Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Book Review 2020 #2 - Suzanne Collins's The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
Published by: Scholastic Press,
Publication Date: May 19th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 528 Pages
★★★★★
To Buy

Coriolanus Snow's life is about keeping up appearances. No one must know how far the great and illustrious Snows have fallen since the Dark Days. That Coriolanus, his cousin Tigris, and their Grandma'am struggle daily to put food on the table and clothes on their back. Coriolanus is a top student at the Academy but if he has any hopes of continuing on to the University he needs a full ride, something The Hunger Games could give him through the Plinth Prize, a monetary reward set up by the father of one of his classmates. If the tribute Coriolanus is assigned to mentor in the tenth annual Hunger Games wins all his worries will evaporate. But then he gets a slap in the face, he's assigned District 12's female. He knows he has no chance of winning with a tribute from this district, but he must try. This might just involve rewriting the rules but he will do anything to succeed. Lucy Gray Baird might seem unlikely to win, but she captured the hearts and minds of the Capital during the reaping with a song. He decides this unique individual needs a different approach than is traditional, so he greets her when she arrives and treats her like a human being. He makes sure she is taken care of and fed. She rewards his kindness by saving his life when the Capital Arena is bombed during a tour organized for the mentors and tributes. He knows he can't let Lucy Gray be just more fodder in the arena. If she can stay alive long enough she has a chance. Luckily Coriolanus's scheme to allow inhabitants of the Capital to bet on and sponsor tributes has been enacted by the Gamemakers and Lucy is a favorite of the viewers. The only problem is Coriolanus is starting to have too much of a personal investment in Lucy. He doesn't just care about the Plinth Prize anymore, he cares about her, and that makes him reckless. He cheats. He's caught. He's punished. He must find a way to rise again. No matter the cost.

It is a sadly rare occurrence when one of the year's most anticipated books is actually worthy of that accolade. But maybe that's just my jaded opinion because I so rarely agree with all those "best of" lists. Yet another reason for why I make my own. Therefore I was delighted when The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes actually exceeded my expectations as well as proving to all those people who said the title seemed to be randomly generated by a YA book title generator how wrong they were because it makes so much sense in context! IT MAKES SENSE PEOPLE! And yes, I'm dredging up arguments I had with people online almost two years ago over a title of a not yet released at that time book. It's what I do. You'd think a prequel starring an anti-hero who by the time we've met him later is an out and out villain would lack any way for the reader to connect and be invested in the character's journey, but you'd be so wrong. It's not that I felt emotionally invested in Coriolanus, it's that I felt pity for him and became invested in how he manipulated the world around him and those in his orbit to survive and thrive. It was a peak behind the curtain, seeing that this man, at one time, had vulnerabilities and how he exploited his connections to armor himself. There was even a glimpse at redemption, that maybe we had judged him all wrong, until the worm twisted. This isn't A Christmas Carol people, Coriolanus isn't going to give a goose to a poor family after a pleasant memory of charades. He's a tyrant who will die a tyrant after the violent overthrowing of the Capital. What's more we see how Coriolanus's need to grasp the golden ring leads him to make connections that others wouldn't. He finds ways to make The Hunger Games not just a punishment for the other Districts but something those in the Capital can be invested in. Again, this is all backstage stuff, we're seeing how the Capital suffered in the wake of the District uprisings and how they were ravaged and how revenge then festered and bloomed into The Hunger Games as we know them in Katniss's time. This is about the complete human experience, deprivation, desire, determination, and death. This is a prequel not just worthy of the original series but perhaps even better.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Tuesday Tomorrow

Patience and Esther by S.W. Searle
Published by: Iron Circus Comics
Publication Date: January 26th, 2021
Format: Paperback, 280 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Patience is a kindhearted country girl, eking out a living in Edwardian England as tremors of social change rock the world around her. When she starts her employment in formal service on the grounds of an opulent country manor, she has no idea that her own personal revolution is about to begin.

Selfless, dutiful, and just a touch naive, she takes to both her place as a parlor maid and to her new roommate, the bookish and progressive lady's maid, Esther. In another time, the two women would have kept one another's company forever in their little attic bedroom, living out their days in the employ of a Lord. But it's now the dawn of a new age. The expanding empire has brought with it not only plundered wealth, but worldliness and new ideas. Suffragists agitate in the street, idle-rich bohemians challenge sexual mores, and Patience and Esther slowly come to realize the world is wider and full of more adventure and opportunity than they ever imagined...so long as they find the will to seize it.

Sensual, sweet, and beautifully illustrated, Patience and Esther is a steamy period romance and an inspirational erotic journey across the epic sweep of history, from the end of a gilded age to the start of an uncharted future."

I'm always here for Edwardian England and this I'm guessing is an expanded form of the story told in Fresh Romance, Vol. 1.

The Heiress Gets a Duke by Harper St. George
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: January 26th, 2021
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Even a fortune forged in railroads and steel can't buy entrance into the upper echelons of Victorian high society - for that you need a marriage of convenience.

American heiress August Crenshaw has aspirations. But unlike her peers, it isn't some stuffy British Lord she wants wrapped around her finger - it's Crenshaw Iron Works, the family business. When it's clear that August's outrageously progressive ways render her unsuitable for a respectable match, her parents offer up her younger sister to the highest entitled bidder instead. This simply will not do. August refuses to leave her sister to the mercy of a loveless marriage.

Evan Sterling, the Duke of Rothschild, has no intention of walking away from the marriage. He's recently inherited the title only to find his coffers empty, and with countless lives depending on him, he can't walk away from the fortune a Crenshaw heiress would bring him. But after meeting her fiery sister, he realizes Violet isn't the heiress he wants. He wants August, and he always gets what he wants.

But August won't go peacefully to her fate. She decides to show Rothschild that she's no typical London wallflower. Little does she realize that every stunt she pulls to make him call off the wedding only makes him like her even more."

First in the new "Gilded Age Heiresses" this a series I'm sure to devour!

If I Disappear by Eliza Jane Brazier
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: January 26th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When her favorite true crime podcast host goes missing, an adrift young woman sets out to investigate and plunges headfirst into the wild backcountry of Northern California and her own dangerous obsession.

Sera loves true crime podcasts. They give her a sense of control in a world where women just like her disappear daily. She's sure they are preparing her for something. So when Rachel, her favorite podcast host, goes missing, Sera knows it's time to act. Rachel has always taught her to trust her instincts.

Sera follows the clues hidden in the episodes to an isolated ranch outside Rachel's small hometown to begin her search. She's convinced her investigation will make Rachel so proud. But the more Sera digs into this unfamiliar world, the more off things start to feel. Because Rachel is not the first woman to vanish from the ranch, and she won't be the last...

Rachel did try to warn her."

Oh, oh, oh, true crime podcaster disappearance!!!

Don't Tell a Soul by Kirsten Miller
Published by: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: January 26th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Stay up all night with this modern day Rebecca! Perfect for fans of Truly Devious - a haunting story about a new girl in an old town filled with dark secrets...that might just kill her.

People say the house is cursed.
It preys on the weakest, and young women are its favorite victims.
In Louth, they're called the Dead Girls.


All Bram wanted was to disappear - from her old life, her family's past, and from the scandal that continues to haunt her. The only place left to go is Louth, the tiny town on the Hudson River where her uncle, James, has been renovating an old mansion.

But James is haunted by his own ghosts. Months earlier, his beloved wife died in a fire that people say was set by her daughter. The tragedy left James a shell of the man Bram knew - and destroyed half the house he'd so lovingly restored.

The manor is creepy, and so are the locals. The people of Louth don't want outsiders like Bram in their town, and with each passing day she's discovering that the rumors they spread are just as disturbing as the secrets they hide. Most frightening of all are the legends they tell about the Dead Girls. Girls whose lives were cut short in the very house Bram now calls home.

The terrifying reality is that the Dead Girls may have never left the manor. And if Bram looks too hard into the town's haunted past, she might not either."

That cover! That description! That reference to Rebecca!

One Poison Pie by Lynn Cahoon
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: January 26th, 2021
Format: Paperback, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Lynn Cahoon launches a sparkling new series featuring Mia Malone, a kitchen witch who's starting over in her grandmother's Idaho hometown of Magic Springs, where the use of magic is an open secret and murder is on the menu...

What's a kitchen witch to do when her almost-fiancé leaves her suddenly single and unemployed? For Mia Malone, the answer's simple: move to her grandmother's quirky Idaho hometown, where magic is an open secret and witches and warlocks are (mostly) welcome. With a new gourmet dinner delivery business--and a touch of magic in her recipes - Mia's hopes are high. Even when her ex's little sister, Christina, arrives looking for a place to stay, Mia takes it in stride.

But her first catering job takes a distasteful turn when her client's body is found, stabbed and stuffed under the head table. Mia's shocked to learn that she's a suspect - and even more so when she realizes she's next on a killer's list. With Christina, along with Mia's meddling grandma, in the mix, she'll have to find out which of the town's eccentric residents has an appetite for murder...before this fresh start comes to a sticky end..."

Witches and kitchens go together like witches and black cats!           

The Paradise Affair by Bill Pronzini
Published by: Forge Books
Publication Date: January 26th, 2021
Format: Hardcover, 176 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Bill Pronzini’s next historical mystery The Paradise Affair, perfect for fans of Peaky Blinders and The Alienist.

Quincannon’s pursuit of two con men who have absconded to Hawaii with a considerable sum of his employer’s assets dovetails nicely with Sabina’s vision of a second honeymoon.

But neither is wont to stay out of trouble, and Sabina inadvertently becomes involved in a locked room/dying message murder in Honolulu."

I don't really connect this book's bowler hats aesthetic with Hawaii... but I'm game! 

Friday, January 22, 2021

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 18, 2021

Tuesday Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm really into epic fantasy duologies!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am REALLY into witches right now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do I keep doing this to myself?

Friday, January 15, 2021

Book Review 2020 #5 - Si Spurrier's Worst Among Equals

Worst Among Equals by Si Spurrier
Published by: Marvel
Publication Date: February 8th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 168 Pages
★★★★★
To Buy

Aphra has gotten herself into quite the jam. Sure she broke out of prison and narrowly avoided Imperial custody and her old boss Darth Vader, but this might be worse. Turns out one of her prison inmates was the notorious, and psychotic, Doctor Cornelius Evazan. He was posing as a shapeshifter and he's now using Aphra and Triple-Zero in an experiment to amuse himself. Evazan watches through Triple-Zero's eyes as the murderbot and Aprha cross the hostile and ultra lawful Imperial world of Milvayne. They have ten hours before the bomb Evazan has implanted in Aphra's throat explodes. A bomb fitted with a proximity alert. If Aphra or Triple-Zero stray too far apart they both die. And Triple-Zero really wants to see Aphra die... So everything hinges on a sadistic droid and his sense of self-preservation. Oh, this is going to be an epic experiment, one that Evazan feels everyone should see. Soon all of Milvayne is watching the duo's journey which hits stumbling block after stumbling block. Of course Aphra should have known Triple-Zero would kill the only person capable of deactivating the bomb. Then there's the cops now on their trail, oh and don't forget the reanimated bounty hunter Tam Posla who's now a Force-fungus-powered vigilante, the monster hunters Winloss and Nokk, and the shadowy agents of Imperial Propaganda. Seems like Aphra can't catch a break when even her newest allies are turning against her. Here's hoping she can live to see another day or at least the next ten hours...

Seeing as we are all in agreement that last year was shit it shouldn't come as a surprise that sometimes I would be forced to retreat into my happy place. In past years this has been Hogwarts, but J.K. Rowling has kind of ruined that for everyone now hasn't she? So I went back to my old school comfort blanket, Star Wars. For Star Wars Day, May the 4th of course, I grabbed the most recent trade paperback collection and all twelve issues I hadn't caught up on and just gorged myself on the adventures of Doctor Aphra. Because as I've said before when I was introduced to this series back in 2019, this is what Star Wars was and should always be. Sometimes when Aphra's just out for a payday the story doesn't reach the level of perfection it has been known to reach, but this volume had everything I could hope for, in particular, Triple-Zero. I love the interaction of Aphra and the murderbots! The way they play off each other is like a really incredibly dark screwball comedy. Plus it's a nice delineation to show that yes, Aphra does dubious things but she's not pure evil like Triple-Zero and BT-One! I mean Triple-Zero is living for the day he can kill Aphra, which makes this volume so perfect. His life is dependent on Aphra staying alive, so he is constantly weighing the pros and cons of the joy he'd get from her annihilation versus his self-preservation. But you have a feeling that in the end he'll take the delayed gratification of Aphra's death over his own metal hide.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Book Review 2020 #6 - Brian Selznick's The Marvels

The Marvels by Brian Selznick
Published by: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: September 15th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 640 Pages
★★★★★
To Buy

In 1766 there were many hurricanes. Billy Marvel and his beloved dog are the sole survivors of the sinking of the Kraken which was hit by this force of nature. Billy even lost his beloved brother Marcus in the wreck. When Billy gets to London he is drawn to the construction site of the Royal Theatre and is mesmerized by the painting of the ceiling. There he is recognized as the sole survivor of the wreck, as his picture is on the cover of every newspaper, and he enthralls the crew with his tales of the hurricane and of his brother Marcus. The painter hired to do the ceiling is so moved by the tale he paints Marcus as an angel looking down over the audience. This serendipitous meeting is the beginning of the Marvel theatre dynasty. Billy works as a stagehand and set designer, and soon he has a son, and then there is a marriage. Down the generations until their dynasty ends in 1900. In 1990 Joseph Jervis has run away from school. His parents are abroad so he decides that he will go to his uncle's house in London. He has only the faintest notion of where Albert Nightingale lives, but cold and ill he arrives on his uncle's doorstep thinking that he might just have seen a horse and carriage. Inside the house is even odder. It feels trapped not just in another time, but at a specific time. A dinner is on the table, but a dinner that was interrupted. A napkin lays askew, and it must always lay askew. Albert reluctantly lets his nephew stay in the dream world he has created in this house in Spitalfields. But Joseph must behave. But Joseph is a curious child and from artifacts around the house he starts to learn about the Marvel theatre dynasty. The more he learns, the more he hopes that he is related to them. Yet what he knows of his own family's history doesn't add up with the Marvels. So in this house of make believe, Joseph must distinguish fact from fiction and then decide what is the better way to live?

It's hard to pick a favorite Brian Selznick book in that he is the master of his niche of storytelling. His style of art combined with his prose never fails to entertain, inspire, and uplift. Here though he's tweaked his winning style by having almost four hundred uninterrupted pages of illustration followed by two hundred pages of prose with a coda, another fifty pages of illustration. There was just something about this twist that made me fall even deeper into it than I did with The Invention of Hugo Cabret or Wonderstruck. The Marvels might just be my favorite Brian Selznick book yet! The four hundred pages of illustrations sped by as I was swept away by the history of the Marvel theatre dynasty. By the time you hit the prose section you're so invested in the story that I don't get those who felt the shift in style and tone betrayed them and made them dismiss the book out of hand. Thankfully I believe these to be a minority, because the twist to the story, the way art mimics reality and the artifice of theatre just made me love this book even more. In fact I was sorely compelled to re-read the first four hundred pages a second time after finishing the prose so I could come to terms with the awe I felt with how everything tied together so perfectly. But I was so overcome with tears streaming down my face that actually trying to read or look at a book would have been impossible due to the deluge of tears. What makes this book even more special I feel is that it's loosely based on a real location and person, Dennis Severs' House. One of my friends went to this museum that Dennis Severs created, a place where you can journey back in time with his staged "still-life drama." This is immersive history in the extreme. Oh how I want to go there. But reading this book is literally the next best thing and “you either see it, or you don’t.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Book Review 2020 #7 - Stuart Turton's The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Published by: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: February 8th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 458 Pages
★★★★
To Buy

Doctor Sebastian Bell loses all memory of who he is while in the woods with the name "Anna" dying on his lips. Soon he hears a reply calling for help and then the air is split by the sound of a gun being discharged. Not knowing who he is or where he is, he knows a crime has been committed and must find help. He stumbles for what seems hours until he finds a house. He is let inside and up to a room that is supposedly his. He finds an invitation addressed to a "Doctor Sebastian Bell" requesting his presence at Blackheath House for the return of Evelyn Hardcastle from Paris. So that is who he is, Doctor Sebastian Bell. He tries to compose himself while sloughing off the filth of the forest. While he knows he might not remember anything beyond this morning he knows a crime has been committed and he fears Anna is dead. He must solve this mystery no matter what obstacles are put in his path. And currently his path is blocked by someone dressed as a plague doctor. Someone who tries to convince him Anna isn't his concern. Someone who tries to tell him his only goal for the moment is to get the lay of the land. Yet his concern and curiosity is insatiable and he goes in search of Anna, finding a note from her that is oddly prescient and requesting a meeting later that night. Sebastian starts to not only fear for Anna's life but his own. Soon the prodigal daughter herself, Evelyn, is helping Sebastian in his search for Anna. It appears Blackheath House isn't a stranger to murder, Evelyn's own brother was killed years before down by the lake. Anna misses their appointed meeting, making Sebastian fear the worst, and when he returns to his room everything goes black. And then he wakes up again. And again. And again...

So, a fair amount of book reviews start with a little summery of the book, like this one here does. But whereas most reviewers are doing it to give you an overview of what to expect my reasoning is far different. I do it because it's me writing what I think the blurb on the back of the book should have been. So many book blurbs give an entirely erroneous description that I feel a need to fix it. Likewise so many book blurbs spoil important plot twists that I feel I have to shelter everyone from the spoilers. Unless I really hate the book than I'll probably spoil away. I remember a book review Nick Hornby wrote about Wilkie Collins's No Name and how under no circumstances should you read the blurb because it revealed a huge plot twist and royally pissed him off. No one wants their enjoyment spoiled by a reckless copywriter! While yes, the "original" blurb for this book is part of the reason I picked it up, I felt that it just gave too much away. In fact it's hard to write a review for this book because so much of what I loved, the twists and turns, I want you to experience and enjoy for yourself. This isn't a book to be passively consumed, you become a part of it, working out all the tiny details and trying to solve all the mysteries before the final curtain. I might have considered flow charts at one point, but decided that was taking it too far. But to find a book that you actively want to be a part of, that you can't wait to pick up again, to dig into the story, that is a blessing. This book just doesn't take you away, it asks you to come along for the ride of a lifetime, part Agatha Christie, part Quantum Leap, and totally mind melting. PS, Stuart Turton is a total Quantum Leap geek whereas I'm still pissed at the show's ending.

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