Friday, January 15, 2021

Book Review 2020 #5 - Si Spurrier's Worst Among Equals

Worst Among Equals by Si Spurrier
Published by: Marvel
Publication Date: February 8th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 168 Pages
★★★★★
To Buy

Aphra has gotten herself into quite the jam. Sure she broke out of prison and narrowly avoided Imperial custody and her old boss Darth Vader, but this might be worse. Turns out one of her prison inmates was the notorious, and psychotic, Doctor Cornelius Evazan. He was posing as a shapeshifter and he's now using Aphra and Triple-Zero in an experiment to amuse himself. Evazan watches through Triple-Zero's eyes as the murderbot and Aprha cross the hostile and ultra lawful Imperial world of Milvayne. They have ten hours before the bomb Evazan has implanted in Aphra's throat explodes. A bomb fitted with a proximity alert. If Aphra or Triple-Zero stray too far apart they both die. And Triple-Zero really wants to see Aphra die... So everything hinges on a sadistic droid and his sense of self-preservation. Oh, this is going to be an epic experiment, one that Evazan feels everyone should see. Soon all of Milvayne is watching the duo's journey which hits stumbling block after stumbling block. Of course Aphra should have known Triple-Zero would kill the only person capable of deactivating the bomb. Then there's the cops now on their trail, oh and don't forget the reanimated bounty hunter Tam Posla who's now a Force-fungus-powered vigilante, the monster hunters Winloss and Nokk, and the shadowy agents of Imperial Propaganda. Seems like Aphra can't catch a break when even her newest allies are turning against her. Here's hoping she can live to see another day or at least the next ten hours...

Seeing as we are all in agreement that last year was shit it shouldn't come as a surprise that sometimes I would be forced to retreat into my happy place. In past years this has been Hogwarts, but J.K. Rowling has kind of ruined that for everyone now hasn't she? So I went back to my old school comfort blanket, Star Wars. For Star Wars Day, May the 4th of course, I grabbed the most recent trade paperback collection and all twelve issues I hadn't caught up on and just gorged myself on the adventures of Doctor Aphra. Because as I've said before when I was introduced to this series back in 2019, this is what Star Wars was and should always be. Sometimes when Aphra's just out for a payday the story doesn't reach the level of perfection it has been known to reach, but this volume had everything I could hope for, in particular, Triple-Zero. I love the interaction of Aphra and the murderbots! The way they play off each other is like a really incredibly dark screwball comedy. Plus it's a nice delineation to show that yes, Aphra does dubious things but she's not pure evil like Triple-Zero and BT-One! I mean Triple-Zero is living for the day he can kill Aphra, which makes this volume so perfect. His life is dependent on Aphra staying alive, so he is constantly weighing the pros and cons of the joy he'd get from her annihilation versus his self-preservation. But you have a feeling that in the end he'll take the delayed gratification of Aphra's death over his own metal hide.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Book Review 2020 #6 - Brian Selznick's The Marvels

The Marvels by Brian Selznick
Published by: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: September 15th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 640 Pages
★★★★★
To Buy

In 1766 there were many hurricanes. Billy Marvel and his beloved dog are the sole survivors of the sinking of the Kraken which was hit by this force of nature. Billy even lost his beloved brother Marcus in the wreck. When Billy gets to London he is drawn to the construction site of the Royal Theatre and is mesmerized by the painting of the ceiling. There he is recognized as the sole survivor of the wreck, as his picture is on the cover of every newspaper, and he enthralls the crew with his tales of the hurricane and of his brother Marcus. The painter hired to do the ceiling is so moved by the tale he paints Marcus as an angel looking down over the audience. This serendipitous meeting is the beginning of the Marvel theatre dynasty. Billy works as a stagehand and set designer, and soon he has a son, and then there is a marriage. Down the generations until their dynasty ends in 1900. In 1990 Joseph Jervis has run away from school. His parents are abroad so he decides that he will go to his uncle's house in London. He has only the faintest notion of where Albert Nightingale lives, but cold and ill he arrives on his uncle's doorstep thinking that he might just have seen a horse and carriage. Inside the house is even odder. It feels trapped not just in another time, but at a specific time. A dinner is on the table, but a dinner that was interrupted. A napkin lays askew, and it must always lay askew. Albert reluctantly lets his nephew stay in the dream world he has created in this house in Spitalfields. But Joseph must behave. But Joseph is a curious child and from artifacts around the house he starts to learn about the Marvel theatre dynasty. The more he learns, the more he hopes that he is related to them. Yet what he knows of his own family's history doesn't add up with the Marvels. So in this house of make believe, Joseph must distinguish fact from fiction and then decide what is the better way to live?

It's hard to pick a favorite Brian Selznick book in that he is the master of his niche of storytelling. His style of art combined with his prose never fails to entertain, inspire, and uplift. Here though he's tweaked his winning style by having almost four hundred uninterrupted pages of illustration followed by two hundred pages of prose with a coda, another fifty pages of illustration. There was just something about this twist that made me fall even deeper into it than I did with The Invention of Hugo Cabret or Wonderstruck. The Marvels might just be my favorite Brian Selznick book yet! The four hundred pages of illustrations sped by as I was swept away by the history of the Marvel theatre dynasty. By the time you hit the prose section you're so invested in the story that I don't get those who felt the shift in style and tone betrayed them and made them dismiss the book out of hand. Thankfully I believe these to be a minority, because the twist to the story, the way art mimics reality and the artifice of theatre just made me love this book even more. In fact I was sorely compelled to re-read the first four hundred pages a second time after finishing the prose so I could come to terms with the awe I felt with how everything tied together so perfectly. But I was so overcome with tears streaming down my face that actually trying to read or look at a book would have been impossible due to the deluge of tears. What makes this book even more special I feel is that it's loosely based on a real location and person, Dennis Severs' House. One of my friends went to this museum that Dennis Severs created, a place where you can journey back in time with his staged "still-life drama." This is immersive history in the extreme. Oh how I want to go there. But reading this book is literally the next best thing and “you either see it, or you don’t.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Book Review 2020 #7 - Stuart Turton's The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Published by: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: February 8th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 458 Pages
★★★★
To Buy

Doctor Sebastian Bell loses all memory of who he is while in the woods with the name "Anna" dying on his lips. Soon he hears a reply calling for help and then the air is split by the sound of a gun being discharged. Not knowing who he is or where he is, he knows a crime has been committed and must find help. He stumbles for what seems hours until he finds a house. He is let inside and up to a room that is supposedly his. He finds an invitation addressed to a "Doctor Sebastian Bell" requesting his presence at Blackheath House for the return of Evelyn Hardcastle from Paris. So that is who he is, Doctor Sebastian Bell. He tries to compose himself while sloughing off the filth of the forest. While he knows he might not remember anything beyond this morning he knows a crime has been committed and he fears Anna is dead. He must solve this mystery no matter what obstacles are put in his path. And currently his path is blocked by someone dressed as a plague doctor. Someone who tries to convince him Anna isn't his concern. Someone who tries to tell him his only goal for the moment is to get the lay of the land. Yet his concern and curiosity is insatiable and he goes in search of Anna, finding a note from her that is oddly prescient and requesting a meeting later that night. Sebastian starts to not only fear for Anna's life but his own. Soon the prodigal daughter herself, Evelyn, is helping Sebastian in his search for Anna. It appears Blackheath House isn't a stranger to murder, Evelyn's own brother was killed years before down by the lake. Anna misses their appointed meeting, making Sebastian fear the worst, and when he returns to his room everything goes black. And then he wakes up again. And again. And again...

So, a fair amount of book reviews start with a little summery of the book, like this one here does. But whereas most reviewers are doing it to give you an overview of what to expect my reasoning is far different. I do it because it's me writing what I think the blurb on the back of the book should have been. So many book blurbs give an entirely erroneous description that I feel a need to fix it. Likewise so many book blurbs spoil important plot twists that I feel I have to shelter everyone from the spoilers. Unless I really hate the book than I'll probably spoil away. I remember a book review Nick Hornby wrote about Wilkie Collins's No Name and how under no circumstances should you read the blurb because it revealed a huge plot twist and royally pissed him off. No one wants their enjoyment spoiled by a reckless copywriter! While yes, the "original" blurb for this book is part of the reason I picked it up, I felt that it just gave too much away. In fact it's hard to write a review for this book because so much of what I loved, the twists and turns, I want you to experience and enjoy for yourself. This isn't a book to be passively consumed, you become a part of it, working out all the tiny details and trying to solve all the mysteries before the final curtain. I might have considered flow charts at one point, but decided that was taking it too far. But to find a book that you actively want to be a part of, that you can't wait to pick up again, to dig into the story, that is a blessing. This book just doesn't take you away, it asks you to come along for the ride of a lifetime, part Agatha Christie, part Quantum Leap, and totally mind melting. PS, Stuart Turton is a total Quantum Leap geek whereas I'm still pissed at the show's ending.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Tuesday Tomorrow

The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell
Published by: Tin House Books
Publication Date: January 12th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 408 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"London, 1893: high up in a house on a dark, snowy night, a lone seamstress stands by a window. So begins the swirling, serpentine world of Paraic O’Donnell’s Victorian-inspired mystery, the story of a city cloaked in shadow, but burning with questions: why does the seamstress jump from the window? Why is a cryptic message stitched into her skin? And how is she connected to a rash of missing girls, all of whom seem to have disappeared under similar circumstances?

On the case is Inspector Cutter, a detective as sharp and committed to his work as he is wryly hilarious. Gideon Bliss, a Cambridge dropout in love with one of the missing girls, stumbles into a role as Cutter’s sidekick. And clever young journalist Octavia Hillingdon sees the case as a chance to tell a story that matters - despite her employer’s preference that she stick to a women’s society column. As Inspector Cutter peels back the mystery layer by layer, he leads them all, at last, to the secrets that lie hidden at the house on Vesper Sands.

By turns smart, surprising, and impossible to put down, The House on Vesper Sands offers a glimpse into the strange undertow of late nineteenth-century London and the secrets we all hold inside us."

If that opening description didn't give you chills, I'm sorry, we can't be friends. 

Bryant and May: Oranges and Lemons by Christopher Fowler
Published by: Bantam
Publication Date: January 12th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When a prominent politician is crushed by a fruit van making a delivery, the singular team of Arthur Bryant and John May overcome insurmountable odds to reunite the PCU and solve the case in this brainy new mystery from acclaimed author Christopher Fowler.

On a spring morning in London’s Strand, the Speaker of the House of Commons is nearly killed by a van unloading oranges and lemons for the annual St. Clement Danes celebration. It’s an absurd near-death experience, but the government is more interested in investigating the Speaker’s state of mind just prior to his accident.

The task is given to the Peculiar Crimes Unit - the only problem being that the unit no longer exists. Its chief, Raymond Land, is tending his daffodils on the Isle of Wight and senior detectives Arthur Bryant and John May are out of commission - May has just undergone surgery for a bullet wound and Bryant has been missing for a month. What's more, their old office in King’s Cross is being turned into a vegetarian tapas bar.

Against impossible odds, the team is reassembled and once again what should be a simple case becomes a lunatic farrago involving arson, suicide, magicians, academics and a race to catch a killer with a master plan involving London churches. Joining their team this time is Sidney, a young woman with no previous experience, plenty of attitude - and a surprising secret."

A new Bryant and May deserves a hip hip hooray!

The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly
Published by: Gallery Books
Publication Date: January 12th, 2021
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the author of the international bestseller The Light Over London and The Whispers of War comes a poignant and unforgettable tale of five women living across three different times whose lives are all connected by one very special place.

Present day:
Emma Lovett, who has dedicated her career to breathing new life into long-neglected gardens, has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime: to restore the gardens of the famed Highbury House estate, designed in 1907 by her hero Venetia Smith. But as Emma dives deeper into the gardens’ past, she begins to uncover secrets that have long lain hidden.

1907: A talented artist with a growing reputation for her ambitious work, Venetia Smith has carved out a niche for herself as a garden designer to industrialists, solicitors, and bankers looking to show off their wealth with sumptuous country houses. When she is hired to design the gardens of Highbury House, she is determined to make them a triumph, but the gardens - and the people she meets - promise to change her life forever.

1944: When land girl Beth Pedley arrives at a farm on the outskirts of the village of Highbury, all she wants is to find a place she can call home. Cook Stella Adderton, on the other hand, is desperate to leave Highbury House to pursue her own dreams. And widow Diana Symonds, the mistress of the grand house, is anxiously trying to cling to her pre-war life now that her home has been requisitioned and transformed into a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. But when war threatens Highbury House’s treasured gardens, these three very different women are drawn together by a secret that will last for decades.

In this sweeping novel reminiscent of Kate Morton’s The Lake House and Kristin Harmel’s The Room on Rue Amélie, Julia Kelly explores the unexpected connections that cross time and the special places that bring people together forever."

Besides sounding right up my alley, you just named-checked my favorite Kate Morton book!

The Innkeeper's Daughter by Bianca M. Schwarz
Published by: Central Avenue Publishing
Publication Date: January 12th, 2021
Format: Paperback, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the twilight of a November evening, Sir Henry March, a man of wealth and charm - and a secret agent for the Crown - comes across a badly beaten Eliza Broad, desperate to escape her cruel stepfather. Knowing she has nowhere to go, Sir Henry takes her to his home to recover, and introduces her to a world of culture, art, and literature she never knew existed. But Eliza's brutal world follows her to London, where elite aristocratic salons coexist with the back alleys of the criminal underworld.

As romance blossoms between them, Eliza unearths an old secret that leads them into the dark, sadistic world of sex trafficking, and allows Henry to finally identify a traitor responsible for selling military secrets and causing the death of thousands.

A natural at the spy game, Eliza proves herself a worthy partner in the fight for truth and justice. But with time running out, and the fate of one girl hanging in the balance, Henry and Eliza must find a way to outwit a nasty pimp and eliminate a dangerous enemy agent."

I'm a sucker for a romance with a spy angle.

The Ruthless Lady's Guide to Wizardry by C.M. Waggoner
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: January 12th, 2021
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Sparks fly in this enchanting fantasy novel from the author of Unnatural Magic when a down-and-out fire witch and a young gentlewoman join forces against a deadly conspiracy.

Dellaria Wells, petty con artist, occasional thief, and partly educated fire witch, is behind on her rent in the city of Leiscourt - again. Then she sees the “wanted” sign, seeking Female Persons, of Martial or Magical ability, to guard a Lady of some Importance, prior to the celebration of her Marriage. Delly fast-talks her way into the job and joins a team of highly peculiar women tasked with protecting their wealthy charge from unknown assassins.

Delly quickly sets her sights on one of her companions, the confident and well-bred Winn Cynallum. The job looks like nothing but romance and easy money until things take a deadly (and undead) turn. With the help of a bird-loving necromancer, a shapeshifting schoolgirl, and an ill-tempered reanimated mouse named Buttons, Delly and Winn are determined to get the best of an adversary who wields a twisted magic and has friends in the highest of places."

Magic! Magic magic magic magic magic!

Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire
Published by: Tordotcom
Publication Date: January 12th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 176 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A young girl discovers a portal to a land filled with centaurs and unicorns in Seanan McGuire's Across the Green Grass Fields, a standalone tale in the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Wayward Children series.

“Welcome to the Hooflands. We’re happy to have you, even if you being here means something’s coming.”

Regan loves, and is loved, though her school-friend situation has become complicated, of late.

When she suddenly finds herself thrust through a doorway that asks her to "Be Sure" before swallowing her whole, Regan must learn to live in a world filled with centaurs, kelpies, and other magical equines - a world that expects its human visitors to step up and be heroes.

But after embracing her time with the herd, Regan discovers that not all forms of heroism are equal, and not all quests are as they seem...

A standalone Wayward Children story containing all-new characters, and a great jumping-on point for new readers."

A great "jumping-on point" but if you are smart enough to subscribe to the Tor newsletter around Thanksgiving they gave free copies of all the previous volumes for your e-reader!

Before the Ruins by Victoria Gosling
Published by: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: January 12th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A gripping, multilayered debut in the tradition of Tana French and Donna Tartt about four friends, an empty manor, and a night that will follow them for the rest of their lives.

It's the summer of 1996 and school's out forever for Andy, her boyfriend Marcus, her best friend Peter, and Em. When Andy's alcoholic mother predicts the apocalypse, the four teenagers decide to see out the end of the world at a deserted manor house, the site of a historic unsolved mystery. There they meet David - charming and unreliable, he seems to have appeared out of nowhere.

David presents an irresistible lure for both Andy and Peter and complicates the dynamics of their lifelong friendship. When the group learns that a diamond necklace, stolen fifty years ago, might still be somewhere on the manor grounds, the Game - half treasure hunt, half friendly deception - begins. But the Game becomes much bigger than the necklace, growing to encompass years of secrets, lies, and, ultimately, one terrible betrayal.

Meticulously plotted and gorgeously written, Before the Ruins is a page-turner of the highest order about the sealed-off places in our pasts and the parts of ourselves waiting to be retrieved from them."

Oh, 1996, just when I graduated high school! Sadly I never went to a manor house that lead to horrors and secrets... or did I?

The Perfect Guests by Emma Rous
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: January 12th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The USA Today bestselling author of The Au Pair returns with another delicious, twisty novel - about a grand estate with many secrets, an orphan caught in a web of lies, and a young woman playing a sinister game.

1988. Beth Soames is fourteen years old when her aunt takes her to stay at Raven Hall, a rambling manor in the isolated East Anglian fens. The Averells, the family who lives there, are warm and welcoming, and Beth becomes fast friends with their daughter, Nina. At times, Beth even feels like she's truly part of the family...until they ask her to help them with a harmless game - and nothing is ever the same.

2019. Sadie Langton is an actress struggling to make ends meet when she lands a well-paying gig to pretend to be a guest at a weekend party. She is sent a suitcase of clothing, a dossier outlining the role she is to play, and instructions. It's strange, but she needs the money, and when she sees the stunning manor she'll be staying at, she figures she’s got nothing to lose.

In person, Raven Hall is even grander than she'd imagined - even with damage from a fire decades before - but the walls seem to have eyes. As day turns to night, Sadie starts to feel that there’s something off about the glamorous guests who arrive, and as the party begins, it becomes chillingly apparent their unseen host is playing games with everyone...including her."

Can you tell I love me a grand estate?

Dear Miss Kopp by Amy Stewart
Published by: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: January 12th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The indomitable Kopp sisters are tested at home and abroad in this warm and witty tale of wartime courage and camaraderie.

The U.S. has finally entered World War I is and Constance is chasing down suspected German saboteurs and spies for the Bureau of Investigation while Fleurette is traveling across the country entertaining troops with song and dance. Meanwhile, at an undisclosed location in France, Norma is overseeing her thwarted pigeon project for the Army Signal Corps. When Aggie, a nurse at the American field hospital, is accused of stealing essential medical supplies, the intrepid Norma is on the case to find the true culprit.

The far-flung sisters - separated for the first time in their lives - correspond with news of their days. The world has irrevocably changed - will the sisters be content to return to the New Jersey farm when the war is over?"

Epistolary Kopps!

The FBI Way by Frank Figliuzzi
Published by: Custom House
Publication Date: January 12th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The FBI’s former head of counterintelligence reveals the Bureau's field-tested playbook for unlocking individual and organizational excellence, illustrated through dramatic stories from his own storied career.

Frank Figliuzzi was the "Keeper of the Code," appointed the FBI’s Chief Inspector by then-Director Robert Mueller. Charged with overseeing sensitive internal inquiries, shooting reviews, and performance audits, he ensured each employee met the Bureau's exacting standards of performance, integrity, and conduct. Now, drawing on his distinguished career, Figliuzzi reveals how the Bureau achieves its extraordinary standard of excellence - from the training of new recruits in "The FBI Way" to the Bureau's rigorous maintenance of its standards up and down the organization. Unafraid to identify FBI execs who erred, he cites them as the exceptions that prove the rule.

All good codes of conduct have one common trait: they reflect the core values of an organization. Individuals, companies, schools, teams, or any group seeking to codify their rules to live by must first establish core values. Figliuzzi has condensed the Bureau’s process of preserving and protecting its core values into what he calls “The Seven C’s”. If you can adapt the concepts of Code, Conservancy, Clarity, Consequences, Compassion, Credibility, and Consistency, you can instill and preserve your values against all threats, internal and external. This is how the FBI does it.

Figliuzzi’s role in the FBI gave him a unique opportunity to study patterns of conduct among high-achieving, ethical individuals and draw conclusions about why, when and how good people sometimes do bad things. Part pulse-pounding memoir, part practical playbook for excellence, The FBI Way shows readers how to apply the lessons he’s learned to their own lives: in business, management, and personal development."

I love Frank!

You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar
Published by: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: January 12th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Writer and performer on Late Night with Seth Meyers Amber Ruffin writes with her sister Lacey Lamar with humor and heart to share absurd anecdotes about everyday experiences of racism.

Now a writer and performer on Late Night with Seth Meyers and host of The Amber Ruffin Show, Amber Ruffin lives in New York, where she is no one's First Black Friend and everyone is, as she puts it, "stark raving normal." But Amber's sister Lacey? She's still living in their home state of Nebraska, and trust us, you'll never believe what happened to Lacey.

From racist donut shops to strangers putting their whole hand in her hair, from being mistaken for a prostitute to being mistaken for Harriet Tubman, Lacey is a lightning rod for hilariously ridiculous yet all-too-real anecdotes. She's the perfect mix of polite, beautiful, petite, and Black that apparently makes people think "I can say whatever I want to this woman." And now, Amber and Lacey share these entertainingly horrifying stories through their laugh-out-loud sisterly banter. Painfully relatable or shockingly eye-opening (depending on how often you have personally been followed by security at department stores), this book tackles modern-day racism with the perfect balance of levity and gravity."

I also adore Amber.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Book Review 2020 #8 - Riley Sager's Home Before Dark

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
Published by: Dutton
Publication Date: June 30th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
★★★★
To Buy

Imagine being known your entire life as the girl who survived one the the country's most notorious haunted houses. Now imagine that notoriety is all your father's fault for publishing the experience in a book that rivaled The Amityville Horror in sales and skepticism. House of Horrors has haunted Maggie her entire life. What's more galling than the endless questions about Baneberry Hall is the fact that she can't remember anything that happened. Therefore she has grown up a skeptic. Ghosts don't exist and her father obviously made everything up as a cash grab, feathering their bank account and destroying Maggie's life and his marriage to Maggie's mother in the process. But when he dies Maggie learns a surprising fact, he never sold Baneberry Hall. He could have made a killing turning it into a tourist attraction, further incensing the ire of the locals, but instead he held onto the property. Fueled by her past Maggie has grown up smart and sensible and is a home restorer, proving on a daily basis there's nothing to fear in the walls of old houses but vermin and mold. Therefore upon learning of her windfall she does the logical thing, she returns to Baneberry Hall to assess it, fix it up, and sell it. A move that her mother begs her not to do. In fact she flat out offers to buy the house from Maggie so that she won't return to that horrible place. Her mother's insistence to stay away makes Maggie even more curious. This is nothing more than a house they're talking about. Sure it's big and rambling but there are no evil forces, because there are no such things as ghosts. Or are there? Because once in the house Maggie starts to experience what could be categorized as otherworldly phenomena. She also starts to remember what her father wrote about all those years ago. But that book can't be true can it?

I don't know why but while most people read horror around Halloween for some reason nothing says horror to me like a hot summer day with the cicadas singing. The long summer evenings where the light is still present to keep the horrors contained within the pages of a book at bay. Or pulling the shades down against the setting sun and watching a horror film before the creatures can reach out of the dark corners and worm their way into your nightmares. I devoured Home Before Dark over a few hot July nights and it easily became my book of the summer. It had everything I hope for in a book, I even got the bejesus scared out of me one night because I turned out the lights and my room was filled with a luminous glow. Turns out this book was designed by some genius graphic designers who used luminous ink on the cover. I tip my hat to you whomever made me almost crap my pants. What I particularly loved about Home Before Dark was the switching of the narrative between Maggie in the "present" and chapters from her father's book. House of Horrors was perfectly written in that it stylistically captured that specific genre of "true" hauntings from the late seventies and the early eighties. I was a kid again getting scared by a story just because it said it was "based on true events!" What's more is this book pays tribute to all the great haunted house books, in particular The Haunting of Hill House and the recent Netflix adaptation that I couldn't get enough of. In fact I think this book might make the rota of spooky books I return to again and again. Let's put it this way, this book has made Riley Sager a must read author with me only having picked up one of his four volumes in print.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Book Review 2020 #9 - Tasha Alexander's In the Shadow of Vesuvius

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

When one goes to Pompeii one expects to see dead bodies. The eruption of Vesuvius preserved so many people in their agonizing final moments that you go there expecting not just to see the ruins of a city but also the inhabitants of that city. Though Emily stumbles on one that's rather fresh. This body wasn't killed by ash and debris, that's for sure. Luckily Emily is rather used to this by now. The unhelpful police, the danger, the intrigue, really, it's rather a normal holiday for her all things considered. So a killer is sending her notes? That's nothing new. She has her husband and her stalwart friends old and new to back her up as she tries to catch a killer. But a murder isn't the only thing uncovered at the dig, there are secrets from Colin's past that where hidden even from him when a young woman appears claiming to be his daughter. Could this be true? Could everything Emily thought she knew about her husband be upended? Could it even jeopardize their happiness? Could Colin choose this young woman and her needs ahead of Emily's? Emily would doubt it all if it didn't all fit so perfectly together. The girl's mother, Kristiana von Lange, was an Austrian countess who also happened to work with Colin while occupying his bed. Emily and her had a contretemps and Emily won at the cost of the countess's life. This girl is the living embodiment of Kristiana but with shades of Colin. There is no doubt who she is, the only doubt is what damage she can do to Emily, the woman whom she views as responsible for her mother's death. If Emily doesn't sort out her personal life surviving a killer doesn't matter if at the end of the day she doesn't come home to Colin.

Tasha herself would acknowledge the influence of Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series on her own Lady Emily series. As an ardent fan of both I love when Lady Emily's adventures hew a little closer to one Amelia Peabody and her steadfast husband Emerson might have had. Therefore In the Shadow of Vesuvius fit the bill splendidly. Oh, to go on an excavation for a holiday in the ruins of Pompeii! And to solve a murder! This is literally combining two of my favorite things, my love of art history and crime solving. Because as someone who studied art history you can never discount the value of the eruption of Vesuvius. The preservation of the catastrophe showed us our first real glimpse of life from the time period. The use of color in homes alone was magnificent. Those cold white statues that we think of when we think of the ancient world isn't at all what life was like! I will never forget visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and stumbling on the famous room they have from Pompeii. I had seen it in all my art history books and projected large in the lecture halls, and here it was! Tasha's book takes that feeling of discovery and gives you an even more intimate connection. You have that constant feeling I had of stumbling on a piece of this famous site over and over throughout the narrative as Emily delves deeper into the ruins of Pompeii. What's more, the connection you develop to each and every character means that as the series continues when we find out who are secondary characters are we rejoice as if seeing an old friend. I don't believe Ivy has graced the pages of Emily's adventures for eight volumes! And then there's the irrepressible Jeremy! Everything about this series is like being wrapped in the biggest most comfortable blanket you could imagine and being handed a mug of hot cocoa and a cookie. Lucky for us readers each year we get to experience this joy anew, and this year's coming installment doesn't disappoint either.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Book Review 2020 #10 - Tamsyn Muir's Gideon the Ninth

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Published by: Tor.com
Publication Date: September 9th, 2019
Format: Kindle, 479 Pages
★★★★
To Buy

Gideon wants nothing to do with the Ninth. The house is nothing more than a creepy death cult guarding a locked tomb that is quickly dying out. She wants off the planet and out of the life she's begrudgingly lived. But her countless escape plans have never worked and this newest one is no different, even if it's the closest she's ever come. She is once again stopped by her nemesis, Harrowhark Nonagesimus. Harrowhark is the scion of the Ninth. A wickedly powerful necromancer who has been puppeteering her parents corpses for years in an effort to make it look like the Ninth is still a functional house and not on it's last legs. This appearance is more important than ever as the Emperor has called all nine houses to his abandoned palace, Canaan House, to compete for the honor to become Lyctors, eternals who serve at his side. The problem is that each house has to have a cavalier, a warrior, indefatigable and unbeatable, who protects the necromancer. The only real contender for Harrowhark's cavalier is Gideon. The problem is Gideon wasn't trained for this role and more importantly she'd rather see Harrowhark dead than be the one having to save her. So Harrowhark makes a deal. They go to Canaan House, they put on the show of a lifetime, Harrowhark wins and becomes a Lyctor and Gideon gets to ride off into the sunset. Gideon doesn't like this plan. Gideon doesn't think it will work. Gideon doesn't have a choice. When they arrive at Canaan House Gideon is quickly abandoned by Harrowhark who plays up the mystique of the the Ninth House by being wreathed in shrouds and totally unavailable to Gideon. Gideon sees quite quickly that the reputation of the Ninth makes all the other houses wary of her, and yet, slowly she starts to befriend them. That's when they start dying. This Lyctor test was set up in a way that makes the suspicious houses unable to win, but amply able to die. Will Gideon even live to cash in on Harrowhark's promise or will she die screaming in agony on a distant planet? At least she won't die near the benighted locked tomb...

Me and much lauded books rarely get along. My tastes are rarely the tastes of the masses. And yet again and again I feel drawn to read them. That's how I picked up Gideon the Ninth. Though I was circumspect in that I knew it might not be for me and therefore got it from my local library. I mean, lesbian necromancers in space sounds awesome, but there was that voice saying, but is it for you? Turns out it was. But not without the reservations continuing for quite awhile. After my first night of reading I actually reached out to my friends asking them "has anyone read Gideon the Ninth? I am a die hard must finish a book and have literally only given up on one in the last decade...but this isn't catching my interest at all..." Theories ranged from it being the victim of hype to it just being very polarizing. But I refused to give up and this book is literally why I don't give up on books, aside from that one a few years back which I try not to think of. Gideon the Ninth literally took a third of the way through the book to click and when it did it became magnificent. This became the Gothic space thriller of my dreams! Teams of two pitted against each other in order to find keys to literally unlock secrets in the biggest most haunted space palace you could imagine. There were elements of The Haunting of Hill House and The Hunger Games and Rose Red! I literally was dumbfounded that the book I had bemoaned became this epic read. One of my friends was shocked it went from a possible DNF to four stars in the span of a week. I was even encouraging him to keep going because he would be surprised by what it became. Therefore I use this book as a reminder, whatever you use to cull your TBR Pile, a hundred page rule, a quarter rule, whatever, it wouldn't have worked here. Never judge a book until you read that last line, it might end up one of your favorite reads.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Haunting of Beatrix Greene by Rachel Hawkins, Ash Parsons, and Vicky Alvear Shecter.
Published by: Serial Box
Publication Date: January 5th, 2021
Format: Kindle
To Buy

The official patter:
"In Victorian England, a savvy spiritual medium must outsmart the most important client of her career: a scientist determined to expose frauds like her.

But their game of wits has fatal consequences when a vengeful spirit answers their summons. If they cannot put aside their prejudices - and growing passion - and find a way to banish the ghost together, one of them could be its next victim.

The Haunting of Beatrix Greene
by bestselling authors Rachel Hawkins, Ash Parsons, and Vicky Alvear Shecter."

There's nothing I love more the Victorian spiritualism! 

House of the Patriarch by Barbara Hambly
Published by: Severn House Publishers
Publication Date: January 5th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"No one can talk to the dead...can they? Free man of color Benjamin January gets caught up in a strange, spiritual world that might lead to his own demise, as he hunts for a missing teenager in this gripping, atmospheric historical mystery.

New Orleans, 1840. Freshly home from a dangerous journey, that last thing Benjamin January wants to do is leave his wife and young sons again. But when old friends Henri and Chloe Viellard ask for his help tracking down a missing girl in distant New York, he can't say no.

Three weeks ago, seventeen-year-old Eve Russell boarded a steam-boat - and never got off it. Mrs Russell is adamant Eve's been kidnapped, but how could someone remove a teenager from a crowded deck in broad daylight? And why would anyone target Eve?

The answer lies in New York, a hotbed of new religions and beliefs, of human circuses and freak shows...and of blackbirders, who'll use any opportunity to kidnap a free man of color and sell him into slavery. January's determined to uncover the truth, but will he ever be able to return to New Orleans to share it?"

I'm excited for this book because it looks like a fresh take on Southern Gothic. 

Death of the Singing Birds by Amy Myers
Published by: Severn House Publishers
Publication Date: January 5th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 224 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A summer festival ends in disaster for chef sleuth Nell Drury in this gripping historical mystery full of dark secrets, disturbing discoveries and page-turning twists.

1926, Kent. Chef Nell Drury is busy with preparations for Lady Ansley's luncheon to welcome Wychbourne Court's new neighbours, Sir Gilbert and Lady Saddler. The couple's arrival has led to much rumour and intrigue swirling around the village, particularly with regards to the mysterious Lady Saddler. Sir Gilbert belongs to a new artistic movement, the Artistes de Cler, and is organizing a summer festival in the grounds of Spitalfrith Manor, where the Clerries will gather to reveal their Africa-inspired paintings. The whole village is invited and buzzing with excitement. But at the festival itself, Nell witnesses some strange and disturbing events, and when a terrible discovery is made the following day, she is horrified to learn that Lord Ansley's valet has been arrested. Can Nell clear his name while also confronting a face from the past?"

Just the right type of 20s Midsomer Murders vibe I'm looking for!

The Sea Gate by Jane Johnson
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: January 5th, 2021
Format: Paperback, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A broken family, a house of secrets - an entrancing tale of love and courage set during the Second World War.

After Rebecca’s mother dies, she must sort through her empty flat and come to terms with her loss. As she goes through her mother’s mail, she finds a handwritten envelope. In it is a letter that will change her life forever.

Olivia, her mother’s elderly cousin, needs help to save her beloved home. Rebecca immediately goes to visit Olivia in Cornwall only to find a house full of secrets - treasures in the attic and a mysterious tunnel leading from the cellar to the sea, and Olivia, nowhere to be found.

As it turns out, the old woman is stuck in hospital with no hope of being discharged until her house is made habitable again. Rebecca sets to work restoring the home to its former glory, but as she peels back the layers of paint and grime, she uncovers even more buried secrets - secrets from a time when the Second World War was raging, when Olivia was a young woman, and when both romance and danger lurked around every corner...

A sweeping and utterly spellbinding tale of a young woman’s courage in the face of war and the lengths to which she’ll go to protect those she loves against the most unexpected of enemies."

I was sold at Cornwall and a character named Rebecca!

Death of a Messenger by Robert McCaw
Published by: Oceanview Publishing
Publication Date: January 5th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Journey deep into the exotic locales of Hawaii’s Big Island to discover its language, culture - and crime.

On Hawaii Island, an anonymous 911 caller reports a body at Pohakuloa, the Army’s live-fire training area. Hilo Chief Detective Koa Kane, a cop with his own secret criminal past, finds a mutilated corpse - bearing all the hallmarks of ancient ritual sacrifice.

He encounters a host of obstacles as he pursues the murderer - an incompetent local medical examiner, hostility from both haoles (Westerners) and sovereignty advocates, and a myriad of lies. Koa races to discover whether the victim stumbled upon a gang of high-tech archaeological thieves, or learned a secret so shocking it cost him his life and put others in mortal danger.

Will Hilo’s most respected detective stop this sadistic fiend - or will the Pohakuloa killer strike again, with even deadlier consequences?"

I might be suffering from severe Magnum withdrawals and this book kept me going!

Nick by Michael Farris Smith
Published by: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: January 5th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Before Nick Carraway moved to West Egg and into Gatsby's periphery, he was at the center of a very different story-one taking place along the trenches and deep within the tunnels of World War I.

Floundering in the wake of the destruction he witnessed firsthand, Nick delays his return home, hoping to escape the questions he cannot answer about the horrors of war. Instead, he embarks on a transcontinental redemptive journey that takes him from a whirlwind Paris romance-doomed from the very beginning-to the dizzying frenzy of New Orleans, rife with its own flavor of debauchery and violence.

An epic portrait of a truly singular era and a sweeping, romantic story of self-discovery, this rich and imaginative novel breathes new life into a character that many know but few have pondered deeply. Charged with enough alcohol, heartbreak, and profound yearning to paralyze even the heartiest of golden age scribes, Nick reveals the man behind the narrator who has captivated readers for decades."

Because the most important person in Gatsby is Nick! His views, his mind, form everything we know. He is a unreliable narrator that needs to be looked into!

The Quantum Weirdness of the Almost-Kiss by Amy Noelle Parks
Published by: Amulet Books
Publication Date: January 5th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A debut YA rom-com about smart girls, love-struck boys, and quantum theory.

Seventeen-year-old Evie Beckham has always been too occupied with her love of math and frequent battles with anxiety to want to date. Besides, she’s always found the idea of kissing to be kind of weird. But by senior year, thanks to therapy and her friends, she’s feeling braver than before. Maybe even brave enough to enter the national math and physics competition or flirt back with the new boy. Meanwhile, Evie’s best friend, Caleb Covic, has always been a little in love with her. So he’s horrified when he is forced to witness Evie’s meet-cute with the new guy. Desperate, Caleb uses an online forum to capture Evie’s interest - and it goes a little too well. Now Evie wonders how she went from avoiding romance to having to choose between two - or is it three? - boys."

Because sometime you need a cute rom-com. 

Persephone Station by Stina Leicht
Published by: Gallery / Saga Press
Publication Date: January 5th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 512 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Hugo award–nominated author Stina Leicht has created a take on space opera for fans of The Mandalorian and Cowboy Bebop in this high-stakes adventure.

Persephone Station, a seemingly backwater planet that has largely been ignored by the United Republic of Worlds becomes the focus for the Serrao-Orlov Corporation as the planet has a few secrets the corporation tenaciously wants to exploit.

Rosie - owner of Monk’s Bar, in the corporate town of West Brynner, caters to wannabe criminals and rich Earther tourists, of a sort, at the front bar. However, exactly two types of people drank at Monk’s back bar: members of a rather exclusive criminal class and those who sought to employ them.

Angel - ex-marine and head of a semi-organized band of beneficent criminals, wayward assassins, and washed up mercenaries with a penchant for doing the honorable thing is asked to perform a job for Rosie. What this job reveals will effect Persephone and put Angel and her squad up against an army. Despite the odds, they are rearing for a fight with the Serrao-Orlov Corporation. For Angel, she knows that once honor is lost, there is no regaining it. That doesn’t mean she can’t damned well try."   

Yep, space cowboy time!

Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule
Published by: Del Rey
Publication Date: January 5th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Long before the First Order, before the Empire, before even The Phantom Menace...Jedi lit the way for the galaxy in The High Republic.

It is a golden age. Intrepid hyperspace scouts expand the reach of the Republic to the furthest stars, worlds flourish under the benevolent leadership of the Senate, and peace reigns, enforced by the wisdom and strength of the renowned order of Force users known as the Jedi. With the Jedi at the height of their power, the free citizens of the galaxy are confident in their ability to weather any storm But the even brightest light can cast a shadow, and some storms defy any preparation.

When a shocking catastrophe in hyperspace tears a ship to pieces, the flurry of shrapnel emerging from the disaster threatens an entire system. No sooner does the call for help go out than the Jedi race to the scene. The scope of the emergence, however, is enough to push even Jedi to their limit. As the sky breaks open and destruction rains down upon the peaceful alliance they helped to build, the Jedi must trust in the Force to see them through a day in which a single mistake could cost billions of lives.

Even as the Jedi battle valiantly against calamity, something truly deadly grows beyond the boundary of the Republic. The hyperspace disaster is far more sinister than the Jedi could ever suspect. A threat hides in the darkness, far from the light of the age, and harbors a secret that could strike fear into even a Jedi’s heart."

Yeah... I can't get enough of Star Wars lately, bring on The High Republic!!!

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