The Midnight Library

The Midnight LibraryThe Midnight Library by Matt Haig (Website, Twitter, Insta)

Genre: contemporary lit

Setting: modern England/ something like the bardo

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Carey Mulligan

Source: my own collection 

Length: 8:50:00

Published by: Penguin Audio (29 Sept 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

When Nora Seed decides to die, she winds up in the midnight library. There, she has a Big Book of Regrets and an infinite number of books, each containing different lives she could have lived if she had made various different choices. The rules are that she can try on as many lives as she wants but can never go back to a life once she’s left it, she can choose one to stay in, she can go back to her original life, or she can die. 

I think everyone can appreciate the idea of living a different life, making different decisions. It’s the ultimate “What If?” It would be fun to try a new life just to see, but I wish Nora was a more likeable character so following along in her journey would be more interesting. I found her to be quite weak and needy and as a result, I really didn’t care what life she chose for herself, or whether she chose a life at all.

I didn’t hate this book at all. I also found little in it that I truly liked. The sheer volume of 5 star reviews confuses me because it struck me as solidly mediocre and really not at all memorable. I think sucking readers in with the idea of a library between life and death is kind of gimmicky. Of course readers will be interested in the magic library. We already know the life changing, transformative power of books. So I think a story needs to have more to it than a magic library to carry it. 

I do think it is good that depression and anxiety are addressed here. It’s a real problem that millions of people are suffering. Showing that people who have depression aren’t abnormal or victims of abuse or whatever reason people think causes depression is an important discussion to have. Doing so in a book via a character with chronic depression can help people learn to empathize with others who have these conditions. It’s no more a person’s fault that they are depressed or anxious than it is if someone has cancer. So in that regard, this book did well. Sometimes people are just depressed or anxious and there doesn’t have to be some deep, dark trauma in the past to explain it.

I mostly felt that this book was like a Groundhog’s Day life buffet for a person who has completely failed to launch. Didn’t suck but wasn’t that good, either. I’m indifferent to it.

Star Trek TNG: Collateral Damage

ST TNG Collateral DamageStar Trek TNG: Collateral Damage by David Mack (Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaace! And Starfleet HQ in San Francisco

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 368 pp

Published by: Gallery Books (8 Oct 2019)

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In this installment of the continuing adventures of the Enterprise crew, we find Jean-Luc Picard facing something like a military grand jury to decide whether or not to court martial him for his actions in coercing the Federation’s president to resign. So he and Crusher are on Earth, dealing with lawyers. Yaaay. Meanwhile, Worf is in command of the ship and they take off to answer a distress call from a research base. The base had been attacked by Nausicaans and the dome over the base is melting because of the extreme heat of the sun. Geordi and his engineers have to figure out how to keep the dome intact until the sun goes down, which happens every 6 days by Earth-standard. Throw in some Nausicaans with a planet-killing weapon and a major desire for vengeance, and a man from Enterprise’s past who seems to throw a wrench in every plan and you have yourselves a story.

So Picard is facing the music at SFHQ for his role in the events leading up to President Zife’s forced resignation and subsequent murder. Whoops! That wasn’t very friendly. Of course, Picard mostly gets acquitted, and his lawyer did a good job proving how Picard was not at fault for the actions of his superior officers. However, I had a weird experience while reading this that I never thought I would feel towards Picard. One of the charges against him is sedition. Even though this book was published in 2019, I just now got around to reading it. The sedition element made it more visceral for me, considering the insurrection of January 6, 2021 at the US Capitol. If Picard acted in a manner even remotely similar to the inbred, mouth-breathing, Trump supporting insurrectionists, then he deserves to have the book thrown at him and spend the rest of his life in prison. I cannot recall the events that initially led to him being charged, though I remember being somewhat bored by that particular book. Also, in a way, Picard is like the Trump of Starfleet – he often breaks the rules and sometimes an admiral will yell at him for it, but mostly he gets away with everything. I didn’t like realizing that similarity at all because Picard always acts in the best interest of others, and the orange guy never does. It is still an uncomfortable realization. However, Picard’s lawyer did a good job rehashing things to give a thorough background. It became clear that he was truly unaware of the actions and results of his superiors, that he had been used as a scapegoat, and was subsequently off the hook. But still, I am conflicted about the entire thing. It’s fucked up.

The storylines with Worf and Geordi were classic Trek and a great deal of fun. It shows how much Worf has grown as a person because there were several times when he wanted to rip someone’s lungs out through their spine but he refrained. He even put on his diplomat hat and got two separate peoples to agree to a mutually beneficial arrangement, even though they were bitterly opposed to both the agreement and each other initially. 

Geordi is always a fun character to focus on, and his subplot was no less fun. He gets to save 66,000 people by preventing them from melting! That alone is worth a read. No melting people! 

Throughout both Worf’s and Geordi’s storylines, we get reunited with Thadiun Okona, who made his debut in the TNG episode “The Outrageous Okona” in season two. He’s had an…interesting…couple decades between the events of that episode and the events of this book. Life takes you in some weird directions sometimes. Ask Okona about that. He can tell you. 

It’s been a long time since I read a Star Trek novel, so maybe I’m just out of practice. But this one felt almost like an old fashioned numbered MMP that they used to make for the literary Trekverse. I miss those days bad; each book was a standalone story similar to an episode, not one part of a giant story arc where you’re completely lost if you miss reading a book. I get really tired of that kind of story, to the point where I am thinking maybe I won’t bother buying new Trek books unless they really are standalones. I also think the books should be canon. When we’ve gone years and years without any new Trek series and all we had were the books, it is kind of jarring when the new shows don’t align with the stories we’ve been given in prior years via the novels. The authors are all extremely well-versed in Trek lore, they’re not just making up random crap, so it just seems like the novels ought to be considered canon.

Anyway, this was a pretty fun book and it was good to see some other characters who’ve made appearances in the Trekverse at one time or another. 

Chariot of the Soul

Chariot of the SoulChariot of the Soul by Linda Proud (Website, Twitter)

Genre: historical fiction

Setting: ancient Rome and Britain

I read it as a(n): digital galley

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds 

Length: 498 pp

Published by: Godstow Press (23 Oct 2018)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Togidubnos (AKA Delfos or Delphinius) is the youngest son of the Briton king Verica, sent to Rome as a royal hostage as part of a trade agreement between Verica and Rome. Educated in that great city for 10 years by Seneca himself, Togidubnos is then sent back to Britain to help convince his people that their wisest course of action is to fall in line and submit to the might of the Roman Empire. When he arrives, he finds his two worlds – Roman and Stoic, Briton and Druid – at odds, both in the politics of the world and within himself.

Chariot of the Soul focuses on the eventual takeover of Britain by the Roman Empire under Claudius. The author sets the stage nicely. It is obvious that she did some **excellent** research and she shows it with thorough but not pedantic history given as current events in Togidubnos’s young life. The Britons are still rather tribal, and alliances between the various tribes are often unpredictable and ever-changing. Caligula sent an invasion force during his short, disastrous reign, but it failed, the biggest impact being that some British tribes continued trading with Roman territories afterwards. Claudius was smarter about it, using Togidubnos’s knowledge of his home country to try to win the Britons over through more peaceable means. To some extent, this worked as the regions in southern Britain were generally more peaceful under Roman rule than other regions. By the end of the novel, readers have a good understanding of the shifting politics of the period. We are also introduced to Boudicca, that spectacular woman who united the tribes and very nearly kicked the Romans out on their collective asses. Presumably, that part will come in the sequel, as Chariot of the Soul is only the first of a series. 

The characters in Proud’s novel were all deep and well-crafted. Seeing the ways in which Togidubnos grew and changed over time was…not really fun since a lot of bad things happened to him. But satisfying, I suppose, to see how he grew in Stoicism, learned how best to use his knowledge of both Rome and Britain to help as many people as he could, and how he reconnected with the people of his birthplace. His mission was really an impossible one – go back to Britain and convince these very different and almost neurotically independent tribes to submit peacefully to Rome. It is no wonder that he became conflicted in a variety of ways. Togidubnos was a real king, by the way, of the Atrebates tribe. There’s not a lot known about him, but it was enough to give Proud a few good ideas! His British slave, Mandred, was probably my favorite character. I have a soft spot for sarcastic folk anyway, and he was probably the one person who truly kept Togidubnos on a proper path. 

I think my favorite element of character development focused on Claudius himself. He did not have a very large role in this novel, nor was it necessary since the story isn’t about him. But I loved how Proud made him seem a fool prior to becoming emperor, but he always had flashes of the real man underneath, hidden and waiting to be released. She really highlighted the ways in which other people underestimated him. I never really subscribed to the view that Claudius was mentally challenged because I just don’t see how he could have reigned for nearly 14 years if that were the case. I suppose he could have been a puppet but it seems easier and more in line with so much of Roman succession if his handler were just to kill him and take over. I recently read that possible reasons for Claudius’s tremor, slurred speech, and other physical ailments could have been polio, cerebral palsy, or even Tourette’s syndrome. Whatever the reason, I think he was a more successful emperor than many who came before him, and certainly more so than some who came after. 

Another excellent element of this novel was the focus on horses. Yes, I was a horse-crazy little girl. I am probably still a horse-crazy middle-aged woman. But no, that isn’t why I love this part. In a lot of other novels I’ve read set in pre-Roman or Roman Britain, horses were present but treated mainly as tools. Here, they were priceless, with herds going back through generations of painstaking breeding. The warriors loved their horses and when bad things happened to them, they were as grief-stricken as they were when a beloved comrade died. I liked seeing this side of ancient British culture explored more. The author actually has a nice little segment about this on her website.

Proud also did a good job with her handling of the druids. I loved the mystical feel to many of these characters, but it wasn’t so mystical as to be unbelievable. I do wish there had been more here, more detail or rituals. But Proud did very well with the extremely limited sources there are about the druids. 

Honestly, I think the only thing I didn’t care for was the title of the book, and that may not even have been up to the author. It does come from a discussion Togidubnos has with a druid, but we don’t get that until near the end of the book. Initially, the title made me think of some melodramatic bodice ripper with a very buxomy lass spilling out of her dress all over a half-naked Fabio. LOL. It has nothing to do with any of that, thank god, and is a complex and very well researched novel.

Overall, this was an excellent read and I am looking forward to reading the sequel.

Ready Player Two

Ready Player TwoReady Player Two by Ernest Cline (Website)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: mid-21st century Columbus/ the OASIS virtual reality

I read it as a(n): I switched back and forth between audiobook and hardback

Narrator: Wil Wheaton

Source: my own collection / Xmas gift (hardcover)

Length: 370 pp/ 13:46:00 hours

Published by: Ballantine Books (24 Nov 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ready Player Two is the continuation of Cline’s earlier novel, Ready Player One. It picks up just a couple years after the end of RP1 and shows how Wade Watts (Parzival); his best friend, Helen Harris (Aech); Samantha Cook (Art3mis); and Akihide Karatsu (Shoto) have come along since Wade won the hunt for Halliday’s Easter Egg in RP1. The four are now the governing board of the company that created and runs the OASIS, the virtual reality software that basically everyone on Earth uses to get away from the shitty existence of reality. Added in to the mix now is a new technology hidden in Halliday’s inventory that makes it so there is no distinction between the OASIS and the real world. This time, however, flaws in the system have the potential to become fatal. Wade et al. are now on another quest to find another sort of Easter Egg that which will either bring everything back to normal or result in the deaths of millions of OASIS users. 

RP2, though not as good as RP1, was a fun read. I liked the way the four friends had grown and evolved since they won Halliday’s fortune. Not all was peachy between them. Wade and Samantha had fallen in love but then broke up prior to the beginning of this book. She felt he was going in a wrong direction and stuck to her guns and in the end, it wasn’t a relationship they could sustain. Wade was well on his way to becoming another Halliday – addicted to the OASIS, in VR far more than the real world, growing further away from his humanity. Aech and Shoto were still close with Wade but even among them, things were tense. 

In RP1, there was a theme of the benefits of technology. It could help people escape from otherwise unbearable lives, children could attend free virtual school in a safe environment, and it allowed the economy and trade to flourish. In RP2, we saw the other side of the coin. Yes, technology can be shiny. It can also ruin lives, friendships, and result in global catastrophe if it all goes sideways. I like that this aspect was explored in more depth. Our current plugged-in society could stand to pump the brakes a bit.

There was a fair amount of character growth, mostly for Wade. Of all the group, I think he was the one who was the most in need of some self-reflection and change. As I said, he was like a mini-Halliday – socially backward, hooked on tech, and possibly allowing his new wealth to change him in ways he never expected. It was good to see him get over himself. 

Samantha, too, grew as a person, learning how to go with the flow a little better and compromising when it was necessary. Before, she was more of a control freak and didn’t have a good ability to compromise, which made her character sometimes come across as shrill and demanding. She was right, though. 

There were still plenty of ‘80s references in RP2 to make people of my generation happy. Overall, it was a fun, fast read and I recommend it to other sci-fi fans and children of the ‘80s who are, like me, bitter that we’re not living on the moon by now.

Spiteful Bones (Crispin Guest #14)

Spiteful BonesSpiteful Bones by Jeri Westerson (Website, Twitter, Insta)

Genre: historical fiction/ medieval noir

Setting: 14th century London

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 178 pp

Published by: Severn House (1 Sept 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this 14th instalment of Westerson’s Crispin Guest medieval noir series, some fun characters from the past feature in this story. Nigellus Cobmartin has inherited his father’s house upon the death of his older brother. He and his lover, the delightful John Rykener (under the guise of Eleanor) are in the process of restoring it, the house having fallen into disrepair. The workers discover a gruesome scene – a skeletonized body tied up within the walls of the manor house. It is determined that the body belonged to a former servant who the Cobmartin household thought stole a relic and then took off with the wife of another servant. At the same time, Nigellus and John are victims of extortion, under threat of their lifestyle being exposed if they fail to pay the unknown villain. But nothing is as it appears at first glance, and so Crispin and his apprentice, Jack Tucker, find themselves on the hunt for an extortionist who may also be a murderer. 

The character development over the course of this series has been excellent. Crispin is now in his forties and is beginning to feel the effects of a hard and active life, though he rails against it. Jack is taking on more of the lead role in the sleuthing duo and is the image of a young and vital man. There were a few times that he saved Crispin’s neck, literally and figuratively, and while it was lovely to see, I also miss little boy Jack even as I revel in the upstanding man he has become.

Crispin himself has long since accepted that he is no longer nobility and has made a family for himself with Jack, Jack’s wife Isabel, and their growing brood of children. He seems content enough with his lot and takes pleasure in the simple joys in life in ways he was unable to do before. One of his greatest joys is in his son, Christopher, who he is unable to acknowledge. His friends, too, are his joy, and he throws himself into investigating who would murder a friend’s servant, driven to protect those he loves. 

As always, Westerson creates vivid scenery in her settings. It is easy to picture the sights (and, unfortunately, the smells!) of the Shambles and other places in medieval London. The strength of her descriptive writing is exceptional and that, along with complex character development, have made Westerson one of my favorite authors. She creates characters readers genuinely care about and then develops them into rich and multidimensional people, even secondary characters. Take, for example, Nigellus Cobmartin and John Rykener. Nigellus is a fictional character, but Rykener was a real man who dressed as a woman and was a whore and a skilled embroideress. Their relationship, while it may seem implausible to us given the time period they were from, could well have happened. Rykener was listed as having a husband in one of the documents Westerson referenced, though the man was not named. Why not let the husband be Nigellus? There have always been LGBT people, even if they had been vilified, shunned, or even killed at various points in history. A lack of understanding does not mean they didn’t exist, and there is plenty of documentation to prove it. I think it is really important to discuss social issues in all their many elements, but literature is an ideal medium in which to do so. Readers get to know both Rykener and Nigellus over the course of a few books, and can see them as people rather than ideas, mere figures on a page, or solely by their sexual identity. Having other characters like Crispin sometimes struggle with how they see Rykener helps create depth but also gives a nuanced examination of our own society. A long-winded way to say that I love their relationship, the characters themselves, and how Westerson approached it.

I was sad while I was reading this story because I had thought it was the final entry in the Crispin Guest series. But I was wrong! There is one final adventure to share with Crispin, Jack, and friends, The Deadliest Sin, which Westerson’s website says will be released in 2022. 

In the meantime, I highly recommend this book, as well as the rest of the series, to anyone who loves a good, complex, brooding protagonist and a delightful cast of secondary characters.

Star Trek Picard: The Last Best Hope

The Last Best Hope (Star Trek: Picard #1)

Star Trek Picard: The Last Best Hope by Una McCormack (Website, Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaace!

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 322 pp

Published by: Gallery Books (11 Feb 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The Last Best Hope is the story of the mission Jean-Luc Picard led to evacuate Romulans from their home world and nearby planets when their sun went supernova. It is the prequel that forms the foundations of the Star Trek: Picard series. On its surface, it is the story of how one of the most beloved figures in all of science fiction ended his career. Digging deeper, it examines some of the darker aspects of humanity that we all carry.

I confess that I didn’t like the first season of STP very much. I only watched the season once and didn’t care at all for, well, most of it. Not because it wasn’t just TNG rebooted. I neither wanted nor expected that. I think it’s mostly that I didn’t recognize the characters in it. They were too changed, too damaged. I went into this book hoping it would help me like the show better, especially since McCormack is one of my favorite Trek authors.

I suppose it did that. I can understand how it would completely fuck with you to be put in command of THE biggest humanitarian mission in history, only for it to fail. And to fail largely because of politics? Adding insult to injury. Star Trek has always been political. It’s one of the many things I love about it. The Picard series, and this book, are no exceptions. The difference this time is that the politicians here are truly awful, with not the remotest veneer of idealism that they portray in the series. The political leaders of the Federation in this book are concerned with optics, with PR, with the cost to themselves. Councilor Quest is repugnant. She represents, to me, the worst of certain American political parties. I won’t say which but it starts with an R and ends with -epublican. Nationalism and only looking after one’s own interests is such bullshit and yet it’s on the rise. This book takes a look at the potential impact of nationalism, distanced through the lens of sci-fi. There were lots of oblique references to the Trump administration, trumpism, and nationalism. I’m so fucking glad he’s out of office and fuck anyone who gave this book a lower review just because it rightly was critical of those kinds of politics. We should take care of everyone, not just those in our immediate circle.

Picard, in TNG, is an idealist and a compassionate man. But he’s tempered with logic and pragmatism as well. Picard here gets so involved in the mission to save the Romulans that he becomes pretty myopic in his determination to fulfill the mission. If millions and millions of lives were in my hands, I probably would be myopic about my job, too (Actually, no, you could just put me in a padded room and have done with it if that task fell to me). I know some readers felt this Picard was a bit too starry-eyed, almost naive especially with regards to political machinations, but I felt that he was throwing himself headlong into the ideals of what Starfleet stood for. His doing so is the only way I can see to really explain his utter disenchantment with the fleet when the Romulan star blows and he fails in his mission. If he hadn’t been so involved, maybe more of his pragmatism would have prevailed and he would have been able to remain in the service. He still would have been horrified and grief-stricken at the loss of life, but he could have taken that extra distance to realize it was a futile effort from the start and to celebrate the lives they WERE able to save. But he wasn’t, and didn’t, and so railroaded his career, thus setting up the premise for the TV series. 

I do wish there had been more detail from the planets. We got some, but it would have made the story more visceral if we had seen more scenes from Romulus, the effect the supernova had on the citizens. What scenes we do get felt rushed a bit, more told than shown. Not that I want vivid descriptions of dying and suffering people. But it would have been just that much more depth to the story. 

And, maybe not super relevant to the story, but I thought Maddox/Jurati was gross. I can’t remember how her character was in the show so maybe McCormack picked up on something from that and ran with it. But Jurati in this novel was like everything I wouldn’t want to be as a woman. Yes, it’s rad she has a doctorate in robotics and is whip smart. I love that part about her. But she acts like a submissive, insecure little mouse who is desperate for Maddox’s approval, which makes her come off as pathetic. It’s such a big dichotomy, and unlike most of the other women in Star Trek that McCormack has written, and I haven’t figured out why it exists. 

Rereading what I just wrote, it sounds like a negative review. It absolutely is not. I loved this book, but I hated a lot of the people in it. I think that’s a sign of good writing, to make me hate a thing about a figure I’ve loved for the majority of my life, or to hate elements of the society I grew up watching and hoping to achieve in reality. I unreservedly recommend this book, especially if you haven’t yet seen the Picard series. It fills in a lot of gaps in the Picard series. I think it will be a good book to help build the Picard series canon. 

Favorite part/ lines (potential spoilers!):

  • He turned to the helm. 

“Lieutenant Miller…”

“Go on,” Raffi whispered. “They’re dying for you to say it.”

And why not?

“Engage!” (p 55)

  • The admiral shrugged. He had never seemed so French. “Better to ask forgiveness than permission, Raffi.”

“I’ll look forward to using that on you one day,” she said.

“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.” (p 115)

  • “Who knows. An encounter with Beethoven might be the making of the man.”

“It might do something to him. Jeez, though, this might backfire. He might make us listen to Romulan indeterminate polyphony.” (p 130)

  • Mistakes are, after all, how we learn. (p 143)
  • “Warrior nuns. Romulan warrior nuns. You know, Raffi, I am grateful.”

“Grateful?”

“That the universe can still delight me.” (p 154)

  • “Story?”

“A fiction. A tale. Something made up.”

“A lie?” The boy looked puzzled.

“No,” said Picard gently. “A human way of telling certain truths.” (p 158)

  • “Tell a lie often enough, someone will believe it.”

“It’s worse than that, Kirsten. Tell a lie often enough, and it stands a good chance of becoming the truth.” (p 214)

  • Just a general comment that I thoroughly approve of Star Trek finally embracing the word fuck, as well as many others. To quote Tilly, this is so fucking cool.

The Shadows

The ShadowsThe Shadows by Alex North (Twitter)

Genre: mystery

Setting: Gritten, UK (fictional village)

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: BOTM Club

Length: 323 pp

Published by: Celadon Press (7 July 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Paul Adams is returning to his home town of Gritten after a 25 year absence. The only reason he is returning now is because his mother is dying in hospice. When he was a teen, one of Paul’s classmates was brutally murdered by two other classmates, Charlie and Bobby, and the town has never been the same since. When he returns, though, Paul seems to be haunted, literally, by the ghosts of the past. Is there a copycat murderer playing mind games with him as one of the suspects of the original murder? Is it really a ghost? Or did the teen who really committed the murder escape and carry on with his grisly crimes?

Splitting between Paul’s first-person POV and the 3rd person POV of Detective Amanda Beck, the story unfolds with a good sense of atmosphere. I really liked the way North wrote because I was never sure if this was a regular old murder or if it was actually a paranormal horror story. 

I did not, however, care much for the ending or the multitude of loose strings that I felt were left. One big twist that happened about 80% of the way through the book had no foreshadowing, so it felt like just a twist for the sake of it rather than any real part of the plot. Which is unfortunate because it did turn out to be a major plot point. It could have been really cool but I thought it was just awkwardly done. 

And this could just be me rolling my eyes because sometimes I’m too logical for my own good. But I just couldn’t get behind the whole lucid dreaming thing. Yes, I know one can dream lucidly and direct the course of one’s dreams. I have managed to do it once myself. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough to buy into the shared lucid dreaming stuff that Charlie was into and trying to teach to Bobby, Paul, and Paul’s best friend, James. It was just too silly to believe. If this had been a paranormal story, then sure, sign me up for shared lucid dreaming. But it wasn’t paranormal and so it just fell short for me. 

After I finished reading it, I looked at some other readers’ reviews. It seems that this book is a lot less popular than North’s first book, The Whisper Man. I think I’m glad I read this one first because now I can read the other and be far more entertained, I hope. Just to be clear, though, I didn’t hate this book, or even dislike it. I just wasn’t all that impressed by it. I still read it in just a couple days, which I wouldn’t have done if I hated it.

The Lady Jewel Diviner

The Lady Jewel DivinerThe Lady Jewel Diviner by Rosalie Oaks (Website, Twitter, Insta)

Genre: historical fantasy/ cosy mystery

Setting: Georgian England/ Devon coast

I read it as a(n): digital galley

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds 

Length: 266 pp

Published by: Parkerville Press (11 Jan 2021)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Miss Elinor Avely finds herself exiled on the Devon coast with her mother and brother after her reputation was ruined in London in a most public fashion. Accused of stealing a jeweled necklace, she self-destructs further when she shuns Lord Beresford, who tried to save her by declaring before one and all that she was his fiancee. Exiled from society, Elinor is determined to keep her head down and be a dutiful daughter. Until, that is, her evening is interrupted by a bat flying into her room, turning into a tiny, naked woman, and demanding to be fed a sheep. The two form an unlikely alliance when a local man turns up dead, piles of jewels and gold are missing and presumed smuggled over to France to pay Napoleon, and the identity of an English spy may hit too close for comfort.

This was an entirely agreeable cosy mystery. Or cosy fantasy. Either one would be accurate. Honestly, though. Who wouldn’t adore a Regency cosy mystery fantasy romance? Elinor is a typical figure in many Regency romances and mysteries. She is curious, intelligent, and not at all afraid to speak her mind. If only Lord Beresford could appreciate that about her! Or does he? 

Aldreda Zooth, the tiny bat-woman, is a vampiri from France. She is in England to search for a necklace that belonged to her lost beloved and she convinces Elinor to help. Elinor is what Eldreda calls a Diviner, one who can find hidden objects by a sixth sense. This is, of course, what led to Elinor’s disgrace in London – she found a necklace but was accused of stealing it. Elinor agrees to help Eldreda but they are soon both drawn into an intrigue. Elinor gets to display her bravery and intelligence in several instances, but is still able to be a damsel in distress. Eldreda is an ideal chaperone, even though she is fairy-sized, and is a plucky and fun character.

Elinor’s brother, Perry, is a bit flat in terms of character development, but I really don’t think it matters a whole lot since he is not the main attraction of the novel. He is in it enough, though, that a little more depth for him would be appreciated. Perhaps this will come in future books, as the second in the series is set to be released on 1 March 2021. 

I will definitely be on the lookout for that book as well as others by this author. A light, somewhat silly, cosy mystery is exactly what I needed to read as pure escapism. Enthusiastically recommended.

The Marrow Thieves

The Marrow ThievesThe Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (Website, Twitter, Insta)

Genre: futuristic/dystopian

Setting: Ontario, Canada

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 234 pp

Published by: DCB (10 May 2017)

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Frenchie is a 15 year old boy from what is left of Canada’s First Nations Anishinaabe people. He is traveling with a group of other people from various Indigenous backgrounds, trying to avoid capture by the “recruiters,” the non-Indigenous people who have lost their ability to dream. The Native people are being hunted because they still have the ability to dream, and so the rest of the world wants them in the hopes of finding a cure for the dreamlessness that is causing mass suicide and madness.

This story had so much potential and an interesting premise, but it was not executed well at all. There is almost no character development for any of the people, very little back story, and no real plot. French and his group wander vaguely northward for the whole book, seeking some hopeful place where they will not be hunted anymore. The love story between French and Rose is forced and fake. The death of one of the group members seemed contrived simply for emotional impact, but since none of the characters had any real depth, it was pretty meaningless. 

The title implies the crux of the story had something to do with, well, marrow. But it turns out that the key to the dream plague is the ability to dream in one’s native language. This information was almost a throwaway line and I nearly missed it. But even with that evidence, there is no explanation for how Minerva was able to destroy the machine at the School when the recruiters were trying to harvest her marrow, or why she was used in such a role in the book when she was mostly dead weight the rest of the time. All of a sudden, she’s the key to solving all the world’s problems? Right.

The marrow itself is also a problem. I can’t remember what it’s called, but I think there is a technology we have NOW that allows a small sample of DNA to be replicated so the original sample isn’t destroyed. I remember reading about it in a true crime book and it is often used to solve murders where there isn’t a lot of DNA evidence. If we have the technology NOW, then believing the premise of the entire book – that Natives are being hunted for their marrow – becomes nearly impossible. If you have a dystopia, it needs to be believable to be effective as a story. But given the technology we already have, it’s impossible to think there would be any reason to hunt Native peoples for their marrow when a sample could just be collected and replicated. 

Also, French and his group spend the whole book trying to avoid the Schools and recruiters, and yet not once do we see one of the Schools. We don’t know what is being done to the Natives in them, there is no grand plan to rescue all the people from a nearby School, nothing. If the goal was to make the Schools seem monolithic and terrifying, then it really fell flat.  The closest we got was the rescue attempt to get Minerva back, and that didn’t even occur near a School. It seemed to exist simply to provide a reason to say she dreamed in her native language, which could have been said at any time without a pointless action sequence. Similarly, there was no discussion on how people lost the ability to dream, what caused it, how it is linked to climate change, or anything else. 

As a metaphor for the ways in which we have mistreated both Indigenous peoples and nature, it was a little ham-handed. Yes, I totally agree that white people are historically awful and continue to be today. Yes, Indigenous peoples all have a rich culture of their own and they should be fostered and supported, not torn down or assimilated. Yes, they experienced awful trauma because of colonization. I am not trying to criticize that aspect of the book, because learning and understanding history from various perspectives is important. I’m glad I read this since I do try hard to read diversely, but I also don’t feel like I came away with any better understanding of Native American or First Nations cultures at all, or how colonization fucked them over and became part of their story. 

Mostly, it seemed to be a meandering, plotless story with Indians running around in the woods. I think the book fell victim to the stereotypes it was trying to dismantle.

Spoiler Alert

Spoiler AlertSpoiler Alert by Olivia Dade (Website, Twitter)

Genre: romance

Setting: mostly San Francisco

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: public library 

Length: 403 pp

Published by: Avon Press (6 Oct 2020)

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

April Whittier is a fandom nerd, and proud of it. She writes fanfiction about her favorite show in her free time, and she loves cosplay. She has never really shared her true identity with her online friends, though, because she is worried they will reject her for being fat. When she decides she wants a change in her life, she posts an image of herself on Twitter in full cosplay regalia. Many people are very kind and supportive, but there are the inevitable fat-shaming assholes who bully her. The lead actor of the show she loves, Marcus Caster-Rupp, sees it happening online and decides to ask her on a date to dinner. She cautiously accepts, not sure if she is interested in what she sees as a PR stunt. When she arrives at the restaurant, April is stunned not only to find that the two of them have instant chemistry but that Marcus seems to have a much deeper side to his personality than his vapidly narcissistic public persona implies. He also has secrets, the biggest of which is that he is the friend who has been beta reading all her fanfic for years. Marcus found that out by accident and doesn’t know what to do with the information. Cue things going right, then spectacularly wrong, and adult angst.

So I really do not read romance. I read this one to tick a box for a couple of reading challenges I’m doing for 2021. I picked it because I am intimately familiar with fandom and fanfic and cons and everything associated with geekdom so I thought it would be somewhat more tolerable than the usual romance novel. I was surprised to find that not only was it tolerable, but I actually really liked it! I think that proves fandom just makes everything better, right? Yes, you know what is going to happen in the end. Yes, there is angst and some silly stuff. But April and Marcus are both really well developed characters and have complexity and depth. They are not both hot young things. They are 35 and 40, respectively, have had their share of relationships in the past, have lives outside of each other, and are thoroughly independent. I liked it. I didn’t ever think that either of them was a sucker or codependent or pitiful. 

A big part of this book was how accepting April was of her body. She didn’t feel shame for being fat, and she learned how to stick up for herself if people started fat shaming her. The book showed that it isn’t just the skinny people who can have a HEA or a relationship with a conventionally attractive person. Marcus thought right from the moment he saw April’s coplay picture on Twitter that she was beautiful and genuinely didn’t seem to understand why others didn’t think so as well. He loved her body, which is terrific, but not necessary because April already knows she’s hot. I loved seeing the body positivity, though. 

The secondary characters are also pretty well developed, though some more than others. There is a blurb at the back of the book that indicates two of the secondary figures will be getting their own book in summer of this year, so that is nice since I liked one of them a great deal. I may or may not read it (I probably will), but either way, I’m glad the author is getting established in her field. Based on this book and her author bio, she seems exactly like the kind of person I want to be friends with. 

Overall, a delightfully geeky love story that should appeal to anyone who knows what it’s like to belong to a fandom family.