Friday, November 16, 2018

Metting Tasha: The Second Time

The dream of any book fanatic is that your favorite author will come to town. That for once you won't have to travel to some far flung location just to catch a glimpse of them. The fact that Madison has a rather large fall book festival now has helped to increase the odds of someone I love paying a visit, but it's still hit or miss. For every Natasha Pulley, Alexander McCall Smith, and Charlaine Harris, there are easily thirty authors I don't care to see speak. In fact this past fall I didn't go to a single event at the Wisconsin Book Festival, which might be a first! Thankfully I have Mystery to Me and they get quite a fair few authors coming through their doors and I am always checking their website and their newsletters to see who will be in town. Imagine my shock when I saw that Tasha Alexander would be coming! Not only is Mystery to Me local, but it is literally the closest bookstore to my house. I do not exaggerate, as I told Tasha, it is a five minute walk at most. Don't believe me? I just checked on Google Maps and it's only 0.3 miles from door to door! I couldn't have asked for a closer venue unless Tasha had been in my living room!

The event was going to be on Friday, November 6th, 2015, but the book Tasha was touring for, The Adventuress, was coming out on Tuesday, October 13th. Because I am a staunch supporter of local bookstores my rule of thumb for signings is that you must buy the book to the event you are going to at the store hosting the event. There is no excuse not to. You need to support the author and you need to support the store. If you do both the author gets to keep writing more books and might stop by the store again which you helped to keep open. Win win people! Anyway, that meant there were twenty-five days between publication and signing and I just couldn't wait that long to get my hands on Tasha's new book, though I had already got an ARC from her publishers through NetGalley I really have a thing about owning the physical book. So on October 13th I walked out my front door and took the grueling 0.3 mile walk to Mystery to Me, searched through all their copies of The Adventuress and picked the perfect one. Paid for it, put the receipt inside for the singing in November and headed home.

November 6th finally came around and my friend Marie and I were ready to have an adventure. At this point there were only two Tasha books I didn't have signed, so I placed my copy of The Counterfeit Heiress next to my copy of The Adventuress in my Mystery to Me bag from October and headed out the door to meet Marie at a restaurant three doors down from the bookstore for some hearty Irish fare. They had surprisingly changed their menu, a move not for the better which I am still bemoaning three years later, so I didn't quite enjoy dinner as much as I could. Though I could never fault the company! If I had only chosen the restaurant seven doors down in the opposite direction I would have seen Tasha earlier than the event, but such is life! After dinner Marie and I settled into the bookstore. I am of the opinion that it is best to arrive extremely early because you get the best seats and you're in a bookstore, so you'll have tons of fun looking at books until the event starts. Our seats staked out I oddly ran into an old schoolmate Jon, who I hadn't seen in person in many years, though we do chat online, and it was nice getting to talk books with him, he's a fan of cozies themed after tropical drinks and locations. I sadly was unable to get him to stay for the event which was getting ready to start.  

Because it was a cold, dark night there wasn't much of a turnout for Tasha's event, but I really don't think that mattered once she saw exactly who was in the audience, and I'm not talking about me and Marie, her devoted fans, I'm talking about a fellow author. Margaret George was in the audience. Margaret George is one of the preeminent writers of historical fiction. The only time I remember meeting her was years previously when her book Elizabeth I: A Novel came out and there was a signing at my local Barnes and Noble. Though my family as a whole has known her for years. This wasn't just because my parents were in the same circles as her, going to many of the same events, though this is true, the main reason is that we shared the same crew of construction workers. So if they weren't at our house they were at hers and vice versa resulting in many phone calls back and forth. So while I was there fangirling over Tasha, Tasha was fangirling over Margaret. To have an author you love show up for your event? I can't think of anything cooler. Plus after Tasha's presentation and Q and A she got to talk to Margaret for a bit and divulged to me she even got her email address. I was so happy for Tasha to get to have such a great and memorable experience in my hometown!

As for the talk itself? Wonderful! The fact that there were less people and it was a cold and dark night gave it this wonderful intimate feel, like we were all comrades drawn round a fire to listen to Tasha's tales. She went into greater detail about an unforgettable experience she mentions in the Author's Note at the end of The Adventuress about seeing a very fashionable lady of a certain age with an Hermes bag that contained a very well cared for live chicken. The two appeared to be window shopping along La Croisette and equally engrossed in the task. She asked her husband Andrew to back her up, and he added details to the tail about just how fascinating this was while also how obviously mundane it was for the lady and the chicken. This must be a regular occurrence for them! I love to live in a world where things like this seem like the stuff of stories but are 100% real. As any author will tell you it's the things that seem the most unbelievable that are based in fact. Tasha also talked a bit about the devotion of her fans. At a recent event she talked a bit about the next book, A Terrible Beauty, and the possible return of Emily's first husband, Philip, and a woman in the audience gasped and exclaimed "but that would make the twins illegitimate!" Tasha assured the lady that they were just characters. As for A Terrible Beauty? Come back next Friday!   

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Book Review - Tasha Alexander's The Adventuress

The Adventuress by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: October 13th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Jeremy, the Duke of Bainbridge, has dedicated his life to achieving the title of the most useless man in England. He wants to live a life of semi-debauchery and avoid all the society mothers trying to snare him for their daughters. He knows he will have to wed eventually, his younger brother Jack would never forgive him if he inherited the Dukedom due to Jeremy's licentious lifestyle. But Jeremy claims his dear friend Lady Emily holds his heart, and since she is happily married, his finding connubial bliss is never going to happen. Emily sees his infatuation as nothing more than hyperbole and is proven right when Jeremy falls victim to the wiles of an American buccaneer. Amity Wells is the dream woman, she might even be more debauched than Jeremy! She knows what he needs even before he does. So what if she's a little loud, a little beyond the pale, she's the girl for Jeremy. A girl who Emily realizes she will never be friends with within minutes of meeting her. Yet Jeremy is Emily's oldest and dearest friend and for him she will make an effort. She will stick her courage to the sticking place and celebrate his engagement in the extravagant manner to which Amity is accustomed.

Amity plans a grandiose engagement party on the French Riviera with her parents footing the bill. There are excursions everyday, on land and on sea, nightly walks along La Croisette, delicious dinners, and sumptuous breakfasts. Amity even prides herself on organizing a lads night for Jeremy and his friends at the local casino where there will be dancers direct from Paris. Though that particular festivity ends differently than anyone expected, with Jeremy's friend, Chauncey Neville, dead in Jeremy's suite of an apparent suicide. Emily isn't convinced this dear, sweet man would have ended his life in such a fashion. Yet Emily's husband Colin tells her that with suicide it's not like their murder investigations, they aren't neatly wrapped up, there will always be questions which they will never know the answers to. Emily isn't sure. Even if Colin doesn't want to investigate she feels it necessary to start a discreet investigation. This will at least distract her for the forced joviality of those remaining after Mr. Neville's funeral and Amity's brother Augustus who puts her on edge. But soon weird things start to happen to discredit Emily. Could she be getting close to a truth someone wants hidden? Or does Amity just want her out of the way?

Years and years ago I became obsessed with this miniseries I kept stumbling upon on one of the higher cable channels in the middle of the night. I had no idea what it was called because I would always find it after the opening credits and would usually fall asleep before the end credits rolled. Remember, this was the nineties. Not everyone had computers they could access and find the answers they sought in an instant. As for my trusty TV Guide, well... it didn't list the higher channels in some sick game it liked to play with me where it loved to leave me in ignorance. And yes, I fully believe it was sentient and thought this was funny. Therefore I spent years in ignorance clutching to the few facts I knew. The miniseries starred Carla Gugino, the star of the Thanksgiving Pauly Shore classic Son in Law, and that the house from the Brideshead Revisited miniseries was in it. It turns out I was watching the 1995 adaptation of Edith Wharton's unfinished novel The Buccaneers. The story is about four eligible and wealthy young American girls who go to England to marry into the aristocracy. If I had known these women were called buccaneers perhaps I would have figured out the title earlier. But as it was, all I knew is I wanted to be one, despite not being the daughter of a robber barren. I could become British through an advantageous marriage! And yes, this dream is still with me.

My obsession with these young buccaneers is what enthralled me with Tasha's The Adventuress. I was getting to read a murder mystery with a buccaneer at the center, Amity Wells! Dream come true! Like Emily, there was something I instantly disliked about Amity, but at the same time I was drawn to her. The little chapters spaced between Emily's narrative showed a different side to Amity. Could Emily be an unreliable narrator in this instance? Could Amity really want to befriend Emily? Amity being so "American" as the Victorian Brits would put it left an interesting impression in my mind. She's very layered, making her a far more worthy adversary for Emily than some of her past cases gave her. This is a girl who has a secret, yet at the same time her desire for freedom and to get out from under her parents makes her almost reckless in the way she's willing to morph herself into Jeremy's perfect mate. This made me think of her as a kind of Victorian mean girl. She's outside the pack, but also setting the rules. It's an interesting dichotomy. I couldn't help thinking of her as Emma Roberts from American Horror Story or Scream Queens. She comes into any situation and can be either the ringleader or the victim depending on how she decides to play it. But underneath there's iron. She's getting her way and just playing her part to get it.

Though Amity's most interesting purpose within the story is not how she affects Emily as a person with all her Americanness, but how just her presence will forever change Emily's relationship with Jeremy. Even if Emily doesn't believe for an instant that Jeremy is hopelessly in love with her and is convinced he's using it as an excuse to avoid marriage, losing his constant attention and devotion that she is constantly plied with is a blow. She views that she is losing the Jeremy that she's always known. He's not flirting with her, he's not as attentive, he's not pissing off Colin with comments about how he and Em would make the perfect couple. In other words, his attentions are firmly on his fiance and Emily has to come to the cold hard conclusion that this annoys her. She liked being the center of Jeremy's world. She liked all the attention she was getting. Whenever she was feeling down Jeremy could boost her ego with a few remarks. And throughout the story she views this change as a negative. The fact is that Jeremy has grown up and Emily hasn't. You can see the lie clearly when Emily tells Amity that Emily's relationship with Jeremy will be in flux until it settles into the new pattern of them both being married. We've followed Emily on all her adventures and her behavior to Jeremy has never changed. Luckily for Em things turn out all right for her in the end.

But this change in Emily and Jeremy's relationship brings to the fore one very important question. Does Jeremy really love Emily? Yes, he obviously loves her as his closest and dearest friend as she does him, but could Emily be so blind that she's never realized that Jeremy is indeed in love with her? I think she is. What's more, I think Colin knows and is a bit exasperated that Emily, his astute wife who is able to see murder where everyone else sees suicide, can not see behind the flirtatious ways of Jeremy to see his real feelings are a deep and abiding love. I don't just have my observations that I've coupled with Colin's, oh no, for the first time in Amity's storyline we see how Jeremy felt about an incident that happened in A Fatal Waltz: "That kiss. That kiss. Could it be that, at last, he had found someone who could make him forget another kiss, on a cold day in Vienna? A kiss that ought never have happened, but that still consumed him, even after all these years?" He was CONSUMED by his kiss with Emily! CONSUMED! If he hadn't loved her before he obviously has been in love since that day and it makes me pity Jeremy and just want the best for him. To have a love that is never to be? He deserves some happiness. He deserves someone who loves him like Emily loves Colin. Oh, how my heart breaks for him.

And because I don't feel like ending this review on a sad "Poor Jeremy" note I'll end it on the Roman Feast that Amity was planning for the excursion to Nice and the visit to the ruins at Cimiez. Everyone was throwing themselves into this feast that would let them live in the decadent style of a Roman if just for a night. Well, everyone except Colin, who would not be caught dead in a toga, and Emily, who prefers Greece to Rome. There's a part of me that awhile back would have been all for it. I didn't know anything about Roman feasts, except vomitoriums, because obviously growing up kids remember the disgusting stuff. Within the story they mainly talk about the clothes and that eating is done while reclining, something I can never believe is good for the digestion. But I know OH so much more all thanks to Sue Perkins, Giles Coren, and their show, which used to be available on Hulu, The Supersizers. The Supersizers "went" to different time periods and "ate" different decades, and the weird title shift is what happened between season one and two. For the finale of season two they "ate" Ancient Rome. I was fully nauseated by the whole episode. Seeing as a feast might start with such "tasty" dishes as brain and rose petal patina I'm saying right now, you are NEVER getting me to EVER participate in any kind of authentic Roman Feast. You can see why Emily wants to stick to Greek foods!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Crimes of Grindelwald by J.K. Rowling
Published by: Arthur A. Levine Books
Publication Date: November 13th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"At the end of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the powerful Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald was captured in New York with the help of Newt Scamander. But, making good on his threat, Grindelwald escapes custody and sets about gathering followers, most unsuspecting of his true agenda: to raise pure-blood wizards up to rule over all non-magical beings.

In an effort to thwart Grindelwald’s plans, Albus Dumbledore enlists Newt, his former Hogwarts student, who agrees to help once again, unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. Lines are drawn as love and loyalty are tested, even among the truest friends and family, in an increasingly divided wizarding world.

This second original screenplay from J.K. Rowling, illustrated with stunning line art from MinaLima, expands on earlier events that helped shape the wizarding world, with some surprising nods to the Harry Potter stories that will delight fans of both the books and films."

These books are literally treasure. The words of J.K. Rowling, the art of MinaLima, and a way to feel like the year until the movie is released on DVD isn't as long as it actually is.

Naughty on Ice by Maia Chance
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: November 13th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Naughty on Ice is the latest in Maia Chance’s dazzlingly fun Prohibition-era caper series featuring society matron Lola Woodby and her stalwart Swedish cook, Berta.

The Discreet Retrieval Agency is doing a brisk holiday business of retrieving lost parcels, grandmas, and stolen wreaths. But with their main squeezes Ralph and Jimmy once more on the back burner, both Lola and Berta pine for a holiday out of New York City. So when they receive a mysterious Christmas card requesting that they retrieve an antique ring at a family gathering in Maple Hill, Vermont, they jump at the chance. Sure, the card is signed Anonymous and it’s vaguely threatening, but it’s Vermont.

In Maple Hill, several estranged members of the wealthy Goddard family gather. And no sooner do Lola and Berta recover the ring―from Great-Aunt Cressida Goddard’s arthritic finger―than Mrs. Goddard goes toes-up, poisoned by her Negroni cocktail on ice. When the police arrive, Lola and Berta are caught-red-handed with the ring, and it becomes clear that they were in fact hired not for their cracker-jack retrieving abilities, but to be scapegoats for murder.

With no choice but to unmask the killer or be thrown in the slammer, Lola and Berta’s investigations lead them deep into the secrets of Maple Hill. In a breathless pursuit along a snowy ridge, with a lovelorn Norwegian ski instructor and country bumpkin hooch smugglers hot on their heels, Lola and Berta must find out once and for all who’s nice...and who’s naughty."

The popularity of this series proves I'm not the only one obsessed with 1920s sleuths!

Nobody's Sweetheart Now by Maggie Robinson
Published by: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: November 13th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 241 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A delightful English cozy series begins in August 1924. Lady Adelaide Compton has recently (and satisfactorily) interred her husband, Major Rupert Charles Cressleigh Compton, hero of the Somme, in the family vault in the village churchyard.

Rupert died by smashing his Hispano-Suiza on a Cotswold country road while carrying a French mademoiselle in the passenger seat. With the house now Addie's, needed improvements in hand, and a weekend house party underway, how inconvenient of Rupert to turn up! Not in the flesh, but in - actually, as a - spirit. Rupert has to perform a few good deeds before becoming welcomed to heaven - or, more likely, thinks Addie, to hell.

Before Addie can convince herself she's not completely lost her mind, a murder disrupts her careful seating arrangement. Which of her twelve houseguests is a killer? Her mother, the formidable Dowager Marchioness of Broughton? Her sister Cecilia, the born-again vegetarian? Her childhood friend and potential lover, Lord Lucas Waring? Rupert has a solid alibi as a ghost and an urge to detect.

Enter Inspector Devenand Hunter from the Yard, an Anglo-Indian who is not going to let some barmy society beauty witnessed talking to herself derail his investigation. Something very peculiar is afoot at Compton Court and he's going to get to the bottom of it - or go as mad as its mistress trying."

I think this book has everything that makes a perfect read in my mind; 1920s, England, cozy, yes, yes, and yes!

City of Secrets by Victoria Thompson
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: November 13th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An exciting new book in the series featuring woman-on-the-run Elizabeth Miles - from the beloved national bestselling author of the Gaslight Mysteries.

Elizabeth Miles knows that honesty is not always the best policy when it comes to finding justice.

Elizabeth has discovered that navigating the rules of high society is the biggest con of all. She knows she can play the game, but so far, her only success is Priscilla Knight, a dedicated young suffragist recently widowed for the second time. Her beloved first husband died in a tragic accident and left her with two young daughters - and a sizable fortune. While she was lost in grief, Priscilla's pastor convinced her she needed a man to look after her and engineered a whirlwind courtship and hasty marriage to fellow parishioner Endicott Knight. Now, about nine months later, Endicott is dead in what appears to be another terrible accident.

Everyone is whispering, but that is the least of Priscilla's troubles. She had believed Endicott was wealthy, too, but her banker tells her she has no money left and her house has been mortgaged. He also hints at a terrible scandal and refuses to help.

Priscilla stands to lose everything, and Elizabeth is determined not to let that happen. But, as always, Elizabeth walks a fine line between using her unusual talents and revealing her own scandalous past. Elizabeth soon discovers that Endicott's death was anything but accidental, and revealing the truth could threaten much more than Priscilla's finances. To save her new friend's future - and possibly her own--Elizabeth, along with her honest-to-a-fault beau, Gideon, delve into the sinister secrets someone would kill to keep."

Could we have a black widow on the loose?

A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Matthews
Published by: Perfectly Proper Press
Publication Date: November 13th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 172 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A Courtship of Convenience:
Sophie Appersett is quite willing to marry outside of her class to ensure the survival of her family. But the darkly handsome Mr. Edward Sharpe is no run-of-the-mill London merchant. He's grim and silent. A man of little emotion--or perhaps no emotion at all. After two months of courtship, she's ready to put an end to things.

A Last Chance for Love:
But severing ties with her taciturn suitor isn't as straightforward as Sophie envisioned. Her parents are outraged. And then there's Charles Darwin, Prince Albert, and that dratted gaslight. What's a girl to do except invite Mr. Sharpe to Appersett House for Christmas and give him one last chance to win her? Only this time there'll be no false formality. This time they'll get to know each other for who they really are."

It's the time of the year to line up your holiday reading and I strongly suggest you add A Holiday by Gaslight to your list!

A Choice of Secrets by Barb Hendee
Published by: Rebel Base Books
Publication Date: November 13th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 218 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Ever since raiders from the north began attacking villages, Lady Nicole Montagna has known that defending her people would come at a cost. The betrothal of her sister Chloe to a neighboring lord seems the perfect solution, forging a powerful alliance. But shortly before the wedding, Nicole is shocked to discover that her sister is with child - and not by her husband-to-be. Now she must make a choice. She has just hours to decide...

Should she tell her soldier brother - who will take swift, ruthless action to ensure the family's safety?

Should she hold her tongue, let her sister deceive her husband into believing the child is his - and then hope Chloe can get away with the lie?

Should she tell her family, hoping they will know the right thing to do?

With the help of a magic mirror, Nicole lives out each path, fighting to protect herself and those she loves with the weapons she has: wits, herbs, and fortitude. But no matter her cleverness, neither she nor her family can escape unscathed - for there are repercussions she could never have foreseen, involving her own heart..."

The newest book in Hendee's A Dark Glass series.

Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko
Published by: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: November 13th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The definitive English language translation of the internationally bestselling Russian novel - a brilliant dark fantasy with "the potential to be a modern classic" (Lev Grossman), combining psychological suspense, enchantment, and terror that makes us consider human existence in a fresh and provocative way.

Our life is brief...

While vacationing at the beach with her mother, Sasha Samokhina meets the mysterious Farit Kozhennikov under the most peculiar circumstances. The teenage girl is powerless to refuse when this strange and unusual man with an air of the sinister directs her to perform a task with potentially scandalous consequences. He rewards her effort with a strange golden coin.

As the days progress, Sasha carries out other acts for which she receives more coins from Kozhennikov. As summer ends, her domineering mentor directs her to move to a remote village and use her gold to enter the Institute of Special Technologies. Though she does not want to go to this unknown town or school, she also feels it’s the only place she should be. Against her mother’s wishes, Sasha leaves behind all that is familiar and begins her education.

As she quickly discovers, the institute’s "special technologies" are unlike anything she has ever encountered. The books are impossible to read, the lessons obscure to the point of maddening, and the work refuses memorization. Using terror and coercion to keep the students in line, the school does not punish them for their transgressions and failures; instead, their families pay a terrible price. Yet despite her fear, Sasha undergoes changes that defy the dictates of matter and time; experiences which are nothing she has ever dreamed of...and suddenly all she could ever want.

A complex blend of adventure, magic, science, and philosophy that probes the mysteries of existence, filtered through a distinct Russian sensibility, this astonishing work of speculative fiction - brilliantly translated by Julia Meitov Hersey - is reminiscent of modern classics such as Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, Max Barry’s Lexicon, and Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, but will transport them to a place far beyond those fantastical worlds."

I saw one review that said it was The Magicians meets The Historian and I INSTANTLY sold!

Limetown by Cote Smith
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: November 13th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the creators of the #1 podcast Limetown, an explosive prequel about a teenager who learns of a mysterious research facility where over three hundred people have disappeared - including her uncle - with clues that become the key to discovering the secrets of this strange town.

On a seemingly ordinary day, seventeen-year-old Lia Haddock hears news that will change her life forever: three hundred men, women, and children living at a research facility in Limetown, Tennessee, have disappeared without a trace. Among the missing is Emile Haddock, Lia’s uncle.

What happened to the people of Limetown? It’s all anyone can talk about. Except Lia’s parents, who refuse to discuss what might have happened there. They refuse, even, to discuss anything to do with Emile.

As a student journalist, Lia begins an investigation that will take her far from her home, discovering clues about Emile’s past that lead to a shocking secret - one with unimaginable implications not only for the people of Limetown, but for Lia and her family. The only problem is...she’s not the only one looking for answers.

Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie are first-rate storytellers, in every medium. Critics called their podcast Limetown “creepy and otherworldly” (The New York Times) and “endlessly fun” (Vox), and their novel goes back to where it all began. Working with Cote Smith, a PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize Finalist, they’ve crafted an exhilarating mystery that asks big questions about what we owe to our families and what we owe to ourselves, about loss, discovery, and growth. Threaded throughout is Emile’s story—told in these pages for the first time ever."

I love that podcasts are now becoming more tangible through books.

The Orchid Girls by Lesley Sanderson
Published by: Bookouture
Publication Date: November 13th, 2018
Format: Kindle, 383 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"'Now we are bound forever,' she says, her eyes determined. 'I will never tell anyone, I swear. This is between you and me. Now you swear too.'

They called them the Orchid Girls. Grace. Molly. Charlotte.

One of them is in love. One of them is a liar. One of them is dead.

On a jagged Dorset cliff, wind whipping their hair, waves crashing on the rocks below, three friends became two when Charlotte’s body was pulled out of the sea.

Fifteen years later Grace and Molly are worlds apart. Grace has a glittering career and a loving husband. Molly is a lonely, unemployed alcoholic. Grace has everything to lose. Molly has nothing.

They have moved on from the tragic accident that shadowed their childhood. But somewhere lies a photograph waiting to be unearthed - waiting to reveal a secret one of the Orchid Girls is desperate to keep hidden..."

Hidden secrets that will out? YAS!

Robert Bateman: The Boy Who Painted Nature by Margriet Ruurs and Robert Bateman
Published by: Orca Book Publishers
Publication Date: November 13th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 40 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Celebrated artist Robert Bateman is renowned internationally for bringing the natural  world to life on the canvas. A naturalist and painter from his youth, Robert has for decades used his recognition to shed light on environmental issues and advocate for animal welfare.

Robert Bateman: The Boy Who Painted Nature is the story of how a young child achieved his dream of painting the world around him and became one of Canada's most famous artists.

Using Robert's own personal photographs, sketches and artwork, author Margriet Ruurs weaves a simple story of inspiration and encouragement. A story to motivate all the budding artists and naturalists in your life, with proceeds benefiting The Bateman Foundation."

Robert Bateman, besides being a family friend, is in my mind the best wildlife artist there is. Hands down.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Story Review - Tasha Alexander's Star of the East

Star of the East by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Macmillan
Publication Date: October 28th, 2014
Format: Kindle, 65 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Emily prefers to avoid her mother as much as possible. As the holidays near her and Colin are of a mind to stay as far away from Kent and Darnley House as possible. Only this time Countess Catherine Bromley’s invitation is backed by the weight of the Queen who has requested Colin to go and that causes Colin concern. Emily's mother is hosting the Maharaja Ala Kapur Singh and his family. The maharaja was recently awarded the Order of the Star of India from Queen Victoria and will be spending Christmas itself with the Queen at Osborne House. So why would the Queen want Colin at Darnley House? Emily and Colin dutifully pack themselves and all three of their boys off to Kent. The house party, despite being a lavish affair with Christmas trees in every room and a feast the Countess views as worthy of the subcontinent, is rather small, being made up of the maharaja, his maharani Parsan, his two children, 18 year old marriage obsessed Sunita, and Oxford student Ranjit who brings his best friend Ned, and a few select neighbors. Everything seems to be perfect, even the fresh blanket of snow outside. Though that night the valuable, and cursed, diamond maang tika, the Star of the East, and it's companion golden bangle engraved with words of a spell of protection is taken from Sunita's room. Could the Queen have predicted this and sent Colin to avoid a scandal? Or is there another reason he and Emily were needed at Darnley House?

Tasha knows how to spin the perfect Christmas yarn for the anglophile in us all. A missing jewel, a narrow suspect pool, and all the possible culprits gathered around a Christmas tree in the proper drawing room waiting for Emily to do her version of the Agatha Christie denouement. But it's that cursed jewel that really has my heart going pitter-patter. Tasha has always included literature and authors of the day in Emily's stories, from Mary Elizabeth Braddon to Charles Dickens. In fact I've always felt that her work holds a bit of a debt to a friend of Dickens, Wilkie Collins, especially in Emily's second adventure, A Poisoned Season. Therefore to have Tasha do a full out homage to Collins's The Moonstone while also bringing back my favorite thief introduced in Emily's second adventure, Sebastian Capet, I couldn't have been happier. Though it's not just the fascinating story of how the Star or the East was cursed and then made wearable by it's companion bangle alone that made me so happy while simultaneously giving me a chill down my spin. Oh no, I have always had a love of India. I don't know it this is an offshoot of me being such an anglophile, but there's something about India that has always drawn me in. Therefore seeing the maharaja's family talking about their culture and heritage while set in a very traditional British tale made me happier than I could have thought. But isn't Christmas all about happiness?

Well, we hope Christmas is all about happiness, usually it's about familial guilt trips and bad memories. While Emily's struggles with her mother have been a continuing theme throughout this series I think that Star of the East, being set at her family's estate, gives us much more insight in one go then we've been able to string together over the course of the previous nine volumes. The story about how when her mother learned of Emily's terror of the "Chinese" bedroom that she vowed that Emily would be placed there once out of the nursery shows how controlling the Countess is. That she would be willing to scar a child to make them stronger makes me shudder. Luckily for Emily she had her father on hand, who is the Mr. Bennet of the lot. He was able, through the clever placement of his mother in the Chinese bedroom, to help Emily without incurring too much of his wife's wrath. You can see why Emily clings to the love and life she has formed with Colin. The joy her children give her, even Henry who is a bit of a troublemaker, is wonderful. She has created the life and family she wanted despite her upbringing. Contrasting Emily's past with Sunita's future is almost heartbreaking. For Emily to see a family, one who is very traditional, willing to embrace their daughter and her dreams once they realize how much it matters? Well, it's wonderful for Sunita, and more than a little sad for Emily.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Book Review - Tasha Alexander's The Counterfeit Heiress

The Counterfeit Heiress by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: October 14th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

At a masquerade ball there are bound to be people dressed in similar costumes. A plethora of Cleopatras and Queen Elizabeths and Valkyries are to be expected. But Emily didn't expect another goddess of the hunt at the masked ball at Devonshire House. Let alone one who would cause a scene. Estella Lamar has supposedly stopped her gallivanting around the globe and eschewing the company of her peers by deigning to come to the Devonshire's ball in honor of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. But there's only one problem, beyond the fact she is dressed like Emily, she is not Estella Lamar! Emily's dear friend Cecile in full Marie Antoinette regalia, boat firmly in coiffure, is perhaps the only person Estella is in contact with, aside from the newspapers, as she journeys to the far flung corners of the globe, and Cecile quite clearly says that this Estella is an imposter! The ersatz Estella flees only to be found dead hours later on the banks of the Thames. The Duke of Devonshire contacts Emily's husband Colin to request that he investigates and to make sure this doesn't connect back to the ball. Soon Colin and Emily are on the case and are shocked to find that the victim is a rather respectable midwife, Mary Darby, who had aspirations of being an actress. So how did she end up at the event of the season impersonating a known recluse?

The more they look into Mary's murder the more they realize that Mary isn't the key, Estella is. Estella left France years previously after the death of her parents to see the pyramids and never looked back. Since then she has never returned to any of her three homes despite them all being kept in constant readiness of her arrival. In fact none of her employees have seen her since she left for Egypt! Yet her picture is always in the newspapers at some famous location. Or is it? Her face is never visible so it could be anyone so long as they have the right measurements... Emily begins to worry that her friend Cecile will be in for some heartbreaking news the further they follow the leads. Leads that take them across the channel to Paris where they make Cecile's house the center of their operations. They interrogate lawyers, dressmakers, printers, photographers, journalists, florists, and servants aplenty. But the only true clue they have is that they are chasing someone with a fondness for Dickens. Leaving names like Magwitch from Great Expectations and Swiveller from The Old Curiosity Shop in their wake as a type of calling card. Could this person be the auburn haired man with the magnificent mustache trailing Emily? Who knows. As time goes on it's harder to remember that they are there to find Mary's killer and not solve the mystery of Estella... But who says they can't solve both?

The more you read about wealthy families and their proclivities the more you realize it's a very thin line between eccentricity and illness which is blurred all the more depending on how much money is involved. Estella is a recluse with money, therefore her dislike of society and her habits that might seem rude to others Cecile is able to lump under the umbrella of eccentricity no matter what Emily thinks. So what if Estella left dinner before dessert? Who are we to judge if she hates people dropping in unannounced? If her best friends are dolls whom she tells stories to for hours on end should we really judge? Does it matter that much that all her houses are kept in readiness if she never plans on visiting them so long as the servants are paid? What would raise eyebrows among those of more modest means are easily forgiven by Estella's peers. Instead of seeing these habits as spiraling to some sad fate she is left to her own whims because of her monetary protection. There is almost an elegance to the madness of those with means and I can't help thinking of my Great-Grandmother Mildred Martin. Her husband was a prominent politician, lawyer, and judge in Wisconsin, while she left the raising of my grandmother to other family members and spent about forty years in her room, which she never left. Yet this was just viewed as how it was. One wonders in Mildred's case, much like Estella's, if things could have been different...

Yet Cecile shows us that Paris is far more forgiving of eccentricities than other cities. They thrive on their Bohemian artists and outsiders. Paris is a place unlike anywhere else and while Emily did spend some time in Paris during her first adventure, And Only to Deceive, the city didn't feel as real as it does in this volume. While it could be Tasha's abilities as a writer maturing over eight installments, which they have, I also have to give credit to the two locations that made this volume, the Père Lachaise Cemetery and the Catacombs of Paris. While this could be considered by some as macabre bordering on making Paris the "City of the Dead" as it where I think it's more fascinating then ghoulish, like Parisians's obsession with Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol. But then again I am a girl who loves her true crime... What resonated with me was how these actual cities of the dead connect Paris to it's past and how one is there to honor the dead, so long as you're willing to keep your end of the bargain and pay for the upkeep, while the other is there to make a titillating show of death. To concentrate on the more sensational side of death with the Catacombs, I'd never known how they were used basically as a body dump for those ousted from places like Père Lachaise and that they were actually designed to be something out of a Guillermo del Toro daydream. The more you know!

Paris is also interesting in that while it is a city that celebrates it's history it is also willing to tear it down for the good of advancement. This fascinating dichotomy can be seen in this book by the discussion of two different art forms that I love. At the Devonshire ball there is a famous photographer, Mr. Lafayette, recording all the costumes for posterity. I just adore that this modern technology was used to capture this moment in history. Following Emily into his studio reminded me of how much I am fascinated by the history of photography, from the Civil War through to the Cottingley Fairies to even our modern obsession with selfies. Photography was and is an art form that was just at the cusp of it's heyday when Queen Victoria was celebrating her diamond jubilee. Whereas this is countered with printers in France. And don't you dare say typography isn't an art, because it so is! The current resurgence in letterpress is a sign that this form of artistic expression, while some might view it as outdated, is really classical and important to the history of not just books, but graphic design. I couldn't help being fascinated by an argument that French printers kept coming back to in Emily's investigation. Everyone has heard the current argument of one or two spaces behind a period, and at this time it was two for English typesetting, but in France it was a space on either side of the punctuation, making my graphic designer friends scream about floating punctuation. But just this little insight made the book that much more real and tangible to me.

Though it's actually the references to another author, not all the technology, art, or intricately arranged femurs and skulls with a slight wink to Indiana Jones, that really made this feel like a book written just for me. I'm talking about the Dickens of it all! I love that our villain uses Dickens in a way that isn't just a smokescreen for their real identity, but as a way to clue Emily, or any other Dickens aficionado, to their real motives. By using the name of Magwitch from Great Expectations, our villain is trying to make a statement while assuaging their own guilt, that while they might be a villain, like Magwitch, the proceeds of the villainy is going to serve the greater good. In the Dickens book that would be to fund Pip's lifestyle and education, but here, here by finding out what Magwitch is doing with their ill gotten gains proves the answer to the riddle of Estella. This integration of one author's work into another's is meta goodness. Think of it as a more historically accurate version of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books. I personally think this is just bloody brilliant, and now have started thinking if you could actually do it with other authors in a similar way. They would have to be popular in order to not be obscure... but then again, our villain might have just been doing it for his own fun. And mine. Because seriously, it entertained me to no end.

But in extrapolating the idea of using a popular author to entertain the masses or just using an author to entertain oneself Tasha does have a reference that most likely her loyal readers will get but those unfamiliar with authors whom Tasha loves to read and recommend, well it would have gone over their head. I'm talking about the Elizabeth Peters Easter Egg cleverly buried in The Counterfeit Heiress. Elizabeth Peters is the pen name of Barbara Mertz under which she wrote her wonderful Amelia Peabody series. The series, recommended to me by both Lauren Willig AND Tasha, is a wonderful twenty volumes of Egyptological romps starring Amelia Peabody and her husband Emerson and their friends and family as they catch master criminals and excavate priceless artifacts. If you haven't checked out this series, please do, you will not be disappointed. The third book in the series, The Mummy Case, has the hilariously named Baroness von Hohensteinbauergrunewald. The Baroness happens to have a cameo in passing in our story. Cecile and Emily go to Le Meurice, a hotel that Emily loves, and where they hope to find Estella, instead they find out the Baroness has just checked out, a fact that they both lament. Who wouldn't want to meet a lady with that name or that reputation? Ah, this just makes me want to read The Mummy Case all over again... there are just too many books to read let alone re-read!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

A Shot in the Dark by Lynne Truss
Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: November 6th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A wryly entertaining new crime novel from Lynne Truss, New York Times bestselling author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

It's 1957, and the famed theater critic A. S. Crystal has come to the British seaside resort of Brighton with something other than the local production of A Shilling in the Meter on his mind. Sitting in the Brighton Royal Theater with Constable Twitten, Crystal intends to tell the detective the secret he knows about the still-unsolved Aldersgate Stick-Up case of 1945. And yet, just before Crystal names the criminal mastermind involved, he's shot dead in his seat.

With a new murder case on his hands and a lazy captain at the helm of the police department, the keen and clever Constable Twitten and his colleague Sargent Jim Brunswick set out to solve the decade-old mystery of the Aldersgate Stick-Up. As the partners venture deep into the criminal underworld that lies beneath Brighton's holiday-happy veneer, they begin to discover a criminal conspiracy that dates back decades. But will Brunswick and Twitten be able to foil the mastermind, or will Crystal's death become just another unsolved crime in this seemingly peaceful seaside city?

With her characteristic wit, New York Times bestselling author Lynne Truss introduces readers to a cast of eccentric policeman and scheming criminals in a drolly delightful mystery you won't want to miss."

While stateside Lynne is mainly know for grammar, you'd be missing a great writer if you never checked out her fiction!

The Colors of All the Cattle by Alexander McCall Smith
Published by: Pantheon
Publication Date: November 6th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In this latest installment of the beloved and best-selling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, Precious Ramotswe finds herself running for office - much to her dismay.

When Mma Potokwane suggests to Mma Ramotswe that she run for a seat on the Gaborone City Council, Mma Ramotswe is at first reluctant. But when she learns that developers plan to build the flashy Big Fun Hotel next to a graveyard, she allows herself to be persuaded. Her opponent is none other than Mma Makutsi’s old nemesis, Violet Sephotho, who is in the pocket of the hotel developers. Although Violet is intent on using every trick in the book to secure her election, Mma Ramotswe refuses to guarantee anything beyond what she can deliver; hence her slogan: “I can’t promise anything—but I shall do my best.”

Meanwhile, Mma Ramotswe has acquired a new client: one of her late father’s old friends, who was the victim of a hit-and-run accident. Charlie volunteers to be the lead investigator in the case to prove he’s ready to be more than an apprentice, as well as to impress a new girlfriend. With Charlie’s inquiries landing him in hot water and Election Day fast approaching, Mma Ramotswe will have to call upon her good humor and gen­erosity of spirit to help the community navigate these thorny issues, and to prove that honesty and compassion will always carry the day."

The obligatory push for you to start reading Alexander McCall Smith.

An Unexplained Death by Mikita Brottman
Published by: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: November 6th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An Unexplained Death is an obsessive investigation into a mysterious death at the Belvedere - a once-grand hotel - and a poignant, gripping meditation on suicide and voyeurism.

“The poster is new. I notice it right away, taped to a utility pole. Beneath the word ‘Missing,’ printed in a bold, high-impact font, are two sepia-toned photographs of a man dressed in a bow tie and tux.”

Most people would keep walking. Maybe they’d pay a bit closer attention to the local news that evening. Mikita Brottman spent ten years sifting through the details of the missing man’s life and disappearance, and his purported suicide by jumping from the roof of her own apartment building, the Belvedere.

As Brottman delves into the murky circumstances surrounding Rey Rivera’s death - which begins to look more and more like a murder - she contemplates the nature of and motives behind suicide, and uncovers a haunting pattern of guests at the Belvedere, when it was still a historic hotel, taking their own lives on the premises. Finally, she fearlessly takes us to the edge of her own morbid curiosity and asks us to consider our own darker impulses and obsessions."

Your latest true crime obsession.

The Splendor Before the Dark by Margaret George
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: November 6th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 592 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Ascending to the throne was only the beginning... Now Margaret George, the author of The Confessions of Young Nero, weaves a web of politics and passion, as ancient Rome's most infamous emperor cements his place in history.

With the beautiful and cunning Poppaea at his side, Nero Augustus commands the Roman empire, ushering in an unprecedented era of artistic and cultural splendor. Although he has yet to produce an heir, his power is unquestioned.

But in the tenth year of his reign, a terrifying prophecy comes to pass and a fire engulfs Rome, reducing entire swaths of the city to rubble. Rumors of Nero's complicity in the blaze start to sow unrest among the populace - and the politicians...

For better or worse, Nero knows that his fate is now tied to Rome's - and he vows to rebuild it as a city that will stun the world. But there are those who find his rampant quest for glory dangerous. Throughout the empire, false friends and spies conspire against him, not understanding what drives him to undertake the impossible.

Nero will either survive and be the first in his family to escape the web of betrayals that is the Roman court, or be ensnared and remembered as the last radiance of the greatest dynasty the world had ever known."

Is this the first Margaret George sequel ever? I have a feeling it technically is!

Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar
Published by: Tachyon Publications
Publication Date: November 6th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Lior Tirosh is a semi-successful author of pulp fiction, an inadvertent time traveler, and an ongoing source of disappointment to his father.

Tirosh has returned to his homeland in East Africa. But Palestina - a Jewish state founded in the early 20th century - has grown dangerous. The government is building a vast border wall to keep out African refugees. Unrest in Ararat City is growing. And Tirosh’s childhood friend, trying to deliver a warning, has turned up dead in his hotel room.

A state security officer has now identified Tirosh as a suspect in a string of murders. A rogue agent is stalking Tirosh through transdimensional rifts - possible futures that can only be prevented by avoiding the mistakes of the past.

From the bestselling author of Central Station comes an extraordinary new novel recalling China Miéville and Michael Chabon, entertaining and subversive in equal measures."

Sounds like Thursday Next mixed with Historical Fiction, otherwise known as my kind of book!

The Omega Objection by Gail Carriger
Publication Date: November 6th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 315 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Every night Isaac wonders if the next shifter in his bar will be the werewolf sent to kill him.

The supernatural creatures of San Francisco love to visit Isaac the bartender. They never ask why they're drawn to him or why he has no scent. Until Tank.

Tank is always subservient to his pack and its needs, so when asked to take a side job as a bouncer, he's there. Then he meets Isaac. The man is an enigma - odorless, ridiculously sexy, and terrified.

Can Tank prove to Isaac that sometimes there are monsters worth running toward?

New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger, writing as G. L. Carriger, brings you this charming gay romance featuring a gentle giant with a trampled heart and a man desperate to escape his past. Be warned, the San Andreas Shifter stories contain bad language, dirty deeds, and outright admiration for the Bay Area. Not for the faint of heart or tongue."

I am WAY behind in my Gail reading... time to catch up!

The Wellspring Trilogy: The Crystal Key by Robert Gronewold
Published by: Chapterhouse Publishing
Publication Date: November 6th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 350 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The sun has not shone in over a thousand years. Sixteen year old Felicity lives in a world where the Dark rules. Humanity stays to the Wellsprings, illuminated swathes of land where the light of eternal fountains keeps the skies bright all day long. But beyond that, the world is wrapped in eternal shadows, filled with monstrous Horrors who pray on the unsuspecting. When Felicity discovers that she is a Turnkey, a guardian selected to protect the Wellsprings, her life unexpectedly changes. Not only is she gifted with a magical Key with amazing abilities, but her fate soon takes her deep into the Dark, where with the help of a mysterious boy named Tobin she must survive astonishing odds. For it is soon that the Horrors begin hunting her, and a race to get home is only the beginning of her worries."

Like an extra magical Dark City.

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen
Published by: Tachyon Publications
Publication Date: November 6th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Fantasy icon Jane Yolen (The Devil’s Arithmetic, Briar Rose, Sister Emily’s Lightship) is adored by generations of readers of all ages. Now she triumphantly returns with this inspired gathering of fractured fairy tales and legends. Yolen breaks open the classics to reveal their crystalline secrets: a philosophical bridge that misses its troll, a spinner of straw as a falsely accused moneylender, the villainous wolf adjusting poorly to retirement. Each of these offerings features a new author note and original poem, illuminating tales that are old, new, and brilliantly refined."

Because everyone likes fairy tales reinterpreted right?

The Girl with the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis
Published by: Bloomsbury Children's Books
Publication Date: November 6th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Silke has always been good at spinning the truth and storytelling. So good that, just years after arriving in the kingdom as a penniless orphan, she has found her way to working for the most splendid chocolate makers in the city as a master promoter. Although Silke loves her work at the Chocolate Heart, she's certain it's not going to last, and what Silke wants more than anything is somewhere to call home--somewhere safe. But when your best friend is a dragon-turned-hot-tempered-girl, trouble is always right around the corner.

Then Silke gets the opportunity she's been waiting for: the Crown Princess personally asks her to spy on the Elfenwald royal family during their first visit to the kingdom. In return, Silke will have the home she's always wanted in the secure palace. But Silke has her own dark, secret reasons for not trusting fairies...and her mission isn't as simple as she hoped. Soon, she discovers that her city is in danger--and that maybe it's more her home than she ever realized.

Can Silke find out the truth about the fairies while keeping her own secrets hidden?"

I first read and loved Stephanie's work for Regency Magic and I look forward to each new release!

Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken? by Kelly Jones
Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: November 6th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"This laugh-out-loud sequel to Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer has EVEN MORE MAGIC CHICKENS!

Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown is finally settling into her new home and her new role as keeper of some highly unusual chickens - chickens with secret superpowers!

But the arrival of two new magical chickens for her flock and some unusual eggs to be incubated and hatched (what will their superpowers be?), plus an impending inspection from the Unusual Poultry Committee (who even knew this existed?) has Sophie feeling pretty stressed out. Her older cousin, Lupe, is coming to stay with her family, which is great - but will Lupe like chickens too? And on top of it all, Sophie's first day at her new school is rapidly approaching!

In this wildly funny and quirky novel told in letters and lists and quizzes, Sophie learns that even an exceptional poultry farmer can use some help."

Another fabulous author I found due to my love of Regency Magic. PS I also love chickens.

Archenemies by Marissa Meyer
Published by: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: November 6th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 496 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Time is running out.
Together, they can save the world.
But they each other’s worst nightmare.
Nova’s double life is about to get a lot more complicated:

As Insomnia, she is a full-fledged member of the Renegades, a syndicate of powerful and beloved superheroes. She works with Adrian’s patrol unit to protect the weak and maintain order in Gatlon City.

As Nightmare, she is an Anarchist - a group of of villains who are determined to destroy the Renegades. Nova wants vengeance against the so-called heroes who once failed her when she needed them most.

But as Nova, her feelings for Adrian are deepening, despite the fact that he is the son of her sworn enemies and, unbeknownst to Nova, he has some dangerous secrets of his own.

In this second installment of the Renegades trilogy, Nova, Adrian, and the rest of their crew - Ruby, Oscar, and Danna - are faced with escalating crime in Gatlon City, while covert weapons and conflicting missions have Nova and Adrian questioning not only their beliefs about justice, but also the feelings they have for each other.

The line between good and evil has been blurred, but what's clear to them both is that too much power could mean the end of their city - and the world - as they know it."

I might have been looking so forward to this book that I thought it came out last week as was really confused at the bookstore...

Born to be Posthumous by Mark Dery
Published by: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: November 6th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 512 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The definitive biography of Edward Gorey, the eccentric master of macabre nonsense.

From The Gashlycrumb Tinies to The Doubtful Guest, Edward Gorey's wickedly funny and deliciously sinister little books have influenced our culture in innumerable ways, from the works of Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman to Lemony Snicket. Some even call him the Grandfather of Goth.

But who was this man, who lived with over twenty thousand books and six cats, who roomed with Frank O'Hara at Harvard, and was known--in the late 1940s, no less--to traipse around in full-length fur coats, clanking bracelets, and an Edwardian beard? An eccentric, a gregarious recluse, an enigmatic auteur of whimsically morbid masterpieces, yes--but who was the real Edward Gorey behind the Oscar Wildean pose?

He published over a hundred books and illustrated works by Samuel Beckett, T.S. Eliot, Edward Lear, John Updike, Charles Dickens, Hilaire Belloc, Muriel Spark, Bram Stoker, Gilbert & Sullivan, and others. At the same time, he was a deeply complicated and conflicted individual, a man whose art reflected his obsessions with the disquieting and the darkly hilarious.

Based on newly uncovered correspondence and interviews with personalities as diverse as John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, and Anna Sui, Born to be Posthumous draws back the curtain on the eccentric genius and mysterious life of Edward Gorey."

I know you're like me and need more Edward Gorey in your life. ALWAYS.

Hedy Lamarr: An Incredible Life by William Roy and Sylvain Dorange
Published by: Humanoids
Publication Date: November 6th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 176 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Hollywood icon by day, unsung science genius by night, Hedy Lamarr, the biography of "the Most Beautiful Woman in the World." From a childhood filled with curiosity and ambition despite the stereotypes imposed on her, to an abusive marriage that she ingeniously escaped from, to finding her way to stardom in the City of Angels in the face of rampant sexism and harassment, Hedy Lamarr would not only become a glamorous star of the Golden Age of Hollywood, alongside icons like Judy Garland and Clark Gable, but also an unparalleled inventor. She would fashion designs to revolutionize the planes built by Howard Hughes, and come up with a secret communication system that helped the Allies against the Nazis, a technology that would become the blueprint for what we know today as Wi-Fi. A visionary that never feared going after her goals and defied convention at every turn, Hedy Lamarr was a true woman of wonder."

Hedy is everywhere this days, even here!

Whose Boat Is This Boat? by Donald J. Trump (by Accident)
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: November 6th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 24 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"100% of The Late Show’s proceeds from this book go to hurricane relief.

Whose Boat Is This Boat? Comments That Don’t Help in the Aftermath of a Hurricane is a picture book made entirely of quotations from President Donald Trump in the wake of Hurricane Florence. It is the first children’s book that demonstrates what not to say after a natural disaster.

On September 19, 2018, Donald Trump paid a visit to New Bern, North Carolina, one of the towns ravaged by Hurricane Florence. It was there he showed deep concern for a boat that washed ashore. “At least you got a nice boat out of the deal,” said President Trump to hurricane victims. “Have a good time!” he told them. The only way his comments would be appropriate is in the context of a children’s book—and now you can experience them that way, thanks to the staff of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Whose Boat Is This Boat? is an excellent teaching tool for readers of all ages who enjoy learning about empathy by process of elimination. Have a good time!"

I'm all for helping people while our present hurts them, but the graphic designer in me just wants to say how awesome a parody of a Mo Willems book this is! 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Book Review - Tasha Alexander's Behind the Shattered Glass

Behind the Shattered Glass by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: October 15th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Emily and Colin are rusticating and recuperating at Colin's ancestral home Anglemore Park in Derbyshire after the birth of their twins. Aside from a few staffing issues involving their ward Tom their calm is only strained by the continued presence of Emily's mother, Lady Catherine Bromley, and her opinions on child rearing. After another torturous night en famille the calm is finally shattered when a man staggers through the French doors and drops down dead on the Axminster. Thanks to Lady Bromley's obsession with the aristocracy she quickly identifies the victim as the new Marquess of Montagu, Archibald Scolfield, who just happens to be Emily and Colin's neighbor. Emily rushes to Montagu Manor to deliver the tragic news to Archibald's cousin and Emily's acquaintance Matilda who is holding a party for her now deceased cousin. But could Matilda have had a motive for killing Archibald? She inherited all her grandfather's money but the title and the ancestral seat went to Archibald. Could this have strained their cordial relationship? Once Colin convinces the police to let him handle the investigation he vows they will get to the bottom of this crime.

As Emily and Colin dig into Archibald's life his character isn't as upstanding as one would assume. He had two fiancees, one an American buccaneer, Miss Sturdevant, the other the daughter of the local vicar, Miss Cora Fitzgerald. His rapacious attitude toward women might have been the reason for a scandal at Oxford. He ruined his best friend, Mr. Porter, with plagiarism accusations after they toured the continent together. And as for Matilda, who thought she was next in line for the title, in walks Rodney, the heir apparent, a treasure hunter who might be from the wrong side of the sheets. With everyone having a motive and more than a few of them lying Emily and Colin have their job cut out for them. And while they are trying to come to grips with this horrendous crime they have romance blooming under their own roof as their house guest, Simon Lancaster, Earl Flyte, seems to have fallen for their housemaid Lily. Things are precarious enough with a murderer on the loose but a romance crossing classes might be the final straw for everyone.

Every Anglophile of a certain age can trace the origins of their affliction to PBS airing Upstairs, Downstairs in the 1970s. I myself am a second generation sufferer with my parents indoctrinating me throughout my childhood until the whole series became available on DVD and the binge watching commenced. In fact I'd go so far as to say that Downton Abbey succeeded because it tapped into this need of American Anglophiles to root for the denizens of a grand manor house from both sides of the baize door. Behind the Shattered Glass is a break, pun intended, from Tasha's other Lady Emily books in that her secondary story isn't letters, diaries, or correspondence, but a view behind the baize door. We are seeing Emily and Colin from the POV of the servants. But more than that we are a party to their trials and tribulations, their loves and their animosities, we are finally seeing Cook in the kitchen instead of her sending up a menu. Davis the butler isn't just proffering port he's holding court in his chambers. There is just so much more that happens in houses of this period that for the first time in this series we're getting a complete picture instead of just a view upstairs.

While I have seen a few reviews critical of this installment saying the narrative is constricted I would like to firmly refute that by saying a more focused narrative doesn't mean a more constricted narrative. Just look to Gosford Park! A long weekend, a murder, and all the suspects available to us which is the bedrock of so many British mysteries and is a movie I could watch again and again. And much like Gosford Park, Behind the Shattered Glass shines a light on the issues that arise when those from the two different levels of the house interact. This is a powerful book to read in the #MeToo movement because it deals with many facets of consent. Not just sexual consent, though that is the core of this book not just with Archibald Scolfield's predilections when he is away from home, but the burgeoning relationship between Simon and Lily and how they navigate a relationship when one member is viewed as having all the power. But also consent to access someone's personal space. I know Lady Emily is involved in a dire investigation when she searches the servants rooms, but at the same time, it sat badly with me. She was wielding her power over her servants and not being the enlightened employer, showing that even Emily can occasionally stumble.

Which brings everything back to Colin's argument against aristocracy and why he keeps refusing to accept a title from the Queen. Who is anyone to set themselves up as better than their fellow man? Just because they treat their servants well at Anglemore doesn't mean that these people should be stuck being servants forever. There's almost this idolatry going on at Anglemore where all the servants drank the Kool-Aid and just love their work making everything perfect for their masters. What's more they view them as their betters! Hard, physical labor, and yet they love it because they are given basic humane conditions in which to live? This here is showing how the class system really started to fall apart and how the era of the grand country houses would implode. This era needed to end because it wasn't glorious or wonderful, it was hard work that for some is soul crushing. Just look to kitchen maid Prudence! She is miserable and I think she more accurately depicts what life was truly like downstairs. You are cut off from family and friends and work so that others can just live the idle life. Yes, this might be harsh on Lady Emily and the dream of Downton Abbey, but it's the truth!

Which brings me back to Pru. I literally spent the entire book hating her, because there's always that one servant that you hate, hello Thomas Barrow, meet your new BFF since O'Brien fled the coop, Pru! Though I doubt Thomas would talk to her, a kitchen maid being so far below a footman... But there it is, Pru is our Thomas, we are meant to hate her, yet by the end you see her more fully, more clearly, and pity should be your only feeling. She is what the class system made her. For comparison, whenever someone asks me "why are you angry" I think, hang on, I wasn't angry until you insinuated I was and therefore you made me what you thought of me. Pru has been made to be bitter and spiteful! So going back to those critics who call Behind the Shattered Glass constricted, no, it's not, it's you who have a constricted mind. You are unable to see how Tasha is exploring all these different angles of what it means to be a servant and what it means to be a master and how there's not just a symbiotic relationship there but a duty of care, actually in both directions. To say a book that is grappling with all these rather weighty issues isn't dealing with enough I just think you, whomever you are, need to open your mind.

But in today's America a closed mind is more common than an open one and we women, well, we are facing some scary realities. Our rights are in peril so it's nice to look back on historical context and precedent and think, at least we got from there to here so if we have to keep fighting we can. Also, please, go out and vote next week! Back to the book... it's interesting to see historical precedent which occasionally favors women. Because titles going down the male line is total BS. With Matilda it makes sense that she would want her family's title, not just because she was closest to her grandfather, but because she is for women's suffrage. She's Lady Emily on speed. She's throwing bricks and taking names versus trying to gently persuade. So much of this book is showing that change was needed and change was coming but it needed people like Matilda and Emily and Lily and even Pru for that change to happen. A man isn't always right and a patriarchy isn't always the right way. An episode of Magnum, P.I. I was watching the other day had a bumper sticker that said "The right man for the job is a wo-man." Now, I'm not going all militant feminist here, all I want is equality. Therefore can we hear it for Marchioness Matilda? Even if Queen Victoria wouldn't agree.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Book Review - Tasha Alexander's Death in the Floating City

Death in the Floating City by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur
Publication Date: October 16th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

As a child there is always that one person whom you are thrust into a relationship with because of your parents. The greatest joy of growing up is that there comes a time when you no longer have to associate with them and can relegate them to your past. Which is exactly what Emily did with Emma Callum. Emma ran off with an Italian Duke and Emily never thought of her again. Until Emma reached out for help. She had heard of Emily's success in solving crimes and is in desperate need of her assistance. Stranded in Venice Emma doesn't even speak Italian and her father-in-law Conte Barozzi has gone and gotten himself murdered and her husband Paolo is missing. If there was ever a time for Emily's help it is now. But even murder can't fully change someone and as Emma flirts with Emily's husband Colin instead of answering their questions Emily wonders if it was wise to help her old nemesis. Though Emily and her husband are professionals and they will do the job asked of them despite the hindrance of Emma. Their first clue is a ring that was found on the Conte's body and a historian is needed.

Luckily when they arrived in Venice a note was waiting at their hotel from a local scholar turned bookseller inquiring after the ring. Emily is hoping Signore Caravello can help answer a few questions as to the ring's provenance. With his magnifying glass he finds two initials next to the maker's mark, BB and NV. Because the ring was found in the possession of a Barozzi, it's assumed that this belonged to some relative. Emily, now with the help of Singnore Caravello's daughter Donata, searches for this relative and finds Besina, who lived in the 15th century. Yet their one hope of confirming her as the ring's owner is dashed when the painting that just might have shown her wearing it is vandalized. What's more the Barozzis sworn enemies, the Vendelinos, swear that the ring is theirs and has been missing for centuries. Soon Emily and Colin are juggling not just a murder, but valuable missing books, a possibly forgotten legacy, a medium whose reputation was destroyed, the Conte's probable mistress and her jealous husband, and most disturbing of all, a person dressed as a plague doctor following Emily through the canals of Venice. Yet the crucial question is, can they solve the crime in the present by finding out what happen to Besina all those years ago?

There is a plethora of books set in Venice, and the truth is the setting doesn't make the book but a well written book can make the setting, forever linking the two in your mind. Death in the Floating City perfectly fits into the pantheon of books set in Venice that were instant classics for me, from Daphne Du Maurier's Don't Look Now to Mary Robinette Kowal's Valour and Vanity to Susanna Clark's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. These are all books that show Venice as imperfect yet lead you to fall in love with the city despite it's issues. I'm not talking about the fact that it's sinking into the seas, but the Italian way of life as it was back in the day. As I think of it in my mind as women's rights, marriages, and whores oh my. Courtesans, mistresses, and illegitimate children were all par for the course in Venice. What's so fascinating though is the way Tasha writes so that there's our modern POV then there's Emily's POV, which is Victorian but constantly working to break the shackles and think more modern, and then the Venetian POV which is far more fluid and modern, but that fluidity and the resultant issues drives the plot forward. It's literally a culture clash at it's most dramatic and I couldn't put it down.

What really drove the narrative in this installment was that the secondary story instead of being journals or letters that are concurrent with our story was instead the story of Besina and her ill fated love to Nicolo Vendelino way back in 1489. At first I was prejudiced against this story because being set in Italy and the couple in question being from warring houses I was sure this would be Tasha's take on Romeo and Juliet and personally, that isn't a favorite play of mine. Yes, it's a classic, I mean, it's Shakespeare after all, but not all Shakespeare floats my boat. Oh how wrong I was to compare it to that play of the Bard's. This secondary storyline soon became my favorite part of Death in the Floating City and I had to restrain myself from jumping ahead to see how it played out. The best way I can describe the story of Besina and Nicolo is that it's like Sarah Dunant decided to write her version of Drake Carne and Morwenna Chynoweth's star-crossed romance from Poldark. Much as with the two young lovers on Poldark, my heart was continually breaking, hoping for Besina to break free and be with Nicolo. Their story is tragic and heartbreaking and achingly perfect. Because, if I'm being honest, much like how Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, sometimes perfection isn't a happily ever after.

Even though my attachment to Besina and Nicolo is the reason I lost my heart to this book I can not discount all the other awesomeness contained within the pages of Death in the Floating City. The menacing plague doctor like the "child" in the raincoat in Don't Look Now is haunting, but that's just the tip of the iceberg! There's Caterina Brexiano, the maligned medium! There's Brother Giovanni with his knowledge of books and his hunt for the truth. As for the books? Oh dear me, I swoon at the valuable books and illuminated manuscripts contained within these pages. But the vapors don't stop there. The gorgeous illuminated manuscripts contain secrets not just in their detailed artwork but on the very pages they were written. Secrets hidden in art? This is Lady Emily's version of The Da Vinci Code, but next level, because instead of being bogged down with religiosity we are on the hunt for the story of Besina and Nicolo! A love lost to history recovered! This book didn't just make me want to go to Venice, it made me want to delve back into my art history studies. Oh, I do love a good illuminated manuscript. If only they all held such secrets as the ones Tasha has dreamed up!

It should be a truth universally acknowledged that we all have in our past some frenemy. Imagine the theme song to Veronica Mars playing here... While Emily never considered Emma her friend, she was in one of those situations where friendship was forced on her and it turned sour, or shattered like her doll's face when Emma destroyed it. Whether it's similar to Emily's case or just a friend from childhood that proved themselves a complete and utter two-faced bitch, there's someone in everyone's past whom we'd rather avoid but some lingering sentimentality, AKA the sign that you are the better person, makes you willing to help if they reach out a hand. That is the situation Emily faces. While there is that deep temptation to just laugh from afar, something that social media makes so easy in this day and age, there's the other, more juicy feeling that you can prove to them that you are the better person. You hope that your help will finally awaken some kind of gratitude in them, but as is often the case, as Emily sees, they are just the same person but older. You can see them more clearly for who they are and you pity instead of hate them. But still, reaching out that hand and being the better person? Priceless.

Now here's a question I have for the floor. Hopefully you have been encouraged by Alexander Autumn to pick up one or all of Tasha's wonderful Lady Emily series and I want your expert opinion. Is this the first time that Emily's writing is shown to be definitely written from a future date for an audience? Because Emily has a throw away line about how her identification of NV would prove to be entirely inaccurate, proving this was written at a later date. Also at the same time she says "as you will see" where the you is us, meaning, definite knowledge of an audience. Now I don't have any problem with this, seeing as an author that Tasha greatly admires, Elizabeth Peters, used such devices in her Amelia Peabody series which is another series I love. In fact, there's a part of me, a part that will reference but will not spoil the ending of this book, that noticed a certain resolution that mirrors an event that takes place at the end of the sixth installment in that series, The Last Camel Died at Noon, that makes me think, Tasha did this on purpose. If she did this for that very reason, that's cunning. But also if you think about it, this is the first case that Emily and Colin take that doesn't literally land on their doorstep, so that could have been why there's a change as well... either way, I'll be waiting to see if this writing quirk happens again. Onwards to the next book!

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