Friday, January 24, 2020

Book Review 2019 #3 - Erin Morgenstren's The Starless Sea

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Published by: Doubleday
Publication Date: November 5th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 512 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

When he was young Zachary Ezra Rawlins found a door. Graffitied on the side of his home. Appearing overnight and painted over by the end of the day. He did not go through it and did not tell anyone about it but over the years wondered what would have happened. Therefore it comes as a shock when perusing the stacks of his school's library during winter break that there is a book with his story in it. This impossibility leads him on a hunt that will forever change his life. A hunt for a bee, a key, and a sword. A hunt that leads him into the cross-hairs of warring parties. At a literary themed masquerade at the Algonquin Hotel in New York he meets the players who will lead him down his path. Mirabel, the painter, and Dorian, the storyteller. But this path doesn't come without dangers. Far beneath the Earth there are tunnels and rooms and each and every one of them is filled with books and stories and adventures to be had. But they are all in danger. This subterranean world was once alive and vibrant and here Zachary Ezra Rawlins has finally stepped through the door into a magical world in it's death throes. What would have happened if he had arrived earlier? What will happen now that he's here? Can he save the library with his new companions or is it all lost before his adventure has really begun?

The Starless Sea is an ode to books and book lovers and all forms of stories. The plot twists and turns and is a complex puzzle waiting to be solved. A quest for the reader and for Zachary Ezra Rawlins. When you reach the end it becomes a beginning and it almost feels necessary to turn back to the first page and relive all the adventure and heartache. There's something nostalgic about it, it harkens back to well loved movies and books and even video games. There's more than a dash of The Neverending Story, and Labyrinth, and The Magicians, and and and a million other books and adventures I loved as a kid and adult. Though I have noted the discontent in some readers who were expecting a new iteration of The Night Circus. At first I to was hoping for that and while The Starless Sea is definitely not that it's so unique, so it's own thing, that I love it for what it is and the work you put in to understand and follow what is happening is justly rewarded. Books shouldn't be easy. Books should make us think, challenge us in ways we didn't expect, take us on an epic adventure that makes us realize why we fell in love with stories in the first place. I fell into The Starless Sea and don't care to be rescued.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Book Review 2019 #4 - Doctor Aphra Vol. 1: Aphra

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, Vol. 1: Aphra by Kieron Gillen
Published by: Marvels
Publication Date: July 3rd, 2017
Format: Paperback, 144 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Doctor Aphra, thanks to her own ingenuity, was able to escape her servitude to Darth Vader by the handy expedient of faking her own death. But the galaxy is big and so long as she stays off his radar think of all she can do with this newfound lease on life? Think of all the artifacts waiting to be liberated. Think of how the sale of those artifacts using her archeological accreditation can get her out of debt to some rather unscrupulous characters. Think of all the humans waiting to be killed! Hang on... that's what her two murderbot droids pilfered from Vader, Triple Zero and BT-One, hope for on these adventures. But things never go to plan. Here she is with a relic ready for it's new owners and somehow all her bonafides have disappeared like Alderaan. Turns out her father is behind this newest wrinkle. He has an obsession with the Jedi and needs her help. Between family drama, an Imperial agent hot on her tail, and nothing ever being what is expected, Aphra will have a hell of a time surviving this new adventure. And she thought working for Vader was dangerous!

I have an enormous love of Star Wars but have been disappointed in recent years. The prequels? The retconning of the EU? So many missteps. The new trilogy is fine, but this isn't the path I viewed these characters I grew up with taking. Therefore my Star Wars is basically the original trilogy and Solo, because seriously, that movie rocks and I will cape fight anyone who disagrees with me. Also cape fighting is very similar to the walk off in Zoolander if you were wondering. Feeling many of the same feels as me a member of my book club handed me Doctor Aphra Vol. 1 and told me I MUST read it. When I received the book I was down and sick and was worried Star Wars would in some way let me down again. But THIS is what Star Wars should be! A glorious mashup of old school Star Wars and Indiana Jones, because, come on, who hasn't dreamt of that Harrison Ford mashup? Add in bloodthirsty droids, questionable motives, family issues, and more than a dollop of Firefly and Guardians of the Galaxy, and this is a near perfect comic. As my friend told me, Aphra is who Han Solo wishes he was and I couldn't agree more. I want to be Doctor Aphra. 

Monday, January 20, 2020

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Mitford Scandal by Jessica Fellowes
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: January 21st, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the third book in the Mitford Murders series, lady's maid Louisa Cannon accompanies Diana Mitford into a turbulent late 1920s Europe.

The year is 1928, and after the death of a maid at a glamorous society party, fortune heir Bryan Guinness seizes life and proposes to eighteen-year-old Diana, most beautiful of the six Mitford sisters. The maid's death is ruled an accident, and the newlyweds put it behind them to begin a whirlwind life zipping between London's Mayfair, chic Paris and hedonistic Berlin. Accompanying Diana as her lady's maid is Louisa Cannon, as well as a coterie of friends, family and hangers on, from Nancy Mitford to Evelyn Waugh.

When a second victim is found in Paris in 1931, Louisa begins to see links with the death of the maid two years previously. Now she must convince the Mitford sisters that a murderer could be within their midst...all while shadows darken across Europe, and within the heart of Diana Mitford herself."

This fills the Mitford void in my life since I've read all their books. 

Someday We Will Fly by Rachel DeWoskin
Published by: Viking Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 21st, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the author of Blind, a heart-wrenching coming-of-age story set during World War II in Shanghai, one of the only places Jews without visas could find refuge.

Warsaw, Poland. The year is 1940 and Lillia is fifteen when her mother, Alenka, disappears and her father flees with Lillia and her younger sister, Naomi, to Shanghai, one of the few places that will accept Jews without visas. There they struggle to make a life; they have no money, there is little work, no decent place to live, a culture that doesn't understand them. And always the worry about Alenka. How will she find them? Is she still alive?

Meanwhile Lillia is growing up, trying to care for Naomi, whose development is frighteningly slow, in part from malnourishment. Lillia finds an outlet for her artistic talent by making puppets, remembering the happy days in Warsaw when her family was circus performers. She attends school sporadically, makes friends with Wei, a Chinese boy, and finds work as a performer at a "gentlemen's club" without her father's knowledge.

But meanwhile the conflict grows more intense as the Americans declare war and the Japanese force the Americans in Shanghai into camps. More bombing, more death. Can they survive, caught in the crossfire?"

I find stories of WWII not set on the western front a refreshing change of pace. 

The Will and the Wilds by Charlie N. Holmberg
Published by: 47north
Publication Date: January 21st, 2020
Format: Paperback, 268 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A spellbinding story of truce and trickery from the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Paper Magician series.

Enna knows to fear the mystings that roam the wildwood near her home. When one tries to kill her to obtain an enchanted stone, Enna takes a huge risk: fighting back with a mysting of her own.

Maekallus's help isn't free. His price? A kiss. One with the power to steal her soul. But their deal leaves Maekallus bound to the mortal realm, which begins eating him alive. Only Enna's kiss, given willingly, can save him from immediate destruction. It's a temporary salvation for Maekallus and a lingering doom for Enna. Part of her soul now burns bright inside Maekallus, making him feel for the first time.

Enna shares Maekallus's suffering, but her small sacrifice won't last long. If she and Maekallus can't break the spell binding him to the mortal realm, Maekallus will be consumed completely - and Enna's soul with him."

I love me a good trickster tale. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

Book Review 2019 #5 - Alison Goodman's The Dark Days Pact

The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman
Published by: Speak
Publication Date: January 21st, 2017
Format: Paperback, 512 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

After being caught in her bedroom with Lord Carlston on the night of her ball Lady Helen has been tossed out by her uncle. If only she could tell her family it's not what they think! But her duties as a Reclaimer come first and that means only those in the Dark Days Club can know what really happened that night in her bedroom; that she killed the rogue Reclaimer Benchley and lost her chance of ever having a normal life. She has luckily clung to respectability by the discretion of all involved and by being whisked away to Brighton for the rest of the season. While it might seem odd that she has withdrawn to Brighton "for her health" with her new acquaintances, Lady Margaret and her brother Mr. Hammond, they at least lend her an air of respectability while helping to train her in her duties as a Reclaimer. As Lord Carlston's aides the siblings are helping Lady Helen in Lord Carlston's grand scheme to disguise her as a man for her Reclaimer duties. A task that sounds easier than it's turning out to be as she must unlearn all that is feminine in order to be masculine. Add to that that she must also maintain the life expected of Lady Helen and there's barely time to sleep. Though her sleepless nights might be more the memory of an embrace shared with Lord Carlston and worrying over his declining mental health than trying to maintain two separate lives simultaneously.

Due to the rigors of the job and the demands on their bodies Reclaimers at some point have to retire before going completely mad. Yet Lord Carlston seems to be getting rapidly worse. A fact that must be kept from the bureaucratic arm of the Dark Days Club. Mr. Pike would relish the chance to put Lord Carlston out to pasture or in the ground because he was going the way of Benchley. So it is rather disconcerting when Mr. Pike arrives in Brighton. Though he's not just there to monitor Lord Carlston, he's there to force Helen to swear her allegiance to the government and to assign her a mission which she must accomplish without her full training and with only the help of Mr. Hammond. Benchley's Terrene Lowry claims to have a journal that his Reclaimer kept written in the blood of his victims that Mr. Pike is desperate to get his hands on. Only when Helen confronts Lowry his price is unacceptable to her. She must find another way to get the journal, which becomes more desperate when a Deceiver, the Comte d'Antraigues, tells Lord Carlston that the journal is the only thing that will cure his madness. Lady Helen is caught between her duty and her desire and either outcome could prove fatal.

The first book in Lady Helen's series, The Dark Days Club, for all it's darkness in showing the seamy underbelly of Regency England was still nestled in the comfortable world of Jane Austen with the drawing rooms and balls and Dukes plighting their troth. Here that life is gone. Lady Helen is no longer ensconced in society but clinging to the edges as best she can. This is a darker world from the one she was cast out from. There are whore houses catering to all tastes. Cruelty, depravity, sexual congress, all that which Lady Helen was shielded from her entire life is now on full display as she walks through Brighton disguised as a man. She was raised to arrange dinner parties not cavort around in men's garb in back allies. Yet she readily accepts the change as the duties of a Reclaimer. I fully embraced this darker tale, it's kind of like comparing an adaptation of Jane Austen to the Tom Hardy series Taboo, both take place during the same time period, but both show such radically different views of that time period. And the thing I've noticed with me, as I get older, I'm less inclined to the happily ever after and more drawn to the ambiguous, darker endings. To me they feel more real, like they're reflecting the world as it is versus how we want it to be.

And poor Helen, she is trying so hard to fit herself into this new world order but underneath it all you can see she is struggling. The scene that I think best exemplifies this is when she's told that she's getting a radical new haircut. While I've never been a girl who longs for the long hair, there is that connection between gorgeously flowing hair and femininity, more so during earlier time periods. Think how much of an impact O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi had? Or when Fantine has to sell her hair in Les Misérables? Yet for how revolutionary she is being in embracing this new life and the challenges that it presents I think she occasionally is willing to fall back on her upbringing a little too much. She was raised to listen to her Uncle, listen to men, they know what's right, so as soon as Mr. Pike swoops in with all his horrid ideas that he says she must follow she follows them when instead she should tell him to STFU. She questions Pike in her mind yet there's a part of her that just follows him blindly despite disagreeing with everything he says and does. This just shows the larger problem endemic to society and that's women should obey because they are nothing more than property. They are to do what is expected, they can not color outside the lines. Helen might be a Reclaimer, but to her brethren she is just there for their use not her opinions.

Now, to get off my high horse, let's talk about something else, let's talk about the Deceivers. So Deceivers, if they are acting in accord to the compact they have with Reclaimers they skim energy off of people without them knowing it. They are taking a little bit of their life force in order to survive. When I started reading this series I had just been on a day trip to Chicago after which one of my friend's credit cards got a fraud warning. My other friend was convinced that the number had just been swiped by an unscrupulous waitress at the restaurant we had ate at, which wasn't at all the case, because the card had never once left my friend's wallet and had been scanned with a RFID reader. The scanner takes all your vital information and gives it to the thief without you even knowing until you get a ping on your credit card. They can take away your entire life without you knowing it and as I was explaining this a light went off above my head and I realized that is what an Deceiver does! Here was a real life example of the supernatural elements in the book and it made me appreciate Alison Goodman's worldbuilding even more. To be able to explain a supernatural element in terms that those who don't necessarily get fantasy can understand made me so happy! Now I just have to convince everyone I know to read this series and invest in RFID wallets.

In another real world and book world colliding incident I'm going to shift to Mr. Hammond. I know I've talked about this in another review before but seeing as I tend to dream cast books as I read them when an aspect of my dream casting and an aspect of the character come together it's fascinating and a little unnerving and is therefore worth repeating. From the second Mr. Hammond entered this story I have pictured him as Lord Alfred Paget from Victoria. There's something just so sweet and reassuring about this character as he threads his way through the politics and paramours of the royal household that his caring and concern rang true to who Mr. Hammond is. In season two of Victoria Lord Alfred falls in love with Edward Drummond, the Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, which was doomed from the beginning and oh so heartbreaking. When Alison Goodman, through the deplorable Mr. Pike, reveals that Mr. Hammond is homosexual I had a moment of confusion. Had I totally, through my dream casting, learned a secret part of Mr. Hammond's character without even realizing I was doing it? I'm not sure, but it sure looks that way! Whatever the case is, whether I was subconsciously picking up on something or I just can somehow predict the future, I don't know, but it was simultaneously spooky and cool.

Putting my uncanny abilities aside there was an aspect of this story that just warmed the cockles of my heart, and that was to do with Delia Cransdon. Poor Delia who was ruined by a Deceiver who then killed himself to body jump when surrounded by Reclaimers and has since been under lock and key at her parents estate with the asylum looming ever larger. Her parents estate is close to Brighton and Helen views it as her duty to at least tell Delia what she can so that Delia will know she's not insane. Of course there's lots of back and forth with what can and can not be told but in the end Delia knows all that Helen does and is sworn in as Helen's aide. While the book doesn't go into specifics about how acceptable society views it that Helen is championing Delia, especially as Delia is viewed as rather "loose" at the one party they attend, that doesn't bother me so much as how glad I was to see how honorable Lady Helen is. Even before she knew about this other world Helen wanted to rush to Delia's side. As soon as Helen knew the truth and was shown the door by her relatives she reached out to Delia to ease her mind and also to reaffirm their friendship. If their was still any doubt in Helen's maid Darby's mind about whether Helen is on the side of the angels, this would have been proof enough. Lady Helen, saving the world one friend at a time.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Book Review 2019 #6 - Daniel O'Malley's The Rook

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
Published by: Back Bay Books
Publication Date: January 11th, 2012
Format: Paperback, 486 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Myfanwy Thomas is a Rook, a high-level operative in a secret organization called The Checquy. She's hardworking, discrete, and unflappable, but she has a looming concern. Due to the nature of her job and the type of people and creatures she meets she has learned that she will lose her memory. Permanently. She doesn't know how, she doesn't know when, but she knows that soon she will be vulnerable. Therefore she does what she is best at; she plans. She figures out how to tell the you she will become everything she needs to know in order to survive. Therefore on a rainy night when Myfanwy Thomas is surrounded by corpses in a London park the you that she was saves her and helps her to uncover exactly what is going on in The Checquy.

I'd remembered hearing about this book years ago but didn't pick it up until I was reminded of it's existence by the looming Starz television adaptation. What astounds me is this book is exactly up my alley but no one had ever recommended it to me. My guess is that it's kind of hard to quantify. Would you say it's a supernatural version of The Avengers? Kind of, and of course I'm meaning the Steed and Peel version. Is it an otherworldly James Bond? Again, kind of... But the way I'm describing it to my friends as I hold it in front of them proselytizing is that it's as if The Initiative in season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn't lame and was British with a giant great wallop of snark. Now if I had been told that back in 2012 I would have picked up this book way sooner. So thank you to the TV show that shouldn't really be called The Rook because it keeps almost nothing from the book aside from names for getting me to read a book that I enjoyed so much.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Tuesday Tomorrow

All the Ways We Said Goodbye by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: January 14th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The New York Times bestselling authors of The Glass Ocean and The Forgotten Room return with a glorious historical adventure that moves from the dark days of two World Wars to the turbulent years of the 1960s, in which three women with bruised hearts find refuge at Paris’ legendary Ritz hotel.

The heiress...
The Resistance fighter...
The widow...
Three women whose fates are joined by one splendid hotel.

France, 1914. As war breaks out, Aurelie becomes trapped on the wrong side of the front with her father, Comte Sigismund de Courcelles. When the Germans move into their family’s ancestral estate, using it as their headquarters, Aurelie discovers she knows the German Major’s aide de camp, Maximilian Von Sternburg. She and the dashing young officer first met during Aurelie’s debutante days in Paris. Despite their conflicting loyalties, Aurelie and Max’s friendship soon deepens into love, but betrayal will shatter them both, driving Aurelie back to Paris and the Ritz - the home of her estranged American heiress mother, with unexpected consequences.

France, 1942. Raised by her indomitable, free-spirited American grandmother in the glamorous Hotel Ritz, Marguerite “Daisy” Villon remains in Paris with her daughter and husband, a Nazi collaborator, after France falls to Hitler. At first reluctant to put herself and her family at risk to assist her grandmother’s Resistance efforts, Daisy agrees to act as a courier for a skilled English forger known only as Legrand, who creates identity papers for Resistance members and Jewish refugees. But as Daisy is drawn ever deeper into Legrand’s underground network, committing increasingly audacious acts of resistance for the sake of the country - and the man - she holds dear, she uncovers a devastating secret...one that will force her to commit the ultimate betrayal, and to confront at last the shocking circumstances of her own family history.

France, 1964. For Barbara “Babs” Langford, her husband, Kit, was the love of her life. Yet their marriage was haunted by a mysterious woman known only as La Fleur. On Kit’s death, American lawyer Andrew “Drew” Bowdoin appears at her door. Hired to find a Resistance fighter turned traitor known as “La Fleur,” the investigation has led to Kit Langford. Curious to know more about the enigmatic La Fleur, Babs joins Drew in his search, a journey of discovery that that takes them to Paris and the Ritz - and to unexpected places of the heart...."

New Lauren Willig book! Yes yes, I know it's not JUST her, but the second "W" collaboration was more cohesive than the first, so it's basically a new book by your favorite author, be it Lauren, Karen, or Beatriz! 

The Decent Inn of Death by Rennie Airth
Published by: Penguin Books
Publication Date: January 14th, 2020
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Snowed in at a country manor, former Scotland Yard inspectors John Madden and Angus Sinclair find themselves trapped in the company of a murderer.

On a trip into Winchester, former chief inspector Angus Sinclair learns of a tragedy that has taken place in the village he is staying in. Beloved church organist Greta Hartmann has slipped and fallen to her death in a shallow creek, and while investigations conclude it to be an accident, her friend and housemate, Vera, remains unconvinced. After learning that Greta was the widow of a prominent anti-Nazi German preacher, Sinclair meets with the distraught Vera, and he resolves to dig deeper into the story. His investigations lead him to the stately manor of Julia Lesage, where she lives with her devoted staff that includes her secretary, cook, and driver. Though confined to a wheelchair, Julia is an electrifying spirit with a sharp wit, and those who know her adore her. Among those who do, a gentleman with dubious business dealings is also staying at the house--and Julia appears to be in love with him. A blizzard hits, keeping Sinclair, and later Madden, on the grounds with little to do but analyze the case of Greta's death, until a murder takes place, and everyone becomes a suspect."

Yes, a murder at a snowed in country manor will always catch my eye, but more importantly Winchester? Hot Fuzz country!?!

Near Prospect Park by Lawrence H. Levy
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: January 14th, 2020
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Daring Brooklyn detective Mary Handley teams up with Teddy Roosevelt to solve her husband’s murder, only to run afoul of nineteenth-century New York’s elite when she uncovers a dangerous conspiracy.

It’s December 1896, and after marrying a muckraking reporter, detective Mary Handley turns her focus from pursuing new cases to raising her newborn daughter. But when her husband turns up dead, Mary knows her next case must be solving his death. Harper was working on a big story - did it get him killed? She sets out to solve his murder, soon discovering that the investigation goes all the way to the top of the New York food chain.

Realizing she’s outgunned, Mary turns to the one person who might be able to help: Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt. As the two dig deep into the underbelly of New York’s social scene, they uncover a sinister plot exploiting the city’s most vulnerable citizens."

Like a cozier version of The Alienist.

The Companion by Kim Taylor Blakemore
Published by: Lake Union Publishing
Publication Date: January 14th, 2020
Format: Paperback, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"They say she's a murderess. She claims she's innocent. But Lucy has been known to tell lies...

1855, New Hampshire. Lucy Blunt is set to hang for a double murder. Murderess or victim? Only Lucy knows the truth.

In the shadow of the gallows, Lucy reflects on the events that led to her bitter downfall - from the moment she arrived at the rambling Burton mansion looking for work and a better life to the grisly murders themselves.

In a mysterious household of locked doors and forbidden affections, Lucy slips comfortably into the shadows, where she believes the indiscretions of her past will remain hidden. But when Lucy's rising status becomes a threat to the mistress's current companion, the delicate balance of power and loyalty begins to shift, setting into motion a brewing storm of betrayal, suspicion, and rage.

Now, with her execution looming closer, Lucy's allies fight to have her sentence overturned as the tale she's spinning nears its conclusion. But how much of her story can we trust? After all, Lucy's been known to bend the truth..."

Turn of the Screw meets Lizzie Borden!

A Longer Fall by Charlaine Harris
Published by: Gallery/Saga Press
Publication Date: January 14th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"#1 New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris returns with the second of the Gunnie Rose series, in which Lizbeth is hired onto a new crew, transporting a crate into Dixie, the self-exiled southeast territory of the former United States. What the crate contains is something so powerful, that forces from across three territories want to possess it.

In this second thrilling installment of the Gunnie Rose series, Lizbeth Rose is hired onto a new crew for a seemingly easy protection job, transporting a crate into Dixie, just about the last part of the former United States of America she wants to visit. But what seemed like a straight-forward job turns into a massacre as the crate is stolen. Up against a wall in Dixie, where social norms have stepped back into the last century, Lizbeth has to go undercover with an old friend to retrieve the crate as what’s inside can spark a rebellion, if she can get it back in time.

#1 New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse mysteries and Midnight, Texas trilogy) is at her best here, building the world of this alternate history of the United States, where magic is an acknowledged but despised power."

Two of my favorite authors having books come out this week? It's almost more than I could hope for!

The Tenant by Kathrine Engberg
Published by: Gallery/Scout Press
Publication Date: January 14th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An electrifying work of literary suspense from international bestselling author Katrine Engberg, this stunning debut introduces two police detectives struggling to solve a shocking murder and stop a killer hell-bent on revenge.

When a young woman is discovered brutally murdered in her own apartment, with an intricate pattern of lines carved into her face, Copenhagen police detectives Jeppe Korner and Anette Werner are assigned to the case. In short order, they establish a link between the victim, Julie Stender, and her landlady, Esther de Laurenti, who’s a bit too fond of drink and the host of raucous dinner parties with her artist friends. Esther also turns out to be a budding novelist - and when Julie turns up as a murder victim in the still-unfinished mystery she’s writing, the link between fiction and real life grows both more urgent and more dangerous.

But Esther’s role in this twisted scenario is not quite as clear as it first seems. Is she the culprit - or just another victim, trapped in a twisted game of vengeance? Anette and Jeppe must dig more deeply into the two women’s pasts to discover the identity of the brutal puppet-master pulling the strings in this electrifying literary thriller."

Thrilling indeed!

Blood and Ash by Deborah Wilde
Published by: Te Da Media
Publication Date: January 14th, 2020
Format: Paperback, 314 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Cold-blooded kidnappers. Long-lost magic. When things get serious, she goes full Sherlock.

Ashira Cohen takes pride in being the only female private investigator in Vancouver. With her skills, her missing persons case should be a piece of cake.

She wasn’t counting on getting bashed in the skull, revealing a hidden tattoo and supernatural powers she shouldn’t possess.

Or the bitter icing on top: a spree of abductions and terrifying ghostly creatures on a deadly bender.

And don’t even get her started on the golems.

Reluctantly partnered with her long-time nemesis Levi, the infuriating leader of the magic community, Ash resolves to keep her focus on the clue trail and off their sexual tension because WTF is up with that?

But with a mastermind organization pulling strings from the shadows and Levi’s arrogance driving her to pick out his body bag, can Ash rescue the captives and uncover the truth or will the next blood spilled be her own?

Blood and Ash is the epic first novel in The Jezebel Files. If you like headstrong heroines, complex mysteries, and a dash of red-hot romance, you’ll love Deborah Wilde’s laugh out loud tale."

If you subtitle your book "A Snarky Urban Fantasy Detective Series" you can be sure I'll read it.

The Thief Knot by Kate Milford
Published by: Clarion Books
Publication Date: January 14th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Ghosts, a kidnapping, a crew of young detectives, and family secrets mix in this new standalone mystery set in the world of the best-selling Greenglass House, from a National Book Award nominee and Edgar Award-winning author.

Marzana and her best friend are bored. Even though they live in a notorious city where normal rules do not apply, nothing interesting ever happens to them. Nothing, that is, until Marzana’s parents are recruited to help solve an odd crime, and she realizes that this could be the excitement she’s been waiting for. She assembles a group of kid detectives with special skills - including the ghost of a ship captain’s daughter - and together, they explore hidden passageways, navigate architecture that changes overnight, and try to unravel the puzzle of who the kidnappers are - and where they’re hiding. But will they beat the deadline for a ransom that’s impossible to pay?

Legendary smugglers, suspicious teachers, and some scary bad guys are just a few of the adults the crew must circumvent while discovering hidden truths about their families and themselves in this smart, richly imagined tale."

A new Greenglass House Story? Yes please and thank you. 

Gudetama: Love for the Lazy by Wook-Jin Clark
Published by: Oni Press
Publication Date: January 14th, 2020
Format: Hardcover, 48 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Gudetama: Love for the Lazy is inspired by the worldwide hit Sanrio character and animated series star!

Dating is exhausting, so let's take a lighthearted approach to exploring it with Gudetama, everyone's favorite grumpy egg! From navigating first-date smalltalk to recovering from being dumped, Gudetama is your guide to finding love...even when you're lazy."

I wanted to love this I SO did not. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Book Review 2019 #7 - Alison Goodman's The Dark Days Deceit

The Dark Days Deceit by Alison Goodman
Published by: Viking Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: November 20th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 544 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Six months have passed since Lady Helen and Lord Carlston were united to form the Grand Reclaimer. Six months in Bath believing the final words of a Deceiver, the Comte d'Antraigues. Six months in which they are no closer to accessing their new powers; powers given to them in order to defeat the Grand Deceiver. What's more, Lady Helen absorbed the vile pages and power of the Ligatus when she and Lord Carlston formed their bond and she is barely holding back the darkness. The Ligatus could provide all their answers if only she could access it. Drastic actions must be taken as Lady Helen's marriage to the Duke of Selburn approaches and therefore the decision is made to hypnotize Helen to access the power wherein she promptly decimates Lady Margaret's house. Relocating to her fiance's nearby country estate, Chenwith, has it's advantages and disadvantages. Helen and Lord Carlston can work on wresting control over their power in seclusion but they are also surrounded by many people unaware of the Dark Days Club who expect Helen to act her part of the dutiful bride-to-be. And Helen's Aunt and brother are about to arrive! They can not know of her secret shadow life! Or more importantly, that which she can barely admit to herself, that she loves Lord Carlston.

Even if Helen can't admit her true feelings her Aunt sees the lay of the land and does everything in her power to keep the two halves of the Grand Reclaimer apart without knowing what damage she is doing. But whisking Helen back to the spa town has it's advantages. Helen can continue her search for the Bath Deceiver, the Deceiver who has the answers she and Lord Carlston need according to the Comte d'Antraigues. But danger is circling nearer and nearer as Helen attends to her nuptial and supernatural duties. Certain dangerous Deceivers are spotted and soon the unthinkable happens, one of their own is cut down. Poor Delia Cransdon, who has suffered much at the hands of the Deceivers, is murdered in broad daylight. Helen shoulders all the blame. Delia was an innocent who Helen had lately rebuked and it's something she can never take back and must live with forever. If any good could be said to come of a death it's that the Bath Deceiver is flushed out by this heinous act and Helen finally gets the answers she's needed on how to harness her powers. With reinforcements provided by the Dark Days Club they hole up at Chenwith and wait for the Grand Deceiver to make their move, because just as the Grand Reclaimer is a dyad, so is the Grand Deceiver. Only one needs to be cut down in order to succeed. But will the battle be won before Helen has to walk down the aisle? And who will win the batter for her heart?

The Dark Days Deceit is the perfect end to Alison Goodman's trilogy in that it combines the best aspects of the first and second books to create this wonderful melding of all that I loved in those installments for a last hurrah. We return more to the Georgian society of The Dark Days Club with Bath society and balls and the upcoming nuptials, yet we still have the more explicit darkness from The Dark Days Pact that doesn't flinch from cutting down favorite characters. I'm sorry, but I don't think I can ever forgive Alison for killing the Reclaimer Stokes in The Dark Days Pact, my Regency Hiddles. Yet what I loved most about this book was Bath! As Alison says in her "Author's Note" it's a town forever entwined with Austen and the Regency period. If you were to visit during the Jane Austen Festival, which is a dream of mine, it's the best alternative to time travel available to us at the moment. Though for me as soon as Lady Helen stepped out onto the streets of Bath and into a steamy little cafe I was instantly transported right into Jane Austen's Persuasion. There is something about this city, more than anywhere in England, that makes it Jane Austen's city, aforementioned festival or no. All the feelings I have about poor Anne Elliot's heart were brought to the fore as I read about Helen and Selburn getting married. Propriety be damned, marry for love! Be it Lord Carlston or Captain Wentworth!

Hearts aren't the only thing in jeopardy. There are so many series, from books to television shows to movies, that shy away from putting their characters in actual jeopardy. It's like, no matter how bad things get, no matter what goes wrong, you know that there's still this thin bubble protecting them from actually dying. Because they would never go there. Yet time and again I will say that unless the writers in whatever media are willing to go there than what is the point? There has to be real risk. Joss Whedon knows this, of course I think his was more a perverse glee to harm his fanbase, but you knew that your heart could be broken and that somehow made his shows more precious. Just look at what they did last season on The Magicians, the ONE character everyone thought was safe died. And not died like several characters on The Magicians have in the past, they died and left the show! That shock to the system, besides leaving me in a puddle of tears, made me realize why I love that show so much, because of my connection to the characters. Here Alison Goodman has done the same. Each and every character is at risk, and many of them meet an untimely end, and that gut punch I kept repeatedly feeling, that made me realize how invested I'd become in this series and these characters. This isn't a series that I'll read and forget, this is a series I'll go back to again and again.

What I found endearing and at times exasperating was Helen's attempts to compartmentalize her feelings for Lord Carlston. Their two characters are destined to be together and yet it's not just his not-quite-dead wife or her betrothal that are getting in the way, the idea of fate is. Helen isn't sure if her feelings are real because the two of them were destined to be two halves of the Grand Reclaimer and therefore have a bond that is beyond attraction, it is supernatural. Helen thinks that her heart beats for Lord Carlston because she can literally feel his own heartbeat once they are joined into the dyad. She thinks it's not real, it's all just alchemical. That power and fate have drawn them together instead of a connection based on who they really are and what's in their hearts. And you know what? If I were in Helen's shoes I'd be thinking the same thing! She's not spurning Lord Carlston because of his reputation or gruff personality, she's spurning him because she wants to know it's real. She literally has to know it's real. And isn't that what we all want? A love that is real. Of course we don't have the supernatural elements in our love lives, but that's why I love fantasy books, that's why I love shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Magicians, they make our ordinary every day struggles resonate through otherworldly stories. Life through another lens.

And a life that I have always wanted is one in which I have a partner to whom I could carry on complete conversations with without ever actually saying a word. In the rather uneven 2005 Casanova miniseries by Russell T. Davies of Doctor Who fame starring the Tenth Doctor David Tennant there is one scene that I just adore. Tennant, as Casanova, is star-crossed in love with the character Henriette played by Laura Fraser, who happens to be engaged to Rupert Penry-Jones's Grimani. In one scene they are at a party on other sides of the room and they are having a complete conversation with their looks, a conversation that enrages Grimani. But the first time I saw that scene I thought to myself, now that is true love. That, right there, that is what I want. Therefore having Helen and Lord Carlston have so many of their conversations without once saying a word made me know, alchemy or no, they were fated to be together. Also, the way Alison Goodman writes it is perfect. Instead of inferences or going on about looks and eyebrows, she just writes out their dialogue in italics as the full conversation it is. That's why I was pulling for these two kids to work everything out, even if it ruined Helen. If you have this kind of connection it's worth everything isn't it?

But that's the problem isn't it? A woman during the Regency period could be ruined just by misconceptions, never mind actually running off and having a full blown affair. In fact, one thing that will really stick with you after reading this book is that throughout history it has really sucked being a woman. All the duty and deference and literally being someones property? I'm sorry, but as much as there are people trying to strip away my rights in the world right now at least I have the rights that so many others, especially Helen, didn't have. Then I started thinking about how Deceivers live. They don't breed, there can be no more Deceivers in the world unless a rift is opened onto their world, so there's a set number unless they are winnowed by final deaths. So the way they continue is by body hoping to their offspring and only their offspring. This is all well and good for male Deceivers, they can knock up tons of women and have all these options of how to stay alive, whereas female Deceivers have to actually give birth to the next body they will inhabit. Excuse me? If being a female didn't suck enough, being a female Deceiver must really suck! With having to deal with the possibility of death in childbirth, despite supernatural powers, it's still dangerous, then infant mortality... well, doesn't that just suck for them? I know I should feel bad for the enemy, but they're women too and they are stuck with the same short end of the stick! Yes, it really does suck being a woman a lot of the time.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Book Review 2019 #8 - Philip Pullman's The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: July 22nd, 1997
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Lyra followed her father across the bridge in the sky and lost him. There was a fog. A dense, impenetrable fog and she has found herself in a world with no one. The town she is in is deserted until one day Will shows up. Will is from an Oxford different than her own. His father was a great explorer and his mother is mentally ill. Will has been caring for his mother all his life since the disappearance of his father. Only now he and his mother are in danger. Men have broken into their house and are searching for something that his father left behind. He secrets his mother away and when he goes home to retrieve that which is sought he accidentally kills one of the intruders. On the run he sees a window into another world and climbs through and meets Lyra. They decide to join forces as the only outsiders in this weird little world they've found themselves in, which isn't empty after all. The town is run by gangs of children because the adults fled due to Spectres, dangerous beings that are invisible to children but destroy adults. The two kids go back and forth between Will's Oxford and Cittàgazze. Lyra is trying to learn about Dust and Will is trying to find his father. Lyra soon learns, thanks to nudges from the alethiometer, that perhaps her questions will be answered by helping Will find his father. Because as it turns out, his father might have played an important role in Lyra's life so far, as he one day found a window into another world like his son did and walked through, never looking back. But how are these windows even formed? Will will learn the hard way about the Subtle Knife, but it also means that in spite of the danger to him he can always go home.

If you're expecting The Subtle Knife to be a straightforward sequel to The Golden Compass you're in for a bit of a surprise. Yes, it is a continuation of Lyra's story, but perhaps not as anyone growing up reading the Harry Potter books would foresee. Harry Potter is always front and center, but here, Lyra takes a backseat. The spitfire we've grown to love has been drastically changed because of her father's betrayal and therefore it is up to the new character of Will to fill the void. While you could say that it's all about the balancing of these two characters, of male and female, I think the shifting of focus off Lyra might be more in the vein of another famous writer who dealt with church indoctrination, C.S. Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia pick up and drop the various Penvensies like they're going out of fashion, and while Pullman never deserts any of our beloved characters, they all have their specific heft depending on the book. And The Subtle Knife belongs to Will, and to a lesser but more emotionally charged way to Lee Scorsby the Texas aeronaut. This kind of results with the reader feeling a little alienated. We've fallen in love with this world and now we're back at square one. Even weirder, we're back in our own world. We have to rebuild our love of this expanding universe while our heroine is in shock. Because Lyra's absenting herself from steering the book makes sense when you think of the very real situation she is in. She's in shock from the death of her best friend Roger. She doesn't know what to do, she's just pinballing around looking for something, someone to rally around and she finds Will and makes him her new cause. Lyra is actively promoting Will while stifling her and Pan's voice.

This change up just adds to the fact that this book is suffering from typical "middle book" problems. Everyone has heard of middle child syndrome, but I think more people need to be aware of the problems inherent in middle books. Ah, the issues facing the bridging book of a trilogy... you need to make it interesting enough that people will wait with baited breath for the final volume, yet you must give them a story that holds up on it's own, while also having a satisfying ending. If you want a master class in a successful middle book look to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Two Towers or Laini Taylor's Days of Blood and Starlight or Galen Beckett's The House on Durrow Street. I could go on because when a middle book gets it right it just stays in your mind as being the exception to the rule. While The Subtle Knife does "technically" hold up on it's own, it's not due to any overarching story, it's due to little moments that take your breath away. Imagery that is unforgettable, while Pullman struggles with setting up all the pieces that will be needed for the epic conclusion. Lee Scorsby's last stand in that rocky gulch will just rip your heart out and put it back in all gritty and pained. The witches swirling through the sky, like the unforgettable illustrations of Adrienne Adams's A Woggle of Witches. The dangerous yet somehow ingenious heist of the alethiometer from the odious Sir Charles Latrom. These moments stick with you. I remembered these moments in all the years since I first read The Subtle Knife, but as for anything else like plot? It had slipped out of my head because of all those middle book issues... and worst of all Pullman decided to end the book on a major cliffhanger... sigh. You know, minor cliffhangers can be just if not more satisfying. They also don't alienate your readers.

While there are those who grow to love Will as much as Lyra, I have to say that I've always been on the fence about him. Yes, he has struggled, yes he has survived against the odds, and yes, he has a soft spot for cats, yet there was always something that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Until now. Will's mother is mentally ill. This isn't the problem, the problem is the way in which Philip Pullman describes Will's thoughts in regards to his mother. I don't know if Pullman is trying to show that Will is young and naive or if Pullman himself just doesn't get mental illness. And yes, there are people out there that try as they might just aren't able to comprehend what mental illness is in any form, from having it to dealing with someone who has it. Will is very straightforward about knowing that his mother's problems come from within, that there's something wrong. She obviously has OCD as well as other more serious problems yet when Will hears about the Spectres he starts to fantasize that somehow in his world, this world, that perhaps they are what cause mental illness. While yes, a child does dream of there being some external force that can be removed and their parent returned to normal, the actual belief wouldn't be there. Having spent a childhood growing up seeing those with problems and having OCD myself Will would never be this naive. What's more he describes what his mother does as just things she does, he never once focuses on the underlying compulsion. It's like a flip got switched in her and she does these things without any logic. But the truth is for the person suffering there is a logic, a drive. They might not want to do it, they might be fighting against it every step of the way, but Pullman just doesn't get this across. Mental illness becomes just another problem Will deals with instead of the horror it really is. Pullman trivializes it for his character's backstory.

I guess the reason the way Pullman handles mental illness annoys me is because he's dealing with such weighty issues, reconciling religion and science and yet he got something so wrong that can I trust his analysis of anything? This weird give and take between religion and science is one we have fought of centuries and which is sadly still being fought as Creationism is being taught again in many schools. Yet in Lyra's world experimental theology is what physics is in our world, indicating that there science and religion are more entwined and accepting of each other. As the series continues you see that yes, it is the battle between free thought and that of indoctrination but it's not so clear cut as The Magisterium would want you to think. And yes, this book is taking many ideas and bringing them together for you to think about, especially the fall of man as Milton depicted it in Paradise Lost, but to me, at this point in the series, it almost feels as if Pullman isn't sure what his side is. Both sides have committed atrocities in his narrative, yet we have yet to learn what is the truth. Because this is fiction, while we might speculate day and night and a book that leads to a good discussion is the friend of all book lovers and book clubs everywhere, we still need to know where Pullman's opinion lies. Did God create the universe or did science? This needs to be stated. Clearly. And it wasn't here. Here we suffer once again from middle book issues and have to wait. Sometimes I just want to find authors and shake them. As I write this I'm about a third of the way through The Amber Spyglass and the truth has been revealed and with that revelation I wonder why he waited. Yes, he's created a big set piece with it, so it would have made this book a little longer. But some of the building blocks were in place and a touch more foreshadowing might have made this book a more satisfying read.

But life isn't about satisfaction most of the time. Life is about just living day to day wondering about the mysteries of the universe that if we think too long on we'll be right there with Will's mom. Yet in the end I keep coming back to the more supernatural elements of this story, the fantastical, the prophetic. The witches. The witches have a prophecy that Lyra will be the end of fate by initiating the second fall of man. Here's the thing though, how is there really fate in this "world" that Pullman has built. Prophecies are all nice and good but he's clearly shown us that the multiple worlds theory is at play here and that each and every decision creates a different universe that has splintered off. Therefore everything is possible and everything IS happening at the same time. In a multiverse where everything is possible how exactly does prophecy come into play? Is it just for this ONE Lyra and this ONE Will? If something happened to them could Lord Asriel or Mrs. Coulter or the church go to another universe and nudge that other Lyra or Will into line with what they want? I get that this is a multiverse changing war that's on the horizon, but if everything is possible at all times yet you need a certain chain of events to happen how do you do this? It's almost too hard to reconcile these opposing ideas. So Lyra will end fate. What does that mean? I mean, really, how is fate possible in these books? It could be possible if the worlds were self contained. But travel between them is possible, so then what? Again, middle book issues! It's like he just threw everything at this book and figured he'd work it all out in the end. The problem I have is can he actually work it all out?

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