Phryne Fisher is a thoroughly modern woman… of 1928. She has black, bobbed hair like a little Dutch doll, perfectly arched eyebrows, and a red rosebud mouth. She also carries a pearl handled revolver, drives an Hispano-Suiza rather faster than is wise, and solves mysteries. She was an ambulance driver during WWI, flies a gypsy moth plane when the opportunity arises, and takes lovers where she pleases.
Phryne comes from a somewhat unusual background; her father was a disgraced younger son who was banished to Australia to repent of his misdeeds. Instead, he got married and lived in fairly content squalor until everyone else in the direct line died in, I presume, the Boer War. At which point he, his washerwoman wife, and his shockingly behaved children were welcomed back into the bosom of British aristocracy. Phryne took the polish and the money and then went her own way. She ran away from boarding school to volunteer during the war and then stayed on in Paris consorting with artists and authors. Before ending up back in Australia during her first case - Cocaine Blues.
Phryne is very much her own person. She has very, very modern ideas about marriage, sex, sexual orientation, hygene, family planning, women’s rights, and the servant issue. And she’s rich enough that people pretty much let her express those opinions. When anyone gets really unfortunate she can either snub them or shoot them, depending on the situation.
I think of her rather like a female James Bond. She’s dangerous, and very, very good at what she does, but she’ll go her own path, no matter what. Although, that isn’t entirely true. Phryne has very strong family values, in the sense that she values the family she has made for herself. She doesn’t let that connection be dictated solely by who shares her blood, but rather, who shares her heart. She is fiercely loyal to those she takes to heart and is not at all prone to any kind of snobbery or elitism about who that is. If you’re worth her time, she’ll give it to you. If you aren’t, she won’t no matter who your ancestors were or what your bank balance is.
Miss Fisher appears in twenty volumes of mysteries penned by Kerry Greenwood. She also now has her own show by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Season One is available here in the States via Netflix, Acorn Media, or on DVD from Amazon. The tv series takes a number of liberties with the plots of the books, adding in an entire subplot about a sister that the book Phryne never had, but it’s still remarkably good. The costumes and set pieces are amazing, and the lead actress, Essie Davis is brilliant!
We have just posted our Top 10 Lists for 2013 at Little Professor, so I thought I would share mine with you. And my boy-nuggets, because why not? Drew has fairly different taste than I do, so some of you might be interested in his favorite books of the year as well.
These are just print books. We don’t sell ebooks at the store, so we don’t put any on our list. I’ll do a non-traditional Top 10 List on Friday.
Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal
This is the third in the Glamourist Histories novels and takes place almost entirely in London. It is fantastic for anyone who is a fan of the Regency period. Think Jane Austen meets Harry Potter.
As a dilettante geologist I really appreciate that Mary deals with the Year Without a Summer – in 1816 due to a confluence of events including several volcanic erruptions global temperatures plumitted. It snowed in Massachusits in June.
Mary does an amazing job of working this historical event into her world. We also get to see more of Melody, Jane’s exceptionally beautiful sister. She gets to become her own person rather than being the very flighty cause of minor misfortune as she is in the first book.
A Question of Honor by Charles Todd
This is the fifth book in the Bess Crawford series. (Yes, I like to read series.) This time, Bess is facing a question of honor that touches on her own family. While treating wounded in France she is told by a dying Indian sergeant that Lieutenant Wade, a man from her father’s regiment, is still alive. Bess knows that that is impossible. Lieutenant Wade escaped from the British Army camp in 1908 after murdering a family while home on leave. He fled into enemy territory and was presumed killed. Now, ten years later, there is evidence that he is alive and back in the army.
Bess feels obligated to investigate because if he survived then there would be suspicion cast on her father, who trained him and then failed to apprehend him. There is also a strong sense of curiosity because Wade had always seemed like the kindest, most thoughtful of men. How could such a man go on to murder five people, including his own parents? However, if Bess could recognize him after so long, there is a equally strong possibility that he could recognize her, and take steps to eliminate the danger she poses.
Shadows dancing all around;
Some things better lost than found.
If you ask the questions, best be sure you want to know.
Some things better left forgot,
Some dreams better left unsought
Knowing the direction doesn’t mean you have to go.
The broken doors can open if you seek them on your own.
My darling boy, be careful now, and don’t go out alone.
(Parasite by Mira Grant - pp 207 & 208)
The Riddle of the Labyrinth by Margalit Fox
This is my only nonfiction on my list this year. I don’t read very much nonfiction. It just… Yeah, I don’t really have a good excuse, but for whatever reason I almost never read nonfiction that isn’t for my book club. This was different. It was about linguistics! And archaeology! And Linear B! It was just the right kind of nerdy for me. Let me preface all this by saying I was the one who took linguistics and then went and asked my professor for more morphemics worksheets. This book takes an already pretty amazing story, the deciphering of Linear B, and adds an underdog element. Alice Kober, an almost unknown American woman, worked on the script for years, amassing thousands of notes and greatly contributing to the worldwide search for a solution. Michael Ventris is remembered as being the shining star who deciphered Linear B, but Fox makes a compelling argument that he was standing on the shoulders of people like Kober, who, sadly, did not live long enough to see the secret of the script cracked.
This book would make a wonderful gift for an ancient history buff, a casual linguist, or even someone interested in learning more about the often unsung roles of women in the making and deciphering of history.
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
I haven’t actually reviewed this book yet, and I’m shocked at myself! It’s Brandon Sanderson’s newest YA and the first one to really be aimed at the upper age range there. It certainly could be read by the younger folks, but it’s groove is more the 12 and ups.
Steelheart takes place in a world after Calamity. Calamity being some form of celestial event which gave rise to superpowered individuals known as Epics. Epics live up to the motto: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Chicago is ruled by the Epic known as Steelheart. His power is that he can turn anything non-living into steel. He is said to be invincible, but David has seen Steelheart bleed. Steelheart bled on the same day that Chicago’s ruling Epic murdered David’s father. David has spent the years since that day planning the Epic’s downfall.
The only people brave enough to fight the Epics are the Recokners. David has gathered enough information on their practices to be fairly sure of when their next hit will take place. He just has to get there, survive the fight between the Reckoners and their target, and avoid getting killed as a spy. No problem.
I got an early copy of this book and it was fantastic. It does end on, not so much a cliff hanger, as a sense that you need the next book soon. Luckily, the next book is already in the works.
The Arrivals by Melissa Marr
I’ve talked about this book before too, which isn’t surprising. I write a book blog. Most of my favorite books will probably have been covered on my blog. The short version is: A western! In an alternate dimension! With Vampires!
It sounds strange. It’s also strange because Melissa Marr is known for paranormal romance YA. So what’s she doing writing an adult, paranormal, western? Well, authors can explore outside their genres. It’s not nice to pigeonhole people. Only desks should be pigeonholed. And then given to me because those desks are awesome!
Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson
This is Book 1 in The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series. (I just got an ARC of Book 2 and I am stupidly excited!) Hilary Westfield is a perfectly normal young woman. Her father is a naval man of great repute. He captures pirates for a living and has plans to send his daughter to a traditional finishing school. It’s all very civilized. However, Hilary has a perfectly normal urge to NOT go to finishing school, and instead, go become a pirate. She has applied to the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates. Who have rejected her. But, Hilary is undaunted. She is perfectly capable of running away from her fluffy finishing school and setting off on her very own pirate adventure. And that is exactly what she does.
Hunted by Kevin Hearne
I’ve talked about Kevin’s Iron Druid series before and even done a giveaway of the first book. I love these books. Hunted is the sixth book in the series. This is one, unlike the Bess Crawford series, that I would absolutely suggest you read in order. First of all, why would you ever deprive yourself of any time with Oberon – Best Dog in Fiction Ever? Next, if you haven’t followed Atticus’s story you’ll be very confused about why there are so many gods hanging around and why they all want to kick Atticus’s ass. So, go read Hounded, fall in love with the Iron Druid, and then read back up to this point. Artemis and Diana (yes, we’ve got the Greek and Roman pantheons going here) are after Atticus for interfering with their followers. Bacchus is after him. Vampires are after him. The usual Celtic forces are after him. And he has to finish up his apprentice’s initiation as druid. What results is an amazing, haphazard trip across Europe and another great story about the Iron Druid.
Blackout by Robison Wells
I’ll be honest, books don’t usually scare me. Sometimes they upset me. Other times they disturb me. Frequently they make me cry. But they rarely scare me. Blackout scared me.
Rob Wells is the brother of Dan Wells. I like Dan Wells. I freaked out at him at a convention once. And then bought him carrot cake. But I’ve never met Rob. I do, however, listen to Rob on his podcast with Dan, Do I Dare to Eat a Peach, so I feel like I know a little bit about him. I thought, If John Cleever didn’t scare me I should be totally ok with anything Rob comes up with, right? No. Wrong. I was wrong.
Blackout is about kids. It’s about what happens to kids when a virus spreads through the population and gives them super powers. It’s about what happens to them when some of those powers are used for terrible things. It’s about what happens when the government steps in and the population is frightened by the worst acts of terrorism imaginable.
This is not a book for the faint of heart. I honestly don’t know who is worse, the terrorists or the government. I don’t know who the good guys are. And sometimes, I find myself sympathizing with the bad guys.
Jack and Aubrey are just normal kids. Mostly. They’re going to a high school dance when all hell breaks loose and the army shows up. They’re just trying to survive the next month, the next day, the next minute.
Alec and Laura are trained terrorists. They’re trying to create as much damage and panic as they can before their time is up.
Circumstances throw all four of these kids together and the lines between them get very blurred.
Something More than Night by Ian Tregillis
This is a book I’ve been waiting for for almost three years. It’s a noir mystery set in a Thomas Aquinus heaven. You know I love a displaced noir (Lowtown anyone?) and this one has been highly anticipated since May of 2011 when I heard Ian read the first chapter at LepreCon out in Phoenix.
Gabriel has been murdered and his trumpet, the Jericho Trumpet, has gone missing. Why this should matter to Bayliss, a fallen angel with a passion for detective movies, is almost as big a mystery as the murder itself. But circumstances and the Metatron intervene, making it his problem.
Then there’s the dame, because in this kind of story, there’s always a dame. Usually one with great legs. This girl’s name is Molly and Bayliss accidentally killed her. He was trying, you see, to kill her brother, but Molly went and did something heroic and died. But in doing that, she because an angel. Instead of being a quiet, complacent angel like her brother would have been Molly has ideas. She goes off on her own and gets into trouble that ties her to Bayliss’s investigation.
The Trumpet must be found or Bayliss and Molly may not survive much longer.
It’s amazing. The tone, the descriptions, the high medieval versions of heaven and the heavenly host. The Pleorma where the angels live, the way Molly constructs her new home. The way memories are stored in the architecture of an angel’s dwelling… I cannot even begin to tell you how amazing this book is. Please, please, please, just go out and buy it!
I’m not going to give you descriptions of these because I couldn’t get him to write them up for me. Just follow the links to get to the Goodreads pages:
Bait by Kent Messum
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
What the Family Needed by Steven Amsterdam
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute by Jonathan Howard
Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Lexicon by Max Barry
N0S4A2 by Joe Hill
Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie Jr.
I don’t actually review ebooks that often. It’s not that I don’t think there are good ebooks out there; I know that there are. But, I also work in a brick and mortar bookstore. So… ebooks are a little bit like kicking my own teeth in every time I buy one. However, sometimes, it’s worth the pain. And when I read that Ted Naifeh (you remember Ted Naifeh, I gushed about him just a little while ago) tweeted that he had co-plotted a book with Gayla Twist I popped off to buy it immediately. And I’m not sorry, even if my teeth do hurt a little.
Broom With a View was lots of fun. It is a an alternate history retelling of A Room With a View by E.M. Forster. It opens in an England where Crafters and Vampires have been at war for centuries. The time period is never distinctly specified, but I’d guess it’s most likely Edwardian, so turn of the 20th century. The British countryside is deemed unsafe for a young witch and so Miss Violet Popplewell, our primary protagonist, is sent to X, a fabulous city on the border of Western Europe where the Crafters are mainly focused, and Eastern Europe where the Vampires hold sway.
X itself, is friendly to both, as Violet and her Aunt Vera find out when they arrive at the pensione to discover that ‘Witch Friendly’ does not mean Witch Exclusive. There are, in fact, vampires in residence. Two of them. Comte du Monde and his son, Sebastian.
Hostilites soon break out in X, leading Violet, Vera, the Comte, Sebastian, and a motley crew from the pensione must seek refuge in the countryside. This leads to the sort of trouble that young women in romantic novels always get themselves into. Sebastian kisses her, they are discovered, and Vera flees with her back to the war-torn X where they encounter the most unlikely family of Mortals being accosted.
If you’re familiar with A Room With a View you can guess where everything goes, but with many more twists and turns of fantasy and war. Some of my favorite moments are pulled out and duplicated – the bloody postcards, the lawn tennis match, the naked frolicking… (Yes, I’ve seen the movie with Julian Sands. I’ve seen the movie with Julian Sands several times.)
Violet is, I’m happy to report, a much more active protagonist than Lucy Honeychurch. Lucy is very much a girl of her era, where as Violet is a Witch of her’s. This allows for a great deal more agency, which I appreciated.
I will say, and this is most likely a result of recently going through a writer’s workshop, that the POV was occasionally disorienting. There are multiple 3rd person POVs and I sometimes had to take a moment to reorient myself when we changed character, but they were all well written and well characterized. I’ve just been reading and writing in fixed 3rd person for so long that it was almost revelatory to find myself getting Sebastian’s perspective.
I would absolutely recommend this book if you’re fond of historical fantasy. It’s fairly short, clocking in at around 206 pages, so it’s a fairly quick read. I don’t expect everyone to read it in one day like I did, but it’s possible. It’s also inexpensive. I think when I picked it up the ebook was $2.99. I’ve just double checked, there is a paperback version as well for about $7.50, so if you’d rather have the tangible version (I despise the term ‘dead-tree edition’) you can pick that up instead.
His creator, Andy Runton, is a really nice guy, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet him at several DragonCons. He always does “Owly As” portraits and I’ve got a small collection. I’ve got Owly as Destro and Epic Fantasy! Owly. Somewhere, in another sketchbook I also have Steampunk Owly and Owly as Raccoon Mario.
Owly stories are about friendship and hope and learning. They’re all amazing and you can’t go wrong with any of them. The two hardcover children’s books are in color all the way through. The trade paperback collections are black and white.
If you’re curious and you just want to try out an Owly comic, Andy has several things up on his site. He’s done several Owly comics for Free Comic Book Day and he’s got those as downloadable PDFs. There is no age limit on the Owly books. I buy them for my best friend’s children and for myself. I’ve never been disappointed by Owly.
I’m technically cheating with recommending Owly for a What to Read, because all the Owly books are wordless. They’re fantastic though, because anyone can understand Owly’s stories. It doesn’t matter if you can’t read yet or if English isn’t your native language. All of those barriers are gone. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love words as much as the next ten people, but sometimes, a picture really is worth a thousand of them.
The holidays are not, as a rule, a great time for me. I’ve got a fair amount of trauma in my family history that is centered in the holiday season, so there are lots of sad anniversaries from early November through to New Years. On the other hand, I love sending mail, buying and wrapping presents for people, and baking. The holidays are a fantastic time to get your bake on and make lots of tasty treats.
In honor of that, I thought I would share some of my favorite books associated with baking. And yes, two of these are fiction. Don’t worry, I’ll explain.
Sunshine by Robin McKinley
But Sara, you’re saying to the screen, isn’t that a book about vampires?
Well, yes. Yes it is. But, it’s also about a young woman named Sunshine who bakes things at a coffee shop. She bakes amazing things like Death of Marat and cinnamon rolls as big as your head. She gets up at 4:00 a.m. to go to work in the dark, which is dangerous because… vampires! But she does it anyway, to go make cinnamon rolls, and muffins, and fiddly things with cherries, and chocolate towers that ooze molten chocolate when you cut into them.
Sunshine likes to feed people. Feeding people can be important. It’s a way to take care and to gather together after the bad times, the witch wars that have left most of North America still struggling to put itself back together. There are areas, even entire towns, that you don’t go to anymore because they’ve been too altered by what happened during the wars.
The Others, the vampires and nasty things are gaining ground. There are wards you can put on to protect yourself. Some people, including Sunshine’s boyfriend, even tattoo the wards onto themselves. Everyone knows someone who has some Other blood, a waitress who never pours cold coffee, a schoolmate who had to have that second set of teeth removed. There are wereanimals who try to be discrete, and people who have to work telemarketing jobs because of their slightly blue skin tone. Everyone can cope with that. But no one tries to to say that you can coexist with the Darkest Others, the vampires.
Sunshine doesn’t think much about the vampires. Until the day she goes out to the lake and the vampires find her. Nothing can every be the same after that day.
I love this book. It’s not for everyone. The vampires don’t sparkle. They’re much more Nosferatu than Interview With the Vampire. Sunshine is a very flawed heroine, but I love her all the more for it. And every time I read this book I go on a baking binge of at least a week or two. I just can’t help myself.
A Fistful of Sky by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
I’ve referenced this book before in my Confessions post. It’s one I go back to over and over. I’ve probably read it 14 or 15 times since it came out in 2002.
The LaZelle family is unusual. They all have the ability to do magic, except Gypsum and her father. Her father is just a normal guy who married a glamourous woman and got grafted on to her family. The kids all go through Transition around their 13th birthday, falling ill with a severe fever. When they come through it they’ve gained their power. Gypsum, however, never Transitioned and she’s fine with that. Really. Just fine. So what if her brother can cast a spell on her to keep her quiet about him sneaking into the house late at night? So what if her mother can force her to exercise until she passes out? She’s fine. She’s just fine. She’s not angry at all.
Then, while her family goes out of town Gypsum gets dangerously ill and when she comes out of it she has the power of curses. Gypsum has to navigate her new power and all of the pent up anger from years of being at the mercy of the rest of her family.So, why am I putting it here, in a baking post? Because! First Gypsum does the family Christmas cookie baking. And there is an awesome scene in the kitchen with all the different types of cookies. Later, there is are some amazing scenes where Gypsum uses her power to make brownies and breads and the front lawn ends up covered in little bread beehives. I can’t tell you how much I have wanted to bake enough bread to make a beehive out of ever since I read that for the first time.
A Fistful of Sky re-read usually sparks about a 6-week baking binge for me.
How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
An actual cookbook! How novel?
I love The Joy of Cooking and I use it fairly often, but when I really want to do some serious baking, I break out my hardcover of How to Be a Domestic Goddess and go to town. I adore Nigella Lawson. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because she’s British. But I also love her recipes. They’re all delicious, most of them don’t require crazy ingredients that I can’t get. One of my favorite recipes is the Guinness Chocolate Cake. I typically leave the Irish Cream icing off, because the cake is already so rich. I usually substitute a simple dusting of powdered sugar. It’s one of my favorite go-to cakes if I need something in a hurry. The only special equipment you need is a springform pan.
On the plane home from Disneyworld I ended up sitting with a very nice lady named Barbara Vey who works for Publisher’s Weekly. I mentioned that I worked at a bookstore and so we chatted about books for a while. She very kindly gave me the ARC she had been
reading, which happened to be for Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt. She isn’t an author I’ve read much, but I’m always up for trying new things, so I gave the book a read earlier this week. It’s very fun.
The book is set in the Georgian Era in London and it’s basically about Batman. Yeah, I’m not even kidding about that. The entire Maiden Lane series deals with the Ghost of St. Giles, a vigilante who dresses up in actor’s motley and dispenses justice in the night. There are, as you can guess from the fact that Duke of Midnight is the 6th book in the
series, more than one man dressing up as the Ghost. Each book focuses on a different man who has taken on the Ghost’s disguise. They’re all driven by something, but in this book Maximus, the duke in question, is driven by the brutal murder of his parents. Which he witnessed. When he was a child (eh, he was fourteen, close enough). There is even a missing necklace that was snatched off his dying mother’s throat. (He’s totally Batman!) Maximus even has a faithful valet who is in on the secret. The butler, however, is kept in the dark, just so it’s not a complete clone.
Pointing out the Batman connection is not a knock at the book. It actually made it better for me. Because why wouldn’t I love Batman in Georgian England? With sexy-times? It’s like Gotham by Gaslight if Batman and Catwoman had gotten it on. (And about 150 years earlier, but who’s counting?)
There is, of course, a young lady involved in all of this too. Her name is Artemis and although she is a gentlewoman by birth, circumstances have reduced her to being the companion to her wealthy cousin, Penelope. Penelope has set her cap for the dashing Duke of Wakefield, but it is Artemis who has captured his attention. The fact that she discovered his secret identity just fuels the fire building between them.
There are a couple of side plots around which the romance is built – Artemis’s brother is locked up in Bedlam for allegedly committing three murders while in an insane rage. Maximus is desperately searching for the missing two emeralds from his mother’s necklace as well as he killer.
There are a couple of moments that make me uncomfortable in my feminism bump. There are a few issues of consent and force, but Artemis herself is never uncomfortable or frightened, so those issues are personal to me.
All in all, it’s a fun romance and I’ve picked up the preceding two book in the series to read (those happened to be the ones we had in stock at the bookstore), so I’ll let you know how they are. I didn’t feel like Apollo’s (Artemis’s brother) story wrapped up satisfactorily, but that may be because he is the protagonist of book 7, we won’t know until next year most likely. There were a few other weak points, but nothing that really broke me out of the story. So, if you’re inclined toward historical romances, I’d definitely recommend that you have a look at this series.