Friday, February 26, 2021

Season 44 - Mr Selfridge Series 2 (2014)

Mr Selfridge is a series that really came into it's own in the second series. If it had kept on the self-indulgent and self-destructive trajectory of the first series it wouldn't have lasted beyond it's second series, and I wouldn't have watched another episode. Did anybody really want to watch the hallucinatory post car crash episode? NO! Well, probably Jeremy Piven, but no one else. Instead we were lucky enough to have four series, three of which understood that while Selfridge, the man and the establishment, were the glue that held the series together, it was really the supporting cast that made the show work. It was the romance of Henri and Agnes, Miss Mardle finding purpose in her life besides being Mr. Grove's mistress, Arthur Crabb just being Arthur Crabb, the unexpected alliance of Frank and Kitty, the machinations of Lord Loxley, the delights of Lady Mae, I could go on and on because there was so much to love in this show. But what really made the show click for me in series two, besides the tonal shift, was that I knew Rose Selfridge was on the way out. Here's the thing. Everyone has an actor or actress they just can't stand. Watching them is like having your eyes being slowly clawed out of their sockets or having really painful dental surgery. Well, for me, Frances O'Connor and that Jack Nicholson Joker-esque smile of hers is at the top of my hate list. The hate started for me with the horrific 1999 adaptation of Mansfield Park, of which the less said the better. My feelings were really solidified by the movie A.I., and well, the rest is history, as in, I historically and forevermore will hate her, not matter what, and I thank the stars above every day that the adaptation of the Locke and Key series wasn't picked up with her as Nina. Anyway, after the first series when the show was picked up for a second series I read a bit about Harry Gordon Selfridge and saw that his beloved wife Rose, played by Frances O'Connor, died in the pandemic of 1918. Not good news for the real Rose, great news for me! All I had to do was get through her scenes in series two, which were minimized because of expanding the plotlines to include the supporting characters, and I'd be home free. Series three starts with a very welcome funeral. Sometimes the tragedies of life can make me happy.   

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Season 45 - Poldark Series 1 (2015)

From hearing the first strains of music as the picture faded in I fell in love with Poldark. The sweeping Cornish coastline coupled with the theme music created an ache in my heart that made me nostalgic for a place I have never been. While I enjoyed the complete series, especially the encroaching Regency fashions, and hope that it will one day return to continue the story when they are older, the first series remains my favorite. This show wallows in star-crossed lovers, from Elizabeth and Ross to Verity and Captain Blamey to Dwight and Keren these are just the tip of the iceberg before Demelza's broody brothers were introduced. But to me what makes the show work is coupling the heart with the humor. The overly melodramatic Ross needs someone as pragmatic and blunt as Aunt Agatha to balance his histrionics. Also George and his fantasies are always blunted by his Uncle, the magnificent Pip Torrens. Though the humor of the series can be summarized in one person, Jud. When Phil Davis left the show they lost a comic genius and one of the checks and balances that kept this show sailing smoothly. There's a reason why the show was good but never quite as good after that first season. George had more depth, the plots seemed more personal, and there was Ross and Demelza falling in love. The way Demelza healed Ross's heart after Elizabeth shredded it to bits (and yes I'm fully ignoring what happened later.) Oh my, be still my heart. The scullery maid got the guy! Yes, she did force his hand a little but he grew to love her and she became his rock. The forth episode of series one might just be ranked among my favorite television episodes of all time. In the episode Demelza and Ross go to Trenwith for Christmas. This could be disastrous. On so many levels. But Demelza shines and not only do the other guests see what Ross saw all along, but Ross also sees Demelza anew and realizes how lucky he is. This was the pinnacle of the Poldark passion and romance for me. The dress, the singing, the pregnancy, the love, oh, I feel a great need to go rewatch the whole first season again and perhaps this episode more than once.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Russian Cage by Charlaine Harris
Published by: Gallery/Saga Press
Publication Date: February 23rd, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"#1 New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Charlaine Harris is at her best in this alternate history of the United States where magic is an acknowledged but despised power in this third installment of the Gunnie Rose series.

Picking up right where A Longer Fall left off, this thrilling third installment follows Lizbeth Rose as she takes on one of her most dangerous missions yet: rescuing her estranged partner, Prince Eli, from the Holy Russian Empire. Once in San Diego, Lizbeth is going to have to rely upon her sister Felicia, and her growing Grigori powers to navigate her way through this strange new world of royalty and deception in order to get Eli freed from jail where he’s being held for murder.

Russian Cage continues to ramp up the momentum with more of everything Harris’ readers adore her for with romance, intrigue, and a deep dive into the mysterious Holy Russian Empire."

I already have my signed preorder in at my favorite Indie bookstore, Murder By the Book!

Calculated Risks by Seanan McGuire
Published by: DAW
Publication Date: February 23rd, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The tenth book in the fast-paced InCryptid urban fantasy series returns to the mishaps of the Price family, eccentric cryptozoologists who safeguard the world of magical creatures living in secret among humans.

Just when Sarah Zellaby, adopted Price cousin and telepathic ambush predator, thought that things couldn't get worse, she's had to go and prove herself wrong. After being kidnapped and manipulated by her birth family, she has undergone a transformation called an instar, reaching back to her Apocritic origins to metamorphize. While externally the same, she is internally much more powerful, and much more difficult to control.

Even by herself. After years of denial, the fact that she will always be a cuckoo has become impossible to deny.

Now stranded in another dimension with a handful of allies who seem to have no idea who she is - including her cousin Annie and her maybe-boyfriend Artie, both of whom have forgotten their relationship - and a bunch of cuckoos with good reason to want her dead, Sarah must figure out not only how to contend with her situation, but with the new realities of her future. What is she now? Who is she now? Is that person someone she can live with?

And when all is said and done, will she be able to get the people she loves, whether or not they've forgotten her, safely home?"

I believe this is the first Seanan McGuire book of the five hundred she plans to publish this year. Number probably actually me rounding down.

Master of the Revels by Nichole Gallad
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 23rd, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 560 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In this brilliant sequel to The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. - an enthralling, history-bending adventure traversing time and space, fact and fiction, magic and science co-written with #1 New York Times bestselling author Neal Stephenson - a daring young time traveler must return to Jacobean England to save the modern world.

This fast-paced sequel to the New York Times bestselling near-future adventure The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. picks up where the original left off, as Tristan Lyons, Mel Stokes, and their fellow outcasts from the Department of Diachronic Operations (D.O.D.O.) fight to stop the powerful Irish witch Gráinne from using time travel to reverse the evolution of all modern technology.

Chief amongst Gráinne’s plots: to encrypt cataclysmic spells into Shakespeare’s “cursed” play, Macbeth. When her fellow rogue agents fall victim to Gráinne’s schemes, Melisande Stokes is forced to send Tristan’s untested, wayward sister Robin back in time to 1606 London, where Edmund Tilney, the king’s Master of Revels, controls all staged performances in London.

And now Gráinne controls Tilney.

While Robin poses as an apprentice in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Mel travels to the ancient Roman Empire and, with the help of double-agent Chira in Renaissance Florence, untangles the knotted threads of history while the diabolical Gráinne jumps from timeline to timeline, always staying frustratingly one stop ahead - or is it behind?

Historical objects disappear, cities literally rise and fall, and nothing less than the fate of humanity is at stake. As Gráinne sows chaos across time and space, the ragtag team of ex-D.O.D.O. agents must fix the past - in order to save the future.

Critically acclaimed author Nicole Galland brings her deep knowledge of history and signature wit to this gripping romantic adventure."

Signs it's time to read the first book in a series on my tbr pile? When the sequel is already coming out!

Quiet in Her Bones by Nalini Singh
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: February 23rd, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In this gripping thriller set in New Zealand, New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh takes you into the twisted world of an exclusive cul-de-sac located on the edge of a sprawling forest.

My mother vanished ten years ago.
So did a quarter of a million dollars in cash.
Thief. Bitch. Criminal.
Now, she's back.
Her bones clothed in scarlet silk.

When socialite Nina Rai disappeared without a trace, everyone wrote it off as another trophy wife tired of her wealthy husband. But now her bones have turned up in the shadowed green of the forest that surrounds her elite neighborhood, a haven of privilege and secrets that’s housed the same influential families for decades.

The rich live here, along with those whose job it is to make their lives easier. And somebody knows what happened to Nina one rainy night ten years ago. Her son Aarav heard a chilling scream that night, and he’s determined to uncover the ugly truth that lives beneath the moneyed elegance...but no one is ready for the murderous secrets about to crawl out of the dark.

Even the dead aren’t allowed to break the rules in this cul-de-sac."

New Zealand. Thriller. That is all I need to know.

The Crossroads at Midnight by Abby Howard
Published by: Iron Circus Comics
Publication Date: February 23rd, 2021
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A masterful collection of tales from the faded border between our day-to-day world and the horrifying unknown on the other side of midnight.

An old woman living alone on the edge of a bog gets an unexpected - and unsettling - visitor, throwing her quiet life into a long-buried mystery. An isolated backwoods family stumbles into good fortune for a time with a monstrous discovery in the lake behind their house, but that time is running short. And a misfit little girl, struggling to make friends, meets an understanding soul one day at the beach: but why will he only play with her alone at night? All these lonely souls - and more - have reached out into the darkness, not knowing what they might find.

Around the dark edges of reality lurk unknown beings with unknowable intentions - ordinary objects can become cursed possessions, entities who seem like friends can become monstrous, and those who seem monstrous can become the truest companions. In this collection of evocative, unnerving slice-of-life horror, five stories explore what happens when one is desperate enough to seek solace in the unnatural, and what might be waiting for us at the Crossroads at Midnight."

I was 100% sold with the mention of ordinary objects becoming cursed possessions. 

Homicide at Rough Point by Peter Lance
Published by: Tenacity Media Books
Publication Date: February 23rd, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 438 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the fall of 1966 billionaire Doris Duke killed a close confident in an incident that the Newport, RI police hastily ruled "an accident." Half a century later, an investigative reporter returns to his hometown and proves that the vindictive heiress got away with murder.

Introduction: Cielo Drive cuts like a beautiful scar along the bottom of a V-shaped canyon in the hills of Bel Air. In February, 1969, as she looked out on it from the red farmhouse at No. 10050 that she and her husband Roman had rented, Sharon Tate had no way of knowing that she only had 6 months to live. On August 9, the hyper-violent "Manson Family" would invade that house, killing Sharon and 3 of her closest friends. But strangely, half a year earlier, she'd had a brush with a different killer. It happened after her sister Patti, then 11, looked across at the Spanish-Moorish estate Sharon called "The Haunted House." In Restless Souls, Alisa Statmen and Brie Tate write that Patti hiked down and crossed Cielo, walking up to 1436 Bella Drive. There, she encountered the open gate to Falcon Lair, Rudolf Valentino's former home, purchased in 1953 by Doris Duke.

The wrought iron gates were open when Patti wandered in. Suddenly, she heard, an angry caretaker yell, "This is private property " Startled, she lost her balance, fell and skinned her knee. Just then, a black limo pulled in. A tinted window went down and a tall woman in back lowered her sunglasses to ask who she was. Once she ID'd herself as Patti, sister of Sharon who lived "in the red barn," Doris knew that this wasn't any child. She was the sibling of the hottest young star in town. So she snapped to the caretaker, "Stop being such an ogre and bring Patti in, so we can clean those scrapes and get me the Polanski's phone number."

Later Sharon arrived, "nervously chewing her lower lip" and apologizing to the blond billionaire who was the 3rd richest woman in the world behind Queen Elizabeth and Queen Juliana. But by then, Sharon Tate was Hollywood royalty herself; her husband Roman, coming off "Rosemary's Baby," a kind of cinematic prince. So why was she nervous? What would make her bite her lip in the face of a woman whose caretaker had caused her little sister to draw blood? Since Sharon was killed that summer, we'll never know. But one thing is clear: this wasn't the first time Sharon Tate had been pulled into Doris's orbit. 2 1/2 years earlier, one of Sharon's closest friends, Eduardo Tirella, was violently killed after Doris crushed him under a two-ton station wagon and, at that time, most of Eduardo's friends suspected he'd been murdered.

The brutal stabbing of Sharon Tate is the tragic tale of a woman of great promise cut down in the prime of life. But that was also true of Eduardo, whose own Hollywood career was catching fire when he told the possessive heiress he was leaving her, minutes before she ran him down outside the gates of her Newport estate. Because she had the money and the power, Doris Duke erased his death from the narrative of her troubled life. For more than 50 years, the real truth behind what happened at Rough Point on Oct. 7th, 1966 has been hidden. Until now..."

True Crime joy!!! 

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: February 23rd, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the bestselling author of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir comes an unforgettable novel of a BBC-sponsored wartime cooking competition and the four women who enter for a chance to better their lives.

Two years into World War II, Britain is feeling her losses: The Nazis have won battles, the Blitz has destroyed cities, and U-boats have cut off the supply of food. In an effort to help housewives with food rationing, a BBC radio program called The Kitchen Front is holding a cooking contest - and the grand prize is a job as the program’s first-ever female co-host. For four very different women, winning the competition would present a crucial chance to change their lives.

For a young widow, it’s a chance to pay off her husband’s debts and keep a roof over her children’s heads. For a kitchen maid, it’s a chance to leave servitude and find freedom. For a lady of the manor, it’s a chance to escape her wealthy husband’s increasingly hostile behavior. And for a trained chef, it’s a chance to challenge the men at the top of her profession.

These four women are giving the competition their all - even if that sometimes means bending the rules. But with so much at stake, will the contest that aims to bring the community together only serve to break it apart?"

The first time I heard of this book I was like, Wartime Bake-Off!?! YES PLEASE! I still feel that way!

Friday, February 19, 2021

Season 46 - Indian Summers Series 2 (2016)

I have always loved epic stories set in India. Indian Summers tapped into that on many levels. Set during the waning days of the British Raj, there's a sense that the party was winding down and these characters were grasping for whatever they could get, leading them to, more often than not, make disastrous choices. The show has very little in the way of plot other than lots of romantic obstacles, but the stellar cast makes up for any plot defects. Come one people, Julia Walters! Not to mention Patrick Malahide, Nikesh Patel, Art Malik, Blake Ritson, and Craig Parkinson. I could just watch them wander the lanes between their precious club and their homes for hours on end. The insufferable heat they were trying to escape by summering in Simla, in the foothills of the Himalayas, is palpable onscreen and made me feel like I was there. I know there are a lot of people who took issue with the show, primarily due to the fact that instead of actually filming in India they filmed in Penang, Malaysia, and, well, you can tell, but it still succeeded in creating that atmosphere of suffocating and insufferable British superiority where they refuse to dress for the climate because that wouldn't be British. I can even see them sitting around set declaring themselves to be in India when they were not. I do wish the show had been given a chance to play out over the intended five seasons, because they started moving more into the political upheavals that were on the horizon in India with Gandhi and contrasting his power with that of the Raj with the introduction of Art Malik as the Maharajah of Amritpur in season two. A change was in the wind and the cracks really started to show in season two and then it just ended! And what about the romance between Alice and Aafrin! The series ends with a potential happy ending for the mixed race couple, but would that have actually lasted if the show went on for three more seasons? Or did they shoehorn this in to give the audience some kind of happy ending even though anyone who has any sense of history would know how hard the life they chose would be in 1935. Also would the show have tackled World War II? But I have to settle with what we got, a slice of life, not perfect, but very atmospheric.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Season 47 - Victoria Series 1 (2017)

If there's one thing that is certain in this life it's that we viewers love a good glimpse into royal life. And seeing as until recently Queen Victoria was the longest reigning monarch it makes sense that she's the one most often brought to the screen, especially in cameos in any film set during the Victorian era. In fact many of my favorite actresses, and a handful of actors, have portrayed Victoria in their time, Annette Crosbie, Miriam Margolyes, Anna Massey, Victoria Hamilton, Prunella Scales, Pauline Collins, Pam Ferris, Gayle Rankin, Imelda Staunton, Kathy Bates, and Gemma Jones are a few of my favorites, though a tip of the hat to certain members of Monty Python's Flying Circus is also due. You might notice I omitted Emily Blunt and The Young Victoria. I know it feels sacrilegious to say I don't like something written by Julian Fellowes, but the movie just felt like a subpar version of the Victoria and Albert miniseries staring Victoria Hamilton and the lesser Firth. Needles to say this meant I was very excited when I heard about the new Victoria series staring Jenna Coleman. She's a talented actress and they just destroyed her character on Doctor Who and I felt that this would be her redemption. Also the show just happened to be created by an author whose work I really like, Daisy Goodwin! Seriously, do yourself a favor and check out The American Heiress! In interviews prior to the show's release she talked about reading Victoria's diaries and really realizing what it would mean to elevate a teenager to absolute ruler. It's actually rather intimidating and scary giving someone that young that much power, but luckily there are advisors... in other words, there is Lord Melbourne. Lord M as portrayed by Rufus Sewell captured the hearts of everyone. Historical accuracy be damned! Lord M and Victoria forever! Who is this Albert person anyway? In fact that ravenous cult of Lord M and our lingering love for him makes every other series of this show pale in comparison. Season one had Lord M and Rufus, therefore season one is the best. Period.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Diabolical Bones by Bella Ellis
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: February 16th, 2021
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Haworth Parsonage, February 1846: The Brontë sisters - Anne, Emily, and Charlotte - are busy with their literary pursuits. As they query publishers for their poetry, each sister hopes to write a full-length novel that will thrill the reading public. They’re also hoping for a new case for their fledgling detecting enterprise, Bell Brothers and Company solicitors. On a bitterly cold February evening, their housekeeper Tabby tells them of a grim discovery at Scar Top House, an old farmhouse belonging to the Bradshaw family. A set of bones has been found bricked up in a chimney breast inside the ancient home.

Tabby says it's bad doings, and dark omens for all of them. The rattled housekeeper gives them a warning, telling the sisters of a chilling rumour attached to the family. The villagers believe that, on the verge of bankruptcy, Clifton Bradshaw sold his soul to the devil in return for great riches. Does this have anything to do with the bones found in the Bradshaw house? The sisters are intrigued by the story and feel compelled to investigate. But Anne, Emily, and Charlotte soon learn that true evil has set a murderous trap and they've been lured right into it..."

Bradshaw? Inspiration for a certain Earnshaw? 

An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: February 16th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In what promises to be a breakout in Charles Finch's bestselling series, Charles Lenox travels to the New York and Newport of the dawning Gilded Age to investigate the death of a beautiful socialite.

London, 1878. With faith in Scotland Yard shattered after a damning corruption investigation, Charles Lenox's detective agency is rapidly expanding. The gentleman sleuth has all the work he can handle, two children, and an intriguing new murder case.

But when Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli offers him the opportunity to undertake a diplomatic mission for the Queen, Lenox welcomes the chance to satisfy an unfulfilled yearning: to travel to America. Arriving in New York, he begins to receive introductions into both its old Knickerbocker society and its new robber baron splendor. Then, a shock: the death of the season's most beautiful debutante, who appears to have thrown herself from a cliff. Or was it a suicide? Lenox’s reputation has preceded him to the States, and he is summoned to a magnificent Newport mansion to investigate the mysterious death. What ensues is a fiendish game of cat and mouse.

Witty, complex, and tender, An Extravagant Death is Charles Finch's triumphant return to the main storyline of his beloved Charles Lenox series - a devilish mystery, a social drama, and an unforgettable first trip for an Englishman coming to America."

Gilded Age New York and Newport! Insert Kermit flailing his arms about here! 

Modern English by Rachel Spangler
Published by: Bywater Books
Publication Date: February 16th, 2021
Format: Paperback, 310 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When dreams and expectations clash in a flurry of sparks, an actress and an aristocrat find themselves searching for common ground.

Lady Victoria Penchant has had enough scandal for one lifetime, and she's sworn off drama for good. But when she makes an unexpected return to her family's castle during high tourist season, drama is exactly what she finds - in the form of a Hollywood film crew and their sharp-tongued, stunning star, Sophia LeBlanc. Sparks of every kind fly from their first encounter and the drama doubles as Vic's every decision draws her closer to Sophia and further from the expectations of the prestigious position she has been raised to protect.

Sophia has worked and scraped and fought her way up from nothing to the brink of stardom. She's spent her career taking direction from rich, pretty, privileged men, and she has no intention of letting some rich, pretty, privileged aristocrat stand in the way now that her wildest dreams are within reach. She vows to stay in control of every situation during filming, but the Lady of the Manor proves to be an unexpectedly stubborn and alluring challenge to the goals she's fought so hard to achieve.

As the summer heats up, Vic and Sophia learn they have far more in common than their intense sexual attraction, but will that be enough to overcome the pressures of proud histories and find their way toward a new vision of forever?"

I like the Gosford Park subplot feel of this. 

She Wore a Yellow Dress by John R. Cammidge
Published by: Gatekeeper Press
Publication Date: February 16th, 2021
Format: Paperback, 478 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"John is brought up on an isolated farm near York, spends his spare time birdwatching, lives with an unsympathetic stepfather and loving mother, and attends Hull University as the government pays his expenses. He worries about serious relationships with girls and has no idea of what career to follow. His experience so far is as a farm hand and a hospital porter. A letter he finds at home confirms his biological father is alive but has no intention of helping him.

On Bonfire Night 1965 (Guy Fawkes Night), during his final undergraduate year, he meets a fellow student, Jean-Louise, and a romantic relationship develops. In many ways she is different from John; she is a town girl, brought up by loving parents, is an only child, has opposing politics and knows what she wants to be - a fashion buyer for Marks and Spencer. The obstacle is her mother is ill with muscular dystrophy and she must help take care of her parents. She surprises John by encouraging his birdwatching. John joins Ford of Britain as a graduate trainee and after an uncertain start, is placed in industrial relations and decides to study for a graduate degree with the Institute of Personnel Management. He also discovers more about his real father.

What happens to the couple during the subsequent 10 years as they navigate their careers, have to deal with events that take place in Britain during the period and manage personal issues at home, are the subjects of this book. There is panic buying during the 1974, 3-day working week, the affects on home life of Britain's entry into the Common Market, annual inflation driven above 25 percent in part because of trade union militancy, and many other national incidents.

A unique feature of the novel is the use of bird species to illustrate human behavior and character. At the end of each chapter there is an illustration of the featured bird from that chapter to provide a summary of the bird's appearance and habitat in case the reader is interested.

The novel blends British history, ornithology, success at work, discrimination against women and the challenges of home life into a single story."

I do not think I have loved a book cover more than this one. It has the feeling of Hitchcock or an old French New Wave film. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Season 48 - The Miniaturist (2018)

If, like many people, you discovered the marvel that is Anya Taylor-Joy during quarantine through either The Queen's Gambit or Emma. and are looking for something equally marvelous that she stars in, unlike say Thoroughbreds, may I bring The Miniatruist to your attention? An adaptation of the Jessie Burton book, this is a rare adaptation that is, in my mind, better than the book. And it's not just the delight in the dueling Emmas, Romala Garai portrayed Miss Woodhouse in the 2009 miniseries which still happens to be my favorite adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, though the Emmas was vastly entertaining to me. Everything about this miniseries that was distilled down from the book makes it a perfect story that doesn't overstay it's welcome, yes, I am looking at the book with a bit of side-eye. One of the reasons this is so wonderful is that sometimes an image does work better than words to convey a time period, and each and every single shot of this miniseries is lush with color and looks like it could be a painting by Vermeer! The clothes, the house, the cabinet, the miniatures, everything is just so perfect. Also, the way the camera frames the actors with long shots while they are in doorways almost makes them look like dolls themselves. Shivers for the parallels of the cabinet and the miniaturist making puppets of the household! If I have one complaint, and of course I always have one complaint, it's that Nella's confrontation of the miniaturist felt rushed and ill-defined. I'd almost prefer no explanation to the explanation we got. How she does what she does in a quickly whispered confession to being an observant person with a possible sixth sense. Seriously, more or nothing! Also, this really tamed the miniaturist in my opinion, in the book she is distinctly malevolent, especially towards Nella's sister-in-law Marin. But one complaint for the miniseries versus my unending list that I complied while reading the book once again proves that adaptation leads to flouishing. Darwin was right! Though I'm sure he didn't think it would be applied to a form of entertainment...    

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Season 49 - Les Misérables (2019)

When I was in grade school and high school Les Misérables was everywhere. In grade school the t-shirt for the musical was a badge of honor that your parents had taken you to a big city to see the show. In other words, that you had money. Just like winter coats with ski lift tags. In high school it was the cool music and theatre kids who wore them as a coat of arms. I, being the misanthrope that I have always been, took it as a mark of how cool I was that I had never seen the musical and had no desire to. Cats ALL THE WAY! I continue to revel in the fact that I have never seen Les Misérables and have no plans to ever see it. I know some of you are shocked and even some of you who I consider my close friends are planning on disavowing me, but you're not going to guilt me into seeing it. EVER! Therefore hearing that Masterpiece was doing a no singing, no dancing adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel made me very happy. I could finally see an adaptation without hearing "One Day More!" Even better, Andrew Davies was adapting it. I know a lot of you have issues with him, to that I say you're hypocrites. Davies can have a moistened Colin Firth but any other sex is off bounds? How do you think say the Bennet's had children in the first place!?! Sigh. Some people would rather live in cloud cuckoo land than the real world I guess and "modern" adaptations have, for the most part, succeeded by grounding them in reality. I also liked Davies attitude going in that he was going to adapt the book to show the lesser known storylines, the plot points that weren't worthy of the musical. Plus casting Dominic West as Jean Valjean and David Oyelowo as Javert was genius. I will watch anything with Dominic West, I ever finished out the shit show that was The Affair because he was in it and am really looking forward to the new adaptation of The Pursuit of Love. As for Les Misérables itself... it showed a very bleak and at times incomprehensible world. There is a lot of death and so much of it is unnecessary... but then, that's life. None of us get out of it alive. Though most of us don't just randomly die in a garden with no ovious cause of death. Could we get a crossover with Masterpiece Mystery and bring in Poirot? 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Witch's Heart by Genevieve Gornichec
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: February 9th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When a banished witch falls in love with the legendary trickster Loki, she risks the wrath of the gods in this moving, subversive debut novel that reimagines Norse mythology.

Angrboda’s story begins where most witches' tales end: with a burning. A punishment from Odin for refusing to provide him with knowledge of the future, the fire leaves Angrboda injured and powerless, and she flees into the farthest reaches of a remote forest. There she is found by a man who reveals himself to be Loki, and her initial distrust of him transforms into a deep and abiding love.

Their union produces three unusual children, each with a secret destiny, who Angrboda is keen to raise at the edge of the world, safely hidden from Odin’s all-seeing eye. But as Angrboda slowly recovers her prophetic powers, she learns that her blissful life - and possibly all of existence - is in danger.

With help from the fierce huntress Skadi, with whom she shares a growing bond, Angrboda must choose whether she’ll accept the fate that she’s foreseen for her beloved family...or rise to remake their future. From the most ancient of tales this novel forges a story of love, loss, and hope for the modern age."

Loki and subversive? Sold. 

The Girl from Shadow Springs by Ellie Cypher
Published by: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: February 9th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Revenant meets True Grit with a magical twist in this thrilling and atmospheric debut fantasy about two teens who must brave a frozen wasteland and the foes within it to save their loved ones and uncover a deadly secret.

The answer to what freezes first is the eyes. That ain’t what most people would guess.

Everyone in Shadow Springs knows that no one survives crossing the Flats. But the threat of a frozen death has never deterred the steady stream of treasure hunters searching for a legendary prize hidden somewhere in the vast expanse of ice. Jorie thinks they’re all fools, which makes scavenging their possessions easier. It’s how she and her sister, Brenna, survive.

Then Jorie scavenges off the wrong body. When the dead man’s enemy believes Jorie took something valuable from the body, he kidnaps Brenna as collateral. He tells Jorie that if she wants her sister back, she’ll have to trade her for the item he thinks she stole. But how can Jorie make a trade when she doesn’t even know what she’s looking for?

Her only source of information is Cody, the dead man’s nephew and a scholar from the South who’s never been hardened by the harsh conditions of the North. Though Jorie’s reluctant to bring a city boy out onto the Flats with her, she’ll do whatever it takes to save her sister. But anything can happen out on the ice, and soon Jorie and Cody find they need one another more than they ever imagined - and they’ll have to trust each other to survive threats beyond their darkest nightmares."

I reading a book right now heralded as True Grit meets True Blood, and I need more books of this ilk in my life. 

The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: February 9th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An unconventional vicar must exorcise the dark past of a remote village haunted by death and disappearances in this explosive and unsettling thriller from the acclaimed author of The Chalk Man.

A dark history lingers in Chapel Croft. Five hundred years ago, Protestant martyrs were betrayed - then burned. Thirty years ago, two teenage girls disappeared without a trace. And a few weeks ago, the vicar of the local parish hanged himself in the nave of the church.

Reverend Jack Brooks, a single parent with a fourteen-year-old daughter and a heavy conscience, arrives in the village hoping for a fresh start. Instead, Jack finds a town rife with conspiracies and secrets, and is greeted with a strange welcome package: an exorcism kit and a note that warns, “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed and hidden that will not be known.”

The more Jack and daughter, Flo, explore the town and get to know its strange denizens, the deeper they are drawn into the age-old rifts, mysteries, and suspicions. And when Flo begins to see specters of girls ablaze, it becomes apparent there are ghosts here that refuse to be laid to rest.

Uncovering the truth can be deadly in a village with a bloody past, where everyone has something to hide and no one trusts an outsider."

Sounds very much like Midsomer Murders gone horrific... I LOVE IT!

Loner by Georgina Young
Published by: Text Publishing Company
Publication Date: February 9th, 2021
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Set in Melbourne, Loner is a humorous and heartfelt exploration of new adulthood. Lona kills her days by sneaking into the dark room at her old art school to develop photographs. She kills her nights DJ-ing the roller disco at Planet Skate. She is in inexplicably, debilitatingly love with a bespectacled Doctor Who-obsessed former classmate, and in comfortable, platonic love with her best friend Tab. Lona works hard to portray a permanent attitude of cynicism and ennui but will her carefully constructed persona be enough to protect her from the inevitable sorrows and unexpected joys of adult life? Loner re-examines notions of social isolation experienced by young people, suggesting sometimes our own company can be a choice and not a failing."

I'm all about books set in Australia right now!

Friday, February 5, 2021

Season 50 - Sanditon (2020)

OK, I admit it, I was hesitant at first to watch Sanditon. Why you ask? Well, that answer is twofold. Firstly, I hadn't read Jane Austen's partial manuscript in years and wanted to brush up on that and other of her unfinished writing. Secondly, well, the reviews from other Janeites was bad. I usually don't listen to the Janeites, I've often disagreed with these fanatics, and in fact been treated rather harshly by them, so I don't know why I was listening to them being shocked by sex in Austen, but there it is. Yet here's the thing I say to them; "Oh NO, sex in Austen! It's not like Willoughby knocked up a fifteen year old, oh wait..." So there. Game, set, and match. Andrew Davies for the win! It's not that I'm all for sexing up Austen, I'm for the reasonable depiction of the time period, and people had sex! This adaptation was like Austen mixed with Gaskell and Dickens but with the filming sensibilities of Gentleman Jack. Sanditon was fun and diverting, and so what if it was about a town instead of just one family, this just gave it more of a Cranford vibe. There was more flow of narrative, characters weaving in and out of each other's lives at this seaside town trying to make it versus set pieces. I felt like there was real struggle and strife. In fact I thought to myself, it had a bit of the real world horrors mixed with the frenzied fun of Austen's juvenalia. Sanditon is what the roundly praised by very much disliked by me adaptation of Austen's Love and Friendship was supposed to be. Also, while some characters, in particular our male lead, are supposed to evoke parallels to other Austen characters, ahem Darcy, it was the other more complex characters I really appreciated. In fact Esther Denham is now my new favorite Austen heroine. She's dirt poor, manipulated and manipulating, yet somehow you root for her and her redemptive arc gave me the HEA you'd expect for the leads, except they were expecting a second season and didn't get one. Yet. Rumors are that the success of Bridgerton and the loyal fanbase might just have succeeded. So oddly we have yet another unfinished (for now) Sanditon that somehow still manages to be satisfying.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Season 51 - All Creatures Great and Small (2021)

The original All Creatures Great and Small has always held a special place in my family's heart. My grandfather, who has to be held partially responsible for turning me into an Anglophile by having the rule that every Sunday when we visited the TV had to remain on AND remain on PBS, had the complete series of books by James Herriot that I ran off with. As for my father, let's put it this way, when one of my friends announced she was marrying a rural Canadian vet his first question was had they watched All Creatures Great and Small together yet. I have a sneaking suspicion that my parents didn't get an invite to the wedding because my friend knew the gift would be the complete DVD set of All Creatures Great and Small followed by incessant pestering if they had watched it yet. Therefore when the new series was announced it was greeted with incredulity in my house. How could they remake such a classic!?! My Dad was actually a little flabbergasted that I wanted to watch it when it started on Masterpiece a few weeks back. I told him my reasoning. First, it had aired in Britain in the fall and all my friends there who had the same fanatical devotion to the original show that my father has fell in love with it. Secondly, it would be a return to something comforting and secure on a Sunday night, which I think we can all agree we need right now. On January tenth the first episode, "You've Got to Dream," aired and I KNEW my father was hooked by the fact he was copiously sobbing at the complicated labor of a cow. I was more shocked than anything though when after a few episodes he said he thinks that Samuel West is a better Siegfried Farnon than Robert Hardy. This is as close as it gets to blasphemy in my house. But the show is magnificent. It's a breath of fresh air, and gorgeous Yorkshire landscapes. THIS is what Masterpiece Theatre has always been about. Tapping into the perfect dream of England, with a little trouble and strife along the way, but a happy ending to cap it off. Or at least there better be a happy ending, the whole season hasn't aired yet as I type this. But at least there's going to be a second season, hopefully with Samuel West wearing those gorgeous knee-high leather boots in every episode.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse
Published by: Pamela Dorman Books
Publication Date: February 2nd, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"You won't want to leave...until you can't.

Half-hidden by forest and overshadowed by threatening peaks, Le Sommet has always been a sinister place. Long plagued by troubling rumors, the former abandoned sanatorium has since been renovated into a five-star minimalist hotel.

An imposing, isolated getaway spot high up in the Swiss Alps is the last place Elin Warner wants to be. But Elin's taken time off from her job as a detective, so when her estranged brother, Isaac, and his fiancée, Laure, invite her to celebrate their engagement at the hotel, Elin really has no reason not to accept.

Arriving in the midst of a threatening storm, Elin immediately feels on edge - there's something about the hotel that makes her nervous. And when they wake the following morning to discover Laure is missing, Elin must trust her instincts if they hope to find her. With the storm closing off all access to the hotel, the longer Laure stays missing, the more the remaining guests start to panic.

Elin is under pressure to find Laure, but no one has realized yet that another woman has gone missing. And she's the only one who could have warned them just how much danger they are all in..."

I was recently reading some letters of Dorothy Parker's about her stay in a TP Sanatorium in the Alps helping out some friends, and the place sparked a Gothic curiosity in me, and then I read about this upcoming book and everything clicked into place! 

The Last Tiara by M.J. Rose
Published by: Blue Box Press
Publication Date: February 2nd, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller M.J. Rose comes a provocative and moving story of a young female architect in post-World War II Manhattan, who stumbles upon a hidden treasure and begins a journey to discovering her mother's life during the fall of the Romanovs.

Sophia Moon had always been reticent about her life in Russia and when she dies, suspiciously, on a wintry New York evening, Isobelle despairs that her mother's secrets have died with her. But while renovating the apartment they shared, Isobelle discovers something among her mother's effects-a stunning silver tiara, stripped of its jewels.

Isobelle's research into the tiara's provenance draws her closer to her mother's past-including the story of what became of her father back in Russia, a man she has never known. The facts elude her until she meets a young jeweler, who wants to help her but is conflicted by his loyalty to the Midas Society, a covert international organization whose mission is to return lost and stolen antiques, jewels, and artwork to their original owners.

Told in alternating points of view, the stories of the two young women unfurl as each struggles to find their way during two separate wars. In 1915, young Sofiya Petrovitch, favorite of the royal household and best friend of Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna, tends to wounded soldiers in a makeshift hospital within the grounds of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and finds the love of her life. In 1948 New York, Isobelle Moon works to break through the rampant sexism of the age as one of very few women working in a male-dominated profession and discovers far more about love and family than she ever hoped for.

In M.J. Rose's deftly constructed narrative, the secrets of Sofiya's early life are revealed incrementally, even as Isobelle herself works to solve the mystery of the historic Romanov tiara (which is based on an actual Romanov artifact that is, to this day, still missing)-and how it is that her mother came to possess it. The two strands play off each other in finely-tuned counterpoint, building to a series of surprising and deeply satisfying revelations."

You say Romanovs, I say hell yes!

Valentino Will Die by Donis Casey
Published by: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: February 2nd, 2021
Format: Paperback, 208 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:

Though Bianca LaBelle, star of the wildly popular silent movie serial "The Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse," and Rudolph Valentino, the greatest screen idol of all time, have been friends for years, in the summer of 1926 they are making their first picture together, a steamy romance called Grand Obsession. One evening after dinner at Bianca's fabulous Beverly Hills estate, a troubled Rudy confesses that he has received anonymous death threats. In a matter of days, filming comes to an abrupt halt when Rudy falls deathly ill. Could it be poison?

As Rudy lies dying, Bianca promises him that she will find out who is responsible. Was it one of his many lovers? A delusional fan? Or perhaps Rudy had run afoul of a mobster whose name Bianca knows all too well? She calls on P.I. Ted Oliver to help her investigate the end of what had seemed to be the charmed life of Valentino."

Oh, a juicy and interesting mystery that Valentino died not as we thought!

Shadows of the White City by Jocelyn Green
Published by: Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: February 2nd, 2021
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The one thing Sylvie Townsend wants most is what she feared she was destined never to have - a family of her own. But taking in Polish immigrant Rose Dabrowski to raise and love quells those fears - until seventeen-year-old Rose goes missing at the World's Fair, and Sylvie's world unravels.

Brushed off by the authorities, Sylvie turns to her boarder, Kristof Bartok, for help. He is Rose's violin instructor and the concertmaster for the Columbian Exposition Orchestra, and his language skills are vital to helping Sylvie navigate the immigrant communities where their search leads.

From the glittering architecture of the fair to the dark houses of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods, they're taken on a search that points to Rose's long-lost family. Is Sylvie willing to let the girl go? And as Kristof and Sylvie grow closer, can she reconcile her craving for control with her yearning to belong?"

If I could time travel the Chicago World's Fair would be high on my list. Thankfully I can do this via an armchair thanks to writers like Jocelyn Green.

The Umbrella Lady by V.C. Andrews
Published by: Gallery Books
Publication Date: February 2nd, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A young girl who has lost her father finds herself at the mercy of a mysterious woman who is not quite what she seems in this atmospheric and unputdownable novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the Flowers in the Attic series turned into popular Lifetime movies.

Left on a train platform in an unfamiliar village, little Saffron Faith Anders is certain her father will return shortly, just like he promised. She holds out hope even as the hours pass and the station grows dark. When a strange old woman with a large umbrella approaches and inquiries about her situation, Saffron doesn’t immediately trust the imposing do-gooder, but with the chances of her father returning growing ever slimmer, she agrees to rest at the old woman’s house.

Her stay was supposed to be for a few minutes, hours at most, but soon, Saffron soon realizes she has been confined to a house of dark secrets and is now at the mercy of the enigmatic Umbrella Lady. One minute grandmotherly and the next wickedly cruel, she shears Saffron’s hair, burns all the clothes she had in her suitcase, and pretends that the photo of a young girl hanging on her bedroom wall is no one in particular. When strange letters arrive from Saffron’s father, claiming that he will send for her shortly, hope returns to her young heart. But Saffron soon discovers that those who claim to love you will often hurt you the most...."

Sounds deliciously classic V.C. Andrews!

Murder in the Belltower by Helena Dixon
Published by: Bookouture
Publication Date: February 2nd, 2021
Format: Kindle, 263 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Kitty Underhay’s hymn book is murder.

Winter, 1933. Kitty Underhay is enjoying a restorative break from sleuthing on a visit to her family at Enderley Hall. The only thing marring her peace - aside from the uncomfortable sensation she has of being watched – is the obvious history between her beau, ex-army captain Matthew Bryant and another guest, the beautiful Juliet Vanderstafen. So, when the parish clerk is found dead on her front doorstep, Kitty leaps at the chance of distraction.

The police are happy to conclude that Miss Plenderleith met her unfortunate end on a patch of ice, but Kitty isn’t convinced this was a case of bad weather and worse luck. And when the Reverend Crabtree fails to show for tea the next day, she heads to the church to speak to him. But she arrives to find the clergyman hanging from the bell rope, dead.

With Matt seemingly wrapped up with his alluring Austrian, Kitty must solve the case on her own. But as she snoops into parish affairs, she makes some less-than-saintly discoveries. Just who has broken the sixth commandment? Meanwhile the killer is preparing a churchyard grave for Kitty, and she’ll have to use all her wits to avoid falling in...

An addictive, absorbing and completely unputdownable Golden Age cozy murder mystery, perfect for fans of Agatha Christie, T.E. Kinsey and Lee Strauss."

I love all mysteries evoking the Golden Age of detection!

Low Expectations by Stuart Everly-Wilson
Published by: Text Publishing
Publication Date: February 2nd, 2021
Format: Kindle
To Buy

The official patter:
"I begin to record the history of it all, because if I don’t I will explode, leaving nothing to tell of me but a pile of ash. In this history I will try to leave nothing out, but I will also be careful not to incorporate any extraneous unnecessary shit. Like objectivity. Objectivity is for those who don’t have a point to make, or a side to take. There is only one side to this story and that’s mine.

1975, Western Sydney.
A street where neighbours keep an eye on everyone else’s business.
A boy and his mum - and a family secret, barely hidden.

Devon Destri flies under the radar. He doesn’t talk - calls himself ‘hard of speaking’ - and does nothing to correct any assumptions of his low intelligence. If no one knows otherwise, no one will expect anything of him, and maybe he won’t need to expect anything of himself. Only his fiercely loyal friend, Big Tammy, and his neighbour, Krenek, know that Great Expectations is his favourite book, or that he can read at all.

But when the chilling revelation of his mother’s past unexpectedly blows open his view of himself, and of her, Devon realises he can have great expectations after all.

First, though, he has a score to settle."

Books set in Australia with family secrets always have a soft spot in my heart.

Fifty Years a Masterpiece

January tenth of this year marked the fiftieth anniversary of Masterpiece, no longer Theatre, but still Theatre in my heart. If you watched the "special" hosted by Alan Cumming you were probably just as baffled as I was that it was nothing more than an infomercial for their most recent seasons without touching on the glorious history and the wonderful shows they have aired over the past fifty years. Let's just do a really fast montage of the hosts to prove that it wasn't the biggest mistake of our lives firing Russell Baker, OK? Sigh. In fact the very touching tribute to Diana Rigg at the end of the second episode of All Creatures Great and Small this season was longer than the tribute to past hosts in a special about the show's history! My quibbles aside, Masterpiece didn't just change television, it changed me. It informed everything about me growing up. It was a touchstone, there every Sunday night, where I could get respite from the world and escape into a show before the onslaught of Monday morning. The theme music was used as the processional music for my eighth grade graduation. I have spent more hours than you can count going through shelves at used bookstores to find the old tie-in editions with the beautiful poster art that Mobil produced for each show. I learned about new shows wandering bookstores and seeing the newly released tie-ins for the upcoming season. I have found more favorite authors than I can count because of this show!  

My mind was expanded by the informed introductions and the wonderful presentations that made me want to go out and learn more. To read, to absorb, to understand, and thus did I become an Anglophile... And this might have always been my destiny, because despite never coming clean I still think there's a good chance my parents named me after the Bellamy's daughter Elizabeth on Upstairs, Downstairs, that's how deep my connection to this show is. I was born to it! Which is why I can not, no I will not let this opportunity to celebrate Masterpiece pass! I am dedicating the next few months of my blog to Masterpiece, and seeing as I've basically dedicated a lot of my life to it this isn't that big a change or surprise. But there's some gaps in my viewing, you know from before I was born or shows I couldn't find and my library didn't have when I first went looking. So I'm going to take a little peak at each season of Masterpiece, including the current fifty-first season! There are several shows that were revolutionary and way before their time. And then there are other shows that are like coming home. And very famous shows that just took old stories and made them new again. I hope you'll join me in this trip down memory lane. Feel free to share your memories of your favorite shows, you can be sure I won't hold back on mine!

Friday, January 29, 2021

Book Review 2020 #1 - Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Published by: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: August 24th, 2013
Format: Kindle, 832 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

One night three odd things happen in Hokitika. Crosbie Wells, an ex-prospector hoping to build a lumber mill dies. Anna Wetherell, a popular prostitute in the Chinatown district and known opium addict is found unconscious on the road out of town and is taken to prison. And Emery Staines, a wealthy prospector, disappears. After that night surprising discoveries start to link these events. Crosbie Wells had a fortune in gold hidden about his cabin. Emery Staines was about to pay Anna Wetherell a substantial amount of money before he disappeared. Enough to get her off the game. As for Anna Wetherell, she wakes in prison no longer an opium addict and her clothes are weighted down with gold in all the seams. What does it all mean? Obviously gold is the lifeblood of Hokitika, the epicenter of the West Coast Gold Rush, but how could these specific individuals account for their windfalls? Twelve of the townsmen peripherally or directly involved in these events have formed a council of sorts to get to the bottom of things. At the night of their first meeting at the Crown Hotel they are interrupted by a newcomer, Walter Moody. Walter is taken aback by the incongruous gathering. After hearing about Walter's otherworldly journey to Hokitika aboard Francis Carver's ship, Godspeed, the twelve decide to let him into their counsel and tell him their stories, one at a time. Each story filling in gaps of knowledge for the others. A picture begins to emerge and one man appears to be at the center of it, Francis Carver. As their counsel draws to a close news arrives that the Godspeed has foundered on the spare. She is wrecked. Who knows what the contents of that ship might reveal? Or what the arrival of Crosbie Wells's widow will mean. No one knew he was married. Yet here she is arriving to claim her inheritance, arriving before she could have gotten news of his untimely passing or the windfall in his cabin. Whatever secrets lay in Hokitika, Walter and the council feel duty bound to get the the bottom of it, no matter what happens.

There is literally no other book out there where it's so apt that I can literally say the stars fell perfectly into alignment to get me to pick it up. It all started at a book club meeting where one of my fellow members was talking about a doorstop of a book set in New Zealand that was notorious for it's excruciating detail of the minutiae of 1800s life. I instantly perked up, this sounded like my kind of book! After the meeting and the hellacious months that followed I didn't have a spare minute to look into it more until I stumbled on an article on the Radio Times website about a miniseries adaptation of The Luminaries. I instantly put two and two together and realized THIS was the book! I knew I had to read it. And that's when the final star fell into alignment, my library was promoting their digital collection on OverDrive and The Luminaries was there with no wait list! So on July 23rd I dove into a book that became my solace for the next month. This book is amazing for two reasons. One is that Eleanor Catton created a book entirely based around the zodiac with each of the twelve councilmen representing a sign of the zodiac. The other important characters are assigned heavenly bodies and they influence certain signs. Throughout the book there are meticulously plotted star charts that will drive the action that happens within the following pages. So this is a whole rabbit hole you can do a deep dive into if that's your jam, I waded in the shallow end and was mightily impressed. But what impressed me more is that while this amazing structure exists under the surface with charts and graphs and what have you, even with no knowledge of the zodiac this is an amazing book. This book can be read on two levels. Those who revel in astrology will see something entirely different than those who don't. So do not let the astrology deter you from picking it up! For me the astrology was another level of the onion, but I loved the onion even before I started peeling it. This was Deadwood meets Agatha Christie and everything else was just icing on the cake.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Book Review 2020 #2 - Suzanne Collins's The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
Published by: Scholastic Press,
Publication Date: May 19th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 528 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Coriolanus Snow's life is about keeping up appearances. No one must know how far the great and illustrious Snows have fallen since the Dark Days. That Coriolanus, his cousin Tigris, and their Grandma'am struggle daily to put food on the table and clothes on their back. Coriolanus is a top student at the Academy but if he has any hopes of continuing on to the University he needs a full ride, something The Hunger Games could give him through the Plinth Prize, a monetary reward set up by the father of one of his classmates. If the tribute Coriolanus is assigned to mentor in the tenth annual Hunger Games wins all his worries will evaporate. But then he gets a slap in the face, he's assigned District 12's female. He knows he has no chance of winning with a tribute from this district, but he must try. This might just involve rewriting the rules but he will do anything to succeed. Lucy Gray Baird might seem unlikely to win, but she captured the hearts and minds of the Capital during the reaping with a song. He decides this unique individual needs a different approach than is traditional, so he greets her when she arrives and treats her like a human being. He makes sure she is taken care of and fed. She rewards his kindness by saving his life when the Capital Arena is bombed during a tour organized for the mentors and tributes. He knows he can't let Lucy Gray be just more fodder in the arena. If she can stay alive long enough she has a chance. Luckily Coriolanus's scheme to allow inhabitants of the Capital to bet on and sponsor tributes has been enacted by the Gamemakers and Lucy is a favorite of the viewers. The only problem is Coriolanus is starting to have too much of a personal investment in Lucy. He doesn't just care about the Plinth Prize anymore, he cares about her, and that makes him reckless. He cheats. He's caught. He's punished. He must find a way to rise again. No matter the cost.

It is a sadly rare occurrence when one of the year's most anticipated books is actually worthy of that accolade. But maybe that's just my jaded opinion because I so rarely agree with all those "best of" lists. Yet another reason for why I make my own. Therefore I was delighted when The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes actually exceeded my expectations as well as proving to all those people who said the title seemed to be randomly generated by a YA book title generator how wrong they were because it makes so much sense in context! IT MAKES SENSE PEOPLE! And yes, I'm dredging up arguments I had with people online almost two years ago over a title of a not yet released at that time book. It's what I do. You'd think a prequel starring an anti-hero who by the time we've met him later is an out and out villain would lack any way for the reader to connect and be invested in the character's journey, but you'd be so wrong. It's not that I felt emotionally invested in Coriolanus, it's that I felt pity for him and became invested in how he manipulated the world around him and those in his orbit to survive and thrive. It was a peak behind the curtain, seeing that this man, at one time, had vulnerabilities and how he exploited his connections to armor himself. There was even a glimpse at redemption, that maybe we had judged him all wrong, until the worm twisted. This isn't A Christmas Carol people, Coriolanus isn't going to give a goose to a poor family after a pleasant memory of charades. He's a tyrant who will die a tyrant after the violent overthrowing of the Capital. What's more we see how Coriolanus's need to grasp the golden ring leads him to make connections that others wouldn't. He finds ways to make The Hunger Games not just a punishment for the other Districts but something those in the Capital can be invested in. Again, this is all backstage stuff, we're seeing how the Capital suffered in the wake of the District uprisings and how they were ravaged and how revenge then festered and bloomed into The Hunger Games as we know them in Katniss's time. This is about the complete human experience, deprivation, desire, determination, and death. This is a prequel not just worthy of the original series but perhaps even better.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Tuesday Tomorrow

Patience and Esther by S.W. Searle
Published by: Iron Circus Comics
Publication Date: January 26th, 2021
Format: Paperback, 280 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Patience is a kindhearted country girl, eking out a living in Edwardian England as tremors of social change rock the world around her. When she starts her employment in formal service on the grounds of an opulent country manor, she has no idea that her own personal revolution is about to begin.

Selfless, dutiful, and just a touch naive, she takes to both her place as a parlor maid and to her new roommate, the bookish and progressive lady's maid, Esther. In another time, the two women would have kept one another's company forever in their little attic bedroom, living out their days in the employ of a Lord. But it's now the dawn of a new age. The expanding empire has brought with it not only plundered wealth, but worldliness and new ideas. Suffragists agitate in the street, idle-rich bohemians challenge sexual mores, and Patience and Esther slowly come to realize the world is wider and full of more adventure and opportunity than they ever long as they find the will to seize it.

Sensual, sweet, and beautifully illustrated, Patience and Esther is a steamy period romance and an inspirational erotic journey across the epic sweep of history, from the end of a gilded age to the start of an uncharted future."

I'm always here for Edwardian England and this I'm guessing is an expanded form of the story told in Fresh Romance, Vol. 1.

The Heiress Gets a Duke by Harper St. George
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: January 26th, 2021
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Even a fortune forged in railroads and steel can't buy entrance into the upper echelons of Victorian high society - for that you need a marriage of convenience.

American heiress August Crenshaw has aspirations. But unlike her peers, it isn't some stuffy British Lord she wants wrapped around her finger - it's Crenshaw Iron Works, the family business. When it's clear that August's outrageously progressive ways render her unsuitable for a respectable match, her parents offer up her younger sister to the highest entitled bidder instead. This simply will not do. August refuses to leave her sister to the mercy of a loveless marriage.

Evan Sterling, the Duke of Rothschild, has no intention of walking away from the marriage. He's recently inherited the title only to find his coffers empty, and with countless lives depending on him, he can't walk away from the fortune a Crenshaw heiress would bring him. But after meeting her fiery sister, he realizes Violet isn't the heiress he wants. He wants August, and he always gets what he wants.

But August won't go peacefully to her fate. She decides to show Rothschild that she's no typical London wallflower. Little does she realize that every stunt she pulls to make him call off the wedding only makes him like her even more."

First in the new "Gilded Age Heiresses" this a series I'm sure to devour!

If I Disappear by Eliza Jane Brazier
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: January 26th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When her favorite true crime podcast host goes missing, an adrift young woman sets out to investigate and plunges headfirst into the wild backcountry of Northern California and her own dangerous obsession.

Sera loves true crime podcasts. They give her a sense of control in a world where women just like her disappear daily. She's sure they are preparing her for something. So when Rachel, her favorite podcast host, goes missing, Sera knows it's time to act. Rachel has always taught her to trust her instincts.

Sera follows the clues hidden in the episodes to an isolated ranch outside Rachel's small hometown to begin her search. She's convinced her investigation will make Rachel so proud. But the more Sera digs into this unfamiliar world, the more off things start to feel. Because Rachel is not the first woman to vanish from the ranch, and she won't be the last...

Rachel did try to warn her."

Oh, oh, oh, true crime podcaster disappearance!!!

Don't Tell a Soul by Kirsten Miller
Published by: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: January 26th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Stay up all night with this modern day Rebecca! Perfect for fans of Truly Devious - a haunting story about a new girl in an old town filled with dark secrets...that might just kill her.

People say the house is cursed.
It preys on the weakest, and young women are its favorite victims.
In Louth, they're called the Dead Girls.

All Bram wanted was to disappear - from her old life, her family's past, and from the scandal that continues to haunt her. The only place left to go is Louth, the tiny town on the Hudson River where her uncle, James, has been renovating an old mansion.

But James is haunted by his own ghosts. Months earlier, his beloved wife died in a fire that people say was set by her daughter. The tragedy left James a shell of the man Bram knew - and destroyed half the house he'd so lovingly restored.

The manor is creepy, and so are the locals. The people of Louth don't want outsiders like Bram in their town, and with each passing day she's discovering that the rumors they spread are just as disturbing as the secrets they hide. Most frightening of all are the legends they tell about the Dead Girls. Girls whose lives were cut short in the very house Bram now calls home.

The terrifying reality is that the Dead Girls may have never left the manor. And if Bram looks too hard into the town's haunted past, she might not either."

That cover! That description! That reference to Rebecca!

One Poison Pie by Lynn Cahoon
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: January 26th, 2021
Format: Paperback, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Lynn Cahoon launches a sparkling new series featuring Mia Malone, a kitchen witch who's starting over in her grandmother's Idaho hometown of Magic Springs, where the use of magic is an open secret and murder is on the menu...

What's a kitchen witch to do when her almost-fiancé leaves her suddenly single and unemployed? For Mia Malone, the answer's simple: move to her grandmother's quirky Idaho hometown, where magic is an open secret and witches and warlocks are (mostly) welcome. With a new gourmet dinner delivery business--and a touch of magic in her recipes - Mia's hopes are high. Even when her ex's little sister, Christina, arrives looking for a place to stay, Mia takes it in stride.

But her first catering job takes a distasteful turn when her client's body is found, stabbed and stuffed under the head table. Mia's shocked to learn that she's a suspect - and even more so when she realizes she's next on a killer's list. With Christina, along with Mia's meddling grandma, in the mix, she'll have to find out which of the town's eccentric residents has an appetite for murder...before this fresh start comes to a sticky end..."

Witches and kitchens go together like witches and black cats!           

The Paradise Affair by Bill Pronzini
Published by: Forge Books
Publication Date: January 26th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 176 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Bill Pronzini’s next historical mystery The Paradise Affair, perfect for fans of Peaky Blinders and The Alienist.

Quincannon’s pursuit of two con men who have absconded to Hawaii with a considerable sum of his employer’s assets dovetails nicely with Sabina’s vision of a second honeymoon.

But neither is wont to stay out of trouble, and Sabina inadvertently becomes involved in a locked room/dying message murder in Honolulu."

I don't really connect this book's bowler hats aesthetic with Hawaii... but I'm game! 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Book Review 2020 #3 - Tana French's The Likeness

The Likeness by Tana French
Published by: Penguin Books
Publication Date: July 17th, 2008
Format: Paperback, 496 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Detective Cassie Maddox has left the Murder squad. It became too fraught and messy. Instead she's simplifying her life, she's dating Sam O’Neill and has transferred to Domestic Violence. Everything is falling into a nice new routine, until her old life comes back to haunt her. Before Murder Cassie was undercover as a University of Dublin student called Lexie Madison. The way that ended is actually how she got her gig in Murder. But Lexie is unexpectedly about to return. Sam has been called to a crime scene and he contacts Cassie freaking out, because despite talking to her on the phone he is convinced he is looking at her dead body. Cassie's doppelganger is found dead outside the town of Glenskehy. What's more, her ID says she's Lexie Madison. This girl, whomever she was, used the fake Lexie identity to slip into a new life at Trinity and was getting a PhD in English ironically writing about women who wrote under other identities. She was living at Whitethorn House in Glenskehy with four of her classmates in some idealized literary commune where they spent their spare time fixing up the house and avoiding the locals. This is an unprecedented opportunity. The police can have "Lexie" make a remarkable recovery and send Cassie into Lexie's life. Her killer is either a local or in the house! Which means there are four prime suspects, Daniel March, inanimate object as narrator in early medieval epic poetry, Justin Mannering, sacred and profane love in Renaissance literature, Rafe Hyland, the malcontent in Jacobean drama, and Abby Stone, the social class in Victorian literature. Cassie just has to be this "new" Lexie, get in and get out. The only problem is, once there, it's so nice leaving her own messy life behind that maybe she'd rather stay with these four people who like to live out of time.

After reading the first Dublin Murder Squad book I wrote off Tana French. There are too many books and authors out there I just had to go with my initial impression. This was what everyone was raving about? I was mystified. This wasn't a clever mystery with an unreliable narrator, it was a straightforward mystery with an asshole narrator. Therefore I dove into the STARZ adaptation thinking perhaps they could improve upon the source material. And during the opening credits is when I learned the show was based on the first two books in the series... and the OCD completest in me made me stop the show and pick up The Likeness. I know what I had said, but the OCD took over. So right here I would like to thank Dublin Murders, that perfectly cast, horrifically adapted, surprisingly not yet cancelled series for making me pick up The Likeness, as perfect a book as In the Woods was imperfect. It's rare for me to say I never want a book to end, but I never wanted this book to end. I wanted to move into the pages, I wanted to become a member of that Whitethorn House literary cabal. I wanted to spend nights with Abby making historically accurate clothes for creepy dolls found in the house. I wanted to be a part of something but apart from reality. I wanted this life Cassie was inhabiting almost more than Cassie herself wanted it. This book was just filled with literary goodness, especially Brideshead Revisited references! Oh how I want to go back, oh how I want to live in this book. It's just gorgeous and Gothic and timeless and timely and perfection.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Book Review 2020 #4 - Carol Ryrie Brink's Caddie Woodlawn's Family

Caddie Woodlawn's Family by Carol Ryrie Brink
Published by: Aladdin
Publication Date: 1939
Format: Paperback, 208 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Growing up on a farm can be full of fun if you know how to play a good prank or keep a secret. The work day seems that much lighter when you magically find watermelons in the barn or when there's a little lamb all your own whom you have to care for or a very special doll that has to have the perfect handmade dress ready in time for Christmas. But the real excitement comes from visitors! Oh, when people gather for a celebration, a stranger comes to town, a new family moves in, or a long lost friend returns with stories of their travels, that is something to look forward to! The Circuit Rider told tales of Indian braves that he heard at his father's knee to the enraptured Woodlawn children! Such stories of their ferocity and their kindness that they could hardly believe their ears. The new neighbors brought children for the the Woodlawn's to play with, and their dutiful daughter Emma was going to miss the big show everyone was going to, Dr. Hearty's Marvelous Cure-All, until her duty and a twist of fate intervened. Dr. Hearty's wagon had trouble and Emma, due to her kindness, got a show all her own. But life also has it's hardships and heartaches, what if you have to stand up in front of the entire school and do a recitation!?! Or what if your beau is riding out in a sled with some other girl? And worst yet, what if at an auction what you think is the height of fashion turns out to be mourning wear and you end up buying your mother widow's weeds!?! But at the end of the day family is family and full of love and a gathering to celebrate Independence Day is just the tonic everyone needed, no offense to Dr. Hearty, even if Caddie does end up ruining her new dress. That's just Caddie for you!

If you're a girl who grew up in the Midwest you were raised on Laura Ingalls Wilder. It's just part of the Midwestern package. But if you're a girl who grew up in Wisconsin you were raised on Laura Ingalls Wilder and Carol Ryrie Brink. Carol Ryrie Brink wrote Caddie Woodlawn, a seminal classic about her maternal grandmother growing up in Northern Wisconsin around Dunnville. In fact, during Caddie's adventures Laura Ingalls Wilder was being born about only twenty miles away. I remember in sixth grade my teacher really focused on regional literature and was very encouraging of my reading. In fact sixth grade was one of the better grades in school learning all about Wisconsin from the glaciers and grit to the literature of place. While I thankfully didn't decide to go live a rural life with a raccoon as my best friend Caddie Woodlawn quickly became a favorite book. I connected to Caddie's family on a more personal level than I ever did with the Ingalls clan. I'm not sure why but Caddie was it for me. Perhaps it's because Wisconsin is my home and the Ingalls did roam. This past summer I decided to re-read Caddie Woodlawn for a sense of nostalgia, a more pleasant past to retreat into than the current horrible present, and that's when a friend of mine asked if I had read the sequel. What!?! Yes people, I know I have astonished some of you with this fact as it astonished me, but there is a sequel. Caddie Woodlawn's Family, originally published as Magical Melons, consists of fourteen short stories, the first titled "Magical Melons." While there isn't a through line with the plot like the first book, the structure of interconnected short stories allows us to move away from Caddie and see more of her family. In fact my favorite story, "The Christmas Costume," a continuation of the prior story "Mrs. Nightingale's House," concerns Caddie's younger sister, Hetty, and a kindness to a friend that keeps a tradition alive. The story just warmed my heart and made it grow larger than the story of the Grinch ever did.

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