Friday, May 31, 2019

Best Book of 2009 - Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey

Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde
Published by: Viking
Book Provided by Viking
Publication Date: December 29th, 2009
Format: Hardcover, 390 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Edward Russett lives in a very organized and hierarchical society. What color you can see is everything, creating color castes, from the regal purples to the proletarian greys. Eddie is a red living in a green world. Eddie has upset the balance of good behavior and polity by playing a prank on a purple, Bertie Magenta, son of Jade-under-Lime's purple prefect. But he also has dangerous notions on how to improve queuing. To atone for his errors in judgement and gain some humility he is being sent to the fringes of polite society to conduct a pointless chair census. His father, a Swatchman, who is, for all intents and purposes, a doctor, is accompanying him to East Carmine, to fill in for their recently deceased Swatchman, Robin Ochre. Little does Eddie realize what is about to happen to him could change everything. At a stop over at Vermillion, Eddie fails to see the last rabbit, but helps his dad save a grey illegally wrongspotting as a purple and is accosted by a girl with a very retrousse nose who is unaccountably rude and in danger of being sent to reboot to learn some manners. Eddie can't help being intrigued.

Arriving in East Carmine, a town where nothing interesting happens, a new Swatchman and his son sure cause a lot of excitement. From Eddie's new best friend, the shyster Tommo, trying to place him in the marriage market, to the prefects demanding respect and Eddie's return ticket to Jade-under-Lime, to a Lincoln swatch illegal drugs market, to suspicions of the old Swatchman being murdered, to the mysterious naked man who lives in their house that no one can openly admit to seeing, to the new surly maid, who happens to be Jane, the girl with the retrousse nose, Eddie's arrival has caused an avalanche of excitement to this small border town. But will Eddie, with his unwelcome queuing suggestions, be able to stay out of trouble? Can he avoid the everyday dangers of lightning, man-eating Yatveo plants, and swans, while staying on the right side of Tommo and the yellow prefect's son Courtland Gamboge? Plus what if he decides to abandon his half promise to the bitchy princess Constance Oxblood back home and make a go of it with Jane? That's if she, or the ill fated trip to High Saffron, doesn't kill him first...

Shades of Grey, the first book in a proposed series from Jasper Fforde, the author of the Thursday Next and Nursery Crime Series, is a cult favorite where ten years on fans of the book are still clamoring for more adventures from Brunswick and deMauve. From the man whose worldbuilding gave us a land where characters in books police their own plots, we are treated to another inventive story, this time centering on color. If you strip away all the color theory and color related aspects, you are left with a very basic, but solid, post apocalyptic, post something that happened world, akin to the best dystopian novels, the likes of Orwell's 1984. An evil, unseen government is trying to keep their people in line by separation, isolation, ignorance, and strict rules enforced by fear, even if the rules are more geared toward maintaining politeness than anything else. Enter plucky and likable Eddie, who has notions above his station and falls for a girl who hates his guts all the while butting heads with the local authorities and asking a few too many questions.

While the book is standing on firm dystopian soil, it's all the colorful bits of tosh that Fforde scatters throughout the narrative that makes this book easily one of my favorites. Of course, being in the arts, I could have a bias for color theory based jokes, but even with just a simple grasp of color gleaned from your box of Crayola's as a kid will make this book that much more multilayered and enjoyable. The color jokes run the gamut from the dictator's, I mean leader's, name being Munsell, the creator of the first workable and adapted color theory with the naming of hue, value, and chroma, to the test for the character's color placement, the Ishihara, being the test for color blindness in our world. But it's not just these, or the jokes of color pipes being upgraded from RGB to CMYK, sure to send any graphic designer into fits of hysterical laughter, but the way Fforde seamlessly integrates them into the plot and has color as the lynch pin of this society. Yet how did humans evolve so that they can only see specific color frequencies allowing this hierarchical society to form?

Because the thing is, color doesn't actually exist. I know this is a hard thing to grasp, especially if you start thinking about additive color when mixing paint. But the truth is that how we see color and how light works with subtractive color, where all colors combined equal white not black, gets you closer to understanding that everything we see is a product of our minds. Our minds interpret color and tell us what to see. Therefore what happened to these peoples minds that they can only see certain frequencies? Are their frequencies somehow jammed? There are only a few hints, one being that pupils aren't able to dilate anymore, always being a pinprick and making seeing in the dark impossible. The second is that when shown certain color swatches the brain starts to reconfigure, as if it's a computer. So did the evil overlords rewire human brains in order to exert control? Or did evolution take a weird and quirky step sideways. Every time I read this book I learn so much more but conversely end up with so many more questions.

But, as with any post apocalyptic society or even parallel society, it's the mystery of how our world devolved and became this world. Trying to work out exactly how things changed, and not just the physical changes, but other more significant ones. Like how did swans become large and such a danger? Why is there such a fear of lightning? Who knew rhododendrons would be such a threat? Also the little jokes where we know what things were, but that they have morphed into something totally different, like the titles of the mandatory musical theater adaptations being slightly off kilter... "Red Side Story" anyone? Or how they assume the RISK board game is not only a map of how the earth was, but of the color distribution of the inhabitants. Then of course you encounter the deeper mysteries of the plot that keep you reading late into the night. What really happened to Robin Ochre? What does reboot really entail? Because if someone told me they were sending me on the night train to Emerald City I know I'd be nervous.

Picking up this book again ten years after it was published I was still obsessed with the emotions facing Eddie when he learned what Mildew really is all while hoping that his spork loophole will solve the lack of spoons once and for all. And while there's a part of me that holds this book in a special place in my heart, it was the first unsolicited book that showed up on my doorstep after starting my blog, I re-read it with a critical eye. Fforde can sometimes get so caught up in his little jokes and Easter eggs, ones written for his own amusement, it's possible for the reader to feel alienated from the text; creating an unease that they are probably only catching ten percent of what is actually going on. Yet for me Shades of Grey is different. It works on so many different levels that even if you feel occasionally a little lost it's just another layer of the onion to discover when you next read it. Of course, I'm still desperate for any more information on Eddie's world. I want all the answers... but sometimes we are left wanting, just as Eddie and Jane were after their Ishiharas.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Book Book of 2010 - Terry Pratchett's I Shall Wear Midnight

I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld Book #38) by Terry Pratchett
Published by: Corgi
Publication Date: September 2nd, 2010
Format: Paperback, 419 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Need not want. That's the way of the witch. You are respected and well regarded, but not really liked. Who indeed would like the person who knows all your dirty little secrets and does what needs to be done? There is also a certain amount of fear underneath, because though a witch's job has little to do with magic, there's always the threat of it. Worn to the bone by the needs of the people of the Chalk Tiffany doesn't have time for sleep, especially when the rough music starts. Mr. Petty has been singled out by the villagers, an abusive man; he has taken things too far this time with his daughter Amber. While Tiffany doesn't necessary support or condemn the villagers and their plan to oust Mr. Petty, she knows one thing, evil though he may be, Mr. Petty doesn't deserve to die. After dealing with Mr. Petty and having another sleepless night, Tiffany is called to the home of the Baron. Once everyone thought that one day she would be the mistress of the manner when Roland inherited. But being the two "different" people didn't mean they were the two "right" people for each other and Roland is deep in preparations for his wedding to Letitia while his father slips away. When Roland goes away to the great city of Ankh Morpork, his father, the Baron, finally dies peacefully.

The Baron's nurse, a vengeful and hateful woman, claims that Tiffany killed him for his wealth. Tiffany, being unable to deal with these absurd accusations leaves to find Roland and break the news to him. Telling Roland doesn't go as she had planned, instead she ends up in prison with her faithful Nac Mac Feegles. But there is one thing to say about prison, it's safe. There in Ankh Morpork she felt the rising fear and hatred she's been feeling for weeks. People are starting to believe the old stories of evil witches and gingerbread cottages, of the cacklers, of the theory that "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." But there was a stench of rotting and hatred and a man in black only she could see. A man with holes where his eyes should be. Tiffany soon learns that this Cunning Man must be stopped. Her own life could be in danger as Roland himself turns against her. But she soon learns she has unexpected allies, who, even if they did inadvertently release the Cunning Man, are willing to help watch him burn. Because if he doesn't, everyone else will.

Tiffany has grown up. She has seen the best and the worst of mankind and she takes care of them all. Just because a person appears beyond redemption doesn't mean they aren't worth fighting for, that way leads cackling. She takes everyone's pain away and leaves no comfort for herself. This is a far darker and more disturbing tale of Discworld then has been seen in the annals of Tiffany Aching. But then, the Cunning man is one of the most terrifying villains seen yet. Sure Tiffany kissed the Winter away and walked in the lands of fairies and DEATH, but those creatures were more creatures of myth and fairy tale than a man who through his own hatred and his own dark past is able to corrupt and despoil those who come in contact with him, though he is long dead. Because, deep down, I Shall Wear Midnight shows that the true danger isn't magic, it is man. The Cunning man was once a man like all others. And when Tiffany struggles to quickly save Mr. Petty she is not only saving him from himself, but from his fellow townsfolk. The people that Tiffany grew up around, those she cares for and trusts, when the rough music starts the true danger is your fellow man, and that is a terrifying truth. Even your best friend or neighbor could spell your end.

Yet Tiffany learns more than the cruelty of fellow man as she's grown up. She has more responsibility on her shoulders than ever before. No longer a naive young girl she lives in a world of sleepless nights. Nights spent caring for those who probably don't give her a second thought. The truth of the world is open to her and it shows her that the world is made up of assumptions based solely on appearances. Her and Roland were to marry because that's how it looked to outsiders. Witches are evil old ladies who live alone in the woods. And girls like Letitia with their typical fairy-tale-princess looks and pretty gowns are destined for a happily ever after. Whereas the truth is Tiffany and Roland were never fated to marry, they were too different. The poor old lady killed in the woods years ago was nothing but a poor old lady, not an ounce of witch about her; unlike Letitia who dreams of being a witch and nothing would please her more than a wart or two. Truth can never be found on the surface. Appearances are deceiving. The genius of Pratchett is that he takes concepts that are so ingrained in our culture that they have reached the point of being a cliche, but then he shows it to us in a new light, in the vulnerability of an old lady and her cat, and we realize the importance of this truth that led to it being a cliche.

And while showing us the worst humanity has to offer, Pratchett also shows us those moments of grace. We have been raised to fear DEATH. That when the time comes it is always too soon and too painful. What should be a sad moment, when Roland's father dies, instead we are given a death with dignity. The pain is taken away and a happy memory brought forward. His death wasn't just a release, it was beautiful. That is what Pratchett does time and time again. He takes what we expect and gives it back to us in another way, turned and twisted about to get at the heart of the matter. He takes the concept of the wicked witch, turns it on its head and makes us see that these women of fairy tale who are feared are the ones who have it right. You must care for them that can't. You don't burn down old ladies' houses and kill their cats, you don't run people out of town, you show kindness, even if it must be said in a stern tone of voice. I can not say enough how Pratchett's writing shows such a unique thought process, a great mind that was willing to question everything and in that quest gave us a new way to look at the world. Life happens not as you expect because maybe that's what is needed.

Re-reading this book was bittersweet in the wake of Pratchett's own death. While this book turned out not to be the final Tiffany Aching book, Tiffany did end Discworld with The Shepherd's Crown. But to me, this should be the end of Tiffany's story. She might have other adventures, but here... here she is glorious. This story is so perfect that there was no way to capture that sense of completion by writing yet another tale, it was unnecessary. Though with the love and care Pratchett obviously felt for Tiffany, it is no wonder that he wanted his last book to be with the character he loved most. And despite all the characters he has created over his prolific career, I find it amazing that so many people have identified with Tiffany; a rather obstinate, forthright girl, who just happens to be a witch. She's a character the likes of which will be echoed in countless other characters for a long time to come. Yet in the end, she's uniquely herself and uniquely Pratchett. And of all her tales, this one is uniquely perfect. It's rare that a book ends on just the right note, but Pratchett has succeeded perfectly. The absolute right note which has a bite of a susurration to it.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Woman Who Spoke to Spirits by Alys Clare
Published by: Severn House Publishers
Publication Date: May 28th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"London, 1880. “I’m dreadfully afraid someone is threatening to kill my wife...” When accounts clerk Ernest Stibbins approaches the World’s End investigation bureau with wild claims that his wife Albertina has been warned by her spirit guides that someone is out to harm her, the bureau’s owner Lily Raynor and her new employee Felix Wilbraham are initially sceptical. How are the two private enquiry agents supposed to investigate threats from beyond the grave? But after she attends a séance at the Stibbins family home, Lily comes to realize that Albertina is in terrible danger. And very soon so too is Lily herself..."

I'm a sucker for a séance.

Murder at Morrington Hall by Clara McKenna
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: May 28th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Stella Kendrick is an all-American heiress who can’t be tamed. But when the lively aspiring equine trainer tangles with British aristocracy, she meets her match - and a murderer...

Spring, 1905: Free-spirited like the Thoroughbreds she rides across the Kentucky countryside, Stella takes adventure by the reins when she’s asked to attend a mysterious wedding in rural England. But once she arrives at the lush Morrington Hall estate, her cold and ambitious father confesses that he won’t only give away his best racehorses as gifts—he has also arranged to give away his daughter as bride to the Earl of Atherly’s financially strapped son...

Stella refuses to be sold off like a prized pony. Yet despite a rough start, there’s something intriguing about her groom-to-be, the roguish Viscount “Lyndy” Lyndhurst. The unlikely pair could actually be on the right track with each other...until they find the vicar who was to marry them dead in the library.

With culture clashes mounting between families, a scandalous murder case hangs over Morrington Hall. Now, Stella and Lyndy must go from future spouses to amateur sleuths as they team up to search for the truth - and prevent an unbridled criminal from destroying their new life together right out of the gate..."

More period murder!

Who's Sorry Now? by Maggie Robinson
Published by: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: May 28th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"London, England 1925.

A Russian prince. A wealthy heir. An impoverished earl's daughter. Which one will make an untimely exit from the London social scene?

Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Devenand Hunter finds himself in the middle of a series of upper-class deaths in London. Bright Young People are being extinguished in their favorite night spots, from a sleazy private jazz club to the Savoy ballroom. Dev knows just the person to help him navigate the treacherous society waters: Lady Adelaide Compton, a marquess' daughter and widow of a Great War hero. Unfortunately, he has put her in jeopardy once before, nearly leading him to turn in his warrant card.

But when her sister Cee is nearly one of the victims, Addie turns to Mr. Hunter, offering her help...and it soon becomes clear that the two of them working together again could lead to much more than merely solving crime."

Anyone else love a little twenties cozy?

Murder, She Uncovered by Peg Cochran
Published by: Alibi
Publication Date: May 28th, 2019
Format: Kindle, 231 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An intrepid 1930s Manhattan socialite uncovers deadly secrets during an assignment to the Hamptons in this riveting historical cozy mystery for readers of Victoria Thompson, Anne Perry, and Rhys Bowen.

Westhampton, 1938. To the dismay of her well-to-do family, Elizabeth “Biz” Adams is quickly establishing herself as a seasoned photographer over at the Daily Trumpet. Growing more confident in her decision to pursue a career, Elizabeth is thrilled when she and her reporter sidekick, Ralph Kaminsky, are sent to Long Island to cover the story of a young maid found dead in one of the glamourous summer homes in the devastating aftermath of the Great New England Hurricane - also known as the Long Island Express.

At first it’s assumed that the young woman was caught in the terrible storm, but when a suspicious wound is found on the side of her head, the police suspect murder. The maid’s death becomes even more tragic when it’s discovered she was pregnant, and with Elizabeth and Kaminsky at the scene of the crime, the Daily Trumpet scoops all the other papers in town.

The young woman’s boyfriend emerges as the likeliest suspect. But as Elizabeth follows the story, she begins to wonder whether someone in the household of the maid’s employers might be responsible - someone who’ll stop at nothing to keep the truth about the baby’s paternity hidden...."

And even more coziness here!

Blonde Rattlesnake by Julia Nricklin
Published by: Lyons Press
Publication Date: May 28th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 200 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Nineteen-year-old Burmah Adams, a hairdresser and former Santa Ana High School student, spent her honeymoon on a crime spree. She and her husband of less than one week, White, an ex-con, robbed at least twenty people in and around downtown L.A. at gunpoint over an eight-week period. But the worst of their crimes was the shooting of a popular elementary school teacher, Cora Withington, and a former publisher, Crombie Allen, who was teaching her how to drive his new car.

A few days later, a watchful pair of patrolmen in a Westlake neighborhood called their detective colleagues at the Los Angeles Police Department; they had spotted a car that looked like one the duo had stolen days before. Two of these detectives dressed as mechanics and kept an eye on the apartment building until Burmah and Thomas appeared one afternoon. As police swarmed the building, Burmah tried to hurl herself out of a third–story window, while Thomas shot at officers and was immediately gunned down and killed.

Blond Rattlesnake reveals the events that brought Adams and White together and details the crime spree they committed in the sweltering hot days and nights of Los Angeles in the height of the Great Depression. It describes the terror of citizens in their path and the outrage they directed at the female half of the duo. Politicians exploited Burmah’s incarceration and trial for their own purposes as the press battled for scoops about the “Blonde Rattlesnake” and created sensation while trying to make sense of her crimes."

I love me some true crime!

Bayou City Burning by D.B. Borton
Published by: Boomerang Books
Publication Date: May 28th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 390 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Texas, 1961. The state’s slickest politician has lost his presidential bid to a good-looking naval hero from Massachusetts, and sleepy backwater Houston finds itself short on air conditioners just when things are beginning to heat up. The Freedom Riders have raised morale for local civil rights activists, and President Kennedy wants to put a man on the moon.

In a seedy office downtown, a well-dressed out-of-towner hires P.I. Harry Lark to tail two D.C. visitors looking to build NASA a space center. The more Harry finds out, the more he suspects he’s working for the wrong side, and he vows to wash his hands of the case. Meanwhile, Harry’s twelve-year-old daughter Dizzy is puzzling over a mystery of her own: she’s been running a lost-and-found out of a suburban garage, and is unexpectedly hired to find a missing father who’s supposed to be dead and buried.

When Harry’s client turns up dead on his office floor and mobsters start hounding him for cash he’s never seen, Harry realizes he needs all the help he can get - even if it comes from his daughter. As Harry’s and Dizzy’s cases converge, one thing becomes clear: someone wants Houston to look like a lawless Wild West Cowtown - and together, Harry and Dizzy are going to find out who."

There's a P.I. and a cat on the cover, what more could I want?

The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: May 28th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 284 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Death, deception, and a detective with quite a lot to hide stalk the pages of Anthony Horowitz's brilliant murder mystery, the second in the bestselling series starring Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne.

“You shouldn’t be here. It’s too late...”

These, heard over the phone, were the last recorded words of successful celebrity-divorce lawyer Richard Pryce, found bludgeoned to death in his bachelor pad with a bottle of wine - a 1982 Chateau Lafite worth £3,000, to be precise.

Odd, considering he didn’t drink. Why this bottle? And why those words? And why was a three-digit number painted on the wall by the killer? And, most importantly, which of the man’s many, many enemies did the deed?

Baffled, the police are forced to bring in Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne and his sidekick, the author Anthony, who’s really getting rather good at this murder investigation business.

But as Hawthorne takes on the case with characteristic relish, it becomes clear that he, too, has secrets to hide. As our reluctant narrator becomes ever more embroiled in the case, he realizes that these secrets must be exposed - even at the risk of death..."

Yes! A new Anthony Horowitz mystery! 

Stay Sexy and Don't Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstack
Published by: SForge Books
Publication Date: May 28th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The highly anticipated first book by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, the voices behind the #1 hit podcast My Favorite Murder!

Sharing never-before-heard stories ranging from their struggles with depression, eating disorders, and addiction, Karen and Georgia irreverently recount their biggest mistakes and deepest fears, reflecting on the formative life events that shaped them into two of the most followed voices in the nation.

In Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered, Karen and Georgia focus on the importance of self-advocating and valuing personal safety over being ‘nice’ or ‘helpful.’ They delve into their own pasts, true crime stories, and beyond to discuss meaningful cultural and societal issues with fierce empathy and unapologetic frankness."

True crime podcast book? Um yes please! Also I hope I can go to their event when they're in town.

The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch
Published by: Subterranean
Publication Date: May 28th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 216 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"With this long new novella, bestselling author Ben Aaronovitch has crafted yet another wickedly funny and surprisingly affecting chapter in his beloved Rivers of London series. If you thought magic was confined to one country - think again. Trier: famous for wine, Romans and being Germany's oldest city. When a man is found dead with his body impossibly covered in a fungal rot, the local authorities know they are out of their depth. But fortunately this is Germany, where there are procedures for everything. Enter Tobias Winter, an investigator for the Abteilung KDA, the branch of the German Federal Criminal Police which handles the supernatural. His aim is to get in, deal with the problem, and get out with the minimum of fuss, personal danger and paperwork. Together with frighteningly enthusiastic local cop, Vanessa Sommer, he quickly links the first victim to a group of ordinary middle aged men whose novel approach to their mid-life crisis may have reawakened a bloody conflict from a previous century. As the rot spreads, literally, and the suspect list extends to people born before Frederick the Great, Tobias and Vanessa will need to find allies in some unexpected places. And to solve the case they'll have to unearth the secret magical history of a city that goes back two thousand years. Presuming that history doesn't kill them first."

A long novella is the best way to wait for the next Rivers of London book. 

Darkness on the Edge of Town by Adam Christopher
Published by: Del Rey
Publication Date: May 28th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 432 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Chief Jim Hopper reveals long-awaited secrets to Eleven about his old life as a police detective in New York City, confronting his past before the events of the hit show Stranger Things.

Christmas, Hawkins, 1984. All Chief Jim Hopper wants is to enjoy a quiet first Christmas with Eleven, but his adopted daughter has other plans. Over Hopper’s protests, she pulls a cardboard box marked “New York” out of the basement—and the tough questions begin. Why did Hopper leave Hawkins all those years ago? What does “Vietnam” mean? And why has he never talked about New York?

Although he’d rather face a horde of demogorgons than talk about his own past, Hopper knows that he can’t deny the truth any longer. And so begins the story of the incident in New York—the last big case before everything changed....

Summer, New York City, 1977. Hopper is starting over after returning home from Vietnam. A young daughter, a caring wife, and a new beat as an NYPD detective make it easy to slip back into life as a civilian. But after shadowy federal agents suddenly show up and seize the files about a series of brutal, unsolved murders, Hopper takes matters into his own hands, risking everything to discover the truth.

Soon Hopper is undercover among New York’s notorious street gangs. But just as he’s about to crack the case, a blackout rolls across the boroughs, plunging Hopper into a darkness deeper than any he’s faced before."

If Hopper isn't your favorite character on Stranger Things I'm no longer talking to you. 

Black Badge by Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins
Published by: BOOM! Studios
Publication Date: May 28th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 128 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An espionage series about a top-secret, elite branch of boy scouts tasked by the government to take on covert missions.

Meet the Black Badges, a top-secret branch of boy scouts tasked by the government to take on covert missions that no adult ever could. Among their organization, the Black Badges are the elite—the best of the best. The missions they’re tasked with are dangerous, and will only get worse as their leader’s attention is split between their objective and tracking down a lost team member. A member who disappeared years ago...presumed dead. Reuniting New York Times bestselling author Matt Kindt (Mind MGMT) and illustrator Tyler Jenkins (Peter Panzerfaust) following their multiple Eisner Award-nominated series Grass Kings, Black Badge is a haunting look at foreign policy, culture wars, and isolationism through the lens of kids who know they must fix the world that adults have broken."

I don't know what BOOM! Studios comic I was reading when I first saw an ad for Black Badge, but I knew right away it was for me. 

The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg
Published by: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: May 28th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Glimmering like a jewel behind its gateway, The Kingdom™ is an immersive fantasy theme park where guests soar on virtual dragons, castles loom like giants, and bioengineered species - formerly extinct - roam free.

Ana is one of seven Fantasists, beautiful “princesses” engineered to make dreams come true. When she meets park employee Owen, Ana begins to experience emotions beyond her programming including, for the first

But the fairytale becomes a nightmare when Ana is accused of murdering Owen, igniting the trial of the century. Through courtroom testimony, interviews, and Ana’s memories of Owen, emerges a tale of love, lies, and cruelty - and what it truly means to be human."

Yes, this Westworld for YA is one of the most anticipated books this Spring!

Friday, May 24, 2019

Best Book of 2011 - Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Published by: Doubleday
Publication Date: September 13th, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 387 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Hector Bowen, the stage magician better known as Prospero the Enchanter, has a secret. Every night when he packs the stalls his audience has no inkling that what they are about to see is real magic. They assume that he is just adept at illusion, never thinking that it's possibly real. After one performance in New York in 1873 Hector gets a shock, finding a young girl in his dressing room. This small child is unmistakably his own and the note pinned to her coat informs him that his lover, the girl's mother, is deceased and he must take over the charge of their child. At first he thinks it will be an encumbrance until he realizes that Celia has inherited his abilities and an idea starts to form. The great game might be played once more! For more years than he can count he has been involved in an increasingly complex challenge with the enigmatic Alexander. A.H. is also magically inclined but holds different teaching beliefs and practices than Hector. The challenge is that they must each train a competitor for the challenge, the winner supposedly proving the correct method of magical learning. Hector is convinced he can win with his own flesh and blood, whereas Alexander is sure he can pick any child off the street and train them to beat Celia. Once Alexander finds Marco in an orphanage the game is afoot.

Years pass as the two competitors train apart without any inkling of when or where the challenge will commence. But then an arena is conceived. A traveling circus, Le Cirque Des Reves, will be opening in London on the night of October 13th, 1886. Marco has insinuated himself behind the scenes as the assistant to the circus's founder, Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre, while Celia gets hired as the illusionist. The challenge is to create tents of wonder and awe in a game of one-upmanship. As the competition continues, stretching on for years, it soon becomes clear that the two of them feel adrift with only each other to relate to. Over time their moves become almost love letters to each other. Yet they have no idea what the rules are or how a winner is declared as their feelings for each other grow and they desire a decision to be made by Hector and Alexander. What is clear though is that the circus has become bigger than the two of them. While Celia and Marco maintain and expand it it has also taken on a life of it's own. When Celia finally realizes what the endgame is she sees that lives are at stake and all this beauty could be lost forever. If only there was some way to cheat. Some way to preserve the arena after the competitors have quit the stage. Some way for them both to win.

When I first devoured The Night Circus after going to an Erin Morgenstern event which was a perfect day worthy of a song in Dear Evan Hansen it instantly became one of my favorite books ever. I wanted everyone I knew to read and love it which made me suggest it to my book club. Here's a good rule of thumb, if you love something to an insane degree it's perhaps not a good idea to have all your friends read and dissect it. The more you know. This was literally the first time I realized that The Night Circus is a very polarizing, divisive book, you either love it or you hate it. And boy, did most of my book club hate it. I seriously do not get it. But then again, I just read a book that one of my fellow members views as one of his favorite books and really disliked it, so I just have to take deep breaths and remember book tastes aren't universal. We all like what we like and I'm never letting anyone in my book club read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell because I wouldn't be able to survive that betrayal. Getting down to the nitty-gritty of what most of my fellow members objected to is that they were caught up on the aesthetics of the world Erin Morgenstern built. They thought it was all about the visuals, all surface, no substance. I of course heartily disagree with this statement and am now going to illuminate why.

Yes, The Night Circus is a very visual book. There is no doubt about this. The tents, the costumes, even the food, are all described in loving detail. This visually Burton-esque world leads many to say that the book feels as if it was written for the inevitable movie adaptation. Perhaps by Tim Burton himself. Here's the thing that drivers readers and authors crazy, a book is a finished product not just something that is sitting around to be used as the basis for another art form. Yes, I love adaptations, but reading and watching are two totally different experiences. The experiences I had while reading this book could not be replicated by a movie or miniseries. I was fully immersed in this world in a way that can never be achieved by cinema, even if theaters were to bring back the disastrously kitsch idea of Smell-O-Vision. And I'm sure Erin Morgenstern wasn't sitting around going, and now lets add some more Tim Burton touches just so I can get to Hollywood! No, she was thinking, how can I make this world more immersive for my readers? How can I make it so it feels they are walking the spiraling paths of Le Cirque Des Reves with a warm cider in their hands?

In fact I think the immersive nature of the book was really ahead of it's time. Since it's publication there has been a veritable explosion in immersion events. What started out with smalls roots in LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) and Renaissance Faires has just grown and grown until every town has an escape room and conventions catering to Cosplay have exponentially expanded. It's more and more I wouldn't say acceptable, because that gives immersive events a negative connotation, but more prevalent to see people escaping into worlds of imagination than ever before. Who knows if it's a desire to leave behind the shit show that is the daily news or a way to express their creativity, but immersive events are here and they're hot and I think a lot of their popularity can be traced back to this book. The first real world experience I had with immersion was at the North American Discworld Convention, where they turned the hotel into Ankh-Morpork. For years after I was still calling certain hotel rooms names out of Discworld. But my deep dive was at TeslaCon, the Steampunk Convention held in Wisconsin every year. People created the most elaborate costumes and even personas. One year they even did The Night Circus, but in their ever scheming ways to get out of copyright, it wasn't "this" Night Circus... sure...

Moving beyond the emotive nature of the book I want to discuss a writerly technique. Throughout the book the chapters are interspersed with little experiences the viewer would have while visiting Le Cirque Des Reves. These sections are written in the second person. Here's the thing about second person, it's a very tricky POV to get right without coming off as pretentious with all the "yous." In fact when I read John Scalzi's Redshirts the codas written in first, second, and then third person drove me to really hate that book. Scalzi has since redeemed himself in my eyes, but he will never live down those codas. Never. This hatred has made me leery of anyone attempting second person and therefore I want to stand up and applaud Erin Morgenstern. You nailed it! The way you brought me and other readers into your world with just a few lines on how we would experience the world around us gave me chills. It didn't come across as pretentious in the least, it came across as a magical spell. You will feel this way when you enter the circus. You will have these experiences and marvel at the wonders. You will become a participant, not just an observer. The repeated use of "you" wasn't annoying, it created the cadence of a spell that all these years later I am still under.

And spells and magic are what it all comes down to. Going back to the argument that this book is heavy on visuals and light on plot I would counter that that is because the reader is ignorant of what has historically happened to great wizards and magicians. They often become trapped by their own skills and magical abilities. In one version of Merlin's end he is trapped in a tree. Hell, even in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell they end up trapped in Hurtview Abbey. Therefore the book leading to the binding and trapping of our leads seems a bleak ending to some, I say it's historically significant. Of course this opinion of mine was reached after several readings of The Night Circus. The first time I read it while I felt the ending was satisfying, I didn't fully get all the layered implications and callbacks. This reading what struck me most wasn't the idea of the Merlin connection and how being trapped would be fine so long as you loved who you were trapped with but the more Shakespearean angle, we do after all have a magician named Prospero who wished his daughter had been named Miranda. The quote from Hamlet seemed to apt, "I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space." Infinite space in something considered a trap by others... perhaps even a metaphor for this book and it's detractors?

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Book Book of 2012 - Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamour in Glass

Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: April 10th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Jane and Vincent have become quite the powerful couple. Working side by side they have elevated Vincent's art, their art, to a new level. The Vincents are the toast of London, with the Prince Regent throwing a dinner in their honor in recognition of the magnificent grotto they have created for his opulent New Year's festivities. Yet being a woman Jane is confined to societal expectations, and the lack of recognition that goes with it. Even newspapers articles praising the work done for the Prince Regent omit her entirely. Jane doesn't want to be easily pushed aside after dinner when the men sit and talk and the women "retire." Jane has no desire to retire! She wants to be next to Vincent discussing magic and politics and all the things that matter in the world, not shut up in some parlor til the men deign to come to them! These after dinner traditions make her realize more then anything how lucky she is to have found Vincent, who views her as his equal.

The question of how to follow up their success leads them to consider a different path. They have some freedom at the moment and they never did have a honeymoon... With the continent recently open for travel with the exile of Napoleon, Vincent suggests a visit to his fellow glamourist, M. Chastain in Belgium. Not only has M. Chastain created a school for glamourists, but he has created a new technique that Vincent longs to see for himself. To travel with her husband and be surrounded by others able to work their craft and to perhaps learn more than she was able to learn on her own is a dream come true to Jane. Though the journey there is not without peril. The continent is not as safe as they had hoped. Troops are rallying for Napoleon and it is rumored that he shall escape Elba and make an attempt on reclaiming his throne.

Being surrounded by glamour is inspirational to Jane and she stumbles upon an idea while playing with M. Chastain's daughter on the steps inside the house. What if you could capture a glamour in glass, thus making it portable? In particular, what if they tried it with Vincent's Sphere Obscurcie, which makes a person invisible, but only in a fixed location. The Vincents don't see this revelation as anything that could be used as a tactical benefit in armed combat, but others do. This discovery could mean defeat or victory at the hands of Napoleon. A discovery the Bonapartists would gladly kill for. Though the return of Napoleon isn't the only hitch that has been thrown into Jane's world. She has discovered she has a condition that will not allow her to work glamour. She is with child. Will Vincent still love her if they are no loner able to work side by side and she where to become a more traditional wife? As she quickly sees, Vincent is already keeping secrets from her and not confiding as much as he used to now that she is no longer with him at all times. Yet, when Vincent is threatened, Jane might be the only one able to save him.

The declaration of my adoration of Glamour in Glass that started the first review I wrote of this book years back now hasn't changed. As I return to this series I am even more enamored of the world Mary Robinette Kowal has created. Each installment in this series just finds me more and more enthralled. Instead of just continuing on the trajectory she created in Shades of Milk and Honey, making more Austenesque books, Mary Robinette instead delves deeper into the time period creating a richer tapestry then Jane Austen ever did. While the mix of magic and the Regency world was what captured me initially, Mary Robinette has added in a level of French history that I am always drawn to, IE, the despotic wacko, Napoleon. How could you not love magic and deceit and Napoleonic spies? Napoleon and his hundred days, sigh. It is literally in my blood to be drawn to his time period. My great great great however many greats need to be there, relative was a high muckety-muck for Napoleon, François Joseph Lefebvre, the Duc de Danzig. Family legend always had it that he had actually abandoned Napoleon during the hundred days, turns out, that wasn't quite the case... but, well, would you like to say you rallied to him? At least François's portrait is still at Versailles...

But the history is just a richness and plot contrivance that aids the deeper themes of the book; that of love and passion. As Vincent has shown to Jane, the most wonderful, the most true art is seated in our passions. The true artist thrives on their emotions and is driven by them. This passion makes us artists capable of things we didn't even think we could do, and I'm not just saying pulling a week of all-nighters sewing beads on a David Bowie puppet, though I have done that. Glamour in Glass pointedly shows how much our passions are able to push us beyond what we thought we could endure and achieve. Being driven by their passions leads to Jane and Vincent's new discoveries and new techniques, such as literally incising glamour into glass to create a portable invisibility field. But the heart of the matter is in their connection, their passion for each other. Because of this Jane is able to save her husband's life, quite literally. She is driven to create an elaborate and ultimately successful rescue attempt for Vincent all by herself because her ingenuity and drive is powered by her passion.

It is this love and passion that is so achingly perfect. When I think of what true love means, the marriage of true minds, it is the love embodied by Jane and Vincent. Jane is chaffed by the restrictions of her sex, she is a modern and amazingly capable woman who is not of her time. Vincent sees this and loves this in her. They are a modern couple who defy the expectations and mores of the time they live in. Vincent is even willing to buck the Prince Regent so that Jane can partake in after-dinner conversation instead of retiring to her designated seat in the parlor with the other women. They rely on and support each other in a way that makes the heart ache to have something so precious. Their love is so strong that they aren't shoved into the stereotypical romance tropes where the damsel in distress is rescued by the knight on a white steed in shining armor. Their love allows Jane to be the rescuer.

It is this love and passion that is what will last of their legacy. Because what interests me about their chosen art form is it's transient nature. A Glamoural is almost performance art. It is pulled from the ether and will one day return. It is fixed, it cannot move, and is meant to be an adornment that can easily be changed, almost as easy as redecorating. I can't help but think of the three months that Vincent and Jane spent creating the grotto for the Prince Regent's ball. It is a one night spectacle. Created for a single event and then it will be torn asunder. Gone in a flash to be replaced by the next sensation. The thing that always drew me to sculpt and build and paint was that after you were done you had something physically left over. Some tangible proof of your exertions. But then I started doing theatre, and in theatre you build something, you sweat and toil and in the end, after the run, you tear it all down. This was so hard for me to accept. To willingly destroy what you had made because the time limit was done. So while I ponder the inevitability and the end of all things, including this series, at least the love of Jane and Vincent lives on in Mary's "Histories". Their love is one for the ages.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: May 21st, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A servant and former slave is accused of murdering her employer and his wife in this astonishing historical thriller that moves from a Jamaican sugar plantation to the fetid streets of Georgian London - a remarkable literary debut with echoes of Alias Grace, The Underground Railroad, and The Paying Guests.

All of London is abuzz with the scandalous case of Frannie Langton, accused of the brutal double murder of her employers, renowned scientist George Benham and his eccentric French wife, Marguerite. Crowds pack the courtroom, eagerly following every twist, while the newspapers print lurid theories about the killings and the mysterious woman being tried at the Old Bailey.

The testimonies against Frannie are damning. She is a seductress, a witch, a master manipulator, a whore.

But Frannie claims she cannot recall what happened that fateful evening, even if remembering could save her life. She doesn’t know how she came to be covered in the victims’ blood. But she does have a tale to tell: a story of her childhood on a Jamaican plantation, her apprenticeship under a debauched scientist who stretched all bounds of ethics, and the events that brought her into the Benhams’ London home - and into a passionate and forbidden relationship.

Though her testimony may seal her conviction, the truth will unmask the perpetrators of crimes far beyond murder and indict the whole of English society itself.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is a breathtaking debut: a murder mystery that travels across the Atlantic and through the darkest channels of history. A brilliant, searing depiction of race, class, and oppression that penetrates the skin and sears the soul, it is the story of a woman of her own making in a world that would see her unmade."

A different, deeper kind of murder mystery. Sign me up! And not just because I'm a sucker for Georgian London.

The Ghost of Hollow House by Linda Stratmann
Published by: Sapere Books
Publication Date: May 21st, 2019
Format: Kindle, 325 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Mina Scarletti returns in her most thrilling mystery yet! Perfect for fans of Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie and Antonia Hodgson...

A peaceful country retreat has become the scene of relentless terror...

Sussex, 1872.

Mina Scarletti is invited to ancient Hollow House to investigate reports of ghostly occurrences.

The current occupants - newlyweds Mr Honeyacre and his wife, Kitty - have been plagued by unexplained noises and strange visions since moving into the property.

And now most of their servants refuse to stay at the house after dark for fear of encountering the ghostly presence of ‘the woman in white’.

A determined sceptic, Mina’s main concern is for Kitty, whose health appears to be dramatically sinking under the strain of all that is going on.

With the help of her trusted adviser, Dr Hamid, and her lively friend, Nell, Mina must get to the heart of the mystery.

Have the maids merely been frightening themselves with tales of the macabre? Is there a rational explanation for what is being reported?

Or will Mina be forced to admit to the presence of a ghost in Hollow House?"

A country house possibly plagued by the supernatural? This is my bread and butter people!

Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin
Published by: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: May 21st, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A captivating novel based on the story of the extraordinary real-life American woman who secretly worked for the French Resistance during World War II - while playing hostess to the invading Germans at the iconic Hôtel Ritz in Paris - from the New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator's Wife and The Swans of Fifth Avenue.

Nothing bad can happen at the Ritz; inside its gilded walls every woman looks beautiful, every man appears witty. Favored guests like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Coco Chanel, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor walk through its famous doors to be welcomed and pampered by Blanche Auzello and her husband, Claude, the hotel’s director. The Auzellos are the mistress and master of the Ritz, allowing the glamour and glitz to take their minds off their troubled marriage, and off the secrets that they keep from their guests - and each other.

Until June 1940, when the German army sweeps into Paris, setting up headquarters at the Ritz. Suddenly, with the likes of Hermann Goëring moving into suites once occupied by royalty, Blanche and Claude must navigate a terrifying new reality. One that entails even more secrets and lies. One that may destroy the tempestuous marriage between this beautiful, reckless American and her very proper Frenchman. For in order to survive - and strike a blow against their Nazi “guests” - Blanche and Claude must spin a web of deceit that ensnares everything and everyone they cherish.

But one secret is shared between Blanche and Claude alone - the secret that, in the end, threatens to imperil both of their lives, and to bring down the legendary Ritz itself.

Based on true events, Mistress of the Ritz is a taut tale of suspense wrapped up in a love story for the ages, the inspiring story of a woman and a man who discover the best in each other amid the turbulence of war."

As I'm currently reading another WWII book that talks about the French occupation, is there a better time to read about it?

Starship Repo by Patrick S. Tomlinson
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: May 21st, 2019
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Starship Repo is a fast-paced romp through the galaxy from Patrick S. Tomlinson.

Firstname Lastname is a no one with nowhere to go. With a name that is the result of an unfortunate clerical error and destined to be one of the only humans on an alien space station. That is until she sneaks aboard a ship and joins up with a crew of repomen (they are definitely not pirates).

Now she's traveling the galaxy "recovering" ships. What could go wrong?"

Because every now and then I'm desperate for a good space opera!

The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Companion by Matt Whyman
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: May 21st, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A stunning full-color, illustrated, behind-the-scenes guide to the Good Omens television series, adapted for the screen by Neil Gaiman himself and starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant.

Following the original novel’s chronological structure - from “the Beginning” to “End Times”—this official companion to the Good Omens television series, compiled by Matt Whyman, is a cornucopia of information about the show, its conception, and its creation. Offering deep and nuanced insight into Gaiman’s brilliantly reimagining of the Good Omens universe, The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Companion includes:

-A foreword from Neil Gaiman
-A profile of the director, Douglas McKinnon
-Neil’s take on the adaptation process, in which he explains his goals, approach, and diversions from the original text
-Interviews with the cast, including Michael Sheen, David Tennant, Nina Sosanya, Jon Hamm, Ned Dennehy, Josie Lawrence, Derek Jacobi, Nick Offerman, Frances McDormand, Miranda Richardson, Adria Arjona, and many others
-More than 200 color photographs
-And much more!

The must-have official companion guide to the Good Omens television series, Nice and Accurate TV Companion is a treasure trove of delights for fans of Good Omens, Neil Gaiman, and Terry Pratchett."

Anyone else SO excited for this series that they made their book club read Good Omens? OK, just me then...

Jim Henson's Labyrinth Coronation Volume Two by Simon Spurrier
Published by: Archaia
Publication Date: May 21st, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 112 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The untold origin of the Goblin King from Jim Henson’s cult-classic film, Labyrinth.

As the clock ticks ever closer to the thirteenth hour, Maria struggles through the canals of the Labyrinth alongside her peculiar band of companions, wishing desperately to be reunited with her son. While she may be no closer to the Owl King’s castle, Maria begins to uncover the secrets of the Labyrinth and her own power within the walls of this magical domain. But from deep in the shadows, the Owl King watches her every move, plotting and waiting to bring her demise by any means necessary. Written by Simon Spurrier (Jim Henson’s The Power of the Dark Crystal) and Ryan Ferrier (Kong on the Planet of the Apes) and illustrated by Daniel Bayliss (Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Dragons) and Irene Flores (Heavy Vinyl), Labyrinth: Coronation Volume Two continues the bestselling prequel to one of Jim Henson’s most iconic creations."

Yes, this is a very good prequel, but round about now it started to drag, I think they did too many issues... 

Hilda and the Nowhere Space by Stephen Davies
Published by: Flying Eye Books
Publication Date: May 21st, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 200 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Caught up on Hilda on Netflix? Craving more adventures with your favorite blue-haired Sparrow Scout? This is the book for you! More badges, more thrills, more friends in the newest Hilda illustrated chapter book!

Meet Hilda: explorer, adventurer, avid sketchbook-keeper and friend to every creature in the valley!

Newly initiated into the Sparrow Scouts, Hilda is ready to explore and document the wilderness, and perhaps even make some human friends. Yet as luck would have it, there is a dark, menacing creature afoot near Trolberg, and Hilda is whisked back home to safety. Even so, intrigue seems to follow our blue-haired heroine wherever she goes, and it seems we may finally discover why so many socks in Trolberg seem to lose their mates."

Because EVERYONE needs more Hilda to hold them off until the six book by Luke Pearson this fall!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Book Book of 2013 - Deanna Raybourn's A Spear of Summer Grass

A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: Harlequin MIRA
Publication Date: April 23rd, 2013
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

"I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass."

- Walt Whitman

With her latest scandal, another husband dead, this time via suicide, and a fight for his inheritance of the Volkonsky jewels arising, Delilah Drummond's family has convened in Paris to discuss her exile from polite society. She must remove herself from public scrutiny or face being cut off forever by her Grandfather back in New Orleans. The imperial "they" have decided that she will hide herself away at her ex step father's house Fairlight, in Kenya. Delilah doesn't have much of a say and agrees to the arranged banishment, knowing full well that as soon as the allotted time is over she will be back in Paris, or New York, or whatever city will have her, probably not New York... that pesky Volstead act kind of puts a kink in ones cocktails. Arriving in Africa with her "devoted" cousin Dodo as her chaperon, Delilah doesn't quite know what to make of her situation. Kenyan society is made up of the outcasts of respectable civilization, meaning people Delilah already knows. It's quite a shock to be relocated yet still surrounded by those who were a little too outre for everyone else.

There is a part of Delilah that feels at home, and not just because she picks back up where she left off before getting married to husband number two with the artist Kit Parrymore, located near at hand on the Fairlight property. The dinner parties hosted by Rex and Helen Farrady, as the reigning King and Queen of Kenya are just the kind of social occasions Delilah is used to with booze flowing and witty conversation larded with innuendo. Though Helen's private parties are another story... But soon Delilah is fighting not just her new found love for Africa and the exiled life she has reluctantly embraced, but she's also fighting her attraction to Ryder White. Ryder, that great white hunter. The man of contradictions, who believes in the preservation of Africa and it's animals, while also leading Safaris for those who are willing to overpay him. For the first time Delilah isn't giving in immediately to her fleeting fancies... but that could be because Ryder rankled her with placing a bet that he would be the first to bed her. Is it wrong that she took delight in sleeping with Kit so fast just to make him lose? Yet how long can she deny that she has stumbled into everything she's ever needed?

Like the Whitman poem the book takes it's title from, there's a freshness, a freeness to Deanna's Africa with its overt sexuality that makes this book an addictive and delicious read. While I feel that this is the best Raybourn book I have read I have a feeling that the rawness and sexuality might deter other readers, whereas I felt that it perfectly captured the time and the place epitomized in the character of Delilah. Raybourn is able to take old tales and stories from the Happy Valley Days and inject a new life to them. Helen's bathtub, and in fact Helen herself, with nods to Idina Sackville, doesn't feel heavy with the baggage of multiple retellings. Deanna was able to incorporate aspects and anecdotes of the time without making it feel like you've heard it all before, which is a true gift after all the books on Africa I have read. Deanna made Africa feel new to me and I don't think there are many authors or books I can say that about. Delilah had so much life that, while we do get a mystery buried deep down, A Spear of Summer Grass is more a character study than a whodunit, and I didn't regret that for a minute.

Of course I have a soft spot for Kenya that I think might be a genetic disposition. My mother throughout my childhood was obsessed with books and films on Africa. Her studio space was actually influenced by African safaris. And while we might disagree on the literary merits of Out of Africa, we can come together and agree on our love of Kenya. Therefore this book gave me great joy in seeing someone else, albeit a fictional someone, fall in love with a country she viewed as a punishment. It's weird to think of a place you've never been having such a magnetic pull on you. I'd never want to live in Kenya, but I do want to visit. But the Kenya I love is the Kenya of the past. And there is that tendency to romanticize a time and a place, and British Kenya is such a time and a place. Yet the society is the exact opposite of the society I crave in real life, which would be preferably quiet and bookish. Therefore Kenya is an escape for me, a look into a life that calls to me but would never be mine and therefore A Spear of Summer Grass is the perfect escapist read. It was everything my heart wanted but knew I would never embrace in my own life. IE, a perfect book.

That perfection is achieved on so many levels, yet they all have one thing in common, and that's taking something you thought you knew everything about and making it fresh again. The most refreshing aspect though was that while Delilah had the Great War baggage and the night terrors and all the typical signs of PTSD, we are not forced to dwell on this. As I have ranted before, so many modern books belabour this point and make more of it then what it is, not a part of the character, but something that is bigger than the character and becomes a separate entity weighing down the whole book. Delilah is damaged, but everyone in Africa is damaged in some way according to Ryder. Blessedly Deanna handles this balance just perfectly and I didn't have to read about guns in the distance causing flashbacks, yet again. And this isn't to diminish people who do suffer no matter how it presents itself, just to state that stereotyping PTSD does the disease a disservice. Everyone battles it in their own way and it's nice to see someone understand that and write about it.

Everything in this book, even the PTSD, has to perfectly fit the character because this book is more a character study than a plot driven narrative. If there was one little character trait or quirk out of place it would have stood out more than in other books. The originality and the connection between these characters are what made me devour this book. While I do really really like Ryder as the hero and his luscious Han Solo Harrison Fordness which was tailor made for the fair Princesses among us, he wasn't the big draw for me. I know, shocking! But if you really want more Ryder, and I can't really blame you because Han Solo was it for me as a kid, you should check out his little prequel novella, Far in the Wilds. I quite enjoyed it. Moving beyond Ryder, the two characters I connected with most are Ryder's best friend Gideon and his little lame brother Moses, who are native Masai. The way Gideon becomes Delilah's best friend and how they bond over just talking about the simplest of things, like the Masai words for plants, made him far and away my favorite character in the book.

To me Gideon was so real that he walked right out of the pages and into my heart. Likewise his younger brother Moses. To not only have a connection because of his being a sweet boy with a lame leg who doesn't speak, I mean, how could you not love the little Tiny Timness of him? But to then have that couched in the language of what these disabilities really mean within Masai culture, and how his disabilities mean that he is not only different, but that because of this he can't get cattle to raise and if he doesn't get the cattle then there is no way he can afford a dowry and without that he will never marry and have a fulfilled life, according to his upbringing, just pulls at the heartstrings. The fact that Delilah hires him, that this simple gesture means that Moses could have a real and full life because he is now able to contribute, makes you have the feels all the more. I would even go so far as to say that because of Deanna's integration of characters and culture that you are reading a deeper book than most of the books on Africa out there.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Book Book of 2014 - Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Published by: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 1848
Format: Hardcover, 486 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Wildfell Hall has a new resident. A mysterious widow and her young son who want nothing to do with the outside world. The outside world disagrees. The nosey neighbors must know everything they can about the mysterious Mrs. Graham. Young Gilbert Markham wants to know everything but for a very different reason, he is inexorably drawn to the young widow and cannot understand why she remains aloof and detached, craving solitude over companionship and love. Gilbert Markham's attentions to the young widow do not go unnoticed by others and leads his spurned ex, Eliza Millward, to spread malicious gossip throughout the small community about the widow. The whispers combined with Helen Graham's feelings for Gilbert lead her to make a decision she might regret. She decides she must disclose her past so that he can move on and realize their love is doomed, and not just because her husband isn't dead, but because he doesn't really know who she is. To that extent she gives him her diaries. All her inner feelings and thoughts and all her secrets bound forever between the pages of a book.

Mrs. Helen Graham is really Mrs. Helen Huntington, the wife of a cruel man who has more vices than she could enumerate and surrounds himself with the worst of humanity at their home, Grassdale. Though their marriage wasn't destined to debauchery. At first Arthur Huntingdon was witty and pretty and Helen in her naivete thought she could reform this bad boy. At the birth of their son though things changed. Arthur didn't like his son and heir getting all of Helen's attention and set out to form the boy in his own image. Helen fled her husband because he was trying to imprint their your son with his own dubious morals. She could have suffered anything if it was just herself that was the target of Huntington's malice, she stubbornly married him after all, but their son is another matter. Her brother helped her escape the life she trapped herself in only to find herself wanting that which she can not have due to her circumstances. But after years of feeling hunted in her own home can she remake her life? Is freedom enough without Gilbert Markham? Or will her old life haunt her until she or Huntington is dead?

Sometimes I am a very contrary person, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a case in point. Instead of reading the book before watching the miniseries I decided to watch the miniseries first which then put me off the book. I know, it has Toby Stephens and James Purefoy in it so how could it be bad? But I watched it prior to Sherlock partially redeeming Rupert Graves in my eyes and my hate of Rupert Graves has been a long standing issue. My hate is also a hard thing to put my finger on, was it The Forsyte Saga or Take a Girl Like You, both where he played cheating cads, that made me want to forever punch him in the face? I think I might never know. Putting the Rupert rant behind us my steadfast rule of reading the book prior to watching any adaptation for some reasons is exempt when it has to do with the Brontes. I had seen so many adaptations of their books prior to ever picking one up that they are grandfathered into my weird reading habits with this clause. Yet I still question how this adaptation failed with that cast! It was dull and lifeless and I remember barely being able to finish it and this from a girl who finished the Jane Eyre adaptation with Ciaran Hinds. PS I hate Ciaran Hinds more than I've ever hated Rupert Graves.

The miniseries turned me off the book and because of this the book languished for years waiting for the time when I would pick it up and love it. I seriously can not think of any reasonable excuse why it took me this long to read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I was under so many misconceptions about this book that I should have just trusted my gut which tells me that Anne Bronte is awesome. I am serious when I say that I think Anne might just be my favorite Bronte. This isn't just me rooting for the underdog, though she is the least embraced of the sisters, this is totally to do with how awesome her books are. Let me brake it down for you. Charlotte is the most famous, I mean, Jane Eyre, while Emily is the one the more malcontent readers are drawn to with her sole writing credit, Wuthering Heights, and that leaves Anne kind of stuck in the middle with her two books, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey. And I call foul! To all the readers and especially English teachers out there the world over who gravitate towards the two ends of the Bronte spectrum and fail to educate others that Anne is the best of both worlds! She has the darkness of Emily with the narrative structure of Charlotte. I think I need to form an Anne support group...

But what's so interesting about Anne is that in her work she is in some ways responding to her own siblings as people and writers. Anne's desire for "truth" in this novel comes from a desire to counter the pro bad boy image her sisters had created in their works. But there's a deeper part of me that wonders if she's not just messing with Charlotte and Emily a little. Who, given the chance, wouldn't try to mess with their siblings a little? Her sisters did everything to make this bad boy redeemable by love trope and then in comes Anne and blasts them out of the water. Huntington is a bad boy to equal Heathcliff and Rochester, but love is unable to sway him. He even wants to corrupt his own child! The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is an opus to the irredeemable. I can just picture the sisters sitting around their fireplace on a cold night in Haworth talking about their dream men and Anne just looking askance at them and plotting how to prove them wrong, preferably in three volumes, she was, after all, a silent plotter. I don't think anyone has ever summed this up better than Kate Beaton in her "Hark, a Vagrant" comic, "Dude Watchin' with The Brontes," so I won't attempt to and move onto other things. Though I will mention I have this piece framed in my library I love it so much.

Moving on... What I find amazing in this book, and in fact all the work by the Brontes, is how they were able to capture an entire outside world while living their cloistered lives and put it on the page. It just goes to show that sometimes writing what you know isn't the only answer, but writing what you feel is. Over a hundred and fifty years later this book pulses with life. It was criticized at the time for being too repulsive and scandalous, but that is why it resonates till this day. It is the truth of human nature and fallibility that Anne sought out to capture and did. Infidelity, adultery, drugs, drink, games of chance, everything not written about in literature of it's day that still causes so much heartbreak. Yes, you could argue that Anne was filtering this all through the lens of the hedonist lifestyle her brother Branwell lived. But you can't say that dealing with Branwell's multiplicity of addictions and personality defects didn't bring the darker aspects of humanity right to Anne's front door. So, arguing against myself, maybe she was writing what she knew? Either way, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall shows that no matter how you live your life it gives you an understanding of the world at large and it's degradation's.

The degraded life that Helen lives made me connect to her because, not only did I pity her, I worried that she wouldn't make it out of this situation, ironic because having watched the miniseries I knew the outcome, but still I worried. But as to the debauchery, one problem I have always had and mention repeatedly in literature set during this time is the overuse of the Hellfire Club. It seems if you are debauched during the Regency or early Victorian eras you therefore have to belong to some incarnation of said Hellfire Club. But here I make an exception. Usually the Hellfire Club is just a trope used by modern writers, as in those still currently writing, as a basic touchstone for debauchery that modern readers will latch onto. Think of the spunk it took for a little ex-governess to allude to the Hellfire Club in a book written in 1848! You Anne Bronte are the exception that proves the rule! When you wrote those few lines alluding to fire and brimstone it was not yet hackneyed, it was controversial. I wish I could tell you how much you mean to me and literature. This poorly written review will have to suffice.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: May 14th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"International bestselling author Guy Gavriel Kay's latest work is set in a world evoking early Renaissance Italy and offers an extraordinary cast of characters whose lives come together through destiny, love, and ambition.

In a chamber overlooking the nighttime waterways of a maritime city, a man looks back on his youth and the people who shaped his life. Danio Cerra's intelligence won him entry to a renowned school even though he was only the son of a tailor. He took service at the court of a ruling count - and soon learned why that man was known as the Beast.

Danio's fate changed the moment he saw and recognized Adria Ripoli as she entered the count's chambers one autumn night - intending to kill. Born to power, Adria had chosen, instead of a life of comfort, one of danger - and freedom. Which is how she encounters Danio in a perilous time and place.

Vivid figures share the unfolding story. Among them: a healer determined to defy her expected lot; a charming, frivolous son of immense wealth; a powerful religious leader more decadent than devout; and, affecting all these lives and many more, two larger-than-life mercenary commanders, lifelong adversaries, whose rivalry puts a world in the balance.

A Brightness Long Ago offers both compelling drama and deeply moving reflections on the nature of memory, the choices we make in life, and the role played by the turning of Fortune's wheel."

A Renaissance-esque epic not to be missed. 

The Den by Abi Maxwell
Published by: Knopf
Publication Date: May 14th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A luminous, hypnotic story of youth, sex, and power that tells of two young women who find themselves ostracized from the same small New England community for the same reasons--though they are separated by 150 years.

Henrietta and Jane are fifteen and twelve, growing up in a farmhouse on the outskirts of town. Their mother is a painter, lost in her art, their father a cook who's raised them on magical tales about their land. When Henrietta becomes obsessed with a boy from town, Jane takes to trailing the young couple, spying on their trysts - until one night, Henrietta vanishes into the woods. Elspeth and Claire are sisters separated by an ocean - Elspeth's pregnancy at seventeen meant she was quickly married and sent to America to avoid certain shame. But when she begins ingratiating herself to the town's wealthy mill owner, a series of wrenching and violent events unfold, culminating in her disappearance. As Jane and Claire search in their own times for their missing sisters, they each come across a strange story about a family that is transformed into coyotes. But what does this myth mean? Are their sisters dead, destroyed by men and lust? Or, are they alive and thriving beyond the watchful eyes of their same small town? With echoes of The Scarlet Letter, Abi Maxwell gives us a transporting, layered tale of two women, living generations apart yet connected by place and longing, and condemned for the very same desires."

That cover. Seriously, that cover is to die for. Also I'm a sucked for anything moody and New England, especially if there are Shirley Jackson overtones.  

A Bend in the Stars by Rachel Barenbaum
Published by: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: May 14th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"For fans of All the Light We Cannot See and The Women in the Castle comes a riveting literary novel that is at once an epic love story and a heart-pounding journey across WWI-era Russia, about an ambitious young doctor and her scientist brother in a race against Einstein to solve one of the greatest mysteries of the universe.

In Russia, in the summer of 1914, as war with Germany looms and the Czar's army tightens its grip on the local Jewish community, Miri Abramov and her brilliant physicist brother, Vanya, are facing an impossible decision. Since their parents drowned fleeing to America, Miri and Vanya have been raised by their babushka, a famous matchmaker who has taught them to protect themselves at all costs: to fight, to kill if necessary, and always to have an escape plan. But now, with fierce, headstrong Miri on the verge of becoming one of Russia's only female surgeons, and Vanya hoping to solve the final puzzles of Einstein's elusive theory of relativity, can they bear to leave the homeland that has given them so much?

Before they have time to make their choice, war is declared and Vanya goes missing, along with Miri's fiancé. Miri braves the firing squad to go looking for them both. As the eclipse that will change history darkens skies across Russia, not only the safety of Miri's own family but the future of science itself hangs in the balance.

Grounded in real history - and inspired by the solar eclipse of 1914 - A Bend in the Stars offers a heartstopping account of modern science's greatest race amidst the chaos of World War I, and a love story as epic as the railways crossing Russia."

Sigh, Russian Historical Fiction is my jam.

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