Friday, October 19, 2018

Book Review - Tasha Alexander's Dangerous to Know

Dangerous to Know by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: October 26th, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 306 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Emily is still reeling from her miscarriage in Constantinople. A happy honeymoon filled with intrigue and connubial bliss destroyed by one bullet. She must take solace in the fact that she saved a young girl's life and caught a killer and not dwell on the fact that she and Colin might never be able to have children now. Ensconced in Normandy, Emily's recuperation would be far more successful if it wasn't under the gimlet eye of her mother-in-law. The feeling of being a constant disappointment to Colin and his mother pushes Emily continually outside the four walls of the house that feel like they're closing in on her. But soon even the countryside won't offer her respite. On one of her rides she comes upon a young girl brutally murdered. So brutal that when she is finally able to lead the police back to the crime scene there are murmurs that Jack the Ripper might be calling Normandy his new home. Emily gets a little bit of celebrity with the locals for finding the body, but Colin worries if perhaps it's best if Emily's attention was drawn elsewhere. She doesn't need to investigate the most dangerous of crimes and be continually putting herself in danger.

Colin is therefore a little relieved when his mother's neighbors, George and Madeline Markham, have a diversion for Emily to occupy herself with. They are great art collectors and a new Monet painting has just appeared in their fortress like house. Emily's dear friend Cecile, arriving from Paris, recognizes the piece as one just finished and stolen from Giverny. Emily correctly comes to the conclusion that her favorite thief, Sebastian Capet, has returned to spice up her life with Greek quotations left on her pillow each night. But even Sebastian, with his laissez-faire attitude, can not deny that danger lurks near at hand for Emily. The murdered girl looked eerily like Emily and once it's discovered she wasn't the Rippers typical victim, being from a well-to-do family who had placed her in an asylum, Colin is all for Emily heading straight back to England and waiting for him there. Yet Emily can not do that. Yes, she wants to obey Colin, but never before has that meant leaving his side. But could retreating be in her best interest? She just doesn't know! She can no longer trust her mental faculties after she sees the ghostly apparition of a young child. Is this her grief over her own loss or is she on the path to the asylum like the Ripper's victim?

At the end of each adventure with Lady Emily I think to myself, the next volume couldn't possibly be better, and yet each and every time Tasha proves me wrong. This volume instantly became my favorite, but who knows what will happen when I read the next book? But I don't know how it could surpass the Gothic goodness of Dangerous to Know! This book almost felt like I was reading one of Emily's favorite authors! But could Mary Elizabeth Braddon come up with such a tale that Jack the Ripper, the Norman Heathcliff, and the ghostly apparition of a child people the pages!?! If she did I'm sure she wouldn't be able to capture the meta humor that Emily arches her eyebrows at with her love/hate relationship with Normandy's version of Wuthering Heights. But what called to me most was the Jack the Ripper angle. Long before the term Murderino came into existence I was one. I would watch all the Unsolved Mysteries I could, especially if they were historical. Therefore it shouldn't be surprising that I'm a bit of a Ripperologist. I have watched or read every movie, book, comic, TV series I can on Jack the Ripper. Therefore this inclusion in Emily's investigation made by blood sing! Oh, to combine my favorite heroine with what I find the most intriguing unsolved murders of the 1800s? How did Tasha know that this would be my wish for a perfect book!?!

Though I think the inclusion of Jack the Ripper in a story wherein Emily is dealing with the loss of her child would be significant only to a Ripperologist. What could I mean you ask? Well, let me break it down. Let's look to the canonical five. The first victim, Mary Ann Nichols suffered abdominal incisions, which were seen again in the second victim Annie Chapman. But all this was leading up to what would be done to the fifth and final victim, Mary Jane Kelly. All her internal organs from her abdomen, in particular her reproductive organs, were removed, and her breasts were cut off. While there are theories, much like with the Black Dahlia, that these wounds could have been used to cover up a botched abortion, one thing is clear, Jack the Ripper was targeting women who made their money from sex and then killed them in such a way as to destroy what made them female, the ability to reproduce, only fully succeeding with Mary Jane Kelly. And as for the theories of Mary Jane Kelly's daughter... well, all this shows that by including Jack the Ripper in Dangerous to Know Tasha was adding another level of gut punch to Emily. Not only would she be traumatized by finding the poor girl in the field mutilated to such a degree, but to then have the reminder that her miscarriage basically scooped out her insides and made them as empty as Mary Jane Kelly's... chilling.

Tasha then compounds this loss with the ghostly child who leaves behind blue ribbons. So many ghost stories of the Victorian era or written about the Victorian era deal with children and mothers who have lost their children. Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, which Emily was sure to have read, Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, a more modern classic, and even a book that Tasha recommended to me, Angelica by Arthur Phillips, these are three books just off the top of my head that I thought of while reading Dangerous to Know. I am sure there are a plethora more, even Henry James's The Turn of the Screw for example. But what Tasha does is she is smart enough to create her own mythology, first the story of the young girl who fell off a cliff, then the local gossip surrounding a young child that was killed at George and Madeline Markham's house that Madeline has conflated with her own pregnancy losses. Then there's the poor victim and what she endured... but where Tasha excels is that she draws a parallel between these stories and the loss endured by Victorian women. I believe it is Cecile who comments that she doesn't think she can think of a single one of their friends who hasn't suffered a similar loss to Emily's. Childbirth and childhood were dangerous undertakings during this time and the ghost stories are almost a way to normalize the fear these women constantly felt, even if it has the effect of unsettling them at the time.

For all that I loved there's one thing that made me go WTF!?! And that was Colin's behavior. Emily married Colin because he accepted who she was and wanted to be by his side, investigating and solving crimes, and now he's trying to wrap her up in cotton wool and let nothing bad ever happen to her again. YOU KNEW WHO SHE WAS WHEN YOU MARRIED HER YOU DUMBASS! She wouldn't have married him if she knew he was going to pull a 180 and decide to become the typical Victorian husband. She had that once and while at the time what Philip offered was what she thought she wanted, she has grown since then and become this awesome hoyden. Sure, she was badly injured and their unborn child was lost, but Dear God Colin, she doesn't need you pulling this shit when she's trying to piece her life back together. And yes, I know this is a plot device, one to destabilize Emily even more as well as show what marriages were really like during the Victorian era, but that doesn't mean it stopped my blood from boiling. Though it does actually all tie back into the killer, whose motives I did not see coming, and the idea of what we are willing to do for love. Would we break the will of our loved one if we think it's in their best interest? Would we imprison them for their safety? Would we kill for them?

Yet one thing is certain, I don't think Colin's mother would approve of his coddling of Emily. Madame Hargreaves is who I think Emily will evolve into. Yes, it's trite to say that boys marry women who remind them of their mothers, but going beyond that, Colin believes in the rights and equality of women, so it would make sense that he would find a woman he viewed as his equal to marry. At first I, like Emily, was wary of her mother-in-law, but I grew to really appreciate her, so much so that she better be returning in a later book! I love the little insights into the mind of Mrs. Hargreaves with her journal entries, a device Tasha has used from the first book in this series starting with Philip's journal and later being letters from her various friends, that give us insight that Emily herself doesn't have that acts as a catalyst to the plot. What tickles me is that Mrs. Hargreaves is so hard on Emily, she just doesn't see what Colin does. But we, as readers, see that all her criticisms are because Emily has turned inward and is recovering and that the "real" Emily would perfectly match her mother-in-laws' expectations. By the end of the book they have come to an understanding, but I can't wait to meet them again now that they are on equal footing. The government of England better send out a warning, because these women want the right to vote! Long live strong women!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Book Review - Tasha Alexander's Tears of Pearl

Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: September 1st, 2009
Format: Paperback, 307 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

What is one to do after a month of apologizing in Kent to one's family for eloping? Escape as soon as possible. Emily and Colin have taken themselves to the continent and are aboard the Orient Express speeding towards Constantinople for their honeymoon. Though they are able to use their cabin ingeniously, they occasionally have to go to the dining car to partake in sustenance. At one of their meals they meet Sir Richard. A diplomat with a sad past who seems to have overindulged. Before passing out he talks of the daughter he lost to kidnappers years and years ago, Ceyden. When they all disembark in Constantinople it becomes apparent that Sir Richard has lost more than his daughter, as some papers are missing from his compartment. The poor man is discombobulated and Emily and Colin feel sorry for him. Yet it is their honeymoon and Colin is determined it shall not be derailed by speculating on what really happened to Sir Richard so they leave him after a thorough search of the train and go to their lodgings. But Sir Richard feels their kindness should be repaid and invites them the next day to a performance of La Traviata at the palace.

Never has kindness so badly been repaid as an incident after the opera draws Emily and Colin into a plot that will blot out all thoughts of their honeymoon. A member of Abdul Hamit's harem has been murdered and the girl turns out to be none other than Sir Richard's missing daughter Ceyden! How could his daughter have been under his noise this whole time? Sir Richard begs Colin to investigate, knowing of his work for the crown, but it's really Emily's help that is needed, not just as Colin's partner, but as the only one able to go where the men can't, the harem. Soon Emily is embroiled in the politics of the harem, with the current valide sultan, Perestu hindering her investigation, while the former valide sultan, Bezime, holds her secrets close to her chest and offers Emily cryptic clues. While Emily tries to unravel all the secret allegiances, her Western mentality is rebelling at the idea that these women, while having access to the finer things in life, are really slaves. She is even willing to help one of them escape. Not just because Roxelana might be the key to Ceyden's fate, but because she is a Christian living in sin and Emily has a hero complex. As Emily gets closer to the truth Sir Richard's son is eyed by the authorities, but she knows this doesn't feel right, nothing feels right, and nothing may ever feel right again.

Taking a well loved couple from a flirtatious unmarried state to a married one can spell disaster for a series. What if the chemistry shifts and it just doesn't work after their relationship is consummated? Having just rewatched all of Moonlighting recently, it's amazing how quickly that show fell apart once Maddie and David did the deed. And they weren't even headed down the alter! They just headed to the bedroom! In fact for years I'd argue with anyone who would listen that it wasn't the consummation of their relationship but the outcome of the relationship that ruined the show, Maddie becoming pregnant to accommodate Cybil Shepherd's real life pregnancy and then having the baby die on the show! But I now see that it really was the consummation of the relationship and the shift this gave to the show that made it virtually unwatchable. So to all those people over the years talking about the Moonlighting Effect... you were right. Thankfully Tasha is able to keep the dynamic of the leads in this transition. There is no Moonlighting Effect, instead I think there is what I'll call the Peabody Effect. What is the Peabody Effect? Well, I'm of course referring to Elizabeth Peters' beloved Amelia Peabody series and how Amelia and her husband Radcliffe Emerson despite being married off in the first book continue to have a dynamic loving and playful relationship. Here's to Colin and Emily, the new Amelia and Emerson!

What I found really compelling in this installment is that Emily has so taken to her new life she is literally in wedding bliss. She is fully under the influence of the Peabody Effect! Therefore when she thinks that she might be pregnant, an expected outcome of marital relations, she is shook to her core. She has everything she could have ever wanted and the thought that after working so hard to achieve it, to get to work side by side with Colin as an equal, that she might be benched due to pregnancy scares her. It wasn't the pregnancy scare that I connected to, it was that feeling of everything going so right that any change could ruin it. Sometimes life is just perfect and anything, not to mention the enormity of having a child, could destroy it. Life is so rarely perfect, so rarely exactly how we want it, that you have to revel in the moments of perfection. Hoard them up and look back on perfect moments and perfect days. When Emily married Colin she saw her life being perfect from there on out. An adventurer solving crimes with Colin by her side. This vision didn't include a baby. Yes, an heir would be expected. Eventually. But not right at the beginning. Not right at the start of everything clicking into place. Oh, how I wanted to hug Emily and tell her, this is life, expect the unexpected.

Though Emily had very legitimate reasons to fear this change, and not just because it was change, but because pregnancy is dangerous, even in this day and age among my friends I think there was only one who didn't have scary complications or lasting problems. As for Victorian childbirth? Let's put it this way, Queen Victoria and her healthy brood were aberrations for the time period. Death was very commonplace, for the mother, for the baby, or for both. We read historical fiction and think that female confinement is quaint and antiquated, but it was necessary for the safety of all involved. And Emily is constantly reminded of the dangers of childbirth because her dear friend Ivy is in the midst of a precarious pregnancy. Being constantly reminded of the risky situation Ivy is in, that the next time Emily's in England Ivy might be no more makes her realize that she is just as susceptible, no matter how healthy she appears. Add to that the fact of her childhood experiences, loosing twin brothers, having her Aunt Clarabelle come to visit one Christmas and instead of celebrating a new addition to the family there was a joint funeral, and you can see why Emily is scared. And as for those anguished screams that woke her one December night? They now haunt her dreams.

With the plot of this book dealing with pregnancy and the harem, this is very much a book about women and the world they live in. I love that this book is taking real history and showing us aspects we would never have expected and yet they are 100% true. Tears of Pearl gives us a new way to look at history that we didn't necessarily do before. Because the truth is I'm sure almost everyone picking up this book has the same lurid ideas of what a harem is as Emily did from reading popular literature. We've been conditioned to think of the harem as sex slaves through sensational literature to films to television. I can even remember they did a harem episode on Jack of All Trades with Bruce Campbell, so you can imagine what impression that left... But the truth is far more complicated and political. Some of the women might never even meet Abdul Hamit! This is more a community of women with factions, but it's a family too, with children and love. So while it may be a gilded cage, the cage has it's advantages in education and wealth. The harem encourages education, unlike the Western world Emily hails from. In fact Victorian society is very much a cage too, just more invisible and therefore perhaps far more insidious.

Speaking so much about how Victorian yet feminist this book is makes me almost want to end my review here, but there's something odd that happened to me in reading this book that I must share. As I'm sure some of you know because of my Pink Carnation Dream Casting for Lauren Willig's books I have a tendency to cast actors as characters when I read books. It might have to do with being such a film buff before I turned to literature or my love of Star Wars novelizations, but it's just what I do. I know, it's a little weird, especially if you can't find the right actor. I know a lot of people would object to this way of thinking, especially because it indicates that the final form of a book isn't what's bound between the covers but what eventually makes it onto a screen, which I don't agree with, so let's just put it down as a quirk and move on. So one of the characters, who I will NOT mention because it's the murderer, was instantly cast the second he spoke as David Bamber, he of Mr. Collins fame in the Colin Firth adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Now I greatly admire David Bamber, but the truth is, I always think he's up to no good, even when playing good characters! So there was just something in the way the character first appeared that subconsciously triggered me to his guilt. I didn't even knowingly suspect him until near the end of the book! I say that proves what I great writer Tasha is, suspect everyone, but deep down, you sense the evil and despair!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

Ask Me No Questions by Shelley Noble
Published by: Forge Books
Publication Date: October 16th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From New York Times bestselling author Shelley Noble, Ask Me No Questions is the first in the Lady Dunbridge Mystery series featuring a widow turned sleuth in turn-of-the-twentieth century New York City.

A modern woman in 1907, Lady Dunbridge is not about to let a little thing like the death of her husband ruin her social life. She’s ready to take the dazzling world of Gilded Age Manhattan by storm.

From the decadence of high society balls to the underbelly of Belmont horse racing, romance, murder, and scandals abound. Someone simply must do something. And Lady Dunbridge is happy to oblige."

The Gilded Age? A female detective? Yes please!

Murder at Archly Manor by Sara Rosett
Published by: McGuffin Ink
Publication Date: October 16th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 252 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A high society murder. A spirited lady detective. Can she out-class the killer before an innocent person takes the fall?

London, 1923. Olive Belgrave needs a job. Despite her aristocratic upbringing, she’s penniless. Determined to support herself, she jumps at an unconventional job—looking into the background of her cousin’s fiancé, Alfred.

Alfred burst into the upper crust world of London’s high society, but his answers to questions about his past are decidedly vague. Before Olive can gather more than the basics, a murder occurs at a posh party. Suddenly, every Bright Young Person in attendance is a suspect, and Olive must race to find the culprit because a sly murderer is determined to make sure Olive’s first case is her last.

Murder at Archly Manor is the first in the High Society Lady Detective series of charming historical cozy mysteries. If you like witty banter, glamorous settings, and delightful plot twists, you’ll love USA Today bestselling author Sara Rosett’s series for Anglophiles and mystery lovers alike.

Travel back to the Golden Age of detective fiction with Murder at Archly Manor."

It's a golden week for new mystery series, and if I do say so myself, I always have a soft spot for the 1920s and murder!

The Winters by Lisa Gabriele
Published by: Viking
Publication Date: October 16th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A spellbindingly suspenseful new novel set in the moneyed world of the Hamptons, about secrets that refuse to remain buried and consequences that can’t be escaped.

After a whirlwind romance, a young woman returns to the opulent, secluded Long Island mansion of her new fiancé Max Winter—a wealthy politician and recent widower—and a life of luxury she’s never known. But all is not as it appears at the Asherley estate. The house is steeped in the memory of Max’s beautiful first wife Rebekah, who haunts the young woman’s imagination and feeds her uncertainties, while his very alive teenage daughter Dani makes her life a living hell. She soon realizes there is no clear place for her in this twisted little family: Max and Dani circle each other like cats, a dynamic that both repels and fascinates her, and he harbors political ambitions with which he will allow no woman—alive or dead—to interfere.

As the soon-to-be second Mrs. Winter grows more in love with Max, and more afraid of Dani, she is drawn deeper into the family’s dark secrets—the kind of secrets that could kill her, too. The Winters is a riveting story about what happens when a family’s ghosts resurface and threaten to upend everything."

A retelling of Rebecca? Oh, this is going to be a train wreck and I can't look away!

Empress Charlotte by Fabien Nury
Published by: Dargaud
Publication Date: October 16th, 2018
Format: Kindle, 72 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"At sixteen, Princess Charlotte falls in love with an Austrian archduke, Maximilian of the House of Habsburg. Soon enough, she finds herself enmeshed in the cruel and unpredictable world of international diplomacy as her marriage founders. Increasingly shrewd, naïveté and idealism replaced by practicality and skepticism, Charlotte will help ensure that she and Maximilian are sent to Mexico to reign as emperor and empress..."

Historical Fiction in graphic novel form? THIS is my jam. THIS is the heights to which graphic novels can ascend.

A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: October 16th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The riveting novel of iron-willed Alva Vanderbilt and her illustrious family as they rule Gilded-Age New York, from the New York Times bestselling author of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald.

Alva Smith, her southern family destitute after the Civil War, married into one of America’s great Gilded Age dynasties: the newly wealthy but socially shunned Vanderbilts. Ignored by New York’s old-money circles and determined to win respect, she designed and built 9 mansions, hosted grand balls, and arranged for her daughter to marry a duke. But Alva also defied convention for women of her time, asserting power within her marriage and becoming a leader in the women's suffrage movement.

With a nod to Jane Austen and Edith Wharton, in A Well-Behaved Woman Therese Anne Fowler paints a glittering world of enormous wealth contrasted against desperate poverty, of social ambition and social scorn, of friendship and betrayal, and an unforgettable story of a remarkable woman. Meet Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, living proof that history is made by those who know the rules―and how to break them."

Historical Fiction about real people just has so much more going for it!

The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: October 16th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 432 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Sharon Bolton returns with her creepiest standalone yet, following a young cop trying to trace the disappearances of a small town's teenagers.

Florence Lovelady's career was made when she convicted coffin-maker Larry Grassbrook of a series of child murders 30 years ago in a small village in Lancashire. Like something out of a nightmare, the victims were buried alive. Florence was able to solve the mystery and get a confession out of Larry before more children were murdered., and he spent the rest of his life in prison.

But now, decades later, he's dead, and events from the past start to repeat themselves. Is someone copying the original murders? Or did she get it wrong all those years ago? When her own son goes missing under similar circumstances, the case not only gets reopened... it gets personal.

In master of suspense Sharon Bolton's latest thriller, readers will find a page-turner to confirm their deepest fears and the only protagonist who can face them."

Literal shivers! Could it be a copycat? I know you need to know as much as I do!

Likely Stories by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham
Published by: Dark Horse Books
Publication Date: October 16th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 80 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From New York Times best-selling author Neil Gaiman and Eisner-award winning creator Mark Buckingham comes a graphic novel anthology of four essential fantasy stories.

These dark and imaginative tales feature an odd and subtly linked world of bizarre venereal diseases, a creepy old woman who feasts on raw meat, a man obsessed with a skin model from a magazine, and a story within a story about ghosts.

You wont want to miss this collection featuring comic adaptations of the short stories: Looking for the Girl, Foreign Parts, Closing Time, and Feeders and Eaters from the Hugo, Eisner, Newbery, Harvey, Bram Stoker, Locus, World Fantasy, and Nebula award-winning author Neil Gaiman!"

It's October so here's you obligatory Neil Gaiman release.

Ghosts in the House by A.C. Benson and R.H. Benson
Published by: HarperCollins
Publication Date: October 16th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A collection of rare ghosts and horror stories by the brothers of one of the finest writers of the genre, E. F. Benson.

The Benson brothers – Arthur Christopher, Edward Frederic and Robert Hugh – were one of the most extraordinary and prolific literary families, between them writing more than 150 books. Arthur alone left four million words of diary, although his most lasting legacy is the words to Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory, while Fred is acknowledged as one of the finest writers of Edwardian supernatural fiction: the name E. F. Benson is mentioned in the same breath as other greats such as M. R. James and H. R. Wakefield.

In fact, all three brothers wrote ghost stories, although the work of Arthur and Hugh in this field has long been overshadowed by their brother’s success. Now the best supernatural tales of A. C. and R. H. Benson have been gathered into one volume by anthologist Hugh Lamb, whose introduction examines the lives and writings of these two complex and fascinating men. Originally published between 1903 and 1927, the stories include A. C. Benson’s masterful ‘Basil Netherby’ and ‘The Uttermost Farthing’, and an intriguing article by R. H. Benson about real-life haunted houses."

And here's some ghost stories written by E.F. Benson's brothers that is a fitting read for October!

The Bartered Brides by Mercedes Lackey
Published by: DAW
Publication Date: October 16th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The thirteenth novel in the magical alternate history Elemental Masters series continues the reimagined adventures of Sherlock Holmes in a richly-detailed alternate Victorian England.

The threat of Moriarty is gone - but so is Sherlock Holmes.

Even as they mourn the loss of their colleague, psychic Nan Killian, medium Sarah Lyon-White, and Elemental Masters John and Mary Watson must be vigilant, for members of Moriarty’s network are still at large. And their troubles are far from over: in a matter of weeks, two headless bodies of young brides wash up in major waterways. A couple who fears for their own recently-wedded daughter hires the group to investigate, but with each new body, the mystery only deepens.

The more bodies emerge, the more the gang suspects that there is dangerous magic at work, and that Moriarty’s associates are somehow involved. But as they race against the clock to uncover the killer, it will take all their talents, Magic, and Psychic Powers - and perhaps some help from a dearly departed friend - to bring the murderer to justice."

Anyone else look at that cover and instantly think of the Victorian hallucination episode of Sherlock?

The Book of Magic edited by Gardner Dozois
Published by: Bantam
Publication Date: October 16th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 576 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A new anthology celebrating the witches and sorcerers of epic fantasy—featuring stories by George R. R. Martin, Scott Lynch, Megan Lindholm, and many others!

Hot on the heels of Gardner Dozois’s acclaimed anthology The Book of Swords comes this companion volume devoted to magic. How could it be otherwise? For every Frodo, there is a Gandalf...and a Saruman. For every Dorothy, a Glinda...and a Wicked Witch of the West. What would Harry Potter be without Albus Dumbledore...and Severus Snape? Figures of wisdom and power, possessing arcane, often forbidden knowledge, wizards and sorcerers are shaped—or misshaped—by the potent magic they seek to wield. Yet though their abilities may be godlike, these men and women remain human—some might say all too human. Such is their curse. And their glory.

In these pages, seventeen of today’s top fantasy writers—including award-winners Elizabeth Bear, John Crowley, Kate Elliott, K. J. Parker, Tim Powers, and Liz Williams—cast wondrous spells that thrillingly evoke the mysterious, awesome, and at times downright terrifying worlds where magic reigns supreme: worlds as far away as forever, and as near as next door."

I've lately found myself thinking fondly of an anthology of King Arthur I read years ago and I think this book of magical tales might scratch the itch that's been developing...

Aquicorn Cove by Katie O'Neill
Published by: Oni Press
Publication Date: October 16th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 96 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Unable to rely on the adults in her storm-ravaged seaside town, a young girl must protect a colony of magical seahorse-like creatures she discovers in the coral reef.

From the award-winning author of Princes Princess Ever After and The Tea Dragon Society comes Aquicorn Cove, a heartfelt story about learning to be a guardian to yourself and those you love.

When Lana and her father return to their seaside hometown to help clear the debris of a big storm, Lana remembers how much she’s missed the ocean—and the strong, reassuring presence of her aunt. As Lana explores the familiar beach, she discovers something incredible: a colony of Aquicorns, small magical seahorse-like creatures that live in the coral reef. Lana rescues an injured Aquicorn and cares for it with the help of her aunt, who may know more about these strange creatures than she's willing to admit. But when a second storm threatens to reach the town, choices made many years ago about how to coexist with the sea start to rise to the surface. Lana realizes she will need to find the strength to stand on her own, even when it means standing up to the people who she has always relied on to protect her."

Earlier this year I stumbled on Katie O'Neill's The Tea Dragon Society, and aside from now really wanting a tea dragon, I fell in love with her style. I follow her on Instagram and have to say I've been looking forward to this new book of hers! Now about that tea dragon...

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Published by: Puffin Books
Publication Date: October 16th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Puffin Plated: A Book-to-Table Reading Experience.

A deluxe, full-color hardback edition of the perennial Jane Austen classic featuring a selection of recipes for tea-time treats by the one and only Martha Stewart!

Have your book and eat it, too, with this clever edition of a classic novel, featuring delicious recipes from celebrity chefs. In this edition of Jane Austen's regency classic Pride and Prejudice, plan a fancy tea party or book club gathering with recipes for sweet confections and pastries. From maple glazed scones and delicate sugar and spice cake, to berry tartlets and French macaroons. Bring your friends and family together with a good meal and a good book!

Book includes full, unabridged text of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, interspersed with recipes, food photography, and special food artwork."

I mean, come on Janeites! You NEED this book! Martha Stewart has made it for us!

This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps
Published by: Touchstone
Publication Date: October 16th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"There’s no stopping Busy Philipps. From the time she was two and “aced out in her nudes” to explore the neighborhood (as her mom famously described her toddler jailbreak), Busy has always been headstrong, defiant, and determined not to miss out on all the fun. These qualities led her to leave Scottsdale, Arizona, at the age of nineteen to pursue her passion for acting in Hollywood. But much like her painful and painfully funny teenage years, chasing her dreams wasn’t always easy and sometimes hurt more than a little.

In this stunningly candid memoir, Busy opens up about chafing against a sexist system rife with on-set bullying and body shaming, being there when friends face shattering loss, enduring devastating personal and professional betrayals from those she loved best, and struggling with postpartum anxiety and the challenges of motherhood.

But Busy also brings to the page her sly sense of humor and the unshakeable sense that disappointment shouldn’t stand in her way—even when she’s knocked down both figuratively and literally (from a knee injury at her seventh-grade dance to a violent encounter on the set of Freaks and Geeks). The rough patches in her life are tempered by times of hilarity and joy: leveraging a flawless impression of Cher from Clueless into her first paid acting gig, helping reinvent a genre with cult classic Freaks and Geeks, becoming fast friends with Dawson’s Creek castmate Michelle Williams, staging her own surprise wedding, conquering natural childbirth with the help of a Mad Men – themed hallucination, and more.

Busy is the rare entertainer whose impressive arsenal of talents as an actress is equally matched by her storytelling ability, sense of humor, and sharp observations about life, love, and motherhood. Her conversational writing reminds us what we love about her on screens large and small. From film to television to Instagram and now to the page, Busy delightfully showcases her wry humor and her willingness to bare it all.

“I’ve been waiting my whole life to write this book. I’m just so grateful someone asked. Otherwise, what was the point of any of it??”"

I mean, yes, we all have probably read about the James Franco set incident by now, but there's SO MUCH MORE to read here!

Gmorning, Gnight! by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Published by: Random House
Publication Date: October 16th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 224 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Good morning. Do NOT get stuck in the comments section of life today. Make, do, create the things. Let others tussle it out. Vamos!

Before he inspired the world with Hamilton and was catapulted to international fame, Lin-Manuel Miranda was inspiring his Twitter followers with words of encouragement at the beginning and end of each day. He wrote these original sayings, aphorisms, and poetry for himself as much as for others. But as Miranda’s audience grew, these messages took on a life on their own. Now Miranda has gathered the best of his daily greetings into a beautiful collection illustrated by acclaimed artist (and fellow Twitter favorite) Jonny Sun. Full of comfort and motivation, Gmorning, Gnight! is a touchstone for anyone who needs a quick lift."

Because right now we could all use a little lift.

Professor at Large: The Cornell Years by John Cleese
Published by: Cornell University Press
Publication Date: October 16th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 248 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"And now for something completely different. Professor at Large features beloved English comedian and actor John Cleese in the role of ivy league professor at Cornell University. His almost twenty years as professor-at-large has led to many talks, essays, and lectures on campus. This collection of the very best moments from Cleese under his mortarboard provides a unique view of his endless pursuit of intellectual discovery across a range of topics. Since 1999, Cleese has provided Cornell students and local citizens with his ideas on everything from scriptwriting to psychology, religion to hotel management, and wine to medicine.

His incredibly popular events and classes - including talks, workshops, and an analysis of A Fish Called Wanda and The Life of Brian - draw hundreds of people. He has given a sermon at Sage Chapel, narrated Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf with the Cornell Chamber Orchestra, conducted a class on script writing, and lectured on psychology and human development. Each time Cleese has visited the campus in Ithaca, NY, he held a public presentation, attended and or lectured in classes, and met privately with researchers. From the archives of these visits, Professor at Large includes an interview with screenwriter William Goldman, a lecture about creativity entitled, "Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind," talks about Professor at Large and The Life of Brian, a discussion of facial recognition, and Cleese’s musings on group dynamics with business students and faculty.

Professor at Large provides a window into the workings of John Cleese’s scholarly mind, showcasing the wit and intelligence that have driven his career as a comedian, while demonstrating his knack of pinpointing the essence of humans and human problems. His genius on the screen has long been lauded; now his academic chops get their moment in the spotlight, too."

To have been lucky enough to attend these lectures! Luckily there's this book, with this horrid horrid cover. Seriously, has the Cornell University Press head of Graphic Design? 

Friday, October 12, 2018

Short Story Review - Tasha Alexander's The Bridal Strain: Emily and Colin's Wedding

The Bridal Strain: Emily and Colin's Wedding by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Tasha Alexander
Publication Date: 2009
Format: Kindle
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

After much temptation, much heartache, and much delay, Colin has decided that he can no longer wait to be married to Emily, his future mother-in-law and Queen Victoria be damned. So drenched to the bone high above the caldera on Santorini he proposes that he and Emily be married that very night and Emily agrees. Though Emily is swept away by the romantic gesture, not thinking of the practicalities of showing up at the church soaking wet and demanding to be wed, she is thankfully marrying a very organized man capable of pulling off the most elaborate of missions for the crown with the simplest of ease. So when they return to her villa she shouldn't be surprised that preparations are underway for a full wedding celebration, and yet she is. She's surprised and touched. The entire village has come together to see her and Colin wed. But that won't be the only surprise of the evening, as Emily's dearest friend Cecile is also on hand, there to celebrate the nuptials, but also there to provide emotional support while mourning such a handsome man leaving the marriage market. Though Cecile wouldn't let Emily marry unless the man was worry of her, luckily for Colin he is. And so, their married life begins.

So much of the first two books in Tasha's Lady Emily series is the will-they-won't-they of Emily and Colin. This isn't just played for romantic tension, though one can't deny that it is titillating, but it's practical. Emily, as a widow, has so much freedom that she has to be certain of Colin in order to be willing to shackle herself into another marriage where to the majority of Victorian society she would be nothing but a possession, and viewed, in the extreme, as a slave. But thankfully Colin loves her not as the ideal her first husband Philip viewed her as, but as this intelligent woman willing to fight at his side, not sit home and be content as the typical wife would in raising her brood. He loves her for what she has become, what she has evolved into, and that's why their relationship is so epic and why it would have been a shame not to see their wedding day. To be there as they became one, but still stayed themselves. Colin's wedding gift to Emily, of a gorgeous Greek vase, shows that he loves her for who she is and he will never force her into a mold labelled "Standard Victorian Wife." Though Tasha's extras are interesting in that it sheds light on the fact that what we view as the "Victorian Standard" isn't truth. Not everything is as it seems, Victorians were far more liberal, and there were quite a few pregnant women walking down the aisle...

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Book Review - Tasha Alexander's A Fatal Waltz

A Fatal Waltz by Tasha Alexander
Published by: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: May 20th, 2008
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Not every country house party ends in murder, but this one will. Oh, if only Emily had had the sense to stay home. But no, she agreed to come to the home of a man she detests in order to support her dear friend Ivy. Ivy's husband Robert needs the political support of their odious host, Lord Fortescue, if he's going to make it in government. The only bright spot in the whole endeavor is that Emily gets to spend the weekend with Colin Hargreaves, her fiancé. But that bright spot is soon eclipsed by the Austrian Countess Kristiana von Lange. Kristiana makes it very clear that she and Colin have a past, possibly a present, and maybe a future, and there's nothing that Emily can do about it. This leaves Emily impotent with rage as Kristiana insinuates herself into the political talks among the men after dinner while Emily, trying to keep Ivy's best interests in mind, demurs and retires with the women, much to Lord Fortescue's approbation. In fact leaving the dinner table is the only thing Emily has done right in the eyes of their host. Emily's hackles are raised and another guest, Mr. Harrison, conveniently has a plan to get back at Lord Fortescue.

If Emily hadn't been so turned around by Kristiana, maybe she would have realized that Mr. Harrison didn't have her best interests at heart and maybe Emily could have seen there was a murderer among them. Instead their host is shot dead and dear Ivy's husband Robert is arrested for the murder. Once back in London Emily tries to piece together the information she has at hand with rumors and suppositions. Robert even gives her a few clues and everything points to a nefarious plot in Vienna. Emily can't exonerate Robert from London, so she packs up her bags, grabs her trusty sidekicks, Jeremy, Cecile, and Cecile's odious dogs, and heads to the town of her romantic rival. Little does she know that she is being followed by Mr. Harrison and her beloved Colin. And though she loathes to do it, she approaches Kristiana for help, which is denied. Kristiana will only help if Emily will forfeit all claims to Colin, something Emily knows, deep in her heart, she could never do. As the danger mounts and Emily makes alliances with the oddest assortment of artists and villains, she worries that she will be unable to save Robert, herself, or Colin. Could this be the end of all of them?

There's a realness to this installment that deepens your connection to Emily and her world. Up until this point it's not that her world was shallow, but that the stories dealt with situations that weren't too far removed from the world Emily inhabited. She was investigating her own little sphere of the world and crimes that were closely adjacent to it, maids that might be murderers. We've seen the strictures and the societal surface one must maintain, but at the same time it felt more in the realm of romanticized historical fiction with the denouement tied up nicely with a bow. Yet Victorian times weren't all fluff, there were real concerns, real problems, and here we are digging deeper into those issues and forging a stronger connection to Emily as Emily herself forms a stronger connection to the world around her. The first time this struck me was when Lord Fortescue has the hundreds and hundreds of birds from their shoot laid out for display during lunch. This excess, this cruelty to animals, this is the real world the landed gentry inhabited and exploited. House parties weren't wonderful social gatherings, they were sanctioned murder, even if your host didn't bite the big own.

Then there's the death fog Emily remembers engulfing London when she was a child. The poverty, the anarchists, every little thing makes Emily's world more real. Her world is grounded in truth, in a world we can see every night when we turn on the news. She is no longer sheltered, she is becoming an educated woman who we can relate to more than even before when she was just a pampered princess destined to marry royalty, if her mother had had a say in it. As Tasha writes in her afterward, this introduction of the horrors of the world is being done purposefully to make Emily a socially conscious being. And in becoming socially conscious Emily herself is becoming more real to us. Sure, we all occasionally dream of the life Emily had, being blissfully ignorant and free to flounce around the house being indulgent, but a fantasy can not last in the long run. Lady Emily's adventures would have no long term sustainability. There's only so many wrongfully accused kitchen maids a series can contain, and by expanding Emily as a person you expand her horizons. Therefore a series that could have petered out a few volumes in is releasing it's thirteenth volume this fall.

All this realness means that there is real danger and real consequences. Yes, we've had death and danger before, but Emily treated it breezily, it was there but it would be overcome and there would be no consequences except for the guilty. Here the danger is palpable. The threat of Mr. Harrison and his bullet calling cards, while yes, a little like something a Bond villain would do, upsets Emily's world of luxurious hotels and Sacher Tortes. Having to make alliances with anarchists who are dangerous themselves and are scared of Mr. Harrison gives you an idea as to this man's villainy. And while I knew there were more books in the series, I couldn't help but be drawn in and think, as Colin and Emily were, that they might not survive. This question being raised makes Emily and us realize the true dangers of Colin's job. He has faced this kind of situation again and again. In fact Kristiana hints that that is why she never left her husband for Colin, because the distraction of a wife could endanger him. Which makes Emily wonder, is Colin in her life worth the constant risk of losing him? Can she live like this? Real danger means you might not want to have to face the answers to real questions.

But for the longest time Emily views Kristiana as a far bigger danger to her and Colin's happiness than the looming specter of death. While I could groan at the introduction of a love triangle, this one never falls into the typical tropes. There was something fun about Emily having competition for Colin. You knew, deep in your heart, that Colin could never stray. At least not now that he's met Emily. But that doesn't discount the importance of this woman in his past or her powers over him in the present. Every chance she got Kristiana was pulling on Emily's strings and getting just the rise out of her she wanted. Historical Fiction with a romantic bent seems to always marry off their couples in too rapid a fashion and then have a happily ever after that only occasionally sees bumps of the romantic kind. That's why I love that Tasha hasn't married off Colin and Emily just yet. There's more believability that Kristiana is a threat. There's a playfulness in this what-if scenario. Competition can bring out the best in people, but not with Emily in this instance. It brings out all her bad qualities, and again, it makes her more real, more relatable. That Lady Emily Ashton could get her hackles up over her true love? Just shows it can happen to any of us.

Though for all it's realness, the most important aspect of A Fatal Waltz to me is it's most memorable character, the city of Vienna itself! I've never been and oddly enough have never really given much thought to this city that was literally the center of an artistic and cultural revolution, but now I want to pack my bags and go. Right. Now. Of course I'd prefer to go in winter with the snow falling in beautiful drifts as Emily enjoyed it, but as long as I can go to all the cafes and walk all the streets I think I could find true enjoyment. But alas, I don't know if such famous personages would be peopling the cafes. So could I literally get a time machine and go when Emily went? To see Klimt paint and dance to a Strauss waltz actually conducted by Strauss! To visit Sisi, the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, though I have a feeling I'd need to take Cecile with me to get that invite. Even if I didn't know how well traveled Tasha is, you can tell in reading the book that Tasha has been there, she's walked in Emily's steps before she even put pen to paper. This just makes the city so real that as I said earlier, it's a character onto itself! It's not just buildings, but memorable people and a feeling, something that makes you want to go back there even if you've never been because somehow Tasha has made this city an old friend.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton
Published by: Atria Books
Publication Date: October 9th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 512 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A rich, spellbinding new novel from the author of The Lake House - the story of a love affair and a mysterious murder that cast their shadows across generations, set in England from the 1860s until the present day.

My real name, no one remembers.
The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe's life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist's sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?

Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker's Daughter is a story of murder, mystery, and thievery, of art, love and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river, is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker's daughter."

Kate Morton is an author who has really matured as a writer, each book better than the last and I can't wait for this one!

The Witch Elm by Tana French
Published by: Viking
Publication Date: October 9th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 528 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
" From the writer who "inspires cultic devotion in readers" (The New Yorker) and has been called "incandescent" by Stephen King, "absolutely mesmerizing" by Gillian Flynn, and "unputdownable" (People), comes a gripping new novel that turns a crime story inside out.

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who's dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life - he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family's ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden - and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

A spellbinding standalone from one of the best suspense writers working today, The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we're capable of, when we no longer know who we are."

Family secrets and murder? Yes please!

The World of Lore: Dreadful Places by Aaron Mahnke
Published by: Del Rey
Publication Date: October 9th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Captivating stories of the places where human evil has left a nefarious mark—featuring both rare and best-loved stories from the hit podcast Lore, now a streaming television series.

Sometimes you walk into a room, a building, or even a town, and you feel it. Something seems off—an atmosphere that leaves you oddly unsettled, with a sense of lingering darkness. Join Aaron Mahnke, the host of the popular podcast Lore, as he explores some of these dreadful places and the history that haunts them.

Mahnke takes us to Colorado and the palatial Stanley Hotel, where wealthy guests enjoyed views of the Rocky Mountains at the turn of the twentieth century—and where, decades later, a restless author would awaken from a nightmare, inspired to write one of the most revered horror novels of all time. Mahnke also crosses land and sea to visit frightful sites—from New Orleans to Richmond, Virginia, to the brooding, ancient castles of England—each with its own echoes of dark deeds, horrible tragedies, and shocking evil still resounding.

Filled with evocative illustrations, this eerie tour of lurid landmarks and doomed destinations is just the ticket to take armchair travelers with a taste for the macabre to places they never thought they’d visit in their wildest, scariest dreams.

This volume includes some of the best stories from the Lore podcast, such as “Echoes,” “Withering Heights,” and “Behind Closed Doors” as well as rare material."

I love it when podcasts jump to books, because it's rare I'll listen to a podcast, but I will sure read a book!

Ghosts of Christmas Past by Neil Gaiman et al
Published by: John Murray
Publication Date: October 9th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A present contains a monstrous secret.
An uninvited guest haunts a Christmas party.
A shadow slips across the floor by firelight.
A festive entertainment ends in darkness and screams.

Who knows what haunts the night at the dark point of the year? This collection of seasonal chillers looks beneath Christmas cheer to a world of ghosts and horrors, mixing terrifying modern fiction with classic stories by masters of the macabre. From Neil Gaiman and M. R. James to Muriel Spark and E. Nesbit, there are stories here to make the hardiest soul quail - so find a comfy chair, lock the door, ignore the cold breath on your neck and get ready to welcome in the real spirits of Christmas."

Did you know that Halloween didn't used to be the only time for ghost stories? This book plans to bring back the tradition of Christmas Chills!

Carols and Chaos by Cindy Anstey
Published by: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: October 9th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the author of Suitors and Sabotage comes a swoonworthy Christmas adventure, perfect for fans of Jane Austen and Downton Abbey. 

1817. The happy chaos of the Yuletide season has descended upon the country estate of Shackleford Park in full force, but lady's maid Kate Darby barely has the time to notice. Between her household duties, caring for her ailing mother, and saving up money to someday own a dress shop, her hands are quite full. Matt Harlow is also rather busy. He's performing double-duty, acting as valet for both of the Steeple brothers, two of the estate's holiday guests.

Falling in love would be a disaster for either of them. But staving off their feelings for each other becomes the least of their problems when a devious counterfeiting scheme reaches the gates of Shackleford Park, and Kate and Matt are unwittingly swept up in the intrigue.

Full of sweetness, charm, and holiday mischief, Carols and Chaos - a standalone companion novel to Suitors and Sabotage - is perfect for readers who like their historical fiction with a side of romance and danger."

And now that we've radically shifted holidays to Christmas, how about this book that promises a fix for fans of Jane Austen and Downton Abbey? Because I am I fan of both!

The Hour of Death by Jane Willan
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: October 9th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 314 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Jane Willan’s The Hour of Death will be a Christmas delight for fans of G. M. Malliet, set on an island in Wales.

Sister Agatha and Father Selwyn make sleuthing a work of art. But will they paint themselves into a corner when they investigate the Village Art Society president’s death?

As Yuletide settles upon Gwenafwy Abbey, the rural Welsh convent’s peace is shattered when Tiffany Reese, president of the Village Art Society, is found dead on the floor of the parish hall. Sister Agatha, whose interests lie more with reading and writing mystery stories than with making the abbey’s world-renowned organic gouda, is not shy about inserting herself into the case. With the not-entirely-eager assistance of Father Selwyn, she begins her investigation.

Sister Agatha has no shortage of suspects to check off her naughty-or-nice list, until finally, Tiffany’s half-brother, Kendrick Geddings, emerges as the prime suspect. There never was any love lost between Tiffany and Kendrick, and of late they had been locked in a vicious battle for control of the family estate. But if Sister Agatha thinks she has the case wrapped up, she’ll have to think again.

As the days of Advent tick by, Sister Agatha is determined to crack the case by Christmas in The Hour of Death, Jane Willan’s perfectly puzzling second Sister Agatha and Father Selwyn Mystery."

A Welsh Christmas cozy for a cold winter night!

Queen of Kenosha by Howard Shapiro and Erica Chan
Published by: Animal Media Group LLC
Publication Date: October 9th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 160 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A coming of age tale, this is the first installment of the Thin Thinline Trilogy, the fiercely independent Nina Overstreet has an axe to grind. A talented singer-songwriter slogging her way through the burgeoning Greenwich Village folk music scene of 1963, the Queen of Kenosha, Wisconsin, realizes that standing on the cusp of stardom gets her little respect and barely a cup of coffee in New York City. It finally comes, but in a way she could have never imagined. A chance encounter with the mysterious Nick Ladd at a late-night gig spins her life in a different direction―one that becomes a daily balance between life and death, right and wrong. Nick recruits Nina to join him and a team of ex-FBI operatives in a clandestine agency to stop the establishment of the Fourth Reich by undercover Nazis in post-War America. It’s a cause Nina believes in … until she’s forced to compromise the very principles of fairness and patriotism she holds dear. As she and Nick grow closer as partners, she forces him to question his own intentions. But as the body count mounts in pursuit of the Nazi ringleader, the evasive Alex, the stakes grow even higher for Nick and Nina."

I think more small towns in Wisconsin need to be represented in books! Congrats Kenosha!

My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper
Published by: Scribner
Publication Date: October 9th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Comedian and star of The Office and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Ellie Kemper delivers a hilarious and uplifting collection of essays about one pale woman’s journey from Midwestern naïf to Hollywood semi-celebrity to outrageously reasonable New Yorker.

There comes a time in every sitcom actress’s life when she is faced with the prospect of writing a book. When Ellie Kemper’s number was up, she was ready. Contagiously cheerful, predictably wholesome, and mostly inspiring except for one essay about her husband’s feet, My Squirrel Days is a funny, free-wheeling tour of Ellie’s life - from growing up in suburban St. Louis with a vivid imagination and a crush on David Letterman to moving to Los Angeles and accidentally falling on Doris Kearns Goodwin.

But those are not the only famous names dropped in this synopsis. Ellie will also share stories of inadvertently insulting Ricky Gervais at the Emmy Awards, telling Tina Fey that she has “great hair - really strong and thick,” and offering a maxi pad to Steve Carell. She will take you back to her childhood as a nature lover determined to commune with squirrels, to her college career as a benchwarming field hockey player with no assigned position, and to her young professional days writing radio commercials for McDonald’s but never getting paid. Ellie will guide you along her journey through adulthood, from unorganized bride to impatient wife to anxious mother who - as recently observed by a sassy hairstylist - “dresses like a mom.” Well, sassy hairstylist, Ellie Kemper is a mom. And she has been dressing like it since she was four.

Ellie has written for GQ, Esquire, The New York Times, McSweeney’s, and The Onion. Her voice is the perfect antidote to the chaos of modern life. In short, she will tell you nothing you need to know about making it in show business, and everything you need to know about discreetly changing a diaper at a Cibo Express."

I mean firstly, it's a book with Ellie Kemper and a squirrel on the cover, and buy that no matter the contents. But secondly, PLEASE tell me she's going on a book tour!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Book Review - Tasha Alexander's A Poisoned Season

A Poisoned Season: Lady Emily Book 2 by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: 2007
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Lady Emily has come to love her life, especially her life in Greece. Still, she must be a "proper" lady, so she has returned to England to take part in The Season. The endless parties and social gatherings. All the things a woman can and can not do. So what if she wants to read in public and drink port in private? She should be allowed to do as she wants! Being a widow has to have some advantages in eccentricity. Thankfully Cecile du Lac arrives from Paris to relieve the ennui. But Cecile soon becomes prey to the cat burglar who is sneaking in and out of the homes of the wealthy reclaiming jewels that where once Marie Antoinette's! The whole of the ton has gone French crazy. Especially with the arrival of Charles Berry. Berry claims to be the heir to the French throne and is more than happy to have Emily grace his bedchamber, even if he intends to marry one of Emily's acquaintances because Emily isn't queen material. Could this cad be sneaking into bedchambers for an entirely different reason? Could this creature of lust who tends to lash out be a cunning thief?

Though theft is much different from murder... A David Francis has been murdered and his wife's maid has been arrested. Mrs. Francis is convinced her maid is innocent and looks to Emily for help. Emily is excited for the challenge, but her erstwhile suitor Colin Hargreaves is worried that she might be in over her head and perhaps they should just get engaged. Yet an engagement to Colin might curtail Emily's independence. All Emily knows is that an engagement, to Colin or her old friend Jeremy who has entered the marriage market would make her mother ecstatic, so it's the last thing she wants to do. Plus there are the mysterious notes in Greek and flowers she's been receiving on her pillow to take into consideration as well. Is this Colin's more seductive side? Or does she have an overzealous suitor who is verging into stalker territory. Could the cat burglar have fallen for her? With her own reputation looking perilous will Emily be cut from society before she solves the murder and thefts? And will she ever say yes to Colin?

In all seriousness I want to know who doesn't love a good thief plot? Coupling this with a lost heir air just added to my enjoyment. Ah, a daring jewel thief, a cat burglar by another name, I always have a soft spot for them. In fact I've kind of always wanted to be one. I have always thought it would be fun to be an art or jewel thief (note, if I'm ever caught, you never read this!) I always remember this one scene in a movie, which I think stared Jane Seymour, but I remember it was a very French looking house with skylights and a yellow carpeted staircase and a party downstairs and a man in black sneaking around, and I thought, what a glamorous life... yeah, I might have some issues or I might just not be living up to my full potential. Extra points if you know the movie I'm talking about, also, Jane Seymour might not have been in it and it might have been Robert Wagner, but it's definitely not the first Pink Panther movie. But the idea of a gentleman thief is so alluring. Let's call it the Raffles effect. This also led to overtones of Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, what with the jewels of great value. Which, I will say, is deliciously Victorian.

Though we must not forget the lost heir plot! While I had a little disconnect with Bourbon fever happening in the Victorian era when aristos weren't being whisked across the channel for their safety, I can easily forgive that for the book containing some lost dauphin action. The missing heir to the French throne always fascinated me as a child, mainly because Wisconsin has it's own connection to the missing child. Eleazer Williams was a missionary who came to Wisconsin with a delegation of Native Americans and settled in Green Bay. In 1839 he started to claim he was the lost dauphin, which escalated in the 1850s until he was viewed as the pretender to the throne. My Dad grew up in the Fox River Valley and would tell us stories about the lost prince, but mainly he'd tell us stories about the treasure he had on him when he escaped. Treasure that was about as real as Eleazer's claim. But my dad had me convinced that this little cove near our house was possibly where he had dropped the treasure. I had even picked a rock out in Lake Mendota that I thought could possibly have the treasure underneath. Re-reading Tasha's book brought this all back to me, and it makes me smile and also kind of wish fairy tales were true and that that little prince didn't die in prison.

While thefts and pretenders are all wonderful fodder and make for an adventurous read, it's Emily and her feelings that I really connect to. Her joy and her despair and her outrage, I'm just ready to fight for her and any little slight or danger that comes her way. But I don't think this connection would be so strong if Tasha hadn't plotted Emily's journey as she did. We as readers needed to fall in love with Emily away from the world as she was sequestered during her mourning. We see her evolve into the woman she was destined to become and therefore we see how she struggles when she is thrust back into society. She is no longer what is expected of women of this time period, even the Queen wants her settled. In fact Emily's dear friend Ivy shows us what is expected of Victorian women and brings home how Ivy isn't happy being the perfect wife. Society was at this time designed for men and it hurt the women they were supposed to love. Gaw, the horrid double standard of it all. Yet to me this all hinges on the book starting at that garden party and having Tasha throw tons of new characters at us. For a few minutes you feel at sea, the sheer number of characters creates claustrophobia and in that moment you feel the elation and dread that Emily must feel going back into society and you are there with her in the Victorian age!

For Emily though there is an oasis in Colin. The first time I read these first two books I wasn't completely sold on Colin as Emily's love interest. I think it was because somehow I loved Emily's dead husband Philip more... and Colin was too perfect. A paragon, the dream man of literature. There's a reason I keep picturing him as Colin Firth after all... I was worried that Emily alone was better than Emily coupled, because historical romances do tend to marry their leads off too quickly and Emily loses so much by marrying again and I didn't want that to happen to her. And I think this is why I really appreciated Colin this time around. He knows what Emily would lose by marrying him and wills her his library. Something all her own as it comes crashing down on her that her current home and books actually belong to her husband's heir and not herself. But it's deeper than that, Philip loved Emily as an ideal. She was a paragon of beauty, he didn't really know her. Whereas Colin knows Emily for who she really is, a women who will never fit society's definition of a good wife, who is smart, witty, and willing to march into danger. Their relationship thrives because they love each other for who they are, books and all.

And as for those books... Tasha gets it. She just GETS IT! She understands the importance of books in one's life for mental well-being. When Ivy is depressed and on the brink of despair she puts a book in her hand, the more sensational the better! This is what I don't get about people who say they don't read or don't like to read, reading is my jam. It's how I maintain balance in my life. Meditation I don't get, but I understand that for some people what meditation gives them is what I get from reading. If I'm really grouchy or angry and every little thing is getting on my last nerve it's most likely because I haven't picked up a book in a few days. It restores my sanity. When life gets too harsh it's bliss to escape between the pages of a book and just go somewhere else. Though there is a down side in that if I'm reading a book and it's bad, it tends to also reflect in my mood. Because I just can not not finish a book! No matter how bad, how horrid, how aggravating, I will finish whatever book I have started. There has literally been only one exception I can think of in recent years. But even if I don't like a book the experience of reading a book is always pleasurable. In fact I'm starting to wonder why I'm still writing and not reading... Emily would recommend it after all!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Book Review - Tasha Alexander's And Only to Deceive

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: 2005
Format: Paperback, 321 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Lady Emily is the widow of the Viscount Philip of Ashton, the husband everyone wanted. It was a very convenient marriage all around. Emily needed to get away from her domineering mother and Philip had the credentials to appease said mother and viewed Emily as the apex of beauty, his Kallista. So he asked for Emily's hand and was accepted and promptly went off to Africa and died, leaving her comfortable and independent. Who could ask for anything more? But now Emily is ready to shed her mourning after two long years sequestered away from society. What little society she has been allowed consists of her best friend Ivy, or friends of her husband, like Colin Hargreaves, or her mother. Who is trying to convince her that she should marry. AGAIN! Didn't the marriage to Philip count? Sure he died and they had no children, but the statues she attained should be enough to keep her mother at bay for at least one lifetime. Being a widow is liberating! Why would Emily give that up to be the property of another man she barely knows?

Emily's removal from society has made her realize she can do whatever she wants under the guise of trauma. She can sit in her husband's study and drink port and learn Greek and go to the museum and forge a life for herself that doesn't require a man! Yet she finds, to her astonishment, that her husband was really a fascinating man. A true scholar with a mind teaming with knowledge and a love of art. A man who truly loved her and whom she just thought of as a way out of an intolerable situation. He loved her, yet she didn't love him... then. Following in his steps, learning about his interests and passions, she slowly starts to fall for her dead husband. If only her husband where still alive, think of the conversations they could have because of the new learned woman she has become thanks to the position he gave her. But if, by some miracle, he did return, would he approve of the woman she's become? Would she be willing to accept his flaws, even if they are illegal? But most importantly, how would he view her bevy of suitors?

With Emily and Philip you have a truly interesting love story. Not the typical boy meets girl and then after some problems, they live happily ever after with Emily's mom being a good foil during their courtship. Here we have boy meets girl, they marry, girl loses boy and years later falls in love with who she thinks he might have been. We get to experience all the joys and sorrows of two people falling in love, but simultaneously know that it is doomed. Philip was in love with a woman he put on a pedestal and literally made his goddess, Kallista, and Emily fell in love with a past that never was. Yet Tasha strings us along, making us see the romantic what ifs without initially focusing on what the truth of their relationship would have been given societal constraints. Leading you on, building this epic and tragic love story that you are so completely committed to you totally ignore the fact that it would never work. I was hoping against hope that by some miracle Philip would be alive and that these two crazy kids would make their relationship work.

But the realist in me knew it wasn't to be, and the doubt even seeps into the cracks Emily has been ignoring. The fact that her husband might have been morally dubious is just a catalyst for her to actually look at the reality of her situation. Philip never knew Emily. He saw her as this beautiful creature, renaming her Kallista to be his romantic ideal. He loved the idea of her, much like he loved his art. She's a statue of loveliness to him. But could he love this statue if it came to life? After his death she changed, she became self-reliant, knowledgeable, all the things Victorian women weren't supposed to be. I don't think Philip would be able to rectify his image of her with the learned woman she has become, much less Emily being able to rectify the scholar of her imagination with the big game hunter he was. If he had never gone and died in Africa he'd expect Emily to be a typical Victorian wife. Seen, not heard. Beautiful and his most prized possession. Because two people can easily be desperately in love with each other when they have no idea who the other person is.

While much of the book deals with the heartbreak of falling for someone after they're gone, there is other, more familiar DNA that Tasha mines for Emily's other suitors. I can not but agree with the spot on quote on the back of my paperback edition that says "[h]ad Jane Austen written The Da Vinci Code, she may well have come up with this elegant novel." It's not just the secrets of antiquities that bring to mind Dan Brown's bestseller, or the effortless writing reminiscent of Austen that makes it feel like this book sprang fully formed from Tasha's head like Athena did from Zeus's, but Philip's two friends who are vying for Emily's heart. Or at least her hand. On the one hand we have Colin Hargreaves, with the wavy hair and stoic demeanor of a 1996 Colin Firth, he's a bit of a mystery, but Philip trusted him and therefore Emily does, to an extent. On the other hand we have Andrew Palmer, a delightful conversationalist, a bit of a gossip, and a total flirt, but such a hansom flirt. Yes folks, it's the Pride and Prejudice of it all with Colin being our Darcy and Andrew being our Wickham.

And much like Austen's classic, "[o]ne has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.'' There's a reason Austen tropes work, they are classic. Which is why there are countless retellings and reimaginings, but Tasha does all those read-a-likes one better, because this love triangle isn't the crux of the book. She takes one of the most famous plots ever written and makes it a subplot. She's not out to rewrite Pride and Prejudice, she's out to write her own story, create her own legacy. This book is about lost love, art theft, forgeries, antiquities, education, societal constraints, with a little Jane Austen thrown in. This is why I'm almost of the mind to just delete this paragraphs I've just labored over because while there is this kernel of Austen by just saying that people are going to have certain expectations. They're going to think it's Victorian Bridget Jones or some such nonsense that is in no way what this book is. This is the problem of being a reviewer, you can see what it's like but also what it is on it's own and my purpose in writing this review is not only to discuss my feelings of what I've read but to get you to pick up this book. PICK IT UP! Just go in without preconceptions.

Because this book literally has so much fun twisting and turning what you'd expect from this time period. While Tasha has today's sensibilities she clearly states in her afterward that she wrote it from the point of view of Victorian society, and then as a reader you take great joy as she finds all the loopholes and makes something that is both of it's time and of our time. What I took great glee in was all the art in the book, from classic Greek statuary and vases to the Impressionists working in Paris while Emily was there. While today we view the Impressionists as the greatest artists of that time, at the time they were frowned upon. I felt like for once all those art history classes I took were paying off! But more than that it's the counterpoint of a woman's life proscribed by Victorian mourning with that of the artistic scene in Paris at the end of the 1800s. Constriction versus liberation. Which is very much a theme throughout the book. While Emily is under so many strictures, at the same time she is given a liberty by her status that would never have been conferred on her had Philip survived. Being a widow of means is literally the only way women could have freedom in the Victorian era. To see Emily embrace all that that means is the greatest of joys. It makes you realize how much better we have it and that we need to embrace all that we have because we could have it far worse.

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