Review: To Be Taught If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

Review: To Be Taught If Fortunate by Becky ChambersTo Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 153
Published by Harper Voyager on September 3, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In her new novella, Sunday Times best-selling author Becky Chambers imagines a future in which, instead of terraforming planets to sustain human life, explorers of the solar system instead transform themselves.

Ariadne is one such explorer. As an astronaut on an extrasolar research vessel, she and her fellow crewmates sleep between worlds and wake up each time with different features. Her experience is one of fluid body and stable mind and of a unique perspective on the passage of time. Back on Earth, society changes dramatically from decade to decade, as it always does.

Ariadne may awaken to find that support for space exploration back home has waned, or that her country of birth no longer exists, or that a cult has arisen around their cosmic findings, only to dissolve once more by the next waking. But the moods of Earth have little bearing on their mission: to explore, to study, and to send their learnings home.

Carrying all the trademarks of her other beloved works, including brilliant writing, fantastic world-building and exceptional, diverse characters, Becky's first audiobook outside of the Wayfarers series is sure to capture the imagination of listeners all over the world.

My Review:

This is the kind of story that we read science fiction for. It’s a story that asks big questions and gives very human answers.

If we take Star Trek as an example of large scale SF, this book is small-scale SF – in spite of its outside-our-solar-system travel itinerary. Where Trek moved through the galaxy at faster-than-light speed, ignored its prime directive of noninterference at pretty much every turn, and searched for “Class M” planets that could support human life as it is, Ariadne and the crew of the Merian do the exact opposite at pretty much every turn.

Starting from their very origins. The Earth that Ariadne and her crew leave in the late-21st century is recognizably a dystopian future of the world we know now. The coastlines are sinking, the economy is tanking, the skyscraper cities are on fire and climate change has turned worse and deadly. Governments are toppling, borders are redrawn at the drop of a hat and the situation is going to hell in a handcart at every turn.

But all is not hopeless, or at least not yet. There may be no longer be either a NASA or an International Space Station, but there is a worldwide volunteer effort to raise nickels and dimes and small amounts of every currency in large enough numbers to fund space exploration not just within this solar system but to the nearest exoplanets as well.

It’s a long journey – especially when limited to the speed of light. The crews of the tiny, self-sustaining ships of the Lawki expeditions are expected to go “out there” to a selection of likely planets, explore for months or years, and then move on to the next.

They are also expected to leave no footprints and to take only pictures, memories and tiny samples that will have as little effect as possible – ideally none – on the world they leave behind. The expeditions are not looking for worlds ideal for human life – actually the opposite. They are exploring purely for the science and are not looking for any “new civilizations” because they might disturb them with their observations.

They are also adapting themselves to each planet as they go. And the science and engineering of that are fascinating – as are the human consequences of those adaptations.

It’s not a one-way trip. The astronaut/explorers on the Merian, Ariadne, Elena, Jack and Chikondi are intended to return to Earth. But they will spend most of their journey – all of the time they are not planetside – in stasis. For them, the journey out there and back again will only take a few short years.

But on the Earth they leave behind, 80 years will pass. Their families and friends will be long dead by the time they return. Anything could happen while they are gone.

And it does.

Escape Rating A+: To Be Taught, If Fortunate, turns out to be both a prophetic title and a thought-provoking look at big science wrapped up in a very human story.

I say prophetic, not because of the dystopian Earth it portrays, but because there’s a lesson in this story, and if we’re lucky, we get it before we reach that dystopia. Although that’s not the only lesson. There are plenty of marvelous little lessons along the way, about what it means to be human, how important it is to have purpose. How unimportant the package of “who we love” is vs. the importance that we love. How close a found family can be – even when it seems to be falling apart. That where we come from and who we stand for are more critical than mere self-fulfillment.

We experience the voyage of the Merian through the eyes of her engineer, Ariadne. Ariadne is not one of the science specialists, so her vision is not so tunnel-oriented as that of the rest of the crew; Elena the meteorologist, Jack the geologist and Chikondi the botanist. Ariadne’s job is to keep their little ship flying – and to pilot her when she is. She’s also an extra pair of hands for anyone who needs Petri dishes washed, or instruments checked.

But in a group of highly-specialized scientists, her generalist’s background gives her a perspective most like our own. She does see the forest for the trees – when there are trees – and doesn’t merely hunker down to count the rings.

We’re in Ariadne’s head every step of the way, so we get her hopes, her fears, her worries and her witty asides. We identify with her and her journey, both her excitement at the exploration and the depths of her despair when things go terribly, horribly wrong. And we see her come out the other side, scared and scarred by her experience.

One of the coolest bits of science in this story is the way that, instead of adapting the planets to meet human needs, the humans are adapted with reversible, changeable genetic engineering to the planets. Ariadne likens herself and her shipmates to butterflies in the way that they go into a chrysalis (their Torpor pods on the ship) and come out with completely different external attributes than they went in with. But, like the butterfly, they are always the same on the inside – except as their experiences change them.

The story of To Be Taught, If Fortunate, is both a big story and a small one. The Merian is exploring just a tiny portion of the great big galaxy, and they view that small bit through very human perspectives. The story is about the small ship, the tiny crew, and the little bit they see. But what they experience is huge – and the reader is right there with them every step, jump and squelch of the way.

And the question they leave us with at the end? It’s ginormous.

Review: The Lying Room by Nicci French

Review: The Lying Room by Nicci FrenchThe Lying Room by Nicci French
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Pages: 432
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on October 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

One little secret between a married woman, her lover, and a killer.

It should have been just a mid-life fling. A guilty indiscretion that Neve Connolly could have weathered. An escape from twenty years of routine marriage to her overworked husband, and from her increasingly distant children. But when Neve pays a morning-after visit to her lover, Saul, and finds him brutally murdered, their pied-à-terre still heady with her perfume, all the lies she has so painstakingly stitched together threaten to unravel.

After scrubbing clean every trace of her existence from Saul’s life—and death—Neve believes she can return to normal, shaken but intact. But she can’t get out of her head the one tormenting question: what was she forgetting?

An investigation into the slaying could provide the answer. It’s brought Detective Chief Inspector Alastair Hitching, and Neve’s worst fears, to her door. But with every new lie, every new misdirection to save herself, Neve descends further into the darkness of her betrayal—and into more danger than she ever imagined. Because Hitching isn’t the only one watching Neve. So is a determined killer who’s about to make the next terrifying move in a deadly affair….

My Review:

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” Sir Walter Scott said that back in 1806 in his poem Marmion, but the phrase has become a cliche because it is just so demonstrably true so very often. Mark Twain put it another way, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” And he was equally right.

Neve Connolly should have taken both of those phrases to heart long before she decided to clean up her lover’s apartment. She tried her level best to erase herself from the man’s life – before someone else finds his murdered body. Along with the truth about their affair.

Neve begins the story as discontentedly married and disappointingly approaching middle age. Her lover, who was also married and also, in an entirely different cliche, her boss, is dead. She goes to his flat (the story takes place in contemporary London which does turn out to be important later), thinking they’re about to have a tryst, only to discover him dead on the floor with his head bashed in.

She didn’t do it, but someone certainly did.

And this is the point where Neve’s life goes completely pear-shaped – but not in the way that it should have.

She thinks she can erase herself from her lover’s apartment by cleaning the place within an inch of it’s – or actually her – life. While the corpse is lying on the floor of the living room. That she is probably erasing evidence of the murderer doesn’t seem to enter either her conscience or her consciousness. Her only motivation is protecting herself from the way that her life would implode if the affair was discovered.

But no one in a panic is thinking as clearly as someone would need to be to get themselves out from under a scenario with this much potential for self-destruction. The situation should backfire on Neve.

And it sort of does – but not in any way that she ever could have expected.

Escape Rating C+: I picked up The Lying Room because I really enjoyed the author’s Frieda Klein series and hoped that this standalone would have the same kind of taut excellence. (If you are interested, start with Blue Monday and proceed through the rest of the days of the week!)

But one of the things that I liked about Frieda Klein’s series was the character of Frieda Klein herself. Because Frieda Klein is an intelligent protagonist – and also because while she may sometimes be misled and she’s certainly someone to whom terrible things happen through no fault of her own – she’s never stupid and she never gets herself into stupid situations.

When she does defy the police – and she sometimes does – it’s both for a good reason and we expect her to succeed long enough to accomplish her goals.

As the protagonist, Neve drove me crazy. I just didn’t like her and didn’t want to be in her head. On the other hand, I passionately dislike her, so the author definitely got me involved.

But seriously, she’s unhappy at home – for reasons that are easy to empathize with – and takes the easy way out of having an affair to spice up her life rather than rock the boat at home. And as a reader I could see why she made those choices.

I fell off the “understand” wagon when she didn’t put on her big girl panties and deal with the results of her actions, as horrible as those results were. There are lots of cliches about people who have affairs secretly wanting to get caught in order to bring whatever the crisis in their home life is out into the open. How true that cliche is, well, who knows?

But I found the results of her actions contradictory. She just didn’t act smart enough to fool the police – but she managed to do so anyway. And that in spite of something that the UK readers of this book have pointed out repeatedly. Contemporary London is one of the cities most saturated with CCTV in the world. This story takes place in Central London but none of the police ever attempt to consult CCTV to discover the killer. They suspect Neve but never look at the CCTV to see if she was at the victim’s apartment or not. It’s not that there was a catastrophic and coincidental failure of the CCTV in one way or another – it’s that they never try.

Instead, it seems like the police inspector in charge of the case turns into Neve’s stalker. Or should I say Neve’s second stalker? Because it seemed obvious to this reader from the earliest parts of the book, even before Neve discovers that corpse, that someone is stalking her.

Who the stalker is – and their motivations for following her, assaulting her and trying to put her in the frame for the murder – did turn out to be surprises. But that someone was there was not. It was just a matter of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

In the end, I found this one disappointing, especially in comparison to the Frieda Klein series. But it’s staying in my head a fairly long time in that disappointment, so perhaps infuriating is closer to the mark. As always, your reading mileage may vary. Considerably.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Howl-O-Ween Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Howl-O-Ween Giveaway Hop, hosted by The Kids Did It and The Mommy Island.

Fall is finally Fell here in Atlanta, so it’s actually beginning to feel like it’s time for Halloween and all things pumpkin.

But about those trick-or-treaters…

This time last year, we were looking towards our first Halloween in a new house, and had no idea how many trick-or-treaters would be coming to our door. The neighbors gave estimates of anywhere from less than 30 to a couple hundred – which is a pretty broad range to work with!

It turned out to be closer to 30 – if that. We live in a cul-de-sac, and, apparently, the local custom is to drive kids to the houses. Cul-de-sacs aren’t popular under those conditions.

We were fortunate – VERY – that the neighborhood took up a collection of leftover Halloween candy to give away elsewhere. We really didn’t care where elsewhere was, as long as it was away from us – but I know it went somewhere charitable I just don’t remember where. Now that neither of us works in an actual office, we didn’t have a “work crowd” to absorb the excess – of which there was a lot.

This year we’ll get treats for 30 and turn off the lights in front IF we run out. Unless conditions have changed a LOT from one year to the next, we don’t expect to.

What about where you are? Do you get lots of trick or treaters? Or just a trickle? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance at either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more fabulous spooky prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

Review: Jade City by Fonda LeeJade City (The Green Bone Saga, #1) by Fonda Lee
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Green Bone Saga #1
Pages: 498
Published by Orbit on November 7, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon's bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.

When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.

Jade City begins an epic tale of family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of jade and blood.

My Review:

The story begins with an act of violence and an act of mercy. And it ends when the consequences of those acts come full circle.

It also feels like the result of one of the strangest mashups ever. It’s as if urban fantasy and The Godfather had a book baby, midwifed by the Shogun phenomenon of the late 1970s. And yes, I know just how strange that sounds.

Jade City reads like an urban fantasy. It has that noir-ish feel that seems part and parcel of that genre. And yet, the magic in this story, the magic that is enabled by the wearing of bioenergetic jade, is actually science rather than the type of magic that usually powers urban fantasy. Likewise, the ability to use or tolerate jade – or be immune to it – is also science-based, and can be manufactured through the use of drugs, also created by science.

So the Green Bone Saga is one of those rare series that walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, but is not a duck. It feels like urban fantasy and reads like urban fantasy – but it’s actually science fiction. Sorta/kinda.

I called The Godfather the book’s second parent, because this isn’t a story about good vs. evil, as fantasy so often is. Instead, this is a story about warring criminal organizations that are also clans. The two clans, the Mountain and No Peak (and I’m kind of ashamed at how long it took for me to get that pun) control the city of Janloon and the country of Kekon. The clans don’t govern, but they definitely control. As the saying goes in Kekon, gold and jade don’t mix.

It seems as if every single person in Kekon is part of one clan or another. And certainly the clans control all economic life in the country. The “Fists” and “Fingers”, under the control of the “Horn”, are the enforcers and, if need be, warriors. They protect the clan and its interests. The “Luckbringers” and “Lantern Men”, under the aegis of the “Weather Man”, run the clan’s businesses. Every business in Janloon pays tribute to one clan or the other. It’s not merely “protection money” the way it is in other criminal organizations. That tribute goes into the clan’s coffers, and goes out again whenever a member of the clan, including those Luckbringers and Lantern Men, needs help or a favor.

The clans seem to serve as both family and protective association. It’s a complicated system, but it also works. (Even though some of the titles use the words “man” or “men” not all Lantern Men, not all Weather Men, and not all the Fists and Fingers are actually men. There are several key female players in this drama, and more as the series continues.)

The clans also control the mining of that bioenergetic jade, the country’s major source of wealth – and the biggest bone of contention between the two clans as well as the reason that the major powers that surround Kekon eye the country like hungry scavengers looking for vulnerable prey.

Which Kekon has been in the recent past and has no desire to be in the foreseeable future.

And that’s where our story begins. Not that it seems that way at first. At first, what we see is two young idiots trying to steal jade from a drunken old Fist of the No Peak clan, and their punishment by the Horn of No Peak, Kaul Hilo, and his older brother, the Pillar and leader of the clan, Kaul Lan.

Events spiral out from that seemingly minor incident that expose the weakness of No Peak, the insidious strength of their enemies in the Mountain, the deception of the No Peak Weather Man and the rot at the heart of their family.

In the end, honor is only temporarily served. But it exacts a high price just the same.

Escape Rating A+: Jade City was a book that didn’t let go of me, and I didn’t let go of it, either. I was listening to this one – and the audio is marvelous – but I couldn’t listen fast enough and eventually switched to the book. Which I finished in one binge-read of an afternoon/evening. Then I immediately started on the second book, Jade War, which is just as fantastic and just as hard to let go of.

An observation that at first may seem like an aside – listening to the audiobook means that you have no idea how anything is spelled, while reading the text means that you have no idea how anything is pronounced.

That’s relevant to Jade City because of that third book parent or influence I listed above, the book Shogun by James Clavell and the TV mini-series that it spawned. While Janloon and Kekon are not Japan, they are not Japan in the same way that so many of the classics of epic fantasy are not set in the United Kingdom or Europe. The Shire is not rural England, but it is intended to have that feel. Epic fantasy in particular is rife with examples where the map was influenced by Western Europe as are the cultures and mores of the fantasy kingdoms without being exact analogs. (Although sometimes they are, particularly in the works of Guy Gavriel Kay and Jacqueline Carey).

Janloon and Kekon are both inspired and influenced by the history and culture of Japan and the author’s own heritage in ways that fascinate the reader and add to the depth of the story. The Green Bone Saga isn’t just a good story, it’s an immersive experience and I’ve loved every minute of it.

At the same time, both Shogun and The Godfather were also products of the 1970s. (The Godfather was published in 1969 and Shogun in 1975). The setting of this story, not just Janloon itself but the levels of technology that the reader sees and hears about from the rest of Kekon and the world, are meant to feel like the 1970s, with TVs and cars and records and pay telephones and many other things that were part of life in the 1970s but that have changed immeasurably since.

(It may be difficult to imagine now, but at the time Shogun was originally broadcast, it was at the height of the mini-series boom and was an excellent example of its kind. Also, it (loosely) portrayed a period of Japanese history when the country pursued an extremely isolationist foreign policy – if that’s not a contradiction in terms. There is resonance between the fictional history of Kekon and the real history of Japan in that Kekon is coming out of a period of isolationism and is dealing with the results of that change in policy – among other changes – during the story.)

The Green Bone Saga, at least so far, is not a battle between good and evil. While the series is definitely epic in scope, it is not epic fantasy in that sense. The readers follow one side of this clan war, and we’re meant to empathize with the Kaul family – and we do. That doesn’t mean that they are “good” in the way that epic fantasy defines its heroes.

But they are, every single one of them, absolutely fascinating to watch. I’m in the middle of Jade War, the second book of this series, right now – and loving every minute of it. My only regret about the whole thing is that the final book in the series, Jade Legacy, does not yet have a projected publication date. It’s going to be a long wait to see how the Kaul family – and Kekon – survive the mess they are now in.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 10-6-19

Sunday Post

This was the week of the hot mess in reviews. Honestly, three of the books I reviewed this week featured a hot mess in one form or another. Ivy Gamble in Magic for Liars is a hot mess, as was the entire situation of the French Revolution in Ribbons of Scarlet (although the book about this particular hot mess is very good!) and the story in This is How You Lose the Time War, well, it read like a hot mess to me, although opinions on this one certainly vary. It seems to be a book that people either really love or can’t quite get into – and for me it was the latter.

It also feels like Giveaway Hop season is starting to rev up. Whether that’s because people are in more of a giving mood near the holidays, or because some bloggers (including moi) enjoy having a day when we don’t have to produce a review, or a bit of both, it’s still getting to be that season. Speaking of giveaway hops, signups for the Black Friday Giveaway Hop are open! – even if I can’t believe I’m working on stuff for Thanksgiving already.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the Follow the Yellow Brick Road Giveaway Hop is Megan
The winner of The Price of Grace by Diana Munoz Stewart is Sharon
The winner of Coming Home for Christmas by RaeAnne Thayne is Danielle

Blog Recap:

A+ Review: Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
Spooktacular Giveaway Hop
B+ Review: Ribbons of Scarlet by Kate Quinn
A Guest Review by Amy: Sten by Chris Bunch and Allan Cole
B- Review: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Stacking the Shelves (360)

Coming This Week:

Jade City by Fonda Lee (review)
Howl-O-Ween Giveaway Hop
The Lying Room by Nicci French (blog tour review)
To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers (review)
Pets in Space 4 by S.E. Smith, Anna Hackett, Tiffany Roberts, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie A. Green, Donna McDonald, Regine Abel, Alexis Glynn Latner, E.D. Walker, J.C. Hay, Kyndra Hatch, Cassandra Chandler (review)

Stacking the Shelves (360)

Stacking the Shelves

It’s still summer in Atlanta. Maybe not according to the calendar, but it’s supposed to be in the 90s again this weekend. Forecasts say the temps will finally start dropping this week, but, as the saying goes, “Climate is what you expect. Weather is what you get.” So far this “Fall” we’ve been getting way more weather and not so much climate. For those of you thinking that 90s sounds marvelous compared to whatever you’ve got – particularly if you’ve already got snow – we hit the too much of a good thing point a LONG time ago.

At least this is great weather for staying in the cool air conditioning and reading a good book. Or two. Or ten. But we’re still looking forward to cooler nights when ALL the cats sleep with us!

For Review:
The Apollo Deception by Mitch Silver
A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen
Camp Lake (Carson Chronicles #5) by John A. Heldt
The Case of the Spellbound Child (Elemental Masters #14) by Mercedes Lackey
The Country Guesthouse (Sullivan’s Crossing #5) by Robyn Carr
Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand
Flamebringer (Heartstone #3) by Elle Katharine White
Into the North (Keltin Moore #2) by Lindsay Schopfer
Losing You by Nicci French
My Way to You (Creek Canyon #1) by Catherine Bybee
The Poet King (Harp and Ring #3) by Ilana C. Myer
Sorcery Reborn by (Rebellion Chronicles #1) Steve McHugh

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (audio)
Of Wars, and Memories, and Starlight by Aliette de Bodard
The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl (Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #3) by Theodora Goss (audio)

Review: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Review: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max GladstoneThis Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, time travel
Pages: 201
Published by Saga Press on July 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Two time-traveling agents from warring futures, working their way through the past, begin to exchange letters—and fall in love in this thrilling and romantic book from award-winning authors Amal-El Mohtar and Max Gladstone.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.

My Review:

If Kage Baker’s Novels of the Company and Good Omens had a book baby, it would be This Is How You Lose the Time War. Including the implied queer romance between Aziraphale and Crowley being realized and not merely implied. Just completely gender-swapped. At least, in as much as Red and Blue have gender as we understand it.

Howsomever, while I loved Kage Baker’s series, especially the first dozen books or so – start with In the Garden of Iden and be prepared to disappear for a few weeks – and Good Omens the book was even better than the TV series, which was awesome in its own way, I’m not sure I actually liked This Is How You Lose the Time War.

It’s fascinating in some ways. And it’s a quick read. But “like” is much too pale and wishy-washy a word. I feel like I’m sitting on a fence with this book, in the sense that all that sitting on a fence usually gets you is splinters up your arse.

Let me attempt an explanation.

What Time War has in common with The Company is the concept of two factions seeding themselves through time, both attempting to control the outcome of history for their own ends. And both having agents in place – or rather in time – in various successful and unsuccessful efforts to change history.

And the concepts of “good” and “evil” in both series end up being far from clear cut. From our limited 21st century perspective it is impossible to know whether history would “better” – for very undefined meanings of “good”, “evil” and “better”, whether Red’s mecha-cyber future is superior to Blue’s “Garden”.

But, even though Time War eschews any concepts of absolute good or absolute evil, even in the watered down and corrupted versions of both that are exposed in Good Omens, what this book does borrow from Gaiman and Pratchett is, in part, the same thing that they borrowed from Cold War era spy fiction – that sometimes, in the midst of a long, long war, the agents from the opposing forces have more in common with each other than either does with their respective home teams.

They have both “been in the long grass and seen the elephant” in ways that no one can understand – unless they been in there with them in a way that only their opposite number has done.

At the same time, the friendly-but-opposing protagonists of This is How You Lose the Time War do come to the same conclusion that Aziraphale and Crowley do – that they are together on their own side, and if need be, alone against the cosmos.

Escape Rating B-: I am still not sure how I feel about this book. I’m baffled and a bit confused.

There’s a part that is fascinated by how the story is told. It doesn’t begin and the beginning, tell a story, and end at the end. Instead, the story is told through a series of letters written between Red and Blue. It’s not just the letter itself, but also the circumstances surrounding the discovery of each letter.

We get bits and pieces of who these two are, what they are, and the neverending war that they were born to fight. We’re also supposed to see them fall in love with each other through their correspondence, but I’m not sure I see how it happens. I mean, I see that it does, but without them ever meeting face to face, I’m not quite sure I buy the romance.

I’m equally fascinated by the way that the story ends, because it doesn’t. It comes full circle and then kind of fades to black. We’re left hoping that they found a way, but we don’t see it.

In the end, I found This is How You Lose the Time War to be more interesting than it was satisfying. A lot of people seem to have absolutely adored it. I think I wanted more plot to sink my teeth into.

Your mileage, as always, may vary.

Review: Ribbons of Scarlet by Kate Quinn

Review: Ribbons of Scarlet by Kate QuinnRibbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution's Women by Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb, Allison Pataki
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, women's history
Pages: 560
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on October 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Six bestselling and award-winning authors bring to life a breathtaking epic novel illuminating the hopes, desires, and destinies of princesses and peasants, harlots and wives, fanatics and philosophers—six unforgettable women whose paths cross during one of the most tumultuous and transformative events in history: the French Revolution.

Ribbons of Scarlet is a timely story of the power of women to start a revolution—and change the world.

In late eighteenth-century France, women do not have a place in politics. But as the tide of revolution rises, women from gilded salons to the streets of Paris decide otherwise—upending a world order that has long oppressed them.

Blue-blooded Sophie de Grouchy believes in democracy, education, and equal rights for women, and marries the only man in Paris who agrees. Emboldened to fight the injustices of King Louis XVI, Sophie aims to prove that an educated populace can govern itself--but one of her students, fruit-seller Louise Audu, is hungrier for bread and vengeance than learning. When the Bastille falls and Louise leads a women’s march to Versailles, the monarchy is forced to bend, but not without a fight. The king’s pious sister Princess Elisabeth takes a stand to defend her brother, spirit her family to safety, and restore the old order, even at the risk of her head.

But when fanatics use the newspapers to twist the revolution’s ideals into a new tyranny, even the women who toppled the monarchy are threatened by the guillotine. Putting her faith in the pen, brilliant political wife Manon Roland tries to write a way out of France’s blood-soaked Reign of Terror while pike-bearing Pauline Leon and steely Charlotte Corday embrace violence as the only way to save the nation. With justice corrupted by revenge, all the women must make impossible choices to survive--unless unlikely heroine and courtesan’s daughter Emilie de Sainte-Amaranthe can sway the man who controls France’s fate: the fearsome Robespierre.

My Review:

Women have always fought. We have always lived in the castle. We have always defended the castle, and stormed the castle as well. We have always been there, on the front lines as well as behind the scenes, no matter how much we are written out of the supposedly official histories of “great men and great deeds” that try to pretend that we weren’t in the room where it happened – or on the ramparts defending that room.

The enduring images of the parts that women played in the French Revolution can (unfortunately) be reduced to three, not that there weren’t plenty of women involved, but history as written goes back to those “great men and great deeds” so that women’s contributions can be swept under the carpet – as sweeping was considered an appropriate activity for women.

When we think of women in relation to the French Revolution, the images that have stuck are poor, waifish Cosette from Les Misérables, the over-pampered and over-privileged Queen, Marie Antoinette crying, “Let them eat cake!” and the villainous Madame Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities, knitting and cackling as the guillotine falls.

I’m just realizing that those three women conveniently fall into the “maiden, mother, crone” triptych and wondering if that’s what has made those particular three so memorable. I digress.

Ribbons of Scarlet, fictional though it is, tries to go deeper into the roles that women played during the Revolution. I almost said “both sides” but that implies that the sides were MUCH more clearly defined than they actually were. The Revolution, as the saying went, ate its young.

Instead of straightforwardly proceeding through the story of the French Revolution, or even telling it as a braided novel like The Glass Ocean by “Team W”, Ribbons of Scarlet proceeds from the very beginnings of the Revolution to its exhausted ending at the ascension of Napoleon Bonaparte through narratives that focus on the part that each woman played in her point in history – then she hands the story off to the next woman until it comes full circle back to the original narrator.

Each woman’s story is written by a different author, telling the story of the French Revolution almost as a relay race rather than a single story. Grouchette passes the baton to Louise who in her turn passes it to Elisabeth to Manon to Charlotte to Emilie and, at last, back to Grouchette.

All of these women, including, surprisingly, the revolutionary Louise Audu, were historical figures. Manon and Sophie were prolific authors, and the words and views ascribed to them in the story are documentably their own.

We have always fought. Sometimes with words – and sometimes with pikes.

Escape(ish) Rating: B+: To say that the French Revolution, for all its noble aims, turned out to be a clusterfuck implies a level of organization that doesn’t seem to have actually been present. After reading Ribbons of Scarlet, it feels more like the French Revolution was a goat rope. (Now there’s a term I never thought I’d have a use for, but my word the whole thing was completely fucked.) Reading this book makes me wonder how France managed to get itself organized back into a country – ever. So many histories focus on “great men” and “progress” that the level of sheer savagery gets reduced to something bearable. It probably has to, or history classes would need trigger warnings for this section – not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

However, just because all of the women were real doesn’t make them all equally interesting, or at least written equally sympathetically. In some ways, Ribbons of Scarlet feels like a short story collection on a single theme, and like all collections some stories work better than others. That being said, Grouchette’s section coming at the beginning was a great way to get into the story. I liked her and I found her perspectives surprisingly easy to identify with.

At the same time, Elizabeth’s extreme piety and unassailable belief in the divine right of kings, as well as Louise’ and Manon’s internal dialog about their own sexuality, while they feel right for their time,  make hard reading in ours.

But they ALL advance the story, it’s just that some heads are more interesting to be inside of than others – whether or not those heads eventually got cut off or not. Most of their fates were tragic in one way or another. That their voices have been lost to history – that’s the real tragedy.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Spooktacular Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop, hosted by Review Wire Media and Chatty Patty’s Place!

Look at all those cute pumpkins up there!

It’s Jack-O-Lantern season, which means we’re creeping up on Halloween – no matter what the thermometer says.

It also means that Pumpkin Spice Season has officially begun. OH NO! Pumpkin spice season, the dreaded pumpkin spice season is upon us.

This is an endless debate in our house. My husband is on Team Pumpkin Spice, and I’m on Team Never Pumpkin Spice. Or almost never. Pumpkin spice belongs in pumpkin pie. I could possibly see my way clear to pumpkin spice tea. I like Constant Comment, and it couldn’t be far from that. Could it? I’m not sure I really want to find out. I might get infected with the Pumpkin Spice virus. Or whatever it is.

But Pumpkin Spice Special K is just beyond the pale. I’m also having a terrible time “digesting” the idea of either Pumpkin Spice Pizza or Pumpkin Spice Spam. That is NOT what Monty Python had in mind!

Are you on Team Pumpkin Spice Forever, or are you with me on Team Pumpkin Spice Never? Answer in the rafflecopter for your choice of a $10 US Amazon Gift Card (promise me not to buy Pumpkin Spice anything, pretty please !) or a $10 book from the Book Depository.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I’m joking about that promise not to buy any pumpkin spice if you win, but I’m not joking that there are plenty of other stops on this hop!


Review: Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Review: Magic for Liars by Sarah GaileyMagic for Liars by Sarah Gailey, Xe Sands
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, urban fantasy
Pages: 336
Published by Tor Books on June 4th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sharp, mainstream fantasy meets compelling thrills of investigative noir in this fantasy debut by rising star Sarah Gailey.

Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magic. She is perfectly happy with her life—she has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It's a great life and she doesn't wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha.

But when Ivy is hired to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach.

My Review:

Magic for Liars is a mystery in the exact same way that American Magic is a spy thriller. It follows all of the conventions of its genre – except for one thing. Magic is real.

Another way of putting it would be to say that Magic for Liars takes place in the world of either Harry Potter or The Magicians. It’s very much a murder mystery, but the setting is a high school for mages, whether they are called witches, wizards or magicians, or whether they are simply said to “be magic”.

Ivy Gamble is not magic – but her twin sister Tabitha is. And is a teacher at exclusive Osthorne Academy for Young Mages, where young magic users go through high school and learn how to manage their talents.

So when one of Tabitha’s fellow teachers dies in what seems to be a spectacular case of experimental magic gone very, very wrong, the school’s headmaster, Marian Torres, comes to Ivy to investigate. The official investigation has ruled the case as an accidental death, but Torres is not convinced.

She wants Ivy to look into it. After all, Ivy is a licensed private investigator, and more importantly, Ivy won’t have to be convinced that magic is real. She’s already well-aware of that fact. And still resents the way that magic took her sister away from her.

Ivy doesn’t want the job. She doesn’t want to become immersed in a world where she’ll always be an outsider. She doesn’t want to have to deal with the sister she still loves but also deeply resents and no longer speaks to.

But she can’t resist the opportunity – or the paycheck. In spite of just how many of her own ghosts she’ll have to deal with along the way. Or drink to oblivion.

None of Ivy’s assumptions and presumptions turn out to be remotely true. Her hopes and fears on the other hand – all too desperately real – if not worse than she ever imagined.

Escape Rating A+: I listened to this one, and this is one of the rare cases where the audio doesn’t merely tell the story, it actually makes it better. Better for something that is already damn good equals awesome.

Magic for Liars is told in the first person by Ivy, who is seriously a hot mess. Her story is very noir, her internal voice sounds like one of those cliched hard-boiled detectives. What the narrator manages to do is capture both the world-weariness of her voice and her internal wistfulness. Because Ivy needs to solve the case, but what she desperately wants is to belong. More even than that, she wants her sister back. And that’s what the narrator manages to capture in a way that is, honestly, magical.

The story itself is sad and fun in equal measures. On the one hand, we have high school. With all of its drama and melodrama. One of Ivy’s frequent observations is just how trivially the students use their incredible gift for magic. But they are high school students, and that’s what high school is for.

At the same time, as an outsider she is able to see the dark underbelly in all its seedy disgustingness. The need to “fit in”, even at the cost of self. The fear of exposure. And the constant bullying and manipulation, by teachers, by siblings, by enemies and especially by friends.

But the case eludes her – not because she doesn’t understand magic, but because she doesn’t want to face her own truths. When she finally does, it all becomes clear – and clearly, heartbreakingly awful.