{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

{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

{Book} The Other

picture of a book, The Other
My copy of The Other along with a nice bookmark from the library.

The Other by Thomas Tryon

Holland and Niles Perry are identical thirteen-year-old twins. They are close, close enough, almost, to read each other’s thoughts, but they couldn’t be more different. Holland is bold and mischievous, a bad influence, while Niles is kind and eager to please, the sort of boy who makes parents proud. The Perrys live in the bucolic New England town their family settled centuries ago, and as it happens, the extended clan has gathered at its ancestral farm this summer to mourn the death of the twins’ father in a most unfortunate accident. Mrs. Perry still hasn’t recovered from the shock of her husband’s gruesome end and stays sequestered in her room, leaving her sons to roam free. As the summer goes on, though, and Holland’s pranks become increasingly sinister, Niles finds he can no longer make excuses for his brother’s actions. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Read This Book?
The Other is on a lot of classic horror best-of lists. It’s considered pretty scary and very influential in the genre of horror.

What Did I Think?
There is a problem sometimes with influential genre books…they’re *influential*. Meaning their tropes and twists get used in other stories (when they’re not being entirely ripped off). I can’t think of any story that specifically like The Other, but nothing about this novel’s twist surprised me. I figured it out really early on despite some obfuscation in the narrative. Or maybe it’s a matter of my “learning” horror in a post-M. Night Shyamalan world. I kind of meta-analyzed this book as I read it and that perhaps that robbed it of some enjoyment for me. I will admit, an event near the end of the book did surprise me.

Original Publishing info: Knopf, May 1971
My Copy: mass market paperback, Fawcett Crest, acquired via Book Mooch
Genre: horror, psychological thriller.

Readers Imbibing Peril | Something Wicked Fall

Review ~ The Count of Monte Cristo

Cover via Goodreads

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, Robin Buss (Translator)

A popular bestseller since its publication in 1844, The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the great page-turning thrillers of all time. Set against the tumultuous years of the post-Napoleonic era, Alexandre Dumas’s grand historical romance recounts the swashbuckling adventures of Edmond Dantès, a dashing young sailor falsely accused of treason. The story of his long imprisonment, dramatic escape, and carefully wrought revenge offers up a vision of France that has become immortal. As Robert Louis Stevenson declared, “I do not believe there is another volume extant where you can breathe the same unmingled atmosphere of romance.” (via Goodreads)

The Count of Monte Cristo was one of those books that, despite everyone else having read it and loved it in high school, I had never been required to read. Honestly, I’ve never been required to read any Dumas and picked up The Three Musketeers for fun in college. But everyone kept telling me that The Count of Monte Cristo was Dumas’ better book. And it is!

I also hadn’t ever watched an adaptation of the novel, so I didn’t know what to expect. I knew there was revenge, but I expected more of the “My name is Inigo Montoya; prepare to die!” swashbuckling-style of revenge. Instead, Edmond Dantès revenge is an intricate puzzle that envelopes generations. It’s melodramatic and delicious. I have no idea how you’d manage to do it well in a movie. While there is some musing on the righteousness and awfulness of revenge, much of this book is just so sensational, so “popular literature.” And occasionally, The Count of Monte Cristo feels a little padded out as Dumas (and his probably collaborator Auguste Maquet) wrote for serialization.

I read this as part of Nick’s Chapter-a-day Readalongs and that was a great way to experience the story. I had made reading The Count of Monte Cristo part of my morning ritual for over 100 days and I miss it! I sought out Robin Buss’ translation. I’d read the first chapter in the commonly available public domain translation and it was just a little too stilted. There are also many abridged editions out there—I own one of them and have it around here somewhere. I wonder what parts you’d leave out of this tale…

Original Publishing info: 1846
My Copy: Trade paperback, 2003 edition, purchased at Barnes & Noble
Genre: adventure

Review ~ The Zombie Ball

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

Cover via Goodreads

The Zombie Ball, An Eli Marks Mystery #6 by John Gaspard

A Blast From the Past

Eli’s asked to perform his magic act at a swanky charity gala, The Zombie Ball– a former zombie pub crawl which has grown into an annual high-class social event. What begins as a typical stage show for Eli turns deadly when two of the evening’s sponsors are found murdered under truly unusual circumstances. Compounding this drama is the presence of Eli’s ex-wife and her new husband, Homicide Detective Fred Hutton. Under pressure to solve the crime before the 800 guests depart, Eli and his detective nemesis go head-to-head to uncover the bizarre clues that will unravel this macabre mystery. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I enjoy mysteries, but I haven’t gotten too involved in many mystery series. The Eli Marks books have been the exception. Eli is a working magician and his insight into crimes are often based on the principles of magic.

What Worked
One of the things that keeps me reading a book, and in this case a series, is having a character I like spending time with. Eli Marks is one of those characters. He’s smart and funny (because of course John Gaspard writes him that way) and it’s been entertaining seeing Eli get his life on track. Which means this was also a fun time-warp back to when Eli was freshly divorced and taking any gig that came his way.

What Didn’t Work (as well as usual)
This was a fairly short story, about half the length of previous Eli Marks mysteries. It has a quite a long set up; there isn’t a corpse on the scene until about the 60% mark. This is fine. The time is spent with Eli as he meets our cast of characters and settles in at the Zombie Ball venue. But is also make for a very quick resolution to the mystery.

Overall
If you’ve been following the adventures of Eli Marks, The Zombie Ball is a decent extension of the series. If you haven’t read any Eli Marks mysteries, start at The Ambitious Card. You won’t be sad you did.

Original Publishing info: Albert’s Bridge Books , 2019
My Copy: Kindle ARC
Genre: mystery

Review ~ Guilt is a Ghost

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

Cover via Goodreads

Guilt is a Ghost by Tim Prasil

In 1899, a séance was held at the Morley Mansion in Boston, Massachusetts. The millionaire Roderick Morley was desperate to contact his murdered friend. He hoped to clear himself of suspicion by identifying the true killer. The séance went horribly wrong, though, and Morley left the room—to commit suicide. By 1903, the Morley Mansion was deemed haunted! The new owner hired Vera Van Slyke, an odd but brilliant ghost hunter. With her assistant, Lucille Parsell, Vera quickly realized that, to banish the ghost, the two would have to solve the murder. But a fugitive murderer wasn’t the only shadow cast over the Morley Mansion. A fake medium had performed at that séance, a shame-ridden woman who called herself: “Lucille Parsell.” And, sometimes, guilt is a ghost that can never be banished. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I read Tim Prasil’s Help for the Haunted previously and enjoyed it. Help is a collection of connected mysteries. Set in the late 1800s and early 1900s, our detectives are ghost hunter Vera Van Slyke and reformed fraudulent medium Lucille Parsell. If you can’t see just how much this is a “book Katherine would read,” you haven’t been around my blog too long.

What Worked
As with Help for the Haunted, there are, in fact, ghosts in Guilt is a Ghost, and there are two things that I particularly like about how ghosts are treated in these stories.

First, ghosts are  naturalistic phenomena. There are rules and some scientific theories surrounding them that is in line with the era. One of those rules is that guilt rips holes in the existential fabric between the living and the souls of the dead. Ghost are the bleed-through. This places the cause of ghost more on the living, which is an intriguing idea.

Also, the solution to the mystery isn’t provided by the ghosts. Too often I’ve read supernatural mysteries in which a ghost is given omnipotence and can provide answers when the human protagonists hit a wall. That is such a cop-out, but not one engaged in here.

The mystery in Guilt is a Ghost is complex enough that it warranted a novel length story. There a few non-action scenes with characters discussing matters, but I like spending time with Vera and Lucille. Their conversations are never a hardship. Vera is a lunch-and-beer-loving character after my own heart.

What Didn’t Work
Minor quibble: Timeline-wise, the stories from Help for the Haunted fall in the midst of Guilt is a Ghost. Guilt starts out with the circumstances that lead Vera and Lucille to meet, but the majority of the story takes place after the events of Help.* The transition is a tiny bit clunky. Reading Help for the Haunted isn’t necessary before Guilt is a Ghost, but it isn’t a bad idea either.

* Actually, I was reminded that the chronology of stories isn’t quite that clean cut. In fact, one of my favorites from Help occurs right after Guilt! But don’t let this scare you. If you need it, Tim Prasil has a “cheat sheet” for you.

Overall
Ghosts, female detectives, early 20th century. The only thing I’m sad about is that I don’t have more Vera Van Slyke mysteries for the coming autumn reading season!

Original Publishing info: Brom Bones Books, 2019
My Copy: trade paperback
Genre: mystery