Friday, January 22, 2021

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 18, 2021

Tuesday Tomorrow

Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore
Published by: Dial Books
Publication Date: January 19th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 528 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The highly anticipated next book in the New York Times bestselling, award-winning Graceling Realm series, which has sold 1.3 million copies.

For the past five years, Bitterblue has reigned as Queen of Monsea, heroically rebuilding her nation after her father's horrific rule. After learning about the land of Torla in the east, she sends envoys to the closest nation there: Winterkeep - a place where telepathic foxes bond with humans, and people fly across the sky in wondrous airships. But when the envoys never return, having drowned under suspicious circumstances, Bitterblue sets off for Winterkeep herself, along with her spy Hava and her trusted colleague Giddon. On the way, tragedy strikes again - a tragedy with devastating political and personal ramifications.

Meanwhile, in Winterkeep, Lovisa Cavenda waits and watches, a fire inside her that is always hungry. The teenage daughter of two powerful politicians, she is the key to unlocking everything - but only if she's willing to transcend the person she's been all her life."

I know you've been wanting to return to the Graceling Realm too!

Cast in Firelight by Dana Swift
Published by: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: January 19th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The first book in an epic, heart-pounding fantasy duology about two royal heirs betrothed to be married, but whose loyalties are torn, and a ruthless enemy who threatens their world, perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir, Hafsah Faizal, and Renée Ahdieh.

Adraa is the royal heir of Belwar, a talented witch on the cusp of taking her royal ceremony test, and a girl who just wants to prove her worth to her people.

Jatin is the royal heir to Naupure, a competitive wizard who's mastered all nine colors of magic, and a boy anxious to return home for the first time since he was a child.

Together, their arranged marriage will unite two of Wickery's most powerful kingdoms. But after years of rivalry from afar, Adraa and Jatin only agree on one thing: their reunion will be anything but sweet.

Only, destiny has other plans and with the criminal underbelly of Belwar suddenly making a move for control, their paths cross...and neither realizes who the other is, adopting separate secret identities instead.

Between dodging deathly spells and keeping their true selves hidden, the pair must learn to put their trust in the other if either is to uncover the real threat. Now Wickery's fate is in the hands of rivals..? Fiancées..? Partners..? Whatever they are, it's complicated and bound for greatness or destruction."

I'm really into epic fantasy duologies!

The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: January 19th, 2021
Format: Paperback, 672 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Mask of Mirrors is the unmissable start to the Rook and Rose trilogy, a darkly magical fantasy adventure in which a con artist returns to the city that betrayed her, determined to have her revenge - only to find that her fate might be to save it.

This is your past, the good and the ill of it, and that which is neither...

Arenza Lenskaya is a liar and a thief, a pattern-reader and a daughter of no clan. Raised in the slums of Nadezra, she fled that world to save her sister.

This is your present, the good and the ill of it, and that which is neither...

Renata Viraudax is a con artist recently arrived in Nadezra. She has one goal: to trick her way into a noble house and secure her fortune.

This is your future, the good and the ill of it, and that which is neither...

As corrupt nightmare magic begins to weave its way through the city of dreams, the poisonous feuds of its aristocrats and the shadowy dangers of its impoverished underbelly become tangled - with Ren at their heart. And if she cannot sort the truth from the lies, it will mean the destruction of all her worlds."

M. A. Carrick is the joint pen name of Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms you say? No need to tell me more, I adore the delightful and talented Marie Brennan! Haven't read Alyc Helms yet but am so excited to!

A Curse of Ash and Embers by Jo Spurrier
Published by: Voyager
Publication Date: January 19th, 2021
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A dead witch. A bitter curse. A battle of magic.

Some people knit socks by the fire at night. Gyssha Blackbone made monsters.

But the old witch is dead now, and somehow it's Elodie's job to clean up the mess.

When she was hired at Black Oak Cottage, Elodie had no idea she'd find herself working for a witch; and her acid-tongued new mistress, Aleida, was not expecting a housemaid to turn up on her doorstep.

Gyssha's final curse left Aleida practically dead on her feet, and now, with huge monsters roaming the woods, a demonic tree lurking in the orchard and an angry warlock demanding repayment of a debt, Aleida needs Elodie's help, whether she likes it or not.

And no matter what the old witch throws at her, to Elodie it's still better than going back home."

I am REALLY into witches right now.

In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: January 19th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 480 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An audacious novel of feminine rage about one of the most prolific female serial killers in American history - and the men who drove her to it.

They whisper about her in Chicago. Men come to her with their hopes, their dreams - their fortunes. But no one sees them leave. No one sees them at all after they come to call on the Widow of La Porte.

The good people of Indiana may have their suspicions, but if those fools knew what she'd given up, what was taken from her, how she'd suffered, surely they'd understand. Belle Gunness learned a long time ago that a woman has to make her own way in this world. That's all it is. A bloody means to an end. A glorious enterprise meant to raise her from the bleak, colorless drudgery of her childhood to the life she deserves. After all, vermin always survive."

OK, why am I just now learning about Belle Gunness!?! Thankfully this book came along to fill in this gap in my knowledge.

Dryad Vol. 1 by Kurtis Wiebe and Justin Osterling
Published by: Oni Press
Publication Date: January 19th, 2021
Format: Paperback, 144 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Best-selling writer Kurtis Wiebe (Rat Queens) and newcomer artist Justin Osterling launch a new fantasy saga!

The Glass family has spent thirteen years hiding peacefully in the sleepy forest settlement of Frostbrook where Morgan and Yale planted roots and raised their twins, Griffon and Rana. But secrets never stay hidden, and the entire Glass family find themselves the target of an unearthly attack on Frostbrook.

Now on the run from Muse Corp., they must flee to the massive city of Silver’s Bay to hide in plain sight. Rana and Griffon find themselves uprooted and answering for their parents' mistakes. But, they’ll soon find that the past has a way of finding you, no matter where you run."

I have a feeling this Glass Family isn't like J.D. Salinger's...

Octavia E. Butler: Kindred, Fledgling, and Collected Stories by Octavia E. Butler
Published by: Library of America
Publication Date: January 19th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 790 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The definitive edition of the complete works of the "grand dame" of American science fiction begins with this volume gathering two novels and her collected stories.

An original and eerily prophetic writer, Octavia E. Butler used the conventions of science fiction to explore the dangerous legacy of racism in America in harrowingly personal terms. She broke new ground with books that featured complex Black female protagonists - “I wrote myself in,” she would later recall - establishing herself as one of thepioneers of the Afrofuturist aesthetic. In 1995 she became the first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, in recognition of her achievement in creating new aspirations for the genre and for American literature.

This first volume in the Library of America edition of Butler’s collected works opens with her masterpiece, Kindred, one of the landmark American novels of the last half century. Its heroine, Dana, a Black woman, is pulled back and forth between the present and the pre–Civil War past, where she finds herself enslaved on the plantation of a white ancestor whose life she must save to preserve her own. In Fledgling, an amnesiac discovers that she is a vampire, with a difference: she is a new, experimental birth with brown skin, giving her the fearful ability to go out in sunlight. Rounding out the volume are eight short stories and five essays - including two never before collected, plus a newly researched chronology of Butler’s life and career and helpful explanatory notes prepared by scholar Gerry Canavan. Butler’s friend, the writer and editor Nisi Shawl, provides an introduction."

I'm always happy when an author whom I think needs to be included in the Library of America finally is. Also edited by Nisi Shawl! I've met her at WisCon! 

Meet Me in Bombay by Jenny Ashcroft
Published by: St. Martin's Press,
Publication Date: January 19th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"All he needs is to find her. First, he must remember who she is.

Jenny Ashcroft's "Meet Me in Bombay is a powerful, poignant and deeply emotional tale of love, mystery, loss and joy."  - Kate Furnivall, New York Times bestselling author

It's New Year's Eve in Bombay, 1913, and Madeline Bright, new to the sweltering heat of colonial India, is yearning for all she has left behind in England. Then, at the stroke of midnight, Maddy meets Luke Devereaux, and as the year changes so do both their lives.

Bold and charismatic, Luke opens her eyes to the wonders of Bombay, while Maddy's beauty and vivacity captures his heart. Only her mother disapproves, preferring the devoted Guy Bowen as a match for her daughter.

But while Maddy and Luke are falling in love, the world is falling apart. World War I is on the horizon, and Luke will be given no choice but to fight. They will be continents apart, separated by danger and devastating loss, but bound by Luke's promise that they will meet again in Bombay."

The romance evoked in just a few simple lines...  

The Mitford Trial by Jessica Fellowes
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: January 19th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A timeless murder mystery with the fascinating, glamorous Mitford sisters at its heart, The Mitford Trial is the fourth installment in the Mitford Murders series from Jessica Fellowes, inspired by a real-life murder in a story full of intrigue, affairs and betrayal..."

Why do I keep doing this to myself?

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.

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