Stargazy Pie (Greenwing & Dart, #1)

Stargazy PieStargazy Pie
by Victoria Goddard
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781988908045
Series: Greenwing & Dart #1
Publication Date: October 9, 2016
Pages: 369
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Underhill Books

 

My friend over at Tannat Reads reviewed the second book in this series awhile back and it sounded like fun, in spite of the caveats she shared with me.

She was right about the caveats, and it was a fun read.

The story takes place in an alternative universe I kept trying to plop into the UK because so many of the names of towns and characters, and so much of the atmosphere, felt British.  I was never really able to get past this, so I found it a bit difficult to imagine this world.

And speaking of this world, the author proves here, by it’s complete absence, that a little info dumping can be a good thing.  I spend a third of the book trying to figure out what was going on and it kept me from getting lost in the book until pretty much the last third of the story.  It’s alternate-universe fantasy – a little explaining would have been welcome.

So. much. sneezing.

The main character, Jemis Greenwing, has had a rather shitty life, in spite of having all the necessary ingredients for a charmed one.  It takes way too long, but eventually you figure out that his father was branded a traitor, then a war hero, though nobody remembers that, and his mother a bigamist who went through her inheritance trying to support her and her son.

Both parents die when he’s still young and he goes to university, falls in love and excels at his studies, only to find out his true love betrayed him and his professor flunks him on his final paper.  He ends up in hospital sick with a flu he can’t shake, and the confrontation he and his girlfriend had results in such an uproar, he’s run out of town, and while he’s on a walking tour (hiding), misses his step-father’s death and funeral. He’s back home, trying to hide from everyone who thinks he’s the son of a traitor, and working in a bookshop.  His memory is hazy, he loses his train of thought, he’s certain he’s unworthy of any kindness, and omg, so much sneezing.

All of this is pretty much all the information you don’t get until about half way through the book, and only then in dibs and dabs.  It made it very difficult for me to click with the main character.  He was always unsure of himself, scattered, and, well, moist.

But once Mr. Dart arrived on the scene, and to a lesser extent Violet and Mrs. Etaris, things started picking up.  By the halfway mark I was reasonable certain – as much as the plot allowed, which isn’t much – of what was going on.  Mr. Dart was all the things Jemis wasn’t and it was a much needed boost to my enjoyment. The repartee between the two life-long friends made me feel like I could eventually like Jemis, and by the last third, I was completely hooked on the characters, if not the plot.

The plot came together all too chaotically and rapidly for my liking.  I suppose that’s because Jemis was the MC, and not Mrs. Etaris.  Had Mrs. Etaris been the MC of this book everything would have been far clearer, more organised, and events handled far more efficiently.

But in spite of all of that, there was something fun about this book.  It was quirky, the dialog was smart and amusing, and interesting things happened at a fairly even pace.  So, while I didn’t think I was going to like this book all that much at first, I ended it with a desire to read the second book.

Alls well that ends with another book to read…

Paper & Blood (Ink & Sigil, #2)

Paper & BloodPaper & Blood
by Kevin Hearne
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780356515243
Series: Ink & Sigil #2
Publication Date: August 12, 2021
Pages: 336
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit

 

Well, this was fun.  The follow up to the first book, Ink & Sigil, takes place in Melbourne, Australia, my current residence of record.  Specifically, in the Dandenong Ranges, one of my favorite places here, as it’s primarily rain forest.

This is not a mystery in any sense, but more a quest.  Al and Buck arrive in Melbourne to assist the apprentice sigil agent there with finding her master, who felt a disturbance in the wards, went to investigate, and never returned.  On their way to her last known location, they pick up a hitchhiker, Al’s receptionist, who should be in Scotland but isn’t, Gladys-who-has-seen-some-shite, and meet up with Connor, a/k/a Atticus, the Iron Druid.  Once they get to the trail, they pick up a few more adventurers, some old friends and some new.

This is the rag-tag band that goes out to save the missing sigil agents, if they can be saved, and battle the ever stranger beasts, unimagined chimeras, that spring up in their path.  The only unanswered questions are how the entity arrived and why, but those are answered 2/3rds of the way through rather matter-of-factly, so there’s really no buildup of suspense – just a few minor skirmishes, a perilous passage, and finally the epic battle royale and showdown with those responsible.

Quests have never been my jam, so there was an element of unmet expectation for me.  By dint of my reading tastes, I unconsciously kept waiting for a climax or big reveal.  But other than that, which the setting more than made up for, I enjoyed the story.  The characters felt less over-the-top for me this time around and the humor slightly less adolescent-male, though the hobgoblin, Buck, made up for the quantity with some stunning quality here and there.  I could wish that were toned down a bit more.

I happened to read the Acknowledgments that are at the end, first, and noted that Hearne had every intention of visiting Australia to do the research for this book until the Pandemic we all know and love (to hate) reared its ugly head.  He was forced to get the details second hand and I have to say, having been to all the places he’s mentioned, he and his sources, did a bang up job of getting it right.  The only two tiny details I caught, and only because they vexed me when I arrived here 14 years ago, was in the scene at the Healesville Hotel.  The first is that, unless things have changed, there is no table service at the bar.  The vast majority of casual dining/drinking establishments here don’t have table service.  You order at the counter and then pay at the counter before you leave.  The second is that Ya-ping ordered an iced tea.  I’d kill to be able to order iced tea here – the flavoured stuff is becoming popular here now in a niche way, but they still think iced black tea is a sacrilege.  Both of these things are entirely inconsequential, and I mention them only for the opportunity to vent about them.

I suspect I’m not strictly the target demographic for this series, but I enjoy it anyway and I’m looking forward to the third book, where, hopefully, Gladys-who-has-seen-some-shite will once again play a role.  I like her.

I read this for Halloween Bingo and it is the perfect book for In the Dark, Dark Woods as you can see in the above pictures I took in the Dandenong Ranges. It would also work for Cryptozoologist, as the story is littered with chimeras that include a dragon-turtle-spider and a cassowary-cobra to name but two.

Bayou Moon (The Edge, #2)

Bayou MoonBayou Moon
by Ilona Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780441019458
Series: Novel of the Edge #2
Publication Date: September 28, 2010
Pages: 480
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

 

I’d been told ages ago that The Edge series got better as it went along.  And this second entry was certainly different from the first.

We start off with just one of the characters that played a part in On the Edge, the werewolf, William.  He’s approached by the Weird’s version of the CIA to retrieve something from another clan in another part of the Edge, in the Louisiana territory, where shifters are killed on principle.

Cerise’s family is old and used to part of the aristocracy of the Weird, but was banished generations ago.  They live in a constant state of feud with another old family, and her parents have been kidnapped in the feud’s latest volley.  But there’s another hand running this latest skirmish and it’s after the knowledge Cerise’s grandparents took with them to their graves.  Or maybe not.

This book has a much more sci-fi feel than any of Andrews’ other books save for the Innkeeper series, which came along later.  It’s not science fiction in the strict sense, because what’s done by the antagonist of the story is done entirely with magic, but the scientific processes are applied to these magical ‘experiments’.  The results are cryptozoological creatures that are a horrifying mix of plant, animal and human.  I’m not, generally, a fan of this kind of thing, and it was the part of the book I liked the least.

The characters overcame this though.  There was just something about Cerise’s huge family that was endearing; all of them vastly different from each other and as a whole a lot of fun to read about.

The final battle was … unsatisfactory.  The thing they overlooked seemed too big a thing to overlook, especially for William who fought this antagonist twice before. And the ending was too fairy tale for my tastes, coming within sight of being twee.

It’s sort of a weird book for me, because I was enjoying it as I read it, but after finishing remembered as many of the bits that I didn’t like as I did the bits I did.  But overall, a good read.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021 and it definitely fits the Cryptozoology square, with its characters that are human/plant/animal hybrids.  It would also work for Mad Scientists and Evil Geniuses, as well as Terror in a Dark Town, and Shifter.

Carpe Jugulum (Discworld series)

Carpe JugulumCarpe Jugulum
by Terry Pratchett
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780857524157
Series: Discworld #23
Publication Date: November 22, 2016
Pages: 412
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday

 

It’s done; I’ve read the whole thing.  Which really isn’t saying much because at only a little over 400 pages it’s not like it’s a door stop.  But, and I say this as one who thoroughly enjoys Pratchett, reading the discworld books is hard work for me.  I love the characters, and I laugh out loud at the jokes, and I welcome the footnotes, but something about Pratchett’s narrative style doesn’t flow effortlessly for me, and because of that I’m always looking at them and thinking up excuses to put off reading them.

This was the case with Carpe Jugulum although once Granny Weatherwax finally got involved, the story started moving along enough for me to ignore the effort.

On the surface, the story is a hilarious one that follows the efforts of Count Magpye and his family to overcome the stereotypes of being vampires, or vampyres, as they prefer.  It’s a cautionary tale of what can happen when the wrong mix of intelligence and self-help books come together.

Underneath that are some pretty dark musings, in my opinion.  How much of my opinion is coloured by the knowledge of Pratchett’s early onset Alzheimer’s I’m unable to say, but must be mentioned; there are also shades, I’m sure, of my own current and likely permanent cynicism about humanity.

The book starts off with Granny in a dark place; she’s feeling invisible and forgotten by her friends and her community, and an accident with a cow left her forced to make a difficult choice for someone else.  I’m not sure if we’re meant to believe that’s why she takes herself off to the gnarly moors or if I missed the moment when her true purpose was foreshadowed.  Either way, Granny puts her affairs in order and leaves without a word to anyone, in the throes of a dark depression.

Meanwhile, in an effort to be modern and embrace a modern tolerance for all beings, King Verence invites the vampires into the castle to celebrate the naming of his newborn daughter.  Tolerance taken too far is a touchy topic these days, when everybody is supposed to embrace inclusiveness in all forms but naïveté and inclusiveness aren’t a good mix and it wasn’t hard to draw a line from Pratchett’s vampires being invited in to today’s ‘open-mindedness’ that leads to widely accepted conspiracy theories and general apathy about all the ways the world is currently going to hell.

Then there’s the theological battle that takes place throughout the book.  This felt very auto-biographical to me, as if Pratchett used Oats and the witches to vent his spleen – a very bitter spleen from the feel of things.  So while I was laughing at the numerous moments of hilarity and sly humour, there was a stain over it of … sadness, I guess.  The idea that this genius of storytelling was at his core quite possibly an unhappy man.  And I don’t say that because I claim that without faith in a higher being it’s impossible to be happy, but because to spend so much time elucidating the reasons why such faith is misplaced doesn’t seem like something a person at peace with his personal philosophy, and fundamentally happy, would spend his time doing.  I don’t agree with him about the higher being, but I do agree with him (and Oats and Granny) that one can find the sacred everywhere.

The ending is both simplicity itself and a perfect reflection of the one-way thought processes of humanity.  Not to mention that justice and mercy don’t always come wrapped in bows and happiness.

 

I read this book, which had been on my TBR for years anyway, on the advice of Themis Athena as a good book for the Splatter square on my 2021 Halloween Bingo card.

The Once and Future Witches

The Once and Future WitchesThe Once and Future Witches
by Alix E. Harrow
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780356512471
Publication Date: October 15, 2001
Pages: 517
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Orbit

In 1893, there's no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the three Eastwood sisters join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten ways that might turn the women's movement into the witch's movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote - and perhaps not even to live - the sisters must delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There's no such thing as witches. But there will be.


 

I loved The Ten Thousand Doors of January and bought this off the back of that love, looking to re-capture the magical writing and story telling.

It both did and it didn’t.  The writing is just as magical, and I have not a doubt that many others will find the story just as captivating, but unfortunately I didn’t.  Not because it wasn’t good – it was.  It’s theme just didn’t ring my bell.  I had decided to DNF it after 200 pages or so, but instead I decided to skim-read the rest, knowing I’d be disappointed and always wondering if I didn’t.

I dislike stories that pit women against men, that reduce history down to all women are down-trodden and abused and all men are evil, and this story does almost exactly that.  One woman in this book was against suffrage, except she wasn’t, and exactly two male characters were anything more than drunken, abusive and evil.

If I could subtract that dynamic from the story, while keeping the story itself, somehow (impossible, really), I’d have found the story magical.  I couldn’t help but like Bella, Agnes and James Juniper, and the sense of place was astonishingly vivid.  The magical workings and the ties to fairy tales and nursery rhymes works beautifully.  Ultimately, there are not a lot of fellow readers I’d not recommend this book to.  Except me.  And that’s ok; while I’m certain it won’t be a book I’ll ever pick up again, I’m not sorry that I persevered rather than DNF’ing it.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021’s Spellbound square.  It’s a perfect fit for the square: books containing witches, warlocks, sorcerers and witchcraft.

Havenfall (Havenfall, #1)

HavenfallHavenfall
by Sara Holland
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781526621962
Series: Havenfall #1
Publication Date: March 3, 2020
Pages: 304
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Proof that I can’t resist a free book?

One of the schools I work at is near a small independent bookstore they try to do business with whenever possible.  Last week I went into the staffroom – something I try to generally avoid at all costs – and there were boxes of books on all the tables that said “free”.  Seems the local bookshop was cleaning house and these were all the advanced reader copies that had been accumulating in their back room.  I grabbed one on Elizabeth von Arnim, and because it’s been sooo long since I’ve gotten any new books, I lingered and pawed through them all and finally thought ‘what the hell?’ and grabbed this one.  YA Fantasy is usually more miss than hit with me, but did I mention how long it’s been since I’ve had a new book?

I have to say, it wasn’t bad.  It wasn’t amazing but it held my attention nicely after a rather weak and tedious start.  The second half of the book really morphed into something worth reading and I give points to Holland for sneakily weaving an Important Societal Lesson into the story about the power of perceptions and propaganda to alter history.

It wasn’t so good that I’m curious about what comes next, but it was good enough that should I stumble across the second book I’d probably pick it up.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

The Ten Thousand Doors of JanuaryThe Ten Thousand Doors of January
by Alix E. Harrow
ISBN: 9780356512440
Published by Orbit on September 10, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Magical Realism, Fantasy, Historical
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
four-half-stars

In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut. In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place. Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

 

Things that attracted me to this book:  the title (I first saw it in January, around my birthday); the cover; and the blurb mentioning a book.  I picked it up because the only books appealing to me right now are fluffy, preferably magical realism plots.

This book was both and neither.  I have no idea how to describe it.  A grown-up fairy tale sounds too trite and too superficial, though its roots are firmly in myth and legend.  The writing is lyrical, the tense is fourth-wall-breaking second person.  It’s a happy story, a heart-wrenching one, and a magical one all at once. It’s both predictable and surprising; cynical and fantastically idealistic.  It genuinely shocked the hell out of me because it wasn’t at all what I expected.

As the ward of the wealthy Mr Locke, January Scaller feels little different from the artefacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored and utterly out of place.

But her quiet existence is shattered when she stumbles across a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page reveals more impossible truths about the world…

It’s both a perfect and perfectly inadequate description.  The closest I can come is a story with very faint shades of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, only for grown-ups.

four-half-stars

The Big Over Easy (Nursery Crimes, #1)

The Big Over EasyThe Big Over Easy
by Jasper Fforde
Rating: ★★★★½
Series: Nursery Crimes #1
Publication Date: January 1, 2005
Pages: 398
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

 

This book…  I have so many random thoughts about this book.  In no particular order:

1.  Easily the most highly quotable book I’ve ever read.  Including books of quotes.
One of my favourites:
Mr. Pewter led them through to a library filled with thousands of antiquarian books.

‘Impressive, eh?’

‘Very,’ said Jack.  ‘How did you amass all these?’

‘Well,’ said Pewter, ‘you know the person who always borrows books and never gives them back?’

‘Yes–?’

‘I’m that person.’

Don’t know why, but that cracked me up.

2.  I’m pretty sure Fforde had no intention of writing a satire (based on what I’ve found on the interwebs) about the sensationalism of the free press, but this is definitely a case of current events shaping a reader’s interpretation of the text.  I had a really hard time reading this and not drawing parallels.

3.  I’m equally sure he definitely meant to write a satirised murder mystery and this was easily the closest I’ve ever read to my blog’s namesake movie, Murder By Death, which in my totally biased opinion is the acme of mystery satire.  Which brings me to another quote:

Dog Walker’s Face Body-Finding Ban
Anyone who finds a corpse while walking their dog may be fined if proposed legislation is made law, it was disclosed yesterday.  The new measures, part of the Criminal Narrative Improvement Bill, have been drafted to avoid investigations looking clichéd…

Now this is legislation I can get behind.

4.  I wish I’d picked this book up directly after reading The Well of Lost Plots.  It makes no difference to someone new to Fforde’s books, but I think those that have read TN would feel a stronger connection to the characters here when The Well… was still fresh in the memory.

5.  Prometheus has an incredible monologue on pages 271-273.  A popular fiction novel that can weave serious philosophy into its narrative always earns huge bonus points with me.

6.  Oh, yeah – good mystery plot too!

Off to order the second one…

Something rotten

by Jasper Fforde

ISBN: 9781932416244

[star]

Thursday has left the Bookworld after 2 years and is transitioning back to the real world and not without a fair few hurdles. Goliath is aiming for classification as a religion, Kaine is one step away from ruling all of the UK as a dictator, Danish books are being rounded up and burned by order of the government and in her absence, Thursday was convicted of cheese smuggling. Her husband is still eradicated and she’s 20k pounds in the hole on her overdraft. Oh, and she has to keep an eye on Hamlet, who came out of Bookworld with her so he could find himself.

Oh, so many things to love about this book. In no particular order and without spoilers:

– Pickwick. Pickwick is always worth loving but Fforde makes her so expressive with so very few words. She made me laugh out loud at least once.

– This is not the book to be in if you’re Danish. Lots of satirical comedy surrounding the sudden discrimination against Danes (especially in the chapter headings). Because some of my best friends in the world are Danish, I think I find it a lot funnier than some might; Fforde just nails it.

– Neanderthals get a lot more page time.

– The fight in the hanger. No spoilers, but I’ll just say it was masterful literary chess.

– The fate of the world might truly rest on the outcome of a game.

This is the book that wraps up more than a couple of story arcs. Lots of answers and very few questions remaining. I’ll admit I missed the footnoterphone more than I would have thought, and I truly prefer the shenanigans of Bookworld over the shenanigans of Real Life. Not really a surprise. There was a bit that I think went too far and felt too convenient, but I can’t even hint at it without spoilers so I’ll leave it at that.

The ending of Something Rotten is what got that last 1/2 star out of me. It was… well, just read it for yourself. If you’re a Thursday Next fan, I expect it will get you in the same place.