Friday, May 25, 2018

Browzer Bookshop

Bookstore: Browzer Bookshop

Location: Downtown Madison, Wisconsin

Why I Love Them: Browzer Bookshop didn't start out as a cavernous bookstore made labyrinthine by all the shelving above the UW Credit Union at the bottom of State Street. Originally it was at the exact opposite end of this iconic street, right at the top overlooking the state capital. Of course this location, romantic in outward appearance by it's turn of the century Midwestern town square vibe, had the misfortune of being badly lit and a bitch to park near. Therefore when they decided to move from top to bottom and go from Shakespeare's Books to Browzer Bookshop, I didn't lament the decision. Though I did become fascinated for awhile with the store that moved into their old location. They were never open and had arresting displays of taxidermy lions and British Empire ephemera where once books had filled the storefront. Then one day they were gone. But Browzer Bookshop remains. The new location showed just how much they were jamming into all the nooks and crannies of their old location. Mercifully brightly illuminated the bookstore goes back for days. Through the center of the store there are large glass display cases showing some of the most wonderful editions of books sadly at a reasonable, though out of my reach, price range. While the inventory doesn't turn over that frequently if you are a fan of the big doorstop books and Masterpiece Theater tie-in editions that your grandmother read in the 70s and 80s, then this is the store for you.

Best Buy: Before I state my best buy, here's a little fact about me that you should probably already know, and that is that I love the author Lauren Willig. I love her books, and I love her book recommendations; so therefore, whenever she says "read this book" I do it. I believe it was around when she started to work on her first standalone novel, The Ashford Affair, that she was talking about M.M. Kaye's work that isn't The Far Pavilions, such as her "Death In" series, but most importantly her book Trade Wind. A book set in 19th century Zanzibar was instantly what I wanted to read next. Of course it just so happened that at the time I desperately wanted to read this book it was out of print. But then I searched my memory for what used bookstore might just have this book I was looking for and I instantly thought of Browzer Bookshop! It wasn't just that this book fit perfectly into the genre of most of their fiction stock, it's that I actually remembered seeing The Far Pavilions there in hardcover, and while I had my own paperback edition of that book I had my fingers crossed that they would have other M.M. Kaye books... and indeed they did! I went to the far wall and then skirted the little jag until I hit the straight shot of fiction that's on the wall opposite the door all the way to the back of the store. When I hit "K" not only did they have Trade Wind but they also had one of the "Death In" books, Death in Zanzibar... it was turning into quite the day for M.M. Kaye books set in East Africa! I continued browsing for awhile and eventually made my way to the register and these two books made their way into my library.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Room of One's Own

Bookstore: A Room of One's Own

Location: Downtown Madison, Wisconsin

Why I Love Them: A Room of One's Own has been around since shortly before I was born. My early experiences weren't of much note. Known as the feminist bookstore they didn't have much variety when they were restricted by their smaller storefront and therefore really leaned into their feminist bent. But every so often I would trudge up State Street to buy my course materials for the overly PC profs who didn't want the University Book Store getting all the students money and would therefore have either A Room of One's Own or the Rainbow Bookstore Co-Op (RIP) carry the required reading or prospectus. I really gained familiarity with them oddly enough not onsite but at their booth at WisCon, which made me really appreciate how they worked with the convention to support the authors. But they still hadn't reached their full potential, which would happen due to a domino effect. The domino effect started thus: Canterbury Booksellers, which had a phenomenal location on West Gorham Street, went out of business and Avol's Books, a used bookstore that was in the basement of the historic Woman's Building which was built for the Woman's Club of Madison took over the lease on Canterbury's space. The space was too much for just Avol's and they were struggling, A Room of One's Own came to the rescue. The two stores' symbiotic relationship has made them reach the full potential they were capable of, as well as bringing the Canterbury space it it's full potential. A store of new and used and the unique all in a wondrous location.

Best Buy: As for my best buy, oddly enough this will be the second post in a row dealing with the Wisconsin Book Festival. The Wisconsin Book Festival usually has their events in the main branch of the public library downtown with different independent bookstores selling their wares at the events. Occasionally, if you're lucky, the event will be at one of these bookstores. Now this isn't because I have anything against the library, far from it, it's just their rooms for speaking are rather sterile and I love to have my book talks surrounded by books, and not just because if the author talk is bad I can still amuse myself by admiring the shelves, though this is a perk. Last year I was very excited to see that Natasha Pulley was coming to the book festival to support her newest book The Bedlam Stacks. The reason I was excited about this is that her books are slightly Steampunk and she's British, and it's rare to get to see a British author on tour. I do not jest, they are like unicorns whenever they appear stateside and then usually it's only on the coasts. The event was in the middle of the store under the skylight that houses biographies. I have found many great biographies in this section and during this event I found another great book. Through my blog I had gotten an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) or The Bedlam Stacks but hadn't had time to read it yet. Most of the time I actually like going to author events prior to reading their book because you get a little foreknowledge and a little insight that aids you while reading. While I did get this with Natasha's lovely tales, it was her writing that captured my heart. The Bedlam Stacks was easily one of the best books I read last year and is therefore not just a best, but a cherished buy.  

Monday, May 21, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Outsider by Stephen King
Published by: Scribner
Publication Date: May 22nd, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 576 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"An unspeakable crime. A confounding investigation. At a time when the King brand has never been stronger, he has delivered one of his most unsettling and compulsively readable stories.

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can."

Summers coming and I know you just need a big old new Stephen King book to read. Go get it!

Hush, My Inner Sleuth by M.E. Meegs
Published by: Lycophos Press
Publication Date: May 22nd, 2018
Format: Kindle, 326 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the fall of 1947, the pulp-inflected ghost of Skip Ryker—a recently atomized Hollywood detective—hijacks the head of a literarily precocious young woman named Willie Tigue. The results are anything but predictable.

The serpentine saga opens at a New England women’s college, where the ever-playful Betty escapes a meddlesome narrator by slipping her friend Willie a mickey and assuming her identity. Undaunted, the plucky storyteller adopts Willie as her new protagonist and travels with her to L.A.

Meanwhile, the ethereal Ryker—whose corporeal being is reduced to lawn fertilizer when his pool house is provisioned with plastic explosive—tries in vain to solve his untimely demise. What he needs, it quickly becomes apparent, is a willing instrument.

The ensuing collision of these disparate narratives sparks a battle royal for control of Willie’s suggestible psyche—and subsequently, movie rights to the book."

I just love the whole pulp feel of this from cover design to writing! 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Mystery to Me

Bookstore: Mystery to Me

Location: Near West Side of Madison, Wisconsin

Why I Love Them: Who ever thought that the murder mystery reader's paradise, Booked for Murder, would ever find new life as Mystery to Me? During Booked for Murder's years off University Avenue it felt like every time you went in there was a new owner. In fact at one time my mom really wanted to be the owner but thankfully we talked her out of it. Some of the owners were more adept at handling their customers and authors, I would be remiss if I didn't give a special shout-out to Terri Bischoff at this point, thanks to her I got to meet Charlaine Harris! But almost five years ago now the revolving door stopped on Joanne Berg who took the forward thinking approach of renaming the bookstore Mystery to Me (there were royalty payments with the old name that no one in their right mind should have paid) and moving the store onto Monroe Street, giving it a more community vibe. The first time I visited I was skeptical of the store's success, having seen so many owners come and go over the years I wasn't sold on the same stock in a new location and as for those bright green walls... Thankfully I have been proven wrong, and come to really like that shade of green. They are really committed to offering wonderful authors, last year I felt like I was there weekly. But more than that, it's just such a welcoming environment, they have become a part of the neighborhood in a way Booked for Murder never was. Here's to the next five years!

Best Buy: As for my best buy... this is a little different in that the event was not onsite and was run by the Wisconsin Book Festival with Mystery to Me selling books at the event. But it's TOO good a story to pass up... though my story about Tasha Alexander's event with Margaret George in the audience is a great one too and that one was onsite. Back to my initial story. So the big author for the Wisconsin Book Festival last year was Alexander McCall Smith. I was determined to go because years earlier I was sick when he came to speak at Borders so I missed him and since then my mom had christened his 44 Scotland Street series as the best book series ever written, a fact I made sure to mention to him. Therefore while he was there to promote the new book in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series I had one book I wanted to buy, the newest 44 Scotland Street book, The Bertie Project. So I went up to the Mystery to Me table and was warmly greeted, they'd been seeing me a lot over the course of the book festival, and picked up one of their two copies of The Bertie Project. Now as it happens, when Alexander McCall Smith took to the podium he asked if anyone in the audience had a copy of The Bertie Project because he wanted to read from it. I leapt from my seat and handed him my newly purchased book. At the end of the talk he asked me to step forward, once again in front of this huge crowd, and he signed my book to me. So while I may have many events to attend at Mystery to Me in the future, as well as many awesome books to buy, I literally can not believe a find from Independent Bookstore Day, THIS will be the memory I cherish most.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Barnes & Noble East

Bookstore: Barnes and Noble East

Location: East Side of Madison, Wisconsin

Why I Love Them: I'm not quite sure when the Barnes and Noble higher-ups decided that the east side of Madison needed some book love, probably around the same time the Waldenbooks in East Towne Mall closed, but in 2004 a new Barnes and Noble opened in Madison. Much smaller than it's west side counterpart and having the disadvantage of being attached to the food court of East Towne Mall, it has still found a place in my heart over the years. Beyond the parking lot nightmare, the echoing noises and smells from the food court, this Barnes and Noble has a different vibe. While the stock is condensed due to size restrictions, whomever is responsible for the culling has somehow curated sections better than the west side location despite them having more room. In particular the sales section and the science fiction and fantasy section are top notch. They almost always have exactly what you are looking for, and back when I was desperate to fill out my Terry Pratchett paperback collection I turned to this Barnes and Noble and was very successful. At this point my brother would say I am being remiss if I didn't mention their CDs and DVDs. Their selection is spot on, I seriously don't know if this store just has better buyers, but if there's something rare and unique you are looking for you are sure to find it here.    

Best Buy: But what I feel really sets this Barnes and Noble apart from it's west side counterpart is their signed books. I don't know how they get so many in! I know that Barnes and Noble as an organization has been trying to get more customers through signed edition but these are usually only available online so to find them in-store, to just stumble across them, it makes my book loving heart pitter-patter with glee. They always have a plethora of Patrick Rothfuss, seeing as he lives up in Stevens Point and this Barnes and Noble is right off the interstate north it makes sense. But he isn't my best buy, that would be Blood and Beauty: A Novel About the Borgias signed by the author, Sarah Dunant. While I will wax lyrical later on about my love of Sarah Dunant and another Barnes and Noble in New York City, I still must provide a little context as to why this is my best buy. Back in 2005 I read Sarah Dunant's The Birth of Venus and something inside me clicked. I had always liked the concept of historical fiction, but I had never found a book that I instantly loved, until The Birth of Venus. If not for this book I would have probably given up on the genre and never found my favorite authors, from Lauren Willig to Tasha Alexander. I had been needing to buy Dunant's newest book, Blood and Beauty for awhile, and months after it's release I felt really bad about not supporting a favorite author, and then, there in Barnes and Noble was a signed copy. The reasons for dragging my feet were clear, I was meant to find this signed edition and add it to my library! Thank you Barnes and Noble! 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

Fall of Angels by Barbara Cleverly
Published by: Soho Crime
Publication Date: May 15th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Barbara Cleverly, bestselling author of the Joe Sandilands series, introduces an ingenious new sleuth who navigates 1920s Cambridge, a European intellectual capital on the cusp of dramatic change.

England 1923: Detective Inspector John Redfyre is a godsend to the Cambridge CID. The ancient university city is at war with itself: town versus gown, male versus female, press versus the police force and everyone versus the undergraduates. Redfyre, young, handsome and capable, is a survivor of the Great War. Born and raised among the city’s colleges, he has access to the educated √©lite who run these institutions, a society previously deemed impenetrable by local law enforcement.

When Redfyre’s Aunt Hetty hands him a front-row ticket to the year’s St. Barnabas College Christmas concert, he is looking forward to a right merrie yuletide noyse from a trumpet soloist, accompanied by the organ. He is intrigued to find that the trumpet player is—scandalously—a young woman. And Juno Proudfoot is a beautiful and talented one at that. Such choice of a performer is unacceptable in conservative academic circles.

Redfyre finds himself anxious throughout a performance in which Juno charms and captivates her audience, and his unease proves well founded when she tumbles headlong down a staircase after curtainfall. He finds evidence that someone carefully planned her death. Has her showing provoked a dangerous, vengeful woman-hater to take action?

When more Cambridge women are murdered, Redfyre realizes that some of his dearest friends and his family may become targets, and—equally alarmingly—that the killer might be within his own close circle."

Yeah, yeah, a new Barbara Cleverly... personally I'm all in this for 20s England!

The Plastic Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
Published by: 47North
Publication Date: May 15th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 236 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Alvie Brechenmacher has arrived in London to begin her training in Polymaking—the magical discipline of bespelling plastic. Polymaking is the newest form of magic, and in a field where there is so much left to learn, every Polymaker dreams of making the next big discovery.

Even though she is only an apprentice, Alvie is an inventor at heart, and she is determined to make as many discoveries—in as short a time frame—as she can. Luckily for her, she’s studying under the world-renowned magician Marion Praff, who is just as dedicated as Alvie is.

Alvie’s enthusiasm reinvigorates her mentor’s work, and together they create a device that could forever change Polymaking—and the world. But when a rival learns of their plans, he conspires to steal their invention and take the credit for it himself.

To thwart him, Alvie will need to think one step ahead. For in the high-stakes world of magical discovery, not everyone plays fair..."

I need to fill the void left my The Magicians... I hope this does the trick!

The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall
Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 15th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The finale you've all been waiting for: The Penderwicks at Last is the final, flawless installment in the modern classic series from National Book Award winner and New York Times bestselling author Jeanne Birdsall!

Nine years, five older siblings, a few beloved dogs, and an endless array of adventures--these are the things that have shaped Lydia's journey since readers first met her in The Penderwicks in Spring.

Now it's summertime, and eleven-year-old Lydia is dancing at the bus stop, waiting for big sister Batty to get home from college.

This is a very important dance and a very important wait because the two youngest sisters are about to arrive home to find out that the Penderwicks will all be returning to Arundel this summer, the place where it all began. And better still is the occasion: a good old-fashioned, homemade-by-Penderwicks wedding.

Bursting with heart and brimming with charm, this is a joyful, hilarious ode to the family we love best. And oh my MOPS--Meeting of Penderwick Siblings--does Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks at Last crescendo to one perfect Penderwick finale."

The end, sniff sniff. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Barnes & Noble West

Bookstore: Barnes and Noble West

Location: West Side of Madison, Wisconsin

Why I Love Them: While Borders had opened in Madison four years earlier, RIP Borders, the opening of Barnes and Noble seemed like a far bigger deal. Or maybe because 1996 was when I officially came out of my cocoon emerging as the a book worm I was destined to be and therefore I greeted this store's opening with outstretched arms waiting to be filled with all they had to offer. There were literally weeks of events leading up to the official opening and because my mother was a school librarian I was lucky enough to tag along with her before the store actually opened to the public. The size of the store was mind-boggling to me. I'd never been in a bookstore before with TWO levels. There was so much my mind couldn't take it all in, I didn't know where to even start. But over the years since then I have spent so many delightful hours in the company of friends in this store, both real and those found between the pages of a book. As for all the Harry Potter midnight releases? Cherished memories! I still have my original and battered Barnes and Noble membership from the very first month they started the program in 2001. While you might think that supporting a chain is not as noble as supporting an independent store, keep in mind, these stores are in just as much jeopardy and in my mind, there's plenty of book buying I need to do in my life so I'm happy to spread it around.  

Best Buy: And as for my best buy... now this is a VERY unique one. For as long as I can remember EVERYONE in my family has been a fan of Edward Gorey. Whether it was because of his intricately detailed sets from Mystery! to his darkly humorous books we have always loved his work. Even to the point that I was personally willing to wear white t-shirts because they had his work on it, and it takes a lot for a girl to be willing to wear white, let me tell you! When Barnes and Noble had their big opening they had some unique limited edition items for sale. While I was initially drawn to everything Michael Crichton, from hardcovers to a very fetching omnibus, my gaze finally landed on this rather large box that claimed to be Dracula: The Definitive Edition Signed by Edward Gorey. As it turns out Barnes and Noble had partnered with Gorey to take his designs from the 1977 stage adaptation of Dracula starring Frank Langella as the Count and made a very nice edition of the book. Though of these editions 750 were signed by Gorey. This was one of them! This was signed by EDWARD GOREY! Yes, at $100 it was rather pricey, but to me it was and is priceless. All I knew was that I would have something he had touched and that filled me with glee. I didn't notice until I got it home that the gorgeous black tray that could be tied shut with an equally black ribbon didn't include just the book. There was also a signed lithograph! Mina looking like she'd just stepped out of the opening credits of Mystery! One day I will have to get that lithograph framed, until then I will covet it with the tenacity of a dragon with her treasure.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Half Price Books East

Bookstore: Half Price Books East

Location: East Side of Madison, Wisconsin

Why I Love Them: The Half Price Books on the East side of Madison has an entirely different vibe from the West side location. Yes, it has the same brown shelving and the plethora of odd British editions that occasionally filter into these stores, but it has something that the West location doesn't have, proximity to Maple Bluff. If you're a local you are probably nodding your head sagely and realizing that I speak the truth, but if you aren't you're asking yourself what is Maple Bluff and why would that impact a bookstore? Maple Bluff is a tiny little village on the shores of Lake Mendota that is a suburb of Madison. But it is a tony suburb. All the houses on the lakefront are millions of dollars. It's where the Govenor's mansion is, where Chris Farley grew up, and the chichi country club is located. In other words, it's the place where when you're little your parents drive you around to show you the really big houses you will probably never set foot in. These houses are peopled with individuals who subscribe to Easton Press and The Folio Society, and then, when they don't need or want these beautiful editions, they sell them, to the nearest Half Price Books. Oh, the limited editions you can find there. The times I've drooled over books so special they are behind glass. In fact most books that would be behind glass at other stores are just out in the open here, because that's the inventory they stock. Writing this is making me realize I haven't been there since January and who knows what might have come in! In fact, I think I might go there today!

Best Buy: But there will always be one day I will forever hold in my memory as magical. A day on which I had thankfully just been paid because I literally spent my entire paycheck. I was on the east side with my friend Matt. We'd often hit the restaurants on that side of town for dinner because the franchises are different than on the west side due to interstate traffic. It was an unwritten rule that no matter where we ate we ALWAYS went to the bookstore afterward. A few years earlier The New York Public Library had issued these beautiful hardcover collector's editions that I coveted. I remember seeing them at Borders and being jealous when my friend Huyen bought their copy of Mansfield Park. Eventually I noticed that you didn't see them anywhere anymore and I worried that I had missed my chance. But that only meant my hunt moved onto used bookstores. I remember the thrill as I spotted Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre that evening after dinner. My eyes quickly scanned to the left and there was Mansfield Park! I couldn't believe my luck. But then my mind started reeling... if they had two might they have more? By this point I had memorized all the books in the set and I scrambled through the fiction section. They had Alcott, Cather, Chekhov, Conrad, Dickens, Dickinson, Drieser, Hardy, de Laclos, Lawrence, and Wharton! As I jumped from C to D to H, all within sight of each other my arms became more and more burdened. But it was a burden of joy. Matt came over and saw me and rolled his eyes. He knew me too well to try to interrupt such a book buying experience. The ONLY downside is that they didn't have Frankenstein... but I still look and one day I WILL find. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

The World of All Souls by Deborah Harkness
Published by: Viking
Publication Date: May 8th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 496 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A Discovery of Witches introduced Diana Bishop, Oxford scholar and reluctant witch, and vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont. Shadow of Night and The Book of Life carried Deborah Harkness's series to its spellbinding conclusion.

In The World of All Souls, Harkness shares the rich sources of inspiration behind her bewitching novels. She draws together synopses, character bios, maps, recipes, and even the science behind creatures, magic, and alchemy--all with her signature historian's touch. Bursting with fascinating facts and dazzling artwork, this essential handbook is a must-have for longtime fans and eager newcomers alike."

It's called Deborah Harkness is going all Outlander on us!

Lumberjanes: The Moon is Up by Mariko Tamaki
Published by: Amulet Books
Publication Date: May 8th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 208 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Welcome to Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. The five scouts of Roanoke cabin—Jo, April, Molly, Mal, and Ripley—love their summers at camp. They get to hang out with their best friends, earn Lumberjane scout badges, annoy their no-nonsense counselor Jen...and go on supernatural adventures. That last one? A pretty normal occurrence at Miss Qiunzella’s, where the woods contain endless mysteries.

As the camp gears up for the big Galaxy Wars competition, Jo and the gang get some help from an unexpected visitor—a Moon Pirate!

Book Two will focus on Jo, the ingenious inventor of the group who also happens to be trans."

Does anyone else find the labeling of Jo a little against the vibe of the comics. They are what they are and that's why we love them... perhaps it was the marketing department trying to be woke. 

On the Road and Off the Record with Leonard Bernstein by Charlie Harmon
Published by: Imagine
Publication Date: May 8th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A celebratory, intimate, and detailed look at the public and private life of Leonard Bernstein written by his former assistant. Foreword by Broadway legend Harold Prince.

Leonard Bernstein reeked of cheap cologne and obviously hadn't showered, shaved, or slept in a while. Was he drunk to boot? He greeted his new assistant with "What are you drinking?" Yes, he was drunk.

Charlie Harmon was hired to manage the day-to-day parts of Bernstein's life. There was one additional responsibility: make sure Bernstein met the deadline for an opera commission. But things kept getting in the way: the centenary of Igor Stravinsky, intestinal parasites picked up in Mexico, teaching all summer in Los Angeles, a baker's dozen of young men, plus depression, exhaustion, insomnia, and cut-throat games of anagrams. Did the opera get written?

For four years, Charlie saw Bernstein every day, as his social director, gatekeeper, valet, music copyist, and itinerant orchestra librarian. He packed (and unpacked) Bernstein's umpteen pieces of luggage, got the Maestro to his concerts, kept him occupied changing planes in Zurich, Anchorage, Tokyo, or Madrid, and learned how to make small talk with mayors, ambassadors, a chancellor, a queen, and a Hollywood legend or two. How could anyone absorb all those people and places? Because there was music: late-night piano duets, or the Maestro's command to accompany an audition, or, by the way, the greatest orchestras in the world. Charlie did it, and this is what it was like, told for the first time."

For my brother!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Half Price Books West

Bookstore: Half Price Books West

Location: Near West Side of Madison, Wisconsin

Why I Love Them: Half Price Books, despite being a chain, has this aura about it that makes each store feel unique. Even though they use the same building blocks from store to store for shelving and layout they all have a distinct personality. In fact for the stores farther afield in the Chicagoland area I actually gave them all nicknames, and yes, they are named after my favorite finds there or the quality of books... there's one I just call "swanky" because of this gorgeous reading area usually filled with Folio Society Editions. But the two locations in Madison are my hometown favorites, and, if I had to choose my favorite of the two, the location on the West side would win. It's not just that it's closer! Best bookstores are never chosen by convenience they have to earn that right! So why is the West location better? They have a faster turnover rate, getting new books in almost daily, their collectible books at the front of the store have drool worthy editions that I covet, and the random British editions are a delight whenever I find them. Also with the addition of new releases being available starting a few years ago there is almost no reason to go to other bookstores. Though I will note that which most people do not know, authors don't get royalties on used sales, so please, buy new when you can because we need to support our authors. For me what I look for at used bookstores are specific editions that are out of print or authors who are hard to find stateside, and for that, nothing can beat my Half Price Books. 

Best Buy: As for my best buy? A little history if you will indulge me... when I was younger I read and fell in love with Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca. It instantly became one of my most favorite books ever. I even used it on that recent seven days seven books meme that was going around Facebook. Obviously I wanted to read more of her work but stateside all I could find was copy of Jamaica Inn with an amazingly tacky purple cover at B. Dalton Booksellers, Westgate Mall FYI. Though in fairness it was A LOT better than the tacky red cover of Rebecca with it's "R" in a really bad font. A few years went past and I found a copy of My Cousin Rachel and I could find no more. Therefore I assumed that she only wrote three books. People in the United States NEED TO KNOW that Daphne Du Maurier DID NOT write only three books! She wrote twenty-eight fiction and nine nonfiction books and new editions of her short stories are coming out all the time because previously unknown stories keep getting discovered! So that makes A TON of books that I didn't know about when I walked into Half Price Books one day. This was before their recent reorganization so fiction wasn't in the back of the store but right in the front on your right as you entered. And there, properly shelved under the "D's" were all these books by Daphne Du Maurier. I couldn't believe she had written so many! I grabbed the lot and when I got home and showed my mom she too couldn't believe that she had written so many and that I had found them. Over the years at other Half Price locations I have found the few missing Virago editions that I've needed. I still have eleven to go, but I'm sure they'll one day join the twenty I already have!   

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Frugal Muse

Bookstore: Frugal Muse

Location: Far West Side of Madison, Wisconsin

Why I Love Them: Frugal Muse is the store that made me fall in love with bookstores. Not the generic gridded out box stores like a Barnes and Noble or a Borders, but a store with nooks and crannies, where at any turn you might find yourself transported to another world. The original location was a converted video store and felt like it went back for miles and miles. There was a lovely shortcut from the biographies to the mysteries that created a blind spot and you felt yourself lost to the outside world. Round about the history section there was another lovely nook that you could tuck yourself away in for hours. When my mother, Marian the librarian, was in the process of expanding the library for the school she worked for not a week went by without us stopping in to see what new books had arrived. Frugal Muse has always gotten a handful of new books to put on display near the front of the store, but it's the hunting of rare used books that really warms the cockles of my heart. A few years back now they moved to a newer location which is less magical, but if you look you can still find areas to hide it, I particularly like the mystery section, and who knew the magical nook in the history section was movable? Because, there it still is. In a different place, but just as wonderful. 

Best Buy: As for my "best buy" I realized it was actually an easy answer, my Penguin Numbered Trollopes! Back in the early oughts there were two wonderful Anthony Trollope miniseries produced, The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right, which lead me down a rabbit hole to The Pallisers and so much more. The problem with Trollope as a writer was that stateside his books weren't easy to find. I remember watching an episode of Black Books and Manny just calling up their distributor and asking for the complete set of Trollope. If only it was that easy! I couldn't call anyone to get these books and therefore when I discovered their existence the hunt began. The Penguin Numbered Trollope consists of fifty-two books, of which I'm still missing twelve (2, 4, 6, 7, 17, 18, 22, 30, 32, 37, 43, and 45 if you're interested.) But a large chunk of these came from a one day purchase at Frugal Muse. I came into their old location and wandered back to the fiction section near the bathrooms and right there on the shelf were ALL these Trollope books, beautiful and orange and numbered. I cumbersomely took them up to the register and one of the two owners, who are just wonderful by the way, gave me an extra 15% off because I was taking the whole set off their hands. I LONG for a book buying high like I achieved that day to happen again and there's every chance that it will be at Frugal Muse.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Support Your Brick and Mortar

We all order from Amazon, because it's fast and easy. They're the fast food of book buying. Which means it's not really good for you, it's just convenient. But keep in mind, they have an endgame. That is to outlast everyone and then hold the monopoly on the market. Which means that those few dollars you saved over the years will be given back to them tenfold. So what can we book buyers do? We can support our local brick and mortar stores! We all felt the pain when Borders closed, with a little joy mixed in for the deals we got, followed a few years later by the loss of B. Dalton. Look around you and you'll see stores are failing left and right. Toys 'R' Us, Boston Store, big chains and little mom and pop storefronts are going the way of the dodo to be replaced by the "convenience" of shopping online. Therefore it is more important than ever to get out of your house and go buy locally. This doesn't even have to be at an independent bookstore, though please support those too, go to your local Barnes and Noble, go and show them that their store matters to you, not just when there are events and book signings, but as an integral part of your life.

Why I believe so strongly in brick and mortar stores is that you form a connection to them. A connection that can never be replaced by just putting a book in a virtual cart. Sure, there's the staff you get to know and form a relationship with, but I think it's more than that. When you find that perfect book in a store you don't just remember how much you love that book, you remember where you were when you found it. You remember hunting through the shelves of the store and stumbling across it. The whole experience of finding the book and reading the book becomes a precious memory and that memory couldn't exist without brick and mortar stores. So this summer I'm going to make brick and mortar shopping my rallying cry! I CAN NOT lose any more stores to Amazon or the fickle economy. I am going to share with you the stores that I love and the books I found there. From local stores I frequent regularly, to the stores located regionally that I plan my excursions around, to stores I've visited once or twice on vacation that are located farther afield, and to the independent bookstores I've only ever dealt with online but hope to one day visit. Let's get this party started! Go out there and start shopping people!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

The 17th Shooter by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
Published by: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: May 1st, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A series of shootings exposes San Francisco to a methodical yet unpredictable killer, and a reluctant woman decides to put her trust in Sergeant Lindsay Boxer. The confidential informant's tip leads Lindsay to disturbing conclusions, including that something has gone horribly wrong inside the police department itself.

The hunt for the killer lures Lindsay out of her jurisdiction, and gets inside Lindsay in dangerous ways. She suffers unsettling medical symptoms, and her friends and confidantes in the Women's Murder Club warn Lindsay against taking the crimes too much to heart. With lives at stake, the detective can't help but follow the case into ever more terrifying terrain.

A decorated officer, loving wife, devoted mother, and loyal friend, Lindsay's unwavering integrity has never failed her. But now she is confronting a killer who is determined to undermine it all."

My mom's favorite James Patterson series, and mine too because San Francisco! 

Mr. Flood's Last Resort by Jess Kidd
Publication Date: May 1st, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Maud Drennan is a dedicated caregiver whose sunny disposition masks a deep sadness. A tragic childhood event left her haunted, in the company of a cast of prattling saints who pop in and out of her life like tourists. Other than visiting her agoraphobic neighbor, Maud keeps to herself, finding solace in her work and in her humble existence–until she meets Mr. Flood.

Cathal Flood is a menace by all accounts. The lone occupant of a Gothic mansion crawling with feral cats, he has been waging war against his son’s attempts to put him into an old-age home and sent his last caretaker running for the madhouse. But Maud is this impossible man’s last chance: if she can help him get the house in order, he just might be able to stay. So the unlikely pair begins to cooperate, bonding over their shared love of Irish folktales and mutual dislike of Mr. Flood’s overbearing son.

Still, shadows are growing in the cluttered corners of the mansion, hinting at buried family secrets, and reminding Maud that she doesn’t really know this man at all. When the forgotten case of a missing schoolgirl comes to light, she starts poking around, and a full-steam search for answers begins. Packed with eccentric charms, twisted comedy, and a whole lot of heart, Mr. Flood’s Last Resort is a mesmerizing tale that examines the space between sin and sainthood, reminding us that often the most meaningful forgiveness that we can offer is to ourselves."

Can you tell I like anything slightly Gothic?

The Dead House by Billy O'Callaghan
Published by: Arcade Publishing
Publication Date: May 1st, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 224 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Sometimes the past endures—and sometimes it never lets go.

This best-selling debut by an award-winning writer is both an eerie contemporary ghost story and a dread-inducing psychological thriller. Maggie is a successful young artist who has had bad luck with men. Her last put her in the hospital and, after she’s healed physically, left her needing to get out of London to heal mentally and find a place of quiet that will restore her creative spirit. On the rugged west coast of Ireland, perched on a wild cliff side, she spies the shell of a cottage that dates back to Great Famine and decides to buy it. When work on the house is done, she invites her dealer to come for the weekend to celebrate along with a couple of women friends, one of whom will become his wife. On the boozy last night, the other friend pulls out an Ouija board. What sinister thing they summon, once invited, will never go.

Ireland is a country haunted by its past. In Billy O'Callaghan's hands, its terrible beauty becomes a force of inescapable horror that reaches far back in time, before the Famine, before Christianity, to a pagan place where nature and superstition are bound in an endless knot."

Moody with a Ouija board!

Magick Run Amok by Sharon Pape
Published by: Lyrical Underground
Publication Date: May 1st, 2018
Format: Kindle, 337 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
" The answer to whodunit may lie beyond the veil...

November in upstate New York can be chilly, but Kailyn Wilde’s shop, Abracadabra, is a cozy respite where you can find lotions, potions, and plenty of warm, feline company. But what customers don’t know is that the proprietor has some unusual powers—and unusual friends, including the renowned magician Merlin, who’s been transported into the modern world. All of which comes in handy when there’s a murder to be solved...

Investigative journalist Ryan Cutler has perished in a car accident in New Camel, and his friend, Travis, suspects foul play—especially when the reporter’s notes reveal a mysterious list of dead men’s names. Kailyn wants to help, but she’s also got her hands full with the curmudgeonly Merlin, who’s not exactly maintaining a low profile. Between keeping the wizard under wraps and mixing up cold remedies that work like magic, she’ll have to tap into her many talents to figure out a killer’s fatal formula..."

I sucker for anything with a cat on the cover.

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas
Published by: Bloomsbury YA
Publication Date: May 1st, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Narrated by Feyre and Rhysand, this bridges the events in A Court of Wings and Ruin and the upcoming novels in the series.

Feyre, Rhys, and their close-knit circle of friends are still busy rebuilding the Night Court and the vastly-changed world beyond. But Winter Solstice is finally near, and with it, a hard-earned reprieve. Yet even the festive atmosphere can't keep the shadows of the past from looming. As Feyre navigates her first Winter Solstice as High Lady, she finds that those dearest to her have more wounds than she anticipated--scars that will have far-reaching impact on the future of their Court."

I really need to make some time and binge Sarah J. Maas!

Friday, April 27, 2018

Book Review - Heather Rose Jones's Mother of Souls

Mother of Souls (Alpennia Book 3) by Heather Rose Jones
Published by: Bella Books
Publication Date: November 29th, 2016
Format: Kindle, 240 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Luzie Valorin grew up in a family of musicians. When she married she thought she had put that life behind her but the untimely death of her husband forced Luzie to make some difficult choices. She could have run off to the bosom of her family in the countryside but instead she turned her home into a boarding house for theatrical souls. Though opening her house to strangers didn't make ends meet as she had hoped and she supplements her income by teaching piano lessons and doing copy work for her father's old friend, the great classical composer Fizeir. All this just to honor the memory of her dead husband and send their two boys to his old school. The only joy in her life is in composing. She writes little musical pieces to help her students. Whether it's for more confidence or to showcase their current abilities, it brings her joy. She even got up the courage to show Fizeir her work, but he broke her a little when he said he didn't think much of it. But he is willfully "blind" to Luzie's talents as she will painfully learn. She doesn't have just talent, she has the ability to create magic from her compositions. And to think, Luzie would have never known if Serafina hadn't come into her life. If a room in her house hadn't become available and Serafina wasn't in need of a roof over her head. Serafina changed everything.

Serafina Talarico is the daughter of Ethiopian exiles who settled in Rome. Her life was happy until the death of her mother. So many things changed, but what forced her into the arms of Paolo was her interfering sister-in-law who wasn't just domineering, but didn't want any Ethiopian taint in her life. Paolo seemed the perfect choice of husband, he was going to teach Serafina about the mysteries she could see but couldn't perform. Soon his displeasure with his wife's inabilities leads him to spend much time abroad while Serafina takes comfort in the arms of his cousin. Though everything changes for Serafina when she stumbles on the notes of Margerit Sovitre and sees a kindred soul. Throwing caution to the wind she journeys to Alpennia and joins Margerit's inner circle hoping to achieve a mystery that will capture the happiness she experienced in her mother's presence as a child. But she knows Margerit's hospitality can only last so long with Serafina's continued frustration at being unable to perform the simplest of miracles. Therefore she takes a room at Luzie Valorin's boarding house and is shocked to find that the composer is unaware the she is creating magic with her compositions. Serafina encourages Luzie's composing and leaps at the opportunity to help shape an opera whose magic might effect more then these two lonely hearts who've found each other.

Mother of Souls is the first book in Heather Rose Jones's Alpennian series that I feel achieved it's full potential. With each book building off the previous volume everything started to click into place over time and here with the larger cast of characters there was a better balance than just the two previous couples featured. The narrative no longer felt constricted by only four viewpoints and there was a wonderful blending of talents and interests, from music to printing, mysteries to sorcery, religion to godlessness, Alpennia to the rest of the world, here we have a Bloomsbury set for Alpennia. We have artists and free thinkers, a family, a tribe is being created. All these women who felt like they fit into society like a square peg in a round hole come together in salons and aren't crushed under foot by the patriarchy. Seeing as this series is Ruritanian lesbian romance a lot of inference can be made about educated women and their sapphic ways and at times it strains credulity and feels a little stereotypical especially given the previous two installments, but to these niggling criticisms I say that one, it's romance, and two there's Luzie. I should say Luzie and Serafina because I really like how their relationship forms and eventually ends. They are a different kind of heroine. Both have been married, both have been thrust into a new world that they aren't sure will accept them, but both have amazing resilience, and both end up in a place you wouldn't expect them to. That I think was the best part of Mother of Souls, the unexpected.

Yet among all these characters there is a strong theme of female empowerment running rife. This book is a rallying cry, as is the opera Luzie writes about the female philosopher Tanfrit who is only remembered through her connection to the male philosopher Gaudericus! Women have been told to be quiet for far too long! Men are always keeping us down and taking credit for what we do and when that can't work just erasing us from history. I literally can not think of a woman who won't identify with Luzie's relationship with the composer Fizeir. Here is a man that needs her and his need leads him to purposefully insult her work which he obviously thinks is worthy because he passes it off as his own all while she hero worships him. Who hasn't been taken advantage of by a man in power in one way or another? To be told you are "less than" just so that they can keep you in line and keep themselves on the top of the heap. At times I was just filled with rage for Luzie and her situation. She has real talent and has been kept down by the male status quo. While things are still far from equal I really don't know what I would have done if I had been raised in a time when women and their education were frowned upon. To not be allowed to read and learn? I shudder at the thought. Which is why Margerit's founding of the female academy named after Tanfrit is such a wonderful counterpoint to Luzie's journey. Here is a place where women and education is prized and that makes me immensely happy.

What also makes me immensely happy is the expanding of what is considered "magic" in the Alpennian world. The first book Daughter of Mystery dealt with thaumaturgy and The Mystic Marriage dealt with alchemy. These are both "sciences" that were practiced in medieval times. Yet the thaumaturgy we see here is very specifically on the religious mysteries end of the spectrum and the need for devotion to God. Which is why the introduction of alchemy in the second book was cunning in that it can be learned by non-believers and was paving the way to a new magical system. We were slowly moving away from God and looking for a "word other than miracles." In fact it's very clear with all that is happening that "[t]here was more magic in the world than could be encompassed in Margerit's theology." I nearly cried for joy that Margerit was dinged a little. I am such a strong non-believer that I rebelled at a world where only the prayers of certain people were answered and this was what "magic" was. I am not joking that I DID cheer when Margerit's partner Barbara said "[s]ometimes I think we need a different word than 'miracle.'" Sing it sister! Non-religious magic is here to stay! And how is it here to stay? In Luzi'e music. Yes, you could argue that originally music was a strong part of religious devotion, but I'm not going there because I finally have magic unencumbered by the church! Music, to me, has always been magical. Theater even more so. Therefore combining the two is a rare form of magic. Just look how much Hamilton changed our world and it's easy to see that in this world, as in ours, music and performance can change anything.

Though I wouldn't be me if I didn't have something that annoyed me to no end. So Antuniet Chazillen, one of our two heroines from The Mystic Marriage is now a royally appointed alchemist and one of our Alpennian Bloomsbury set. She actually has REAL power. Power that I feel could be used dubiously, but that's an issue I had with the previous volume, not this one. Antuniet also is obsessed with her family's legacy and therefore despite having the Vicomtesse de Cherdillac as her life partner she is determined to have a child. She plans to go about this in the regular fashion, think of it as a 1800s sperm bank because she's so not the type to marry some man just to have a child, leaving Jeanne in the process. But she's so obsessed with her reputation, and here I scratch my head because come on, she lives with a woman and is doing magic, that she decides to fool everyone as to how she became with child. She decides to claim that she created a homunculus because it's the second great act of alchemy and she is THAT GOOD! Excuse me!?! WTF!?! This is so counter intuitive. Antuinet is actually an alchemist and she is resorting to the tricks of charlatans? My mind boggles. I have a real problem with people who have abilities, doesn't matter what kind, artistic, whatever, who resort to "alternative methods" to achieve what they want. Because it isn't fair! It's like plagiarism, you are getting credit for something you didn't do. Nope, nope, nope. Plus, just as an aside, wouldn't people see the baby and be like, nope, not what a homunculus is supposed to look like? No? Just me. As always. But then again... "When a mystery works with nature and not against it, it's hard to distinguish truth from fraud."

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Heather Rose Jones

Heather Rose Jones is an interesting mix of modern and historical. Be it biotech or linguistics, she seems perfectly suited for whatever time period she lands in if a time machine were to show up on her doorstep and take her on a journey. Her early life was far flung, from the various corners of the continental United States to several European countries, though she currently calls the Bay Area home. Growing up in an academic family surly spurred her passions for research and teaching. She loves "to share my knowledge with anyone who will stand still long enough to listen." Though who knows how long that would be given her fascinating and diverse interests! Heather has a BS in zoology, after which she spent a decade in medical research, only to go back to school for a PhD in Linguistics from U.C. Berkley where she specialized in the semantics of Medieval Welsh prepositions. While she might have come to my attention due to her fiction writing, I'm amazed at the sheer scope and dedication to all her various interests.

Her "Skin Singer" series of short stories have appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress anthologies, but you can surly guess by now that she wouldn't limit her prodigious talents and interests to just one writing outlet. Heather has written for many non-fiction publications as well on topics ranging from biotech to historic costume to naming practices. As for her Alpennia books, think of them as historical fantasy with a detailed belief system with lesbians. In fact her passion project is the Lesbian Historic Motif Project she began to change the unexamined assumptions about the place and nature of lesbian-like characters in historic fact, literature, art and imaginations. She is also a total geek for historic textiles and clothing, making little doll reproductions of archaeological clothing finds. Is it any wonder with these passions coupled with geeking out over linguistics, historic cooking, and much more that she is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism? There she's known by a far more Welsh handle than Heather, she's Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn. I should just let Heather, or should I say Mistress Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn, take the wheel.

Question: When did you first discover Jane Austen?

Answer: I have a sheepish confession that I read her books well after I’d fallen in love with a number of movie treatments and with the Regency romance genre in general. I was certainly aware that she was the ur-text on which the genre was based. And it isn’t as if I had any aversion to reading novels of the era. (I read Thackeray’s Vanity Fair just for fun back in 1975, after all.) I’m still working on getting a complete collection of the works of Georgette Heyer.

But at some point about 15 years ago I realized I’d never actually read Austen herself, so I marched off to the bookstore and picked up a complete set and read them all straight through. I certainly have my favorites and my less preferred works. (I seem to be alone among my friends in liking Emma, but every time I re-read Mansfield Park, I want to throw it across the room.) I also have audio versions of my favorites in heavy rotation on my anti-insomnia program. (My favorites are the free recordings at Librivox.org, and my favorite narrator is Karen Savage.)

Question: What do you think Jane Austen would think of her impact with so many literary offshoots, from parody to pastiche?

Answer: I tend to be wary of trying to second-guess authors’ attitudes. Even the authors I know personally can surprise me in their take on questions like this. Given the circumstances of her life, I can guess that one of her reactions might be, “Gee, I wish I could have gotten a cut of the take!” I suspect she might be astonished that her work is remembered at all two centuries later. But I refuse to guess at what she might think of all the people re-purposing her stories in the vastly different ways we’ve seen. People have very individual and emotional reactions to that sort of thing, and all of them are valid.

Question: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Answer: My stories are, at heart, the stories I wish other people had written so that I’d have been able to read them at important points in my life. So I’m inspired by the echoing gaps in my literary life that are begging to be filled. I’ve spent most of my life searching through bookstore and library shelves for books that recognize and respect core aspects of my identity: being a woman, being a geek, being a lesbian, being an intellectual. One gets very tired of being told implicitly that one doesn’t exist, or at least, that one isn’t worthy of being included in stories.

On a more practical basis, I’m inspired by the life-long love of European history that began when I spent a year in Prague at the age of ten. (My father was a university professor on sabbatical.) I love immersing myself in the everyday material culture of places, times, and peoples different from my own.

Question: What makes the early 19th century mesh so well with magic?

Answer: Is is heresy for me to say that I don’t think there’s anything special about the early 19th century that makes it suited to magic? Every age, every culture, and every literary genre inspires particular flavors and approaches to magic. I think that the existing popularity of the Regency setting (and of the Regency romance genre in general) made it inevitable that fantasy writers who loved that setting would look for types of magic that fit into it well.

I think some of the key characteristics of Regency magic have to do with the eras and movements it balances between. The Industrial Revolution creates some major challenges for designing a magical world. Do you view it as a threat to pre-industrial magic or as a context for a new industrial-based magic? The social and political shifts in Europe from the remnants of old-style monarchy to more populist governments similarly present a challenge to motifs of magic as an echo of aristocracy or as the basis for a “everyman makes good” plot. To the extent that magic is viewed as anti-rational, any 19th century understanding of magic needs to be in dialog with the 18th century Age of Enlightenment and its consequences for philosophy and religion.

Questions of this sort exist for any historic setting. A Renaissance magic setting will similarly be driven by and need to deal with the social and technological changes in which it operates. The entire genre of Urban Fantasy asks the question of what magic can look like in our current world. So to return to my original answer, I don’t think magic necessarily meshes better with a Regency setting in comparison to other eras. But the setting will certainly generate a particular flavor of magic unique to that era.

Question: The world building and system of magic varies greatly in the regency fantasy genre, how did you go about creating yours?

Answer: I had the setting before I decided/realized it was going to include magic. (The very first ideas for the Alpennia books were much more along the lines of an ordinary historical romantic adventure.) I wanted a form of magic in which it would make sense that the existence of magic hadn’t created massive divergences from our own timeline and historic development. So I looked to existing mystical themes in history and asked, “What if, sometimes, for some people, this actually worked the way that people at the time believed it worked?”

In Daughter of Mystery, the main magical focus is religious in nature. I started with the proposition: what if aspects of folk religion, and especially the folk-religious aspects of the cults of the saints in Catholicism, were a bit more...functional than they are in our world? What if some people could work “miracles” fairly reliably? But what if the nature of those miracles was such that it was impossible to turn them into a science? It was also important to me to treat the religious basis of the magic in a respectful way. As an atheist, it meant the world to me when various of my Catholic friends told me I’d “gotten it right.”

In the world of Alpennia, people have varying levels of ability of magical causation. Some have none; some have so little that you’d need a lot of people working in concert to make anything happen; and very rarely some people have enough ability to produce “miracles” on their own. But alongside this, I imagined that the ability to detect miracles was similarly distributed. Some people can’t see anything unless it has a direct visible manifestation--and most often that could be explained away as chance or coincidence. Some people can perceive the workings of magic itself in sensory form: visions of the forces at work, auditory or tactile sensations. Very rarely, someone has both the ability to work magic and to see the mechanisms by which it works well enough to develop their talents into a reliable practice. If they have the proper guidance. And if society thinks it’s appropriate for them to do so. And if the results of their efforts don’t cause them fatal problems.

Channeling the understanding and practice of magic through religious ritual both created a context for passing along “effective” practices, but also for diluting them into mere rote ceremony. So I had my context in which there was the possibility of a particular individual having and developing significant magical skills, but where that possibility didn’t translate into the development of a “technology of magic”.

In later books, we see that religion isn’t the only context in which the magic in my world manifests. The Mystic Marriage centers around alchemy--a field that my characters treat as if it were purely scientific, but where it’s clear to the readers that the same mystical forces that lie behind miracles are driving the results of alchemical experiments. In my current work in progress, Mother of Souls, we see mystical forces being channeled through other practices such as music and art. But in all cases, the effects can range from barely perceptible to world-shaking, depending on the practitioners and the practice.

Question: If you had to choose between writing only period literature or only fantasy literature, which would win?

Answer: I’ve always refused to accept false dichotomies. I’ve spent most of my writing life feeling like I had to choose between writing characters like me and writing characters that I could sell stories about. Or between writing the stories I wanted to read and writing the stories other people wanted to read. When I had the finished manuscript of Daughter of Mystery in hand, I had to make the very important choice of whether to try to publish it as a mainstream fantasy novel or as a lesbian novel. I refuse to be boxed. I’ve sold purely historic stories (“Where My Heart Goes”, a historical romance short story set in 16th century Italy). I’ve sold purely fantasy stories (the “Skinsinger” series in the Sword and Sorceress anthology series). And I’ve sold historic fantasy set in both the Regency and medieval periods. I will not erase any part of my writing self, not even just for fun in a quiz.

Question: Be honest, have you ever dressed up in Regency clothes just to pretend for a moment you are in the past?

Answer: I’ve been deeply involved in historic re-creation for the last 40 years. In terms of organized events, it’s been mostly in the Society for Creative Anachronism, but I’ve worn costumes from Bronze Age Denmark and pharaonic Egypt all the way up through the 1930s. I love participating in historic themed “set pieces”, especially dinners and similarly structured events. I’ve prepared historic meals scattered over several millennia. (You should see my historic culinary library!) At Worldcon last year, I brought some Alpennian pastries as refreshments for my author’s kaffee klatch, based on a French cookbook of the same era. But I confess, I haven’t yet made a specifically Regency-era outfit. I have the fabric sitting in my stash and I know exactly which dress from my books I want to make. It’s just a matter of time and of having the excuse of what to wear it for.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Tuesday Tomorrow

Terry Pratchett's Discworld Imaginarium by Paul Kidby
Published by: Gollancz
Publication Date: April 24th, 2018
Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Paul Kidby, Sir Terry Pratchett's artist of choice, provided the illustrations for The Last Hero, designed the covers for the Discworld novels since 2002 and is the author of the bestseller The Art Of Discworld.

Now, Paul Kidby has collected the very best of his Discworld illustrations in this definitive volume, including 40 pieces never before seen, 30 pieces that have only appeared in foreign editions, limited editions and BCA editions, and 17 book cover illustrations since 2004 that have never been seen without cover text.

If Terry Pratchett's pen gave his characters life, Paul Kidby's brush allowed them to live it, and nowhere is that better illustrated than in this magnificent book."

Two things I love in this world: Terry Pratchett and Paul Kidby. I love it even more when they're together!

My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan
Published by: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: April 24th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Set amidst the breathtaking beauty of Oxford, this sparkling debut novel tells the unforgettable story about a determined young woman eager to make her mark in the world and the handsome man who introduces her to an incredible love that will irrevocably alter her future—perfect for fans of JoJo Moyes and Nicholas Sparks.

American Ella Durran has had the same plan for her life since she was thirteen: Study at Oxford. At 24, she’s finally made it to England on a Rhodes Scholarship when she’s offered an unbelievable position in a rising political star’s presidential campaign. With the promise that she’ll work remotely and return to DC at the end of her Oxford year, she’s free to enjoy her Once in a Lifetime Experience. That is, until a smart-mouthed local who is too quick with his tongue and his car ruins her shirt and her first day.

When Ella discovers that her English literature course will be taught by none other than that same local, Jamie Davenport, she thinks for the first time that Oxford might not be all she’s envisioned. But a late-night drink reveals a connection she wasn’t anticipating finding and what begins as a casual fling soon develops into something much more when Ella learns Jamie has a life-changing secret.

Immediately, Ella is faced with a seemingly impossible decision: turn her back on the man she’s falling in love with to follow her political dreams or be there for him during a trial neither are truly prepared for. As the end of her year in Oxford rapidly approaches, Ella must decide if the dreams she’s always wanted are the same ones she’s now yearning for."

Why would I read a book that is compared to Nicholas Sparks? I needs my Oxford fix bad! It's a whole year until I get more Endeavour! 

Murder in the Locked Library by Ellery Adams
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: April 24th, 2018
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Welcome to Storyton Hall, Virginia, where book lovers travel from near and far to enjoy the singular comforts of the Agatha Christie Tea Room, where they can discuss the merits of their favorite authors no matter how deadly the topic...

With her twins, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, back in school, Jane Steward can finally focus on her work again—managing Storyton Hall, and breaking ground on the resort’s latest attraction: a luxurious, relaxing spa named in honor of Walt Whitman. But when the earth is dug up to start laying the spa’s foundation, something else comes to the surface—a collection of unusual bones and the ragged remnants of a very old book. The attendees of the Rare Book Conference are eager to assist Jane with this unexpected historical mystery—until a visitor meets an untimely end in the Henry James Library. As the questions—and suspects—start stacking up, Jane will have to uncover a killer before more unhappy endings ensue..."

A book retreat themed cozy? YAS! 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Review - V.E. Schwab's A Conjuring of Light

A Conjuring of Light by V.E.Schwab
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: February 21st, 2017
Format: Paperback, 624 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Osaron, the oshoc, the demon made of magic that destroyed Black London escaped his prison using Holland. The Antari thought it was a chance for his world to thrive, instead it was Osaron's chance to become a God again, but not in Holland's dying London, in the vital London, in Red London. Arnes is ripe with magic and the Isle pulses with power and within minutes of his arrival Osaron has the city bowing at his feet. Those who do not submit to his insinuating call will be killed. The Isle turns black and a thick fog creeps through the streets. In the palace the competitors are celebrating the end of the Essen Tasch. Soon those competitors and their entourages will be the only people not under Osaron's spell. The priests of the London Sanctuary place wards all around the Soner Rast in an effort to keep out Osaron's influence and for the moment it is holding. But a plan needs to be formed before people get desperate. Having so many loyal supplicants Osaron abandons Holland and Kell thinks this new prisoner of the crown could work as a lure to destroy the oshoc. Their first attempt fails, Osaron showing far more interest in this new Antari then his previous Antari vessel. That interest makes Kell, Holland, and Lila realize that perhaps they are the only way to destroy him, along with a device rumored to be capable of draining and transferring magic. A device that was last seen on a floating black market, a market that might just hold the true key to defeating Osaron. While the three Antari go in search of their best hope against Osaron, the King, the Aven Essen, the Prince, the Veskans, the Faroans, and the competitors all attempt their own plans to beat Osaron. Whose plan will work? Because with these stakes failure equals death.

And we come to the end. For now. With much fanfare but without much satisfaction for this reader. The Big Bad is banished but instead of tying all the threads together to give us any kind of closure we are given a repetitive book with way too much death. Thought you might learn where Kell came from and the history of that knife with the "KL" on it? Think again and have a few competitors from the Essen Tasch die needlessly. Hoping to learn the history of Lila's false eye? Wait in vain as Schwab describes something with the exact same wording ten or more times over the course of a few chapters oh and here's Alucard's beloved sister dead on the floor of his ship. I'm not saying that this book was Red Wedding levels of death, oh, who am I kidding, I am SO saying it's Red Wedding levels of death. The thing is, this series has never shied away from death and brutality, but this all felt so needless, so out of left field. Just a few pages in with the previous Essen Tasch victor Kisimyr flaking away as she is reduced to ash had me appalled. Shock value is good, but there's a point where it's no longer shocking and I stopped bracing myself for the next death because I became numb and indifferent after Ojka, Jinnar, Calla, Anisa, Lenos, Hastra, on and on, so much death. I seriously believe now that A Gathering of Shadows was written to give us all these characters we'd come to love only to kill them off in A Conjuring of Light. I didn't back anyone to survive because of this cavalier attitude where everyone was fair game. And that's where my problem lies. Schwab doesn't give us a single beat to mourn these characters. The book is constantly pushing the narrative forward and when the survivors make it to the end they want to put everything behind them and move on, never taking the time to grieve. If the author doesn't show sympathy for her own creations how are we as readers supposed to care about their demise? It lessens the impact of the story and for me it made me not care.

So while I came to really enjoy the beginning of this series the second time around I just can not get behind A Conjuring of Light. It's not just this mass slaughter that had me disengaging from the book but the fact that it felt so different to A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows that it didn't feel a part of the overall series. In the first book we basically have two POVs, in the second we have a little more than double that, but here it's a free for all, every character ever gets their chance. All these different characters getting stories doesn't just pull focus away from our central characters, it dilutes the reader's connection to the story. Here's King Maxim, here's Queen Emira, here's a guard you've maybe heard of once before... I get that Schwab wanted to expand her universe, but this was too much too soon. Resolve what you've already started and then build off that. Don't use the conclusion of one story as a starting off point for a ton more. Yes, Schwab has built this great universe, but new people and new powers left and right seriously did not help defeat Osaron. Well, maybe Dracula's did... OK, Alucard. But here's the thing, WTF is up with Alucard!?! All of a sudden out of left field he has the ability to "see" magic!?! And EVERYONE knew about it!?! This was too convenient, too much of a deus ex machina. So Alucard could have told Lila the second he met her she was Antari because of her "magical aura" and being able to see this "aura" leads him to an artifact on the floating black market that makes all the difference in the battle against Osaron!?! Really!?! I mean, REALLY!?! The LEAST Schwab could have done is started to hint at this in the previous volume, instead it was yet another WTF moment of incredulity. I really, I just can't anymore with this book.

The books ONLY saving grace amongst the din of trying to balance all these characters like plates in the air was Holland, the White London Antari. I've always felt sorry for Holland because no matter how good his intentions he always ends up being screwed. Here we get even more of his story, badly typeset by someone who thought it would look "cool" to have his flashbacks different than the rest of the book's copy. He has suffered loss after loss and still he just wants to save his home. He is willing to give up his freedom, to put a cage around his own identity if his London will thrive. This is epic stuff, showing that Holland is the true hero of the series. What's more it leads into an important discourse on freedom. So many of our characters are trapped, Kell by the crown, Rhy by his perceived inadequacies, Alucard by his family, Lila by her station, each and every person we come in contact with has a prison. Some of these prisons are of their own making, some aren't, but that feeling of being trapped is universal. They are all searching for some kind of freedom and their battle against Osaron is able to highlight their struggles both big and small. I think this, more than anything else in the series, is where I connect. Even though I don't currently live in a prison, I have cages of my own making. Obligations, some real, some I force on myself that I struggle with daily. If I could physically and psychologically remove these burdens, I just wonder, what does it feel like to be free? I can't be the only one reading this book and wondering the same thing, and that's how this book just ever so slightly redeems itself, by holding up a mirror to which the readers can actually relate.

Though Queen Emira comes a close second in redeeming this book. I am of the age when everyone I know is either on the precipice of or already has kids. As I've gotten older I've realized that many of the things that make me me is why I could never have kids. I'm not talking the time, the lack of sleep, I'm talking the worry. I seriously worry about everything. I can grind my mind to a halt with "what ifs." Queen Emira admits she never wanted children. Her affinity is with water, ice, and ice breaks. Everything breaks. When she had Rhy she became terrified with worry, thinking about what could happen. The hurt, the pain, the possible death. All the wounds that could be inflicted on her son. These paralyze her and lead her to seeming cold, remote. She is so scared she basically turns herself into stone. The ice queen, hardening her heart because she feels too much. This would be me. I would never sleep, I would never rest, I would be there listening to every little breath my child took just to make sure nothing was wrong. I bought a baby monitor for my cat when he was sick, that's how stressed I get. Like freedom, this was another hard truth that was almost lost in the muddle of multiple character arcs and magical spells. While we readers love to read about things that can't happen and worlds that don't exist unless a book is grounded in something real then you can not emotionally invest, you can not just connect. So while my issues with this book are many and various, Schwab was able, in the quieter moments, to get at something true, and while I don't want to think about how I impose such walls around myself I have to acknowledge, like Emira, that they are there before I can hope to at the very least understand them before I can try to break them down.

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