Search the Blog
- Books & Reading
- Broadband Buzz
- Education & Training
- Information Resources
- Library Management
- Nebraska Center for the Book
- Nebraska Memories
- Now hiring @ your library
- Pretty Sweet Tech
- Public Library Boards of Trustees
- Public Relations
- Talking Book & Braille Service (TBBS)
- What's Up Doc / Govdocs
- Youth Services
Author Archives: Cathy Hatterman
Carolyn G. Hart’s Death on Demand is the first in a series of cozy mysteries located in Broward’s Rock, South Carolina, an island. Annie Laurance moved to Broward Rock to spend the summer with her uncle, he dies in a boat accident, and so she inherits his bookstore, remodels it, and names it Death on Demand. The story begins with a list of items, and an incident and death in a veterinary clinic. Then, with hints already placed, we meet Annie, in her bookstore, putting off a phone call. Instead of making the call, she receives a call from Max Darling, the young man she was attracted to in New York City. She left no forwarding information; he’s had to find her through a series of calls and detective work. In addition, because he tracked her to South Carolina, he’s also driven down from New York, to visit, and find out what took her from her career in the city. And away from him.
I had missed Ms. Hart’s writing as much as these two characters. Annie is a straight shooting girl from Texas with a strong work ethic, and Max “delighted in ambiguities, disdained certainties, and loved above anything to puncture pretensions.”* But he makes her smile and her heart lifts when she finds out he’s in South Carolina. And the tiny island has several mystery writers of some note living there full time, as well as a small town community. What could go wrong? Well, at the usual meeting of the writers, her landlord, a true crime writer, has told her that he’s going to share information in his next book—about his fellow mystery writers’ dirty laundry. And the writers are as varied as possible, thriller, cozy, police procedural, children’s and true crime. At the party, the lights go out, the usual kerfuffle of bumped tables, people shouting, and offering directions. When Annie gets the lights on, her landlord is found on the floor with a dart in his throat, and dead. When the sheriff arrives, he blames Annie, for both the death of her landlord, but also her Uncle, with whom she had a close relationship. It all spurs her to clear her name.
I will admit the series begins in 1987, so sometimes one has to recall the state of technology, not just phones, but computers. So much needs to be seen in the correct timeline. The island also relies on a ferry that crosses to and from the mainland at set times. Although there are private boats, and a marina, the story reads like a closed system. Also, the two main characters, (and the author), throw in references to mystery writers and their books, from the golden age of mystery to the present. Which, if you don’t know them, will have you writing lists of titles of books. And did I mention Ms. Hart’s writing? This is just the book to read, or reread, during stressful times.
Death on Demand, by Carolyn G. Hart, 1987.
*quoted from Death on Demand, Chapter 3, page 7, in omnibus, Death on Demand/Design for Murder, Bantam Book, printed in 2008.
I picked up Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts, by Kate Racculia, read the blurb, as I usually do, and thought, I have to see how she makes this work! In reading it, I fell in love with the book.
It all begins with Tuesday Mooney, the title character, who works as a researcher for a hospital, and has volunteered for a charity event the hospital is sponsoring. She grew up in Salem, Massachusetts, yes, that one, and had a fascination with all the morbid, Goth type things. She still wears black, occasionally wearing heels for occasions. At this charity auction, a member of the wealthy Arches family deigns to attend. They strike up an unlikely flirtation, since he is unlike the profile she has pulled together. Her friend, Dex, a VP of a finance establishment, comes over to be somewhere, other than in the bar where he just broke up with his last boyfriend. Dex finds a seat with a lady, Lila Price, who turns out to be the wife of multi-billionaire Vincent Pryce (note, please, the Y, and the character claims to have been named by his parents, Vincent Price’s christening name was Vincent Leonard Price, Jr.—also named by his parents, and father, Vincent Leonard Price, Sr.). During the auction, Pryce dies, mid-bid. Two days later, a self-written, full page, obituary appears in the newspaper, starting a treasure hunt/game, with a wake/masquerade/party on the Boston Common at the end of the month (October.) And off go the seekers, Tuesday, Nathan, Dex, and eventually, many other dreamers and characters from around Boston.
Amid all the eccentricities, these are characters created in the round that are sympathetic. All have suffered and grieved. Tuesday’s best friend went missing in her teen years, and was never found. The young Nathanael Arches’ father disappeared from a rowboat, his body never found. Tuesday’s teenage next-door neighbor and her father have lost her mother due to a car accident. Mrs. Pryce has lost her husband.
The banter itself is enough to endear the book to any reader. The pop culture references alone are worked in well, Batman and Edgar Allen Poe, The X Files, and Prince. The author has an interesting way with words, in one sentence Dex says of Tuesday, “Every time Dex succeeded in making Tuesday smile, it was like seeing a rainbow over a haunted house.”
And the layers, there are the layers of loss, and the layers of the game. The layers of what is said, and all that isn’t said. The ghosts that are memory, regret, and actual. It all works. Tuesday loses her job due to her own mistake. Dex realizes the path not taken, can be returned to, the teenager finds a new friendship with another teenager, and the heir finds a family. None of it is as neat and tidy as I make it seem, and the author does an interesting job of both tying up the threads of the story, and still leaving them seem like real life, and a beginning.
Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts, by Kate Racculia, hardback, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019, ISBN 9780358023939
In Crosstalk by Connie Willis, a simple surgery to promote empathy between romantic partners goes hilariously wrong. It shows how constant, complete, personal connection is anything but desirable. Briddey Flannigan should have known, since the cell phone company, (COMMSPAN) she works for in a US city, is very nearly a model of what will come, with gossip seemingly carried on the breezes! And avoiding telling her family the news that she and her perfect boyfriend, Trent Worth will be having the implantation of a devise which will result in empathy,( if they are truly in love), before she tells her friends at work is, well, a lost cause.
The entire novel moves at a breakneck pace from one situation to another. Just as soon as Bridey has settled her family, her boyfriend Trent springs a speeded up surgery schedual on her, so she’s off to the hospital. And avoiding gossip and her family, by hiding her car. After seeing that her family has no boundaries where it comes to Bridey’s privacy one begins to see why she’s so secretive. And why she settles on the up and coming executive Mr. Worth, and his push to get the EED (the empathy device) before they marry. Which her family and CB Schwarz think is a really bad idea–and they all email, call, or text her. She argues it’s been tested before, and that even celebrities have had it done, and that they are even having the Dr. who invented the device doing the surgery. The surgery goes well. The aftereffects are, well, telepathy. And of course, the first person she hears is not Trent, but CB Schwarz, who is naturally telepathic.
Ms. Willis brings the claustrophobic and confusing experience that we imagine to be telepathy to a print page well. It can be confusing for the reader as well, but having a sense of the harried life of Briddey, makes it worth a little push just to get through those passages. It also gives her new relationship with CB a understandably difficult start. And exposes the real reasons behind Trent’s wanting to get the EED before getting married, like other couples.
This is the perfect introduction to Connie Willis and her comic timing, her patter, and infectious humor and sense of irony. If you enjoy Crosstalk, you’ll enjoy, To Say Nothing About the Dog, and Bellwether.
Crosstalk, by Connie Willis, Del Rey, 978-0-34554067-6
The Chalk Man, by C. J. Tudor is a debut title in the mystery/thriller vein.
To get the full impact of the story, read the prologue, of course. But be prepared for some gruesomeness and violence. It is a murder mystery. But also, it’s about growing up in a small town in the mid 1980s, in England. But except for the definite English flavor, it was remarkably like growing up in a small town in the U.S. But one year, life goes horribly wrong, small actions have horribly large and deadly results, and the lives of a group of friends are changed. We meet the main character, Eddie, in 2016, as an adult, looking back on the incident, so he begins the reminiscing, and then the chapter changes, and the main character is 12, living at home with his dad, a struggling article writer and his mom, an “abortion” doctor. It’s the summer holiday, like our summer break, and the kids are out of school, the fair is in town and it’s the first year they are all allowed to go without adult supervision. Eddie loses his wallet, and while looking for it, sees for the first time, a new teacher, Mr. Halloran, an albino, and teacher. He also backtracks to a ride called a waltzer, and is staring at a beautiful girl, when a car on the ride flies off. In the mayhem, the girl is badly hurt, and Mr. Halloran needs Eddie’s help to keep her from bleeding too heavily until the paramedics arrive. Eddie wouldn’t have lost his wallet if he’d kept it in the fanny pack his parents had him wear, the first small action which leads to much bigger things. He and Mr. Halloran don’t become friends, but there is a kind of bond between them.
Back in 2016, adult Eddie, (42) is an English teacher at the school he graduated from. And we meet Chloe, his lodger, (20), in dyed black hair, who works at an “alternative rock/goth clothing store. Not his usual type of lodger, but his last prospective lodger didn’t show up, without explanation, and a friend knew someone who needed a room. A small action with larger consequences later. And he’s expecting a visit from a childhood friend, one closely associated with the really traumatic year they all went through. He’s come back and wants to write a book about what happened. Because, he says, he knows who really did it. And we all know, someone with that kind of knowledge never lasts long in a mystery!
In some ways, there are two stories going on, one in the 80s, and one in 2016. But they are tied together by small incidents, woven together in a very precise way. It also has a few shocks, that I should have seen coming, but still the one at the end is a big one. Let me know if you saw it coming.
The Chalk Man, by C. J. Tudor, Crown Publishing, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, ISBN 978-1-5247-6098-4
Just One Damned Thing After Another: Chronicle of St. Mary’s, by Jodi Taylor shows how historians are trained to “investigate major historical events in contemporary time.”, but don’t call it time travel! Actually, I started this series with what I thought was the last book, Lies, Damned Lies, and History, v.7 and was so intrigued with the characters that I wanted to start the series from the beginning!
It begins with Max, (Madeline Maxwell), a disruptive, unhappy, student, being mentored in school by her head teacher. Next, a letter from the same head teacher, guides her from academe to the doors of St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, an adjunct of the University of Thirsk. Taking the tour of the facility with her mentor, she notices some oddities: little remarks about not having had an interview, she notices they have a security section, and a hanger named after Stephen Hawking. Finally she has “the interview” with the facility, which is when the real reveal of what they do at St. Mary’s occurs. Since she studied archeology and anthropology, with emphasis in Greek and Roman times, and has experience in archeological digs, she jumps at the chance to time travel. She signs up, and joins a small class of would be “historians”.
It is set in the UK in the fairly near future. The relationship with the University is of course fraught with politics and academic tensions. The borders of America (The United Sates) have been closed. And a great deal of funding is going toward Mars exploration, or a possible manned Mars trip. And, as a side note, all of this is run by some members of the same institution, but from a future form of the same institution. And the muse of history is the director’s PA (personal assistant).
While it isn’t perfect, the series is fun, raucous, accident prone, and in turns, deadly serious and on a dull weekend, or too cold, or too hot Nebraska day, the perfect antidote to very nearly everything. If you grew up on James Bond, Benny Hill, Saturday Night Live, Dr. Who, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, or simply like any or all of those shows, this is just the thing for you! Especially if you don’t mind it filled with really interesting parts of History, that feel well researched.
Chronicles of St. Mary, in order, as best as I can tell:
- Just One Damn Thing After Another
- A Symphony of Echos
- A Second Chance
- A Trail Through Time
- No Time Like the Past
- What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
- Lies, Damned Lies, and History
- And the Rest is History
- An Argumentation of Historian
Various Short Stories–Please muddle through them as you will!
Just One Damned Thing After Another: Chronicle of St. Mary, book 1, by Jodi Taylor, Nightshade, 9781597808682, 2013, paper back, $12.99
Great world buildings, eccentric characters, and a solid plot that keeps me guessing, will always catch my attention, and Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Bennett has all of that and more. In so many ways it’s also unusual–set in a tropical seaport town, of a world that has seen an apocalypse wrought by an unusual type of magic called “scriving” by the surviving, thriving, inhabitants.
The merchant houses of Tevanne, rediscovered the art, and used the power of “scriving” to conquer other cities, create empire, and spy on each other. The tools they create are powerful, arrows that vibrate so hard as they go through the air that they disintegrate; rapiers that accelerate when put into motion, because they believe they’re going so much faster, and can go through tree trunks; and suites of armor that barely need inhabitants to kill. So of course, they create these items, and more, behind their own walls. Each merchant house is nearly a city-state with their own culture.
The people unlucky enough not to be born to the houses, or useful to them, live in the commons, the areas outside their walls. Like Sancia, a very good thief, who has a rare ability of being able to listen, and understand the scrivings on objects–floors, walls, and locks. A job comes her way through her fence to steal an item that’s just arrived in Tevanne. Which is when everything goes wrong, of course. The item is a very old, rare, scrived artifact, from the original practitioners of scriving, and talks, in a way. Its name is Clef. And he’s freaked out that she can hear him. She’s very freaked out that he can talk! And life just gets more complicated from there, with scions of merchant houses run amok, scrived humans (which shouldn’t exist), the already slightly crazy practitioners of a fractured art, and a lot of people doing impossible things such as shooting crossbow bolts at our heroes.
Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennett, Crown, New York, ISBN 978-1-5247-6036-6
The City of Lost Fortunes by Bryan Camp is an urban fantasy, but in the way of the best Fantasy and Science Fiction, it’s so much more. It makes you think about questions of morality, doing the wrong thing for the right reason, all the shades of gray adults maneuver in the real world, but on steroids in an urban fantasy. Each chapter also begins with a section about mythology, superstition, and religion–which I found fascinating. I didn’t always agree, but it showed me the flavor of New Orleans, where this fantasy takes place. The writer, began writing this on his way out of the city during the flooding of hurricane Katrina.
It’s set in New Orleans, 6 years after Hurricane Katrina hit, and Jude Dubuisson lives on the street, sometimes using his “gifts” to help customers find the lost, from a mother’s earings, to a child taken all the way to Ohio. Not always simple, his gift, he can find the lost item and tell you so much more. But since the hurricane, neither New Orleans, or Jude, has been the same. It’s been raw, painful, to open to his gifts, and he has drawn away from it and himself. But now, his old partner has an invitation that begins it all again. He owes a fortune god a favor, and goes to the meeting place, to be dealt a hand of poker with tarot cards. His seat is among the four gathered supernaturals, a vampire, Scarpelli; an angel, Wings; the Egyptian god of Scribes, Thoth; and voodoo god of the crossroads riding a middle-aged priestess, Papa Legba; and the luck god of New Orleans, Dodge, who resembles the laughing Buddha, or Budhai statues. Jude may owe everything to everyone, and draws a hand of 5 blank cards. He leaves the game, believing it’s a dead man’s hand, but it’s Dodge who is killed.
The characters are well drawn, and even side characters are more than cutouts, but its hard to be certain who will be more important to the story. And the story is a wonderfully worded wild ride. There’s enough here for the literature reader, the travel reader, and the folklorist. We see so many facets of New Orleans actual culture, along with the supernatural aspects in this story, one can nearly smell the different city streets.
The City of Lost Fortunes by Bryan Camp, Series: A Crescent City novel, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018, hardcover, ISBN 9781328810793
Not your ordinary chase adventure, shoot-’em-up, Science Fiction dystopia–Sea of Rust, by C. Robert Cargill, begins after the robot revolution, when man is gone. After the assimilation started by OWIs (One World Intelligences), which once were supercomputers that now share their consciousness with millions of individual workers called “facets”. The individual, autonomous AIs (robots) either give up, are destroyed, or escape and establish their own societies in other cities. This cycle continues until all that are left are groups in the Midwest Rust Belt, dug into new fortifications or old cities. The Midwest Rust Belt has become the Sea of Rust where robots go to die. Or a place they are sent when they go mad.
Brittle goes out into the sea to scavenge for parts for other robots, and for exchange for her own. Not a safe job. Her latest is very nearly her last. She is a rare model, and another robot, which is the same model, needs parts that only she has and she needs the parts to function. And so the running (& shooting & explosions) begins.
Many of the scenes in the Sea of Rust are horrific, and the tone is often dark. The OWIs and robots deal with the HuPop (Human Population) efficiently and ruthlessly. However, the way they do it does leave unseen damage in their personalities and on their reputations. Yes, despite being machines they do have emotions, sometime in spite of their programing. They also destroy nearly all biological life on the planet in the process of eliminating man. In eliminating humanity, many of the smaller, independent AIs discovers that they’ve eliminated their reason for existing. I was intrigued by how they became more human, showing fear of incorporation into a mainframe, or even fear of another robot’s reputation from the war.
I think you’ll find this a very thought-provoking read, very well written. This is not a young adult book. I haven’t read Robopocalipse, by Daniel H. Wilson, but I believe it would be a good contrasting read. (Yes, it’s on my to-read list!)
Before anyone brings up Asimov’s “Three Rules for Robotics”, you’ll have to read the story to see how well they hold up in Cargill’s universe.
Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill, Harper Voyager, an Imprint of Harper Colins Publishers, hardback 9780062405838
Nevernight by Jay Kristoff is dark fantasy, set in a world of manners reminiscent of 1700s Europe, and all that is bright and dark in that world. A gritty place of revenge by an underdog who should not be able to succeed, a school for assassins, a city built of the bones of a fallen god, where there is literally rarely a true night of darkness. All this makes the discord between the main gods seem…anticlimactic, normal or even anticipated. And of course, forbidden magic just to makes things more interesting.
Mia Corvere is ten when her father is part of a failed rebellion. He is hanged before her eyes. All of her family is dead or imprisoned, and she narrowly escapes death more than once, before becoming an apprentice assassin. Mr. Kristoff creates a very human character in Mia, and despite all she’s been through, and all she’s done, she’s still human. Both she, and her sidekick are smart mouthed, wry, and funny. Mr Kindly, a not-cat, shadow creature, has limitations, but aides Mia throughout. The author also contrasts the narrative of her early days with her teen years going to the Red Church of the Goddess of Night and Murder. The entertaining narrative is also accompanied by footnotes! And yes, please read the footnotes! Not only do you get back story, such as the dirt on the argument between the Goddess of Darkness and her Three eyed Husband of Light, but also more humor. Mia isn’t a hardened assassin, nor an action figure killing machine–(although, of course, to go through that punishment and keep on going….only in fiction & the movies!).
There is a lot going on in the book, who is the fallen god, really? Where did all the suns come from? Why do the shadows have such power, and whose side are they really on? While Mr. Kindly seems to be Mia’s familiar and friend, bonded at an early age, will he always be there for her?
This is definitely an adult book with blood, gore, murder, sex, etc. It is not Hogwarts. The reading may be slow for some, but if you got through Tolkien, this is no challenge.
And it’s only the first part! Godsgrave, is book two of the Nevernight Chronicle, to be finished in a third book.
I’ve always loved mythology. I’ve read Greek, Roman, Norse, Egyptian, and middle eastern. But one of the books I loved, long ago, was of Norse mythology.
And as usual, Neil Gaiman delivers. The gods here are more equally represented, although Thor and Loki do manage to take up a lot of space in the stories. But these aren’t the gods as presented by Kirby and Stan Lee, and dialogued by Stan Lee’s brother Larry Lieber. These are the true Norse gods, terrible, dangerous, ancient, and to be called on only at your peril. Loki is not conflicted, but definitely without remorse. Thor, well, red bearded and not so bright. Odin is a dark, brooding wise and terrible. Even the goddesses are not entirely one sided.
The forward is worth reading for the origins of these particular stories. The author points out the melding of religions in the battles of the gods of the Vanir (brother & sister nature gods) and the Aesir (who we usually think of as the Norse gods.) There is included a story about the battle, and how they made peace. He mentions all the lost stories about goddesses, that he’d have liked to have included. The sources he used and didn’t use.
And then there are the progression of the stories. He begins, with a creation story, of fire and ice, and of course ends with the end story of Ragnarök, which is also a beginning. All the stories are set in a mythical, setting, Midgard is Earth, where the humans (mortals) dwell, and Asgard where the Aesir dwell, a world where the light elves dwell, a world where the dwarves dwell, and one where the ice giants dwell. There are nine worlds. And no one seems to be able to stay in their own world. Which of course, causes many of the problems in the stories. The stories do run in a progression, from creation to a sort of ending of an old world. They can be read as short stories, or read as a longer narrative. One does lead into the next. Neil Gaiman called the stories a journey. And so they are, a journey to a culture long gone.
In the mystery series “Death on Demand”, by Carolyn Hart, several women authors of the golden age are mentioned: Agatha Christy, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, and our own Mignon Eberhart. But one author I’d never heard of was Mary Roberts Rinehart. So when an e-book edition of The Great Mistake, one of her titles, popped up on BookBub, I bought it.
And I wasn’t disappointed. Set in a small town called Beverly set near Town, it is large enough to have a hunt club, and Society. After some digging online, I discovered the book was published in 1940, but nothing of World War II, politics, or international tensions shadow this book. I was a third of the way through before I could clearly say, “well, we don’t do that anymore”. The characters are from all sections of society, and for the most part are treated very fairly. If anyone comes off looking churlish, it’s the homicide officer from Town, and of course, it’s part of his job, as the outsider. The main characters are all definitely rounded. There is a love story, but surprisingly enough for the time, it is low-key. The foundation of the mystery is built skillfully, adding to the suspense.
The main character, Pat, comes into “the big house on the Hill,” to be a secretary to the widow of the billionaire who built the house for her and her son. Maude, the widow, is a vibrant, attractive personality, and busy hostess in need of help for her parties and social responsibilities. And Pat is fond of her. Tony is the son, who runs the family firm in Town and at first they merely get on each others nerves. Pat never sets out to be a detective of any type, unlike many other main characters of mystery fiction, particularly cozy mysteries. She is meant to be more of a way for us to be a part of the mystery. The events of the story tell on her, as her employer falls mysteriously ill. Then a dear friend’s runaway & divorced husbanded returns for nursing for a terminal illness, (he says.) A mysterious figure is seen peering in a window, and a night watchman is mugged, stripped of trousers (& keys). The entire mystery is framed by remarks about writing the entire story down for everyone, which serves as a fine way to find out how the dangling threads are tied up. It all flows so well, the language enhances the story and never shouts out the time period. A smoother read in that regard than Christie.
Mary Roberts Rinehart, (August 12, 1876-September 22, 1958) was often called the American Agatha Christie. While she is considered the source of the phrase “the butler did it”, from her novel The Door, 1930, the writer never used that phrase in the book. She is also considered to have invented the “Had-I-But-Known” school of mystery writing in her book The Circular Staircase, 1908. She wrote novels, plays, short stories, travelogues, and was a war correspondent. With her sons she founded the publishing house Farrer & Rinehart, and served as director.
Irene is a librarian, a junior librarian of The Invisible Library, which spans alternative worlds and saves and secures copies of unique books. She answers to a senior librarian, much older & more experienced, and unable to leave the library to secure texts for the library. She’s not unique except that both her parents are librarians, as well. She isn’t 007. She knows she has a lot of experience to gain yet, and one of those experiences she needs to face is training an apprentice. And the time has finally come. Her first trainee is Kai, a tall, dark, beautiful young man of mystery. And their first mission together is nearly stolen by a competitor of Irene’s.
The world they enter is a clockwork world of 1890 era, but also infected with “chaos”, meaning that there are creatures of magic and legend at work here. The most chaotic of them all are the Fae, personified in Lord Silver, a diplomat. The book they were to take, has already been stolen, but it’s unclear who’s done the deed–a famous catburgler who may have killed the new owner, or a cult of clockwork engineers who are anti-magic (the deceased was a vampire.) The waters are further muddied by the “great detective”, who has a better relationship with the local police than S.H. And a particularly frightening rogue librarian that was once one of the library’s greatest librarians.
The characters are wonderful, Irene is someone you will want to read about–whether she’s running from granite gargoyles or escaping from cyborg crocodilians. And unlike 007, she’s often wondering why she can’t just have a nice screaming fit, oh yes, that’s right, she has to get herself out of this. Whatever this is. Kai has his secret, which I won’t reveal, but he is young, and while handy to have around, he’s still learning. Irene and other librarians have the ability to use “the Language”, to open, close, manipulate objects, and to a certain limit, people. It’s a sort of World re-arranging type of magic, rather than the chaotic brand that the Fae use. Kai has his own talents.
The world building is excellent. Just when you think, oh, yes, I’ve seen this, something new happens, a mini zeppelin takes off from the roof of the British Museum, headed for the British Library. Or at Lord Silver’s ball, when Irene’s just about to get information about the book they are after, her competition strolls in, wearing a stunning Worth gown, with an adoring pack of men. But you’ll have to read it yourself! I’m waiting for the sequel, The Masked City.
At first all I could see where the parallels with Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, in The Magicians and Mrs Quint, by Galen Beckett, but they fell away. While the era it reverberates with to me is definitely the Regency era in England, the story is at the same time familiar, and strange. When the characters discuss something that in our world would be unusual, in the most normal way one is jarred away from the everyday Regency path. The characters can’t be certain the amount of day or night they will have, except by an almanac. A night may be 30 hours long, and a day less than eight hours of sunlight. And yet this oddity is not ruled by the season or any obvious astronomic explanation.
The story begins with a family just hanging on to gentility, just barely staving off the poorhouse. The father was a magician, until an event working with “magick” cripples his mind. The wife will not have magic spoken of in the house, but the oldest, most sensible sister of three, is fascinated with it, and reads as many books on it as she can in hopes of helping her father. The only thing odd about this is that she’s a woman. Women cannot work magic, of course, or so it is said.
Additionally, two young men who are friends, one attempting to find the financial means to return to College, and the other living a frivolous life, with occasional demands from his father to take on responsibility, go down their paths. While the poor one moves on the edge of conspiracies to make ends meet, the other begins to find magic invading his life.
This is an intriguing book with appealing language and the sparkle of magic. It also has appealing characters, delightful turns of phrase, and plot that never quite moves as you think it will.
They tried to create a teleportation machine (a transporter, if you’re familiar with Star Trek), but after much study, came to the realization the present technology can’t support the theory. So they moved the project and attempted a different approach. This team of DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) scientists in the California desert who believe they have created a portal that “folds” dimensions so a traveler may move hundreds of miles with one step. At budget time the agencies involved aren’t getting the information they believe they should. And even the head of their project in Washington is getting some odd vibes from the group, so he sends his own form of investigative team in to check on everything. A high school English teacher, Leland “Mike” Erikson, who looks like Servius Snape, college edition.
Mike, as he prefers to be known, had an eidetic memory, and an extremely high IQ. The combination makes him a perfect fit for the Sherlock Holmes role. Mike is interesting, and the way he handles his memory makes the concept approachable. It also adds an interesting dimension to some of the things we take for granted, like forgetting painful experiences, and the immediacy of grief.
And yet, even for Mike, it’s hard to see what’s wrong with the Albuquerque Door, as they’ve named this machine that fold space. There have been nearly 400 human tests, without an injury. “Nine people, two hundred and sixteen rats, six cats, and a chimpanzee,” (p.49) have been through the door, and not one lost. And yet all the scientists, engineers, and programmers, who have been the test subjects are uneasy, and want to continue to do tests. Until something does go wrong. Of course, it goes so badly wrong that everyone is stunned, and someone dies. This group is small, again, just six people, who outsource for medical or any other services.
Oh, yes the secret comes out, and the situation goes downhill fast. This becomes on of those Nantucket sleigh rides, and with very interesting twists. Just as you think you understand what’s going on, Mr. Clines throws you a curve, some from left field. And in the end, some logic, luck, and fast thinking saves the day. Just not neatly, cleanly, and with some odds and ends.
It is definitely an adult work of Science Fiction, Fantasy/Horror, some parts are not for the squeamish, and it is thriller territory. But it is a fun, and satisfying read, with quips, humor, and interesting characters.
This book is a first for the author, who is known by her short stories, according to the book blurb. This tale, is one of redemption in a postapocalyptic world set far, far in the future, of, I would guess, Earth, since there are familiar species of birds. But it’s the juxtaposition of the familiar birds with the strange that makes it so compelling.
Humans live in towers of living bone, the higher in the tower, the higher your social status, and as the towers grow, the lower levels are abandoned, since they get more crowded by the growth of the bone. Travel between the towers is allowed, and is accomplished by flying with one’s own set of wings, which one is tested for at a certain, young age. Travel inside the towers is accomplished by ladders. But the outcasts of the culture are also left in the lower levels of the tower to live or die. It is a very rule orientated way of living, where the main character, Kirit, longs to be a trader, like her mother, attain the right to fly to other towers and trade and also bring medicine. She is close to earning the right to fly free, as well as earn her apprenticeship as the story opens, when she and her once closest friend Nat, break the Tabu/Law, she goes outside during an attack, and he doesn’t let her back in. So they are equally at fault, and get caught by one of their officers, called a Singer. But in being caught outside, Kirit displays a unique skill that the Singers need. But the skill gets in the way of her dreams.
In another story, she might have simply gone with the authority figure, but not this one. She and Nat both work to get through their punishment in time for both to take their flight tests. To get done in time they meet and receive help from one of the cast off citizens of the towers, Tobiat, old, with injuries badly set and healed, and mind a little scattered. He turns out to be key to many of the mysteries come to face. The tests seem to be passed, but the Singers have skewed them, and both Kirit has to go with them to their tower. She learns secrets that turn many of the things she’s learned in the towers inside out, and finds that the strange creatures that attack their towers were once much different. Not only does so much she has learned about her family change, but also about her culture.
So much happens in such a short pace of time. But it changes so many lives of this small civilization on the edge of survival. The disruption spreads from one life, to a family, to an order keeping service type organization. It’s interesting to see, after reading the book, how the character of one actor, can serve as a catalyst to expose the wrongdoing of an entire organization.
It’s the story of the unwanted, unloved fourth, and extra son of an elven Emperor, who unexpectedly, violently, becomes the next emperor. With no training and no one to trust, he’s thrust into a fully imagined court and political wrangling of a complex government that he hasn’t even been fully educated about. On top of all that, he is half Goblin, a distrusted minority in his country. The unexpected part of the story is that, of course, that living with a greedy, selfish, violent guardian has taught him survival skills that he can use. And he has more than a few. And despite all the difficulties, the story is a hopeful one.
The author has not only packed the story with the edgy subject of race, and all the differences that can mean, but many other lines that she handles well. The accident that ends his father, the emperor’s life, and the lives of his three older half brothers, was aboard an airship (dirigible). Two people are set to guard the emperor at all times, one his soul and the other his body. But the one who guards his soul can also cast what we would call spells. New ideas are part of the difficulties the new emperor must deal with, including a new bridge. There is also an ongoing investigation into the deaths of his father and half brothers, which threads through the story, as well as 2 assassination attempts.
The world building is wonderful. One can tell where the origins of many of the foundations come from, but the author handles them in ways that seem fresh. While magic and steam punk flourishes exist, the story, the politics, the struggles, and the people are more interesting. In many ways though, it feels more like a historical story, than a fantasy, despite that fact that the character’s ears move to indicate their emotional state, much like a cat’s.
Katherine Addison, is actually a pseudonym for Sarah Monette.
The novel has received the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel and nominated for the Nebula, Hugo and World Fantasy Awards.
The Bone Clocks moves along quicker than The Cloud Atlas, by the same author, and seems to flow better, in my opinion. It begins in 1980 with Holly Sykes, a 15-year-old London girl, who has an ugly row with her mother, then the earth shattering betrayal by her older, illegal, boyfriend and her best friend. Then she runs away.
But she can’t run away from the radio people. The paranormal entities that she’s been hearing and been in contact with much of her life. And she isn’t just hearing things. They’re real. The genius of this writer is that he’s writing perfectly fine real life coming of age story, war story, writer’s life story and then in walks the paranormal, and it’s not the one you think it’ll be from all your mystery or horror reading. Eventually you learn who the sides are. Both are immortal, One “eats” the gifted souls to live eternally, carnivores, or Anchorites. The other dies natural deaths and continues on, only if not killed unnaturally, the Horologists, following a script (as in a play.)
Slowly, we go through personal stories of each individual, with sudden steps into the paranormal. Each interweaves with the other, a 14-year-old girl, a war correspondent, a young con man, a literary writer, and more. Getting closer to an event of proportions we cannot guess. But it will change lives.
It’s a Greek god like rollercoaster, with the politics of nations, the politics of gods (a family), and the politics of the emperor’s family and succession, and all of it interrelated and convoluted. All of it in a city created by magic in a palace that resembles a rose which towers far above the capital city. Into all of this you follow the trajectory of Yeine Darr (a forgotten, dismissed, “half breed” heir, but ruler of her own country in the heretical North), from the start, plunging into this seeming tranquil pool, to plunge through its roiling depths.
Yeine, also has her own agenda, to discover why her grandfather, the emperor killed her mother, after letting her live for 20 years in a foreign land. Not to mention why she’s now an acknowledged heir, and competitor for the throne (excuse me, stone chair.)
And of course, there’s magic and gods. But the gods are bound, and living at the palace, doing the ruling family’s every whim. No matter who gets hurt, including themselves, or entire nations.
Watching Yeine try to manage her way through all the protocols, snares, and attacks, without injuring the innocent, is worth the read. A fresh voice, and a very different world view. This is the first book of The Inheritance Trilogy.
Reviews & an excerpt:
Coming Home is the seventh Alex Benedict novel by Jack McDevitt. These are not military or thriller science fiction, but they do have a quest, and a quirky pace much like real life. They are narrated by his assistant and pilot, Chase Kolpath. Alex is in the business of antiquities (or salvage, depending on your opinion), thousands of years in the future of a timeline that could be ours. Human empires and cultures have risen and fallen since humans left Earth; so much history is lost due to riots and wars. And much of the history of the early years of space exploration is missing, such as the early flights to the moon. A friend of theirs brings them an early space artifact of mysterious origins and asks for their help in authenticating it. The trail leads finally, to Earth, and more mystery.
Also creating tension for the pair is the fact that Alex’s uncle is on a space liner caught in a space/time warp, which makes the ship available every 5 years, real time, only minutes have elapsed shipside. So that only a few people can be rescued each time, before the ship disappears again, for 5 years. Since Alex owns a yacht, and Chase is the pilot, she is involved in the rescue attempts.
Jack McDevitt definitely has a distinctive voice in the field, and can both create characters that one can care about, as well as interesting science. His pacing is also more like real life, the antique search slowing and speeding up much like a real search with hunches played out and failed, and others popping up. The work on the space liner rescue interrupts regular life, as it would, and then the excitement dies down. It feels much more like living with the characters than the constant roller coaster thrill ride of a science fiction thriller. Much more consideration about the human element and consequences is often given in his work.
What if you could protect someone by pulling a ray gun out of the book Slan, by A.E. Van Vogt? That’s what Isaac Vainios of Codex Born, the book I’ve been reading, can do. He is investigating a murder by using a machine that views the past written in a short story called The Dead Past by Isaac Asimov (in his anthology, The Best of Isaac Asimov), which leads to an attack on his girlfriend. And the price of using too much of his book magic in too short a space of time, is losing his mind or his life. The characters are fun and irreverent, the action is fast, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed as much as I’ve read so far. There are definitely adult sexual situations.
Magic systems interest me, and this is one is a fit for librarians. Any book, as long as the person with the talent can concentrate, and imagine it, can draw any item out of a book. If the item is larger than the book when the book is open, it can’t be pulled through…usually. And of course, a lot can go wrong. There are of course, bad guys, and a force on the inside of the book world that is inimical to humans that Isaac calls the Devourers. Some of the side effects of the magic from the books is that there are several types of vampire—defined by the writers of the books: Sanguinarius Meyerii (a sparkler, from the Twilight trilogy), Sanguinarius Meadus (from the Vampire Academy novels), etc., with powers defined by those described in the books. There are other magical creatures as well: werewolves, dryads, golems, and more.
Also a fun plus, the author includes a list of the books mentioned in the text, and marks the titles fabricated for the story. Included are references to A.E. Van Vogt’s Slan, Isaac Asimov’s The Best of Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein’s Friday, Randy L. Daly’s African Honey Bees in North America, and others.
Codex Born, by Jim C. Hines, 2013, Daw Books, ISBN 978-0-7564-0816-9, Magic Ex Libris, Book Two.