Friday, January 17, 2020

Book Review 2019 #5 - Alison Goodman's The Dark Days Pact

The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman
Published by: Speak
Publication Date: January 21st, 2017
Format: Paperback, 512 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

After being caught in her bedroom with Lord Carlston on the night of her ball Lady Helen has been tossed out by her uncle. If only she could tell her family it's not what they think! But her duties as a Reclaimer come first and that means only those in the Dark Days Club can know what really happened that night in her bedroom; that she killed the rogue Reclaimer Benchley and lost her chance of ever having a normal life. She has luckily clung to respectability by the discretion of all involved and by being whisked away to Brighton for the rest of the season. While it might seem odd that she has withdrawn to Brighton "for her health" with her new acquaintances, Lady Margaret and her brother Mr. Hammond, they at least lend her an air of respectability while helping to train her in her duties as a Reclaimer. As Lord Carlston's aides the siblings are helping Lady Helen in Lord Carlston's grand scheme to disguise her as a man for her Reclaimer duties. A task that sounds easier than it's turning out to be as she must unlearn all that is feminine in order to be masculine. Add to that that she must also maintain the life expected of Lady Helen and there's barely time to sleep. Though her sleepless nights might be more the memory of an embrace shared with Lord Carlston and worrying over his declining mental health than trying to maintain two separate lives simultaneously.

Due to the rigors of the job and the demands on their bodies Reclaimers at some point have to retire before going completely mad. Yet Lord Carlston seems to be getting rapidly worse. A fact that must be kept from the bureaucratic arm of the Dark Days Club. Mr. Pike would relish the chance to put Lord Carlston out to pasture or in the ground because he was going the way of Benchley. So it is rather disconcerting when Mr. Pike arrives in Brighton. Though he's not just there to monitor Lord Carlston, he's there to force Helen to swear her allegiance to the government and to assign her a mission which she must accomplish without her full training and with only the help of Mr. Hammond. Benchley's Terrene Lowry claims to have a journal that his Reclaimer kept written in the blood of his victims that Mr. Pike is desperate to get his hands on. Only when Helen confronts Lowry his price is unacceptable to her. She must find another way to get the journal, which becomes more desperate when a Deceiver, the Comte d'Antraigues, tells Lord Carlston that the journal is the only thing that will cure his madness. Lady Helen is caught between her duty and her desire and either outcome could prove fatal.

The first book in Lady Helen's series, The Dark Days Club, for all it's darkness in showing the seamy underbelly of Regency England was still nestled in the comfortable world of Jane Austen with the drawing rooms and balls and Dukes plighting their troth. Here that life is gone. Lady Helen is no longer ensconced in society but clinging to the edges as best she can. This is a darker world from the one she was cast out from. There are whore houses catering to all tastes. Cruelty, depravity, sexual congress, all that which Lady Helen was shielded from her entire life is now on full display as she walks through Brighton disguised as a man. She was raised to arrange dinner parties not cavort around in men's garb in back allies. Yet she readily accepts the change as the duties of a Reclaimer. I fully embraced this darker tale, it's kind of like comparing an adaptation of Jane Austen to the Tom Hardy series Taboo, both take place during the same time period, but both show such radically different views of that time period. And the thing I've noticed with me, as I get older, I'm less inclined to the happily ever after and more drawn to the ambiguous, darker endings. To me they feel more real, like they're reflecting the world as it is versus how we want it to be.

And poor Helen, she is trying so hard to fit herself into this new world order but underneath it all you can see she is struggling. The scene that I think best exemplifies this is when she's told that she's getting a radical new haircut. While I've never been a girl who longs for the long hair, there is that connection between gorgeously flowing hair and femininity, more so during earlier time periods. Think how much of an impact O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi had? Or when Fantine has to sell her hair in Les Misérables? Yet for how revolutionary she is being in embracing this new life and the challenges that it presents I think she occasionally is willing to fall back on her upbringing a little too much. She was raised to listen to her Uncle, listen to men, they know what's right, so as soon as Mr. Pike swoops in with all his horrid ideas that he says she must follow she follows them when instead she should tell him to STFU. She questions Pike in her mind yet there's a part of her that just follows him blindly despite disagreeing with everything he says and does. This just shows the larger problem endemic to society and that's women should obey because they are nothing more than property. They are to do what is expected, they can not color outside the lines. Helen might be a Reclaimer, but to her brethren she is just there for their use not her opinions.

Now, to get off my high horse, let's talk about something else, let's talk about the Deceivers. So Deceivers, if they are acting in accord to the compact they have with Reclaimers they skim energy off of people without them knowing it. They are taking a little bit of their life force in order to survive. When I started reading this series I had just been on a day trip to Chicago after which one of my friend's credit cards got a fraud warning. My other friend was convinced that the number had just been swiped by an unscrupulous waitress at the restaurant we had ate at, which wasn't at all the case, because the card had never once left my friend's wallet and had been scanned with a RFID reader. The scanner takes all your vital information and gives it to the thief without you even knowing until you get a ping on your credit card. They can take away your entire life without you knowing it and as I was explaining this a light went off above my head and I realized that is what an Deceiver does! Here was a real life example of the supernatural elements in the book and it made me appreciate Alison Goodman's worldbuilding even more. To be able to explain a supernatural element in terms that those who don't necessarily get fantasy can understand made me so happy! Now I just have to convince everyone I know to read this series and invest in RFID wallets.

In another real world and book world colliding incident I'm going to shift to Mr. Hammond. I know I've talked about this in another review before but seeing as I tend to dream cast books as I read them when an aspect of my dream casting and an aspect of the character come together it's fascinating and a little unnerving and is therefore worth repeating. From the second Mr. Hammond entered this story I have pictured him as Lord Alfred Paget from Victoria. There's something just so sweet and reassuring about this character as he threads his way through the politics and paramours of the royal household that his caring and concern rang true to who Mr. Hammond is. In season two of Victoria Lord Alfred falls in love with Edward Drummond, the Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, which was doomed from the beginning and oh so heartbreaking. When Alison Goodman, through the deplorable Mr. Pike, reveals that Mr. Hammond is homosexual I had a moment of confusion. Had I totally, through my dream casting, learned a secret part of Mr. Hammond's character without even realizing I was doing it? I'm not sure, but it sure looks that way! Whatever the case is, whether I was subconsciously picking up on something or I just can somehow predict the future, I don't know, but it was simultaneously spooky and cool.

Putting my uncanny abilities aside there was an aspect of this story that just warmed the cockles of my heart, and that was to do with Delia Cransdon. Poor Delia who was ruined by a Deceiver who then killed himself to body jump when surrounded by Reclaimers and has since been under lock and key at her parents estate with the asylum looming ever larger. Her parents estate is close to Brighton and Helen views it as her duty to at least tell Delia what she can so that Delia will know she's not insane. Of course there's lots of back and forth with what can and can not be told but in the end Delia knows all that Helen does and is sworn in as Helen's aide. While the book doesn't go into specifics about how acceptable society views it that Helen is championing Delia, especially as Delia is viewed as rather "loose" at the one party they attend, that doesn't bother me so much as how glad I was to see how honorable Lady Helen is. Even before she knew about this other world Helen wanted to rush to Delia's side. As soon as Helen knew the truth and was shown the door by her relatives she reached out to Delia to ease her mind and also to reaffirm their friendship. If their was still any doubt in Helen's maid Darby's mind about whether Helen is on the side of the angels, this would have been proof enough. Lady Helen, saving the world one friend at a time.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Book Review 2019 #6 - Daniel O'Malley's The Rook

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
Published by: Back Bay Books
Publication Date: January 11th, 2012
Format: Paperback, 486 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Myfanwy Thomas is a Rook, a high-level operative in a secret organization called The Checquy. She's hardworking, discrete, and unflappable, but she has a looming concern. Due to the nature of her job and the type of people and creatures she meets she has learned that she will lose her memory. Permanently. She doesn't know how, she doesn't know when, but she knows that soon she will be vulnerable. Therefore she does what she is best at; she plans. She figures out how to tell the you she will become everything she needs to know in order to survive. Therefore on a rainy night when Myfanwy Thomas is surrounded by corpses in a London park the you that she was saves her and helps her to uncover exactly what is going on in The Checquy.

I'd remembered hearing about this book years ago but didn't pick it up until I was reminded of it's existence by the looming Starz television adaptation. What astounds me is this book is exactly up my alley but no one had ever recommended it to me. My guess is that it's kind of hard to quantify. Would you say it's a supernatural version of The Avengers? Kind of, and of course I'm meaning the Steed and Peel version. Is it an otherworldly James Bond? Again, kind of... But the way I'm describing it to my friends as I hold it in front of them proselytizing is that it's as if The Initiative in season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn't lame and was British with a giant great wallop of snark. Now if I had been told that back in 2012 I would have picked up this book way sooner. So thank you to the TV show that shouldn't really be called The Rook because it keeps almost nothing from the book aside from names for getting me to read a book that I enjoyed so much.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Tuesday Tomorrow

All the Ways We Said Goodbye by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: January 14th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The New York Times bestselling authors of The Glass Ocean and The Forgotten Room return with a glorious historical adventure that moves from the dark days of two World Wars to the turbulent years of the 1960s, in which three women with bruised hearts find refuge at Paris’ legendary Ritz hotel.

The heiress...
The Resistance fighter...
The widow...
Three women whose fates are joined by one splendid hotel.

France, 1914. As war breaks out, Aurelie becomes trapped on the wrong side of the front with her father, Comte Sigismund de Courcelles. When the Germans move into their family’s ancestral estate, using it as their headquarters, Aurelie discovers she knows the German Major’s aide de camp, Maximilian Von Sternburg. She and the dashing young officer first met during Aurelie’s debutante days in Paris. Despite their conflicting loyalties, Aurelie and Max’s friendship soon deepens into love, but betrayal will shatter them both, driving Aurelie back to Paris and the Ritz - the home of her estranged American heiress mother, with unexpected consequences.

France, 1942. Raised by her indomitable, free-spirited American grandmother in the glamorous Hotel Ritz, Marguerite “Daisy” Villon remains in Paris with her daughter and husband, a Nazi collaborator, after France falls to Hitler. At first reluctant to put herself and her family at risk to assist her grandmother’s Resistance efforts, Daisy agrees to act as a courier for a skilled English forger known only as Legrand, who creates identity papers for Resistance members and Jewish refugees. But as Daisy is drawn ever deeper into Legrand’s underground network, committing increasingly audacious acts of resistance for the sake of the country - and the man - she holds dear, she uncovers a devastating secret...one that will force her to commit the ultimate betrayal, and to confront at last the shocking circumstances of her own family history.

France, 1964. For Barbara “Babs” Langford, her husband, Kit, was the love of her life. Yet their marriage was haunted by a mysterious woman known only as La Fleur. On Kit’s death, American lawyer Andrew “Drew” Bowdoin appears at her door. Hired to find a Resistance fighter turned traitor known as “La Fleur,” the investigation has led to Kit Langford. Curious to know more about the enigmatic La Fleur, Babs joins Drew in his search, a journey of discovery that that takes them to Paris and the Ritz - and to unexpected places of the heart...."

New Lauren Willig book! Yes yes, I know it's not JUST her, but the second "W" collaboration was more cohesive than the first, so it's basically a new book by your favorite author, be it Lauren, Karen, or Beatriz! 

The Decent Inn of Death by Rennie Airth
Published by: Penguin Books
Publication Date: January 14th, 2020
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Snowed in at a country manor, former Scotland Yard inspectors John Madden and Angus Sinclair find themselves trapped in the company of a murderer.

On a trip into Winchester, former chief inspector Angus Sinclair learns of a tragedy that has taken place in the village he is staying in. Beloved church organist Greta Hartmann has slipped and fallen to her death in a shallow creek, and while investigations conclude it to be an accident, her friend and housemate, Vera, remains unconvinced. After learning that Greta was the widow of a prominent anti-Nazi German preacher, Sinclair meets with the distraught Vera, and he resolves to dig deeper into the story. His investigations lead him to the stately manor of Julia Lesage, where she lives with her devoted staff that includes her secretary, cook, and driver. Though confined to a wheelchair, Julia is an electrifying spirit with a sharp wit, and those who know her adore her. Among those who do, a gentleman with dubious business dealings is also staying at the house--and Julia appears to be in love with him. A blizzard hits, keeping Sinclair, and later Madden, on the grounds with little to do but analyze the case of Greta's death, until a murder takes place, and everyone becomes a suspect."

Yes, a murder at a snowed in country manor will always catch my eye, but more importantly Winchester? Hot Fuzz country!?!

Near Prospect Park by Lawrence H. Levy
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: January 14th, 2020
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Daring Brooklyn detective Mary Handley teams up with Teddy Roosevelt to solve her husband’s murder, only to run afoul of nineteenth-century New York’s elite when she uncovers a dangerous conspiracy.

It’s December 1896, and after marrying a muckraking reporter, detective Mary Handley turns her focus from pursuing new cases to raising her newborn daughter. But when her husband turns up dead, Mary knows her next case must be solving his death. Harper was working on a big story - did it get him killed? She sets out to solve his murder, soon discovering that the investigation goes all the way to the top of the New York food chain.

Realizing she’s outgunned, Mary turns to the one person who might be able to help: Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt. As the two dig deep into the underbelly of New York’s social scene, they uncover a sinister plot exploiting the city’s most vulnerable citizens."

Like a cozier version of The Alienist.

The Companion by Kim Taylor Blakemore
Published by: Lake Union Publishing
Publication Date: January 14th, 2020
Format: Paperback, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"They say she's a murderess. She claims she's innocent. But Lucy has been known to tell lies...

1855, New Hampshire. Lucy Blunt is set to hang for a double murder. Murderess or victim? Only Lucy knows the truth.

In the shadow of the gallows, Lucy reflects on the events that led to her bitter downfall - from the moment she arrived at the rambling Burton mansion looking for work and a better life to the grisly murders themselves.

In a mysterious household of locked doors and forbidden affections, Lucy slips comfortably into the shadows, where she believes the indiscretions of her past will remain hidden. But when Lucy's rising status becomes a threat to the mistress's current companion, the delicate balance of power and loyalty begins to shift, setting into motion a brewing storm of betrayal, suspicion, and rage.

Now, with her execution looming closer, Lucy's allies fight to have her sentence overturned as the tale she's spinning nears its conclusion. But how much of her story can we trust? After all, Lucy's been known to bend the truth..."

Turn of the Screw meets Lizzie Borden!

A Longer Fall by Charlaine Harris
Published by: Gallery/Saga Press
Publication Date: January 14th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"#1 New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris returns with the second of the Gunnie Rose series, in which Lizbeth is hired onto a new crew, transporting a crate into Dixie, the self-exiled southeast territory of the former United States. What the crate contains is something so powerful, that forces from across three territories want to possess it.

In this second thrilling installment of the Gunnie Rose series, Lizbeth Rose is hired onto a new crew for a seemingly easy protection job, transporting a crate into Dixie, just about the last part of the former United States of America she wants to visit. But what seemed like a straight-forward job turns into a massacre as the crate is stolen. Up against a wall in Dixie, where social norms have stepped back into the last century, Lizbeth has to go undercover with an old friend to retrieve the crate as what’s inside can spark a rebellion, if she can get it back in time.

#1 New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse mysteries and Midnight, Texas trilogy) is at her best here, building the world of this alternate history of the United States, where magic is an acknowledged but despised power."

Two of my favorite authors having books come out this week? It's almost more than I could hope for!

The Tenant by Kathrine Engberg
Published by: Gallery/Scout Press
Publication Date: January 14th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An electrifying work of literary suspense from international bestselling author Katrine Engberg, this stunning debut introduces two police detectives struggling to solve a shocking murder and stop a killer hell-bent on revenge.

When a young woman is discovered brutally murdered in her own apartment, with an intricate pattern of lines carved into her face, Copenhagen police detectives Jeppe Korner and Anette Werner are assigned to the case. In short order, they establish a link between the victim, Julie Stender, and her landlady, Esther de Laurenti, who’s a bit too fond of drink and the host of raucous dinner parties with her artist friends. Esther also turns out to be a budding novelist - and when Julie turns up as a murder victim in the still-unfinished mystery she’s writing, the link between fiction and real life grows both more urgent and more dangerous.

But Esther’s role in this twisted scenario is not quite as clear as it first seems. Is she the culprit - or just another victim, trapped in a twisted game of vengeance? Anette and Jeppe must dig more deeply into the two women’s pasts to discover the identity of the brutal puppet-master pulling the strings in this electrifying literary thriller."

Thrilling indeed!

Blood and Ash by Deborah Wilde
Published by: Te Da Media
Publication Date: January 14th, 2020
Format: Paperback, 314 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Cold-blooded kidnappers. Long-lost magic. When things get serious, she goes full Sherlock.

Ashira Cohen takes pride in being the only female private investigator in Vancouver. With her skills, her missing persons case should be a piece of cake.

She wasn’t counting on getting bashed in the skull, revealing a hidden tattoo and supernatural powers she shouldn’t possess.

Or the bitter icing on top: a spree of abductions and terrifying ghostly creatures on a deadly bender.

And don’t even get her started on the golems.

Reluctantly partnered with her long-time nemesis Levi, the infuriating leader of the magic community, Ash resolves to keep her focus on the clue trail and off their sexual tension because WTF is up with that?

But with a mastermind organization pulling strings from the shadows and Levi’s arrogance driving her to pick out his body bag, can Ash rescue the captives and uncover the truth or will the next blood spilled be her own?

Blood and Ash is the epic first novel in The Jezebel Files. If you like headstrong heroines, complex mysteries, and a dash of red-hot romance, you’ll love Deborah Wilde’s laugh out loud tale."

If you subtitle your book "A Snarky Urban Fantasy Detective Series" you can be sure I'll read it.

The Thief Knot by Kate Milford
Published by: Clarion Books
Publication Date: January 14th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Ghosts, a kidnapping, a crew of young detectives, and family secrets mix in this new standalone mystery set in the world of the best-selling Greenglass House, from a National Book Award nominee and Edgar Award-winning author.

Marzana and her best friend are bored. Even though they live in a notorious city where normal rules do not apply, nothing interesting ever happens to them. Nothing, that is, until Marzana’s parents are recruited to help solve an odd crime, and she realizes that this could be the excitement she’s been waiting for. She assembles a group of kid detectives with special skills - including the ghost of a ship captain’s daughter - and together, they explore hidden passageways, navigate architecture that changes overnight, and try to unravel the puzzle of who the kidnappers are - and where they’re hiding. But will they beat the deadline for a ransom that’s impossible to pay?

Legendary smugglers, suspicious teachers, and some scary bad guys are just a few of the adults the crew must circumvent while discovering hidden truths about their families and themselves in this smart, richly imagined tale."

A new Greenglass House Story? Yes please and thank you. 

Gudetama: Love for the Lazy by Wook-Jin Clark
Published by: Oni Press
Publication Date: January 14th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 48 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Gudetama: Love for the Lazy is inspired by the worldwide hit Sanrio character and animated series star!

Dating is exhausting, so let's take a lighthearted approach to exploring it with Gudetama, everyone's favorite grumpy egg! From navigating first-date smalltalk to recovering from being dumped, Gudetama is your guide to finding love...even when you're lazy."

I wanted to love this I SO did not. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Book Review 2019 #7 - Alison Goodman's The Dark Days Deceit

The Dark Days Deceit by Alison Goodman
Published by: Viking Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: November 20th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 544 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Six months have passed since Lady Helen and Lord Carlston were united to form the Grand Reclaimer. Six months in Bath believing the final words of a Deceiver, the Comte d'Antraigues. Six months in which they are no closer to accessing their new powers; powers given to them in order to defeat the Grand Deceiver. What's more, Lady Helen absorbed the vile pages and power of the Ligatus when she and Lord Carlston formed their bond and she is barely holding back the darkness. The Ligatus could provide all their answers if only she could access it. Drastic actions must be taken as Lady Helen's marriage to the Duke of Selburn approaches and therefore the decision is made to hypnotize Helen to access the power wherein she promptly decimates Lady Margaret's house. Relocating to her fiance's nearby country estate, Chenwith, has it's advantages and disadvantages. Helen and Lord Carlston can work on wresting control over their power in seclusion but they are also surrounded by many people unaware of the Dark Days Club who expect Helen to act her part of the dutiful bride-to-be. And Helen's Aunt and brother are about to arrive! They can not know of her secret shadow life! Or more importantly, that which she can barely admit to herself, that she loves Lord Carlston.

Even if Helen can't admit her true feelings her Aunt sees the lay of the land and does everything in her power to keep the two halves of the Grand Reclaimer apart without knowing what damage she is doing. But whisking Helen back to the spa town has it's advantages. Helen can continue her search for the Bath Deceiver, the Deceiver who has the answers she and Lord Carlston need according to the Comte d'Antraigues. But danger is circling nearer and nearer as Helen attends to her nuptial and supernatural duties. Certain dangerous Deceivers are spotted and soon the unthinkable happens, one of their own is cut down. Poor Delia Cransdon, who has suffered much at the hands of the Deceivers, is murdered in broad daylight. Helen shoulders all the blame. Delia was an innocent who Helen had lately rebuked and it's something she can never take back and must live with forever. If any good could be said to come of a death it's that the Bath Deceiver is flushed out by this heinous act and Helen finally gets the answers she's needed on how to harness her powers. With reinforcements provided by the Dark Days Club they hole up at Chenwith and wait for the Grand Deceiver to make their move, because just as the Grand Reclaimer is a dyad, so is the Grand Deceiver. Only one needs to be cut down in order to succeed. But will the battle be won before Helen has to walk down the aisle? And who will win the batter for her heart?

The Dark Days Deceit is the perfect end to Alison Goodman's trilogy in that it combines the best aspects of the first and second books to create this wonderful melding of all that I loved in those installments for a last hurrah. We return more to the Georgian society of The Dark Days Club with Bath society and balls and the upcoming nuptials, yet we still have the more explicit darkness from The Dark Days Pact that doesn't flinch from cutting down favorite characters. I'm sorry, but I don't think I can ever forgive Alison for killing the Reclaimer Stokes in The Dark Days Pact, my Regency Hiddles. Yet what I loved most about this book was Bath! As Alison says in her "Author's Note" it's a town forever entwined with Austen and the Regency period. If you were to visit during the Jane Austen Festival, which is a dream of mine, it's the best alternative to time travel available to us at the moment. Though for me as soon as Lady Helen stepped out onto the streets of Bath and into a steamy little cafe I was instantly transported right into Jane Austen's Persuasion. There is something about this city, more than anywhere in England, that makes it Jane Austen's city, aforementioned festival or no. All the feelings I have about poor Anne Elliot's heart were brought to the fore as I read about Helen and Selburn getting married. Propriety be damned, marry for love! Be it Lord Carlston or Captain Wentworth!

Hearts aren't the only thing in jeopardy. There are so many series, from books to television shows to movies, that shy away from putting their characters in actual jeopardy. It's like, no matter how bad things get, no matter what goes wrong, you know that there's still this thin bubble protecting them from actually dying. Because they would never go there. Yet time and again I will say that unless the writers in whatever media are willing to go there than what is the point? There has to be real risk. Joss Whedon knows this, of course I think his was more a perverse glee to harm his fanbase, but you knew that your heart could be broken and that somehow made his shows more precious. Just look at what they did last season on The Magicians, the ONE character everyone thought was safe died. And not died like several characters on The Magicians have in the past, they died and left the show! That shock to the system, besides leaving me in a puddle of tears, made me realize why I love that show so much, because of my connection to the characters. Here Alison Goodman has done the same. Each and every character is at risk, and many of them meet an untimely end, and that gut punch I kept repeatedly feeling, that made me realize how invested I'd become in this series and these characters. This isn't a series that I'll read and forget, this is a series I'll go back to again and again.

What I found endearing and at times exasperating was Helen's attempts to compartmentalize her feelings for Lord Carlston. Their two characters are destined to be together and yet it's not just his not-quite-dead wife or her betrothal that are getting in the way, the idea of fate is. Helen isn't sure if her feelings are real because the two of them were destined to be two halves of the Grand Reclaimer and therefore have a bond that is beyond attraction, it is supernatural. Helen thinks that her heart beats for Lord Carlston because she can literally feel his own heartbeat once they are joined into the dyad. She thinks it's not real, it's all just alchemical. That power and fate have drawn them together instead of a connection based on who they really are and what's in their hearts. And you know what? If I were in Helen's shoes I'd be thinking the same thing! She's not spurning Lord Carlston because of his reputation or gruff personality, she's spurning him because she wants to know it's real. She literally has to know it's real. And isn't that what we all want? A love that is real. Of course we don't have the supernatural elements in our love lives, but that's why I love fantasy books, that's why I love shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Magicians, they make our ordinary every day struggles resonate through otherworldly stories. Life through another lens.

And a life that I have always wanted is one in which I have a partner to whom I could carry on complete conversations with without ever actually saying a word. In the rather uneven 2005 Casanova miniseries by Russell T. Davies of Doctor Who fame starring the Tenth Doctor David Tennant there is one scene that I just adore. Tennant, as Casanova, is star-crossed in love with the character Henriette played by Laura Fraser, who happens to be engaged to Rupert Penry-Jones's Grimani. In one scene they are at a party on other sides of the room and they are having a complete conversation with their looks, a conversation that enrages Grimani. But the first time I saw that scene I thought to myself, now that is true love. That, right there, that is what I want. Therefore having Helen and Lord Carlston have so many of their conversations without once saying a word made me know, alchemy or no, they were fated to be together. Also, the way Alison Goodman writes it is perfect. Instead of inferences or going on about looks and eyebrows, she just writes out their dialogue in italics as the full conversation it is. That's why I was pulling for these two kids to work everything out, even if it ruined Helen. If you have this kind of connection it's worth everything isn't it?

But that's the problem isn't it? A woman during the Regency period could be ruined just by misconceptions, never mind actually running off and having a full blown affair. In fact, one thing that will really stick with you after reading this book is that throughout history it has really sucked being a woman. All the duty and deference and literally being someones property? I'm sorry, but as much as there are people trying to strip away my rights in the world right now at least I have the rights that so many others, especially Helen, didn't have. Then I started thinking about how Deceivers live. They don't breed, there can be no more Deceivers in the world unless a rift is opened onto their world, so there's a set number unless they are winnowed by final deaths. So the way they continue is by body hoping to their offspring and only their offspring. This is all well and good for male Deceivers, they can knock up tons of women and have all these options of how to stay alive, whereas female Deceivers have to actually give birth to the next body they will inhabit. Excuse me? If being a female didn't suck enough, being a female Deceiver must really suck! With having to deal with the possibility of death in childbirth, despite supernatural powers, it's still dangerous, then infant mortality... well, doesn't that just suck for them? I know I should feel bad for the enemy, but they're women too and they are stuck with the same short end of the stick! Yes, it really does suck being a woman a lot of the time.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Book Review 2019 #8 - Philip Pullman's The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: July 22nd, 1997
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Lyra followed her father across the bridge in the sky and lost him. There was a fog. A dense, impenetrable fog and she has found herself in a world with no one. The town she is in is deserted until one day Will shows up. Will is from an Oxford different than her own. His father was a great explorer and his mother is mentally ill. Will has been caring for his mother all his life since the disappearance of his father. Only now he and his mother are in danger. Men have broken into their house and are searching for something that his father left behind. He secrets his mother away and when he goes home to retrieve that which is sought he accidentally kills one of the intruders. On the run he sees a window into another world and climbs through and meets Lyra. They decide to join forces as the only outsiders in this weird little world they've found themselves in, which isn't empty after all. The town is run by gangs of children because the adults fled due to Spectres, dangerous beings that are invisible to children but destroy adults. The two kids go back and forth between Will's Oxford and Cittàgazze. Lyra is trying to learn about Dust and Will is trying to find his father. Lyra soon learns, thanks to nudges from the alethiometer, that perhaps her questions will be answered by helping Will find his father. Because as it turns out, his father might have played an important role in Lyra's life so far, as he one day found a window into another world like his son did and walked through, never looking back. But how are these windows even formed? Will will learn the hard way about the Subtle Knife, but it also means that in spite of the danger to him he can always go home.

If you're expecting The Subtle Knife to be a straightforward sequel to The Golden Compass you're in for a bit of a surprise. Yes, it is a continuation of Lyra's story, but perhaps not as anyone growing up reading the Harry Potter books would foresee. Harry Potter is always front and center, but here, Lyra takes a backseat. The spitfire we've grown to love has been drastically changed because of her father's betrayal and therefore it is up to the new character of Will to fill the void. While you could say that it's all about the balancing of these two characters, of male and female, I think the shifting of focus off Lyra might be more in the vein of another famous writer who dealt with church indoctrination, C.S. Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia pick up and drop the various Penvensies like they're going out of fashion, and while Pullman never deserts any of our beloved characters, they all have their specific heft depending on the book. And The Subtle Knife belongs to Will, and to a lesser but more emotionally charged way to Lee Scorsby the Texas aeronaut. This kind of results with the reader feeling a little alienated. We've fallen in love with this world and now we're back at square one. Even weirder, we're back in our own world. We have to rebuild our love of this expanding universe while our heroine is in shock. Because Lyra's absenting herself from steering the book makes sense when you think of the very real situation she is in. She's in shock from the death of her best friend Roger. She doesn't know what to do, she's just pinballing around looking for something, someone to rally around and she finds Will and makes him her new cause. Lyra is actively promoting Will while stifling her and Pan's voice.

This change up just adds to the fact that this book is suffering from typical "middle book" problems. Everyone has heard of middle child syndrome, but I think more people need to be aware of the problems inherent in middle books. Ah, the issues facing the bridging book of a trilogy... you need to make it interesting enough that people will wait with baited breath for the final volume, yet you must give them a story that holds up on it's own, while also having a satisfying ending. If you want a master class in a successful middle book look to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Two Towers or Laini Taylor's Days of Blood and Starlight or Galen Beckett's The House on Durrow Street. I could go on because when a middle book gets it right it just stays in your mind as being the exception to the rule. While The Subtle Knife does "technically" hold up on it's own, it's not due to any overarching story, it's due to little moments that take your breath away. Imagery that is unforgettable, while Pullman struggles with setting up all the pieces that will be needed for the epic conclusion. Lee Scorsby's last stand in that rocky gulch will just rip your heart out and put it back in all gritty and pained. The witches swirling through the sky, like the unforgettable illustrations of Adrienne Adams's A Woggle of Witches. The dangerous yet somehow ingenious heist of the alethiometer from the odious Sir Charles Latrom. These moments stick with you. I remembered these moments in all the years since I first read The Subtle Knife, but as for anything else like plot? It had slipped out of my head because of all those middle book issues... and worst of all Pullman decided to end the book on a major cliffhanger... sigh. You know, minor cliffhangers can be just if not more satisfying. They also don't alienate your readers.

While there are those who grow to love Will as much as Lyra, I have to say that I've always been on the fence about him. Yes, he has struggled, yes he has survived against the odds, and yes, he has a soft spot for cats, yet there was always something that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Until now. Will's mother is mentally ill. This isn't the problem, the problem is the way in which Philip Pullman describes Will's thoughts in regards to his mother. I don't know if Pullman is trying to show that Will is young and naive or if Pullman himself just doesn't get mental illness. And yes, there are people out there that try as they might just aren't able to comprehend what mental illness is in any form, from having it to dealing with someone who has it. Will is very straightforward about knowing that his mother's problems come from within, that there's something wrong. She obviously has OCD as well as other more serious problems yet when Will hears about the Spectres he starts to fantasize that somehow in his world, this world, that perhaps they are what cause mental illness. While yes, a child does dream of there being some external force that can be removed and their parent returned to normal, the actual belief wouldn't be there. Having spent a childhood growing up seeing those with problems and having OCD myself Will would never be this naive. What's more he describes what his mother does as just things she does, he never once focuses on the underlying compulsion. It's like a flip got switched in her and she does these things without any logic. But the truth is for the person suffering there is a logic, a drive. They might not want to do it, they might be fighting against it every step of the way, but Pullman just doesn't get this across. Mental illness becomes just another problem Will deals with instead of the horror it really is. Pullman trivializes it for his character's backstory.

I guess the reason the way Pullman handles mental illness annoys me is because he's dealing with such weighty issues, reconciling religion and science and yet he got something so wrong that can I trust his analysis of anything? This weird give and take between religion and science is one we have fought of centuries and which is sadly still being fought as Creationism is being taught again in many schools. Yet in Lyra's world experimental theology is what physics is in our world, indicating that there science and religion are more entwined and accepting of each other. As the series continues you see that yes, it is the battle between free thought and that of indoctrination but it's not so clear cut as The Magisterium would want you to think. And yes, this book is taking many ideas and bringing them together for you to think about, especially the fall of man as Milton depicted it in Paradise Lost, but to me, at this point in the series, it almost feels as if Pullman isn't sure what his side is. Both sides have committed atrocities in his narrative, yet we have yet to learn what is the truth. Because this is fiction, while we might speculate day and night and a book that leads to a good discussion is the friend of all book lovers and book clubs everywhere, we still need to know where Pullman's opinion lies. Did God create the universe or did science? This needs to be stated. Clearly. And it wasn't here. Here we suffer once again from middle book issues and have to wait. Sometimes I just want to find authors and shake them. As I write this I'm about a third of the way through The Amber Spyglass and the truth has been revealed and with that revelation I wonder why he waited. Yes, he's created a big set piece with it, so it would have made this book a little longer. But some of the building blocks were in place and a touch more foreshadowing might have made this book a more satisfying read.

But life isn't about satisfaction most of the time. Life is about just living day to day wondering about the mysteries of the universe that if we think too long on we'll be right there with Will's mom. Yet in the end I keep coming back to the more supernatural elements of this story, the fantastical, the prophetic. The witches. The witches have a prophecy that Lyra will be the end of fate by initiating the second fall of man. Here's the thing though, how is there really fate in this "world" that Pullman has built. Prophecies are all nice and good but he's clearly shown us that the multiple worlds theory is at play here and that each and every decision creates a different universe that has splintered off. Therefore everything is possible and everything IS happening at the same time. In a multiverse where everything is possible how exactly does prophecy come into play? Is it just for this ONE Lyra and this ONE Will? If something happened to them could Lord Asriel or Mrs. Coulter or the church go to another universe and nudge that other Lyra or Will into line with what they want? I get that this is a multiverse changing war that's on the horizon, but if everything is possible at all times yet you need a certain chain of events to happen how do you do this? It's almost too hard to reconcile these opposing ideas. So Lyra will end fate. What does that mean? I mean, really, how is fate possible in these books? It could be possible if the worlds were self contained. But travel between them is possible, so then what? Again, middle book issues! It's like he just threw everything at this book and figured he'd work it all out in the end. The problem I have is can he actually work it all out?

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Book Review 2019 #9 - 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 Jane, 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.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Tuesday Tomorrow

In the Shadow of Vesuvius by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: January 7th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In skillfully intertwined storylines from the dawn of the twentieth century and the heyday of the Roman Empire, Tasha Alexander's In the Shadow of Vesuvius, the latest installment to her bestselling series, brings Lady Emily and her husband to Pompeii, where they uncover a recent crime in the ancient city.

Some corpses lie undisturbed longer than others. But when Lady Emily discovers a body hidden in plain sight amongst the ruins of Pompeii, she sets in motion a deadly chain of events that ties her future to the fate of a woman whose story had been lost for nearly two thousand years.

Emily and her husband, Colin Hargreaves, have accompanied her dear friend Ivy Brandon on a trip to Pompeii. When they uncover a corpse and the police dismiss the murder as the work of local gangsters, Emily launches an investigation of her own. She seems to be aided by the archaeologists excavating the ruins, including a moody painter, the enigmatic site director, and a free-thinking American capable of sparring with even the Duke of Bainbridge. But each of them has secrets hiding among the ruins.

The sudden appearance of a beautiful young woman who claims a shocking relationship to the Hargreaves family throws Emily’s investigation off-course. And as she struggles to face an unsettling truth about Colin’s past, it becomes clear that someone else wants her off the case - for good. Emily’s resolve to unearth the facts is unshakable. But how far below the surface can she dig before she risks burying herself along with the truth?"

Ever since Tasha went to Pompeii I've been desperate to read about Emily's adventures there! Thankfully the wait is FINALLY over! 

The Woman in the Veil by Laura Joh Rowland
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: January 7th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 294 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"London, June 1890.

Sarah Bain and her friends Lord Hugh Staunton and Mick O'Reilly are crime scene photographers for the Daily World newspaper. After solving a sensational murder, they're under pressure to deliver another big story. On a foggy summer night, they're called to the bank of the river Thames. The murder victim is an unidentified woman whose face has been slashed. But as Sarah takes photographs, she discovers that the woman is still alive.

The case of "Sleeping Beauty" becomes a public sensation, and three parties quickly come forward to identify her: a rich, sinister artist who claims she's his wife; a mother and her two daughters who co-own a nursing home and claim she's their stepdaughter/sister; and a precocious little girl who claims Sleeping Beauty is her mother. Which party is Sleeping Beauty's rightful kin? Is someone among them her would-be killer?

Then Sleeping Beauty awakens - with a severe case of amnesia. She's forgotten her name and everything else about herself. But she recognizes one of the people who've claimed her. Sarah is delighted to reunite a family and send Sleeping Beauty home - until one of the claimants is murdered. Suddenly, Sarah, her motley crew of friends, and her fiancé Detective Sergeant Barrett are on the wrong side of the law. Now they must identify the killer before they find themselves headed for the gallows."

Even more English sleuthing! It's definitely my week!

A Game of Snakes and Ladders by Doris Langley Moore
Published by: Dean Street Press
Publication Date: January 7th, 2020
Format: Paperback, 326 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Fanny Burney would not approve of some of my chapters, but it was my affection for the novels of her school, in which the heroine goes through all kinds of distresses but emerges in a sweeping triumph at the end, that made me long to try my hand at the same theme - treating it, however, in our down-to-earth twentieth-century way.

This brilliant homage to the 19th century novel begins with two young women - Lucy, sturdy and unflappable, and Daisy, charming but self-interested - performing with a theatre company in Egypt after World War I. The show closes, and Daisy stays on with a well-to-do businessman while Lucy eagerly plans her return to England. But then she falls seriously ill, then in debt to Daisy's lover. She finds that Daisy, anxious not to alienate her meal ticket, has rashly promised that Lucy will remain in Egypt and work for him until he's repaid.

Thus in Egypt they remain, over the course of nearly 20 years, while Moore's intricate, lovely plot unfolds. Frivolous Daisy, the cause of Lucy's woes, ascends the ladder of wealth while Lucy, downtrodden but diligent, slaves and toils. Misunderstandings, deceptions, and self-deceptions abound, and finally the stage is set for Lucy's "sweeping triumph", as giddy and satisfying a climax as any a 19th century master could have conceived. A Game of Snakes and Ladders may remind readers of Fanny Burney or George Eliot, or even Jane Austen, but it's always, definitively and incomparably, Doris Langley Moore. This new edition includes an introduction by Sir Roy Strong."

The fact that Fanny Burney wouldn't approve made me smile and want to read this book. 

Wyntertide by Andrew Caldecott
Published by: Jo Fletcher Books
Publication Date: January 7th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 496 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The town of Rotherweird has been independent from the rest of England for four hundred years, to protect a deadly secret.

Sir Veronal Slickstone is dead, his bid to exploit that secret consigned to dust, leaving Rotherweird to resume its abnormal normality after the travails of the summer...but someone is playing a very long game.

Disturbing omens multiply: a funeral delivers a cryptic warning; an ancient portrait speaks; the Herald disappears - and democracy threatens the uneasy covenant between town and countryside.

Geryon Wynter's intricate plot, centuries in the making, is on the move.

Everything points to one objective: the resurrection of Rotherweird's dark Elizabethan past - and to one date: the Winter Solstice.

Wynter is coming..."

Wait, is "Winter is Coming" allowed to used outside Game of Thrones references and snowpocalypse annoucments now?

Moral Compass by Danielle Steel
Published by: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: January 7th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"At an elite private school in Massachusetts, a wide circle of lives will be forever changed by a devastating series of events in Danielle Steel’s riveting new novel.

Saint Ambrose Prep is a place where the wealthy send their children for the best possible education, with teachers and administrators from the Ivy League, and graduates who become future lawyers, politicians, filmmakers, and CEOs. Traditionally a boys-only school, Saint Ambrose has just enrolled one hundred and forty female students for the first time. Even though most of the kids on the campus have all the privilege in the world, some are struggling, wounded by their parents’ bitter divorces, dealing with insecurity and loneliness. In such a heightened environment, even the smallest spark can become a raging fire.

One day after the school’s annual Halloween event, a student lies in the hospital, her system poisoned by dangerous levels of alcohol. Everyone in this sheltered community - parents, teachers, students, police, and the media - are left trying to figure out what actually happened. Only the handful of students who were there when she was attacked truly know the answers and they have vowed to keep one another’s secrets. As details from the evening emerge, powerful families are forced to hire attorneys and less powerful families watch helplessly. Parents’ marriages are jeopardized, and students’ futures are impacted. No one at Saint Ambrose can escape the fallout of a life-altering event.

In this compelling novel, Danielle Steel illuminates the dark side of one drunken night, with its tragic consequences, from every possible point of view. As the drama unfolds, the characters will reach a crossroads where they must choose between truth and lies, between what is easy and what is right, and find the moral compass they will need for the rest of their lives."

It's like Gilmore Girls meets The Secret History with a bit of Gossip Girl. AKA, all things I love! 

The God Game by Danny Tobey
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: January 7th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A technological thriller with an all-too-believable premise, award-winning author Danny Tobey's The God Game follows five teenagers obsessed with an online video game that connects them to their worst impulses and most dangerous desires.

They call themselves the Vindicators. Targeted by bullies and pressured by parents, these geeks and gamers rule the computer lab at Turner High School. Wealthy bad boy Peter makes and breaks rules. Vanhi is a punk bassist at odds with her heritage. Kenny's creativity is stifled by a religious home life. Insecure and temperamental, Alex is an outcast among the outcasts. And Charlie, the leader they all depend on, is reeling from the death of his mother, consumed with reckless fury.

They each receive an invitation to play The God Game. Created by dark-web coders and maintained by underground hackers, the video game is controlled by a mysterious artificial intelligence that believes it is God. Obey the almighty A.I. and be rewarded. Defiance is punished. Through their phone screens and high-tech glasses, Charlie and his friends see and interact with a fantasy world superimposed over reality. The quests they undertake on behalf of "God" seem harmless at first, but soon the tasks have them questioning and sacrificing their own morality.

High school tormentors get their comeuppance. Parents and teachers are exposed a hypocrites. And the Vindicators' behavior becomes more selfish and self-destructive as they compete against one another for prizes each believes will rescue them from their adolescent existence. But everything they do is being recorded. Hooded and masked thugs are stalking and attacking them. "God" threatens to expose their secrets if they attempt to quit the game. And losing the game means losing their lives.

You don't play the Game. The Game plays you...."

 A far more deadly and riveting version of Ready Player One.

The Complete Drive-In by Joe R. Lansdale
Published by: Bookvoice Publishing
Publication Date: January 7th, 2020
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Includes all three Drive-In novels from the Mojo Storyteller in one paperback.

TITLES INCLUDE:

The Drive-In: A B-Movie with Blood and Popcorn, Made in Texas

The Drive-In 2: Not Just One of Them Sequels

The Drive-In 3: The Bus Tour."

Three Lansdale for the price of one! 

Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire
Published by: Tor.com
Publication Date: January 7th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 208 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The fifth installment in New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire's award-winning Wayward Children series, Come Tumbling Down picks up the threads left dangling by Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones.

When Jack left Eleanor West's School for Wayward Children she was carrying the body of her deliciously deranged sister - whom she had recently murdered in a fit of righteous justice—back to their home on the Moors.

But death in their adopted world isn't always as permanent as it is here, and when Jack is herself carried back into the school, it becomes clear that something has happened to her. Something terrible. Something of which only the maddest of scientists could conceive. Something only her friends are equipped to help her overcome.

Eleanor West's "No Quests" rule is about to be broken.

Again."

I mean, Seanan McGuire has to have a clone of herself OR perhaps fairies working for her to keep up this output...

Chosen by Kiersten White
Published by: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: January 7th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Nina continues to learn how to use her slayer powers against enemies old and new in this second novel in the New York Times bestselling series from Kiersten White, set in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Now that Nina has turned the Watcher’s Castle into a utopia for hurt and lonely demons, she’s still waiting for the utopia part to kick in. With her sister Artemis gone and only a few people remaining at the castle - including her still-distant mother - Nina has her hands full. Plus, though she gained back her Slayer powers from Leo, they’re not feeling quite right after being held by the seriously evil succubus Eve, a.k.a. fake Watcher’s Council member and Leo’s mom.

And while Nina is dealing with the darkness inside, there’s also a new threat on the outside, portended by an odd triangle symbol that seems to be popping up everywhere, in connection with Sean’s demon drug ring as well as someone a bit closer to home. Because one near-apocalypse just isn’t enough, right?

The darkness always finds you. And once again, it’s coming for the Slayer."

MORE BUFFY!!!

Birds of Prey: Huntress by Greg Rucka
Published by: DC Comics
Publication Date: January 7th, 2020
Format: Paperback, 152 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In celebration of the feature film Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) comes Birds of Prey: Huntress.

Meet the character that inspired the film in this classic story!

The Huntress is framed for murder! Avoiding the Gotham City police, Huntress must revisit her childhood to discover the true culprit. While she seeks the clues necessary to prove her innocence, Batman and Nightwing are tracking her every move! As the mystery unravels, Huntress will uncover the terrible truth about the death of her parents.

From Eisner Award-winning author Greg Rucka (Gotham Central, Wonder Woman) and the Eisner Award-winning artist Rick Burchett (Batman, Superman), this volume collects Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood #1-6."

Because I'm all about Rucka lately! 

Murder at the Museum by Lena Jones
Published by: HarperCollins Children's Books
Publication Date: January 7th, 2020
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A second mystery for thirteen-year-old Agatha Oddly - a bold, determined heroine, and the star of this stylish new detective series.

Agatha Oddlow's set to become the youngest member of the Gatekeepers' Guild, but before that, she's got a mystery to solve.

There's been a murder at the British Museum and, although the police are investigating, Agatha suspects that they're missing a wider plot going on below London - a plot involving a disused Tube station, a huge fireworks display, and five thousand tonnes of gold bullion..."

Grade school me would have lived for this book, hence now me is all about it too.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Book Review 2019 #10 - Robin LaFevers' Dark Triumph

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Publication Date: April 2nd, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy


Sybella escaped a horrible life to get to the convent of Saint Mortain. She was damaged and more than a little insane when she arrived, but they, and the new friends she made within the walls of the convent, made her whole again. So what does the Abbess ask of her? To go back to that horrible life because her rank and her position are perfectly placed to aid Anne, the Duchess of Brittany, in her fight against the French to maintain Brittany's independence. Because Sybella has been raised the daughter of d'Albert, Anne's most vicious suitor. A man who has worked his way through six wives and who woos through intimidation, capturing the town of Nantes in an attempt to force Anne's hand. A man so vile that the thought that Death is her father brings Sybella some comfort, because then her father isn't her father, and her brother isn't her brother, and therefore what happened between them isn't nearly as incestuous. The only reason Sybella agreed to this infernal arrangement was because the Abbess promised her that d'Albret would be marked for death. He remains unmarked and Sybella contemplates returning to her true father, but she has survived death so many times she fears she will be rejected once again.

When the convent discovers that the great warrior Beast didn't die in the bloody skirmish outside Nantes, but instead is hidden in the dungeons, Sybella is asked to aid in his release, no matter what danger this might put her in. Things seldom go to plan, and soon Sybella is on the road to Rennes treating Beast's grievous wounds, instead of being back in Nantes carrying out the convent's orders. It wasn't her idea, it was Beast's... and he didn't really give her a choice. The freedom she feels being away from d'Albret and his rotten entourage gives her hope. She can see a future for the first time, and perhaps that future includes the Beast of Waroch. She can travel the countryside with him as he uses his unique talents to call the peasantry to arms and to rise up for the Duchess and the future of Brittany! Only he is unaware of her parentage. He doesn't know that she's a d'Albret. His beloved sister Alyse was one of d'Albret's wives who died at the hands of her husband. Beast forever holds himself responsible for not rescuing his sister, and if he knew not only the truth of who Sybella is, but that it's her fault Alyse died, she could lose Beast forever. The man who she feels able to tell all her secrets to and whom she is falling for. But will her secrets force them apart forever or will they bring them closer together? Only Mortain knows.

From the moment I first finished Grave Mercy I was dying for the next book, which I feel really missed a step by being called Dark Triumph and not Grave Justice, but maybe that's just me. I needed to know what Sybella had been up to. What did the Abbess have Sybella doing? The tantalizing glimpses of her mission throughout Ismae's story in Grave Mercy just made my need to read this second installment all the more dire. Also what about Beast!?! He was LEFT FOR DEAD! In fact, given the wait I had ahead of me I spun possible outcomes, I had a very fixed idea of how the story should play out; we'd begin that first night when Ismae and Sybella were both at the convent and go on from there. Once I got my hands on Dark Triumph I realized that this wasn't at all the story I expected. That first time I read it, I loved it but I wasn't sure I liked it. At the start of Dark Triumph Sybella is such a pessimistic character. She obviously has every right to be, but having grown accustomed to the zealous narration of Ismae, this was a very strong tonal shift. Both women suffered horribly at the hands of men, yet Sybella's outlook is far bleaker. She embraces the vengeance over the mercy of death.

Sybella's past makes this book so dark that what had happened to her overshadowed her evolution the first time I picked the book up. But re-reading, knowing the dark and painful secrets Dark Triumph contained, I was able to see it far more clearly and come to like it, not just love it. There's this nostalgia the book captures where it exudes the vibe of epic fantasy films from the eighties. And no, this isn't just because I've been stuck on a couch for a few weeks with a nasty cold and oddly obsessing about Willow. Films made for kids in the eighties didn't shy away from scaring and scarring their audience. The truth they portrayed made the viewers stronger. The universality of Sybella's struggle, especially since the evolution of the #MeToo movement, hearkens back to these epic stories. A grand journey, an impossible quest, two people who have dark pasts but somehow find each other, all while tackling real world issues within the epic framework made this book mean so much to me. What's also interesting is thinking of parents letting children watch these films and wondering about protection. Who should be the protector in your life when you can't protect yourself? Because Sybella should have been surrounded by people who knew better, and it really takes her relationship with Beast to open her eyes to the fact she has been used by everybody, from her own brother to the Abbess. No one should live in a world where someone takes advantage of your fear and pain.

This pain is what informs Sybella's voice. What Robin has done with Dark Triumph is create not only another compelling narrative in this series, but she has captured Sybella's voice. There is nothing that can be more annoying then having a writer attempt to write a story form multiple points of view and have them fail utterly at it. Instead of having depth and a connection to a handful of characters instead you get a narrative that is flat because there is no distinction, no individuality, you only hear one voice, the authors. In life each person has a distinct voice, I do, you do, Ismae does, Sybella does, and on and on. When I write I fully admit that I can only capture my own voice, which works for what I do. But if Sybella had come out sounding just like Ismae, with her perky attitude and can-do spirit, then not only would this book have failed, but then the uniqueness of Ismae and her distinct voice would be belittled and cheapened. It would no longer have been hers. Instead with Sybella we have a far more educated voice. Less enthusiastic for carrying out Mortain's wishes. More circumspect, questioning, and wary. Which Sybella would have to be growing up in the dark world she inhabits. Being so different this initially led to a disconnect between the second and first book in the series, but I have since come to appreciate this expansion of the world of "His Fair Assassin."

Besides the different voice we also have a very different relationship dynamic between Beast and Sybella. They do not have the zealous righteousness that drives Ismae and Gavriel. They are driven by their dark pasts. They fight for what is right after being stomped down by the oppressive evil in the world, predominately doled out by d'Albrets. Yet neither of them seem to know when to stop pushing so sometimes the other has to be the guide for when enough is enough. This is most obviously shown when Beast occasionally helps Sybella to a state of unconsciousness to get her out of harm's way or when Sybella forces Beast to rest due to his injuries, when the last thing Beast wants is rest. The endearing aspect is that while they both have their secrets, neither one ever questions the loyalties of the other. One jumps, the other jumps. True love comes in many forms and Sybella would have been the first to question finding it in a giant of a man with a squashed face who is terrifying when the blood lust takes him on the battlefield. They compliment each other the way Ismae and Gavriel do. What I really love though is this shows that no matter how different, no matter how damaged you think yourself to be, there is always someone out there for you, they might just be found at the most inopportune of moments in the unlikeliest of places.

Of course the problem with me connecting so strongly to all the characters in the book and shipping them perhaps harder than they ship themselves is that I have a justifiable apprehension for their futures regarding both fictional and historical characters. That is the true magic of this series, that Robin has created a historical fantasy that is so real I worry about what will happen to the characters. Against my better judgment I might have spent a fair amount of time on Wikipedia looking up what really happened during the fight for Brittany to maintain it's independence and how this plays out doesn't necessarily play out how I would wish. I worry about what Ismae and Gavriel will do when the wars are done and the fight is over. How will they handle when Isabeau, Anne's beloved and sickly sister, dies? What will they think of Anne's short life? She is only 26 when she dies. How can the characters I know and love have a happy ending if Anne doesn't have one too? I really should stop obsessing about this and trust in Robin, she is a hopeless romantic and all will work out... right? Because history can be changed and Queen Victoria can end up with Lord M in a perfect world... and while this isn't a perfect world, perhaps it will be able to be perfect enough.

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