Monday, May 20, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: May 21st, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A servant and former slave is accused of murdering her employer and his wife in this astonishing historical thriller that moves from a Jamaican sugar plantation to the fetid streets of Georgian London - a remarkable literary debut with echoes of Alias Grace, The Underground Railroad, and The Paying Guests.

All of London is abuzz with the scandalous case of Frannie Langton, accused of the brutal double murder of her employers, renowned scientist George Benham and his eccentric French wife, Marguerite. Crowds pack the courtroom, eagerly following every twist, while the newspapers print lurid theories about the killings and the mysterious woman being tried at the Old Bailey.

The testimonies against Frannie are damning. She is a seductress, a witch, a master manipulator, a whore.

But Frannie claims she cannot recall what happened that fateful evening, even if remembering could save her life. She doesn’t know how she came to be covered in the victims’ blood. But she does have a tale to tell: a story of her childhood on a Jamaican plantation, her apprenticeship under a debauched scientist who stretched all bounds of ethics, and the events that brought her into the Benhams’ London home - and into a passionate and forbidden relationship.

Though her testimony may seal her conviction, the truth will unmask the perpetrators of crimes far beyond murder and indict the whole of English society itself.

The Confessions of Frannie Langton is a breathtaking debut: a murder mystery that travels across the Atlantic and through the darkest channels of history. A brilliant, searing depiction of race, class, and oppression that penetrates the skin and sears the soul, it is the story of a woman of her own making in a world that would see her unmade."

A different, deeper kind of murder mystery. Sign me up! And not just because I'm a sucker for Georgian London.

The Ghost of Hollow House by Linda Stratmann
Published by: Sapere Books
Publication Date: May 21st, 2019
Format: Kindle, 325 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Mina Scarletti returns in her most thrilling mystery yet! Perfect for fans of Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie and Antonia Hodgson...

A peaceful country retreat has become the scene of relentless terror...

Sussex, 1872.

Mina Scarletti is invited to ancient Hollow House to investigate reports of ghostly occurrences.

The current occupants - newlyweds Mr Honeyacre and his wife, Kitty - have been plagued by unexplained noises and strange visions since moving into the property.

And now most of their servants refuse to stay at the house after dark for fear of encountering the ghostly presence of ‘the woman in white’.

A determined sceptic, Mina’s main concern is for Kitty, whose health appears to be dramatically sinking under the strain of all that is going on.

With the help of her trusted adviser, Dr Hamid, and her lively friend, Nell, Mina must get to the heart of the mystery.

Have the maids merely been frightening themselves with tales of the macabre? Is there a rational explanation for what is being reported?

Or will Mina be forced to admit to the presence of a ghost in Hollow House?"

A country house possibly plagued by the supernatural? This is my bread and butter people!

Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin
Published by: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: May 21st, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A captivating novel based on the story of the extraordinary real-life American woman who secretly worked for the French Resistance during World War II - while playing hostess to the invading Germans at the iconic Hôtel Ritz in Paris - from the New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator's Wife and The Swans of Fifth Avenue.

Nothing bad can happen at the Ritz; inside its gilded walls every woman looks beautiful, every man appears witty. Favored guests like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Coco Chanel, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor walk through its famous doors to be welcomed and pampered by Blanche Auzello and her husband, Claude, the hotel’s director. The Auzellos are the mistress and master of the Ritz, allowing the glamour and glitz to take their minds off their troubled marriage, and off the secrets that they keep from their guests - and each other.

Until June 1940, when the German army sweeps into Paris, setting up headquarters at the Ritz. Suddenly, with the likes of Hermann Goëring moving into suites once occupied by royalty, Blanche and Claude must navigate a terrifying new reality. One that entails even more secrets and lies. One that may destroy the tempestuous marriage between this beautiful, reckless American and her very proper Frenchman. For in order to survive - and strike a blow against their Nazi “guests” - Blanche and Claude must spin a web of deceit that ensnares everything and everyone they cherish.

But one secret is shared between Blanche and Claude alone - the secret that, in the end, threatens to imperil both of their lives, and to bring down the legendary Ritz itself.

Based on true events, Mistress of the Ritz is a taut tale of suspense wrapped up in a love story for the ages, the inspiring story of a woman and a man who discover the best in each other amid the turbulence of war."

As I'm currently reading another WWII book that talks about the French occupation, is there a better time to read about it?

Starship Repo by Patrick S. Tomlinson
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: May 21st, 2019
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Starship Repo is a fast-paced romp through the galaxy from Patrick S. Tomlinson.

Firstname Lastname is a no one with nowhere to go. With a name that is the result of an unfortunate clerical error and destined to be one of the only humans on an alien space station. That is until she sneaks aboard a ship and joins up with a crew of repomen (they are definitely not pirates).

Now she's traveling the galaxy "recovering" ships. What could go wrong?"

Because every now and then I'm desperate for a good space opera!

The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Companion by Matt Whyman
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: May 21st, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A stunning full-color, illustrated, behind-the-scenes guide to the Good Omens television series, adapted for the screen by Neil Gaiman himself and starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant.

Following the original novel’s chronological structure - from “the Beginning” to “End Times”—this official companion to the Good Omens television series, compiled by Matt Whyman, is a cornucopia of information about the show, its conception, and its creation. Offering deep and nuanced insight into Gaiman’s brilliantly reimagining of the Good Omens universe, The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Companion includes:

-A foreword from Neil Gaiman
-A profile of the director, Douglas McKinnon
-Neil’s take on the adaptation process, in which he explains his goals, approach, and diversions from the original text
-Interviews with the cast, including Michael Sheen, David Tennant, Nina Sosanya, Jon Hamm, Ned Dennehy, Josie Lawrence, Derek Jacobi, Nick Offerman, Frances McDormand, Miranda Richardson, Adria Arjona, and many others
-More than 200 color photographs
-And much more!

The must-have official companion guide to the Good Omens television series, Nice and Accurate TV Companion is a treasure trove of delights for fans of Good Omens, Neil Gaiman, and Terry Pratchett."

Anyone else SO excited for this series that they made their book club read Good Omens? OK, just me then...

Jim Henson's Labyrinth Coronation Volume Two by Simon Spurrier
Published by: Archaia
Publication Date: May 21st, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 112 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The untold origin of the Goblin King from Jim Henson’s cult-classic film, Labyrinth.

As the clock ticks ever closer to the thirteenth hour, Maria struggles through the canals of the Labyrinth alongside her peculiar band of companions, wishing desperately to be reunited with her son. While she may be no closer to the Owl King’s castle, Maria begins to uncover the secrets of the Labyrinth and her own power within the walls of this magical domain. But from deep in the shadows, the Owl King watches her every move, plotting and waiting to bring her demise by any means necessary. Written by Simon Spurrier (Jim Henson’s The Power of the Dark Crystal) and Ryan Ferrier (Kong on the Planet of the Apes) and illustrated by Daniel Bayliss (Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Dragons) and Irene Flores (Heavy Vinyl), Labyrinth: Coronation Volume Two continues the bestselling prequel to one of Jim Henson’s most iconic creations."

Yes, this is a very good prequel, but round about now it started to drag, I think they did too many issues... 

Hilda and the Nowhere Space by Stephen Davies
Published by: Flying Eye Books
Publication Date: May 21st, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 200 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Caught up on Hilda on Netflix? Craving more adventures with your favorite blue-haired Sparrow Scout? This is the book for you! More badges, more thrills, more friends in the newest Hilda illustrated chapter book!

Meet Hilda: explorer, adventurer, avid sketchbook-keeper and friend to every creature in the valley!

Newly initiated into the Sparrow Scouts, Hilda is ready to explore and document the wilderness, and perhaps even make some human friends. Yet as luck would have it, there is a dark, menacing creature afoot near Trolberg, and Hilda is whisked back home to safety. Even so, intrigue seems to follow our blue-haired heroine wherever she goes, and it seems we may finally discover why so many socks in Trolberg seem to lose their mates."

Because EVERYONE needs more Hilda to hold them off until the six book by Luke Pearson this fall!

Friday, May 17, 2019

Book Book of 2013 - Deanna Raybourn's A Spear of Summer Grass

A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: Harlequin MIRA
Publication Date: April 23rd, 2013
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

"I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass."

- Walt Whitman

With her latest scandal, another husband dead, this time via suicide, and a fight for his inheritance of the Volkonsky jewels arising, Delilah Drummond's family has convened in Paris to discuss her exile from polite society. She must remove herself from public scrutiny or face being cut off forever by her Grandfather back in New Orleans. The imperial "they" have decided that she will hide herself away at her ex step father's house Fairlight, in Kenya. Delilah doesn't have much of a say and agrees to the arranged banishment, knowing full well that as soon as the allotted time is over she will be back in Paris, or New York, or whatever city will have her, probably not New York... that pesky Volstead act kind of puts a kink in ones cocktails. Arriving in Africa with her "devoted" cousin Dodo as her chaperon, Delilah doesn't quite know what to make of her situation. Kenyan society is made up of the outcasts of respectable civilization, meaning people Delilah already knows. It's quite a shock to be relocated yet still surrounded by those who were a little too outre for everyone else.

There is a part of Delilah that feels at home, and not just because she picks back up where she left off before getting married to husband number two with the artist Kit Parrymore, located near at hand on the Fairlight property. The dinner parties hosted by Rex and Helen Farrady, as the reigning King and Queen of Kenya are just the kind of social occasions Delilah is used to with booze flowing and witty conversation larded with innuendo. Though Helen's private parties are another story... But soon Delilah is fighting not just her new found love for Africa and the exiled life she has reluctantly embraced, but she's also fighting her attraction to Ryder White. Ryder, that great white hunter. The man of contradictions, who believes in the preservation of Africa and it's animals, while also leading Safaris for those who are willing to overpay him. For the first time Delilah isn't giving in immediately to her fleeting fancies... but that could be because Ryder rankled her with placing a bet that he would be the first to bed her. Is it wrong that she took delight in sleeping with Kit so fast just to make him lose? Yet how long can she deny that she has stumbled into everything she's ever needed?

Like the Whitman poem the book takes it's title from, there's a freshness, a freeness to Deanna's Africa with its overt sexuality that makes this book an addictive and delicious read. While I feel that this is the best Raybourn book I have read I have a feeling that the rawness and sexuality might deter other readers, whereas I felt that it perfectly captured the time and the place epitomized in the character of Delilah. Raybourn is able to take old tales and stories from the Happy Valley Days and inject a new life to them. Helen's bathtub, and in fact Helen herself, with nods to Idina Sackville, doesn't feel heavy with the baggage of multiple retellings. Deanna was able to incorporate aspects and anecdotes of the time without making it feel like you've heard it all before, which is a true gift after all the books on Africa I have read. Deanna made Africa feel new to me and I don't think there are many authors or books I can say that about. Delilah had so much life that, while we do get a mystery buried deep down, A Spear of Summer Grass is more a character study than a whodunit, and I didn't regret that for a minute.

Of course I have a soft spot for Kenya that I think might be a genetic disposition. My mother throughout my childhood was obsessed with books and films on Africa. Her studio space was actually influenced by African safaris. And while we might disagree on the literary merits of Out of Africa, we can come together and agree on our love of Kenya. Therefore this book gave me great joy in seeing someone else, albeit a fictional someone, fall in love with a country she viewed as a punishment. It's weird to think of a place you've never been having such a magnetic pull on you. I'd never want to live in Kenya, but I do want to visit. But the Kenya I love is the Kenya of the past. And there is that tendency to romanticize a time and a place, and British Kenya is such a time and a place. Yet the society is the exact opposite of the society I crave in real life, which would be preferably quiet and bookish. Therefore Kenya is an escape for me, a look into a life that calls to me but would never be mine and therefore A Spear of Summer Grass is the perfect escapist read. It was everything my heart wanted but knew I would never embrace in my own life. IE, a perfect book.

That perfection is achieved on so many levels, yet they all have one thing in common, and that's taking something you thought you knew everything about and making it fresh again. The most refreshing aspect though was that while Delilah had the Great War baggage and the night terrors and all the typical signs of PTSD, we are not forced to dwell on this. As I have ranted before, so many modern books belabour this point and make more of it then what it is, not a part of the character, but something that is bigger than the character and becomes a separate entity weighing down the whole book. Delilah is damaged, but everyone in Africa is damaged in some way according to Ryder. Blessedly Deanna handles this balance just perfectly and I didn't have to read about guns in the distance causing flashbacks, yet again. And this isn't to diminish people who do suffer no matter how it presents itself, just to state that stereotyping PTSD does the disease a disservice. Everyone battles it in their own way and it's nice to see someone understand that and write about it.

Everything in this book, even the PTSD, has to perfectly fit the character because this book is more a character study than a plot driven narrative. If there was one little character trait or quirk out of place it would have stood out more than in other books. The originality and the connection between these characters are what made me devour this book. While I do really really like Ryder as the hero and his luscious Han Solo Harrison Fordness which was tailor made for the fair Princesses among us, he wasn't the big draw for me. I know, shocking! But if you really want more Ryder, and I can't really blame you because Han Solo was it for me as a kid, you should check out his little prequel novella, Far in the Wilds. I quite enjoyed it. Moving beyond Ryder, the two characters I connected with most are Ryder's best friend Gideon and his little lame brother Moses, who are native Masai. The way Gideon becomes Delilah's best friend and how they bond over just talking about the simplest of things, like the Masai words for plants, made him far and away my favorite character in the book.

To me Gideon was so real that he walked right out of the pages and into my heart. Likewise his younger brother Moses. To not only have a connection because of his being a sweet boy with a lame leg who doesn't speak, I mean, how could you not love the little Tiny Timness of him? But to then have that couched in the language of what these disabilities really mean within Masai culture, and how his disabilities mean that he is not only different, but that because of this he can't get cattle to raise and if he doesn't get the cattle then there is no way he can afford a dowry and without that he will never marry and have a fulfilled life, according to his upbringing, just pulls at the heartstrings. The fact that Delilah hires him, that this simple gesture means that Moses could have a real and full life because he is now able to contribute, makes you have the feels all the more. I would even go so far as to say that because of Deanna's integration of characters and culture that you are reading a deeper book than most of the books on Africa out there.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Book Book of 2014 - Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Published by: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 1848
Format: Hardcover, 486 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Wildfell Hall has a new resident. A mysterious widow and her young son who want nothing to do with the outside world. The outside world disagrees. The nosey neighbors must know everything they can about the mysterious Mrs. Graham. Young Gilbert Markham wants to know everything but for a very different reason, he is inexorably drawn to the young widow and cannot understand why she remains aloof and detached, craving solitude over companionship and love. Gilbert Markham's attentions to the young widow do not go unnoticed by others and leads his spurned ex, Eliza Millward, to spread malicious gossip throughout the small community about the widow. The whispers combined with Helen Graham's feelings for Gilbert lead her to make a decision she might regret. She decides she must disclose her past so that he can move on and realize their love is doomed, and not just because her husband isn't dead, but because he doesn't really know who she is. To that extent she gives him her diaries. All her inner feelings and thoughts and all her secrets bound forever between the pages of a book.

Mrs. Helen Graham is really Mrs. Helen Huntington, the wife of a cruel man who has more vices than she could enumerate and surrounds himself with the worst of humanity at their home, Grassdale. Though their marriage wasn't destined to debauchery. At first Arthur Huntingdon was witty and pretty and Helen in her naivete thought she could reform this bad boy. At the birth of their son though things changed. Arthur didn't like his son and heir getting all of Helen's attention and set out to form the boy in his own image. Helen fled her husband because he was trying to imprint their your son with his own dubious morals. She could have suffered anything if it was just herself that was the target of Huntington's malice, she stubbornly married him after all, but their son is another matter. Her brother helped her escape the life she trapped herself in only to find herself wanting that which she can not have due to her circumstances. But after years of feeling hunted in her own home can she remake her life? Is freedom enough without Gilbert Markham? Or will her old life haunt her until she or Huntington is dead?

Sometimes I am a very contrary person, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a case in point. Instead of reading the book before watching the miniseries I decided to watch the miniseries first which then put me off the book. I know, it has Toby Stephens and James Purefoy in it so how could it be bad? But I watched it prior to Sherlock partially redeeming Rupert Graves in my eyes and my hate of Rupert Graves has been a long standing issue. My hate is also a hard thing to put my finger on, was it The Forsyte Saga or Take a Girl Like You, both where he played cheating cads, that made me want to forever punch him in the face? I think I might never know. Putting the Rupert rant behind us my steadfast rule of reading the book prior to watching any adaptation for some reasons is exempt when it has to do with the Brontes. I had seen so many adaptations of their books prior to ever picking one up that they are grandfathered into my weird reading habits with this clause. Yet I still question how this adaptation failed with that cast! It was dull and lifeless and I remember barely being able to finish it and this from a girl who finished the Jane Eyre adaptation with Ciaran Hinds. PS I hate Ciaran Hinds more than I've ever hated Rupert Graves.

The miniseries turned me off the book and because of this the book languished for years waiting for the time when I would pick it up and love it. I seriously can not think of any reasonable excuse why it took me this long to read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I was under so many misconceptions about this book that I should have just trusted my gut which tells me that Anne Bronte is awesome. I am serious when I say that I think Anne might just be my favorite Bronte. This isn't just me rooting for the underdog, though she is the least embraced of the sisters, this is totally to do with how awesome her books are. Let me brake it down for you. Charlotte is the most famous, I mean, Jane Eyre, while Emily is the one the more malcontent readers are drawn to with her sole writing credit, Wuthering Heights, and that leaves Anne kind of stuck in the middle with her two books, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey. And I call foul! To all the readers and especially English teachers out there the world over who gravitate towards the two ends of the Bronte spectrum and fail to educate others that Anne is the best of both worlds! She has the darkness of Emily with the narrative structure of Charlotte. I think I need to form an Anne support group...

But what's so interesting about Anne is that in her work she is in some ways responding to her own siblings as people and writers. Anne's desire for "truth" in this novel comes from a desire to counter the pro bad boy image her sisters had created in their works. But there's a deeper part of me that wonders if she's not just messing with Charlotte and Emily a little. Who, given the chance, wouldn't try to mess with their siblings a little? Her sisters did everything to make this bad boy redeemable by love trope and then in comes Anne and blasts them out of the water. Huntington is a bad boy to equal Heathcliff and Rochester, but love is unable to sway him. He even wants to corrupt his own child! The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is an opus to the irredeemable. I can just picture the sisters sitting around their fireplace on a cold night in Haworth talking about their dream men and Anne just looking askance at them and plotting how to prove them wrong, preferably in three volumes, she was, after all, a silent plotter. I don't think anyone has ever summed this up better than Kate Beaton in her "Hark, a Vagrant" comic, "Dude Watchin' with The Brontes," so I won't attempt to and move onto other things. Though I will mention I have this piece framed in my library I love it so much.

Moving on... What I find amazing in this book, and in fact all the work by the Brontes, is how they were able to capture an entire outside world while living their cloistered lives and put it on the page. It just goes to show that sometimes writing what you know isn't the only answer, but writing what you feel is. Over a hundred and fifty years later this book pulses with life. It was criticized at the time for being too repulsive and scandalous, but that is why it resonates till this day. It is the truth of human nature and fallibility that Anne sought out to capture and did. Infidelity, adultery, drugs, drink, games of chance, everything not written about in literature of it's day that still causes so much heartbreak. Yes, you could argue that Anne was filtering this all through the lens of the hedonist lifestyle her brother Branwell lived. But you can't say that dealing with Branwell's multiplicity of addictions and personality defects didn't bring the darker aspects of humanity right to Anne's front door. So, arguing against myself, maybe she was writing what she knew? Either way, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall shows that no matter how you live your life it gives you an understanding of the world at large and it's degradation's.

The degraded life that Helen lives made me connect to her because, not only did I pity her, I worried that she wouldn't make it out of this situation, ironic because having watched the miniseries I knew the outcome, but still I worried. But as to the debauchery, one problem I have always had and mention repeatedly in literature set during this time is the overuse of the Hellfire Club. It seems if you are debauched during the Regency or early Victorian eras you therefore have to belong to some incarnation of said Hellfire Club. But here I make an exception. Usually the Hellfire Club is just a trope used by modern writers, as in those still currently writing, as a basic touchstone for debauchery that modern readers will latch onto. Think of the spunk it took for a little ex-governess to allude to the Hellfire Club in a book written in 1848! You Anne Bronte are the exception that proves the rule! When you wrote those few lines alluding to fire and brimstone it was not yet hackneyed, it was controversial. I wish I could tell you how much you mean to me and literature. This poorly written review will have to suffice.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: May 14th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"International bestselling author Guy Gavriel Kay's latest work is set in a world evoking early Renaissance Italy and offers an extraordinary cast of characters whose lives come together through destiny, love, and ambition.

In a chamber overlooking the nighttime waterways of a maritime city, a man looks back on his youth and the people who shaped his life. Danio Cerra's intelligence won him entry to a renowned school even though he was only the son of a tailor. He took service at the court of a ruling count - and soon learned why that man was known as the Beast.

Danio's fate changed the moment he saw and recognized Adria Ripoli as she entered the count's chambers one autumn night - intending to kill. Born to power, Adria had chosen, instead of a life of comfort, one of danger - and freedom. Which is how she encounters Danio in a perilous time and place.

Vivid figures share the unfolding story. Among them: a healer determined to defy her expected lot; a charming, frivolous son of immense wealth; a powerful religious leader more decadent than devout; and, affecting all these lives and many more, two larger-than-life mercenary commanders, lifelong adversaries, whose rivalry puts a world in the balance.

A Brightness Long Ago offers both compelling drama and deeply moving reflections on the nature of memory, the choices we make in life, and the role played by the turning of Fortune's wheel."

A Renaissance-esque epic not to be missed. 

The Den by Abi Maxwell
Published by: Knopf
Publication Date: May 14th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A luminous, hypnotic story of youth, sex, and power that tells of two young women who find themselves ostracized from the same small New England community for the same reasons--though they are separated by 150 years.

Henrietta and Jane are fifteen and twelve, growing up in a farmhouse on the outskirts of town. Their mother is a painter, lost in her art, their father a cook who's raised them on magical tales about their land. When Henrietta becomes obsessed with a boy from town, Jane takes to trailing the young couple, spying on their trysts - until one night, Henrietta vanishes into the woods. Elspeth and Claire are sisters separated by an ocean - Elspeth's pregnancy at seventeen meant she was quickly married and sent to America to avoid certain shame. But when she begins ingratiating herself to the town's wealthy mill owner, a series of wrenching and violent events unfold, culminating in her disappearance. As Jane and Claire search in their own times for their missing sisters, they each come across a strange story about a family that is transformed into coyotes. But what does this myth mean? Are their sisters dead, destroyed by men and lust? Or, are they alive and thriving beyond the watchful eyes of their same small town? With echoes of The Scarlet Letter, Abi Maxwell gives us a transporting, layered tale of two women, living generations apart yet connected by place and longing, and condemned for the very same desires."

That cover. Seriously, that cover is to die for. Also I'm a sucked for anything moody and New England, especially if there are Shirley Jackson overtones.  

A Bend in the Stars by Rachel Barenbaum
Published by: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: May 14th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"For fans of All the Light We Cannot See and The Women in the Castle comes a riveting literary novel that is at once an epic love story and a heart-pounding journey across WWI-era Russia, about an ambitious young doctor and her scientist brother in a race against Einstein to solve one of the greatest mysteries of the universe.

In Russia, in the summer of 1914, as war with Germany looms and the Czar's army tightens its grip on the local Jewish community, Miri Abramov and her brilliant physicist brother, Vanya, are facing an impossible decision. Since their parents drowned fleeing to America, Miri and Vanya have been raised by their babushka, a famous matchmaker who has taught them to protect themselves at all costs: to fight, to kill if necessary, and always to have an escape plan. But now, with fierce, headstrong Miri on the verge of becoming one of Russia's only female surgeons, and Vanya hoping to solve the final puzzles of Einstein's elusive theory of relativity, can they bear to leave the homeland that has given them so much?

Before they have time to make their choice, war is declared and Vanya goes missing, along with Miri's fiancé. Miri braves the firing squad to go looking for them both. As the eclipse that will change history darkens skies across Russia, not only the safety of Miri's own family but the future of science itself hangs in the balance.

Grounded in real history - and inspired by the solar eclipse of 1914 - A Bend in the Stars offers a heartstopping account of modern science's greatest race amidst the chaos of World War I, and a love story as epic as the railways crossing Russia."

Sigh, Russian Historical Fiction is my jam.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Book Book of 2015 - Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Published by: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: September 30th, 2004
Format: Paperback, 1012 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Mr. Norrell is the only practical magician in England and he intends to keep it that way. He has devoted his life to finding, owning, and studying every book on magic and every book of magic he could beg, borrow, or steal, allowing no one else near his collection. In Yorkshire, the heart of Northern England and The Raven King's domain, Mr. Norrell finds ingenious ways to eliminate all his competition from the theoretical magicians. One would think eliminating magicians would be contrary to his goal, but Mr. Norrell disagrees. He and he alone will bring magic back to England. His destruction of the Learned Society of York Magicians provides an opportunity to get the press he needs through a John Segundus to herald his arrival in London. Norrell dreams that just removing himself from the confines of his home, Hurtfew Abbey, and installing himself in the capital will have the government clamoring at this door begging for help with everything from the disgraceful street magicians who are nothing but swindlers to magically aiding the war with France.

But Norrell's views on fairy magic, he is strongly opposed, and his fusty nature, make his entrance into society tricky. He eventually gets the ear of cabinet minister Sir Walter Pole, who quickly dismisses him. Yet a tragedy is about to change everything. Sir Walter's fiance dies and Norrell is encouraged to bring her back from the dead. Despite deploring fairy emissaries and assistants, he knows this is his chance to make a difference and get the government on his side. He summons a fairy who is indeed able to bring the future Lady Pole back from the dead, but not without exacting a terrible toll to all those Norrell knows. Norrell's new found popularity brings new opportunities, and despite all previous thinking that should another magician arise he'd hate them on sight, he instead decides to take the young Jonathan Strange as his pupil. The two quarrel and fight, but no one can deny that they have brought magic back to England; but at what cost to England? And more worryingly, at what cost to themselves?

You know that feeling you get when you find the perfect book? It's like finding a friend you'd never knew you'd missed or coming home after a long absence. It was always a part of you even before you found it, a soul mate. That's what it was like when I first cracked open the pages of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Billed as Harry Potter for adults it's so much more. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell has the sensibilities of Austen with the scope of Dickens with a readability for modern audiences. Yes, it is divisive, you either love it, as seen by it's numerous awards, our you hate it, I'm glaring at a few members of my book club. But as for myself, I don't know if there's a way I can too strongly state my love for this book besides purchasing a plethora of copies from my first sacred edition to later paperback reissues and recommending it to everyone I meet. Yet does such a discourse on fairy and magic without much plot stand up over time? Yes. Each reading I find more magic and more nuance. This book is, in my opinion, perfection.

Now let's get down to brass tacks. The staging of the book in it's three "volumes" is wonderful in how each section builds off the previous and becomes more complicated and creates a deeper understanding of the world Clarke has built. We begin with Mr. Norrell, a rather typical and bookish grump who introduces us to his ideas on magic and we get a feeling for the world. Then we progress to Jonathan Strange, where the world is expanded and we start to question what we have already learned. We end, appropriately, with The Raven King, John Uskglass, who teaches us that all we think we knew is wrong. This mimics how we, as humans, learn. We study hard, we learn the lessons in our books, we start to question and we realize, like Jon Snow, we know nothing; and that in ignorance we are starting on the path of true knowledge. That magic can be attained, but it's nothing like what we thought it would be at the start. This is the journey of man, and that is our history. And more then anything Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is a history book.

Yes, this is a drastically altered history, but it's a believable one. Complex worldbuilding in a world we already know, grafted on in a magical and fascinating way. What makes it such a rich tapestry is that Clarke is willing to take the time to tell us all the mythology and academic ephemera of past magician's and their work in order to round out her England. While I have read my fair share of history books, they aren't necessarily the most scintillating reads. Yet an aspect of history books, and the books of Terry Pratchett, that is a useful tool is the footnote. Never underestimate the joy of a good footnote. Yes the use of footnotes in fiction might be considered a trope nowadays, but I don't think it's a coincidence that my favorite authors all use footnotes to expand on their work and to do humorous asides. Terry Pratchett, Lisa Lutz, and Susanna Clarke all use footnotes to the betterment of their story, expanding the world at a slight angle to the rest of their narrative but embuing it with more reality because of the use of this academic staple.

Though all the clever worldbuilding and writing techniques don't in the end make a book perfect. An author can be deft with these and still come up short when it comes to telling a good story. Where Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell really shines is in the dichotomy of England and the "safe" magic the magicians have practiced and the Otherworld, the realms of fairy, and the wild and dangerous magic that can rewrite the world. Fairy Tales originally were dark and scary. Morality stories to keep women and children in line and to warn of dangers in the deep dark woods. There's a reason why witches were burned and magic was feared. Clarke is here to remind us that the nature of fairies is wild and mad, quite literally. The Gentleman with the thistle-down hair, or a more sadistic version of David Bowie's Goblin King as I like to think, embodies this evil madness. In deed, desire, and any and every way imaginable, this evil fairy shows that Norrell was right to fear them and that the true enemy of magic and man is vindictive fairies that are crazy beyond measure. They are the creatures to fear, they are the nightmare in the dark.

In fact, Fairy Tales are the original horror stories and Clarke does an amazing job in tapping into this. I have read horror stories and been left wanting by those considered the pinnacle of scary and strange. But in simple, straightforward yet elegant prose, Clarke is able to conjure up more horror than I experienced reading all of Danielewski's House of Leaves, whose house has no architectural style yet a banister, please. The realm of fairy and the King's Road is a thousand times scarier then the aforementioned house, with bridges spanning an eternity and rivers and moors of black desolation, all accessible through a mere reflection. That is the true horror. That this evil "other" world isn't fixed but can find it's way into your very house. You can be sitting in a chair and feel doors opening around you and long corridors stretching and a breeze where no breeze should be and the tingle of magic, and all while you felt safe in your snug little house. You are safe no more. Gives you a little chill just to think of it doesn't it?

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Book Book of 2016 - Galen Beckett's The House on Durrow Street

The House on Durrow Street (Mrs. Quent Book 2) by Galen Beckett
Published by: Spectra
Publication Date: September 28th, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 704 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy
Ivy has more than she could ever have wished for. When she went to Heathcrest Hall she had hoped to earn enough money to open up the family house on Durrow Street and remove her sisters from odious familial obligations. Now returned to Invarel she has opened up her old home, with her husband and former employer Mr. Quent by her side. The house undoubtedly belonged to a magician, but to Ivy and her sisters it is home despite all it's oddities. The ever watching eyes carved out of wood, which tend to be unnerving to the workers refurbishing the house, are there to protect Ivy's family, constantly observing their well-being and safety. But what else might they be protecting? Ivy's father was a great magician and the house definitely has its secrets. Soon a door is discovered bricked up behind a wall, and awhile later it's mate on the other side of the room is stumbled upon. Doors of great craftsmanship and beauty that no one would rightly cover, unless they needed protecting. Items in the house are also behaving curiously. The clock on the mantel is more accurate than the most up-to-date almanac and there's a journal of her father's that Ivy discovers is slowly revealing it's entries in a haphazard manner. If Ivy knows her father, all this is to lead her on her path to becoming the heroine and savior of Altania her father believes her to be.

But distractions are in Ivy's way, in the form of societal obligations. Mr. Quent is always busy. Before, when they lived in the country, he was away from home all the time, but now that he's in Invarel he's just as occupied, rising in the ranks of society. While Ivy's sisters are excited about the prospects of their higher stations, Ivy has hundreds of concerns, from bringing her sisters out into society, to new friendships with the likes of the great Lady Crayford. With unrest in town can she trust these new acquaintances? Because a dear old friend, Dashton Rafferdy, is at the heart of the unrest. Rafferdy has taken his father's seat in the Hall of Magnates. Being so politically placed is making a man of this rake. The king is ill, he is in fact dying, and factions are forming within the Citadel. There are two waring parties of magicians, and Rafferdy is on the wrong side, not aligning himself with Lord Valhain, the king's black dog who has the terrifying Lady Shayde as his personal weapon. With the lack of rebellions and risings associated with the "rightful king" Huntley Morden these other magicians are determined to keep the rebellion fomenting by publicly turning against magic itself. Because magicians will be blamed for terrorist acts. Even illusionists are threatened. Yet could all this be tied to the threat Ivy and Rafferdy faced before? Could all this be in aid of the Ashen? And will they attempt an even greater rising, this time at the Evengrove? But most worrying of all, what happens when the red planet Cerephus gets even closer?

It is a rare occurrence for an author to create a group of characters and make you love each and every one of them. It's even rarer for this to happen in a love triangle. I quite literally can not think of one where all three of the characters held equal space in my heart. And if you say you actually like George Wickham I will smack you right now! He was so up to something from his first appearance in Pride and Prejudice. There is always a weak link. One character that just isn't up to snuff and therefore you're secretly rooting for them to fail. Since the first page of The Magicians and Mrs. Quent I was shipping Ivy and Rafferdy. By the very title of the first book you know that Ivy isn't going to end up with him. She's going to end up with the, at that point unknown, Mr. Quent. So going further into the narrative Mr. Quent already had a black mark against him. I didn't know him but I knew he was going to cause trouble. And then he arrives and is stalwart and upstanding and just an all around good guy. Yes, I still wanted Ivy to be with Rafferdy, but I couldn't fault her marrying Mr. Quent, he is so wonderful in his own way. Galen Beckett has created his own little Catch-22. He has made such wonderful characters that I am conflicted as to who would bring them greater happiness. I keep thinking, it HAS to be Rafferdy because he helped Ivy defeat The Vigilant Order of the Silver Eye and she makes him a better man! But then she completes Mr. Quent who was so wounded by the death of his first wife all those years ago. Seriously, if this was a pick your own adventure book I would be screwed.

Of course there is always an exception to every rule. It's like it's own rule am I right? So when I say "I love every character" what I mean is "I love every character except..." And I'm not talking about the characters that you are meant to hate, because you eventually come to love hating them. I'm talking about the characters you just don't like. In this case it's Eldyn. You're probably saying, who's Eldyn right about now. In my review of the first book I mentioned him in passing as Rafferdy's best friend. In this review I've glossed over him almost entirely with lumping him in as one of the illusionists, which he is. Yet he is one of the three principal characters in this series and a third of the narrative belongs to him. So perhaps I should explain why I've omitted him. In The Magicians and Mrs. Quent he has a rather boring storyline about his sister and some rebels. These sections were excruciating. If I had to read about him at least Rafferdy could be present right? The fact that he didn't die in the first book was a major source of contention with me. I should have given more credit to Galen. Because in The House on Durrow Street if there's one surprise it's the redemption of the character of Eldyn Garritt. I know. I'm as surprised as you that my opinion could be changed so drastically.

With books this big it's hard to cover everything that happens in one review. I could write several reviews of The House on Durrow Street and never repeat myself and still have things to talk about. But this redemption of Eldyn is, I think, the most interesting. Yes, his learning to become an illusionist and eventually a performer at The Theatre of the Moon is fascinating, as is his paramour Dercy, but what's more surprising is that Eldyn's story is the driving force of this book. The simple line of "even illusionists are threatened" from above encapsulates more than you can imagine. Because what lies underneath is a dark mystery that keeps you turning the pages waiting to find out the truth. Because illusionists are turning up dead. Of course only fellow illusionists could make this connection. Eldyn, in trying to support that rebel loving sister of his is straddling the world of the church, where he works as a clerk, and the world of illusion, where he is learning his art. The church has strong opinions on illusionists, all of them bad. But it's only through being a part of both of these worlds that Eldyn is able to see the greater picture, to uncover the conspiracy of the church using magic to exert control. They are harming and harnessing magic to their own purposes. Purposes that are almost too dark to discuss. But when you see the full extent of the conspiracy in it's reveal you will be astounded and hopefully agree with me that you were seriously doing a disservice to Mr. Garritt.

With Mr. Garritt being revealed as an illusionist the three branches of magic are represented in our three protagonists, Mrs. Quent, the witch, Rafferdy, the magician, and Eldyn, the illusionist. What's interesting about Galen's worldbuilding is that he doesn't just go into the customs and mores of society, he goes far into outer space and alien forces, and closer to home with genetics. Because witch, magician, and illusionist are all born this way. Which given that illusionists are homosexual I think it's nice to have someone pointing out even in a fantasy world that they are born that way. It's genetics people not something that is in need of deprogramming. Witches are born to witches, in fact it is very rare for a witch to have a male child, but if she does that child is an illusionist. Magicians just descend down the male line of the seven great houses with some having the power and some not. Hence the Hall of Magnates is literally littered with real and wannabe magicians. What comes about in The House on Durrow Street is a distinct segregation of the types of magic and fear-mongering. The magicians in power in the Hall of Magnates use their influence to make war on magic, particularly the "natural" magics of witches and illusionists, though if push comes to shove they will totally use those "natural" powers for their own gain. Likewise they instill fear in the populace to hate all magic, hiding their own. Because of all the branches of magic, magicians are the most easily corrupted by the power they need in order to work their magics.

Going back to outer space I have one question lingering at the back of my mind, and that is, is this world of Altania perhaps our future? Go with me on this, it's kind of a reverse Star Wars with our future looking like our past, but it's possible. The days and nights are of varying duration and the planets are all akimbo, but perhaps over time that could happen. Ivy talks of a time when days and nights were fixed. Here in our world after the winter equinox we gain a few minutes of sun every day until the summer equinox where we lose a few minutes of sun every day, unless you live at the equator and then it's twelve hours of light and twelve hours of dark everyday, year round. But this is to do with the moon and the tides and the planets. Now imagine something happening to knock them off course, or even just as time passes and the planets paths start to degrade, might Ivy's world come to be? Could night and day no longer be dependable? Could Earth's rotation be random? I wonder how this plays into crops and trees and even grass. And here again is why I love this book, it makes me think, it makes me imagine. I wonder about things and question things that I just accepted. Yes, there are stories I've read about night falling, forever, but never have I read a story where it's handled so deftly and also so woven into the society and their customs. I seriously just need more of this world, more of this story. I literally never want it to end. Ever.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Tuesday Tomorrow

Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: May 7th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In this powerful entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling series, Mercy Thompson must face a deadly enemy to defend all she loves...

My name is Mercedes Athena Thompson Hauptman, and I am a car mechanic.
And a coyote shapeshifter.
And the mate of the Alpha of the Columbia Basin werewolf pack.

Even so, none of that would have gotten me into trouble if, a few months ago, I hadn’t stood upon a bridge and taken responsibility for the safety of the citizens who lived in our territory. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. It should have only involved hunting down killer goblins, zombie goats, and an occasional troll. Instead, our home was viewed as neutral ground, a place where humans would feel safe to come and treat with the fae.

The reality is that nothing and no one is safe. As generals and politicians face off with the Gray Lords of the fae, a storm is coming and her name is Death.

But we are pack, and we have given our word.

We will die to keep it."

FINALLY! It's finally here! That extra two month wait was excruciating but trust me, it was worth it. 

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
Published by:
Publication Date: May 7th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 528 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"New York Times bestselling and Alex, Nebula, and Hugo-Award-winning author Seanan McGuire introduces readers to a world of amoral alchemy, shadowy organizations, and impossible cities in the standalone fantasy, Middlegame.

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.

Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.

Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.

Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained."

The Seanan McGuire factory just keeps going!

Nocturna by Maya Motayne
Published by: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: May 7th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 480 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The first in a sweeping and epic own voices debut fantasy trilogy - set in a stunning Latinx-inspired world - about a face-changing thief and a risk-taking prince who must team up to defeat a powerful evil they accidentally unleashed. Perfect for fans of Tomi Adeyemi, Leigh Bardugo, and V. E. Schwab.

To Finn Voy, magic is two things: a knife to hold under the chin of anyone who crosses her...and a disguise she shrugs on as easily as others pull on cloaks.

As a talented faceshifter, it’s been years since Finn has seen her own face, and that’s exactly how she likes it. But when Finn gets caught by a powerful mobster, she’s forced into an impossible mission: steal a legendary treasure from Castallan’s royal palace or be stripped of her magic forever.

After the murder of his older brother, Prince Alfehr is first in line for the Castallan throne. But Alfie can’t help but feel that he will never live up to his brother’s legacy. Riddled with grief, Alfie is obsessed with finding a way to bring his brother back, even if it means dabbling in forbidden magic.

But when Finn and Alfie’s fates collide, they accidentally unlock a terrible, ancient power - which, if not contained, will devour the world. And with Castallan’s fate in their hands, Alfie and Finn must race to vanquish what they have unleashed, even if it means facing the deepest darkness in their pasts."

I was sold on this book by it's comparison to Leigh Bardugo and V.E. Schwab but only because it's coupled with Latinix roots. 

Westside by W.M. Akers
Published by: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: May 7th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"New York is dying, and the one woman who can save it has smaller things on her mind.

A young detective who specializes in “tiny mysteries” finds herself at the center of a massive conspiracy in this beguiling historical fantasy set on Manhattan’s Westside - a peculiar and dangerous neighborhood home to strange magic and stranger residents - that blends the vivid atmosphere of Caleb Carr with the imaginative power of Neil Gaiman.

It’s 1921, and a thirteen-mile fence running the length of Broadway splits the island of Manhattan, separating the prosperous Eastside from the Westside - an overgrown wasteland whose hostility to modern technology gives it the flavor of old New York. Thousands have disappeared here, and the respectable have fled, leaving behind the killers, thieves, poets, painters, drunks, and those too poor or desperate to leave.

It is a hellish landscape, and Gilda Carr proudly calls it home.

Slightly built, but with a will of iron, Gilda follows in the footsteps of her late father, a police detective turned private eye. Unlike that larger-than-life man, Gilda solves tiny mysteries: the impossible puzzles that keep us awake at night; the small riddles that destroy us; the questions that spoil marriages, ruin friendships, and curdle joy. Those tiny cases distract her from her grief, and the one impossible question she knows she can’t answer: “How did my father die?”

Yet on Gilda’s Westside, tiny mysteries end in blood - even the case of a missing white leather glove. Mrs. Copeland, a well-to-do Eastside housewife, hires Gilda to find it before her irascible merchant husband learns it is gone. When Gilda witnesses Mr. Copeland’s murder at a Westside pier, she finds herself sinking into a mire of bootlegging, smuggling, corruption - and an evil too dark to face.

All she wants is to find one dainty ladies’ glove. She doesn’t want to know why this merchant was on the wrong side of town—or why he was murdered in cold blood. But as she begins to see the connection between his murder, her father’s death, and the darkness plaguing the Westside, she faces the hard truth: she must save her city or die with it.

Introducing a truly remarkable female detective, Westside is a mystery steeped in the supernatural and shot through with gunfights, rotgut whiskey, and sizzling Dixieland jazz. Full of dazzling color, delightful twists, and truly thrilling action, it announces the arrival of a wonderful new talent."

Why has no one tried to bring about the infusion of Caleb Carr and Neil Gaiman before?

Romanov by Nadine Brandes
Published by: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: May 7th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The history books say I died.

They don’t know the half of it.

Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are either to release the spell and deal with the consequences, or to enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction to Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her.

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad...and he’s on the other."

I've always been drawn to the Romanovs, that time in Russian history seems so magical, and here we have actual magic as well! Dream come true!

The Woman in the Blue Cloak by Deon Meyer
Published by: Atlantic Monthly Press
Publication Date: May 7th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 160 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Early on a May morning in the depth of South Africa’s winter, a woman’s naked body, washed in bleach, is discovered on a stone wall beside the N2 highway at the top of Sir Lowry’s Pass, some thirty-five miles from Cape Town. The local investigation stalls, so the case is referred to Captain Benny Griessel and his colorful partner Vaughn Cupido of the Hawks - the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations. The woman proves to be Alicia Lewis, an expert in old Dutch Masters paintings specializing in the recovery of valuable lost art. Discovering the two men she had contacted before coming to South Africa reveals what she was seeking - a rare painting by Carel Fabritius, Rembrandt’s finest student, not seen since it disappeared from Delft in 1654. But how Lewis died, why, and at whose hand shocks even the two veteran detectives.

The Woman in the Blue Cloak is a compact jewel of a thriller, filled with Deon Meyer’s earthy dialogue, clever plotting, and the memorable characters that have peopled all of Deon Meyer’s award-winning novels."

Paintings that have disappeared from history? Yes please!

Black Berry and Wilde Rose by Sonia Velton
Published by: Blackstone Publishing
Publication Date: May 7th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Set in eighteenth-century Spitalfields, London, Blackberry and Wild Rose is the rich and atmospheric tale of a household of Huguenot silk weavers as the pursuit of the perfect silk design leads them all into ambition, love, and betrayal.

When Esther Thorel, wife of a master silk weaver, rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel, she thinks she is doing Gods will, but her good deed is not returned. Sara quickly realizes that the Thorel household is built on hypocrisy and lies and soon tires of the drudgery of life as Esthers new ladys maid. As the two womens relationship becomes increasingly fractious, Sara resolves to find out what it is that so preoccupies her mistress

Esther has long yearned to be a silk designer. When her early water colors are dismissed by her husband, Elias, as the daubs of a foolish girl, she continues her attempts in secret. It may have been that none of them would ever have become actual silks, were it not for the presence of the extraordinarily talented Bisby Lambert in the Thorel household. Brought in by Elias to weave his masterpiece on the Thorels loom in the attic of their house in Spitalfields, the strange cadence of the loom as Bisby works is like a siren call to Esther. The minute she first sets foot in the garret and sees Bisby Lambert at his loom, marks the beginning of Blackberry and Wild Rose, the most exquisite silk design Spitalfields has ever seen, and the end of the Thorel households veneer of perfection.

As unrest among the journeyman silk weavers boils over into riot and rebellion, it leads to a devastating day of reckoning between Esther and Sara."

While I could say what first caught my eye is the weavers and how much I love that home art, but really, I just love the word Spitalfields... 

The Lady and Her Secret Lover by Jenn LeBlanc
Published by: Illustrated Romance
Publication Date: May 7th, 2019
Format: Kindle, 366 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When Ellie and Lou fall in love, it is with great abandon. And they have grand ideas. A small cottage, a garden, a goat to manage the weeds, sheep for wool to knit.

But the truth of the matter lies in the reality. Louisa must marry, to the satisfaction of her father, and so must Ellie - whose family hopes for a title to add legitimacy to their status, opening doors in the ton. And when Louisa’s father discovers them together nothing can ever be the same.

A friend rescues Louisa from a horrible fate, sending her into hiding for her own protection. For three long years, Louisa remains in exile out of fear of what her father could do.

Necessity returns Louisa to London, and as soon as she does, the memories of her beautiful Ellie haunt her. But Louisa has no idea if Ellie is even here, or unmarried, or still in want of her as Louisa is and has been since that first moment she saw her across the shimmering ballroom. Louisa fears discovering the truth of it all, that she was but a passing fancy born of the excitement of the heat of a first season.

Will she find Ellie? Will the woman still want her? And even if so, what can they do now that they couldn’t do before?

Nothing has changed, but everything is different."

I'm liking this trend of mainstream romance embracing LGBTQ relationships in other eras.

Tightrope by Amanda Quick
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: May 7th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An unconventional woman and a man shrouded in mystery walk a tightrope of desire as they race against a killer to find a top secret invention in this novel from New York Times bestselling author Amanda Quick.

Former trapeze artist Amalie Vaughn moved to Burning Cove to reinvent herself, but things are not going well. After spending her entire inheritance on a mansion with the intention of turning it into a bed-and-breakfast, she learns too late that the villa is said to be cursed. When the first guest, Dr. Norman Pickwell, is murdered by his robot invention during a sold-out demonstration, rumors circulate that the curse is real.

In the chaotic aftermath of the spectacle, Amalie watches as a stranger from the audience disappears behind the curtain. When Matthias Jones reappears, he is slipping a gun into a concealed holster. It looks like the gossip that is swirling around him is true - Matthias evidently does have connections to the criminal underworld.

Matthias is on the trail of a groundbreaking prototype cipher machine. He suspects that Pickwell stole the device and planned to sell it. But now Pickwell is dead and the machine has vanished. When Matthias’s investigation leads him to Amalie’s front door, the attraction between them is intense, but she knows it is also dangerous. Amalie and Matthias must decide if they can trust each other and the passion that binds them, because time is running out."

A cursed house? A killer robot? Cryptography? Yes, yes, and yes! 

After the Party by Cressida Connolly
Published by: Pegasus Books
Publication Date: May 7th, 2019
Format: Kindle, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A captivating novel of manners that tells the story of a dark and disturbing period of British history, by a master storyteller.

It is the summer of 1938 and Phyllis Forrester has returned to England after years abroad. Moving into her sister’s grand country house, she soon finds herself entangled in a new world of idealistic beliefs and seemingly innocent friendships. Fevered talk of another war infiltrates their small, privileged circle, giving way to a thrilling solution: the appointment of a great and charismatic new leader who will restore England to its former glory.

At a party hosted by her new friends, Phyllis lets down her guard for a single moment, with devastating consequences. Years later, Phyllis, alone and embittered, recounts the dramatic events which led to her imprisonment and changed the course of her life forever.

Powerful, poignant, and exquisitely observed, After the Party is an illuminating portrait of a dark period of British history which has yet to be fully acknowledged."

Sometimes I suffer from WWI fatigue, but who can resist a country estate and a party with devastating consequences?

Every Tool's a Hammer: Life Is What You Make It by Adam Savage
Published by: Atria Books
Publication Date: May 7th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Every Tool’s a Hammer is a chronicle of my life as a maker. It’s an exploration of making and of my own productive obsessions, but it’s also a permission slip of sorts from me to you. Permission to grab hold of the things you’re interested in, that fascinate you, and to dive deeper into them to see where they lead you.

Through stories from forty-plus years of making and molding, building and break­ing, along with the lessons I learned along the way, this book is meant to be a toolbox of problem solving, complete with a shop’s worth of notes on the tools, techniques, and materials that I use most often. Things like: In Every Tool There Is a Hammer - don’t wait until everything is perfect to begin a project, and if you don’t have the exact right tool for a task, just use whatever’s handy; Increase Your Loose Tolerance - making is messy and filled with screwups, but that’s okay, as creativity is a path with twists and turns and not a straight line to be found; Use More Cooling Fluid - it prolongs the life of blades and bits, and it prevents tool failure, but beyond that it’s a reminder to slow down and reduce the fric­tion in your work and relationships; Screw Before You Glue - mechanical fasteners allow you to change and modify a project while glue is forever but sometimes you just need the right glue, so I dig into which ones will do the job with the least harm and best effects.

This toolbox also includes lessons from many other incredible makers and creators, including: Jamie Hyneman, Nick Offerman, Pixar director Andrew Stanton, Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro, artist Tom Sachs, and chef Traci Des Jardins. And if everything goes well, we will hopefully save you a few mistakes (and maybe fingers) as well as help you turn your curiosities into creations.

I hope this book inspires you to build, make, invent, explore, and - most of all - enjoy the thrills of being a creator."

Why was Mythsbusters ever cancelled? WHY!?! 

Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs
Published by: Frances Lincoln Children's Books
Publication Date: May 7th, 2019
Format: Hardcover, 32 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"New in the critically acclaimed Little People, BIG DREAMS series, discover the life of David Bowie, the starman who dazzled audiences with his music.

As a child, young David had a head full of songs and ideas. He was inspired by the pop and mod scenes in Britain to pick up the saxophone. After earning his stripes in some of the coolest bands in London, David splashed onto the solo scene. His songwriting talent and musical skill made him one of rock and roll's all-time greatest artists. This moving book features stylish and quirky illustrations and extra facts at the back, including a biographical timeline with historical photos and a detailed profile of the musician's life.

Little People, BIG DREAMS is a best-selling series of books and educational games that explore the lives of outstanding people, from designers and artists to scientists and activists. All of them achieved incredible things, yet each began life as a child with a dream.

This empowering series offers inspiring messages to children of all ages, in a range of formats. The board books are told in simple sentences, perfect for reading aloud to babies and toddlers. The hardcover versions present expanded stories for beginning readers. Boxed gift sets allow you to collect a selection of the books by theme. Paper dolls, learning cards, matching games, and other fun learning tools provide even more ways to make the lives of these role models accessible to children.

Inspire the next generation of outstanding people who will change the world with Little People, BIG DREAMS!"

I want to be all, go out and buy this book, but instead, I'm going to be all, avoid this book, it's so inaccurate and incomplete it angered the Bowie fan in me. And that's about 100% of me, so there was a lot of anger.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Book Book of 2017 - Jane Austen's Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Published by: Doubleday
Publication Date: 1814
Format: Hardcover, 496 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Fanny Price is a burden to her poor and ever expanding family. Her two maternal aunts decide to help their disadvantageously married sister by taking Fanny in at Mansfield Park, separating the young girl from the only family she has ever known and her beloved brother William. She is to be raised with her four cousins, Tom, Edmund, Maria, and Julia. Given all the advantages they have but never once allowed by her aunt, Mrs. Norris, to ever think herself their equal. If it wasn't for the kindness of her cousin Edmund to that undersized ten year old Fanny would have despaired. Instead she has grown up knowing her place and hopelessly in love with Edmund. But it is the eldest, Tom, who is causing trouble. He has racked up debts that require his father to sell the living of the local parsonage that was to be Edmund's and the Grants move in. This wouldn't have been a catastrophic event except for what happened next. Fanny's uncle, Sir Thomas Bertam, was called away to Antigua, taking Tom with him. The power vacuum at Mansfield Park was filled by Mrs. Norris. She sees this time as coming into her own, she finds a dunderhead of a fiance for Maria, and encourages an intimacy with the parsonage, an intimacy which is far more interesting to the inhabitants of Mansfield Park when Mrs. Grant's two siblings, Henry and Mary Crawford arrive. Mrs. Norris hopes to marry Henry to Julia and Mary, well Mary initially thinks only of Tom, until she begins to see what Fanny sees in Edmund. But the trouble caused with Henry and his ever roving eye, going from Julia to Maria to Fanny will change Mansfield Park forever.

When I first read Mansfield Park I took a bizarre pride in being one of the few to actually love it more than Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. I thought anyone who didn't view it as Austen's best work was deluded and therefore not worth my time. I have often felt myself against the Austen mainstream. Bucking treads and going my own way and listening to my heart and not to academic discourse. Because if there's one thing I can be certain of it's that Jane Austen herself would despise many of the people who populate the higher ranks of her so-called "societies." So for years I held firmly to my beliefs of the superiority of my tastes without giving thought to how much change is inflicted by time and circumstance. When I first re-read Mansfield Park I felt like I had been slapped. It was a rude awakening to not find the book I loved at eighteen. But since then I've realized that each re-reading of Austen leads to a fluctuation in my rankings and this time wasn't any different. I was again back to embracing Fanny and adoring Mansfield Park. What I realized is that why I connected to Mansfield Park as a teenager and why I reconnected to it now was because both times in my life I was facing similar issues. I was going through a time where I felt slighted, imposed upon, where I was nothing more than a tool to be of use to other people. I was part of their life but I didn't have one of my own. My identity was subsumed into theirs, nothing more than a dogsbody. Just like Mrs. Norris treats poor Fanny. Oh Fanny, how I feel your pain all over again. The rest of your readers labeling you as dull don't get what it's like to live your life. I do and I am united with you, the constant, put-upon servant. I hope I'm just as lucky in my happily ever after.

While I was reconnecting to Fanny and her small world that is perfectly contained and intimate, I, as well as Austen, was ruminating on how the wider world works in general but also the world's influence on small family groupings. In particular the idea of selling off your child and how that child fits into a new family dynamic. While yes, I will grudgingly admit that with Antigua there is an underscoring of slavery, the real slavery Austen was interested in here is adoption. And while she might have been telling the story about Fanny's adoption into her cousins' family, I think it was actually a thinly veiled reference to her own life. Jane's brother Edward was "presented" to his wealthy relatives Thomas and Catherine Knight, the same relatives who gave Jane's father the living at Steventon, when Edward was twelve and Jane was five. Edward became their legal heir and left Jane's family unit. How might this have effected young Jane? Could she have written Mansfield Park as a way to handle this trauma in her life? I personally think she did. Because while everything turned out alright for Fanny as it did for her brother Edward, one might say that the first half of Mansfield Park is her real feelings and the second half is her hopes and dreams. In the beginning Mansfield Park is really a scathing indictment of what it is to live under the roof of relatives who view you as lesser than. Again and again Fanny is pushed aside and put-upon. And that doesn't even cover the emotional underpinnings of being separated from her beloved brother William. There is alienation and longing just seeping off these pages. Part of me thinks it's a little cruel of Jane to write a book that her family couldn't help but see as reflecting their own lives, but then in the end she flips it. The life Fanny left wasn't worth living. This is where I think Jane goes a little fanciful. She wishes so much for this happily ever after to be the case that the turn around is more a fairy tale than realism. But I hope she realized that her brother, in the end, like Fanny, had a good long life.

This then leads into the complication of a nature versus nurture scenario. Fanny comes out the best of all the young females raised in the Bertram household. She is well behaved, loved, and gets the man of her dreams. Whereas Julie elopes and Maria, well Maria leaves her wealthy husband for Henry Crawford who then tires of her so she must leave him and live the rest of her life in seclusion. If we can assume they all had the same base nature we see that the cossetting of Maria by Mrs. Norris and her constant grinding of Fanny under her boot-heel had the exact opposite effect. Tom was likewise going to the bad but his severe illness reformed him. Therefore Mansfield Park is showing us again and again that it's the nurturing that matters. That hardship and strife make for a better person. Look even to Fanny's own siblings, those that are overly loved, like her youngest sister, are beyond hope, but Susan, the sister who is ignored and put-upon, she is worthy and therefore comes and joins the inhabitants of Mansfield Park. But while it is shown in all the cousins it is magnified and expanded upon with the Crawfords. Henry and Mary were raised by an uncle with very lax values. After his wife, their aunt, died he brought his mistress under his roof, therefore exposing Henry and Mary to this want of propriety. Again and again they are shown to lack a moral compass. They say things that are painful for Fanny to hear. In fact, their complete want of sympathy even leads Mary to hope that Tom dies so that Edmund, whom she loves as best she can, will be a man worthy of her. What I find interesting is that Austen tries to make you forget for awhile that the Crawfords are undesirables due to their nurturing. They are "reformed" and viewed as eligible spouses. But in the end their character will out. As Edmund laments, if Mary had just been raised differently, her kind nature could have overcome all. Poor Edmund, but lucky Fanny.

That is lucky Fanny if you really like Edmund. In fact while most people refer to this romantic duo as sticks-in-the-mud I think that they are being unfairly lumped together, most likely because mud is sticky. The truth is the problem doesn't lie with Fanny, it lies with Edmund. He's just wallowing in the mud. Oh Edmund, I want to like you, but Fanny formed an early attachment to you from some small kindnesses and now we're stuck with you as our hero. The fact is Edmund is more than a little too preachy for my tastes. In the beginning he's always pointing things out to Fanny about how she should feel, how she should think about a situation. He forms her sense and her sensibility and then what does he do? He throws it all out the window when it comes to himself. He points out all the flaws that Mary's character contains and then promptly falls in love and she's an angel. Hence the drop back to reality at the end really amuses me. But the truth is if he had just practiced what he preached that scenario would never have happened. Fanny is stalwart. She sees the flaws, and, oh dear, the pain she feels as Edmund is always making excuses and backpedaling. Fanny can never fully like Mary, not just because she is her romantic rival, but because she is a flawed individual that isn't worthy of Edmund. What is interesting is that Austen never redeems the Crawfords. She toys with us that she might, but in the end, they are literally the white trash of the time with the loosest morals around. And while, as a writer, it would be fun to play a preacher against a loose woman, as a reader being one with the character who is on the outside looking in, it's just painful. And Edmund causing such pain to Fanny? Makes you dislike him all the more. He's such a hypocrite!

But as much as Edmund annoys me I can overlook many of his flaws when comparing him to Henry Crawford. Because Henry Crawford is a far more troublesome character. It's not that he's basically an idiot, it's that we're expected to believe that he has reformed. That he actually "fell" for Fanny. I don't for a second believe this. I think it was a game to him to start with, which he clearly admits, but I don't think it ever became real. I don't think he ever loved Fanny. I think he loved the idea of falling for Fanny and fooled himself into believing it was the truth. He loved the concept not the actuality. He loved the challenge of capturing the heart of the only woman he'd ever met who didn't fall for him. Austen seems to say that Fanny would have been at risk if her heart hadn't already been taken by another. I call BS! With Fanny's morals she could never have fallen for Henry's insincere flatteries. And the thing is I just don't know how to handle this turn-around. Did Austen actually want us to believe it? Like how she tried in vain to redeem Willoughby at the last minute in Sense and Sensibility? At least with Willoughby it makes a kind of sense, because the connection between him and Marianne was something that was real, was palpable to the reader. Here it's just hollow gestures. And then, when he runs off with Maria at the end? We're supposed to believe that he just couldn't help himself? I'm sorry, but if he actually did love Fanny then he would NEVER have done such a thing. And to have Mary blaming Fanny for Henry's wayward behaviour? Yes, I know it's meant to put the final nail in the coffin of Mary and Edmund, but still... of all that happens in books that I am able to believe as true, from magic to dragons, I can not nor will I ever believe Henry Crawford's turn-around.

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