The Apothecary’s Curse

the-apothecarys-curse-barbara-barnett-133x200In Victorian England, apothecary Gaelan Erceldoune, whose knowledge comes from a mysterious manuscript passed down through his family for generations, is viewed with the usual skepticism reserved for members of his profession. His friendship with Dr. Simon Bell leads him to make a tonic to cure Bell’s wife of cancer when Bell begs him for help. Through a mishap, the elixir is ruined, Bell’s wife dies, and Bell, seeking to commit suicide, drinks the leftovers, only to discover that they made him immortal instead. Over the years, he and Gaelan learn that they both share immortality. They join forces to recover Gaelan’s lost manuscript so that they can reverse the effects of the elixir and release themselves from never-ending life.

The novel seamlessly weaves dual timelines together, shifting from Victorian England to modern-day America. In each, Simon and Gaelan work to hide their immortality while either striving to evade “mad doctors,” recover the missing manuscript and keep it (and themselves) out of the hands of unethical pharmaceutical researchers, and unlock the modern marvels of genetics.

I loved this book. I thought at first that it took too long for the modern-day geneticist, Anne Shawe, to make her appearance, but upon consideration, it seemed a very deliberate choice on Barnett’s part. Delaying the love interest’s appearance, then making her immediately interesting and invaluable, gives readers a sense of what it might be like to live forever, want to die, and then be faced with something worth living for. I also loved that the novel touched on many facets of medical ethics. It highlights a lot of things we need to discuss within the medical community. I don’t know if Barnett did that intentionally or not, but it was nicely done all the same, and goes to show that sci-fi/fantasy is an ideal medium in which to discuss some heavy topics.

Review originally published on the Historical Novel Society website: https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/the-apothecarys-curse/

The English Agent

the-english-agent-phillip-depoy-132x200I’ve often found that when I inadvertently pick up a book that is later in a series, I have a difficult time getting interested in the characters or plot. That was not at all the case with The English Agent, second in DePoy’s Elizabethan England/Christopher Marlowe mystery series. Immediately, I was intrigued by the plot, which revolves around the infamous Babington Plot to murder Queen Elizabeth in which Marlowe played a role. DePoy uses the Marlowe angle and his suspected involvement as a secret agent in the employ of Sir Francis Walsingham and puts them to good use in a storyline that twists and turns throughout. It is fast-paced and fun, even for those of us well-versed in Tudor history.

DePoy’s writing is a genuine delight. In the space of a single page, I found myself laughing at a witty line, choked up at a poignant comment, and tense with excitement. His fictional characters are just as well developed as Marlowe, Dr. Lopez, Walsingham and Philip Sidney, and I found myself caring particularly about one of them. Dialogue moves smoothly, as did the general narration. I appreciated also how DePoy sprinkles into the characters’ conversations fragments of Elizabethan poetry from Marlowe, Shakespeare, Sidney, and Kyd, easily and without pretension. It suits the novel very well. Very highly recommended.

Review originally published on the Historical Novel Society website: https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/the-english-agent/ 

Read Harder 2017 – My List

As I posted a few weeks ago, I’m planning to do the Book Riot 2017 Read Harder Challenge. I probably would have gotten a lot of the tasks checked off just in my own reading life anyway, but I wanted to make it official. I also like to make lists. I’m weird. Mostly I like to cross things off of lists. I am also lazy and I don’t want to have to think about things when it is time to make a decision. Having a list I already made ahead of time saves me from having to make a decision or do more research. I can just pick the book!

So I did a lottle research (which was really a lot but it was kinda fun because I’m a nerd, so it only felt like a little, thus a lottle) and came up with the below list for the 2017 task list.

I don’t feel stress about the list, either, because I reserve the right to change my mind about a book on the list. So there.

  1. Read a book about sports: Wild (Cheryl Strayed). Hiking is totally a sport in my world.
  2. Read a debut novel: Cinder (Marissa Meyer)
  3. Read a book about books: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (Katherine Howe)
  4. Read a book set in Central or S. America written by a Central or S. American author: House of Mist (Maria Luisa Bombal)
  5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative: Funny in Farsi (Firoozeh Dumas) or maybe Kabul Beauty School (Deborah Rodruguez)
  6. Read an all-ages comic: Phoebe and Her Unicorn – DONE
  7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950: I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith); The Door in the Wall (Marguerite DiAngeli); And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie); 1984 (Orwell); House of Mirth (Edith Wharton)
  8. Read a travel memoir: Gorge (Kara Richardson Whitely)
  9. Read a book you’ve read before: undecided. 2017 was going to be my year of rereads, so…
  10. Read a book set within 100 miles of your location: for me, one of these will do. I’ll probably pick a Kingsolver or maybe a Hillerman I’ve never read his stuff.
  11. Read a book set more than 5000 miles from your location: Flirting with French [Provence] (William Alexander); The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones [London] (Jack Wolf); The World We Found [Bombay] (Thrity Umrigar); Wave [Sri Lanka] (Sonali Deraniyagala); The Light Between Oceans [Western Australia] (ML Stedman)
  12. Read a fantasy novel: Miranda and Caliban (Jacqueline Carey) – DONE
  13. Read a nonfiction book about technology: Innovating Women (Vivek Wadhwa); Rise of the Rocket Girls (Nathalia Holt); She’s Such a Geek! (Annalee Newitz); Dot Complicated (Randi Zuckerberg)
  14. Read a book about war: The House of Splendid Isolation (Edna O’Brien); One of the Guys (Tara McKelvey)
  15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author of color who identifies as LGBTQ+: Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel (Sara Farizan)
  16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country: The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
  17. Read a classic by an author of color: Lakota Woman (Mary Crow Dog)
  18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead: Captain Marvel (Kelly Sue DeConnick)
  19. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey: Ceremony (Leslie Marmon Silko)
  20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel: Tipping the Velvet (Sara Waters)
  21. Read a book published by a micropress: Deer Woman (Elizabeth LaPensee) – DONE
  22. Read a collection of stories by a woman: Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri)
  23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love: Old Norse Women’s Poetry (Sandra Balif Stranbhaar)
  24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color: A Bollywood Affair (Sonali Dev); The Association of Small Bombs (Karan Mahajari); might be time to read another Amy Tan…

Ultraviolet

511g2ibwypl-_sx331_bo1204203200_I have mixed thoughts about this novel. On the whole, I liked it. But it was like two very different stories in one, which I kind of think would have been better told as separate to themselves.

One was the story of a teen girl, Allison Jeffries, who thinks she is mentally ill and may have murdered a classmate. Sweet! A story discussing mental health and its care, especially as it pertains to teenagers, would be excellent and interesting reading. Such is how this novel started. Learning about synesthesia, which is a real sensory condition and NOT a mental illness, was interesting and I wanted to have more of that. I wanted to have more about Allison’s time in the psych hospital, learning about her condition, how to cope with it, and learning that she is not insane despite a lifetime of being told the contrary.

Then enter storyline number two. The girl Allison is accused of killing, Tori Beauregard, is still alive and is, in fact, an alien. So is the neuropsychiatrist who had been helping Ali with her synesthesia. Tori had been snatched back to the mothership or something to get healed when Allison injured her (non-fatally, obviously) in a fight. The plot points of this particular story arc are really fun and would make an awesome sci-fi novel of its own. But added into the existing plot of mental health, it just felt disjointed to me.

I think my main issue with the novel was that by having aliens be the deus ex machina, it relegates some very real mental health issues to something of a silly role. Oh, you’re not crazy, aliens did it. I’m sure that is not what the author intended, but that’s kind of how it felt. Mental illness is a real problem, not something that can be handily fixed or explained by aliens, even though that second plot was fun and I would have loved to see it as its own separate, hard sci-fi book. Nor is mental illness itself a prop to be used as a way to solve the trouble the characters are in and hey look, I just happen to have a rare condition that everyone thinks is a mental illness and only I can get us home using my weird sensory abilities that are actually almost driving me insane. That part really hit me wrong.

Format: hardcover

Source: public library

Publisher: Carolrhoda Books

Pages: 312

Miranda and Caliban

51gxk0vib3l-_sx328_bo1204203200_I adored this book. I’m a sucker for a good back story, and Miranda and Caliban rang that bell but good. With her typical skill at building magical worlds, Jacqueline Carey crafts Prospero’s island, a place abandoned by people yet filled with spirits and mystery. She brings Miranda to life, a sweet and innocent girl who has no idea that her father is not all he seems. Caliban, a feral child who learns to speak but not to comply, shows a side of himself and of Prospero that throws an entirely new light on The Tempest.

I loved seeing Miranda through her growing up and how she changed throughout the book. At the opening, she was barely six and her thoughts reflected her youth. She had pet chickens that had names and she was devastated when her father made her kill one to eat because it stopped laying. She was delighted by her birthday present, which was a sewing kit. It is interesting to see her grow and change as she takes on the mantle of teacher when Prospero gives the teaching of Caliban into her care. She takes her role seriously but she still adds many elements of play, because she and Caliban are both still children.

Caliban himself is a rich and interesting figure. He hates Prospero, not because he is a warped person as depicted in Shakespeare’s play, but because he sees Prospero clearly. He knows Prospero is not a kind or good man, he hates how he treats Miranda, and fears for his friend’s safety. Caliban is supposed to be a wild and savage person, yet is the kindest and most compassionate one of the book, the one who sees the most clearly and the most honestly.

As they grow up, Miranda and Caliban are their only friends, literally the only people they could turn to on the island since Prospero is not a person to whom anyone would learn to trust. Through heartbreak and betrayal, we see these characters play out a new version of events that put a whole new light on The Tempest, one which I find remarkably sad and realistic and human. I can’t really say how much I loved this book.

This novel was full of gorgeous imagery and writing, which is only to be expected from Carey. Little Miranda explaining to still-mostly-wild Caliban that there are qualities other than speech or clothing that make us civilized was one of my favorite scenes. Later, when Miranda got her first period, I loved her thought about how gods generally are not kind to women who eat fruit. I also loved the comparison of sunlight to goodness throughout the book. That might not be a terribly unique interpretation, but it made for some lovely scenes and lines. “You in the sunlight” will always make me feel bittersweet and sad and hopeful from now on.

Format: e-galley (though I loved it so much I preordered a hard copy for myself)

Source: Netgalley.com

Publisher: Tor Books

Pages: 352

Phoebe and Her Unicorn


A super cute graphic novel about a little girl who accidentally finds a unicorn. The unicorn grants her a wish and so Phoebe asks for the unicorn, whose name is awesomely Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, to be her best friend. Marigold does this and is able to travel about with Phoebe because she casts a Shield of Boringness over herself so no one thinks it’s particularly weird or interesting to see a real unicorn. 

Really fun, lots of girl power, and enough humor to keep adults amused as well. I loved this one.

Children of the New World

411j25o4jel-_sx331_bo1204203200_Wow. This collection of speculative fiction short stories by Alexander Weinstein is set in the near-future and deals with all manner of issues that make me think. It is dark, sad, funny, and feels very eerily prescient in many ways.

The first story, “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” reminded me a lot of the various Star Trek episodes that dealt with the issue of free will, personal rights, and the sentience of androids and other artificial life forms. It made me sad that the family never really thought of Yang as part of their family, not really, until he was gone. Did Yang know that? Did it hurt his feelings? Did he ever think about leaving to make his own life but couldn’t because he didn’t have the legal standing to do so? I am glad his family came to realize just how big a part of their life he was, and that he was his own unique person even if he was an android. Data was an android and I cried just as hard when he died as I did when Wash died on Serenity. Androids are people, too!

“The Cartographers” is the second story, and I think my second favorite in the collection. It deals with a man who works for a company that sells invented memories. Can’t afford to travel? No problem! For $99 you can beam a memory of a perfect family vacation to the Bahamas directly into your brain! Sounds pretty good, until you get to the edge, where the memory runs out and you find the white light. Or until you start beaming so many invented memories in that you lose the ability to distinguish reality from invention. Then you’re pretty fucked.

The titular story, “Children of the New World,” show readers an older couple who are new to their world of being logged in all the time. In their virtual world, they have everything they never did in their real life, including children. But what happens when the virtual world gets infected with a virus? This one was my favorite of the collection. It gave me all the feels. I don’t want to say more about it because I want everyone just to go read it themselves.

The entire collection is so well-crafted, so thought-provoking, and so close to home that it is unnerving. I thoroughly loved this even while it made me uncomfortable and anxious.

I read it as a: paperback

Source: public library

Pages: 229

Publisher: Picador