Friday, July 29, 2016

Science Fiction

For me, my turning into a bookworm all started with science fiction. The reason is two fold. When I was younger I rarely read at all. Instead I watched lots of movies. In particular I watched a LOT of Star Wars. When I mean I watched a lot of Star Wars, I mean really a lot. I mean an entire summer just watching the original trilogy over and over. When I found the Star Wars Expanded Universe in the form of Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire, I felt as if a whole new world was open to me. I give Timothy Zahn almost all of the credit for turning me into the bookworm I am now and I hope one day to tell him that in person. He took characters I already loved and gave them new adventures for me to devour. The second half of my conversion was due to Douglas Adams. After high school I spent that summer reading all of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as well as all of Jane Austen, but that's another story. Those books by Adams are still a touchstone for me. I remember how it felt to hold them with the circular embossing on the covers while I laughed at the absurdity of Arthur Dent's predicament. It almost makes me want to curl up on the side porch in blistering heat and re-read the full trilogy, as this would be the cheapest form of time travel. But the truth is over time I have moved away from science fiction and more to it's counterpart of fantasy. I remember years ago the heated discussions online of the divide between science fiction and fantasy despite them being shelved together in bookstores. It all came down to dragons. So perhaps I like my imaginary worlds to have a few dragons these days. This means that my science fiction reading has lapsed of late. So more than anything I'm trying to reconnect with my roots here. To go back to imaginative storytelling with a science base and the occasional spacecraft. Here's to worlds without dragons! And of course Star Wars!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Book Review - Barbara Taylor Bradford's The Cavendon Luck

The Cavendon Luck by Barbara Taylor Bradford
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: June 7th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 512 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

The Cavendons and the Swanns have weathered tragedy and loss but have always had luck and the wherewithal to marshal their resources and come out on top. They will need that luck more than ever as the clouds of war start to mass over Europe. They see hard times coming and retrenchment will happen, but as long as they can stand as a united front they are undefeatable. The eldest "D" Dierdre is more aware of the dire situation they all face than the rest of the family. After the sudden death of her husband she returned to her covert work with the government. Burying her sorrows in work with a purpose. Now her work has a purpose much closer to home. Her sister-in-law Cecily has a devoted employee whose family is still in Berlin. To make matters worse they are Jewish intellectuals. Dierdre will use her connection at the war off as well as an old friend to attempt to save one family of the millions that will die. But this is just one part of the larger war machine that is starting up. On the homefront there is preparations to be made, jams to be canned, inappropriate alliances to be quashed. While once war breaks out there are children fighting in the fields to worry about, danger from the skies, and worry every single day. Not all the Cavendons will live to see the end of the war. But life during wartime the cruelest of sacrifices are to be dreaded, though sadly expected.

For some reason I feel duty bound to have liked this book or to find something positive to say about it but the only thing I can think of to say is that it was insipid. And that's being kind. Each volume in this trilogy, please say it's only a trilogy, has been declining in quality and the rapid descent from The Cavendon Women to The Cavendon Luck has made me question the need to keep the first two volumes on my bookshelves. Each book has had less and less to make it work to the point where I was severely struggling to even finish The Cavendon Luck. It is not a joke to say that when I hit the half-way point in this book I had to put it down for almost a month to steel myself to push on through to the end. Now I'm not saying this was as heroic as those brave fishermen Bradford incongruously writes about evacuating troops from the shores of Normandy... but I did feel like I was at war with this book just to get through the next page let alone the next chapter with waves of repetitive and self-congratulatory writing buffeting me about. The entire book was a stagnate quagmire with no forward momentum. There's no desire to read on to see the characters develop and grow, which they of course don't. In fact Bradford is continually stating the characters ages in an apparent need to remind us that time is indeed moving, because the sad fact is, Cecily at fifty-something is the exact same as she was as a teenager. And Taylor reminding us? Well, that just shows she knew the flaws existed and didn't bother to fix them.

But what is remarkable about The Cavendon Luck is that this must be the most asinine handling of WWII I have ever read. This can be broken down into the covert antics pre-war and the stock vignettes during the war. And seriously, I'm not sure which is worse, you'll have to decide. And yes, you can make your decision from my review, I'd never force anyone to read this book. As it was stated earlier, the oldest "D" aka Dierdre, is in "intelligence." A well-known secret in the family that NO ONE talks about or has actually bothered substantiating with Dierdre. So Dierdre takes up much of the narrative with attempting to get the family of Cecily's worker out of Germany. My problem with this is that firstly, Cecily's assistant is a new character, so why should we care about the plight of people who we aren't emotionally invested in? Yes, this might sound callous because all human life is important, but narratively speaking it was Bradford's job to make us care. And she doesn't! But most importantly it's the ludicrous codes and pet names that Dierdre uses in her daily work calling her contacts that makes this plot line unbearable. If this had been done tongue-in-cheek, like say The Avengers, it could have worked. But every time Dierdre was referred to as Daffy Dilly or the weather was mentioned as to gauge how things were in Germany, gag me now. Please. It took something that should be fascinating and made it cartoonish. Just no. And as for that family needing evacuation? Oh, they'll be evacuated and then their plot line will be left dangling with a quick sentence later on thrown to us as a bone.

Yet little did I know that "Daffy Dilly" would be sophisticated to what came later. I groan just even remembering it. For some reason Bradford decided to handle the war itself in the swiftest and most oblique way possible. Little vignettes with people we may or may not know in different defining moments of the war, from the London Blitz to Dunkirk, all book-ended by long quotes from Churchill. And oh gee, wasn't Churchill just the best! It just seems such a weird way to handle the war. A book that's been all about the personal connection to these two entwined families becomes something akin to a WWII special shown for Veterans Day on PBS. A highlights reel of what the brave British endured. But of course we can't have the war overshadow our story, it's only about a fifth of the book. So why even have the war in the book then? I just don't get the handling of time in this series. To luxuriate and draw out say a three week period where the family goes to Europe and have the same page count for the entirety of the war makes no sense. Time stops and starts, juddering about, stagnating and then whooshing by at the speed of light taking many family members in it's wake. But this writing style has been problematic from the beginning it's just in the final volume that I have to say enough is enough. No more of this doggerel.

Sticking with the war, I really want to know how the Cavendons and the Swanns were so omniscient. The ENTIRE book leading up to the war was them discussing the fact war was coming. Yes, war was looming ever since the strictures forced on Germany at the end of WWI, but to have everyone talk about it so blithely and confidentially seemed wrong. There's preparedness and then there's omniscience that comes from a modern writer wanting to make her characters seem smarter and more prescient. Yes, it's great that the WI played such a key roll and actually their jam making and preserves might be one of the only interesting parts of this book, and makes me want to learn more about that, but then there's the flip side. I'm not talking about the whole Churchill is the future and will save us, which is a whole other kettle of fish, I'm talking about Cecily, in particular, being confident in the coming war and not just being a savvy business woman with scaling back her fashion empire, but strategically buying warehouses that the army would need which she would then lease to them. There's a word for that. War profiteering. So not only did I become sick of the love-in between the Cavendons and the Swanns, but I grew to despise them because they come above all else and they will stoop to anything when it comes to preserving the family home. Even profiting from death!

Going beyond the war, looming or otherwise, the basic framework of the D's has always been very much influenced by the Mitford sisters. In this installment it got absurdly so. In fact so much of the D's and in particular their trip to Germany was ripped right from the life of the Mitfords that I felt it was veering on plagiarism. Bradford even compounded this problem by mentioning the Mitfords at one point. If you've read any of the biographies written on or by the Mitfords the whole feel of Berlin was lifted almost verbatim from their pages. Yes, this series originally intrigued me because it was like a mirrored Mitford life, but once it left homage and veered into stealing outright, this has become the darkest timeline. Just don't read this series anymore. From the beginning of the book I was thinking that this series would continue on because poor DeLacey has never been showcased. Turns out DeLacey is the Pamela or Unity Mitford of our tale, first relegated to the sidelines and them unceremoniously killed in an air raid. And, as someone who felt sorry for her, I came to the conclusion that her death was the best for all of us. Hopefully it means no more books about the Cavendons. Seriously. This is my biggest wish for the future.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K.Rowling
Published by: Arthur A. Levine Books
Publication Date: July 31st, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places."

So, perhaps all those years reading scripts and then later plays for my theater major paid off in the fact I'm the only one not bitching that this isn't written in prose. 

Midsummer Nights Mischief by Jennifer David Hesse
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: July 26th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"As the Summer Solstice approaches in idyllic Edindale, Illinois, attorney Keli Milanni isn't feeling the magic. She's about to land in a cauldron of hot water at work. Good thing she has her private practice to fall back on--as a Wiccan. She'll just have to summon her inner Goddess and set the world to rights. . .

Midsummer Eve is meant for gratitude and celebration, but Keli is not in her typically upbeat mood. The family of a recently deceased client is blaming her for the loss of a Shakespearean heirloom worth millions, and Keli's career may be on the line. With both a Renaissance Faire and a literary convention in town, Edindale is rife with suspicious characters, and the intrepid attorney decides to tap into her unique skills to crack the case. . .

But Keli weaves a tangled web when her investigation brings her up-close and personal with her suspects--including sexy Wes Callahan, her client's grandson. The tattooed bartender could be the man she's been looking for in more ways than one. As the sun sets on the mystical holiday, Keli will need just a touch of the divine to ferret out the real villain and return Edindale, and her heart, to a state of perfect harmony..."

Aside for calling someplace in Illinois idyllic... seriously, murder, Shakespeare, Ren Faire, writing fest, yes, yes, yes, and yes!

City of Wolves by Willow Palecek
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: July 26th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 112 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Alexander Drake, Investigator for Hire, doesn’t like working for the Nobility, and doesn’t prefer to take jobs from strange men who accost him in alleyways. A combination of hired muscle and ready silver have a way of changing a man’s mind.

A lord has been killed, his body found covered in bite marks. Even worse, the late lord’s will is missing, and not everyone wants Drake to find it. Solving the case might plunge Drake into deeper danger.

City of Wolves is a gaslamp fantasy noir from debut author Willow Palecek."

Gaslamp fantasy? Yes please! 

The Adventuress by Tasha Alexander
Published by: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: July 26th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Emily and husband Colin have come to the French Riviera for what should be a joyous occasion - the engagement party of her lifelong friend Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge, and Amity Wells, an American heiress. But the merrymaking is cut short with the shocking death of one of the party in an apparent suicide. Not convinced by the coroner's verdict, Emily must employ all of her investigative skills to discover the truth and avert another tragedy."

I feel with Tasha's books it's wait five minutes and you'll get a new cover. So here's a new cover! I remember last fall when this book was first released Tasha told me there'd be a new cover by the paperback, and here it is. Well, whatever the cover, even though I admit I DO like this one, what really matters is the wonderful content by Tasha!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Book Review - Paula McLain's Circling the Sun

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: July 28th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Beryl Markham would go down in history as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, but her story began when she was just four-year-old Beryl Clutterbuck and her family came to British East Africa so that her father could train horses. Within a year her mother and older brother returned to England but Beryl stayed with her father in Africa. She grew up wild and free, in love with the horses, the land, and the natives. Over the years her father attempted to tame her with governesses and schooling, but Beryl was too willful and wild. That would change when her father announced that he was being forced to sell their farm. He couldn't afford to keep it and had agreed to take a job in South Africa. At sixteen Beryl had a hard choice to make. She could either go with her father or she could accept the proposal of marriage that their neighbor, Jock Purves, had put on the table. Beryl reluctantly agreed to marry Jock, hoping that her life would continue on in much the same why it had. She was wrong. Beryl bucked at the constraints of marriage and soon took off. She left her husband behind and took to training horses, eventually becoming the first licensed female racehorse trainer. She had many ups and downs in her career training horses and in her love life. But it was the love triangle between her, Karen Blixen, and Denys Finch Hatton that shaped her most. Denys was the love of her life and he was the one who first showed her how to fly. And oh, how she soared.

Beryl Markham is an interesting character to read about for those intrigued by Kenya during it's heyday. Because she arrived in the colony at such a young age with her family and stayed there for much of her life her story is like getting the best of Elspeth Huxley and Isak Dinesen. You get the pioneering beginning and the decadent lifestyle Kenya became notorious for all with one person. Add to this that it is written by a modern writer, Circling the Sun has more approachable prose than the dense morass of pretension that tended to flow out of Isak Dinesen. This book is a good starting off point for those wanting to know more about this fascinating time period, but I can only hope that after dipping in they'll dig deeper. Because for everything this book gets right it gets ten things wrong. It presents an easily digestible and palatable version of events that doesn't uncover the whole truth. Circling the Sun is like the Lifetime Movie version of what really happened in Kenya, stupid framing device and all. Yes, it is hard to get at the truth of what really happened during this time period seeing as the Happy Valley Set were all highly literate and writing their own skewed version of events, but there's just something so flat about this book in the end that you can't help wanting there to have been something more, some insight.

For someone who broke all the rules and was a woman ahead of her time McLain's depiction of Beryl is just flat. There is no passion, no life breathed into her. You forge no connection to McLain's subject. She never becomes alive, forever staying as ink on a page, a dry dusty woman who would have been forgotten by history if not for Ernest Hemingway's interest in West with the Night. At the beginning of the book with Beryl's childhood you feel an inkling that this will be an epic story full of insight, up there with Huxley's The Flame Trees of Thika. But as the book progresses it starts to rely heavily on telling us not showing us, the death knell of any story. As Beryl is trying to regain control of her life it almost feels as if McLain is channeling this desire for control to the point where the construct of Beryl is not even letting the reader in. This makes the book become flatter and flatter and more atonal as you progress. What little interest you had in Beryl is completely gone as she is written out of significance by McLain's bland storytelling. At the very end of the book there's a last ditch effort by McLain, perhaps realizing that she had failed to do Beryl justice, where she speechifies about freedom, but it's too late. It comes across as preachy and fails entirely to get the point across she was attempting to make.

Yet what I did find interesting is that McLain was actually, for a time, able to make topics that I would normally hate interesting, IE horses and flying. McLain might not have captured Beryl, but she did capture the spirit of horses and racing that predominated Kenyan society. I have never been a horse person, and never will be, though I will admit to liking the spirit of the races that grip the country every May with the Kentucky Derby. The horses and how Beryl rehabilitated several and got her license, that was all oddly fascinating. What I found bizarre though was that for a woman known for flying there was a disproportion in the book. McLain lavishes so much on the training of the horses by the time she gets to Beryl and her flying it's kind of like, there's no time left, I'm wrapping it up, story's over. Say what? I just read hundreds of pages about mud near a certain lake and how it could help a horse with injured limbs yet Beryl gets up in a plane and it's all, whatever, you don't need to know about this. Seeing as Beryl was forever seeking freedom, wouldn't that translate well into writing about flying? Not to mention her freakin' book she wrote on it!?! But as I said before, for every one thing that was right another ten things were wrong.

What I found most wrong and strongly objectionable was the depiction of Karen Blixen, who most people will know by her pen name, Isak Dinesen. Because of her book Out of Africa people have this very romanticized version of Karen Blixen that lives in their head. This wasn't helped by the movie. Personally, I don't get it. The book isn't well written. Period. This isn't a point I'm ever going to argue with people because in my mind just pick up the book and read it and if you can actually finish it, I'm sure you'll come around to my POV. Sure, the movie might be pretty, but Redford? Really? The reason I mention the reverence for the book and it's author is that it felt like McLain had a need to preserve the integrity of Blixen instead of telling the truth. She handles Blixen with kid gloves, Beryl is always talking about how wonderful she is and how guilty she felt for being trapped in a love triangle with her. Here's the truth. Everyone in Kenya couldn't stand Blixen. They viewed her as a pretentious pill who always thought she knew better than everyone else. This isn't just from all the history books I've read, a family friend knew her. So I would have far more preferred a bit of truth-telling than coddling the image of an author that in my mind doesn't really even warrant that title.

But there's a lot of truth omitted in this book... This is in fact where I finally lost patience with Circling the Sun. I felt like McLain was forever circling the truth but was never brave enough to come out and say it. She kept Blixen the paragon her readers believed her to be and made Beryl a little more... I don't know how to say this, relatable by bending the truth? Palatable? Because McLain makes Beryl a hard working woman who occasionally falls prey to her desires, and that's not true. The scene that really got me was Beryl's disgust at Idina Sackville's sex party. Beryl was actually a very promiscuous woman. Now I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, especially given the time and the climate of Kenya, it was basically expected, and she might indeed have had issues with Idina's party. Yet McLain makes it seem that Beryl is a bit of a prude. Which is anything but the truth. The truth is she had sexual relations with many of the men in her life, yet here the truth is bent to make her relationships with these men seem just friendships. Oh, and the straw that broke the camel's back? Yes, McLain discusses in detail the abortion of Denys's baby after their first sexual encounter. But does she talk about the later abortion? The fact that when Denys died she was pregnant again? Nope. McLain doesn't. And in the end that one final omission made me throw up my hands and view this book NOT as historical fiction of a real person but pure fantasy. That isn't what I read this book for. I wanted insight, truths, to get under the skin of Beryl. If that's what you want as well, look elsewhere.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review - Sarah Waters' Fingersmith

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Published by: Riverhead
Publication Date: October 1st, 2002
Format: Paperback, 548 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Sue Trinder has grown up in Lant Street. She has never left this slummy Borough of London, and has never wanted to. She has lived her entire life in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, who makes her living farming babies. But Sue was the only baby that ever mattered to Mrs. Sucksby. They live with Mr. Ibbs, who makes his living in the roundabout manner of taking in dubious goods through the back door and sending it out the front in a slightly different "legitimate" form. The rest of the household is made up of Mr. Ibbs' invalid sister and John Vroom, a man with a love for dog skins, and his simple girl Dainty. This is Sue's world entire. And they are as dear to her as family. One day an acquaintance, known to all as Gentleman, arrives with a plan to make all their fortunes using Sue. Mrs. Sucksby has always told Sue that she would be the making of them all and now Sue has her chance.

Gentleman has been posing as an artist, a Mr. Rivers, for a Mr. Lilly, who lives out west in the Thames Valley. Mr. Lilly has a niece, Maud. Maud is where their fortune will be found. Gentleman has been seducing this isolated girl in hopes of getting at her fortune through marrying her but has hit a brick wall. Maud's maid, who was their chaperon, has taken ill and now Maud isn't allowed in the presence of Gentleman. Gentleman has decided to fix that. By installing not only a new chaperon, but one that will help him pursue his interests with Maud. With Sue on the inside it is a win win situation. They will compromise Maud, throw her in an insane asylum, and split her vast fortune and live like toffs. What could possibly go wrong? In a world where there are plots within plots, games within games, and you don't know who's playing who, there are a lot of ways this could play out... and perhaps it won't be to everyone's liking.

Fingersmith is an amazing book if you were to redact the final two-thirds of the book. Divided into three parts the second and third parts are repetitive. Waters showed us in that first-third what she was capable of, and if it had ended there this could have been a true classic. But instead she chose another course. Yet I wonder if this drawing out of the narrative wasn't purposeful. Yes, she could have had a tauter more compact story, but that would defeat the Victorian aspect. I think being overly long and taking the narrative straight into "I don't care land" is a staple of true Victorian writing, or Victorian-esque in this case. Like Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, which Fingersmith strongly emulates, it overstays it's welcome by several sections. Looking back onto the other Waters book I've read, The Little Stranger, I realize now that that book really did have the perfect ending. You weren't sure what happened and it ended a bit mysteriously. If Waters had done that with this book, ending on a cliffhanger and being all mysterious, I would have been blown away and ranked it up there with some of the finest short fiction with the likes of Shirley Jackson. Instead she went the route of Wilkie Collins, and you can't really blame her for that.

Yet I can blame her for the repetitive nature of the storytelling. The Woman in White might have overstayed it's welcome but it was always moving forward. By having two different narrators with Sue and Maud, we see the exact same events at least twice. With the second section with Maud narrating I was almost skipping pages going, OK, I've already read this all from Sue's point of view, let's get to the part where we left off with Sue so that I get to the forward progression of the narration. Though once we move forward, back to Sue, we go back to the ending of part one! We have learned so much from Maud that it is painful to then have to live through Sue's excruciatingly slow journey to see Sue learn all that we already know. One step forward, two steps back. That cliffhanger to end part one... it will blow you away. Yet it is soon nullified and made pointless by all the other twists and turns and cliffhangers that come after it. The impact is lost in the dragging narrative. It got to the point where it was like watching M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, I kept not only waiting for the next not really shocking twist, but I got good at predicting what it would be, and in the end you really didn't care. So, by all means, read this book, just don't read past part one.

Though this book can't be discounted just for falling prey to the tropes Waters is emulating. She does an amazing job of capturing the seamy side of Victorian London. Sometimes you're reading about other times and think, now that would be a nice place to visit. Not here, not this world. And I think that's what makes the world of the book so real. You feel as if this is probably the most accurate depiction you've ever read of this time period. It's filthy and dirty, it's creaking corset stays on a large woman who never washes herself and the secrets she hides within her bodice. Maud's penchant for gloves, though not of her own doing, at least is some kind of barrier to the grotesques that are discussed. But even they are tainted. Yet it's the unrelenting depravity and filth combined with characters who you don't just dislike, but who have nothing good or nice ever happen to them that wears you down in the end. Sure a little history of Victorian pornography is well and good, but after awhile, you say enough is enough. This book grinds you down, and in the end, you are relieved that it is done.

The secret of Mr. Lilly and his pornography collection builds on this seamy underbelly that Waters has exposed. The Victorian London she is depicting isn't the one we really see in the literature of the day. While Victorians were far more into sex, sensationalism, and penny dreadfuls than popular authors of the day were willing to depict, it is still a little taboo. Over time the image that has arisen in popular culture is of the Victorians being a very prudish lot. They never talked about sex and didn't even know quite how one went about it, like the old Pete and Dud sketch where children are conceived through sitting on warm chairs and the eating of good meals. The last few years at the steampunk convention I go to I have attended a panel on the "Forbidden Image." Which is a "selection of erotic images from the Victorian era and classical images known to the Victorians ... but forbidden by polite society!" The images, ones that would no doubt be in Mr. Lilly's collection, show that these things did indeed exist. Any new technology soon goes to sex, just look at the internet. So is it any wonder that as soon as there was photography there was pornography? Fingersmith doesn't just depict Victorian England as we know it, but as it actually was.

Which leads to Sue and Maud. This book is perhaps most famous because it continues in Waters tradition of depicting lesbianism in different eras. Sapphic love has been around as long as there have been humans, but outside of pornography, it wouldn't have been openly discussed in Victorian times, despite it existing. Here Waters is breaking down another door, going all out with what would be a taboo subject and making it believable and compelling. For all the repetition and all the tropes she falls victim to in her writing of Fingersmith, there is the other side of the coin. All that she does right. A more accurate depiction of the times, relationships that are real, making us readers see that this world of times gone by was just as real as the "now." I also defy anyone to not find Sue and Maud's sex scene quite steamy. With their bodies connecting it makes us feel for them, and no, not in THAT way. It's a scene that makes them both so vibrant and alive that even if you hadn't found some connection to the characters, this one moment will make them real for you. Because more than anything, that is what this book does, make Victorian England real. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Imprudence by Gail Carriger
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: July 19th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger comes the delightful sequel to Prudence.

Rue and the crew of the Spotted Custard return from India with revelations that shake the foundations of England's scientific community. Queen Victoria is not amused, the vampires are tetchy, and something is wrong with the local werewolf pack. To top it all off, Rue's best friend Primrose keeps getting engaged to the most unacceptable military types.

Rue has family problems as well. Her vampire father is angry, her werewolf father is crazy, and her obstreperous mother is both. Worst of all, Rue's beginning to suspect what they really are... is frightened."

So... um... I haven't really gotten around to the first book yet, because, well, I want to re-read The Parasol Protectorate first and I just haven't had time to indulge... perhaps this summer?

The Complete Chi's Sweet Home Part 3 by Konami Kanata
Published by: Vertical Comics
Publication Date: July 19th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 480 Pages
To Buy

This collects volumes 7 through 9 and should be bought immediately. Or at least I should buy it immediately because I don't have these volumes, having borrowed them from the library. So nice of them to collect them in handy collections just for me!

The Branson Beauty by Claire Booth
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: July 19th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Branson Beauty, an old showboat, has crashed in the waters of an Ozark mountain lake just outside the popular tourist destination of Branson, Missouri. More than one hundred people are trapped aboard. Hank Worth is still settling into his new role as county sheriff, and when he responds to the emergency call, he knows he’s in for a long winter day of helping elderly people into rafts and bringing them ashore. He realizes that he’ll face anxiety, arguments, and extra costs for emergency equipment that will stretch the county’s already thin budget to the breaking point.

But he is absolutely not expecting to discover high school track star Mandy Bryson’s body locked inside the Captain’s private dining room. Suddenly, Hank finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation, with the county commissioner breathing down his neck and the threat of an election year ahead of him. And as he wades deeper into the investigation, Hank starts to realize he’s up against a web of small town secrets much darker and more tangled than he could have ever imagined.

In her captivating debut novel, Claire Booth has created a broad cast of wonderfully compelling characters, and she perfectly blends humor with the emotional drama and heartache of a murder investigation."

I love small towns cozies with dark secrets, perhaps that's why I was drawn to this book?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Book Review - Wesley Stace's Misfortune

Misfortune by Wesley Stace
Published by: Back Bay Books
Publication Date: January 1st, 2005
Format: Paperback, 560 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

A young baby boy is being thrown out with the trash. Unwanted and alone a chance of fate has him picked up by the richest Lord in the land, Lord Loveall. Lord Loveall has been mourning all his life for his dear departed sister and when he sees this baby he assumes it to be a female and a chance to have his sister back. But Lord Loveall can't just miraculously have an heir, a quick marriage is arranged with his sister's old governess, Anonyma, who has stayed on as resident librarian at Love Hall to catalog the works of her icon, the poetess Mary Day. Anonyma agrees to raising "Rose" female because Mary Day had some interesting theories on gender and Anonyma sees a chance to put her heroine's thoughts into action. An experiment if you will. For many years the couple are able to keep up this farce, until one day the world crashes down on them in the form of puberty and Rose can no longer hide who he is.

Rose flees in the middle of the night without a trace, unable to face what he is or his feelings for his best friend. He takes to the continent and eventually ends up where all those pilgrims seeking answers often end up, the Levant. Rose's journey won't be an easy one, through awkward sexual awakenings, near death fever dreams, and chance encounters, Rose begins to embrace the odd life that he has been given in this strange world and the companions in his journey who truly love him. Though while he has been traveling, trying to put himself back together, things aren't going so well at home, where Rose's absence is duly noted. The familial vultures have swooped in to claim what they have always lusted after, Love Hall. A scandal would be so unbecoming so Anonyma withdraws into the works of Mary Day... what does she have now that Rose has fled? It will be up to Rose to save the day, once he saves himself.

Misfortune is a Dickensian tale with at LGBTQ mindset. Full of interesting incestuous characters I felt that it never quite lived up to it's full potential due to the shifting narrative that, in the end, opted for a shorter, sleeker story with annoying time jumps, instead of becoming a book of true Dickensian girth. Now I'm not saying that I wanted every detail on Rose's debauched journey to Turkey, but covering such an expanse of time as a fever dream seemed indulgent of the author. In fact, that might be the crux of my problem, the modern sensibilities thrust into this Victorian age by Stace's whim alienates me from the story. Stace says in an interview in the back of the book that he didn't want to be drawn into the trappings of the time period, a carriage is a carriage, not a barouche, not a gig. By having Misfortune be a modern book set in the past he seems to be wanting to make the book more of a post modern statement piece than a quality read.

By breaking convention he is writing a book that will appeal more to those who have never read Dickens or historical fiction while leaving those of us who love 19th century literature and period pieces cold. Coupled with the fact that he pulls a complete Dickensian HEA that was obvious from page one, his tendency to use some literary tropes and abandon others just goes to show that he was gratifying himself instead of his audience, plus exactly HOW was Rose to inherit... she being a she? Many such little questions bothered me throughout. Though my biggest problem with the book that has nothing to do with Stace might just be a side effect of this lack of interest in the historical details. This problem being that the cover illustration shows clothes incorrect to 1820. Yes, I know I should let this go, but the thing is, I remember the day I picked up this book on a table in Barnes and Noble and it was those lovely Regency clothes that sold me on it...

Yet in the end it's not covers nor conceits that are the root of my issues, Rose is what's problematical to me. Firstly, the sheer self-centered delusions indulged by her parents scares the shit out of me. That two adults could contrive to raise a boy as a girl is just wrong to me. I know in this day and age there are a lot of people who talk about wanting to raise their children gender neutral so that they can come into their sexuality on their own. Personally, I think this is bullshit. It takes awhile for children to become aware of things, just look to Rose for an example, and by at least not setting down for them the basics, well, you are going to get one f'd up kid, again, look to Rose. Children need to understand the world around them in order to find their place, wherever that may be. By taking away Rose's knowledge of the world around her with regard to her body, that's just so many levels of wrong. At least her father Geoffroy has some excuse, obviously being insane, but Anonyma, the cold amd calculated way she sees changing her child's sex as an experiment just makes me want to slap her so hard. While yes, this does lead to some amusing situations, in the end, I felt such sorrow and pity for Rose that at times the book became hard to read.

The collusion to keep this lie up just fills me with rage. Personally, the fact that they were able to pull it off for so long makes me a little awestruck. I personally don't see how they did it. I liked that they mentioned that all paintings with genitals shown were hidden, because that was a problem I really had. How, in an English Country House, with the great artwork that is usually in said houses, were they able to keep Rose in the dark? The secluded environment helped, but still, how? Recent studies have shown that people in the 19th century weren't so repressed sexually as we like to imagine. Yes the book has Anonyma lecturing a young Rose on what is private and what is public, and never stripping or lifting of skirts... but still... how? Rose was raised with two other children and they never once lifted a skirt or whipped it out of their pants? That is giving those kids some amazing, I would say unbelievable, restraint. Were they sewn into their clothes? Because that's the only way I see this happening, otherwise, I just don't buy it. I can't buy it. There's too much suspension of disbelief needed here and that just doesn't work for me.

And yet... if we take a step back and look at the larger picture, not those hanging at Love Hall, forcing Rose into a female role is almost equivalent to forcing any child into any role. While yes, as I've said, I do thing it's important to show kids how the world works but I also think it's important that once they grasp the basics that they be allowed to be who they are. However they want to identity themselves, dress themselves, whatever, it is important to be who you are no matter what society thrusts on you. It is your right to choose your own identity and that is the final message we are left with from Rose. He has this unique upbringing, then the upheaval and identity crisis, but in the end he finds out who he truly is. So in one regard, though I had many issues with the book, I'd kind of like to make any bigot I can find read it because the sorrow and pity that you feel for Rose as he finds himself, that might be the first step to understanding those who don't fit the binary world. So yes, issues with the book, but not issues with the message? I know, it can be as confusing as Rose's situation at times, but sometimes even a book that I just don't engage with can connect and resonate on a deeper level with regard to certain issues. Sure, this book is flawed, but so are all of us. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Historical Fiction

I'm one of those people who loves reading about history. But I have a problem with history. Almost never does it ever end in a neat and tidy way. Preferably with a bow tied on it. Because history isn't a story; while there is a beginning, a middle, and an end to events, well, they might not be satisfactory ends. That's where historical fiction comes in! Historical fiction is like a balm. While there might be historians out there who rail against history being warped or what have you, it's not JUST about the history and the what ifs and the might-have-beens. It's about reading about past lives, becoming a part of that past. Stories are a way for you to forge this connection. But this shouldn't be confused with books written in another time about that time. Like Jane Austen writing about her world isn't historical fiction, but Georgette Heyer or Lauren Willig writing in the future about Austen's world IS historical fiction. Because a key to historical fiction is that distance, that step back that adds that little bit of omniscience to the writing. Plus hearing the writers modern voice capturing another time makes it somehow more real, more relatable for us modern readers. But the universal truth of us modern readers? We like to sneak into the past between the pages of a good book.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Max Gate by Damien Wilkins
Published by: Aardvark Bureau
Publication Date: July 12th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"1928: Thomas Hardy is dying in the upstairs room of Max Gate, the house he built in his beloved Dorset. Downstairs, his literary friends are locked in a bitter fight with local supporters. Who owns Hardy’s remains? Who knew him best? What are the secrets of Max Gate?

Housemaid Nellie Titterington narrates this earthy and emotionally-charged novel about ambition, duty, belonging, and love. "

Upstairs, Downstairs but with the death of a famous writer? And Thomas Hardy at that! Yes please!

The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig
Published by: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication Date: July 12th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Raised in a poor yet genteel household, Rachel Woodley is working in France as a governess when she receives news that her mother has died, suddenly. Grief-stricken, she returns to the small town in England where she was raised to clear out the cottage...and finds a cutting from a London society magazine, with a photograph of her supposedly deceased father dated all of three month before. He's an earl, respected and influential, and he is standing with another daughter -- his legitimate daughter. Which makes Rachel...not legitimate. Everything she thought she knew about herself and her past -- even her very name -- is a lie.

Still reeling from the death of her mother, and furious at this betrayal, Rachel sets herself up in London under a new identity. There she insinuates herself into the party-going crowd of Bright Young Things, with a steely determination to unveil her father's perfidy and bring his -- and her half-sister's -- charmed world crashing down. Very soon, however, Rachel faces two unexpected snags: she finds that she genuinely likes her half-sister, Olivia, whose situation isn't as simple it appears; and that she might just be falling for her sister's fiancé...

From Lauren Willig, author of the New York Times Best Selling novel The Ashford Affair, comes The Other Daughter, a page-turner full of deceit, passion, and revenge."

Seriously, one of the best books I read last year. So, if you don't have it yet, get ye to a bookstore! Or just follow the handy link to Amazon. 

A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: July 12th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In her thrilling new series, Deanna Raybourn, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, returns once more to Victorian England...and introduces intrepid adventuress Veronica Speedwell.
London, 1887. After burying her spinster aunt, orphaned Veronica Speedwell is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as with fending off admirers, Veronica intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans when Veronica thwarts her own attempted abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron, who offers her sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker, a reclusive and bad-tempered natural historian. But before the baron can reveal what he knows of the plot against her, he is found murdered—leaving Veronica and Stoker on the run from an elusive assailant as wary partners in search of the villainous truth."

Interesting thing about Deanna Raybourn... her series tend to be repacked almost as soon as they're out. Here's the new cover for A Curious Beginning. I'm not sure if I like this more... I guess it's more graphic and elegant but it's also in a style that's starting to be overused. But then again, wait five minutes we'll get another cover.

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: July 12th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Magic and mayhem clash with the British elite in this whimsical and sparkling debut.

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers maintains the magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman as their Sorcerer Royal and allowing England’s stores of magic to bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up, an adventure that brings him in contact with Prunella Gentlewoman, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, and sets him on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…"

One of THE BEST books I've read so far THIS year. Now in paperback!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Book Review - Robert Galbraith's The Cuckoo's Calling

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike Book 1) by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling
Published by: Mulholland Books
Publication Date: April 30th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Cormoran Strike's day starts in free fall. Charlotte and him have been on and off for years. After he returned wounded from Afghanistan she walked right into the hospital and back into his life. But this breakup is different. For the first time it was Cormoran's decision. This signals the end. And at his little office, now his home, if things don't pick up this will also signal the end of his career as a PI. He has one client and one stalker and had hoped to have no assistant, having given the previous temp the heave-ho. But in walks Robin, his new temp, which he can't afford. But then in walks a lifeline. A new client. A new client who has money and is willing to pay double. Cormoran knew John Bristow's brother Charlie when they were little. Charlie died in a tragic accident over the Easter holidays and Cormoran viewed it as yet another loss in a life full of them. John has come to Cormoran because his other sibling has died and John won't accept the police verdict of suicide. He needs Cormoran's help.

Lula Landry was a world famous supermodel when she plunged to her death on a cold night in January. Even Cormoran had heard about the tragedy. Another shooting star that burned too bright and died too young. It's almost baffling that the myopic man in front of him was related to the angelic Lula. But Lula, like John and Charlie, was adopted. Cormoran feels a kinship with John over his unconventional family, Cormoran being the bastard of a famous rock musician with famous siblings strewn all over the world. John's belief in Lula convinces Cormoran to take the case. He is soon shoved into the shadowy world of celebrities and their hangers-on. Where paparazzi blind you with their flashes at every chance. This is a world Cormoran's siblings know well, one he has always studiously avoided. But the deeper he digs he starts to have the same conviction as John. Lula didn't jump, she was pushed. Which means there's a killer out there who might strike again...

For someone who doesn't just love, but adores the Harry Potter books as much as I, it's kind of shocking to admit that I've never read any of Rowling's other books. Oh, don't get me wrong, I have them all ready to read, The Casual Vacancy, the next two Cormoran Strike books after this one, I've just never gotten around to them. I think there's a bit of the fear of the next. When you love an author who has written a series the first time they step outside that comfort zone, be it your comfort zone or theirs, it's a seismic shift. It's something entirely new. That new could be good or it could be bad, but one thing is certain, it will be different. Which I think is one of the reasons that Rowling tried to step back and release The Cuckoo's Calling under a pen name. She was harshly judged for The Casual Vacancy and she just wanted to write a book to write a book and avoid the PR machine that would swing into action. In fact I actually had this book on my "to be read" list long before it was revealed who the true author is. But reading this book I was struck by one thing, I think you NEED to know that Rowling is the author to get the full impact.

What I mean by this is that the celebrity of Lula has an extra punch because Rowling wrote her story. Rowling is, let's face it, the most famous author in the world. Just the hype building up to a play set in the world of Harry Potter is causing mass hysteria. If an unknown author had actually written The Cuckoo's Calling the viciousness of the paparazzi couldn't have been as viscerally real and accurate. You the reader get that Rowling is exorcising some of her demons, giving the press a little bit back of what they've done to her over the years. This isn't some imagined horror of what the press could do, but what they have actually done, and done to her. The sad fact is this practice continues. We still have paparazzi hounding people because their readers just have to know every detail of famous people's lives. To me, this world that Cormoran is shoved into in his investigation, a world where paparazzi can hound celebrities to death, is what grounds this book. This is what I connected to. Would I have connected to it as strongly had I read this without knowing Rowling had written it? I don't think I would, because I think I would have doubted the veracity. I know that this world exists, but it's something more to read about it from someone who has experienced it firsthand.

Yet beyond this grounding I was expecting something more. The Cuckoo's Calling was billed as a Neo-Noir. Hence I thought the book would be dark and mysterious. The book isn't. And that's letting you down easy. Yes, it has the building blocks of Noir. We have the down and out protagonist with a bad history with women, or in this case, a woman. We have the starlet who died too young. We have the world of celebrities and it's seamy underbelly. Heck, I almost sound like I'm writing a loose outline for my favorite movie, L.A. Confidential. But it just falls short. The sheer number of cigarettes smoked can't ever bridge the gap between what it is and what it wants to be. Noir needs that something more. We connect to Cormoran, but we don't really get true insight into his mind and thought processes. This I think is where it fails on the Noir front. We understand who he is and what he is like, but not really what he's thinking, what he's figuring out. There's just a void where we need to connect to him on a visceral level, to key into his feelings, his ups and downs, and instead we like him, but we just don't quite get him. Noir is never about liking, it's about understanding.

This in fact is the fatal flaw of the entire book. While the way the characters are written give us people we like and make them real in our eyes there's just too much character development. Now this makes sense for a long series, because the groundwork is being laid and it's best to have a solid foundation, BUT for the initial outing it's so overlong that the mystery suffers at the expense of making these characters fully rounded human beings. There needed to be a balance between character and forward momentum. I am honest when I say I fully love Robin and her lifelong desire to basically be Nancy Drew and Cormoran and the complete mess he is because of his childhood and his injuries, both physical and mental, but this needed to be either trimmed down or balanced by the case of Lula. I picked up this book expecting a twisty-turny murder mystery, instead I got a really well written character study. In fact a lot of my friends think it's sacrilegious the rating I gave this book, but it's how I felt. If I adjust my expectations for the rest of the series, perhaps I'll come to love these books, but my love of the characters can't forgive the narrative all it's flaws.

And boy does this narrative have it's flaws. More than any other genre mystery books have to have a constant forward momentum. That desire to keep turning the page long into the night until you're shocked that there are birds chirping and the sun is actually cresting the horizon. Now I'm not going to be all superior and say that I had figured out the mystery in five minutes and the solution was a foregone conclusion, because I actually didn't. I had one key aspect early on, but by the time that Rowling actually planted the final two pieces of evidence that were essential to solving the death of Lula I no longer cared. I was bored by the mystery. The plot just limped along while the characters were luxuriated with detail. As time went on it got harder and harder for me to pick up this book because I just didn't care anymore. Obviously Cormoran and Robin lived to fight another day, seeing as there's another book, and they were all that mattered to me, so why should I care about the murderer? Why should I pick up to book again? The final thirty pages took me almost two days to get through because it didn't seem pressing. For me to willingly put aside a book... right there is the answer as to why I thought it was just meh.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Book Review - Louise Penny's Still Life

Still Life by Louise Penny
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: July 11th, 2006
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Life in Three Pines is about to change forever. Jane Neal is a doyenne of Three Pines and just one of the many eccentrics loved by the residents. But Jane Neal has a secret. She has painted her whole life but she has never let anyone see her paintings, let alone invited them into her house beyond the kitchen. Jane has decided that the time has come to show the world her art, and in particular her small group of friends. But just two days after being accepted into the area's prestigious juried art show she is found dead in the woods. Her death looks like it might be a hunting accident, it is afterall Thanksgiving Weekend and the bow hunters are out in force. But Chief Inspector Armand Gamace of the Sûreté du Québec who is called in early on that Thanksgiving morning isn't sure Miss Neal's death is an accident. The aim of the arrow is too accurate and the murder weapon is missing. Beneath the placid surface of Three Pines Jane wasn't the only one with secrets to hide. After a shocking gay bashing a few days before Jane's murder, it looks like this small town is going into some kind of revolt and it's up to Armand Gamace and his team to bring back the peace.    

I've heard about Louise Penny and Chief Inspector Gamace for a few years now. But a cozy murder mystery series tends to be a comfort read for me so this book has been on a back burner, waiting, while my bloggerly duties took over my reading. A little over two years ago when they announced that this first book was being adapted for television starring everyone's favorite brooding detective, Inspector Lynley, ahem, I mean Nathaniel Parker as Gamace, I made a note that I should definitely move Still Life up the "to be read" pile. Yet it wasn't until my mother's book club chose it as one of their monthly reads that I finally bit the bullet and devoured Still Life. This book is not a masterpiece, not by a long shot, and falls prey to many problems of the first time writer, but there is something homey about it, something about the community created with the cast of characters that makes me feel deep in my bones that this is a series that will get better as it goes on and I want to read those further stories.

The cast of characters is both the book's strength and weakness. Penny is creating a community that we will want to return to. To me it's like the Candian Sookie Stackhouse mysteries, obviously without the supernatural element. But the thing about the Sookie books is that the mysteries were secondary, it was spending time with this well-rounded cast of characters that made you keep coming back for more. The problem with the cast of characters in Three Pines is that they have potential, but are not well rounded. They are very much the stereotypical cast of characters. The gay couple who run the bistro and bed and breakfast and say "Bitch please" and "Slut" but in a "loving" manner. The large black lady who is a fount of knowledge and down home advice. The kooky artist with the flyaway hair. I could go on and on. But all I'd be doing is listing superficial two-dimensional traits. Yet that's all these characters have! Going forward Penny will have to flesh these characters out because people aren't so superficial and can't be summed up in a catchphrase. Which is why I'm more excited for the future books than I was while reading this one.

The character who harmed this book the most though is Gamace's subordinate, Agent Yvette Nichol. I hated her more than the killer. Yes, I spent an inordinate amount of time fantasizing about her death, that's how much I hated her. Even if she was the red herring baddie used to distract us while Penny waited to reveal the true villain, she was such an annoyance that I could almost not read any part of the book she was in. We've all known people in our lives whose sole outlook on the world is how everything revolves around them. They are in their own little microcosm of unreality where they are the center of the universe. Anything that doesn't matter to them or would inconvenience them is pushed aside and forgotten as being irrelevant. I have sadly even had some close friends who lived in their own little world where I felt like an intruder in their very self-centered life story. This is Agent Nichol. Any advice Gamace gives her obviously doesn't apply to her, because she knows best. Nothing sinks in, nothing latches on. The murder would have been wrapped up right away if not for her unwillingness to be a team player. She can't be on a team, because that would mean she's not the star. Plus she views her mistakes not as her fault but the cause of others, making her view herself as a victim. Could someone please make her a victim, the kind in a body bag with a toe tag? Because seriously, if she's in the next book I don't think I can read it.

Leaving Agent Nichol far far behind and going back to the other characters, an overall trait they all had which was an annoying foible in Still Life was the overuse of patois. Local sayings and even Quebecois swears were scattered throughout the book like pixy dust. Instead of adding flavor and color to the book it seemed forced into the narrative at random moments like we might be on the verge of forgetting the book is set in Quebec so here's a short sharp reminder. The patois didn't come naturally from the narrative, like it should. It felt like a gimmick. Like a mediocre substitute to actually bothering with some worldbuilding. Why would Penny bother to show us the world of Quebec when she could just tell us with a few words? This is where her greenness as an author shows. It's show not tell, not the other way around. Again, my hope is that as she grows she learns more how to develop her story and her world. Right now her world is very two dimensional when what we need and want is three.

Yet, despite all these nagging issues, they could all easily come under the heading of issues experienced by first time writers. They can be fixed in time. The core of her book, the mystery and the life of Jane, these ephemeral things that trip up even experienced writers succeeded here, making me hopeful for the future. But it's Jane's home that captured my imagination the most. I wanted into that house that even her closest friends were barred from so badly that every time there was a delay I almost audibly cried out. For us readers outside Canada we might not get the connection between Jane's house and the Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis. She is beloved in Canada and their answer to Grandma Moses, only with more cats. I was lucky enough to visit Nova Scotia over a decade ago and see her artwork that is on display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. More importantly I was able to see her house which is situated fully in this Gallery. While I won't spoil the reveal in Still Life, let me say that Maud Lewis and Jane Neal had very similar decorating schemes and I think they would have gotten along marvelously.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
Published by: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: July 5th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Julian Fellowes's Belgravia is the story of a secret. A secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London's grandest postcode. Set in the 1840s when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche, Belgravia is people by a rich cast of characters. But the story begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. At the Duchess of Richmond's now legendary ball, one family's life will change forever."

So, yes, this was serialized, I don't like serialization, I want to be able to read everything beginning to end. And now I can. Also, thank you Julian Fellowes for continuing doing period dramas!

The Black Fox by H.F. Heard
Published by: Road
Publication Date: July 5th, 2016
Format: Kindle, 188 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A demon lurks at the heart of the Church in this classic fantasy of black magic set in Victorian England.

Canon Throcton is a brilliant scholar, but the men of the Church can’t bring themselves to trust him. His devoted study of Hebrew and Arabic has drawn him far from their intellectual center, and his interest in the obscure writings of the Middle East verges on heresy. Canon knows his brothers in the cathedral don’t take him seriously, but he doesn’t care. A great and terrible power hides within him, and he’ll unleash it even if it destroys the Church, the town, and everyone he holds dear.

When a junior colleague is elevated above him, Canon reaches into his darkest volume of forbidden lore and tries his hand at black magic. It works better than he ever could have dreamed. His enemy is destroyed and Canon feels the tug of unimaginable power. He’s taken the first step along the road to damnation—and soon he’ll burn.

The Black Fox is English gothic at its best, a story of weird fiction steeped in author H. F. Heard’s unparalleled knowledge of world religion. Never before had black magic been written about with such deep understanding, and never since has it been more terrifying."

This  sounds so wonderfully gothic! Can I read it NOW!?!

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine
Published by: NAL
Publication Date: July 5th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In Ink and Bone, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine introduced a world where knowledge is power, and power corrupts absolutely. Now, she continues the story of those who dare to defy the Great Library—and rewrite history...

With an iron fist, The Great Library controls the knowledge of the world, ruthlessly stamping out all rebellion, forbidding the personal ownership of books in the name of the greater good.

Jess Brightwell has survived his introduction to the sinister, seductive world of the Library, but serving in its army is nothing like he envisioned. His life and the lives of those he cares for have been altered forever. His best friend is lost, and Morgan, the girl he loves, is locked away in the Iron Tower and doomed to a life apart.

Embarking on a mission to save one of their own, Jess and his band of allies make one wrong move and suddenly find themselves hunted by the Library’s deadly automata and forced to flee Alexandria, all the way to London.

But Jess’s home isn't safe anymore. The Welsh army is coming, London is burning, and soon, Jess must choose between his friends, his family, or the Library willing to sacrifice anything and anyone in the search for ultimate control..."

I really don't like the word "fire" anywhere near the word "library."

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
Published by: DAW
Publication Date: July 5th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Being a superheroine is hard. Working for one is even harder.

Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine. She’s great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss’s epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.

Unfortunately, she’s not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.

But everything changes when Evie’s forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest secret comes out: she has powers, too. Now it’s up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda’s increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right...or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion."

Yes, there's superhero fatigue... but then there's this to combat said fatigue.

A Toxic Trousseau by Juliet Blackwell
Published by: NAL
Publication Date: July 5th, 2016
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The New York Times bestselling author of Spellcasting in Silk continues as witch and vintage boutique owner Lily Ivory cracks open a Pandora’s box when she investigates some alarming apparel...

Even the most skilled sorceress can’t ward off a lawsuit, and Lily is not at her enchanting best with her hands full as the temporary leader of San Francisco's magical community. So after her potbellied pig Oscar head-butts rival clothier Autumn Jennings, Lily tries to make peace without a costly personal injury case.

But any hope of a quiet resolution is shattered when Autumn turns up dead. As one of the prime suspects, Lily searches for a way to clear her name and discovers a cursed trousseau among Autumn’s recently acquired inventory. Lily must deal with a mysterious dogwalker and spend the night in a haunted house as she delves into the trunk’s treacherous past. She’s got to figure out who wanted to harm Autumn fast, before the curse claims another victim…"

Witchy, San Francisco, pig pet fun!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Book Review - Stephen King's The Colorado Kid

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: October 4th, 2005
Format: Kindle, 184 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Dave Bowie and Vince Teague are reminiscing about an old unsolved case to their new intern at The Weekly Islander newspaper. A man was discovered on the beach twenty-five years earlier, cause of death unknown, whose last few hours defy explanation. A year after his death the victim is nicknamed "The Colorado Kid" because of a pack of cigarettes he had on him when he died. He is eventually identified as James Cogan, but an identity doesn't solve a crime. Vince and Dave speculate on how in all their years as newspapermen this is the only true mystery they have come across. They have their theories, but the truth might never be found; they are getting up their in age, now the intern must carry the torch. She must remember "The Colorado Kid."

For quite a few years now I've had two close friends addicted to the television show Haven. I have spent the barest minimal energy to occasionally mock their love of a show with Eric Balfour in it. Come on, there's a reason he dies like five minutes into the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer! Yet their love of the show combined with Netflix having every season available to me meant that my willpower was broken over one summer by my love of marathoning shows. That and there's just something that's cheesy and fun about Stephen King shows, why else would I have Rose Red on DVD and stayed with Under the Dome to the bitter almost incomprehensible end? While falling for the show, because I did despite Eric Balfour's presence, I was also impatient. Could I figure out the mystery of "The Colorado Kid" before they did on the show just by picking up the book? So that was my grand plan, spoiled by Stephen King.

If you're going the way I went, from the show to the book, or even the other way around, from the book to the show, know now, they have minimal resemblance. In fact the mysterious murder of "The Colorado Kid" and the two lovely old codgers running the newspaper, Vince and Dave, are the only resemblance you are going to find betwixt the two. Though on the show they do love to liven things up with as many Stephen King references as they can, which is fun for his fans. I do find it interesting that in a television show that's basically Smallville without the superheroes, that the two characters I connected with most are Vince and Dave. Because the book, and in some regards the show, is Vince and Dave's story. Still, it is a flawed story, both on the page and on the small screen.

The main flaw, and hence the crux of my problem with the book is that it has no ending. Vince and Dave spin a yarn, that might have certain clues as to the outcome, but it is never spelled out, never revealed. For a person like me, this lack of closure is infuriating. I want to know if my theory is right! Life is full of ambiguity, fiction is there to give us some closure that we won't find in life. King has had a love of experimenting with endings for quite awhile. The ambiguous ending is the easiest cop out, but he has also serialized his tales, like with The Dark Tower, so that you can't skip to the end, thus having a drawn out conclusion. I have a feeling a lot of this has to do with his being raised by a mother who would read the end first, but that's just my opinion. Yet, even though he set out to try something new, I can't help myself wanting something old and concrete. This was like sitting around with your grandparents while they told you this fantastical tale but then five minutes before they were done they forgot the ending.

But the biggest question I'm left with is why this is part of the Hard Case Crime imprint of Simon and Schuster? How is this a hardboilded mystery? Hardboiled is noir and dark and Dashiell Hammett and dames and guns and lots of smoking... what hardboiled isn't is two codgers telling an intern over soda in a cozy Maine newspaper office about an unsolved murder. This story is far more Murder She Wrote and Jessica Fletcher than Sam Spade. Seriously, I am baffled by this. Was Stephen King's outline for this story "Would She Learn the Dead Man's Secret" and then he punked them? Was he purposefully subverting the genre? I haven't read King extensively, but this was just, odd. So odd in fact that he apologized in the afterword for what he did. I think I'll stick to the show, the early episodes before it got too weird and cancelled. Thanks for the effort Stephen, but you should know you shouldn't make excuses for your work.

Newer Posts Older Posts Home