Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Book Review - Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
Published by: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: 1902
Format: Hardcover, 192 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

221B Baker Street has had a visitor. Only Holmes and Watson were out. Though the person left behind a walking stick and the two men seek to analyze it in the hopes of a clue. They don't have long to wait to figure out whose deductions were right (Holmes) and whose were wrong (Watson). The potential client is one Dr. James Mortimer who brings a bizarre story about a family curse. The Baskervilles of Devonshire are supposedly cursed by a hound that wanders Dartmoor due to the nefarious deeds of Sir Hugo Baskerville hundreds of years earlier, thinning their ranks whenever possible. Dr. Mortimer would agree with Holmes and Watson that this is all a fairy tale of the darkest kind if it wasn't for the recent death of his dear friend, Sir Charles Baskerville; whose body was found near massive animal footprints that could only have been left by a hound. Though Dr. Mortimer kept this canid observation a secret at the inquest, fearing what people would say. And this canid observation is what finally brings him to Holmes's door. 

The reality versus the mythical is what interests Holmes, but if Sir Charles, the potential client's friend is dead, why does Dr. Mortimer care? Because his heir, Sir Henry Baskerville has arrived from Canada and is about to take up residence on the moor and Dr. Mortimer doesn't know if the story will scare him or prove as a warning. In fact, he is due to arrive in London at any minute and will surely want to continue on to Devonshire soon! Holmes is intrigued and it is quickly apparent that Sir Henry is in danger, from a real, not a mythical foe. He is followed, one of his new boots is stolen, and he receives a letter that is either a threat or a warning made up of cut up letters from a newspaper. Holmes decides that Watson will accompany the two men to Devonshire while he finishes up some pressing cases in London. Watson had scoffed at the story of the hound, but down in Devonshire, there's something primal about the moors that make myths seem real and not something to be scoffed at. Can the two men save Sir Henry or is he going to be yet another victim of the bloody Baskerville legacy?

There are only four stand alone Sherlock Holmes books, and I can guarantee that the only one that everyone knows is The Hound of the Baskervilles. They might not know what it's about, but it has proliferated across people's bookshelves all over the world. I actually don't know how many copies I have around my house, it being part of set of Sherlock Holmes from the Book-of-the-Month Club I have as well as a classics set, not to mention a random illustrated copy I found and I am reviewing here. But it's the classic one I remember so well. It was cloth bound and had a glowing hound on the cover, even though the edition of Frankenstein in that set was far more memorable with the turquoise binding and the monster having long flowing hair. I remember this edition so well because I was supposed to read it in seventh grade. Note the "supposed to" in that sentence. My grade school had crazy amounts of homework. I kid you not. On average I had eight hours of work a night. This paid off when I went to high school because I was so good at multitasking that I could finish all my work during class time during the two days a week I actually bothered to show up.

In fact I didn't really have any outside homework until my junior year in high school, and that's only because I finally got a teacher who inspired me to work. But back in seventh grade, besides those eight hours of work a night we were expected to read two other novels a month in our fictitious spare time and write lengthy book reports on them. Seeing as I actually needed to sleep occasionally I sometimes wouldn't have the time to finish these extra books. So while I was supposed to read The Hound of the Baskervilles in fact my mom read it and wrote the book report. In fact at one time or another every one of my family read and wrote a book report for me in an effort to keep my pre-teen sanity, thank god for a grandmother who loved to read! But of all those books I was supposed to read The Hound of the Baskervilles was the one I actually wanted to. So now I finally have and I hope this review will stand in lieu of the book report all these years later. Though I kind of wish I could read what my mom thought I would have written...

What surprised me the most about The Hound of the Baskervilles is that it was written prior to The Return of Sherlock Holmes. I had always understood it as Conan Doyle killed Holmes off in 1893, hue, cry, uproar, people cancelling their magazine subscriptions left and right, publisher weeping to Conan Doyle to not destroy him and Holmes, but Conan Doyle staying firm till ten years later he caved into demand and started writing the short stories again in 1903 with "The Adventure of the Empty House." But this is not the case! The Hound of the Baskervilles was serialized in The Strand Magazine from 1901 till 1902! So he caved twice! I've always found it odd how much Conan Doyle seemed to hate his own creation, much like Victor Frankenstein of the aforementioned turquoise bound book. He hated his creation so much he killed him only to have the death not stick. He is immortal because of Sherlock Holmes, and yet he tried everything not to write him. In fact, The Hound of the Baskervilles was never intended to be a Sherlock Holmes story! As he was writing it he realized that Holmes was necessary, in fact essential, and as an added bonus it would appease the public.

But there is one person, narratively speaking, who lucked out with Conan Doyle's hesitance to write Holmes, and that is Watson. By keeping Holmes at bay Watson was left to play. Yes, Watson still has a little too much of the "I wish Holmes was here" obsequiousness, but the fact remains that Holmes is hardly in this story. He's there at the beginning and at the denouement to tie up all the loose ends, but in-between it's all Watson all the time. It's Watson's observances and recollections that help Holmes solve the crime. It's Watson taking the risks and striking out onto the moors alone. Sure Holmes gave him the basic outline of what he should do, but it's Watson risking his neck everyday for Henry Baskerville. While the previous volume of adventures showed the development of Watson as more than just Sherlock's number one fanboy and biographer, it's The Hound of the Baskervilles that sets Watson up as Holmes's equal. As I have said before, I've never been down on Watson like many are. In fact I've always rather liked him. But the truth is it's not until this point, which is ironically the half-way point in the Sherlock canon, that Watson finally gets his props. Go Watson! You did good no matter what Sherlock says!

Though what I loved about this book had nothing to do with Watson or Holmes and everything to do with the mood. The awesome Gothic mood. Myth and legend were the starting off point for this book, so it makes sense that this eerie atmosphere pervades the book, with the misty moors and the baleful howls on the wind. Because it's set on Dartmoor not far from Daphne Du Maurier's Bodmin I couldn't help but compare this story of Conan Doyle's to Du Maurier's work. In fact, I would place money on Du Maurier being inspired by The Hound of the Baskervilles to a great degree in writing her seminal work, Jamaica Inn. Both books have outsiders haunted by the bleakness of the moors and the dangers of hidden mires, and the dark majesty of the tors. In fact it was kind of like stumbling on a lost classic by Du Maurier. The truth is that I can see how it could have worked without Holmes, he's just the deus ex machina as many have complained. The real star of this book is the land. Even if you're not a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I urge you to pick this up just for it's Gothic awesomeness.

Yet I must warn you. Though I will totally stand behind this book I will add the caveat that Conan Doyle is a clunky writer. Sometimes with older books you have trouble adjusting to the writing style. It takes awhile to get into the flow when reading Jane Austen, or more specifically Shakespeare. Shakespeare is one of those writers who you're lost for about the first third, and then everything clicks and when you reach the end you really want to go back to the beginning because now you're in the zone. There is no zone with Conan Doyle. There is no time at which his writing flows and you're like, yeah, bring it on. It's a struggle. Constantly. And all uphill. Back when I did Sherlocked, reading five of his books in a row I never found any nice common ground where my mind could rest and just enjoy the reading experience. You will have to fight the text to enjoy these books, which is probably why I have found them more enjoyable as a re-read. I've fought the text once and won so I know I can do it again. So you can be victorious and come out enjoying the book, but you will also be a little exhausted by the whole experience and occasionally find your mind wandering. Which might be how Watson viewed this whole case...

Monday, March 18, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Witch's Kind by Louisa Morgan
Published by: Redhook
Publication Date: March 19th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An absorbing tale of love, sacrifice, family ties, and magic, set in the Pacific Northwest in the aftermath of World War II, by the author of A Secret History of Witches.

Barrie Anne Blythe and her aunt Charlotte have always known that the other residents of their small coastal community find them peculiar - two women living alone on the outskirts of town. It is the price of concealing their strange and dangerous family secret.

But two events threaten to upend their lives forever. The first is the arrival of a mysterious abandoned baby with a hint of power like their own. The second is the sudden reappearance of Barrie Anne's long-lost husband - who is not quite the man she thought she married.

Together, Barrie Anne and Charlotte must decide how far they are willing to go to protect themselves - and the child they think of as their own - from suspicious neighbors, the government, and even their own family...

For more from Louisa Morgan, check out A Secret History of Witches."

A combination of three of my favorite things; the Pacific Northwest, historical fiction, and witches!

A Woman First: First Woman by Selina Meyer
Published by: Abrams Press
Publication Date: March 19th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 192 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The long-awaited memoir of her tumultuous year in office, A Woman First: First Woman is an intimate first-person account of the public and private lives of Selina Meyer, America’s first woman president. Known and beloved throughout the world as a vocal and fearless advocate for adult literacy, fighting AIDS, our military families, and as a stalwart champion of the oppressed, especially the long-suffering people of Tibet, President Meyer is considered one of the world’s most notable people. In her own words, she reveals the innermost workings of the world’s most powerful office, sharing previous secret details along with her own personal feelings about the historic events of her time.

In A Woman First: First Woman, President Selina Meyer tells the story of her times the way that only she could, Readers will gain new insights not only into Meyer herself but also the mechanics of governing and the many colorful personalities in Meyer’s orbit, including world leaders and her devoted cadre of allies and aides, many of them already familiar to the American people."

If this is even a fraction as good as Veep it will be amazing.

Friday, March 15, 2019

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 home. 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 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 Emily's 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, March 13, 2019

Book Review - Laura Purcell's The Silent Companions

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
Published by: Penguin Books
Publication Date: March 6th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 404 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Elsie is being exiled to her husband's decrepit country estate, The Bridge. She feels like they are burying her along with her husband. A pregnant mermaid drowning in black crepe. That is all she is now, the vessel for her dead husband's heir. Her marriage to Rupert Bainbridge was meant to raise her above her station. No more work at the match factory where she and her brother Jolyon slaved away until Rupert bailed them out of a tight spot. Now she'd have an idyllic life of luxury where she would walk through the streets of Fayford giving her beneficence to her new tenants. Instead on arrival she is greeted by her husband's corpse laid out in the great hall, a paltry indoor staff of three she can't bear facing, and the new knowledge that the villagers view the house as cursed and won't even deign to work there let alone accept anything from her. In fact the only person who has come to view her husband's body is the local preacher, Mr. Underwood. So here Elsie will waste away with only Rupert's cousin Sarah for companionship and the occasional visit from Mr. Underwood. But then there are the noises in the night. A hissing sound the cook writes off as the cat, or perhaps a nasty nest of squirrels. Only when Elise finally enters the locked room from whence the sounds came she finds no squirrels.

There are two eyes looking at her. She thinks it's a painting but it's "as if someone had cut the figure out of a painting and mounted it on a plank of wood." Elsie is intrigued by the figure that oddly looks like her, whereas Sarah is taken by the two slim volumes next to the figure, the diary of her ancestor, Anne Bainbridge, who was the doyenne of The Bridge when King Charles I and his wife visited in 1635. As uncanny happenings increase after the finding of the figure, with rooms changing and shifting, figures multiplying and poses changing and eyes following the two volume diary of Anne Bainbridge might hold the answers. Because it was in 1635 that The Bridge got it's nasty reputation of losing it's heirs, leading it to be left abandoned for years and years on end. Elsie laments that her life is starting to read like a bad penny dreadful. Only is this really happening? Perhaps the answers that Sarah finds about Anne and her husband Josiah, and their daughter Hetta, their miracle child who unnerves the servants and is otherworldly, and the Bainbridge Diamonds, will stop whatever is currently happening at The Bridge. Because it was Anne who brought these "silent companions" into the house. A trompe l'oeil treat bought in Torbury St. Jude that was just the thing to please his majesty. Or perhaps Elise is mad. Left silent in a sanatorium after her experiences at The Bridge.

I have a friend Matt. We've often joked that we should do a podcast because we literally do not agree on anything. Any book I love he hates and vice versa. Therefore it came as a shock to both of us to discover we agreed completely on The Silent Companions. I don't know what stars aligned or what parallel universe we entered, but we came to a consensus; we both thought it should have been more. The silent companions themselves were lacking. I think this has a lot to do with whomever wrote the cover blurb. Shame on you! When Elise opens "a locked door, beyond which is a painted wooden figure - a silent companion - that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself" I know every single person reading that thinks wooden weeping angels. There is not a single person who thought that the silent companions were basically set flats. I'm sorry, but set flats aren't scary. No matter how much they "change" or "multiple," cut-outs dragging their wooden selves across now deeply grooved floors doesn't inspire any kind of chills going up and down my spine. In fact I found them bordering on laughable. I don't know if this is because I am inured to cut-outs due to the popularity of having a cut-out of an actor from your favorite TV just chilling about your house or because I worked in theater... but the fact of the matter is, I was underwhelmed. By it all. I was sold by the blurb and the reality came nowhere near that frisson of fear I had the first time I read the synopsis.

Reading this book around the same time I was watching the new Netflix adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House I realized there was one area in which this book succeeds which I think is vital to the success of any true book purporting to be Gothic, and that is Laura Purcell nailed the sense of place. She nailed The Bridge and because of that there is a lot that can be forgiven plot wise. In fact, as I discussed this book with my fellow book club members I posited that I think I could actually draw the blueprints for this house. If there's one thing that I hate it is when I read a book and I can't get a good sense of the surroundings. I need to ground the characters in their setting. This book took it to a new level. Not only did I have the sense of the house, the house became a central character to the book, which I think was necessary for the narrative. That is why I compare it to The Haunting of Hill House. While the buildings have supernatural elements and events, you can still know where everything is and therefore when it changes, even subtly, you know something "other" is going on. Thinking on this further, and tying it into the set-piece like nature of the companions themselves, I wonder if there's a theatrical aspect that this book is embracing. Everything laid out just so so when it goes off the rails, you know where you were supposed to be but aren't any longer.

Enough about what I liked, an aspect of the book that really annoyed me was that Laura Purcell has an elliptical storytelling style. She drops potential plot points and red herrings all along the path and maybe one or two are actually resolved. I know there are people who say, but that makes the book more realistic, not having everything tied up in a neat little bow. To them I say, that's why I read books! Because unlike in real life everything can have a resolution and you won't be grumbling about what exactly happened in the heroine's past. Because really, there is a lot of heavy-handed doom and gloom about what went on in Elsie's life prior to her marriage. Abuse allegations about her parents, the struggling match factory, and her relationship with her brother... and yet not a single one of these is dealt with. We don't even really get any sense as to why Rupert married her. And I think the event that then catalyzes the entire narrative of the story should at least be discussed don't you? What annoyed me most though is that the book drops hint after hint that Elsie's much younger brother, Jolyon Livingstone, was perhaps her son. It would explain the strain in her relationship with her parents, whether Jolyon was the product of incest, again strongly hinted at that would be firmly rooted in the Gothic, or whether they were just forced to raise their grandson as their son, it would explain a lot. But nope. Nothing whatsoever is elucidated and for a minute I thought the book could be completely written off.

But Laura Purcell finally delivered! It's amazing how the final few pages of a book can retroactively fix many of the issues you previously had. And yes, I'm looking at you The Circle. Sure, there are all these threads left dangling, but the most important, the crucial thread was picked up and given a tug. I was wonderfully surprised that one of the many plot points Laura Purcell set up actually paid off with a little twist at the end. And no, I am not going to spoil it for you because you'd be able to pick up the one important thread at the beginning and not follow all the ones that are cut short. Yet I will say that what I liked most about this twist was that it took several of the unnatural occurrences at The Bridge and put it on one character's shoulders. Everything weird and uncanny tied back to one character. What's more, this had the added benefit of tying the two timelines together. Often in books with two timelines so far apart, two hundred years here, authors tend to have the past inform the present but not really carry anything over of importance from the past. Here that's different, and I think that is what raised this book up to being a satisfying read while also firmly classifying it as Gothic. So while this might not have been everything I wanted it to be, it surprised me in the end because the author broke her pre-established patterns and gave us one satisfying answer.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

The True Queen by Zen Cho
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the follow-up to the "delightful" Regency fantasy novel ( Sorcerer to the Crown, a young woman with no memories of her past finds herself embroiled in dangerous politics in England and the land of the fae.

When sisters Muna and Sakti wake up on the peaceful beach of the island of Janda Baik, they can’t remember anything, except that they are bound as only sisters can be. They have been cursed by an unknown enchanter, and slowly Sakti starts to fade away. The only hope of saving her is to go to distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal has established an academy to train women in magic.

If Muna is to save her sister, she must learn to navigate high society, and trick the English magicians into believing she is a magical prodigy. As she's drawn into their intrigues, she must uncover the secrets of her past, and journey into a world with more magic than she had ever dreamed."

I have literally been waiting for this book since the moment I finished Sorcerer to the Crown. I only with it was in hardcover...  

The Near Witch by V.E. Schwab
Published by: Titan Books
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Brand new edition of Victoria Schwab's long out-of-print, stunning debut.

All-new deluxe edition of an out-of-print gem, containing in-universe short story "The Ash-Born Boy" and a never-before-seen introduction from V.E. Schwab.

The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.

If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.

There are no strangers in the town of Near.

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.

But when an actual stranger, a boy who seems to fade like smoke, appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.

The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion.

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi's need to know about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.

Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab's debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won't soon forget."

V.E./Victoria Schwab fever continues with the re-release.

A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A bride mysteriously disappears on her wedding day in the newest Veronica Speedwell adventure by the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey series.

Lured by the promise of a rare and elusive butterfly, the intrepid Veronica Speedwell is persuaded by Lord Templeton-Vane, the brother of her colleague Stoker, to pose as his fiancée at a house party on a Cornish isle owned by his oldest friend, Malcolm Romilly.

But Veronica soon learns that one question hangs over the party: What happened to Rosamund? Three years ago, Malcolm Romilly’s bride vanished on their wedding day, and no trace of her has ever been found. Now those who were closest to her have gathered, each a possible suspect in her disappearance.

From the poison garden kept by Malcolm’s sister to the high towers of the family castle, the island’s atmosphere is full of shadows, and danger lurks around every corner.

Determined to discover Rosamund’s fate, Veronica and Stoker match wits with a murderer who has already struck once and will not hesitate to kill again...."

The best part about a new year is that it heralds the arrival of a new Deanna Raybourn Veronica Speedwell mystery! 

Murder in Belgravia by Lynn Brittney
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A high-profile murder propels a unique crime-fighting team into the dark environs of London’s underworld - and on a terrifying quest to track a ruthless killer.

London, 1915. As World War I engulfs Europe, a special task force is formed in the affluent Mayfair district to tackle the city’s thorniest crimes against women. When the bobbies and Scotland Yard come up short, there’s only one telephone number to dial: Mayfair 100.

An aristocrat has been murdered, and his wife, a witness and possible suspect, will only talk to a woman. With the blessing of London’s Chief Commissioner, Chief Inspector Beech, a young man invalided out of the war, assembles a crew of sharp, intrepid, and well-educated women to investigate. But to get at the truth, Beech, Victoria, Caroline, Rigsby, and Tollman will venture into the the city’s seedy underbelly, a world where murder is only the first in a litany of evils.

Lynn Brittney’s Mayfair 100 series debut, Murder in Belgravia, is the darkly compelling story of a movement far ahead of its time, in an attempt to combat the prejudices against women then and now."

A timely and timeless new series of British detection.

The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson
Published by: Simon amd Schuster
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The remarkable new account of an essential piece of American mythology - the trial of Lizzie Borden - based on twenty years of research and recently unearthed evidence.

The Trial of Lizzie Borden tells the true story of one of the most sensational murder trials in American history. When Andrew and Abby Borden were brutally hacked to death in Fall River, Massachusetts, in August 1892, the arrest of the couple’s younger daughter Lizzie turned the case into international news and her trial into a spectacle unparalleled in American history. Reporters flocked to the scene. Well-known columnists took up conspicuous seats in the courtroom. The defendant was relentlessly scrutinized for signs of guilt or innocence. Everyone - rich and poor, suffragists and social conservatives, legal scholars and laypeople - had an opinion about Lizzie Borden’s guilt or innocence. Was she a cold-blooded murderess or an unjustly persecuted lady? Did she or didn’t she?

The popular fascination with the Borden murders and its central enigmatic character has endured for more than one hundred years. Immortalized in rhyme, told and retold in every conceivable genre, the murders have secured a place in the American pantheon of mythic horror, but one typically wrenched from its historical moment. In contrast, Cara Robertson explores the stories Lizzie Borden’s culture wanted and expected to hear and how those stories influenced the debate inside and outside of the courtroom. Based on transcripts of the Borden legal proceedings, contemporary newspaper accounts, unpublished local accounts, and recently unearthed letters from Lizzie herself, The Trial of Lizzie Borden offers a window onto America in the Gilded Age, showcasing its most deeply held convictions and its most troubling social anxieties."

So people might say there are too many books on Lizzie Borden saturating the market right now. These are not my people. BRING IT ON! 

The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown
Published by: Pushkin Children's Books
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Format: Kindle, 224 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The classic story of seven children with a longing to be on stage: the inspiration for actors from Maggie Smith to Eileen Atkins.

In the town of Fenchester, seven resourceful children are yearning to be famous. One day, they come across a disused chapel, and an idea is formed. With a lick of paint and the addition of a beautiful curtain (which, however much they try, won't "swish" as stage curtains ought), the chapel becomes a theatre - and The Blue Door Theatre Company is formed.

The children go from strength to strength, writing, directing and acting in their own plays. But their schooldays are numbered, and their parents want them to pack it in and train for sensible jobs. It seems that The Blue Door Theatre Company will have to go the way of all childhood dreams. But with a bit of luck, and the help of some influential friends, perhaps this is not the end, but only the beginning of their adventures in show business..."

It's like Noel Streatfeild meets the origin stories of famous Dames!

When the Sky Fell on Splendor by Emily Henry
Published by: Razorbill
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Serpent King meets Stranger Things in Emily Henry's gripping novel about a group of friends in a small town who find themselves dealing with unexpected powers after a cosmic event.

Almost everyone in the small town of Splendor, Ohio, was affected when the local steel mill exploded. If you weren't a casualty of the accident yourself, chances are a loved one was. That's the case for seventeen-year-old Franny, who, five years after the explosion, still has to stand by and do nothing as her brother lies in a coma.

In the wake of the tragedy, Franny found solace in a group of friends whose experiences mirrored her own. The group calls themselves The Ordinary, and they spend their free time investigating local ghost stories and legends, filming their exploits for their small following of YouTube fans. It's silly, it's fun, and it keeps them from dwelling on the sadness that surrounds them.

Until one evening, when the strange and dangerous thing they film isn't fiction - it's a bright light, something massive hurtling toward them from the sky. And when it crashes and the teens go to investigate...everything changes."

To curb your Stranger Things withdrawal pangs until July. 

Too Much Is Not Enough by Andrew Rannells
Published by: Crown Archetype
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the star of Broadway's The Book of Mormon and HBO's Girls, the heartfelt and hilarious coming-of-age memoir of a Midwestern boy surviving bad auditions, bad relationships, and some really bad highlights as he chases his dreams in New York City.

When Andrew Rannells left Nebraska for New York City in 1997, he, like many young hopefuls, saw the city as a chance to break free. To start over. To transform the fiercely ambitious but sexually confused teenager he saw in the mirror into the Broadway leading man of his dreams.

In Too Much Is Not Enough, Rannells takes us on the journey of a twentysomething hungry to experience everything New York has to offer: new friends, wild nights, great art, standing ovations. At the heart of his hunger lies a powerful drive to reconcile the boy he was when he left Omaha with the man he desperately wants to be.

As Rannells fumbles his way towards the Great White Way, he also shares the drama of failed auditions and behind-the-curtain romances, the heartbreak of losing his father at the height of his struggle, and the exhilaration of making his Broadway debut in Hairspray at the age of twenty-six. Along the way, he learns that you never really leave your past - or your family - behind; that the most painful, and perversely motivating, jobs are the ones you almost get; and that sometimes the most memorable nights with friends are marked not by the trendy club you danced at but by the recap over diner food afterward.

Honest and hilarious, Too Much Is Not Enough is an unforgettable look at love, loss, and the powerful forces that determine who we become."

I've always loved Anderw Rannells and getting in insight into his life is wonderful. 

Crashing Heat by Richard Castle
Published by: Kingswell
Publication Date: March 12th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Marriage. It's a double-edged sword, or at least it is for Nikki Heat. Her husband, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jameson Rook, infuriates her in a way no one else in her entire life has ever done. He also takes her to heights of pleasure she has never experienced. But most of all, she loves the man with all her heart and she'd do anything to protect him. Which is just what she had done not so long ago. It had almost cost them everything.

Now, Rook is given the honor to be a visiting professor at his alma mater, and he can't pass up the opportunity to mentor burgeoning writers at his former award-winning college newspaper. Shortly after his arrival on campus, a female reporter for the paper is found dead?naked?in Rook's bed.

Dealing with betrayal from any man is not Nikki's style. She and Jameson have had plenty of conflicts during their complicated relationship, but none like this. Is her husband keeping secrets of his own, or can she really trust him? In order to find out, Nikki gives Jameson the benefit of the doubt and digs into Jameson's theory of a secret society within a secret society. What she finds puts her investigative skills, and her marriage, to the test."

Um, they're still making Nikki Heat books? Does this mean Richard Castle survived that shootout at the end, because I still don't think he did...

Friday, March 8, 2019

Book Review - Jewell Parker Rhodes's Voodoo Dreams

Voodoo Dreams by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Published by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Publication Date: 1993
Format: Kindle, 404 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Marie Laveau has spent her life in the swamp. Surrounded by nature and the enfolding arms of her Grandmere. Yet she's always wondered about her Maman, the other Marie. The truth, which her Grandmere hides from her in the comforting lie that her daughter, Marie's Maman, is off in New Orleans and has no interest whatsoever in her daughter, is that Marie's Maman died at the hands of an angry mob while she publicly practiced Voodoo with her partner in crime, John, a Voodoo priest. If only Marie had the ability of foresight she could have lived in ignorant bliss all her life, instead the world she grew up in starts to shrink, her Grandmere's lap is no longer inviting, and the siren call of New Orleans and her Maman is always present. Eventually her Grandmere relents and they pack up their lives and head off to New Orleans. The city presents countless sights and sounds and so many people for a girl raised in the presence of one woman. There are the DeLaviers, wealthy whites, the girl Brigette looking like a princess out of a fairy tale. There is Jacques, a young sailor who falls for Marie. But there is no Maman. Because even now, in the city where she supposedly resides, Marie's Grandmere can not bring herself to tell her granddaughter that her mother is dead. There would be too many questions.

Those questions can be answered only by a select few. Nattie is an old family friend and therefore has many skeletons in her closet. So while Marie at first stays on the straight and narrow, marrying Jacques, taking care of her Grandmere, trying to find work as a hairdresser, soon Nattie helps to lure her away to Voodoo and John. John wasn't just Maman's partner in crime, he was also her lover, and this is the role he wishes Marie to fulfill. She will make him powerful and young again. She will bear him children that will rule over New Orleans. But John is a very bad man. He is only interested in his power, no matter the cost to those around him. Marie is drawn to him. She needs him like she needs air and she will do whatever he wants her to. Locking her up during the day to bring her forth at night as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans John isn't a true believer, though he takes advantage of the powers of Voodoo. Marie though. Marie scares him a little, because she knows that the power is real. She knows that the spirits talk to her and when John thinks she is performing she is channeling a power greater than any of them. That power scares John and soon it becomes clear; only one of them can survive in New Orleans, and Marie, despite her need for John, is going to make sure she is the victor.

I don't quite know how to describe Voodoo Dreams other than a book I would avoid at all costs. The Emily Windsnap-esque cover design leaves any conception of what you might find between the covers a mere mystery. Needless to say, unlike Emily Windsnap, it is not a middle grade read about mermaids, instead it is about the Voodoo Queen of New Oreleans, Marie Laveau, and is part historical fiction part cathartic sexual predation exorcism for the author, who clearly has many unresolved issues. Having no preconceptions going into this book I was surprised at first by how much Voodoo Dreams reads like so much historical fiction that I love. But any initial regard I had for the book was quickly destroyed by historical inaccuracies, illogical character motivations, just plain creepy and as one of my friends wrote, repellent scenarios, and more than anything, the repetitive writing style. Because I read this book on my Kindle I was curious to see how many times the author used the words "Maman" and "Grandmere." Well, seeing as the book is only 404 pages, coming in at 391 appearances, "Maman" is almost on every page. But the real winner is "Grandmere" coming in at 981 appearances, meaning it's on every page at least twice! Seriously, I never want to read those two words again.

Yet again and again this book would baffle me with what it included and what it omitted. Marie Laveau lived a long and fascinating life. When lifespans were short she lived to be at least seventy-nine years old, and some say, including Ryan Murphy of American Horror Story fame, that perhaps she never died. Perhaps she lived on to die battling the Antichrist or whatever. Therefore it is baffling to me that this book takes place over such a short time frame of Marie's life. We follow Marie's life from 1812 to 1822, with a few little snippets starting each chapter from her deathbed in 1881. So instead of seventy-nine years we get ten. And most of those ten are her just hanging out in the swamp with her Grandmere... Why would you choose such a fascinating and underrepresented subject for your book and then constrict yourself to a narrative of only a few years? What's more, her power, her rise to power are almost background noise to the solipsistic narrative that traps us inside Marie's head and her thoughts of her Maman and Grandmere. What about her spy network of hairdressers? What about the true power of Voodoo versus the trappings of the religion to con the gullible whites? Why isn't there really anything of Marie on these pages? Why instead are we part of this weird disconnect where even Marie is just an observer of her own life?

In fact, why doesn't this book actually explore the tenants of the Voodoo religion more? There is no place anywhere in this book that clearly states what the purpose or practices of Voodoo are. What about the narrative tradition brought down through the generations from Africa and the Caribbean? Because I really don't know anything about Voodoo. I don't believe in any organized religion and I kind of let my blanket disbelief cover all religions. If I don't believe in the one I was raised in, I don't believe in others. Yet Voodoo seems fascinating in that so much of the followers history and culture is tied into it therefore I would be interested to learn more, even though I will still be a non-believer. This book is so long and, let's put it nicely, long-winded, and there should have been some place to put in these details but instead I was just grateful that I read Voodoo Dreams on my Kindle because my Kindle means I have access to Wikipedia, and therefore any term or folktale character I could just look it up and fill in the blanks myself. Here's a sign of a bad book, when the reader is spending more time on Wikipedia trying to learn about basic worldbuilding you should have included in your rambling narrative but didn't seem to find the time.

But the most baffling inclusion in the book is the DeLaviers. The DeLaviers are a family that Marie first encounters when she and her Grandmere arrive in New Orleans. The kindhearted Louis spends his life married to his cousin Brigette while pining for Marie. He is also the one writing in his journal on her deathbed while Marie tells the story of her life. Or in this case the heavily edited cliffs notes version of her life. I would say Bowdlerized, but seeing as I'm about to start talking about incest... that would be a vulgarity Thomas Bowdler would heartily disapprove of. Yes, so onto the incest... Brigette's lover and eventually the father of her child is her brother Antoine. I have no idea if these people really existed or are an entire figment of the author's imagination, but either way, why are they here!?! What purpose do they serve the narrative? Is it to show the decadence and double standard of the wealthy elite in New Orleans? Because I think she could have done so without resorting to incest. Again, this secondary storyline takes up chapters that could have been devoted to actually learning the tenants of Voodoo, or even giving some idea of what the city of New Orleans was like during this time. Instead we are stuck in a suffocating room with a guilt ridden woman pregnant by her brother for no reason I can see.

Though this book does specialize in the creepy sexual encounters that will make you want to take a bath in carbolic soap or perhaps even bleach. I will place a trigger warning here, because dear me, I so wish I had been warned. The first of the really creepy encounters with John, the Voodoo priest who will use Marie to rise to power, is when she is a girl of twelve and he comes out into the swamp and fingers her. OK, so that's, yeah, that's gross and child molestation, but it's passed off as maybe a dream, but it so isn't. Oh, but John's creepiness doesn't end there, oh no. Later when Marie is fully under his control and she never leaves their house in New Orleans she bears him a daughter. A newborn daughter he takes out into their little courtyard behind their house and holds in his arms and then starts fingering her vagina while his enormous erection is described. In detail. Until he cums. I actually felt psychically ill. I in fact am physically ill just writing this. To molest your newborn!?! What the hell!?! Why is this in the book? Yes, we've seen the evil ways of John throughout the book, but this seemed like a step too far on the part of the author. It wasn't narratively needed to drive Marie to kill John, it was extraneous, egregious, and just too much. While there was a part of me that kind of liked the book up until this point, every single shred of any positive emotion went directly into pure hatred. This book is beyond repellent. It is odious and every fiber of my being hates it.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Book Review - Lauren Willig's The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla

The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla (Pink Carnation Book 11) by Lauren Willig
Published by: NAL Trade
Publication Date: August 5th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 496 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Sally Fitzhugh spent all her time at Lady Climpson's Select Seminary dreaming of the day when she would leave Bath and get to go to all the society balls she could wish for instead of figuring out new and ingenious ways to get out of doing homework. Adventure is right outside those Seminary walls, but perhaps it's not all it's cracked up to be. Sally has been out a year and she never thought the time would come when she would be bored with this life she dreamed of. But everything has not gone according to plan. As soon as she left the Seminary her two best friends, Agnes and Lizzy, were involved in a grand cross-country caper and she was at just another boring ball. If things couldn't get worse the silly people of the ton are enraptured with Lizzy's step-mother's book, The Convent of Orsino, and a vampire craze has engulfed the little season in October. The mania might have played itself out if not for the fact there is a member of the ton that perfectly embodies the vampiric ideal. He's moody, he's broody, he's been away for years, he's an enigma to everyone, he's the Duke of Belliston.

All the rumors of vampires and the occult are swirling around the newly returned Duke. Absent from England since the death of his parents years prior all the rumors of anything supernatural comes to rest on his shoulders. He is the perfect vampire, or so everyone is saying. Everyone but Sally. She thinks it all too silly and is far more interested in the fact that Agnes and Lizzy are now out and perhaps they will enliven this dreary season. Only since their adventures after Sally left the seminary the trio is more a duo and Sally is feeling distinctly left out. At another interminable party abutting the regal home of the Duke of Belliston Sally takes a dare to walk across the dormant gardens over to his house. Boredom and the assumption that she won't be caught make Sally rash and she strides straight into Lucien, the Duke himself. Events soon transpire to thrust these two together on a more daily basis... but is this relationship something the two of them might secretly hope for? Could Sally fall for a supposed vampire?

If you've never met Lauren, she's this little pepperpot of energy powered by caffeine that talks a mile a minute from topics ranging from the sex lives of socialites in Kenya to Cary Elwes in Ella Enchanted to her high school debates. She exudes such a fun and vibrant energy that her happiness and far ranging interests are contagious. While being a writer of historical fiction, she is, in my mind, the exact opposite of the more staid and reserved "traditional" historical fiction authors out there, ahem Philippa Gregory. The reason for this character study is that Lauren's bubbly enthusiasm carries over to her books. Lauren has the research and the facts down, she has the academic and scholarly aspects of Gregory, but it's her enthusiasm that makes her books so much more than a well written piece of historical fiction. Lauren's books are fun because she brings herself into the equation, perhaps a little more in this volume with the fate of her modern day protagonist, Eloise, who is researching Sally and Lucien. She loves her characters and her stories with such zeal that you are carried along with her on a reading adventure that you won't forget.

Lauren doesn't take herself too seriously and she is able to have fun with the historical genre while deftly skewering it at the same time with wordplay and modern nudges and winks. Though the theatre major in me had a major chuckle over the "renaming" of Sheridan's The School for Scandal as The Tutelage of Scandal, it's really vampire literature that is most lovingly lambasted in The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla. Just the idea that Miss Gwen, that bane of all young gentleman with her pointy parasol, would be the Stephenie Meyer of her day is a hoot. Miss Gwen not only has the ton in a virtual vampire frenzy, but she even has sparkly vampires, with Lauren creating parodies on so many levels, from what it is to be an author, to an author's fanbase, all the way to all the different vampire iterations over the centuries, that you can't help but fall for this book. This 19th century Twilight-Mania is far more entertaining than the actual Twilight-Mania was. Add to this the references to Monty Python's Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch and to The Princess Bride, Lauren's willingness to takes liberties will make you smile inside and want to hold onto this series forever.

Looking back on the penultimate entry in Lauren's Pink Carnation series, I can't help but mourn the loss in my life of a new volume every year. The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla is such a strong entry in this series that while I know it's best to go out on top, with all the vampire and Gothic goodness, but the ending was bittersweet because Lauren just keeps developing as a writer and I will always long to know what happens next. She has been able to avoid many of the pitfalls of long running series by having each book be some offshoot of the first volume. Main characters will reappear, but never in more then background rolls, while the previous background characters take center stage. I love Sally Fitzhugh taking center stage, and yes, that's because I have a great love for all the Fitzhughs. But beyond that Sally is such an interesting character (but let's not talk about the chickens) with an indomitable will for one so young. And I know I can go back and re-read this series over and over again, but it's not the same. Though Lauren hasn't stopped writing, with her standalone books she is almost a more serious writer. I want a little more of the goofiness of Sally and a little less serious authoress.

And it's the events Sally is thrust into that really gripped me. Because at the heart of all the Napoleonic spies and secret leagues, the core of this book is a murder mystery, with a random attack stoat. While the spy angle of this series has always been important, the truth is, spies aren't for everyone. I think this volume will have a wider appeal than previous ones because of the apparent murder/suicide of the Duke of Belliston's parents. This mystery gave the book a greater urgency and made me devour it at a most rapacious rate. Years ago now I remember there was a debate as to whether the modern sections with Eloise might be phased out. I was a strong proponent of keeping the feisty American researching Napoleonic spies. But looking at this book and thinking about recommending it to others, I wonder, with Eloise's story needing the previous volumes in order to be understood, maybe this volume could be released without the modern interludes, much as Sally's brother's story, The Mischief of the Mistletoe, was. I just want more people to pick up this book and this series! I want everyone to see that vampires, and romance, and the Regency era, while you might not think it's for you, it so totally could be.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: March 5th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Everyone knows DAISY JONES AND THE SIX, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity...until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ’n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones and The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice."

I think this might be the most buzzed about book this spring, with film rights already secured!

Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom by Sylvia Plath
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: March 5th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 64 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Never before published, this newly discovered story by literary legend Sylvia Plath stands on its own and is remarkable for its symbolic, allegorical approach to a young woman’s rebellion against convention and forceful taking control of her own life.

Written while Sylvia Plath was a student at Smith College in 1952, Mary Ventura and The Ninth Kingdom tells the story of a young woman’s fateful train journey.

Lips the color of blood, the sun an unprecedented orange, train wheels that sound like “guilt, and guilt, and guilt”: these are just some of the things Mary Ventura begins to notice on her journey to the ninth kingdom.

“But what is the ninth kingdom?” she asks a kind-seeming lady in her carriage. “It is the kingdom of the frozen will,” comes the reply. “There is no going back.”

Sylvia Plath’s strange, dark tale of female agency and independence, written not long after she herself left home, grapples with mortality in motion."

This book falls into the category of books my dad thinks shouldn't be released...

The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag
Published by: Atria Books
Publication Date: March 5th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Named Best Debut Novel of 2017 by the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers.

One morning in the autumn of 1793, watchman Mikel Cardell is awakened from his drunken slumber with reports of a body seen floating in the Larder, once a pristine lake on Stockholm’s Southern Isle, now a rancid bog. Efforts to identify the bizarrely mutilated corpse are entrusted to incorruptible lawyer Cecil Winge, who enlists Cardell’s help to solve the case. But time is short: Winge’s health is failing, the monarchy is in shambles, and whispered conspiracies and paranoia abound.

Winge and Cardell become immersed in a brutal world of guttersnipes and thieves, mercenaries and madams. From a farmer’s son who is lead down a treacherous path when he seeks his fortune in the capital to an orphan girl consigned to the workhouse by a pitiless parish priest, their gruesome investigation peels back layer upon layer of the city’s labyrinthine society. The rich and the poor, the pious and the fallen, the living and the dead - all collide and interconnect with the body pulled from the lake.

Breathtakingly bold and intricately constructed, The Wolf and the Watchman brings to life the crowded streets, gilded palaces, and dark corners of late-eighteenth-century Stockholm, offering a startling vision of the crimes we commit in the name of justice, and the sacrifices we make in order to survive."

Any book touted as "The Alienist set in eighteenth-century Stockholm" is a must read for me!

The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell
Published by: Doubleday
Publication Date: March 5th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 432 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Prague, 1935: Viktor Kosárek, a psychiatrist newly trained by Carl Jung, arrives at the infamous Hrad Orlu Asylum for the Criminally Insane. The state-of-the-art facility is located in a medieval mountaintop castle outside of Prague, though the site is infamous for concealing dark secrets going back many generations. The asylum houses the country's six most treacherous killers-known to the staff as The Woodcutter, The Clown, The Glass Collector, The Vegetarian, The Sciomancer, and The Demon - and Viktor hopes to use a new medical technique to prove that these patients share a common archetype of evil, a phenomenon known as The Devil Aspect. As he begins to learn the stunning secrets of these patients, five men and one woman, Viktor must face the disturbing possibility that these six may share another dark truth.

Meanwhile, in Prague, fear grips the city as a phantom serial killer emerges in the dark alleys. Police investigator Lukas Smolak, desperate to locate the culprit (dubbed Leather Apron in the newspapers), realizes that the killer is imitating the most notorious serial killer from a century earlier - London's Jack the Ripper. Smolak turns to the doctors at Hrad Orlu for their expertise with the psychotic criminal mind, though he worries that Leather Apron might have some connection to the six inmates in the asylum.

Steeped in the folklore of Eastern Europe, and set in the shadow of Nazi darkness erupting just beyond the Czech border, this stylishly written, tightly coiled, richly imagined novel is propulsively entertaining, and impossible to put down."

Prague, a Jack the Ripper imitator? All the yes!

Wild Country by Anne Bishop
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 5th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 496 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In this powerful and exciting fantasy set in the world of the New York Times bestselling Others series, humans and the shape-shifting Others will see whether they can live side by side...without destroying one another.

There are ghost towns in the world - places where the humans were annihilated in retaliation for the slaughter of the shape-shifting Others.

One of those places is Bennett, a town at the northern end of the Elder Hills - a town surrounded by the wild country. Now efforts are being made to resettle Bennett as a community where humans and Others live and work together. A young female police officer has been hired as the deputy to a Wolfgard sheriff. A deadly type of Other wants to run a human-style saloon. And a couple with four foster children - one of whom is a blood prophet - hope to find acceptance.

But as they reopen the stores and the professional offices and start to make lives for themselves, the town of Bennett attracts the attention of other humans looking for profit. And the arrival of the outlaw Blackstone Clan will either unite Others and humans...or bury them all."

Another solid entry in the Others series by Anne Bishop. 

That Ain't Witchcraft by Seanan McGuire
Published by: DAW
Publication Date: March 5th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Now a Hugo-nominated series!

The eighth book in the funny and fast-paced InCryptid urban fantasy series returns to the mishaps of the Price family, eccentric cryptozoologists who safeguard the world of magical creatures living in secret among humans.

Crossroads, noun:

1. A place where two roads cross.
2. A place where bargains can be made.
3. See also “places to avoid.”

Antimony Price has never done well without a support system. As the youngest of her generation, she has always been able to depend on her parents, siblings, and cousins to help her out when she’s in a pinch - until now. After fleeing from the Covenant of St. George, she’s found herself in debt to the crossroads and running for her life. No family. No mice. No way out.

Lucky for her, she’s always been resourceful, and she’s been gathering allies as she travels: Sam, fūri trapeze artist turned boyfriend; Cylia, jink roller derby captain and designated driver; Fern, sylph friend, confidant, and maker of breakfasts; even Mary, ghost babysitter to the Price family. Annie’s actually starting to feel like they might be able to figure things out - which is probably why things start going wrong again.

New Gravesend, Maine is a nice place to raise a family…or make a binding contract with the crossroads. For James Smith, whose best friend disappeared when she tried to do precisely that, it’s also an excellent place to plot revenge. Now the crossroads want him dead and they want Annie to do the dirty deed. She owes them, after all.

And that’s before Leonard Cunningham, aka, “the next leader of the Covenant,” shows up...

It’s going to take everything Annie has and a little bit more to get out of this one. If she succeeds, she gets to go home. If she fails, she becomes one more cautionary tale about the dangers of bargaining with the crossroads.

But no pressure."

The question has to be asked, how does Seanan put out almost as many books as James Patterson without a whole cadre of co-writers?

Chocolate a la Murder by Kirsten Weiss
Published by: Midnight Ink
Publication Date: March 5th, 2019
Format: Paperback, 312 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Maddie gets rattled by a candy-coated murder.

It’s Wine and Chocolate Days in San Benedetto, and paranormal museum owner Maddie Kosloski has sweet dreams about her new Magic of Chocolate exhibit. Her latest attraction is a haunted Mexican whisk called a molinillo that rattles if someone lies.

When Maddie visits the town’s new boutique chocolate shop, she finds one of the owners dead and covered in melted cocoa. Maddie’s determined to catch the killer, and she soon uncovers deadly dealings in the world of artisan chocolate. But the deception surrounding those dealings are enough to make the molinillo rattle all night. Will Maddie have to temper her passion for sleuthing before a killer makes her fate bittersweet?"

I love my cozies with a little bit of magic. Here's hoping that the demise of Midnight Ink doesn't mean then end of this series!

The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane by Julia Nobel
Published by: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Publication Date: March 5th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 312 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The first in an exciting new series, this suspenseful debut brings readers on a journey filled with secrets, mystery, and unforgettable characters.

With a dad who disappeared years ago and a mother who's a bit too busy to parent, Emmy is shipped off to Wellsworth, a prestigious boarding school in England, where she's sure she won't fit in.

But then she finds a box of mysterious medallions in the attic of her home - medallions that belonged to her father. Her father who may have gone to Wellsworth.

When she arrives at school, she finds the strange symbols from the medallions etched into walls and books, which leads Emmy and her new friends, Jack and Lola, to Wellsworth's secret society: The Order of Black Hollow Lane. Emmy can't help but think that the society had something to do with her dad's disappearance, and that there may be more than just dark secrets in the halls of Wellsworth."

A possibly sinister boarding school in England? It's like this author read my mind as to what I wanted in a book!

Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles by Thomas Lennon
Published by: Amulet Books
Publication Date: March 5th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Fourteen-year-old Ronan Boyle is the youngest and lowliest recruit to the secret Garda, an Irish police force that handles the misdeeds of numerous magical creatures. Ronan’s parents are in jail, but Ronan is convinced that they were framed by the wee people. So, despite his small size, poor eyesight, and social awkwardness, he’s determined to learn all he can in the Garda in order to prove his parents’ innocence. To show he’s got what it takes, he’ll have to confront a fiery leprechaun, a sinister harpy, and a whole world of monsters hidden in plain sight next to real-life Ireland. Fast paced, action packed, and completely hilarious, this is the start to an exciting new middle-grade series by actor and writer Thomas Lennon."

I worship everything Thomas Lennon does. Therefore I worship the fact he's now a children's author. I only wish he was doing an event closer to me!

The Cottingley Fairies by Ana Sender
Published by: NorthSouth Books
Publication Date: March 5th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 48 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Elsie and Frances feel sad for adults who simply can’t see the magic in the forests around them. If only they could see what we see.

In 1918, Elsie Wright and her cousin Frances Griffith photographed fairies in their garden, in the small village of Cottingley (Yorkshire). Without expecting it, many people paid attention - including renowned writer and spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is the story, narrated by Elsie herself, of the true events that led to the Cottingley Fairies becoming a international phenomenon."

I have been obsessed with the Cottingley Fairies for years, so it's no surprise I love this book with it's beautiful illustrations.

Literary Places by Sarah Baxter and Amy Grimes
Published by: White Lion Publishing
Publication Date: March 5th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 144 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Inspired Traveller’s Guides: Literary Places takes you on an enlightening journey through the key locations of literature’s best and brightest authors, movements, and moments - brought to life through comprehensively researched text and stunning hand-drawn artwork.

Travel journalist Sarah Baxter provides comprehensive and atmospheric outlines of the history and culture of 25 literary places around the globe, as well as how they intersect with the lives of the authors and the works that make them significant. Full-page color illustrations instantly transport you to each location. You’ll find that these places are not just backdrops to the tales told, but characters in their own right.

Travel to the sun-scorched plains of Don Quixote’s La Mancha, roam the wild Yorkshire moors with Cathy and Heathcliff, or view Central Park through the eyes of J.D. Salinger’s antihero. Explore the lush and languid backwaters of Arundhati Roy’s Kerala, the imposing precipice of Joan Lindsay’s Hanging Rock, and the labyrinthine streets and sewers of Victor Hugo’s Paris.

Delve into this book to discover some of the world’s most fascinating literary places and the novels that celebrate them."

I love walking in the footsteps of favorite books and authors, whether in actuality or from the comfort of my armchair delighting in Amy Grimes's artwork.

Older Posts