{Book} Minor Mage

Minor Mage

Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher

Oliver was a very minor mage. His familiar reminded him of this several times a day.

He only knew three spells, and one of them was to control his allergy to armadillo dander. His attempts to summon elementals resulted in nosebleeds, and there is nothing more embarrassing than having your elemental leave the circle to get you a tissue, pat you comfortingly, and then disappear in a puff of magic. The armadillo had about wet himself laughing.

He was a very minor mage.

Unfortunately, he was all they had. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
T. Kingfisher (aka. Ursula Vernon) writes the type of light, funny fantasy that I enjoy, and that I’d like to write.

Programming Note
I’ve noticed that, especially in prose fiction but also in non-fiction and TV/movies, there are three basic things that keep me interested: plot, characters, and setting. A story doesn’t need all of these, but it can’t utterly fail in one of them either. I’ve decided I want to think about these three aspects in my “reviews.”

Plot
Minor Mage has a pretty simple plot. Oliver is a twelve year-old mage’s apprentice, whose master has died before teaching him much. Unfortunately, his village needs him to journey to find the Cloudherders and bring back rain to break a drought. That’s it. The story is his journey through a haunted forest filled with bandits. And who are the Cloudherders anyway? How will he manage when he only knows three spells and has a young armadillo as a familiar? It’s the limitations that make the plot good.

As I noted back in my Sunday Salon post, I started the year reading Kingfisher’s The Twisted Ones. I put it down at the 20% mark because the plot was moving very slowly and, honestly, the creepy happenings weren’t enough to really hook me into the plot. There is probably a lot more going on plot-wise in The Twisted Ones, but it was taking sooo looong to get going.

Characters
T. Kingfisher’s strength is her characters. Oliver is admirable. He’s loyal to his community, but unsure of his own abilities and their motives for sending him off on his own. (He was going to go anyway!) He wants to be a more major mage, but his youth causes him to reach before becoming an expert at what he already knows. His familiar is an armadillo; only slightly wiser than Oliver and much more snarky. Their additional companion is a very peculiar minstrel who is always in trouble.

Setting
The setting isn’t too much different from generic medieval Europe. There’s a small village. There’s a haunted forest. Kingfisher does spice it up with quite a few plant details. There story does have some gore and some other creepy things which, if this were a movie, would probably put it in the PG-13 range despite the young main character.

Overall
Just the sort of fun, slightly absurd fantasy I was wanting. Great first full read of the year!

Original Publishing info: Red Wombat Studio, 2019
My Copy: OverDrive Read, Greater Phoenix Digital Library
Genre: fantasy

{Books} Two from True Crime

Alligator Candy Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession

 

Why Did I Choose These Books?
I chose both of these books due to my continuing investigation into true crime as a genre. Savage Appetites was recommended to be by multiple people because it is very much what I want to learn about: why do we “like” true crime. Alligator Candy was a book I chose through Goodreads’ “Readers Also Enjoyed.”

Alligator Candy: A Memoir by David Kushner

Every life has a defining moment, a single act that charts the course we take and determines who we become. For Kushner, it was Jon’s disappearance—a tragedy that shocked his family and the community at large. Decades later, now a grown man with kids of his own, Kushner found himself unsatisfied with his own memories and decided to revisit the episode a different way: through the eyes of a reporter. His investigation brought him back to the places and people he once knew and slowly made him realize just how much his past had affected his present. After sifting through hundreds of documents and reports, conducting dozens of interviews, and poring over numerous firsthand accounts, he has produced a powerful and inspiring story of loss, perseverance, and memory. Alligator Candy is searing and unforgettable. (via Goodreads)

What Did I Think?
When David Kushner was four years old, his older brother went missing and was later found dead. Obviously, being so young at the time, his memories surrounding the events are very hazy and muddled. For example, did his brother go off on his bike to the store just to get David some Snappy Gator candy? And that’s what really intrigued me about this particular story. Kushner grows up in the shadow of his brother, but gradually realizes how unreliable memory is. The memoir is about family and personal survival and how he came to find some truths about the event.

I listened to Alligator Candy as an audio book narrated by the actor Bronson Pinchot. As I keep saying about these true crime books, this was a hard “read.” Pinchot does a wonderful job reading it.

Original Publishing info: Simon & Schuster 2016
My Copy: Audio, hoopla Digital Library
Genre: memoir

Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession by Rachel Monroe

A provocative and original investigation of our cultural fascination with crime, linking four archetypes—Detective, Victim, Defender, Killer—to four true stories about women driven by obsession.

In this illuminating exploration of women, violence, and obsession, Rachel Monroe interrogates the appeal of true crime through four narratives of fixation. In the 1940s, a frustrated heiress began creating dollhouse crime scenes depicting murders, suicides, and accidental deaths. Known as the “Mother of Forensic Science,” she revolutionized the field of what was then called legal medicine. In the aftermath of the Manson Family murders, a young woman moved into Sharon Tate’s guesthouse and, over the next two decades, entwined herself with the Tate family. In the mid-nineties, a landscape architect in Brooklyn fell in love with a convicted murderer, the supposed ringleader of the West Memphis Three, through an intense series of letters. After they married, she devoted her life to getting him freed from death row. And in 2015, a teenager deeply involved in the online fandom for the Columbine killers planned a mass shooting of her own. (via Goodreads)

What Did I Think?
I hadn’t realized just how much the audience for true crime skewed toward female. I knew that it did, but when Rachel Monroe writes about the true crime convention that she attends, I didn’t expect that the vast majority of attendees would be women. Monroe writes about four case studies which illustrate what she finds to be archetypes of true crime fans: the detective, the defender, the victim, and the killer.

I’m not entirely sure I agree with Monroe’s theory that women especially are true crime fans because we slot into these types. It doesn’t quite feel right to me and, as Rennie from What’s Nonfiction, pointed out, it might be because these case studies are pretty  extreme. Monroe also floats the idea that because women taught at a young age to be wary and alert, true crime is sort of further training: maybe if we empathize alternately with the detectives, defenders, victims and killers, we can be better prepared for bad situations. Ironically, though true crime probably has never been more popular, violent crime rates are generally down.

My favorite of these four women profiled (which probably exposes my true crime archetype) was Francis Glessner Lee—the detective. Lee, an heiress, spent her later years creating miniature crime scenes to be used as a teaching tool. She also championed the cause of scientific investigation of crimes and is considered the mother of forensic science.

Original Publishing info: Scribner 2019
My Copy: Overdrive, Tempe Public Library

{Book} War for the Oaks

War for the Oaks

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

Eddi McCandry sings rock and roll. But she’s breaking up with her boyfriend, her band just broke up, and life could hardly be worse. Then, walking home through downtown Minneapolis on a dark night, she finds herself drafted into an invisible war between the faerie folk. Now, more than her own survival is at risk—and her own preferences, musical and personal, are very much beside the point.

By turns tough and lyrical, fabulous and down-to-earth, War for the Oaks is a fantasy novel that’s as much about this world as about the other one. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
This is a re-read. I first read it in 2011-ish. I wanted to read it again because I’ve been in a “light” fantasy, or maybe even urban fantasy, kind of mood.

Programming Note
I’ve noticed that, especially in prose fiction but also in non-fiction and TV/movies, there are three basic things that keep me interested: plot, characters, and setting. A story doesn’t need all of these, but it can’t utterly fail in one of them either. I’ve decided I want to think about these three aspects in my “reviews.”

Plot
Machinations of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. There is something about faeries that make my eyes glaze over. In this book, in Paul Kidd’s otherwise excellent Greyhawk trilogy; there’s just something I’m missing in the subtleties of deception, I guess. So, I’m not super thrilled with the faeries bits of plot in War for the Oaks. Luckily, it’s all pretty murky to Eddi too. When the plot is boiled down to action-reaction, I’m totally okay with that.

Characters
Eddi is a good character. She’s unsure of herself, even after willingly stepping deeper and deeper into fae politics. While she’s maybe sort of fairy-touched, she’s often wrong, which is sort of refreshing. I like the moments of Eddi looking into the bathroom mirror and pulling herself together. It’s…relatable.

The phouka may be one of my favorite characters in literature. While I’m not a fan of Fairy Court stories, I have a weakness for eloquent, smart aleck fairies. The other characters—the band members—are also just good eggs. Carla, especially, is the best friend you’d want to have by your side.

Setting
One of the things I love about this book is it Minneapolis setting. Emma Bull knows Minneapolis and it shows. Places are almost important to this book as music, which is also part of the setting. Eddi and Fey are a rock and roll band, after all. (I hadn’t searched on Spotify while I was reading, but a War for the Oaks playlist exists.) During my first read of this book, I was annoyed by the fashion details that are included, but this time those details might have been one of my favorite things. What characters are wearing really evoked the late 1980s.

Overall
I liked War for the Oaks more on second read, and I enjoyed it quite a bit the first time! Half of me would really like to see it on the screen, either as a movie or TV series. The other half knows that, with all the music and performances involved, it would be so hard to do well. I feel like this book isn’t read much anymore, being 30-odd years-old. I definitely recommend it.

Original Publishing info: Ace, 1987
My Copy: mass market paperback, acquired via Book Mooch
Genre: urban fantasy

{Book} Well Met

Well Met (Well Met, #1)

Well Met by Jen DeLuca

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can’t seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon, or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
Sometimes I need a little frivolous romance in my reading life. I’d also like to add some romantic B-plots to my own writing, but I’m not super familiar with romance genres. Kazen at Always Doing reviewed Well Met a while back and it sounded like a fun story that I would enjoy.

Programming Note
I’ve noticed that, especially in prose fiction but also in non-fiction and TV/movies, there are three basic things that keep me interested: plot, characters, and setting. A story doesn’t need all of these, but it can’t utterly fail in one of them either. I’ve decided I want to think about these three aspects in my “reviews.”

Plot
I’ve watched my share of rom-coms, but I’m a newb when it comes to reading the genre. Therefore, I was actually intrigued about where the plot was going. At about 70% it seemed that our characters were into happily-ever-after land, so I started wondering who was going to screw things up and how. Thankfully, the turn of events wasn’t too out there, but it wasn’t entirely obvious either.

Characters
All in all, the characters weren’t anything special, but they were all likable enough (even Simon when he’s being a bit of ass). More importantly, all the characters were separate people. Occasionally, I thought Emily was a little dense about things, but maybe that can be forgiven due to her pre-book breakup.

Setting
I liked the ren faire setting, but I was a little confused about how small of a town Willow Creek is. On one hand, everyone seems to know everyone’s business. On the other, the town is big enough for physical therapists, an indie bookstore, and enough people to support a renaissance faire. I can see that maybe Willow Creek is on the edge of a metro area, but does that lend itself to that small-town-ish-ness? It’s not a big deal, but the setting didn’t feel as real to me as I would have liked.

Overall
This was fun. It was a light read with enjoyable enough characters and a pleasant romance. It seems to be the first in a series. Not sure what more story there is, so I probably won’t read the next one.

Original Publishing info: Penguin Publishing Group, 2019
My Copy: Tempe Public Library
Genre: rom-com

{Books} Ghostbuster’s Daughter & Pumpkinheads


Shockingly, I announced a TBR near the beginning of the month and haven’t read anything from it. I should possibly always find/replace “books to-be-read” with “book-I’m-not-going-to-read-yet.”

Ghostbuster's Daughter cover Ghostbuster’s Daughter: Life with My Dad, Harold Ramis by Violet Ramis Stiel

At the beginning of the month, I jumped into reading some heavy stuff about axe-murderers and hysterical news papers for NaNoWriMo. I intended to read The Beautiful Cigar Girl for NonFicNov, but it was too much of the same thing.

Instead, I checked my elibrary “wishlist” and chose something different: Ghostbuster’s Daughter. Not only is Harold Ramis my favorite Ghostbuster, but he wrote and directed several of my favorite movies. I was looking forward to some nice movie trivia bits. This books has some of that, but it’s mostly about Violet Ramis Stiel. And her life is… somewhat interesting? It’s definitely a look at a person who has been a very privileged and only sometimes aware of that.

Pumpkinheads cover Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell (author), Faith Erin Hicks (illustrator)

I put this on hold at the library on October 7th and just got it this week. I had really hoped to read it before Halloween, but que sera, sera.

Pumpkinheads was pretty much exactly what I expected: autumn-in-Nebraska setting, fluffy romance, and some honest-to-goodness funny bits. I also really appreciated that Deja’s secondary mission for her last night working at the pumpkin patch (a Disneyland version of a pumpkin patch) is to sample all the snacks. And the art was lovely!

 

{Book} Death by Suggestion

This book was provided to me by the editor for review consideration.

Death by Suggestion: An Anthology of 19th and Early 20th-Century Tales of Hypnotically Induced Murder, Suicide, and Accidental Death

Death by Suggestion: An Anthology of 19th and Early 20th-Century Tales of Hypnotically Induced Murder, Suicide, and Accidental Death, edited by Donald K Hartman

DEATH BY SUGGESTION gathers together twenty-two short stories from the 19th and early 20th century where hypnotism is used to cause death-either intentionally or by accident. Revenge is a motive for many of the stories, but this anthology also contains tales where characters die because they have a suicide wish, or they need to kill an abusive or unwanted spouse, or they just really enjoy inflicting pain on others. The book also includes an introduction which provides a brief history of hypnotism as well as a listing of real life cases where the use of hypnotism led to (or allegedly led to) death. (via Goodreads)

Why Was I Interested In This Book?
The late 19th and early 20th century was awash in periodicals. A wealth of literature is tucked away, nearly forgotten, in these magazines. It always surprises me how modernly “genre” some of these stories are, especially since they aren’t from the pulp magazine that appear by the 1920s. It’s fun to see what gems can be mined, especially on a particular theme.

In the case of Death by Suggestion, Donald Hartman has pulled together over twenty tales of hypnosis and mesmerism from the Victorian and Edwardian eras  in which death also plays a part. Hypnosis was quite the fad topic at the time and Trillby, the novel that spawned the character of Svengali, was a bestseller.

What Did I Think?
This was an entertaining collection. Appropriately, I read it during October and enjoyed all the perilous situations. There are murders; there are suicides; there are accidents. As is often the case for me, though, (maybe it’s my aging brain) I wish I wouldn’t have read it straight through. The stories tend to start feeling the same when I read too many in a row. It’s not the fault of the stories.

The anthology has some recognizable names (Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Conan Doyle) and some rather unknowns, as you might expect. In all cases the quality of the writing is pretty good, which is not always the case when delving into old magazines. I do wish the stories had been placed in chronological order, but that’s probably my over-want for order kicking in. I’ll probably eventually reread this anthology, but reorder the stories.

But, I’d also unreservedly recommend this anthology for Deal Me In, if one might start thinking about the 2020 edition of that challenge already. The story choice and stories themselves are far better than the Hitchcock anthologies I’ve been reading this year…

Original Publishing info: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018
My Copy: Kindle edition provided by the editor
Genre: mystery/crime

Happy Halloween from The Black Cat, Vol. 2

I promised a second set of stories from The Black Cat for Halloween, but I’ve almost run out of holiday season. 😉 Here’s a link to the first five stories.

Mr. Williamson, a mysterious jeweler, has gone missing and after a period of time, his massive safe is being removed from his former place of business. Between the time of Williamson’s arrival in town and his disappearance, a series of burglaries and robberies have taken place, including Williamson himself being mugged. But after Williamson disappeared, the robberies stopped. What happened? And is the answer to be found in his safe?

Link to “The Williamson Safe Mystery” by F. S. Hesseltine

Mr. Jones is a bit nosy. He noticed the rather smart family who lived in the building across the street and when he noticed their absence, he was quick to inquire about their apartment. After he moves in, he befriends Mr. Flemming, the second floor’s only other resident. Since the other rooms on the floor aren’t locked, they make light use of them. During one lazy evening, Jones notices that the width of two apartments is shorter than the hallway is long. Is there a secret room? And the better question, why is there a secret room?

Link to “The House Across the Way” by Leo Gale

Prof. Linwood was a collector of seaweed. Until he got married. But now his wife is dead and the seaweed room is kept locked. No one knows why, so surely it would be okay if a late-staying guest spends the night there, right?

Link to “The Seaweed Room” by Clarice Irene Clinghan

A man and woman on the run settle in a deserted Boom Town. Their crimes are never enumerated, but they have a good-sized box of money. Their plan is to lay low in this town for a year and then head to South America. Everything is fine for a while. The couple obviously love each other and enjoy the freedom of having a whole town at their disposal. But when they are forced to move into the old hotel, the woman starts hearing a small voice asking, “Mama?”

Link to “The Reapers” by Batterman Lindsay

An old salt, Tom, tells Sam of a treasure on Mustery Island. After braving a squall to reach the island, Sam encounters a dog that leads him to a dilapidated mansion. There he finds a invalid woman with dimentia. She believes she’s a refugee from the French Revolution and goes on about some devil-weed on the island, protecting the treasure. It all seems too fantastical to Sam…until he meets the devil-weed…