I'm not going to add any publishing/author tidbits this week, because it's the dog days of summer's end, and there isn't much happening, since everyone is trying to get the last bits of vacation in before school starts in September. Also, I've got four books to review, so lets get right to it.
Greedy Pigs by Matt Wallace is the 5th book in the Sin Du Jour series, about a group of caterers to the supernatural community that lives within our society, but cleverly hidden. All of Wallace's books in this series are slender volumes, coming in at well under 200 pages, but he makes each paragraph, each page and each chapter count, with saucy prose and a plot that moves like a bullet train on greased tracks. Once you pick up a Sin Du Jour novel, you won't be able to put it down until the final page...that's just a warning so you can eat and drink and go to the bathroom beforehand. Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly: In the fun fifth novella featuring Sin du Jour, these caterers to the otherworldly are preparing for the inauguration of Enzo Consoné, the president-elect of the Sceadu, the supernatural governing body. It’s going to be a great big party with an all-pork theme. The team is ready to get back to normal after the male members of the crew were struck by a lust spell in Pride’s Spell, but chef Lena Tarr’s best friend, Darren Vargas, who has been trying to conquer his debilitating fear, is acting strangely. When the team members get separated en route to the Virginia woods, Lena and head chef Bronko’s half of the crew is diverted to the D.C. inauguration of the U.S. president. The others scramble to make do, but things inevitably go poorly in Virginia, and sweet-natured baker Nikki must step up to save the day. In D.C., Lena discovers the outrageous truth behind the American presidency, a twist that hits uncomfortably close to home; a cameo from the outgoing president is a poignant, bittersweet touch. Wallace’s imagination is boundless, and his wryly funny storytelling manages to be heartfelt and completely gonzo at the same time.
I completely agree, there's so much fun and yet such pathos in Wallace's storytelling, that the craziness seems somehow normal. And while I realize that we are supposed to fall in love with the main characters, I still find the secondary characters loads of fun, like Nikki, the pastry chef who can literally create dessert out of any ingredient, and Mr Mok, who, along with his other nearly immortal Chinese guys, are huge Hall & Oates fans, because "Hall and Oates number one rock and roll forever!" Bronko, the head chef, shows his softer side in this book, by showing Lena how many legendary unique creatures, both animal and human, that he feeds each week, just because he knows that if he doesn't, no one else will. And we get to see the downfall of the one character I wish they'd jettison, Darren, who is such an idiot, and so weak that he always manages to mess up whatever he touches. This time, he's messed up badly enough that Lena won't be able to clean up his mess, fortunately. My hope is that in the next book, we see Darren locked up and not even in the picture while the rest of the gang gets everything straightened out. Wallace has mentioned that the Sin Du Jour series will comprise 7 books, so the next to the last volume, I assume will appear next year. I will be eagerly awaiting book 6, (and 7). This book, and the series, deserves an A, and I'd recommend it to anyone who loves the Food Network and action/adventure fantasy novels.
The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag is the fourth book of Praag's that I've read, and while I enjoyed The House at the End of Hope Street, The Lost Art of Letter Writing and The Witches of Cambridge (with reservations), this novel really strained my credulity by the end. Poor Cora Carraway's brilliant scientist parents died in a fire when she was a child, so she's been raised by her grandmother Etta, who has the magical ability to make any woman beautiful and confident with the perfect dress from her dress shop. Cora has spent most of her life shut off from her emotions, working as a scientist (with her college mentor, Dr Colin Baxter) to continue her parent's work that was supposed to change the world. She grew up alongside a shy young boy named Walt, who grew to love and nearly worship her, yet she barely seems to notice him. Walt also has a magical talent, a deep and wonderful voice that he uses to read novels over the radio for an hour or so every evening. Naturally he gets a ton of letters from lonely women, but, because he only has eyes for Cora, he tells the radio station manager, Dylan, to throw them away. Dylan, who is a complete jerk, ignores Walt's directive and writes back to each woman, and eventually engages in a relationship via letters with a woman named Milly, who assumes that Dylan is Walt, because that is how he signs his letters (he's also a coward). Here's the blurb:Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires.
Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. Cora’s studious, unromantic eye has overlooked Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her forever. Determined not to allow Cora to miss her chance at happiness, Etta sews a tiny stitch into Walt’s collar, hoping to give him the courage to confess his feelings to Cora. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry. After Walt is spurred into action, Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.
SPOILERS ahead! So Milly begins a relationship with Walt, thinking he's her dream guy, and because he can't get into Cora's pants, he figures he has no choice but to hook up with Milly, who seems to love him enough for them both. He's not aware that she's exchanging love letters with Dylan writing under his name. Etta finds a way to get Cora to reopen the investigation into her parent's death, and from that action, Cora's heart is thawed, but I think it gets too drippy, as when she discovers that Dr Baxter killed her parents and burned them alive (he manages to get her out of the house in time) and then plagiarized her parent's research and used it as his own to win the Nobel Prize. Instead of calling the police and sending this murderer and arsonist to jail, Cora and the police detective that she brings along with her (Seriously, he just ignores the law? WTF?) decide that he can do "more good" out in the scientific community making breakthroughs to help people. But he is required to give up his Nobel Prize and come clean about stealing her parents discovery. He is under no obligation to tell anyone that he murdered them and burned them alive, however. UGH. Cora, who is supposedly smart, just became the biggest idiot in the novel. Baxter not only gets away with murder, but Cora just forgives him as if she hadn't spent the past 20 some years walling away her emotions because she was devastated by her parent's death!Then Milly and Walt discover Dylan's treachery, and suddenly, Milly, who was so in love with Walt that she totally lost it whenever she thought he would leave her, and she was willing to get pregnant to trick him into marrying her, suddenly falls out of love with Walt and in love with Dylan instantly, like turning on and off a faucet. Let the eye rolling ensue. For that reason, I have to give this book a C+, and I can only recommend it to those who are easily amused and don't mind huge errors in the plot.
The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth was recommended to me as someone who loves the BBC production of "Call the Midwife," which is based on a series of books by Jennifer Worth. While I love Call the Midwife, I felt that this book was way too prejudiced on the side of home births, which are not safe or feasible for every woman. The main character, Neva, is even able to have a vaginal birth of a footling breech baby, which is very rare and dangerous, especially if the child is premature, as my footling breech baby was (He was only 31 weeks, while it turns out Neva's baby is actually full term). Here's the blurb:Three generations of women
Secrets in the present and from the past
A captivating tale of life, loss, and love...
Neva Bradley, a third-generation midwife, is determined to keep the details surrounding her own pregnancy-including the identity of the baby's father- hidden from her family and co-workers for as long as possible. Her mother, Grace, finds it impossible to let this secret rest. The more Grace prods, the tighter Neva holds to her story, and the more the lifelong differences between private, quiet Neva and open, gregarious Grace strain their relationship. For Floss, Neva's grandmother and a retired midwife, Neva's situation thrusts her back sixty years in time to a secret that eerily mirrors her granddaughter's-one which, if revealed, will have life-changing consequences for them all. As Neva's pregnancy progresses and speculation makes it harder and harder to conceal the truth, Floss wonders if hiding her own truth is ultimately more harmful than telling it. Will these women reveal their secrets and deal with the inevitable consequences? Or are some secrets best kept hidden?
The chapters go from Neva to Grace to Floss and back, each telling their stories from their POV. While I understood Neva's need to keep the fact that she slept with a married man after his wife was diagnosed with cancer (and we're not supposed to find her or the guy repugnant because of this) from her insanely nosy mother Grace and her chill lesbian grandmother Floss, I found the ultimate revelation that the father wasn't the married man, but just a one night stand with some jerk who is now engaged to be too pat, and completely ridiculous. That the handsome pediatrician eventually forgives her and agrees to raise the baby with her is a given. Floss's story is the one that matters here, as she reveals that Grace isn't really her daughter, but the daughter of a severely abused and starved woman that Floss used to work with (as a midwife) in England during WWII. Floss's friend dies in childbirth and Floss knows that she can't leave a baby with an alcoholic abuser, so she has another midwife cover for her and they make it seem as if the husband drowned the baby in a drunken rage after his wife died. Floss starts a new life in America, and doesn't tell Grace until the final hour that she's not really Floss' daughter. Though the prose decent, the plot is way too easy to plumb. I'd give this novel a B, and recommend it to those seeking something not too taxing to read, who don't mind the constant antipathy towards doctors and hospitals.
The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst is the sequel to The Queen of Blood. In this tale, Daleina is just coming into her own as Queen, trying to control the savage spirits that populate her world (and want to wipe out all human life), when she's struck down with an illness called the False Death, which, like an epileptic seizure, makes her seem like she's gone from her body for short periods of time. Unfortunately, when she is "dead" she can't control the spirits, and they go wild, killing and maiming as many people as possible before she wakes up and takes control again. Her healer discovers that this isn't the False Death that is inherited, but a poison version that she was given by someone close to her. That doesn't change the fact that she has only weeks to find an heir and replacement who has enough power to control the spirits and save her people. Here's the blurb:Filled with political intrigue, violent magic, and malevolent spirits, the mesmerizing second book in Sarah Beth Durst’s Queens of Renthia epic fantasy trilogy.
Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .
And those spirits want to kill you.
It’s the first lesson that every Renthian learns.
Not long ago, Daleina used her strength and skill to survive those spirits and assume the royal throne. Since then, the new queen has kept the peace and protected the humans of her land. But now for all her power, she is hiding a terrible secret: she is dying. And if she leaves the world before a new heir is ready, the spirits that inhabit her beloved realm will run wild, destroying her cities and slaughtering her people.
Naelin is one such person, and she couldn’t be further removed from the Queen—and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her world is her two children, her husband, and the remote village tucked deep in the forest that is her home, and that’s all she needs. But when Ven, the Queens champion, passes through the village, Naelin’s ambitious husband proudly tells him of his wife’s ability to control spirits—magic that Naelin fervently denies. She knows that if the truth of her abilities is known, it will bring only death and separation from those she loves.
But Ven has a single task: to find the best possible candidate to protect the people of Aratay. He did it once when he discovered Daleina, and he’s certain he’s done it again. Yet for all his appeals to duty, Naelin is a mother, and she knows her duty is to her children first and foremost. Only as the Queen’s power begins to wane and the spirits become emboldened—even as ominous rumors trickle down from the north—does she realize that the best way to keep her son and daughter safe is to risk everything.
SPOILER alert! Once it is discovered that Captain Alet, Daleina's closest advisor, is actually the sister of evil Queen Merecot of Somo (the next kingdom over) and that she's the one who poisoned Daleina so that her sister could invade and take over Aratay and annex it to Somo (she claims her kingdom is being overrun by spirits that are killing her people), all bets are off and you know that a magical battle with a ton of death and dismemberment is in the offing. Naelin, though she's powerful, seems almost too petulant and whiny to be a mother of two, and I got rather tired of her constant attempts to find a way out of saving the kingdom, when it was obvious that the only way to save her children was to work with Ven and Daleina and push back the invaders and the spirits. It also struck me as hypocrisy of the highest order for Daleina to watch as thousands are slaughtered and dismembered during battle, and then, once she's caught Merecot, she refuses to kill her, because she feels there has been "too much bloodshed." Seriously? Merecot is the woman who CAUSED all the bloodshed! She had Daleina poisoned, she invaded Aratay and did her best to kill everyone Daleina loves. And Merecot made it clear that she would do it all again, because she feels she has no choice. Daleina swears she is going to send envoys to Somo to try and figure out a way to help Merecot's kingdom, but the last few pages of the book are dedicated to the crone who is helping Merecot become Maleficent incarnate, and find another way to kill Daleina and Naelin and take over Aratay. When Ven makes it clear that he'd gladly kill Merecot and thus solve Daleina's problem and ensure she won't have that problem in the future, Daleina is suddenly all soft hearted and worried about Merecot and her kingdom,instead of worrying about the devastation wrought on her own kingdom. Ugh. Once again, a female protagonist becomes too stupid to live. I really hate it when that happens, and therefore I have to downgrade this book from an A to a B-, and only recommend it to ardent fans who don't mind these obvious plot holes.