Sunday, June 18, 2017

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Dear Reader by Mary O'Connell, Star's End by Cassandra Rose Clarke and The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke

I would like to take a moment away from the books that I will be reviewing today to say goodbye to Stephen Furst, who played Vir Cotto on the much beloved science fiction television show, Babylon 5. He died two days ago at age 62 of the complications of type 2 diabetes, which is a shame. I met him back in the early 1990s at the radio station where my husband was working, and he'd come to talk about the signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes. He was charming and funny and a lovely guy. He signed a Peter David Babylon 5 book about Vir for me, and told me tales of Londo and G'kar behind the scenes, smoking and playing poker. Rest in Peace, you "moon faced assassin of joy," as Londo called you.  

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake is a YA fantasy novel that was recommended to me by a book website on Facebook, because it was supposedly similar to other YA fantasies that I had read and enjoyed, and it supposedly had a "Game of Thrones" and "Hunger Games" political element. Unfortunately, I found it too similar to Game of Thrones in that there were so many political and horror elements woven into the narrative that I lost interest more than once in the story line. Here's the blurb:
Fans of acclaimed author Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood will devour Three Dark Crowns, a dark and inventive fantasy about three sisters who must fight to the death to become queen.
In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.
But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown. Publisher's Weekly: Triplet sisters raised to compete for the crown of Fennbirn have their own talents: Mirabella is a formidable elemental who can conjure and control storms, Katharine is being trained to withstand poison, and dark horse Arsinoe is a naturalist working to summon her animal familiar. In this series opener from Blake (the Goddess War trilogy), the sisters are in the final days of preparing for a bitter year that will end with two of them dead while the other reigns. In this bloody world, those who buck tradition are punished fiercely—a friend's loyalty is rewarded when the priestesses sever her hand, another is banished for aiding in an escape attempt—and human sacrifice is a proven way to sate the higher power and instill fear. This dark fairytale makes a slow processional toward the Beltane Festival, then rushes through the celebration to set up the next book. But along the way Blake establishes myriad side plots and relationships, builds complex characters, and leaves plenty of compelling avenues to explore in future books.
For some reason, ever since the Hunger Games and GOT, there seems to be a plethora of YA fiction authors who have to create life or death competitions for their protagonists, and each series is more gory and ugly than the last. All these books also take place in dystopian societies, of course, where only the cruelest, most ruthless people can survive. I don't understand why, after Divergent and Hunger Games came out that authors still feel the need to tread this well-worn ground with tired tropes and painful plots. Why not be inventive and try something new, like putting a "strong female protagonist" through her paces in a utopian society, where she can mature without becoming a serial killer? (Or in this book, a sister-killer). Part of the problem is that these young women aren't allowed to have compassion or any morals or noble thoughts, they're consistently poisoned by those around them into becoming bitter antagonists and prisoners of their particular fiefdom's religious leaders. I find it hard to relate to characters who are being used as pawns with or without their knowledge, and I can't relate to those who kill others and harm themselves for political gain. Therefore, I am giving this novel a C+, and I would only recommend it to someone who is really into the politics of GOT and/or Hunger Games.

Dear Reader by Mary O'Connell is an odd but distinctive YA novel about a quirky young woman desperate to find her favorite teacher and find herself in the process. Here's the blurb:
For seventeen-year-old Flannery Fields, the only respite from the plaid-skirted mean girls at Sacred Heart High School is her beloved teacher Miss Sweeney’s AP English class. But when Miss Sweeney doesn't show up to teach Flannery's favorite book, Wuthering Heights, leaving behind her purse, Flannery knows something is wrong.
The police are called, and Flannery gives them everything—except Miss Sweeney's copy of Wuthering Heights. This she holds onto. And good thing she does, because when she opens it, it has somehow transformed into Miss Sweeney's real-time diary. It seems Miss Sweeney is in New York City—and she's in trouble.
So Flannery does something very unFlannery-like: she skips school and sets out for Manhattan, with the book as her guide. But as soon as she arrives, she meets a boy named Heath. Heath is British, on a gap year, incredibly smart—yet he's never heard of Albert Einstein or Anne Frank. In fact, Flannery can't help thinking that he seems to have stepped from the pages of Brontë's novel. Could it be that Flannery is spending this topsy-turvy day with her ultimate fictional romantic hero, Heathcliff, reborn in the twenty-first century? Publisher's Weekly: Columbia-bound senior Flannery Fields is anxious to trade Connecticut for New York City. When her AP English teacher disappears, leaving behind her purse and a worn copy of Wuthering Heights, Flannery sets out on a whirlwind quest to find her. Flannery is stunned to find that the book has inexplicably transformed into Miss Sweeney’s diary, with new entries popping up as the teacher searches N.Y.C. for a young man named Brandon, who Flannery discovers has been killed in action in Afghanistan. As she chases an increasingly unbalanced Miss Sweeney through the city, Flannery is joined by Heath Smith, a charming boy on a gap year, who seems oddly similar to Wuthering Heights’s Heathcliff. O’Connell (The Sharp Time) neatly juxtaposes Flannery’s anticipation for the “adventure, reinvention, to become someone new” with Miss Sweeney’s journal entries, illuminating the complex chaos of life and love, demonstrating that seemingly inconsequential choices and people can have lingering effects. The use of Wuthering Heights intensifies the impact of Flannery and Miss Sweeney’s corresponding journeys; even readers who haven’t read the classic will find significance in the parallels.
Flannery's voice is fresh and fascinating as she reads poor Miss Sweeney's decline into madness (she's off her pills due to grief from the death of her one true love) within the pages of Wuthering Heights. I loved Flannery's falling in love with Heath, and their trysts all over New York, especially in places that are icons of the area. O'Connell's prose is juicy and gossipy in a literary-nerd way, and the plot ziplines down the mountainside at record speed. My only complaint is that (SPOILER) we never learn what really happens to Ms Sweeney, though we can assume that she died of a drug overdose. Readers are also never certain if Heath was real, or even who he said he was at the outset. I mean British born "Heath Smith" seems a bit much considering the protagonist and her teacher are both obsessed with Healthcliff from Wuthering Heights.  Still, this novel was a page-turner without an ounce of excess prose anywhere, so I think it deserves an A, and a recommendation to anyone who was a fan of Rory Gilmore from Gilmore Girls, who would have swooned over this novel.

Star's End by Cassandra Rose Clarke is a science fiction take on Shakespeare's King Lear, with one extra sister thrown in to make things interesting. Esme is the heir apparent to her father's vast empire, and while her mother is a soldier who had a one night stand with her father and got pregnant unexpectedly (and then decided to just drop Esme off on him because she didn't think she'd be able to raise a daughter in the military) Esme's father married a younger woman (almost every woman is bound to be younger than he is, as he's taken rejuvenation treatments for 300 years) and she had twins and is pregnant with a third child when the family compound is attacked by aliens who were native to the planet before her father terraformed it (he tried to wipe them out so he could have the planet and its resources for his company). The second wife is therefore killed, and her baby is infected with the DNA of the aliens, something her father tries to exploit as she becomes a teenager. 
Here's the blurb:
A new space opera about a young woman who must face the truth about her father’s past from critically acclaimed author Cassandra Rose Clarke.
The Corominas family owns a small planet system, which consists of one gaseous planet and four terraformed moons, nicknamed the Four Sisters. Phillip Coromina, the patriarch of the family, earned his wealth through a manufacturing company he started as a young man and is preparing his eldest daughter, Esme, to take over the company when he dies.
When Esme comes of age and begins to take over the business, she gradually discovers the reach of her father’s company, the sinister aspects of its work with alien DNA, and the shocking betrayal that estranged her three half-sisters from their father. After a lifetime of following her father’s orders, Esme must decide if she should agree to his dying wish of assembling her sisters for a last goodbye or face her role in her family’s tragic undoing. Publisher's Weekly: In this skillfully orchestrated tale set nearly 2,000 years in the future, Clarke (The Mad Scientist’s Daughter) foregrounds a family drama of Shakespearean scope against the backdrop of an interplanetary “corpocracy” run by Phillip Coramina, a manufacturer of bioengineered weapons. When Phillip is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he deputizes his oldest daughter, Esme, to call her three estranged stepsisters home to the family estate at Star’s End. As Clarke’s narrative toggles back and forth between these events and occurrences in the past, it reveals sordid secrets that Esme has gradually become aware of—especially those connecting her youngest sister, Isabel, to the Radiance, a mysterious alien influence intimately bound up with the Coramina Group’s commerce. Clarke’s smoothly calibrated mystery is also a coming-of-age tale for Esme, as she accepts her responsibilities as heir apparent to her father’s business. The well-developed characters enhance this novel of grand ideas, bringing relatable human motives and vulnerabilities to a world in which industry, government, warfare, and space travel are inextricably intertwined.
Phillip Coromina is, like King Lear, obsessed with his legacy and his wealth/company. He's cruel and ruthless and somehow expects his daughters to come running now that he's dying of a brain tumor. While reading this novel I often wondered if Esme was actually an android, as she always seems to obey her father and make excuses for his ruthlessness and complete lack of care, empathy or love of his three daughters from his second family. Esme seems to have more concern for them and their safety than does her father, but she has no problem manipulating them with that concern to get them to meet up with him one last time, so that they can renounce their share of the family company in favor of Esme, whom Phillip assumes will continue his legacy of building armaments, cloning super soldiers and killing native populations on various planets so that the company can plunder and terraform them.Fortunately, she decides to bring the company around to creating better environments for people already in need of help, and she shuts down the cloning and weaponry dept.   Clarke's fine prose and excellent storytelling skills are on full display here, and I loved her well developed characters, even the clone soldiers had interesting lives and things to say. I'd give this novel an A, and recommend it to anyone who likes Shakespeare adaptations.

The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke was yet another science fiction novel with a twist, this one reminiscent of Bicentennial Man or the Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee with a bit of Blade Runner thrown in for good measure. Here's the blurb:
Nominated for the Phillip K. Dick Award, a science fiction fairy tale set in a collapsing future America about a girl and the android she falls in love with.
When Cat Novak was a young girl, her father brought Finn, an experimental android, to their isolated home. A billion-dollar construct, Finn looks and acts human, but he has no desire to be one. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection.
His primary task now is to tutor Cat. Finn stays with her, becoming her constant companion and friend as she grows into adulthood. But when the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, Finn struggles to find his place in the world. As their relationship goes further than anyone intended, they have to face the threat of being separated forever. Publisher's Weekly: Caterina Novak's life changes completely the day her roboticist father brings home Finn, a startlingly lifelike android. As Cat negotiates high school, university, marriage, and motherhood, Finn becomes her tutor, her best friend, and her first love. Of course, loving an android isn't simple in a near future where android rights are hotly debated, and Cat has much to learn about her and Finn's place in the world. Supporting characters are sometimes hazily sketched, and Cat's occasionally unsettling love for Finn is only questioned by characters clearly meant to be villains. However, Clarke's writing is elegant and often deeply moving, placing the reader's sympathies firmly with her star-crossed lovers.
Cat's vacillation and fear of actually admitting her love of Finn is somewhat frustrating in this science fiction romance novel. I just kept wishing she'd do what is so obvious to the reader and run away with Finn and live her HEA. But the ending, which I expected to tackle that HEA head on, never comes to fruition, and we are left wondering what happens in the future for Cat, her son Daniel and Finn, who will never age, but will watch his beloved Cat wither and die. Still, there's Clarke's wonderfully mesmerizing prose and her swift, sure plots to keep readers turning pages into the wee hours. For that reason alone I'd give this novel a B+, and recommend it to fans of science fiction romance and those who felt moved by PK Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Book to Movie Adaptations, Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, Magic of Blood and Sea by Cassandra Rose Clarke, Mrs Houdini by Victoria Kelly and Our Lady of the Ice by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Though I've not read Windfall, I adore Lauren Graham as any devoted fan of Gilmore Girls would, natch, so I am looking forward to seeing her movie and I wish I could see the Someday, Someday Maybe adaptation that she did for the CW (I did read that book, BTW). I have also read Corneila Funke's books, and would love to see this animated feature that they're producing.

Movies: Windfall, Dragon Rider

Actress and bestselling author Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls: A Year in
the Life) has optioned the novel Windfall
by Jennifer E. Smith and will adapt the book into a feature-length
screenplay for her production company, Good Game Productions. Deadline
reported that Graham previously "adapted the novel The Royal We for CBS
Films, for which she is also producing, and she adapted her first novel
Someday, Someday Maybe for the CW in 2014. She also is developing
Wedding for One, which she wrote with Jennie Snyder Urman, for Lakeshore
Entertainment." Last year, Graham released her second book, Talking as
Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything in

Production has begun on Constantin Film's animated feature Dragon Rider,
based on the bestselling children's fantasy novel by Cornelia Funke.
Animation director Tomer Eshed is bringing the world of Firedrake the
silver dragon to life with teams from Cyborn and Rise FX South Studios.
The screenplay was written by Johnny Smith, with input from Tomer Eshed.
Dragon Rider is produced by Martin Moszkowicz and Oliver Berben. It is a
German-Belgian coproduction. Constantin Film distributes in Germany,
Austria and Switzerland, with world sales are handled by Ralph Kamp's
Timeless Film.
Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes is a book I bought last year during my annual trip to Powells City of Books in Portland, OR. I've put off reading it for almost an entire year because I tend to be a bit skittish about celebrity autobiographies or memoirs. Depending on the star, they can be utterly dreadful and full of posturing. But I as a huge fan of Rhime's "Scandal," and "Private Practice," (though I am not a fan of her longest running show, Grey's Anatomy, my mother loves the show and has watched it from the pilot) I still felt compelled to give it a shot. And I was glad that I did. Rhimes is warm, funny, down to earth and full of flaws and fears just like the rest of us, and though she is a Hollywood powerhouse who rules Thursday nights on TV, she still worries about her weight and whether or not she's spending enough time with her children and gets tongue-tied with stage fright around Oprah (and who wouldn't?). Here's the blurb:  
The instant New York Times bestseller from the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder shares how saying YES changed her life. “As fun to read as Rhimes’s TV series are to watch” (Los Angeles Times).
She’s the creator and producer of some of the most groundbreaking and audacious shows on television today. Her iconic characters live boldly and speak their minds. So who would suspect that Shonda Rhimes is an introvert? That she hired a publicist so she could avoid public appearances? That she suffered panic attacks before media interviews?
With three children at home and three hit television shows, it was easy for Shonda to say she was simply too busy. But in truth, she was also afraid. And then, over Thanksgiving dinner, her sister muttered something that was both a wake up and a call to arms: You never say yes to anything. Shonda knew she had to embrace the challenge: for one year, she would say YES to everything that scared her.
This poignant, intimate, and hilarious memoir explores Shonda’s life before her Year of Yes—from her nerdy, book-loving childhood to her devotion to creating television characters who reflected the world she saw around her. The book chronicles her life after her Year of Yes had begun—when Shonda forced herself out of the house and onto the stage; when she learned to explore, empower, applaud, and love her truest self. Yes.
I suspect I am not the only woman who could identify with Rhimes stage-fright, or her need to "eat her feelings" and sneak away at parties to read a good book. Though I am not an introvert, I still had terrible stage fright every time I walked on stage throughout high school and college as a theater major. And I always had that strange sensation that Rhimes describes of being out of my own body, of being someone else when I was on stage, so I barely remembered anything that happened to me while I was up there performing. I thought it was relatively uncommon and never really spoke of it to anyone, but when I read Rhimes description of being on camera with Oprah and not having any idea what she said to her afterwards, something clicked, and I knew that she experienced the same thing that I had. I admire, as a journalist and a reader, Rhimes ability to write with such fluid and clean prose, and her ability to create a narrative arc is, of course, unmatched. An inspirational text that deserves an A, I'd recommend this small volume to anyone who wonders about the life of a woman who seems to "have it all" and what price she has to pay to keep all those balls in the air. 

Magic of Blood and Sea by Cassandra Rose Clarke is an omnibus of two books, The Assassin's Curse and The Pirate's Wish. I'd heard good things about the female protagonist of this series, and though I don't generally pick up a book for the ethnic background of the protagonist, I loved the fact that Ananna is a dark skinned gal who is repeatedly told that she is plain at best and ugly at worst. And that always sends my "good story herein" senses tingling, because any female lead who isn't petite, blonde and gorgeous is bound to be a whole lot of fun and trouble during the journey of a fantasy novel. Here's the blurb:
A pirate princess and a cursed assassin find their fates intertwined in this gorgeous and thrilling adventure.
Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an ally pirate clan. She wants to captain her own boat, not serve as second-in-command to a handsome and clueless man. But her escape has dire consequences when she learns that her fiancé’s clan has sent an assassin after her.
And when this assassin, Naji, finally finds her, things get even worse. Ananna inadvertently triggers a nasty curse—with a life-altering result. Now, Ananna and Naji are forced to become uneasy allies as they work to complete three impossible tasks that will cure the curse.
Unfortunately, Naji has enemies from the shadowy world known as the Mists, and Ananna must face the repercussions of betraying her engagement that set her off on her adventures. Together, the two must break the curse, escape their enemies, and come to terms with their growing romantic attraction. Publisher's Weekly:This high-seas picaresque, an omnibus of two previously published novels, is replete with assassins, blood magic, manticores, talking sharks, and pretty much anything else a reader might imagine. While fighting for her life, Ananna, a young pirate woman, accidentally saves Naji, the man sent to kill her. This act triggers a curse laid on him years before: Naji has to protect her life at all costs, and knowing Ananna’s in danger causes him incapacitating pain. After battles on land and sea, a wizard on a floating island tells Naji and Ananna that the curse can only be broken by completing three impossible tasks. Naji and Ananna’s relationship grows fraught as they get nearer to completing the tasks—one of which, of course, is to experience true love’s kiss. Missteps and miscommunications dog their slow-burn romance at every turn. Clarke’s world is a hodgepodge of genre tropes, and the plot is similarly jumbled, resolved by an unlikely deus ex machina.
I didn't find it so much a "hodgepodge" of genre tropes so much as a fun romp through them, and I loved that Ananna manages to save Naji from death purely by accident, as she reflexively kills a huge snake in the desert, more because it was a threat to her than to him. She seems almost too naive to live, and while I gather that was necessary to show her youth and innocence, I found her mooning over the handsome assassin, who was also a vain and shallow jerk, to be annoying and also amusing. The fact is that he doesn't find her attractive for a majority of the two books, and only in the end is he finally swayed to love her by her heroism, toughness and intelligence. By that time, I felt that he wasn't good enough for her. But she redeems the scarred assassin in the end, and they decide on a somewhat long distance relationship. For the finely tuned prose that sings in the sails of a fast-moving ship of a plot, this book gets an A, and a recommendation to any woman, aged 14 and up, who wants to read about a realist girl's adventures and romance.

Mrs Houdini by Victoria Kelly is an odd sort of historical romantic fiction. It focuses on Bess and Harry Houdini's relationship, and the sexism of the times they were living in that didn't allow women their due in performance or in taking care of their loved ones. But it is also supposed to be a "ghost" story that asks questions about the spiritualist movement of the Victorian era and beyond, while also humanizing a man who was a mystery to everyone who knew him. It succeeds on some fronts and fails on others. Here's the blurb:
Before escape artist Harry Houdini died, he vowed he would find a way to speak to his beloved wife, Bess, from beyond the grave using a coded message known only to the two of them. But when a widowed Bess begins seeing this code in seemingly impossible places, it becomes clear that Harry has an urgent message to convey. Unlocking the puzzle will set Bess on a course back through the pair’s extraordinary romance, which swept the illusionist and his bride from the beaches of Coney Island, to the palaces of Budapest, to the back lots of Hollywood. When the mystery finally leads Bess to the doorstep of a mysterious young photographer, she realizes that her husband’s magic may have been more than just illusion.
Publisher's Weekly: Poet Kelly’s splendid debut novel is about Bess, the wife of Harry Houdini, and explores the human longing “to know what is beyond” (to quote Harry) as well as the bittersweet gifts of love. After Harry dies suddenly in 1926, Bess must reimagine her existence without its star player, cope with his debts, and fulfill a private mission. Though his lengthy investigations of spiritualism disproved its claims, Harry has promised Bess that he will contact her after death through codes only she can know. Hungry to reconnect with him, Bess suffers crushing disappointments before glimpsing one code in a photograph by newspaperman Charles Radley. When she meets the young photographer in Atlantic City, more coded messages appear in his work; as they seek explanations together, the pair journey through Bess’s deepest wounds, Houdini’s secrets, and life’s most enduring mysteries. Kelly vividly captures the Houdinis’ public rise, from their impoverished beginnings in Coney Island to worldwide celebrity, and private lives shaped by a deep marital bond, childlessness, and the death of Houdini’s beloved mother, which fueled his obsession with the afterlife. Moving effortlessly beyond mere fictionalized biography, Kelly delivers a richly lyrical and thought-provoking novel with closing twists that feel as impossible, inevitable, and satisfying—as magical, in short—as one of Houdini’s own illusions.
The fictionalizing comes into the novel when Bess sees codes in the photos of Charles Radley and then meets up with him and discovers that he is the love child of Houdini and a circus performer who died, so Charles was an orphan before he was adopted by a couple from Iowa. It strained my credulity that Houdini wouldn't have known of the existence of a son, and that once he did, he would keep this information from his beloved wife Bess. I also found it unbelievable that he would make Bess solve some puzzles in order to find some gold that he'd left her and Charles so long after his death. Leaving Bess with all this debt and so many unanswered questions just seems cruel. But Houdini himself comes across as very immature, capricious and cruel, expecting utter loyalty and fidelity from Bess when he himself had already had an affair and gotten his circus mistress pregnant. And his constant need to shower his mother with riches and be seen as her favorite child was infantile and ridiculous. Still, the prose was clean and clear, and the plot, though it had many ups and downs, was worth most of time spent untangling it. I'd give it a B+ and recommend it to anyone who is fascinated by the Houdinis as a couple. 

Our Lady of the Ice by Cassandra Rose Clarke is a stand-alone science fiction novel that I sought out after reading her Magic of Blood and Sea books (the sequel omnibus doesn't debut until October). This novel reminded me of a combination of the TV show "Fortitude" and "The Water Knife" by Paolo Bacigalupi and the TV show "The Dome," which was based on a Stephen King novel. Herein are all the gangster/mafia characters pitted against the evil politicians backed by terrorists and the underdogs of the androids/robots/cyborgs and the poor humans just trying to survive life inside a poorly functioning dome in Antarctica. Here's the blurb:
The Yiddish Policeman’s Union meets The Windup Girl when a female PI goes up against a ruthless gangster—just as both humans and robots agitate for independence in an Argentinian colony in Antarctica.
In Argentine Antarctica, Eliana Gomez is the only female PI in Hope City—a domed colony dependent on electricity (and maintenance robots) for heat, light, and survival in the icy deserts of the continent. At the center is an old amusement park—now home only to the androids once programmed to entertain—but Hope City’s days as a tourist destination are long over. Now the City produces atomic power for the mainland while local factions agitate for independence and a local mobster, Ignacio Cabrera, runs a brisk black-market trade in illegally imported food.
Eliana doesn’t care about politics. She doesn’t even care—much—that her boyfriend, Diego, works as muscle for Cabrera. She just wants to save enough money to escape Hope City. But when an aristocrat hires Eliana to protect an explosive personal secret, Eliana finds herself caught up in the political tensions threatening to tear Hope City apart. In the clash of backstabbing politicians, violent freedom fighters, a gangster who will stop at nothing to protect his interests, and a newly sentient robot underclass intent on a very different independence, Eliana finds her job coming into deadly conflict with Diego’s, just as the electricity that keeps Hope City from freezing begins to fail…
From the inner workings of the mob to the story of a revolution to the amazing settings, this story has got it all. Ultimately, however, Our Lady of the Ice questions what it means to be human, what it means to be free, and whether we’re ever able to transcend our pasts and our programming to find true independence.
Having read the Yiddish Policeman's Union (but not the Windup Girl, I am not a fan of Bacigalupi), I didn't really find that many parallels here, though there were several cynical gangsters causing murder and mayhem, which was the hallmark of Bacigalupi's Water Knife. My problem with the book was this, that the men were all thugs and murderers (with the exception of the male android, who couldn't go against his programming to harm humans), while the women seemed too stupid and naive to live, even the wealthy secret-cyborg Marianella. Of course there's one android who manages to overcome her programming (and of course she's the hooker/pleasure android, because she would inevitably want to rebel against being used like a sex toy), but cruel and vicious Sofia hates humans and wants them all to leave the dome so that androids and cyborgs can take over...and she'd honestly prefer that they all died, but due to her love of Marianella, she says she will just run them out of town and have them all flee via boat to the mainland. Eliana, the main female protagonist is an idiot who somehow manages to fall in love with a thug and murderer Diego, and she willfully believes his lies when he tells her he's only an errand boy for the local mob kingpin Cabrera. She cringes and cowers and melts against Diego, and is somehow powerless to break away from him though she has to know at some point that he's evil. When he tries to kill her and her friend more than once, she still moons over him and tries to save him when the cyborg and androids come for him and his evil boss. What an idiot, and a weepy weakling. I really came to despise Eliana, who was no heroine in the end, just a weak-kneed girl PI. I'd give this book a C+, mainly because the prose is good and the plot swift. Still, I'd only recommend it to those who like dark and ugly stories with no real heroes or heroines to root for, and who are cynical and bitter about humanity and human nature in general.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

HRC at BookExpo in NYC, Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire, The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler, King's Cage by Victoria Aveyard and The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

While I can't, due to space considerations, put the whole article from Shelf Awareness here on my blog, I highly recommend that anyone who is interested check out this interview with HRC. She's still a strong, smart woman who is doing her best to help women, children and the poor of this nation, while the current administration is trying to eradicate those who aren't rich, white, Christian and male. Below are some of her thoughts on books and libraries. 

BookExpo 2017: An Evening with Hillary Rodham Clinton

"I have to tell you--as booksellers, I hope you know how much you mean
to me," said Hillary Clinton Thursday evening at BookExpo in New York
City, where she was in conversation with author Cheryl Strayed,
discussing her upcoming books, her life as a reader and her plans for
the future. "It has been a central part of my life for as long as I can
remember. Libraries and bookstores are right at the top of my favorite
things to do, so thank you."
When asked about her reading habits as a child, Clinton answered that
she read every Nancy Drew mystery growing up and found the character to
be something of a role model. After her electoral loss last November,
Clinton said she read plenty of mysteries, and described herself as a
"very devoted mystery reader"; some of her favorites include Jacqueline
Winspear, Donna Leon and Louise Penny. She remarked that mysteries were
"very comforting because it was somebody else's problem." And when it
came to reading during the campaign, Clinton said she had no time for
reading anything other than "reams of briefing papers," because she and
her staff had the "old-fashioned idea that the policies you proposed
would actually be important in governing your country."
For her final question of the evening, Strayed asked Clinton what her
next chapter would be, to which Clinton answered that she had no idea,
except that she would "do everything I can to support the resistance...
we're going to have to continue to find ways to work together and make
progress together, and to fend off whatever damage may be coming from
Washington. I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to be as active as I can."

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire is a slender, yet poignant urban fantasy novel about ghosts, witches and what ties us to a specific place and people. It's a stand-alone novel from the author of the October Day fantasy series, which I've recently binge-read and enjoyed, for the most part. McGuire also wrote a YA dark fantasy (which I considered horror fantasy) called Every Heart a Doorway that I read and didn't like, but I felt as if that series was too far into the horror genre for my taste anyway. Dusk or Dark, etc, surprised me because the prose was more lyrical and poetic than in her other books, and though she had fewer words to get it moving, the plot never felt rushed. Here's the blurb:
When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.
But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way. Publisher's Weekly: Prolific Hugo-winner and bestseller McGuire (Once Broken Faith) displays her typical mix of endearing characters inside a world constructed with thoughtfully deployed speculative elements in this standalone meditation on ghosts and time. After accidentally dying in the wake of her big sister’s suicide, native Kentuckian Jenna decides that she must earn the right to pass on. Working at a Manhattan suicide prevention hotline and becoming a regular at a quirky diner that is the haunt of ghosts and witches, Jenna exists in the world without feeling like she has a life. But when the ghosts of New York, many of whom are her friends and acquaintances, begin to disappear, she must brazenly overcome her fear of witches and reluctance to form attachments in order to defend the home she left and the one she found only after she died. This tightly paced adventure will win hearts with a charming protagonist and a well-earned ending.
The human greed for immortality and lust for eternal youth play a big part in the book, which I found thought-provoking. I enjoyed Jenna's kindness and compassion and her desire to help those who want to die to rethink their choice via a suicide hotline. Somehow it makes sense that a ghost would man the phones on the "graveyard" shift. I also loved Delia, the landlord ghost and the corn witch Brenda, whose very existence (I'm an Iowan, keep in mind, so I know a thing or two about corn) filled me with delight, just as the cornfield of ghosts did in the movie Field of Dreams. I'd give this book a well-deserved A, and, though it is somewhat sad, I'd recommend it to anyone who wonders about what happens to our souls after we die. An odd coincidence with this book was that my reading coincided with the birthday (June 1) of my best friend Rosemarie Muff Larson, who passed away 9 years ago. I'd like to think this was the universe's way of helping me grieve.

The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler is a YA mystery novel about Samurais and feudal Japan in the 18th century. A young boy named Seikei yearns to become a samurai, but is only allowed to be an apprentice to his merchant father. One night at an Inn, a jewel is stolen from a boorish samurai while he slept, and Seikei is the only witness to a "ghost" prowling about that night. So he teams up with the local magistrate, who is also an old samurai, and together they unravel a tale of dishonor and revenge. 
Here's the blurb: Kirkus Reviews: The Hooblers (The Cuban American Family Album, 1996, etc.) employ suspense, action, superstition, and mystery to entrance readers with this tale of 18th-century Japan and a boy's search for honor. Seikei, 14, is embarrassed to have been born into the merchant class and dreams of becoming a samurai. While on a business trip with his father, he witnesses the theft of a valuable ruby from a haughty samurai. Drawn into the case by Judge Ooka, a real historical figure, Seikei plunges into the chase. He finds himself in the company of Tomomi, a brilliant Kabuki actor and master of acrobatics and swordsmanship. Seikei begins to admire him, even though he knows that Tomomi is the thief and a Kirishitan, a member of a banned religious sect. But Tomomi plans much more than theft. He intends to expose and dishonor the man who destroyed his family; Seikei unwittingly becomes part of his plot, and gets the chance to fulfill his dream. The climatic scene of a play that exposes the real villain echoes the plot of Hamlet, and may work as an introduction to Shakespeare's play. Full of adventure, offering a vivid portrait of Shogun-era Japan, this is a remarkable novel. 
Because I'm a big fan of Chinese and Japanese history (I focused on European and Asian history when studying for my history degree), this novel really resonated with me, and while I found the role of women/girls being sidelined (the women's parts in theater are even played by men, and Seikei notes that Tomomi enacts women almost better than an actual woman) annoying, I understood that it was appropriate for the era. The prose was delicate and the plot full of twists and turns, so I'd give this novel an A, and recommend it to anyone interested in Samurais and Japan in the 18th century.

King's Cage by Victoria Aveyard is the third book in her Red Queen series of epic YA fantasy. Having hewed my way through the first two long tomes (I don't think Aveyard can write a book with fewer than 500 pages) I was anxious to find out what happened to our heroine Mare Barrow after the cruel, ruthless and insane King finally captured and tortured her. Mare made a deal with the King that in exchange for her, he wouldn't kill all her friends and relatives in the resistance. Though the King keeps his word, he still uses and tortures Mare every day, and the first half of the book is riddled with gruesome and depressing descriptions of Mare's imprisonment and the dampening of her powers, while sadistic "whispers" are allowed to mind-rape her for information about the resistance and their whereabouts. Mare does fight back in a limited way, but it is only when her enemy from the battlefield, Evangeline, lets her go free (because Evangeline doesn't want to marry the Kings brother Cal, who is part of a coup) that Mare can truly make a difference in bringing down evil King Maven and his cohorts. Here's the blurb:
In this breathless third installment to Victoria Aveyard’s bestselling Red Queen series, allegiances are tested on every side. And when the Lightning Girl's spark is gone, who will light the way for the rebellion?
Mare Barrow is a prisoner, powerless without her lightning, tormented by her lethal mistakes. She lives at the mercy of a boy she once loved, a boy made of lies and betrayal. Now a king, Maven Calore continues weaving his dead mother's web in an attempt to maintain control over his country—and his prisoner.
As Mare bears the weight of Silent Stone in the palace, her once-ragtag band of newbloods and Reds continue organizing, training, and expanding. They prepare for war, no longer able to linger in the shadows. And Cal, the exiled prince with his own claim on Mare's heart, will stop at nothing to bring her back. When blood turns on blood, and ability on ability, there may be no one left to put out the fire—leaving Norta as Mare knows it to burn all the way down. Publisher's Weekly: Leashed like an animal and trotted out as a trophy of war, Mare Barrow passes her 18th birthday imprisoned by King Maven and turned into a puppet of a propaganda machine bent on destroying the Scarlet Guard. In this third installment of the Red Queen series, Aveyard’s frenetic action sequences initially take a backseat to the patient study of Mare’s captivity. But there are still plenty of schemes amid royal fissures and ill-fated rescues, an assassination attempt, and raging battles on multiple fronts to help this story keep pace with the previous installments. A newblood struggling with her deadly abilities and a princess begrudgingly betrothed to Maven narrate a few chapters of their own, but the majority of the tale is again seen through the eyes of Aveyard’s “little lightning girl,” who remains a relatable and deeply flawed heroine. Concluding as hope dwindles that the Reds will ever be free of the Silver crown, Aveyard adeptly sets the scene for a fourth book to follow, amid a war not yet won.
After all she's been through, Mare's love of Cal isn't enough to keep him from choosing power over their relationship, and readers are left wondering what will happen next at the end of the book. While Aveyard's prose is, as always, sterling, her plot sags under its own weight, and drags nearly to a complete stop several times. I'd give it a B, and recommend this novel to anyone who has read the first two, with the warning that you will need some strong coffee or tea to make it through to the unsatisfying end. 

The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell was recommended to me by Book Page, which is a monthly tabloid style newspaper for book lovers that is free at the local library. Sam Whipple is a direct descendant of the Bronte family, and more than a bit of an oddball. She was raised by her very eccentric father, who has now passed on and left her with a mystery to solve as to her "inheritance," which may or may not be items owned by the Bronte family that were supposedly passed down, generation after generation for safekeeping. Sam is now attending Oxford University, where she encounters a variety of weird characters and people with secrets who seem willing to cause her harm for reasons unknown. Here's the blurb:
In Catherine Lowell’s smart and original debut novel—“an enjoyable academic romp that successfully combines romance and intrigue” (Publishers Weekly)—the only remaining descendant of the Brontë family embarks on a modern-day literary treasure hunt to find the family’s long-rumored secret estate, using only the clues her father left behind and the Brontës’ own novels.
Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. Since her eccentric father’s untimely death, she is the presumed heir to a long-rumored trove of diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts passed down from the Brontë family—a hidden fortune never revealed to anyone outside of the family, but endlessly speculated about by Brontë scholars and fanatics. Samantha, however, has never seen this alleged estate and for all she knows, it’s just as fictional as Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights.
But everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and long lost objects from the past begin rematerializing in her life, beginning with an old novel annotated in her father’s handwriting. With the help of a handsome but inscrutable professor, Samantha plunges into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by decoding the clues hidden within the Brontës’ own works.
A fast-paced adventure from start to finish, The Madwoman Upstairs is a smart and original novel and a moving exploration of what happens when the greatest truth is, in fact, fiction.
Sam comes off as almost autistic to me, if not someone with Asbergers, as she frantically tries to find answers to the mystery her father left behind, while pushing everyone away from her and skulking around in the rain. She also develops a huge crush on her academic advisor/professor James Orville, who is many years older than she is, and who has been reprimanded for having had a sexual relationship with another student and a fellow teacher. When she's told that to be involved with him would destroy both of their careers at Oxford, Sam totally ignores that and proceeds to get them both canned, and then is insufferable because Orville won't run away with her. I honestly didn't see any real spark between them to begin with, it just seemed all one-sided on Sam's part, so when the author decides to say that they married years later in a tiny little epilogue, it seems out of place and ridiculous. Though I liked insights into the Bronte sister's books, and the tidbits about their lives, there were too many exasperating moments that had nothing to do with anything that slowed down the plot and provided some red herrings for the mystery of the lost Bronte artifact. For someone enrolled at Oxford, Sam doesn't come off as smart enough to get a degree there, and she is too naive and quirky and weird to be likable as a protagonist. That said, I think this novel deserves a B-, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the Bronte sisters and their famous books. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Powells CEO on the Wonder of Books, River Lights Bookstore 10th Birthday, The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi, Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman, and In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen

It's no secret that my favorite bookstore and mecca for bibliophiles (like myself ) is Powells City of Books in Portland, Oregon. My family and I travel there every summer, and I exchange boxes of my used books for as many books from my Wish List as I can afford with the credit I get. I love that Miriam Sontz, CEO of Powells, totally "gets it" when it comes to the power and glory of storytelling and holding a real book in your hand. Here's an excerpt of an interview with her from a blog.

Powell's CEO Miriam Sontz: 'Portrait of a Bookseller'
Powell's Books, Portand, Ore., focused its most recent "Portrait of a Bookseller
blog series on the company's CEO Miriam Sontz. Among our favorite q&a
Powell's CEO Miriam Sontz:

How would you describe your job?
"I try to provide a framework and let everyone else paint inside tha

What is the best part of your job?
"I can leave my office at any time and walk through the store and be
reminded of the power of books."

Why do you think bookstores remain so popular in the digital age?
"Bookstores are an incredible cauldron of serendipity. What comes next
into your field of vision is a combination of randomness and curation by
staff, a totally human and irreplaceable experience. I can walk down the
same aisle every day and see something different."

What makes for a good book in your eyes?
"A good book takes my singular view of the world and turns it into a
I wish to heaven that River Lights had been in Dubuque back in the early 1980s when I attended Clarke College (now Clarke University). Perhaps it's a good thing, however, as I would have spent time and money that I didn't have in this place! If I ever go back for another class reunion, I will make it a point to visit River Lights.
Happy 10th Birthday, River Lights Bookstore
Congratulations to River Lights Bookstore
in Dubuque, Iowa, which will mark its 10th anniversary with a
celebration on June 3 featuring door prizes, goodies for the kids,
special discounts and cake. Noting that "our years on Main Street have
been a wonderful adventure and we have loved being a part of the
revitalization of the district," owner Sue Davis said the bookshop's
customers are "passionate about literature and value real books and
honest recommendations. Their support over the years has allowed this
indie bookstore to thrive in Dubuque."

Davis is personally celebrating 30 years as a bookseller. She recalled
"having learned the trade from Margaret and Martha Fuerste while working
at Inn Books. After Margaret closed that store, six of us including the
Fuerstes, Ellen Haley, Sue Simon and Elinor Weis opened River Lights
Bookstore in Plaza 20 and then later moved to Wacker Plaza. When my
partners decided to move on to other adventures, I decided to continue
doing what I love and the 1000 Block of Main seemed like the perfect
place. I was able to start from scratch at 1098 Main and design my ideal
indie bookstore. Focusing on personal attention, community involvement,
devotion to the cause of literature and a commitment to local authors."

Over the past decade, River Lights "withstood the opening (and closing)
of Borders. Witnessed the rise and decline of e-books. And has weathered
the storm of online mega-retailing. What has always set River Lights
apart is our passion for literature, the events we host and the personal
service we offer. The Indiebound tagline has always said it best...
Culture, Community, and Connectedness," Davis observed.

She also praised the bookstore's staff, who "have diverse expertise in
varying book genres and talents for merchandising that add to our
ambiance," as well as "the unwavering support of my husband Steve Oeth,
my children Emma and Walter, and my designer (and friend) Carla
Heathcote. I couldn't have gotten this business off the ground without
Elizabeth Eagle nor found my footing without Marie Moronez."

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi (his last name means "Wolf Kisser" according to the Italian member of our book group) is June's book for my library book group at the local branch of KCLS. It was on the head librarian Jen's list of must-read books, and it was said to be a science fiction/dystopian thriller that received all kinds of acclaim. Having been a fan of science fiction for the past 50 years, I was looking forward to this novel, so I was seriously disheartened when it turned out to be more like a dystopian horror novel by Cormac McCarthy than an exciting science fiction thriller. This book is bathed in blood, and every other word is the f-word, plus there is violent sex, murder, drugs and every kind of political viciousness you can imagine. Death and destruction and mayhem lurk on every page. There aren't many decent people to empathize with because everyone is cynical and hard and has either seen murder or committed it or both. The women in the book are, of course, either evil masterminds or whores. There's a journalist, but it turns out she loves violent sex and pain/suffocation turns her on, so it's inevitable that she die, because any woman who isn't "selling ass" as they term it in this book isn't worth saving. Sexism reigns in this world, where the men are exploitative thugs and gangsters, even the protagonist, Angel, who is a "water knife" or a thug who works for a cruel murderous woman in Las Vegas, as an assassin. We're supposed to identify with him, I gather, but he turned my stomach and seemed to be immortal and impervious to bullets, which strained my credulity. Here's the blurb: WATER IS POWER
 In the near future, the Colorado River has dwindled to a trickle. Detective, assassin, and spy, Angel Velasquez “cuts” water for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, ensuring that its lush arcology developments can bloom in Las Vegas. When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in Phoenix, Angel is sent south, hunting for answers that seem to evaporate as the heat index soars and the landscape becomes more and more oppressive. There, he encounters Lucy Monroe, a hardened journalist with her own agenda, and Maria Villarosa, a young Texas migrant, who dreams of escaping north. As bodies begin to pile up, the three find themselves pawns in a game far bigger and more corrupt than they could have imagined, and when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only truth in the desert is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink. Kirkus Reviews:
The frightening details of how the world might suffer from catastrophic drought are vividly imagined. The way the novel's environmental nightmare affects society, as individuals and larger entities—both official and criminal—vie for a limited and essential resource, feels solid, plausible, and disturbingly believable. The dust storms, Texan refugees, skyrocketing murder rate, and momentary hysteria of a public ravenous for quick hits of sensational news seem like logical extensions of our current reality. An absorbing . . . thriller full of violent action.
 I disagree that this was absorbing or, as other professional reviewers put it, appealing to a wide audience with a compelling story. This story was much like a car accident or a train wreak that you stop to look at out of morbid curiosity. I am not usually the time of person who gawps and gapes at such tragic scenes, looking for blood and bodies like some of my journalist brethren, because the grotesque and horrific don't interest me, I am repelled by them. I am sure there is a mostly male audience for this kind of book (and yes, I am sure there are some women who would enjoy this blood-soaked book), but I can't in good conscience give it anything higher than a C-. The prose was crude, and the story awful, so I can only recommend it to fans of horror science fiction. 

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman is the second novel of his I've read, the first being the wonderful A Man Called Ove, that rare book which everyone in my book group enjoyed. Britt-Marie is somewhat the same, yet different than Ove, in that she's a strange, OCD inflicted curmudgeon, but she's not trying to kill herself, like Ove, and her spouse isn't dead, just separated from her and they're getting divorced due to his affair with a younger woman. This lands Britt-Marie at the Unemployment Office, where her long-suffering case worker finally capitulates to Britt-Marie's consistent harassment and gets her a job in a small dying town called Borg, cleaning the community center (Yes, as a Star Trek fan, I did laugh that the name of the town is the same moniker for a race of beings who live and work as a robotic collective and try to assimilate all species into their cubes). Here's the blurb:
The New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry “returns with this heartwarming story about a woman rediscovering herself after a personal crisis…fans of Backman will find another winner in these pages” (Publishers Weekly).
Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. A disorganized cutlery drawer ranks high on her list of unforgivable sins. She is not one to judge others—no matter how ill-mannered, unkempt, or morally suspect they might be. It’s just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention.
But hidden inside the socially awkward, fussy busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams, and a warmer heart that anyone around her realizes.
When Britt-Marie walks out on her cheating husband and has to fend for herself in the miserable backwater town of Borg—of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it—she finds work as the caretaker of a soon-to-be demolished recreation center. The fastidious Britt-Marie soon finds herself being drawn into the daily doings of her fellow citizens, an odd assortment of miscreants, drunkards, layabouts. Most alarming of all, she’s given the impossible task of leading the supremely untalented children’s soccer team to victory. In this small town of misfits, can Britt-Marie find a place where she truly belongs?
Funny and moving, sweet and inspiring, Britt-Marie Was Here celebrates the importance of community and connection in a world that can feel isolating.
Though Britt-Marie's way of living seemed rather bizarre to me, (instead of exterminating a rat she comes across, she feeds it a Snickers candy bar every day on a plate with a napkin), she was able to win me over by doing her best to help the town's children, who have formed their own soccer team, but appear to have been forgotten and neglected by their parents. Most of the adults in town seem to have given up, and Britt-Marie, though she's got some serious mental issues, isn't the type to give up on anyone or anything. She perseveres through every disaster thrown at her, mostly by obsessive cleaning with baking soda and an oddly named cleaning spray called Faxin. It's how she shows she cares for others. There are some funny/sad moments that are heartwarming, but the ending seemed a bit contrived (where the townspeople were able to get enough money to buy her enough gas to get to Paris is never fully explained) and the rivalry between her husband and the town sheriff (over a 63 year old woman? Really?) comes off as a cliche. Still, I found this book charming, and a page-turner full of sturdy prose. I'd give it an A, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoyed A Man Calle Ove or anyone who likes characters with significant quirks.

In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen is a stand alone novel about people living in a small English town during WWII. It reeks of Downton Abbey, which is a good thing, if you're a fan of that Masterpiece, as I am. I've read most of Bowen's Molly Murphy mysteries, and also one of "her royal spyness" novels, the latter of which weren't to my taste, as I found the protagonist too flip and frivolous. But there's nothing flip or frivolous about Farleigh Place, the home of Lord Westerham and his five daughters. Most of the book revolves around Pamela, or Pamma, as she is called, who works at Bletchley Park cracking German codes.  Here's the blurb:
World War II comes to Farleigh Place, the ancestral home of Lord Westerham and his five daughters, when a soldier with a failed parachute falls to his death on the estate. After his uniform and possessions raise suspicions, MI5 operative and family friend Ben Cresswell is covertly tasked with determining if the man is a German spy. The assignment also offers Ben the chance to be near Lord Westerham’s middle daughter, Pamela, whom he furtively loves. But Pamela has her own secret: she has taken a job at Bletchley Park, the British code-breaking facility.
As Ben follows a trail of spies and traitors, which may include another member of Pamela’s family, he discovers that some within the realm have an appalling, history-altering agenda. Can he, with Pamela’s help, stop them before England falls?
Inspired by the events and people of World War II, writer Rhys Bowen crafts a sweeping and riveting saga of class, family, love, and betrayal. Publisher's Weekly: Set in England during the early years of WWII, this well-crafted, thoroughly entertaining thriller from Agatha Award–winner Bowen (Crowned and Dangerous and nine other Royal Spyness mysteries) follows the lives of three childhood friends: RAF flying ace Jeremy Prescott, a city financier’s son; Lady Pamela Sutton, the Earl of Westerham’s third daughter, who works for a mysterious government department; and Ben Cresswell, a vicar’s son, who, due to an accident, is deemed unfit for military duty and is recruited into a British intelligence unit. Glimpses of their initially carefree youth contrast with how the war gradually shapes their characters. The gripping action shifts among Farleigh Place (the Sutton family’s stately home in Kent), London, and various hush-hush locations. Soon it’s a game of spy versus spy, and with every twist and turn, the reader is unsure whom to trust.
I agree with the reviewer who called the novel riveting, because once begun, I couldn't put it down. It really was very "Downton Abbey during WWII," and though I knew who the German spy was before he was revealed, I wasn't aware of who his accomplice was, and I was biting my nails to the quick during the whole last quarter of the book. Bowen's prose is as smooth as silk, and the plot is a roller coaster ride of red herrings and twists and turns. I was surprised that Bowen left us with an open end in terms of romance, but if this means that she's got another book about Farleigh Place in the works, I am more than happy to see that door left unlocked. So if you don't mind a "happy for now" ending instead of a "happily ever after" last chapter, I'd recommend this book to you, and I'd also give it an A. It's just the thing for anglophiles and those interested in the English aristocracy during WWII. I also recommend reading it with a nice cuppa tea and some biscuits.