once edited down.

One thing I was rather worried about when reading the description of N0S4A2 was that this is a book about a man who abducts children. My concern wasn't the abduction but the possible molestation angle. If there's one thing I can't read about it's that. I can't handle it. So therefore I'm here to tell you with a slight spoiler that if you were worried about kiddie fiddling, there is none of that here. Manx and his associates never molest the children. Manx in fact views that by spiriting the children off to Christmasland that he's saving the children from horrid parents and giving them a dream life. A life he gave to his own children in fact. But that doesn't mean this book isn't brutal because there's Bing. Bing, aptly named after the singer, is a lover of Christmas and a vicious human being who longs to be rewarded by getting to go to Christmasland and live there forever. Bing is the Renfield to Manx's Dracula and Bing is down for the creepy shit. His home, which he calls the House of Sleep, is where he killed his parents and where he takes all the parents of those kids Manx spirits away. Because you can't have the parents lurking about asking questions and causing problems! No, you need them killed, raped, dismembered, anything gross or disgusting or horrific that happens in this book happens at the hands of Bing. One wonders if his namesake would approve... So while I was very happy the book wasn't brutal in one direction, it's still a brutal book, just more of the kind we're used to. That's not to mean it's palatable in the least, just not as horrific.

Yet Bing isn't the most problematic character, that would fall to our protagonist Vic. She's an odd character because she's almost living her life on autopilot. Whatever happens happens and she doesn't really do anything proactive. Something happens and she reacts, but she almost seems absent from her own story. I think it's because besides having severe psychological issues she has major self-esteem issues as well and she's always denigrating herself. So much so that despite being constantly shown as a serious bad ass she looks to the men in her life as saviors. Her husband Lou and even her father are given these big, grand, heroic moments to make their sacrifices and Vic is counting on and needing them. She constantly calls Lou the real hero! I just don't get it. Or maybe I do... this book is written by a man and men like to rescue the damsel in distress so by making the damsel really damaged the men can come in and rescue her. And doesn't that just piss me off. This story should be about Vic and her triumphant defeat of Charlie Manx, but even there she is almost subsumed within him. He is all powerful and she, she's just a brat. Even that nickname given to Vic at the beginning of the book should have been a hint. It's a way to classify and limit women in what role they can play in their own story. Victoria McQueen, a casualty because of men.

One part of the book I really connected with though was Vic going across the bridge for the first time to find her mother's bracelet. This just resonated with me because of an incident in my own life. When I was in sixth grade, so three years older than Vic when she discovered her powers, we were to bring in an old school picture of our parents to put up on display. We had no pictures of my dad from when he was in school, but my mom had many. She went to school in a one room schoolhouse and when she graduated was the only one in her grade and was the last kid in the state of Wisconsin to graduate from a one room school. She had a picture of all the kids in the room and on the back they had all signed it. Why she would ever have entrusted this artifact to me or my teacher is beyond reckoning, yet she did. I think you can guess where this is going... The picture was lost. It was just gone. I remember my mom unleashing fury like I've never known and my teachers scouring every inch of my classroom, just tearing it apart to find it. That gut punch of the picture being gone was just like the scene where Vic's mom realizes her bracelet is gone and I know exactly the feeling that pushed Vic out into those woods to find that bracelet no matter how she could. To bend time and distance to just stop the arguing. Oh, if only I had had a bike that could cut reality like a knife, of all the miseries I suffered when I was younger, this would be an easy fix. Just go to the picture and bring it home. I probably wouldn't get credit for it though...

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Book Review - 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, March 25, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

Murder by the Book by Clare Harman
Published by: Knopf
Publication Date: March 26th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the acclaimed biographer - the fascinating, little-known story of a Victorian-era murder that rocked literary London, leading Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, and Queen Victoria herself to wonder: Can a novel kill?

In May 1840, Lord William Russell, well known in London's highest social circles, was found with his throat cut. The brutal murder had the whole city talking. The police suspected Russell's valet, Courvoisier, but the evidence was weak. The missing clue, it turned out, lay in the unlikeliest place: what Courvoisier had been reading. In the years just before the murder, new printing methods had made books cheap and abundant, the novel form was on the rise, and suddenly everyone was reading. The best-selling titles were the most sensational true-crime stories. Even Dickens and Thackeray, both at the beginning of their careers, fell under the spell of these tales - Dickens publicly admiring them, Thackeray rejecting them. One such phenomenon was William Harrison Ainsworth's Jack Sheppard, the story of an unrepentant criminal who escaped the gallows time and again. When Lord William's murderer finally confessed his guilt, he would cite this novel in his defense. Murder By the Book combines this thrilling true-crime story with an illuminating account of the rise of the novel form and the battle for its early soul among the most famous writers of the time. It is superbly researched, vividly written, and captivating from first to last."

If you've finished watching the recent season of Victoria and love the time period but thought the show could use some murder, this book is for you! 

Murder in Midtown by Liz Freeland

Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: March 26th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In 1913, while the women’s suffrage movement gains momentum in the nation’s capital, the thought of a woman joining the New York City police force is downright radical, even if recent transplant Louise Faulk has already solved a murder...

Louise has finally gathered the courage to take the police civil service exam, but when she returns to her secretary job at the midtown publishing house of Van Hooten and McChesney, she’s shocked to find the offices smoldering from a deadly, early morning fire. Huddled on the sidewalk, her coworkers inform her that Guy Van Hooten’s body has been found in the charred ruins. Rumors of foul play are already circulating, and the firm’s surviving partner asks Louise to investigate the matter.

Despite a number of possible suspects, the last person Louise expects to be arrested is Ogden McChesney, an old friend and mentor to her aunt Irene. Louise will have to search high and low, from the tenements in the Lower East Side to the very clouds above the tallest skyscrapers, to get to the bottom of an increasingly complex case..."

A little female gumption and know-how in New York!

The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: March 26th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Beloved heroine Maisie Dobbs, “one of the great fictional heroines” (Parade), investigates the mysterious murder of an American war correspondent in London during the Blitz in a page-turning tale of love and war, terror and survival.

When Catherine Saxon, an American correspondent reporting on the war in Europe, is found murdered in her London digs, news of her death is concealed by British authorities. Serving as a linchpin between Scotland Yard and the Secret Service, Robert MacFarlane pays a visit to Maisie Dobbs, seeking her help. He is accompanied by an agent from the US Department of Justice - Mark Scott, the American who helped Maisie escape Hitler’s Munich in 1938. MacFarlane asks Maisie to work with Scott to uncover the truth about Saxon’s death.

As the Germans unleash the full terror of their blitzkrieg upon the British Isles, raining death and destruction from the skies, Maisie must balance the demands of solving this dangerous case with her need to protect Anna, the young evacuee she has grown to love and wants to adopt. Entangled in an investigation linked to the power of wartime propaganda and American political intrigue being played out in Britain, Maisie will face losing her dearest friend - and the possibility that she might be falling in love again."

Since the beginning I've always wondered if Maise Dobbs would make it to WWII, and this book answers my question.

What Would Maisie Do? by Jacqueline Winspear
Published by: Harper Perennial
Publication Date: March 26th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 176 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A one-of-a-kind illustrated companion to the best-selling Maisie Dobbs series, which invites readers into the beloved heroine’s world - and shares her wisdom and inspiration.

Through fourteen books, the Maisie Dobbs series has had a resounding impact on fans. Readers have shared with author Jacqueline Winspear how Maisie’s stories have resonated with them or helped them through difficult times. Fans have been inspired by the heroine’s resilience and endurance, repurposing her strength in their own lives in a way perhaps best embodied by the phrase “What Would Maisie Do?”

Anchored by thirty of Maisie's most timeless quotes, coupled with Jacqueline Winspear’s inspiration for each nugget of wisdom, these reflections offer readers additional insight into the world of Maisie Dobbs and invite them to reflect on favorite moments and memories. Here are just a few:

On the value of respect: “Liking a person we are required to have dealings with is not of paramount importance. But respect is crucial, on both sides, as is tolerance and a depth of understanding of those influences that sculpt a character.”

On grieving: “Grief is a pilgrimage along a path that allows us to reflect upon the past from points of remembrance held in the soul. At times the way is filled with stones underfoot and we feel pained by our memories, yet on other days the shadows reflect our longing and those happinesses shared.”

On the importance of departure: “Leaving that which you love breaks your heart open. But you will find a jewel inside, and this precious jewel is the opening of your heart to all that is new and all that is different, and it will be the making of you - if you allow it to be.”

The perfect supplement to the Maisie Dobbs series, What Would Maisie Do? also features the iconic jacket art that has graced the series, as well as period photographs and prompts for readers' own observations and inspiration - making this a unique journal that fans will turn to and treasure for years to come."

If you were thinking, one Maisie Dobbs book isn't enough this week? Well I have good news for you!

Killing November by Adriana Mather
Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 26th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Hang a Witch comes a thriller set at a secretive boarding school where students are trained to carry on family legacies that have built - and toppled - empires.

November is trapped.

At the mysterious Academy Absconditi, a school that's completely off the grid, there's no electricity, no internet, and a brutal eye-for-an-eye punishment system. Classes include everything from knife-throwing and poisons to the art of deception. And the other students? All children of the world's most elite strategists, in training to become assassins, spies, and master manipulators. November Adley doesn't know why she's been sent to this place, or the secrets that make up its legacy, but she'll quickly discover that allies are few in a school where competition is everything. When another student is murdered, all eyes turn to November, who must figure out exactly how she fits in before she is found guilty of the crime...or becomes the killer's next victim.

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author Adriana Mather comes a captivating thriller that will leave you breathless."

It's like a prose version of Deadly Class!

Murder Lo Mein by Vivien Chien
Published by: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Publication Date: March 26th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The third in a tasty series, Murder Lo Mein by Vivien Chien is a delight!

Everyone agrees that the food at Ho-Lee Noodle House is delicious - unless it happens to be deadly.

Lana Lee’s stake in her family’s Chinese restaurant is higher than ever now that she’s been made manager. So when she enters Ho-Lee into Cleveland’s Best Noodle Contest, Lana makes it her business to win - at all costs. But when a local food critic receives a threatening note in a fortune cookie and is later found dead, face-down in a bowl of lo mein, all bets are off...

Now, along with her sweet-and-sour boyfriend Detective Adam Trudeau, Lana decides to take matters into her own hands and dig into the lives of everyone involved in the contest. But when she receives an ill-fated fortune, Lana realizes that in order to save the reputation of her restaurant, she needs to save herself first..."

My friend Johnnie never steers me wrong on books and this series is HIGHLY recommended by him!

Timat's Wrathby James S.A. Corey
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: March 26th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 544 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The eighth book in the NYT bestselling Expanse series, Tiamat's Wrath finds the crew of the Rocinante fighting an underground war against a nearly invulnerable authoritarian empire, with James Holden a prisoner of the enemy. Now a Prime Original series.

Thirteen hundred gates have opened to solar systems around the galaxy. But as humanity builds its interstellar empire in the alien ruins, the mysteries and threats grow deeper.

In the dead systems where gates lead to stranger things than alien planets, Elvi Okoye begins a desperate search to discover the nature of a genocide that happened before the first human beings existed, and to find weapons to fight a war against forces at the edge of the imaginable. But the price of that knowledge may be higher than she can pay.

At the heart of the empire, Teresa Duarte prepares to take on the burden of her father's godlike ambition. The sociopathic scientist Paolo Cortázar and the Mephistophelian prisoner James Holden are only two of the dangers in a palace thick with intrigue, but Teresa has a mind of her own and secrets even her father the emperor doesn't guess.

And throughout the wide human empire, the scattered crew of the Rocinante fights a brave rear-guard action against Duarte's authoritarian regime. Memory of the old order falls away, and a future under Laconia's eternal rule - and with it, a battle that humanity can only lose - eems more and more certain. Because against the terrors that lie between worlds, courage and ambition will not be enough..."

If you're thinking, wait, this is March I was expecting this book in December, well, you're not the only one... 

Firefly - Magnificent Nice  by James Lovegrove
Published by: Titan Books
Publication Date: March 26th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The second original novel tying into the critically acclaimed and much-missed Firefly series from creator Joss Whedon.

An old flame of Jayne Cobb's, Temperance McCloud, sends a message to Serenity, begging him for help. She lives on the arid, far-flung world of Tethys, and bandits are trying to overrun her town to gain control of their water supply: the only thing standing between its people and dustbowl ruin. Jayne tries to persuade the Serenity crew to join the fight, but it is only when he offers Vera, his favourite gun, as collateral that Mal realises he's serious.

When the Serenity crew land at a hardscrabble desert outpost called Coogan's Bluff, they discover two things: an outlaw gang with an almost fanatical devotion to their leader who will stop at nothing to get what they want, and that Temperance is singlehandedly raising a teenage daughter, born less than a year after Temperance and Jayne broke up. A daughter by the name of Jane McCloud..."

Yes, I'm glad that they're creating more in the 'verse, but could they hire a cover artist instead of using bad Photoshop filters on old promotional stills?

Friday, March 22, 2019

Book Review - Edgar Cantero's Meddling Kids

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
Published by: Doubleday
Publication Date: July 11th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

What if your life hinged on a single night? In 1977 the Blyton Summer Detective Club, a group of kids known locally to the inhabitants of Blyton Hills for foiling those up to no good, solved their final case. After that night the four kids drifted apart but were forever haunted by what happened during their final foray into crime solving. Usually the villain turned out to be someone in a rubber mask, but they weren't too sure about what happened with the fortune hunter they thwarted looking for the famous treasure in the Deboën Mansion. Something otherworldly was going on that night and it has stalked them ever since. The four precocious kids full of potential are long gone. More than a decade later those still alive are living lives of quiet desperation, slinging drinks, fleeing arrest warrants, and trying to forget in mental institutions. But Andy, she of the arrest warrants, is sick of always being on the run. She shows up on Kerri's doorstep and says it's up to them to find out what really happened that night at the Deboën Mansion. None of them can actually have a life without closure. Of course this means breaking Nate out of an asylum in Arhkam, Massachusetts, and hoping he can keep it together.

As they travel cross-county to the sleepy mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon where they spent every summer solving crimes the ghosts of their pasts haunt them. Nate more than most because the ghost of Peter, their erstwhile leader turned famous movie star who killed himself, is literally his constant companion. Why couldn't his companion be like Kerri's? An excitable Weimaraner would be way better than a ghost! Arriving back in Blyton Hills and holing up in Kerri's old bedroom, despite all the intervening years they feel like they used to; full of righteousness and possibilities. If only this were just a trip down memory lane and not a trip to uncover the darkness that lurks in the Deboën Mansion. Yet they are determined to solve their final case properly. To trek out to the Deboën Mansion on it's deserted island and lay the evil to bed. Only jumping back into their old investigative life isn't as easy as they thought. Knowing that something evil is lurking out there is far more terrifying to adults then to kids who think they are invincible. But they've come this far! What is a journey through abandoned mine shafts and looking into the true face of evil to being forever trapped in one night in 1977?

To me the biggest mystery of 2017 was that this book was wholeheartedly embraced by booksellers and readers everywhere. I don't think the origins of it's popularity could even be solved by the Blyton Summer Detective Club. Because the nostalgia factor just can't cut it when a book is this badly written and is so insensitive to LQBTQIA issues. This book brings nothing new or interesting to the table. The writing and action is repetitive. The characters flat. As for the Big Bad? Lovecraft did it better. So that leaves nostalgia as the only logical reason people picked up this book. Nostalgia is currently playing a huge role in popular culture and media. Just look to the behemoth successes of Stranger Things and the 2017 adaptation of It, which was so popular it (haha) is getting a sequel. But the reason I have chosen these two examples is they got it so right. They bring out all the feels of a kid growing up in the late seventies and early eighties and make it somehow fresh at the same time. Whereas the nonsensical Meddling Kids seems to just be wanting to tap into that cash cow without realizing you either get it right or go home. Edgar Cantero should have gone home.

The nostalgia Meddling Kids is attempting to cash in on is the continued love of all things Scooby-Doo. OK, here's the thing with me, I've spent my entire life worshiping Scooby-Doo. Perhaps in fact this is where my love of mysteries and all things Gothic started because rumor has it that shortly after I started saying "mommy" and "kitty" I started saying "Scooby-Doo." I even had a stuffed animal of Scooby-Doo that was literally bigger than me at the time my parents bought it. I fully believe that The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show/The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries was the best incarnation of Scooby, because Fred and Velma were nixed, and if only Scrappy had met the fate Eddie Izzard suggested in his Dressed to Kill special it would have been perfection. Therefore I can, without a doubt in my mind, say that this isn't an homage to Scooby-Doo, this is just really badly written slash, aka a fanfiction subcategory pairing two male or two female characters together. This book is just Edgar writing prurient scenes of the Daphne and Velma characters for no reason other that to fulfill his own fantasies. Now I don't have a problem with fanfiction or with slash, what I have a problem with is when it's badly done and is sold as a book and is not available in some forum online, I'm looking at you Cassandra Clare. This does a disservice to nostalgia and makes it pornographic.

And for some reason this slash angle has resulted in making Kerri's hair another character. Andy has been in love with Kerri for forever and Kerri by the end of the book is willing to accept the love but not really reciprocate it, but that's an entirely different issue I have with the book. What this results in is that Andy watches the moods of Kerri's hair because it somehow embodies the essence of who Kerri really is. Andy's heightened awareness of Kerri's hair is like some weird spider-sense. I just call it Kerri's stupid ass "living" hair. If it was used once or twice, I wouldn't have had a problem with it, but again and again with the hair! The over the top descriptions of Kerri's hair get to the point where it's like a masturbatory fix for Andy. She can't just watch her hair but has to fetishize Kerri's hair. When I think of all the time wasted in this book that was in desperate need of some forward momentum spent on a character's hair it just enrages me. And what's more, I don't know what to do with this information. Why is it important? Did Edgar have a real thing about Daphne's hair on Scooby-Doo? Or does he just have a hair thing? I seriously am baffled by this choice and the fact no editor went, "What's with the hair Edgar?" But then again I had so many issues with this book if I had been it's editor I would have just thrown in on the trash heap.

Because the problematic crux of this book is that it is transphobic. At first I wasn't sure. Perhaps I was reading into something that wasn't there. Perhaps all the nasty asides about Andy wanting to be a boy was more a sign of the times, the book being set in 1990, and that Edgar figured that Andy being labelled as gay wasn't a mean enough taunt for the bullies to hurl at her. But the more this happened the more I was unnerved by the book. I started to read other reviews and saw that I wasn't the only one thinking this way. In fact, I missed something big right in front of my face. Edgar's first book, The Supernatural Enhancements, had some issues with pedophilia, and from everything I've heard about his newest book, This Body's Not Big Enough for the Both of Us deals with twincest, so I'm guessing it's a trend that his books handle big issues in a tactless manner... But that means it's even more important for the reader to call him out on this! He is a modern writer who has decided to set a book in a less enlightened time and he has a duty to be better. To call out the creeps and say that calling Andy a boy isn't right. But instead he builds it all to a reveal that shows his insensitivity and that for me makes it so that anyone who loves this book in my mind has a bigoted small-mindedness that I don't want to be around. On the surface it might look fine, but look deeper, find the monster in the lake... it's a whole lotta hate.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Book Review - Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
Published by: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: 1902
Format: Hardcover, 192 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

221B Baker Street has had a visitor. Only Holmes and Watson were out. Though the person left behind a walking stick and the two men seek to analyze it in the hopes of a clue. They don't have long to wait to figure out whose deductions were right (Holmes) and whose were wrong (Watson). The potential client is one Dr. James Mortimer who brings a bizarre story about a family curse. The Baskervilles of Devonshire are supposedly cursed by a hound that wanders Dartmoor due to the nefarious deeds of Sir Hugo Baskerville hundreds of years earlier, thinning their ranks whenever possible. Dr. Mortimer would agree with Holmes and Watson that this is all a fairy tale of the darkest kind if it wasn't for the recent death of his dear friend, Sir Charles Baskerville; whose body was found near massive animal footprints that could only have been left by a hound. Though Dr. Mortimer kept this canid observation a secret at the inquest, fearing what people would say. And this canid observation is what finally brings him to Holmes's door. 

The reality versus the mythical is what interests Holmes, but if Sir Charles, the potential client's friend is dead, why does Dr. Mortimer care? Because his heir, Sir Henry Baskerville has arrived from Canada and is about to take up residence on the moor and Dr. Mortimer doesn't know if the story will scare him or prove as a warning. In fact, he is due to arrive in London at any minute and will surely want to continue on to Devonshire soon! Holmes is intrigued and it is quickly apparent that Sir Henry is in danger, from a real, not a mythical foe. He is followed, one of his new boots is stolen, and he receives a letter that is either a threat or a warning made up of cut up letters from a newspaper. Holmes decides that Watson will accompany the two men to Devonshire while he finishes up some pressing cases in London. Watson had scoffed at the story of the hound, but down in Devonshire, there's something primal about the moors that make myths seem real and not something to be scoffed at. Can the two men save Sir Henry or is he going to be yet another victim of the bloody Baskerville legacy?

There are only four stand alone Sherlock Holmes books, and I can guarantee that the only one that everyone knows is The Hound of the Baskervilles. They might not know what it's about, but it has proliferated across people's bookshelves all over the world. I actually don't know how many copies I have around my house, it being part of set of Sherlock Holmes from the Book-of-the-Month Club I have as well as a classics set, not to mention a random illustrated copy I found and I am reviewing here. But it's the classic one I remember so well. It was cloth bound and had a glowing hound on the cover, even though the edition of Frankenstein in that set was far more memorable with the turquoise binding and the monster having long flowing hair. I remember this edition so well because I was supposed to read it in seventh grade. Note the "supposed to" in that sentence. My grade school had crazy amounts of homework. I kid you not. On average I had eight hours of work a night. This paid off when I went to high school because I was so good at multitasking that I could finish all my work during class time during the two days a week I actually bothered to show up.

In fact I didn't really have any outside homework until my junior year in high school, and that's only because I finally got a teacher who inspired me to work. But back in seventh grade, besides those eight hours of work a night we were expected to read two other novels a month in our fictitious spare time and write lengthy book reports on them. Seeing as I actually needed to sleep occasionally I sometimes wouldn't have the time to finish these extra books. So while I was supposed to read The Hound of the Baskervilles in fact my mom read it and wrote the book report. In fact at one time or another every one of my family read and wrote a book report for me in an effort to keep my pre-teen sanity, thank god for a grandmother who loved to read! But of all those books I was supposed to read The Hound of the Baskervilles was the one I actually wanted to. So now I finally have and I hope this review will stand in lieu of the book report all these years later. Though I kind of wish I could read what my mom thought I would have written...

What surprised me the most about The Hound of the Baskervilles is that it was written prior to The Return of Sherlock Holmes. I had always understood it as Conan Doyle killed Holmes off in 1893, hue, cry, uproar, people cancelling their magazine subscriptions left and right, publisher weeping to Conan Doyle to not destroy him and Holmes, but Conan Doyle staying firm till ten years later he caved into demand and started writing the short stories again in 1903 with "The Adventure of the Empty House." But this is not the case! The Hound of the Baskervilles was serialized in The Strand Magazine from 1901 till 1902! So he caved twice! I've always found it odd how much Conan Doyle seemed to hate his own creation, much like Victor Frankenstein of the aforementioned turquoise bound book. He hated his creation so much he killed him only to have the death not stick. He is immortal because of Sherlock Holmes, and yet he tried everything not to write him. In fact, The Hound of the Baskervilles was never intended to be a Sherlock Holmes story! As he was writing it he realized that Holmes was necessary, in fact essential, and as an added bonus it would appease the public.

But there is one person, narratively speaking, who lucked out with Conan Doyle's hesitance to write Holmes, and that is Watson. By keeping Holmes at bay Watson was left to play. Yes, Watson still has a little too much of the "I wish Holmes was here" obsequiousness, but the fact remains that Holmes is hardly in this story. He's there at the beginning and at the denouement to tie up all the loose ends, but in-between it's all Watson all the time. It's Watson's observances and recollections that help Holmes solve the crime. It's Watson taking the risks and striking out onto the moors alone. Sure Holmes gave him the basic outline of what he should do, but it's Watson risking his neck everyday for Henry Baskerville. While the previous volume of adventures showed the development of Watson as more than just Sherlock's number one fanboy and biographer, it's The Hound of the Baskervilles that sets Watson up as Holmes's equal. As I have said before, I've never been down on Watson like many are. In fact I've always rather liked him. But the truth is it's not until this point, which is ironically the half-way point in the Sherlock canon, that Watson finally gets his props. Go Watson! You did good no matter what Sherlock says!

Though what I loved about this book had nothing to do with Watson or Holmes and everything to do with the mood. The awesome Gothic mood. Myth and legend were the starting off point for this book, so it makes sense that this eerie atmosphere pervades the book, with the misty moors and the baleful howls on the wind. Because it's set on Dartmoor not far from Daphne Du Maurier's Bodmin I couldn't help but compare this story of Conan Doyle's to Du Maurier's work. In fact, I would place money on Du Maurier being inspired by The Hound of the Baskervilles to a great degree in writing her seminal work, Jamaica Inn. Both books have outsiders haunted by the bleakness of the moors and the dangers of hidden mires, and the dark majesty of the tors. In fact it was kind of like stumbling on a lost classic by Du Maurier. The truth is that I can see how it could have worked without Holmes, he's just the deus ex machina as many have complained. The real star of this book is the land. Even if you're not a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I urge you to pick this up just for it's Gothic awesomeness.

Yet I must warn you. Though I will totally stand behind this book I will add the caveat that Conan Doyle is a clunky writer. Sometimes with older books you have trouble adjusting to the writing style. It takes awhile to get into the flow when reading Jane Austen, or more specifically Shakespeare. Shakespeare is one of those writers who you're lost for about the first third, and then everything clicks and when you reach the end you really want to go back to the beginning because now you're in the zone. There is no zone with Conan Doyle. There is no time at which his writing flows and you're like, yeah, bring it on. It's a struggle. Constantly. And all uphill. Back when I did Sherlocked, reading five of his books in a row I never found any nice common ground where my mind could rest and just enjoy the reading experience. You will have to fight the text to enjoy these books, which is probably why I have found them more enjoyable as a re-read. I've fought the text once and won so I know I can do it again. So you can be victorious and come out enjoying the book, but you will also be a little exhausted by the whole experience and occasionally find your mind wandering. Which might be how Watson viewed this whole case...

Monday, March 18, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Witch's Kind by Louisa Morgan
Published by: Redhook
Publication Date: March 19th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An absorbing tale of love, sacrifice, family ties, and magic, set in the Pacific Northwest in the aftermath of World War II, by the author of A Secret History of Witches.

Barrie Anne Blythe and her aunt Charlotte have always known that the other residents of their small coastal community find them peculiar - two women living alone on the outskirts of town. It is the price of concealing their strange and dangerous family secret.

But two events threaten to upend their lives forever. The first is the arrival of a mysterious abandoned baby with a hint of power like their own. The second is the sudden reappearance of Barrie Anne's long-lost husband - who is not quite the man she thought she married.

Together, Barrie Anne and Charlotte must decide how far they are willing to go to protect themselves - and the child they think of as their own - from suspicious neighbors, the government, and even their own family...

For more from Louisa Morgan, check out A Secret History of Witches."

A combination of three of my favorite things; the Pacific Northwest, historical fiction, and witches!

A Woman First: First Woman by Selina Meyer
Published by: Abrams Press
Publication Date: March 19th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 192 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The long-awaited memoir of her tumultuous year in office, A Woman First: First Woman is an intimate first-person account of the public and private lives of Selina Meyer, America’s first woman president. Known and beloved throughout the world as a vocal and fearless advocate for adult literacy, fighting AIDS, our military families, and as a stalwart champion of the oppressed, especially the long-suffering people of Tibet, President Meyer is considered one of the world’s most notable people. In her own words, she reveals the innermost workings of the world’s most powerful office, sharing previous secret details along with her own personal feelings about the historic events of her time.

In A Woman First: First Woman, President Selina Meyer tells the story of her times the way that only she could, Readers will gain new insights not only into Meyer herself but also the mechanics of governing and the many colorful personalities in Meyer’s orbit, including world leaders and her devoted cadre of allies and aides, many of them already familiar to the American people."

If this is even a fraction as good as Veep it will be amazing.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Book Review - Tasha Alexander's Dangerous to Know

Dangerous to Know by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: October 26th, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 306 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Emily is still reeling from her miscarriage in Constantinople. A happy honeymoon filled with intrigue and connubial bliss destroyed by one bullet. She must take solace in the fact that she saved a young girl's life and caught a killer and not dwell on the fact that she and Colin might never be able to have children now. Ensconced in Normandy, Emily's recuperation would be far more successful if it wasn't under the gimlet eye of her mother-in-law. The feeling of being a constant disappointment to Colin and his mother pushes Emily continually outside the four walls of the house that feel like they're closing in on her. But soon even the countryside won't offer her respite. On one of her rides she comes upon a young girl brutally murdered. So brutal that when she is finally able to lead the police back to the crime scene there are murmurs that Jack the Ripper might be calling Normandy his new home. Emily gets a little bit of celebrity with the locals for finding the body, but Colin worries if perhaps it's best if Emily's attention was drawn elsewhere. She doesn't need to investigate the most dangerous of crimes and be continually putting herself in danger.

Colin is therefore a little relieved when his mother's neighbors, George and Madeline Markham, have a diversion for Emily to occupy herself with. They are great art collectors and a new Monet painting has just appeared in their fortress like home. Emily's dear friend Cecile, arriving from Paris, recognizes the piece as one just finished and stolen from Giverny. Emily correctly comes to the conclusion that her favorite thief, Sebastian Capet, has returned to spice up her life with Greek quotations left on her pillow each night. But even Sebastian, with his laissez-faire attitude, can not deny that danger lurks near at hand for Emily. The murdered girl looked eerily like Emily and once it's discovered she wasn't the Rippers typical victim, being from a well-to-do family who had placed her in an asylum, Colin is all for Emily heading straight back to England and waiting for him there. Yet Emily can not do that. Yes, she wants to obey Colin, but never before has that meant leaving his side. But could retreating be in her best interest? She just doesn't know! She can no longer trust her mental faculties after she sees the ghostly apparition of a young child. Is this her grief over her own loss or is she on the path to the asylum like the Ripper's victim?

At the end of each adventure with Lady Emily I think to myself, the next volume couldn't possibly be better, and yet each and every time Tasha proves me wrong. This volume instantly became my favorite, but who knows what will happen when I read the next book? But I don't know how it could surpass the Gothic goodness of Dangerous to Know! This book almost felt like I was reading one of Emily's favorite authors! But could Mary Elizabeth Braddon come up with such a tale that Jack the Ripper, the Norman Heathcliff, and the ghostly apparition of a child people the pages!?! If she did I'm sure she wouldn't be able to capture the meta humor that Emily arches her eyebrows at with her love/hate relationship with Normandy's version of Wuthering Heights. But what called to me most was the Jack the Ripper angle. Long before the term Murderino came into existence I was one. I would watch all the Unsolved Mysteries I could, especially if they were historical. Therefore it shouldn't be surprising that I'm a bit of a Ripperologist. I have watched or read every movie, book, comic, TV series I can on Jack the Ripper. Therefore this inclusion in Emily's investigation made by blood sing! Oh, to combine my favorite heroine with what I find the most intriguing unsolved murders of the 1800s? How did Tasha know that this would be my wish for a perfect book!?!

Though I think the inclusion of Jack the Ripper in a story wherein Emily is dealing with the loss of her child would be significant only to a Ripperologist. What could I mean you ask? Well, let me break it down. Let's look to the canonical five. The first victim, Mary Ann Nichols suffered abdominal incisions, which were seen again in the second victim Annie Chapman. But all this was leading up to what would be done to the fifth and final victim, Mary Jane Kelly. All her internal organs from her abdomen, in particular her reproductive organs, were removed, and her breasts were cut off. While there are theories, much like with the Black Dahlia, that these wounds could have been used to cover up a botched abortion, one thing is clear, Jack the Ripper was targeting women who made their money from sex and then killed them in such a way as to destroy what made them female, the ability to reproduce, only fully succeeding with Mary Jane Kelly. And as for the theories of Mary Jane Kelly's daughter... well, all this shows that by including Jack the Ripper in Dangerous to Know Tasha was adding another level of gut punch to Emily. Not only would she be traumatized by finding the poor girl in the field mutilated to such a degree, but to then have the reminder that her miscarriage basically scooped out her insides and made them as empty as Mary Jane Kelly's... chilling.

Tasha then compounds this loss with the ghostly child who leaves behind blue ribbons. So many ghost stories of the Victorian era or written about the Victorian era deal with children and mothers who have lost their children. Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, which Emily was sure to have read, Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, a more modern classic, and even a book that Tasha recommended to me, Angelica by Arthur Phillips, these are three books just off the top of my head that I thought of while reading Dangerous to Know. I am sure there are plethora more, even Henry James's The Turn of the Screw for example. But what Tasha does is she is smart enough to create her own mythology, first the story of the young girl who fell off a cliff, then the local gossip surrounding a young child that was killed at George and Madeline Markham's house that Madeline has conflated with her own pregnancy losses. Then there's the poor victim and what she endured... but where Tasha excels is that she draws a parallel between these stories and the loss endured by Victorian women. I believe it is Cecile who comments that she doesn't think she can think of a single one of their friends who hasn't suffered a similar loss to Emily's. Childbirth and childhood were dangerous undertakings during this time and the ghost stories are almost a way to normalize the fear these women constantly felt, even if it has the effect of unsettling them at the time.

For all that I loved there's one thing that made me go WTF!?! And that was Colin's behavior. Emily married Colin because he accepted who she was and wanted to be by his side, investigating and solving crimes, and now he's trying to wrap her up in cotton wool and let nothing bad ever happen to her again. YOU KNEW WHO SHE WAS WHEN YOU MARRIED HER YOU DUMBASS! She wouldn't have married him if she knew he was going to pull a 180 and decide to become the typical Victorian husband. She had that once and while at the time what Philip offered was what she thought she wanted, she has grown since then and become this awesome hoyden. Sure, she was badly injured and their unborn child was lost, but Dear God Colin, she doesn't need you pulling this shit when she's trying to piece her life back together. And yes, I know this is a plot device, one to destabilize Emily even more as well as show what marriages were really like during the Victorian era, but that doesn't mean it stopped my blood from boiling. Though it does actually all tie back into the killer, whose motives I did not see coming, and the idea of what we are willing to do for love. Would we break the will of our loved one if we think it's in their best interest? Would we imprison them for their safety? Would we kill for them?

Yet one thing is certain, I don't think Colin's mother would approve of his coddling of Emily. Madame Hargreaves is who I think Emily will evolve into. Yes, it's trite to say that boys marry women who remind them of their mothers, but going beyond that, Colin believes in the rights and equality of women, so it would make sense that he would find a woman he viewed as his equal to marry. At first I, like Emily, was wary of her mother-in-law, but I grew to really appreciate her, so much so that she better be returning in a later book! I love the little insights into the mind of Mrs. Hargreaves with her journal entries, a device Tasha has used from the first book in this series starting with Philip's journal and later being letters from Emily's various friends, that give us insight that Emily herself doesn't have that acts as a catalyst to the plot. What tickles me is that Mrs. Hargreaves is so hard on Emily, she just doesn't see what Colin does. But we, as readers, see that all her criticisms are because Emily has turned inward and is recovering and that the "real" Emily would perfectly match her mother-in-laws' expectations. By the end of the book they have come to an understanding, but I can't wait to meet them again now that they are on equal footing. The government of England better send out a warning, because these women want the right to vote! Long live strong women!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Book Review - Laura Purcell's The Silent Companions

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
Published by: Penguin Books
Publication Date: March 6th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 404 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Elsie is being exiled to her husband's decrepit country estate, The Bridge. She feels like they are burying her along with her husband. A pregnant mermaid drowning in black crepe. That is all she is now, the vessel for her dead husband's heir. Her marriage to Rupert Bainbridge was meant to raise her above her station. No more work at the match factory where she and her brother Jolyon slaved away until Rupert bailed them out of a tight spot. Now she'd have an idyllic life of luxury where she would walk through the streets of Fayford giving her beneficence to her new tenants. Instead on arrival she is greeted by her husband's corpse laid out in the great hall, a paltry indoor staff of three she can't bear facing, and the new knowledge that the villagers view the house as cursed and won't even deign to work there let alone accept anything from her. In fact the only person who has come to view her husband's body is the local preacher, Mr. Underwood. So here Elsie will waste away with only Rupert's cousin Sarah for companionship and the occasional visit from Mr. Underwood. But then there are the noises in the night. A hissing sound the cook writes off as the cat, or perhaps a nasty nest of squirrels. Only when Elise finally enters the locked room from whence the sounds came she finds no squirrels.

There are two eyes looking at her. She thinks it's a painting but it's "as if someone had cut the figure out of a painting and mounted it on a plank of wood." Elsie is intrigued by the figure that oddly looks like her, whereas Sarah is taken by the two slim volumes next to the figure, the diary of her ancestor, Anne Bainbridge, who was the doyenne of The Bridge when King Charles I and his wife visited in 1635. As uncanny happenings increase after the finding of the figure, with rooms changing and shifting, figures multiplying and poses changing and eyes following the two volume diary of Anne Bainbridge might hold the answers. Because it was in 1635 that The Bridge got it's nasty reputation of losing it's heirs, leading it to be left abandoned for years and years on end. Elsie laments that her life is starting to read like a bad penny dreadful. Only is this really happening? Perhaps the answers that Sarah finds about Anne and her husband Josiah, and their daughter Hetta, their miracle child who unnerves the servants and is otherworldly, and the Bainbridge Diamonds, will stop whatever is currently happening at The Bridge. Because it was Anne who brought these "silent companions" into the house. A trompe l'oeil treat bought in Torbury St. Jude that was just the thing to please his majesty. Or perhaps Elise is mad. Left silent in a sanatorium after her experiences at The Bridge.

I have a friend Matt. We've often joked that we should do a podcast because we literally do not agree on anything. Any book I love he hates and vice versa. Therefore it came as a shock to both of us to discover we agreed completely on The Silent Companions. I don't know what stars aligned or what parallel universe we entered, but we came to a consensus; we both thought it should have been more. The silent companions themselves were lacking. I think this has a lot to do with whomever wrote the cover blurb. Shame on you! When Elise opens "a locked door, beyond which is a painted wooden figure - a silent companion - that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself" I know every single person reading that thinks wooden weeping angels. There is not a single person who thought that the silent companions were basically set flats. I'm sorry, but set flats aren't scary. No matter how much they "change" or "multiple," cut-outs dragging their wooden selves across now deeply grooved floors doesn't inspire any kind of chills going up and down my spine. In fact I found them bordering on laughable. I don't know if this is because I am inured to cut-outs due to the popularity of having a cut-out of an actor from your favorite TV just chilling about your house or because I worked in theater... but the fact of the matter is, I was underwhelmed. By it all. I was sold by the blurb and the reality came nowhere near that frisson of fear I had the first time I read the synopsis.

Reading this book around the same time I was watching the new Netflix adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House I realized there was one area in which this book succeeds which I think is vital to the success of any true book purporting to be Gothic, and that is Laura Purcell nailed the sense of place. She nailed The Bridge and because of that there is a lot that can be forgiven plot wise. In fact, as I discussed this book with my fellow book club members I posited that I think I could actually draw the blueprints for this house. If there's one thing that I hate it is when I read a book and I can't get a good sense of the surroundings. I need to ground the characters in their setting. This book took it to a new level. Not only did I have the sense of the house, the house became a central character to the book, which I think was necessary for the narrative. That is why I compare it to The Haunting of Hill House. While the buildings have supernatural elements and events, you can still know where everything is and therefore when it changes, even subtly, you know something "other" is going on. Thinking on this further, and tying it into the set-piece like nature of the companions themselves, I wonder if there's a theatrical aspect that this book is embracing. Everything laid out just so so when it goes off the rails, you know where you were supposed to be but aren't any longer.

Enough about what I liked, an aspect of the book that really annoyed me was that Laura Purcell has an elliptical storytelling style. She drops potential plot points and red herrings all along the path and maybe one or two are actually resolved. I know there are people who say, but that makes the book more realistic, not having everything tied up in a neat little bow. To them I say, that's why I read books! Because unlike in real life everything can have a resolution and you won't be grumbling about what exactly happened in the heroine's past. Because really, there is a lot of heavy-handed doom and gloom about what went on in Elsie's life prior to her marriage. Abuse allegations about her parents, the struggling match factory, and her relationship with her brother... and yet not a single one of these is dealt with. We don't even really get any sense as to why Rupert married her. And I think the event that then catalyzes the entire narrative of the story should at least be discussed don't you? What annoyed me most though is that the book drops hint after hint that Elsie's much younger brother, Jolyon Livingstone, was perhaps her son. It would explain the strain in her relationship with her parents, whether Jolyon was the product of incest, again strongly hinted at that would be firmly rooted in the Gothic, or whether they were just forced to raise their grandson as their son, it would explain a lot. But nope. Nothing whatsoever is elucidated and for a minute I thought the book could be completely written off.

But Laura Purcell finally delivered! It's amazing how the final few pages of a book can retroactively fix many of the issues you previously had. And yes, I'm looking at you The Circle. Sure, there are all these threads left dangling, but the most important, the crucial thread was picked up and given a tug. I was wonderfully surprised that one of the many plot points Laura Purcell set up actually paid off with a little twist at the end. And no, I am not going to spoil it for you because you'd be able to pick up the one important thread at the beginning and not follow all the ones that are cut short. Yet I will say that what I liked most about this twist was that it took several of the unnatural occurrences at The Bridge and put it on one character's shoulders. Everything weird and uncanny tied back to one character. What's more, this had the added benefit of tying the two timelines together. Often in books with two timelines so far apart, two hundred years here, authors tend to have the past inform the present but not really carry anything over of importance from the past. Here that's different, and I think that is what raised this book up to being a satisfying read while also firmly classifying it as Gothic. So while this might not have been everything I wanted it to be, it surprised me in the end because the author broke her pre-established patterns and gave us one satisfying answer.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

The True Queen by Zen Cho
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the follow-up to the "delightful" Regency fantasy novel ( Sorcerer to the Crown, a young woman with no memories of her past finds herself embroiled in dangerous politics in England and the land of the fae.

When sisters Muna and Sakti wake up on the peaceful beach of the island of Janda Baik, they can’t remember anything, except that they are bound as only sisters can be. They have been cursed by an unknown enchanter, and slowly Sakti starts to fade away. The only hope of saving her is to go to distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal has established an academy to train women in magic.

If Muna is to save her sister, she must learn to navigate high society, and trick the English magicians into believing she is a magical prodigy. As she's drawn into their intrigues, she must uncover the secrets of her past, and journey into a world with more magic than she had ever dreamed."

I have literally been waiting for this book since the moment I finished Sorcerer to the Crown. I only with it was in hardcover...  

The Near Witch by V.E. Schwab
Published by: Titan Books
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Brand new edition of Victoria Schwab's long out-of-print, stunning debut.

All-new deluxe edition of an out-of-print gem, containing in-universe short story "The Ash-Born Boy" and a never-before-seen introduction from V.E. Schwab.

The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.

If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.

There are no strangers in the town of Near.

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.

But when an actual stranger, a boy who seems to fade like smoke, appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.

The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion.

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi's need to know about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.

Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab's debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won't soon forget."

V.E./Victoria Schwab fever continues with the re-release.

A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A bride mysteriously disappears on her wedding day in the newest Veronica Speedwell adventure by the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey series.

Lured by the promise of a rare and elusive butterfly, the intrepid Veronica Speedwell is persuaded by Lord Templeton-Vane, the brother of her colleague Stoker, to pose as his fiancée at a house party on a Cornish isle owned by his oldest friend, Malcolm Romilly.

But Veronica soon learns that one question hangs over the party: What happened to Rosamund? Three years ago, Malcolm Romilly’s bride vanished on their wedding day, and no trace of her has ever been found. Now those who were closest to her have gathered, each a possible suspect in her disappearance.

From the poison garden kept by Malcolm’s sister to the high towers of the family castle, the island’s atmosphere is full of shadows, and danger lurks around every corner.

Determined to discover Rosamund’s fate, Veronica and Stoker match wits with a murderer who has already struck once and will not hesitate to kill again...."

The best part about a new year is that it heralds the arrival of a new Deanna Raybourn Veronica Speedwell mystery! 

Murder in Belgravia by Lynn Brittney
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A high-profile murder propels a unique crime-fighting team into the dark environs of London’s underworld - and on a terrifying quest to track a ruthless killer.

London, 1915. As World War I engulfs Europe, a special task force is formed in the affluent Mayfair district to tackle the city’s thorniest crimes against women. When the bobbies and Scotland Yard come up short, there’s only one telephone number to dial: Mayfair 100.

An aristocrat has been murdered, and his wife, a witness and possible suspect, will only talk to a woman. With the blessing of London’s Chief Commissioner, Chief Inspector Beech, a young man invalided out of the war, assembles a crew of sharp, intrepid, and well-educated women to investigate. But to get at the truth, Beech, Victoria, Caroline, Rigsby, and Tollman will venture into the the city’s seedy underbelly, a world where murder is only the first in a litany of evils.

Lynn Brittney’s Mayfair 100 series debut, Murder in Belgravia, is the darkly compelling story of a movement far ahead of its time, in an attempt to combat the prejudices against women then and now."

A timely and timeless new series of British detection.

The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson
Published by: Simon amd Schuster
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The remarkable new account of an essential piece of American mythology - the trial of Lizzie Borden - based on twenty years of research and recently unearthed evidence.

The Trial of Lizzie Borden tells the true story of one of the most sensational murder trials in American history. When Andrew and Abby Borden were brutally hacked to death in Fall River, Massachusetts, in August 1892, the arrest of the couple’s younger daughter Lizzie turned the case into international news and her trial into a spectacle unparalleled in American history. Reporters flocked to the scene. Well-known columnists took up conspicuous seats in the courtroom. The defendant was relentlessly scrutinized for signs of guilt or innocence. Everyone - rich and poor, suffragists and social conservatives, legal scholars and laypeople - had an opinion about Lizzie Borden’s guilt or innocence. Was she a cold-blooded murderess or an unjustly persecuted lady? Did she or didn’t she?

The popular fascination with the Borden murders and its central enigmatic character has endured for more than one hundred years. Immortalized in rhyme, told and retold in every conceivable genre, the murders have secured a place in the American pantheon of mythic horror, but one typically wrenched from its historical moment. In contrast, Cara Robertson explores the stories Lizzie Borden’s culture wanted and expected to hear and how those stories influenced the debate inside and outside of the courtroom. Based on transcripts of the Borden legal proceedings, contemporary newspaper accounts, unpublished local accounts, and recently unearthed letters from Lizzie herself, The Trial of Lizzie Borden offers a window onto America in the Gilded Age, showcasing its most deeply held convictions and its most troubling social anxieties."

So people might say there are too many books on Lizzie Borden saturating the market right now. These are not my people. BRING IT ON! 

The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown
Published by: Pushkin Children's Books
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Format: Kindle, 224 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The classic story of seven children with a longing to be on stage: the inspiration for actors from Maggie Smith to Eileen Atkins.

In the town of Fenchester, seven resourceful children are yearning to be famous. One day, they come across a disused chapel, and an idea is formed. With a lick of paint and the addition of a beautiful curtain (which, however much they try, won't "swish" as stage curtains ought), the chapel becomes a theatre - and The Blue Door Theatre Company is formed.

The children go from strength to strength, writing, directing and acting in their own plays. But their schooldays are numbered, and their parents want them to pack it in and train for sensible jobs. It seems that The Blue Door Theatre Company will have to go the way of all childhood dreams. But with a bit of luck, and the help of some influential friends, perhaps this is not the end, but only the beginning of their adventures in show business..."

It's like Noel Streatfeild meets the origin stories of famous Dames!

When the Sky Fell on Splendor by Emily Henry
Published by: Razorbill
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Serpent King meets Stranger Things in Emily Henry's gripping novel about a group of friends in a small town who find themselves dealing with unexpected powers after a cosmic event.

Almost everyone in the small town of Splendor, Ohio, was affected when the local steel mill exploded. If you weren't a casualty of the accident yourself, chances are a loved one was. That's the case for seventeen-year-old Franny, who, five years after the explosion, still has to stand by and do nothing as her brother lies in a coma.

In the wake of the tragedy, Franny found solace in a group of friends whose experiences mirrored her own. The group calls themselves The Ordinary, and they spend their free time investigating local ghost stories and legends, filming their exploits for their small following of YouTube fans. It's silly, it's fun, and it keeps them from dwelling on the sadness that surrounds them.

Until one evening, when the strange and dangerous thing they film isn't fiction - it's a bright light, something massive hurtling toward them from the sky. And when it crashes and the teens go to investigate...everything changes."

To curb your Stranger Things withdrawal pangs until July. 

Too Much Is Not Enough by Andrew Rannells
Published by: Crown Archetype
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the star of Broadway's The Book of Mormon and HBO's Girls, the heartfelt and hilarious coming-of-age memoir of a Midwestern boy surviving bad auditions, bad relationships, and some really bad highlights as he chases his dreams in New York City.

When Andrew Rannells left Nebraska for New York City in 1997, he, like many young hopefuls, saw the city as a chance to break free. To start over. To transform the fiercely ambitious but sexually confused teenager he saw in the mirror into the Broadway leading man of his dreams.

In Too Much Is Not Enough, Rannells takes us on the journey of a twentysomething hungry to experience everything New York has to offer: new friends, wild nights, great art, standing ovations. At the heart of his hunger lies a powerful drive to reconcile the boy he was when he left Omaha with the man he desperately wants to be.

As Rannells fumbles his way towards the Great White Way, he also shares the drama of failed auditions and behind-the-curtain romances, the heartbreak of losing his father at the height of his struggle, and the exhilaration of making his Broadway debut in Hairspray at the age of twenty-six. Along the way, he learns that you never really leave your past - or your family - behind; that the most painful, and perversely motivating, jobs are the ones you almost get; and that sometimes the most memorable nights with friends are marked not by the trendy club you danced at but by the recap over diner food afterward.

Honest and hilarious, Too Much Is Not Enough is an unforgettable look at love, loss, and the powerful forces that determine who we become."

I've always loved Anderw Rannells and getting in insight into his life is wonderful. 

Crashing Heat by Richard Castle
Published by: Kingswell
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Marriage. It's a double-edged sword, or at least it is for Nikki Heat. Her husband, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jameson Rook, infuriates her in a way no one else in her entire life has ever done. He also takes her to heights of pleasure she has never experienced. But most of all, she loves the man with all her heart and she'd do anything to protect him. Which is just what she had done not so long ago. It had almost cost them everything.

Now, Rook is given the honor to be a visiting professor at his alma mater, and he can't pass up the opportunity to mentor burgeoning writers at his former award-winning college newspaper. Shortly after his arrival on campus, a female reporter for the paper is found dead?naked?in Rook's bed.

Dealing with betrayal from any man is not Nikki's style. She and Jameson have had plenty of conflicts during their complicated relationship, but none like this. Is her husband keeping secrets of his own, or can she really trust him? In order to find out, Nikki gives Jameson the benefit of the doubt and digs into Jameson's theory of a secret society within a secret society. What she finds puts her investigative skills, and her marriage, to the test."

Um, they're still making Nikki Heat books? Does this mean Richard Castle survived that shootout at the end, because I still don't think he did...

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