Friday, February 15, 2019

Book Review - 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.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Book Review - Robin LaFevers's Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Published by: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 644 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Ismae almost died before she was born. Her mother tried to purge her from her body because she knew that Death was Ismae's father. All her life she has been marked by death with a dark wine stain from her shoulder to her hip. On the day of her marriage to a man she neither loves nor likes, he learns the truth and attempts to kill her. The herb witch that tried to end her in the womb now rescues her and sends her to the convent of St. Mortain. There Ismae learns that she is cursed, but with gifts from Death himself. Trained to be a handmaiden to Death she learns all the subtle arts from poisons to seduction, though she's not too keen on the womanly arts. She becomes a finely honed tool, an assassin for Death himself. Her first two assignments go rather well and the men are sent to their graves. The deaths of these two men though are inopportune for Brittany's government who is trying to stay an independent Duchy from France. As atonement for the inconvenience the convent has wrought the Duchy's young ruler, Anne, and her bastard brother, Gavriel Duval, Ismae is to accompany Gavriel to court and aid the country, while also serving the sometimes conflicting needs of the convent.

While at court, Gavriel is worried that he has been saddled with a loose cannon. Ismae seems to have no desire to confide in Gavriel, or ask his permission, willing to kill whomever Death has marked, whether it's convenient to Gavriel or not. That can be a bit problematic when the bodies start piling up. But Ismae has spent the last few years cloistered away from the world and never in her wildest dreams thought she would be embroiled in the affairs of the Breton Court and this new world view is shaking her beliefs. She wants to follow her orders from the convent, kill those who bear the mark, but through Gavriel she starts to wonder if the convent has things quite right. As Ismae is drawn deeper and deeper into the intrigues of the Breton Court and the Privy Council she learns that Anne is a ruler worthy of her protection and Gavriel my be a man worthy of her heart, but perhaps all that she has been taught is wrong. Perhaps the handmaidens of Death aren't there to bestow vengeance, mayhap they are to grant HIS mercy and the convent is misguided in their mission. If only St. Mortain would show her where her true destiny lies.

Back in 2011 after helping Robin with some Goodreads questions, I am after all a librarian in good standing on the site, as a thank you she sent me an ARC of the first book in her new series, Grave Mercy, as well as some swag. The "His Fair Assassin" series, with the HIM being Death, is set in Brittany in the 15th century and as Robin told me she was "curious to see what [I] think, since it is SO different from Theo!" The Theo in question being Theodosia Throckmorton, a budding Egyptologist whom Robin created and I adore. Yet while Robin is right that this series is "SO different" from Theo I wouldn't say they are worlds apart. Like Robin's other creations, including Nathaniel Fludd, there's a perfect melding of character, history, and that spark of magical realism. All these elements combine and conclusively prove that a great author is able to write in any genre and on any subject matter as long as they have a clear authorial voice and interconnected themes that come through no matter what they are writing about. Robin has that voice. It changes with the characters and the time periods she's writing about, but there's a way she grips you from the outset. She has an engaging writing style that doesn't make it feel like you're fighting the text to get from word to word and paragraph to paragraph.

Each and every time I've picked up one of Robin's books I'm surprised that when I finally, blearily, look up from the page that an hour or two or three have passed, sometimes it's even five in the morning and shouldn't I be asleep by now? But I just fall in, even reading Grave Mercy for the third time I felt like I was reading it for the first. There's a flow to the writing and you are gone. This flow is even more impressive when you think about the fact that this is, in essence, Historical Fiction. I read a lot of Historical Fiction and it can easily be bogged down with overly archaic language, too many historical events, and plot points given to you like a lesson at school that you hated the first time around and has you scrambling back and forth over the text trying to remember the minutiae of each plot and counter plot. But Robin did an amazing job of making the people, both historical and fictional, real. I fell for Ismae and her evil Hogwarts convent and then fell all over again when Gavriel showed up. These characters became friends to me. I was invested in their lives and with getting them together! Jane Austen had it so right with Darcy and Elizabeth, now just make one an assassin and the other an upright young man, and you just wait for them to realize the truth that, though they are so different, they are so right for each other.

Yet this investment in the book wouldn't work if not for Ismae. As many of you know I tend to do "dream casting" of books I read. The reason for this is twofold, I have always loved film and television so therefore when I can see an actor or actress so clearly as a character I will "cast" them in that role in my head; the second reason is sometimes the character is a little too broadly defined by the author and therefore I use my dream casting to fill in the blanks. I am making up for their shortfall. So when I stumble on a character who requires no casting I want to stand up and applaud. Here is someone so fully formed, so perfectly complete, no matter how imperfect they are, that I see them instantly in my mind's eye. This has literally only happened to me a handful of times, and I could name each and every occasion should you wish for me to do so, but for my purposes here, know that Ismae is one of these magnificent creations. She has such a unique voice, such a forceful presence, that if she were to step right out of Grave Mercy and into my library I would know her immediately and greet her as an old friend. I would then have her watch The Princess Bride with me, because near the end of her story she's channeling some serious vibes from that holiest of holy book and movie.

Re-reading Grave Mercy I started to analyze why this book connects to me and to the YA audience so fiercely and combined with the serendipitous release of Mary Queen of Scots everything fell into place. I've been complaining to my friends about how much everything about the new movie Mary Queen of Scots annoys me, from the fact that Mary somehow has a Scottish accent despite being raised in France to the two monarchs meeting when they never did. All this had me pining for the CW show Reign. Who would have ever thought that this over the top show with magic and a Medici and Nostradamus would, in it's final season, more accurately portray the last days of Mary Queen of Scots than a big blockbuster movie? I never would have! But the show, despite it's silliness, at it's core has that same spark that Grave Mercy possess. Which made me wonder, why am I drawn to courtly drama? And I realized, it's a metaphor for growing up. Being taken from a small, secluded world, be it a convent where you're training to be an assassin, or say a small Catholic school with only twenty students in your class, and being thrust into this world where you don't know the rules, be it the Breton Court or high school, this resonates with readers because they've either been through it or are currently embroiled in it. I finally get it! I get why I love this book and how it connects to me!

What I also get is how this book exposes the hypocrisy of the church. There is such a disconnect between the love Jesus preaches and the way his followers carry out what they think are HIS commandments. The complete incompatibility between God's word and what the church preaches. So much hate and vitriol comes from religion and this is why, despite going to a Catholic school for eight long years, I can not get behind organized religion. This is a big problem facing Ismae. She was raised at the convent of St. Mortain to be used by the convent to carry out Death's plan. But she realizes that the convent is fallible. She's not sure if they are promoting their own agenda over that of St. Mortain or if they truly believe that they are acting under HIS aegis, but the more Ismae sees of the world the more she realizes it isn't black and white, it isn't life or death, there are shades of grey, there is the possibility for forgiveness. Just because you are marked for death doesn't mean that it gives the convent license to kill you, it means that death is near and a decision has to be made. To see Ismae come to the realization that death isn't just vengeance, that death can be mercy, that death can be a blessing, that shatters her world, opens her eyes, makes her see the hypocrisy of what she has been taught and that the world is so much more than she could ever imagine. "There are more things in heaven and earth..."

Monday, February 11, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Revenant Express by George Mann
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: February 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The grand adventure continues in George Mann's Newbury and Hobbes steampunk mystery series, as a Victorian special agent races across a continent to save his beloved's life on board The Revenant Express.

Sir Maurice Newbury is bereft as his trusty assistant Veronica Hobbes lies dying with a wounded heart. Newbury and Veronica's sister Amelia must take a sleeper train across Europe to St. Petersberg to claim a clockwork heart that Newbury has commissioned from Faberge to save Veronica from a life trapped in limbo.

No sooner do they take off then sinister goings-on start to plague the train, and it is discovered that an old villain, thought dead, is also on board and seeking revenge. Can Newbury and Amelia defeat him and get the clockwork organ back to the Fixer in time to save Veronica? And can they do so without Newbury going so far into the dark side of occult magic that he can never return?

Meanwhile, Sir Charles Bainbridge is the only one of their team left in London to struggle with a case involving a series of horrific crimes. Someone is kidnapping prominent men and infecting them with the Revenant plague, leaving them chained in various locations around the city. But why?

It's a rousing chase to save both London and Veronica. Will these brave detectives be up to the task?"

FINALLY! With the way George jumps around in his storytelling we knew Veronica would survive... but it's been AGONY to find out how. Thankfully The Revenant Express has arrived at the station. 

Felicity Carrol and the Perilous Pursuit by Patricia Marcantonio
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: February 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Amidst the heraldry of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee celebrations, a string of brutal murders rocks Britain's upper crust - and could threaten the realm itself - in the spellbinding debut of Patricia Marcantonio's Felicity Carrol mysteries.

Felicity Carrol is interested in everything - except being a proper young matron of Victorian society. Brilliant and resourceful, Felicity took refuge in science and education after her mother died and her father abandoned her to servants. Now, all he wants is for her to marry into a family of status and money.

Felicity has other ambitions - but her plans shudder to a halt when her mentor is murdered at the British Museum and his priceless manuscript of King Arthur lore is stolen. Tapping into her photographic memory and the latest in the burgeoning field of forensic detection, Felicity launches an investigation. Handsome Scotland Yard Inspector Jackson Davies is also on the case, and finds Felicity as meddlesome as she is intelligent. But when more nobles are murdered and their King Arthur relics stolen, Felicity must journey on her own into the dark underworld of antiquity theft, where she uncovers a motive far more nefarious than simple profit.

As the killer sets his sights on a new victim - a charismatic duke who has captured Felicity’s imagination - the stakes rise to impossible heights. It’s a case that could shake the kingdom in Patricia Marcantonio’s series debut, Felicity Carrol and the Perilous Pursuit."

This sounds like a wonderful little cozy whodunit!

The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen
Published by: Lake Union Publishing
Publication Date: February 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 353 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the bestselling author of The Tuscan Child comes a beautiful and heart-rending novel of a woman’s love and sacrifice during the First World War.

As the Great War continues to take its toll, headstrong twenty-one-year-old Emily Bryce is determined to contribute to the war effort. She is convinced by a cheeky and handsome Australian pilot that she can do more, and it is not long before she falls in love with him and accepts his proposal of marriage.

When he is sent back to the front, Emily volunteers as a “land girl,” tending to the neglected grounds of a large Devonshire estate. It’s here that Emily discovers the long-forgotten journals of a medicine woman who devoted her life to her herbal garden. The journals inspire Emily, and in the wake of devastating news, they are her saving grace. Emily’s lover has not only died a hero but has left her terrified—and with child. Since no one knows that Emily was never married, she adopts the charade of a war widow.

As Emily learns more about the volatile power of healing with herbs, the found journals will bring her to the brink of disaster, but may open a path to her destiny."

Land girls in Devonshire? Oh yes! 

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Everyone's invited... everyone's a suspect...

For fans of Ruth Ware and Tana French, a shivery, atmospheric, page-turning novel of psychological suspense in the tradition of Agatha Christie, in which a group of old college friends are snowed in at a hunting lodge...and murder and mayhem ensue.

All of them are friends. One of them is a killer.

During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.

They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.

Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.

The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps.

Now one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.

Keep your friends close, the old adage goes. But just how close is too close?"

With all the buzz around this book I have literally had it preordered since day one. Plus it looks like another winter storm is on the way, so perhaps this week I'll just stay in a devour it!

Careless Love by Peter Robinson
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"His fans include Stephen King, Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, Ian Rankin, and Louise Penney. He has won acclaim and numerous international prizes and awards, including the Edgar. Now, Peter Robinson, one of the world’s greatest suspense writers, returns with a powerful mystery in which his legendary Detective Superintendent Alan Banks must solve two perplexing crimes.

Two suspicious deaths challenge DS Alan Banks and his crack investigative team.

A young local student’s body is found in an abandoned car on a lonely country road. The death looks like suicide, but there are too many open questions for Banks and his team to rule out foul play. The victim didn’t own a car. She didn’t even drive. How did she get there? Where—and when—did she die? Did someone move her, and if so, why?

A man in his sixties is found dead in a gully up on the wild moorland. He is wearing an expensive suit and carrying no identification. Post mortem findings indicate that he died from injuries sustained during a fall. Was it an accident—did he slip and fall? Or was he pushed? Why was he up there? And why are there no signs of a vehicle near where he fell?

As the inconsistencies multiply and the mysteries surrounding these two cases proliferate, a source close to Annie reveals a piece of information that shocks the team and impacts the investigations. An old enemy has returned in a new guise—a nefarious foe who will stop at nothing, not even murder, to get what he wants.

With the stakes raised, the hunt is on. But will Banks be able to find the evidence to stop him in time?"

New DCI Banks! WHAT! WHAT!

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde
Published by: Viking
Publication Date: February 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The new standalone novel from bestselling author Jasper Fforde.

Every Winter, the human population hibernates.

During those bitterly cold four months, the nation is a snow-draped landscape of desolate loneliness, devoid of human activity.

Well, not quite.

Your name is Charlie Worthing and it's your first season with the Winter Consuls, the committed but mildly unhinged group of misfits who are responsible for ensuring the hibernatory safe passage of the sleeping masses.

You are investigating an outbreak of viral dreams which you dismiss as nonsense; nothing more than a quirky artefact borne of the sleeping mind.

When the dreams start to kill people, it's unsettling.

When you get the dreams too, it's weird.

When they start to come true, you begin to doubt your sanity.

But teasing truth from the Winter is never easy: You have to avoid the Villains and their penchant for murder, kidnapping, and stamp collecting, ensure you aren't eaten by Nightwalkers, whose thirst for human flesh can only be satisfied by comfort food, and sidestep the increasingly less-than-mythical WinterVolk.

But so long as you remember to wrap up warmly, you'll be fine."

Jasper Fforde, in my mind, excels at standalones that have a hint of the apocalypse, so Early Riser is RIGHT up my alley. Terminal Uprising by Jim C. Hines
Published by: DAW
Publication Date: February 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Human civilization didn’t just fall. It was pushed.

The Krakau came to Earth in the year 2104. By 2105, humanity had been reduced to shambling, feral monsters. In the Krakau’s defense, it was an accident, and a century later, they did come back and try to fix us. Sort of.

It’s been four months since Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos learned the truth of that accident. Four months since she and her team of hygiene and sanitation specialists stole the EMCS Pufferfish and stopped a bioterrorism attack against the Krakau homeworld. Four months since she set out to find proof of what really happened on Earth all those years ago.

Between trying to protect their secrets and fighting the xenocidal Prodryans, who’ve been escalating their war against everyone who isn’t Prodryan, the Krakau have their tentacles full.

Mops’ mission changes when she learns of a secret Krakau laboratory on Earth. A small group under command of Fleet Admiral Belle-Bonne Sage is working to create a new weapon, one that could bring victory over the Prodryans … or drown the galaxy in chaos.

To discover the truth, Mops and her rogue cleaning crew will have to do the one thing she fears most: return to Earth, a world overrun by feral apes, wild dogs, savage humans, and worse. (After all, the planet hasn’t been cleaned in a century and a half!) What Mops finds in the filthy ruins of humanity could change everything, assuming she survives long enough to share it.

Perhaps humanity isn’t as dead as the galaxy thought."

Speaking of apocalypse... 

The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: February 12th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A luxuriously magical retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in seventeenth-century France - and told from the point of view of the Beast himself.

I am neither monster nor man - yet I am both.

I am the Beast.

He is a broken, wild thing, his heart’s nature exposed by his beastly form. Long ago cursed with a wretched existence, the Beast prowls the dusty hallways of his ruined château with only magical, unseen servants to keep him company - until a weary traveler disturbs his isolation.

Bewitched by the man’s dreams of his beautiful daughter, the Beast devises a plan to lure her to the château. There, Isabeau courageously exchanges her father’s life for her own and agrees to remain with the Beast for a year. But even as their time together weaves its own spell, the Beast finds winning Isabeau’s love is only the first impossible step in breaking free from the curse..."

I am a sucker for any Beauty and the Beast retelling. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

Courting Darkness by Robin LaFevers
Published by: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: February 5th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 512 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"First in a duology, this darkly thrilling page-turner set in the world of the best-selling His Fair Assassin series is perfect for fans of Throne of Glass, Red Queen, and Game of Thrones. Told in alternating perspectives, when Sybella discovers there is another trained assassin from St. Mortain’s convent deep undercover in the French court, she must use every skill in her arsenal to navigate the deadly royal politics and find her sister in arms before her time - and that of the newly crowned queen - runs out.

When Sybella accompanies the Duchess to France, she expects trouble, but she isn’t expecting a deadly trap. Surrounded by enemies both known and unknown, Sybella searches for the undercover assassins from the convent of St. Mortain who were placed in the French court years ago.

Genevieve has been undercover for so many years, she no longer knows who she is or what she’s supposed to be fighting for. When she discovers a hidden prisoner who may be of importance, she takes matters into her own hands.

As these two worlds collide, the fate of the Duchess, Brittany, and everything Sybella and Genevieve have come to love hangs in the balance."

If me having an entire theme month wasn't a big enough hint about how excited I am about this book let me say it again, I am SO excited for Courting Darkness!

Enchantee by Gita Trelease
Published by: Flatiron Books
Publication Date: February 5th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Love. Magic. Revolution... Gita Trelease’s debut fantasy about an orphaned girl who uses dark magic to save her sister and herself from ruin is a “must-have” (School Library Journal, starred review)!

Paris is a labyrinth of twisted streets filled with beggars and thieves, revolutionaries and magicians. Camille Durbonne is one of them. She wishes she weren’t...

When smallpox kills her parents, Camille must find a way to provide for her younger sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on magic, Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy food and medicine they need. But when the coins won’t hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family’s savings, Camille pursues a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Using dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into a baroness and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for magic. As she struggles to reconcile her resentment of the rich with the allure of glamour and excess, Camille meets a handsome young inventor, and begins to believe that love and liberty may both be possible.

But magic has its costs, and soon Camille loses control of her secrets. And when revolution erupts, Camille must choose - love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, reality of magic - before Paris burns."

Can we designate this week as magical France week with these new releases?

The Seamstress by Allison Pittman
Published by: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Publication Date: February 5th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 480 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A beautifully crafted story breathes life into the cameo character from the classic novel A Tale of Two Cities.

France, 1788
It is the best of times...

On a tranquil farm nestled in the French countryside, two orphaned cousins―Renée and Laurette―have been raised under the caring guardianship of young Émile Gagnon, the last of a once-prosperous family. No longer starving girls, Laurette and Renée now spend days tending Gagnon's sheep, and nights in their cozy loft, whispering secrets and dreams in this time of waning innocence and peace.

It is the worst of times...

Paris groans with a restlessness that can no longer be contained within its city streets. Hunger and hatred fuel her people. Violence seeps into the ornate halls of Versailles. Even Gagnon’s table in the quiet village of Mouton Blanc bears witness to the rumbles of rebellion, where Marcel Moreau embodies its voice and heart.

It is the story that has never been told.

In one night, the best and worst of fate collide. A chance encounter with a fashionable woman will bring Renée’s sewing skills to light and secure a place in the court of Queen Marie Antoinette. An act of reckless passion will throw Laurette into the arms of the increasingly militant Marcel. And Gagnon, steadfast in his faith in God and country, can only watch as those he loves march straight into the heart of the revolution."

See, France week!

Fog Season by Patrice Sarath
Published by: Angry Robot
Publication Date: February 5th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A web of secrets and hidden identities ensnare two sisters and their family, in this delightful historical fantasy sequel to The Sisters Mederos.

After the shocking events of last summer, the high society of Port Saint Frey has plenty to gossip about. Who was the Gentleman Bandit? Why hasn't he been captured? And what really happened that night when the Guildmaster disappeared? When the Guild hires Abel Fresnel, a detective with special powers of his own, to find the answers, Tesara and Yvienne Mederos have to avoid his probing questions and keep mum about their role in the events of that dark night. Everything's more or less under control until a dead man turns up in the dumbwaiter..."

Intrigue and dumbwaiters, you know you want to read this book!

Snow White Learns Witchcraft by Theodora Goss
Published by: Mythic Delirium Books
Publication Date: February 5th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 224 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A young woman hunts for her wayward shadow at the school where she first learned magic--while another faces a test she never studied for as ice envelopes the world. The tasks assigned a bookish boy lead him to fateful encounters with lizards, owls, trolls and a feisty, sarcastic cat. A bear wedding is cause for celebration, the spinning wheel and the tower in the briar hedge get to tell their own stories, and a kitchenmaid finds out that a lost princess is more than she seems. The sea witch reveals what she hoped to gain when she took the mermaid's voice. A wiser Snow White sets out to craft herself a new tale.

In these eight stories and twenty-three poems, World Fantasy Award winner Theodora Goss retells and recasts fairy tales by Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Oscar Wilde. Sometimes harrowing, sometimes hilarious, always lyrical, the works gathered in Snow White Learns Witchcraft re-center and empower the women at the heart of these timeless narratives. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand Master Jane Yolen, in her introduction, proclaims that Goss "transposes, transforms, and transcends times, eras, and old tales with ease. But also there is a core of tough magic that runs through all her pieces like a river through Faerie . . . I am ready to reread some of my new favorites.""

I enjoy retellings of Fairy Tales, but I really love when they're retold from a feminist POV.

Binti: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorador
Published by: DAW
Publication Date: February 5th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Includes a brand-new Binti story!

Collected for the first time in an omnibus edition, the Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning Binti trilogy, the story of one extraordinary girl's journey from her home to distant Oomza University.

In her Hugo- and Nebula-winning novella, Nnedi Okorafor introduced us to Binti, a young Himba girl with the chance of a lifetime: to attend the prestigious Oomza University. Despite her family's concerns, Binti's talent for mathematics and her aptitude with astrolabes make her a prime candidate to undertake this interstellar journey.

But everything changes when the jellyfish-like Medusae attack Binti's spaceship, leaving her the only survivor. Now, Binti must fend for herself, alone on a ship full of the beings who murdered her crew, with five days until she reaches her destination.

There is more to the history of the Medusae - and their war with the Khoush - than first meets the eye. If Binti is to survive this voyage and save the inhabitants of the unsuspecting planet that houses Oomza Uni, it will take all of her knowledge and talents to broker the peace.

Collected now for the first time in omnibus form, follow Binti's story in this groundbreaking sci-fi trilogy."

All your Binti needs now under one cover!

Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond
Published by: Del Rey
Publication Date: February 5th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A mysterious lab. A sinister scientist. A secret history. If you think you know the truth behind Eleven’s mother, prepare to have your mind turned Upside Down in this thrilling prequel to the hit show Stranger Things.

It’s the summer of 1969, and the shock of conflict reverberates through the youth of America, both at home and abroad. As a student at a quiet college campus in the heartland of Indiana, Terry Ives couldn’t be farther from the front lines of Vietnam or the incendiary protests in Washington.

But the world is changing, and Terry isn’t content to watch from the sidelines. When word gets around about an important government experiment in the small town of Hawkins, she signs on as a test subject for the project, code-named MKULTRA. Unmarked vans, a remote lab deep in the woods, mind-altering substances administered by tight-lipped researchers... and a mystery the young and restless Terry is determined to uncover.

But behind the walls of Hawkins National Laboratory - and the piercing gaze of its director, Dr. Martin Brenner - lurks a conspiracy greater than Terry could have ever imagined. To face it, she’ll need the help of her fellow test subjects, including one so mysterious the world doesn’t know she exists - a young girl with unexplainable superhuman powers and a number instead of a name: 008.

Amid the rising tensions of the new decade, Terry Ives and Martin Brenner have begun a different kind of war - one where the human mind is the battlefield."

If your one of the millions thinking July 4th is too far away, then this is the book for you!

The Overnight Kidnapper by Andrea Camilleri
Published by: Penguin Books
Publication Date: February 5th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The new novel in the irresistible and transporting New York Times bestselling Inspector Montalbano mystery series.

The day gets off to a bad start for Montalbano: while trying to break up a fight on Marinella beach, he hits the wrong man and is stopped by the Carabinieri. When he finally gets to the office, the inspector learns about a strange abduction: a woman was abducted, drugged, and then released unharmed a few hours later. A few days later, the same thing happens again, but this time the woman abducted is the niece of Enzo, the owner of Montalbano’s favorite trattoria. The only link between the two events is that both women are thirty years old and work in a bank.

Alongside this investigation, Montalbano has to deal with an arson case. A shop that sells household appliances has burned down, and its owner, Marcello Di Carlo, seems to have vanished into thin air. Has he run off with his lover after a holiday in the Canary Islands? Is he fleeing from his creditors, or was he murdered by the mafia for not paying their protection money? At first this seems like a trivial case, but a third abduction - yet again of a girl who works in a bank - and the discovery of a body bring up new questions. Whose body is it? And where has Di Carlo’s secret lover gone?"

For my mom who loves a good Montalbano mystery!

The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: February 5th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Yara Zgheib’s poetic and poignant debut novel is a haunting portrait of a young woman’s struggle with anorexia on an intimate journey to reclaim her life.

The chocolate went first, then the cheese, the fries, the ice cream. The bread was more difficult, but if she could just lose a little more weight, perhaps she would make the soloists’ list. Perhaps if she were lighter, danced better, tried harder, she would be good enough. Perhaps if she just ran for one more mile, lost just one more pound.

Anna Roux was a professional dancer who followed the man of her dreams from Paris to Missouri. There, alone with her biggest fears - imperfection, failure, loneliness - she spirals down anorexia and depression till she weighs a mere eighty-eight pounds. Forced to seek treatment, she is admitted as a patient at 17 Swann Street, a peach pink house where pale, fragile women with life-threatening eating disorders live. Women like Emm, the veteran; quiet Valerie; Julia, always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day.

Every bite causes anxiety. Every flavor induces guilt. And every step Anna takes toward recovery will require strength, endurance, and the support of the girls at 17 Swann Street."

A book about a struggle many have faced. 

I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella
Published by: The Dial Press
Publication Date: February 5th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From #1 New York Times bestselling author Sophie Kinsella comes an irresistible story of love and empowerment about a young woman with a complicated family, a handsome man who might be “the one,” and an IOU that changes everything.

Fixie Farr has always lived by her father’s motto: “Family first.” And since her dad passed away, leaving his charming housewares store in the hands of his wife and children, Fixie spends all her time picking up the slack from her siblings instead of striking out on her own. The way Fixie sees it, if she doesn’t take care of her father’s legacy, who will?

It’s simply not in Fixie’s nature to say no to people. So when a handsome stranger in a coffee shop asks her to watch his laptop for a moment, she not only agrees - she ends up saving it from certain disaster. To thank Fixie for her quick thinking, the computer’s owner, Sebastian, an investment manager, scribbles an IOU on a coffee sleeve and attaches his business card. Fixie laughs it off - she’d never actually claim an IOU from a stranger. Would she?

But then Fixie’s childhood crush, Ryan, comes back into her life, and his lack of a profession pushes all of Fixie’s buttons. As always, she wants nothing for herself - but she’d love Seb to give Ryan a job. No sooner has Seb agreed than the tables are turned once more and a new series of IOUs between Seb and Fixie - from small favors to life-changing moments - ensues. Soon Fixie, Ms. Fixit for everyone else, is torn between her family and the life she really wants. Does she have the courage to take a stand? Will she finally grab the life, and love, she really wants?"

What does every need to get through a cold and bleak February? How about some Chick Lit from the reigning queen, Sophie Kinsella? 

Friday, February 1, 2019

Assassination Vacation

One day in the spring of 2007 I stumbled on a book at Barnes and Noble by an author who would quickly become one of my most favorite authors ever. Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by Robin (R.L.) LaFevers was, as some of my friends put it, the book I would write if I wrote, full of cats and mummies, and oh so British to boot. As the years went by I wouldn't just wait for Robin's new books, oh no, I would hunt them out, track down ways to gets advanced reader copies, sometimes even from her, any way to get her newest tome into my hands. There's a reason I started a blog, and that was to have a legitimate excuse to harass publishers and authors for ARCs! When she transitioned to YA in 2012 with the His Fair Assassin series I was one of the first to proclaim that she had reached a whole new level in her mastery of storytelling.

Female assassins raised in a monastery working for Death himself? If anyone other than Robin had written this series it might have been cheesy, instead it's a nuanced look at duty and loyalty and is just an amazing series that at once is historical fiction but has a hint of magical realism. But when the series ended with Mortal Heart's release in 2014 Robin went on a longer than expected hiatus emerging in Summer of 2016 with the news of a new duology set in the world of His Fair Assassin! Well that book, Courting Darkness, is FINALLY here! I couldn't not celebrate my favorite author returning to a much beloved world! So welcome to February, wherein we are taking an Assassination Vacation... Apologies to author Sarah Vowell, the title was too good not to use for my theme month...

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Book Review 2018 #1 - Robert Galbraith's Career of Evil

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
Published by: Mulholland Books
Publication Date: September 20th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 492 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Robin Ellacot's life is about to change. It has changed many times over the last year, professionally from taking a job as Cormoran Strike's secretary to gaining his confidence, allowing her to tail clients as a full fledged investigator, and personally, from getting engaged to Matthew to Matthew's mother dying thus resulting in their wedding being postponed. She has swung with the punches and has everything under control. When she arrives at work one day there's a package addressed to her and she's confident it's just another item on her checklist for wedding prep. She couldn't be more wrong. Within the box is a severed woman's leg along with a Blue Öyster Cult quote from "Mistress of the Salmon Salt (Quicklime Girl.)" While the package was addressed to her it is obviously a message for Cormoran. The leg, severed just as his was, the song, a favorite of his mother's. Cormoran has many enemies in his past, but there are four capable of such cruelty and perversity; Terrence 'Digger' Malley, a mobster, Noel Brockbank, a pedophile whom Strike investigated when he was in SIB, Donald Laing, a domestic abuser whom Strike had locked up, and his number one suspect, Jeff Whittaker, his stepfather whom he believes responsible for his mother's death. Who else but his stepfather would quote that specific song?

The police though think the mobster Malley is their number one suspect and don't follow up on the other leads. Which leaves it up to Cormoran and Robin to track down the other three suspects. Because Cormoran knows he's prejudiced to his stepfather he won't eliminate the other two until he has conclusive evidence one way or the other. But that doesn't stop the memories from flooding in. The horror of the bedsit, finding his mother dead, the trial that acquitted Whittaker. Cormoran, Robin, and even Matthew are being haunted by their pasts, but whose past will prove deadly? When Robin starts to become the focus of the killer her inability to step back from the case leads to a rupture with Matthew while simultaneously bringing her and Cormoran closer together. They travel the length and breath of England trying to track down these three disturbed men, yet perhaps the world of body dysmorphia and those who want to be handicapped and amputated is the most disturbing of all. Especially to Cormoran who can't see why anyone wouldn't want two functioning legs. As the bodies pile up the stakes get higher and the danger more immediate. Can they find the killer before he gets to one of them or are all three men guilty of something and will stop at nothing to protect their secrets?

When J.K. Rowling was revealed to be Robert Galbraith the first book in the Cormoran Strike series, The Cuckoo's Calling, instantly moved up my to be read list, though I take a little bit of pride in the fact that it was on my to be read list prior to the reveal. The first book introduces us to her cast of characters and a crime that needs to be solved, but it's quickly apparent that Rowling is more interested in the characters than the crime. Which is fine, as long as the balance is correct. There needs to be enough of a connection between the characters and the crime in order for them to jointly propel the narrative. This balance wasn't achieved until Career of Evil, the third book in the series. The first two books deal with celebrity and the literary world, which is personal, for Rowling, only tangentially so for Strike. Therefore to have such a personal story, a crime so entangled with Cormoran and Robin, the series not only reached it's zenith, it reached it's full potential. To have fallen in love with these two characters over the course of this series but to have that feeling that their journey could be so much more, to feel the wasted potential, it was almost painful to read. But if I were to compare this series to Rowling's far more famous wizarding series, there too the third volume is where it all clicked for me. So in the future, if Rowling ever starts another series under her own or another name, remind me to give her until the third installment to pass judgment.

Cormoran's relationship with Robin has benefited from this slow burn of narrative construction. In the very first book, almost from the second Cormoran meets Robin, he says to himself that their relationship can only ever be platonic, despite her looks, her talents, and that dress he got her. She is with Matthew, and that is that. Therefore as a reader you also put it out of your mind. They are colleagues nothing more. They will not fall prey to the "Moonlighting Effect!" Yet having just watched all of Moonlighting again, you can clearly see how they failed. The constant bait and switch, the characters acting out of character, and finally just trying to deny there ever was any chemistry to begin with. Here we have seen strangers become friends become colleagues and maybe, one day, they will become something more. When Robin temporarily breaks things off with Matthew and is more and more with Cormoran, she wonders, he wonders, we all wonder, could this be the first step? So while there has been a little of that Moonlighting frisson sprinkled into this latest installment, I kind of do and don't want something to happen. But what I did want was to luxuriate in each and every page as I went on this journey with a couple who might never become a couple...

Because Robin has a complicated past. Long hinted at and finally revealed. I applaud that Robin's assault in college shows what a strong person she is. Yes, she dropped out of college and retreated into herself and stays with Matthew because he's "safe." Yet at the same time she was able to pay attention when she was attacked and come forward and be the key witness to send the rapist to prison. This is such a key insight into Robin's personality. She preservers despite whatever odds are stacked against her. She wants to fight for what is right, she wants to catch the bad guys, she wants to be there, at Cormoran's side, not hiding away in a bedroom staring at the same four walls day in and day out. Despite being published three years before the launch of the #MeToo movement, Robin's story shows us strength through pain. She has taken what many still unjustly view as a stigma and didn't let it define her but let it inform who she became. Before this revelation of hers I didn't so much wonder why she left college, there are myriad reasons for people to do so, but I did often wonder what Robin the psychologist would have been like. Would she have been able to help people in as tangible a method as she does with Cormoran? Or did her attack lead her to the life she was meant to lead? Of course, this is a book so it's all staged to be fate, but to me, Robin is real, and she's a survivor who has come into her own.

Switching gears, for all those people out there who don't read books and instead wait for them to be adapted into movies or TV series I have to really restrain myself from beating them about the head and instead I will take the higher ground and tell them why sometimes books are better for certain narrative techniques. There are things you can do in a book that just don't work in a visual medium. For example the trope of seeing through a killer's eyes works so much better in prose versus tricky POV shots and shaky camera angles on screen where we see their lair or their next victim between some foliage. It's not just that it's a cliche, it's that sometimes it plays the final hand without the filmmakers really realizing it. I will take the movie Kiss the Girls as an example. Now hopefully you won't get mad at me for spoiling a film that came out over twenty years ago based on a book by James Patterson from 1995, but you've had ample chances to watch it before now and if you're honest with yourself, you would have seen it sometime in the last twenty years if you really wanted to. So, my mom was watching the opening of the movie and the killer is narrating, and I said, "I didn't know Cary Elwes was in the movie." So the ending was ruined because I recognized the killer's voice... That can't happen in books! There's so much more tension not knowing and not inadvertently spoiling it for yourself. Books for the win!

Also, Rowling, I mean, Galbraith, doesn't just know the tropes and what works better when, she revels in toying with the reader. The use of red herrings in Career of Evil is masterful, because some are made purposefully obvious and others are hidden, but all the while you're thinking, is this a red herring or is this something else? While red herrings are traditionally thought of as just misleading information that has to be worked through in order solve the crime they are also meant as a distraction. Here's something shiny, is it important? And I was like a cat, pouncing on every single one and playing with it, holding it up to the light, wondering, is this a real clue, gnawing on it a bit, and eventually just waiting for the next one to show up and start me thinking all over again. Even the title of the book is a red herring! The song "Career of Evil" by Blue Öyster Cult makes you think that only one of the three suspects that Cormoran has fingered could possibly be the perpetrator, and Galbraith toys with that assumption again and again. For over four hundred pages the three suspects are deftly juggled with red herrings so that you never know where the finger will finally point. This made me devour this book late into the night wanting to know the answer but at the same time hoping it would never end. Thankfully I have Lethal White now lined up...

Monday, January 28, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
Published by: Imprint
Publication Date: January 29th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 528 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Face your demons...or feed them.

Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war - and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.

Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried - and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.

Enter the Grishaverse with this new novel from #1 New York Times-bestselling author Leigh Bardugo."

Back to Ravka!!!

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
Published by: Bloomsbury YA
Publication Date: January 29th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 496 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In a lush, contemporary fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Brigid Kemmerer gives readers another compulsively readable romance perfect for fans of Marissa Meyer.

Fall in love, break the curse.

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she's instead somehow sucked into Rhen's cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn't know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what's at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall... and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin."

I'm a sucker for fair tale retellings.

The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky
Published by: Redhook
Publication Date: January 29th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 560 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A sweeping tale of clashing cultures, warring gods, and forbidden love: In 1000 AD, a young Inuit shaman and a Viking warrior become unwilling allies as war breaks out between their peoples and their gods-one that will determine the fate of them all.

"There is a very old story, rarely told, of a wolf that runs into the ocean and becomes a whale."

Born with the soul of a hunter and the spirit of the Wolf, Omat is destined to follow in her grandfather's footsteps-invoking the spirits of the land, sea, and sky to protect her people.

But the gods have stopped listening and Omat's family is starving. Alone at the edge of the world, hope is all they have left.

Desperate to save them, Omat journeys across the icy wastes, fighting for survival with every step. When she meets a Viking warrior and his strange new gods, they set in motion a conflict that could shatter her world...or save it."

All the wonderful myths of the North!

The Frangipani Tree Mystery by Ovidia Ya
Published by: Constable
Publication Date: January 29th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"First in a delightfully charming crime series set in 1930s Singapore, introducing amateur sleuth SuLin, a local girl stepping in as governess for the Acting Governor of Singapore.

1936 in the Crown Colony of Singapore, and the British abdication crisis and rising Japanese threat seem very far away. When the Irish nanny looking after Acting Governor Palin's daughter dies suddenly - and in mysterious circumstances - mission school-educated local girl SuLin - an aspiring journalist trying to escape an arranged marriage - is invited to take her place.

But then another murder at the residence occurs and it seems very likely that a killer is stalking the corridors of Government House. It now takes all SuLin's traditional skills and intelligence to help British-born Chief Inspector Thomas LeFroy solve the murders - and escape with her own life."

Everything about this book screams to me that it will be a new favorite series!

The Plotters by Un-su Kim
Published by: Doubleday
Publication Date: January 29th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the novelist dubbed "the Korean Henning Mankell" (The Guardian) comes a fantastical crime novel set in an alternate Seoul where assassination guilds compete for market dominance. Perfect for fans of Han Kang and Patrick deWitt.

Behind every assassination, there is an anonymous mastermind - a plotter - working in the shadows. Plotters quietly dictate the moves of the city's most dangerous criminals, but their existence is little more than legend. Just who are the plotters? And more important, what do they want? Reseng is an assassin. Raised by a cantankerous killer named Old Raccoon in the crime headquarters "The Library," Reseng never questioned anything: where to go, who to kill, or why his home was filled with books that no one ever read. But one day, Reseng steps out of line on a job, toppling a set of carefully calibrated plans. And when he uncovers an extraordinary scheme set into motion by an eccentric trio of young women - a convenience store clerk, her wheelchair-bound sister, and a cross-eyed librarian - Reseng will have to decide if he will remain a pawn or finally take control of the plot.

Crackling with action and filled with unforgettable characters, The Plotters is a deeply entertaining thriller that soars with the soul, wit, and lyricism of real literary craft."

Yes, the Henning Mankell comparison is what drew me to this book...

Death Prefers Blondes by Caleb Roehrig
Published by: Feiwel amd Friends
Publication Date: January 29th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Teenage socialite Margo Manning leads a dangerous double life. By day, she dodges the paparazzi while soaking up California sunshine. By night, however, she dodges security cameras and armed guards, pulling off high-stakes cat burglaries with a team of flamboyant young men. In and out of disguise, she’s in all the headlines.

But then Margo’s personal life takes a sudden, dark turn, and a job to end all jobs lands her crew in deadly peril. Overnight, everything she’s ever counted on is put at risk. Backs against the wall, the resourceful thieves must draw on their special skills to survive. But can one rebel heiress and four kickboxing drag queens withstand the slings and arrows of truly outrageous fortune? Or will a mounting sea of troubles end them - for good?"

Recommened to me by Johnnie Cakes from Murder By The Book, and he's never wrong in his recs! 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Book Review 2018 #2 - Tasha Alexander's A Terrible Beauty

A Terrible Beauty by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: October 11th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

First there was the letter addressed to The Viscountess Ashton. Then there was someone calling Philip's name at the zoo. Then there was Philip's journal placed on her desk. A man on the boat to Greece looked just like Philip. At the Acropolis someone in the dark called out té kallisté, something only Philip would do. By the time she arrived at the villa in Santorini Emily was well prepared for the impossible, the return of her first husband Philip, the Viscount Ashton. Never mind that he died over a decade ago, she would recognize those piercing blue eyes anywhere, though his nose does look a little different. Emily had concocted this trip to Greece as a way to distract her dearest friend Jeremy from the heartbreak and attempted murder at the hands of his fiance, Amity Wells. Little did she know it would prove such a distraction with her first husband back from the dead! Jeremy takes it in stride, it's just another blow to him ever winning Emily, before he had just the one husband to contend with, now there are two! As for Emily's second husband Colin, he is almost more shell-shocked than she. Here is his dearest friend in all the world returned to him and he has betrayed him by marrying Emily, the love of both of their lives. There are so many ramifications. Is Colin and Emily's marriage valid? What about the legitimacy of their two children? Is the villa even Emily's? And the guilt! But none of that matters because Philip has arrived with a shadow looming over him.

Philip insists that after learning of Emily and Colin being happily married that he vowed he would never intrude on their new life together. He has in fact built a new life for himself. Without the largess that came with his title he has had to earn a living and has become a rather decent archeologist. A job he has come to love. In fact he's been working on a site on Santorini for the past few years. He says that his not coming to Emily sooner, despite their proximity, proves his honorable intentions. The only reason he has appeared now is that his fellow archeologist was injured during a storm the night before Emily's arrival and the only place he could think to take him to get medical attention was the villa. Sadly his friend died and Philip's secret has been revealed. Though the inhabitants of the villa soon learn that it is not the only secret Philip has. There are some shady men following Philip and soon he reveals a story that is almost more incredible then his survival in Africa after everyone presumed him dead. Years earlier at a dig near the remains of Troy he found what he believes to be part of Achilles's helmet. The local working with Philip stole it and turned up dead the next day. Ever since then a crooked dealer in antiquities, Demir, has been following and harassing Philip. Demir and his Turkish henchmen have arrived on the island and Philip's life is in danger. Only Emily isn't sure she buys the story. If this is Philip he would never have let anything connected to Achilles out of his sight... Is it possible to put her guilt aside and find out the truth?

A Terrible Beauty is almost like a reset on the Lady Emily series. We're going back to the beginning, back to And Only to Deceive and seeing everything from a different angle. This isn't just "Philip's" story and his perspective on events but also another side to the world of antiquities. Emily reading Philip's journals after his death led to her becoming not just a Greek scholar but a lover of the antiquities that her late husband collected. This is the cornerstone to Emily's journey of discovering and the life and collection she builds over the years. Yet for all her love of antiquities we the readers have only seen certain aspects of this one word that encompasses so much. Antiquities covers the history, the excavation, the cataloging, the restoring, the purchasing, the forging, the collecting, the exhibiting, so many things under one banner. For all her talk of ruins and walking the remains of Troy this is the first book in which Emily's story takes us truly beyond the confines of the museum and the country houses and we get to see an excavation. Oh, and the archaeological sites we see through "Philip's" journey, I felt that at times I was reading an Elizabeth Peters novel about the exploits of Amelia Peabody. But what I found fascinating is that the archaeological work makes sense in regards to Philip's personality. He always relished the hunt, be it on safari or dealing with antiquities brokers, and here he is digging through the very earth in search of buried treasure.

This is why I wanted to be an archeologist for about a hot minute, the buried treasure. But my true love was in making art and no matter how many art history or anthropology courses I took this would never change. Though to truly understand art you need to understand it's history, which is why I took so many art history courses. A Terrible Beauty, besides throwing us back to the beginning of Emily's story took me on a bit of a time warp as well. I was having all these feelings about my first semester in college. SO many things combined to make me oddly nostalgic. One of my friends decided to go back to school and hearing her talk about midterms and finals is giving me all the feels. And with Thanksgiving I was dwelling on how I used that small respite from going to class to catch up on school work, even going so far as to be the odd one out at family gatherings sitting in a corner with flashcards drilling dates for the upcoming finals. Also this fall has been exceedingly cold and one thing that stuck with me from undergrad is that I was always constantly cold. No matter how many layers I put on the Wisconsin weather would defy it. It was twenty-one years ago that I took my first art history course that covered the ancient to medieval world, therefore covering both Greece and Rome. So when Emily was at the Acropolis I was giddy because I knew this! I somehow STILL knew this! It was locked away in the fog of time and cold and flashcards and yet it came back in an instant.

So A Terrible Beauty ended up not being just about Emily dealing with all these emotions and her past but in me going through the same experience on an entirely different level. This book became very personal to me and had me thinking about days gone by. In thinking about your own past, if you're one to overthink things, you start to think about the greater world, and as we're dealing with Emily, the history of ancient civilizations. What I'm getting at is specifically about the art we have left over from these civilizations. The gorgeous white marble statues and ruins that still thankfully stand. Yet in a bizarre coincidence The New Yorker just published an article on the fact that the art we look at and admire is nothing like what those in ancient Greece or Rome admired. Because all statuary, buildings, what-have-you, they were fully painted. Emily actually makes a reference to this when talking to Jeremy at the Acropolis and I was all, I JUST READ AN ARTICLE ON THAT! Yes, I know Emily and Jeremy couldn't hear me, but I just found it such a random coincidence that I couldn't not comment to fictional characters in a book who can't hear me. If you click on the link to the article you'll see what some of the most famous sculptures might have looked like and it's jarring. We are so used to "The Myth of Whiteness in Classical Sculpture" that to see marble covered in kind of cartoony paint makes you realize that sometimes an unfinished look has much more elegance. And now I'm thinking about naked cakes. Thanks Great British Bake Off.

With all this dwelling on the past I find it interesting that all those years ago and even just this past spring when I re-read And Only to Deceive I was 100% firmly in the camp of wanting Philip to somehow be alive. Yes, there would be problems to solve, so many problems, and perhaps Emily would no longer be the wife he had married, but I was sure they would work it out if only he wasn't dead. And here he is! Not dead! And while I would have given anything for Philip to return ten books ago now I was all go away foul demon back to the hell which spawned you! I am under no circumstance going to address the is he/isn't he actually Philip here because, spoilers people, but I am totally going to talk about how his reappearance made me feel, and that was not good. It's interesting how one changes over time. I have been on a long journey with Emily and Colin, going through all their ups and downs and heartbreaks. I've seen them fall in love, fight, make up, get married, and have children. I've witnessed how they have found a balance to working together, relying on each others skills and instincts, knowing when to step aside and knowing when to step in. They have this life they have built together and one person could bring it crashing down. This isn't like now when a divorce and re-marriage could solve things, there's the fact that women were viewed as property and a legitimate heir was needed. Therefore I say this once again, Philip begone!

My not feeling good about Philip's reappearance is nothing to how Emily and Colin feel! Not just the fact that their lives are crashing down around them, but the fact that they feel their guilt anew. During their courtship I don't think I'd ever really thought about how their falling in love must feel. They have always been perfect for each other so after Philip shuffled off this mortal coil it was only natural that they would be thrown together. They are, in my mind, relationship goals. They perfectly compliment each other and are so in love. Yet their love came at a cost; Philip's life. Philip being dead meant they and I didn't over-analyze the fact that Colin was Philip's best friend and Emily was his wife. They both cared for him but in the end his death lead to their happily ever after. Yet in A Terrible Beauty they have to face this fact all over again. And they aren't dealing with nebulous ideas of what Philip would think from beyond the grave, here he is at their villa staring them down across the sitting room and they feel instant shame. How could they have done this to Philip's memory? How could they find love and happiness out of his demise? How could they have not known he was alive all these years living a harsh life while they lived in connubial bliss? This guilt and shame hang over Emily and Colin like a dark cloud. The fact that to their faces Philip is being so magnanimous makes it even worse. How can they be forgiven? Or will the guilt stay long after Philip is gone from their lives one way or another? Perhaps the answer lies in Death in St. Petersburg!

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