When faced with an historic horror, most of us immediately think "How could they?" It is inconceivable that good people would stand by and do nothing in the face of genocide or chattel slavery. Some things seem so obviously wrong. But of course people are always doing horrible things while other people try to stop them, or stand by, frozen into inaction by all the other people who are also not doing anything, or don't even notice the wrongness so deeply embedded in their society.
Thus, the enslavement of millions of people. There's really nothing about it that isn't horrific: kidnapping, owning people, rape as a means of production. Kowal tackles this one head on, sending the Vincents out to deal with his family's sugar cane plantation in Antigua. She does an excellent job of looking at if from different angles to solve their problems. And although it's fantasy, there's no pretending like a little magic can fix all this.
Altogether a really interesting way to take Jane Austen and run with it. This particular series has the historical period down, and manages a gentle touch when addressing all the ugliness Austen eschewed. And a big plus, there is some humor and Jane does get some witty comments in, but it isn't just snappy comebacks.
I just realized: I do have a column where are the squares have been called. It just so happens that the center column is the only possible bingo for which I haven't finished a single book.
Somehow my strategy of just picking up whatever on the stack looks appealing now seems to have been less than ideal.
Still, I'm having all kinds of fun.
Shirley Jackson and her husband had four kids. Apparently her deep understanding of the human psyche extends just as well into humor as it does into horror.
A significant part of the pleasure of any of the Rivers series is the part where the magic-using police officer gets to explain to someone else that there is real magic, but that it's hidden by agreements between nations after WWII. Just as part of the fun of Dr. Who is the doctor getting to explain about the tardis.
Another pleasure of reading the books in this series is the cast. Many a writer would set a story in a modern German city and have an exclusively white-by-default cast. It doesn't have to be a big thing or a plot point, although there is one minor detail revealed only because someone is Black and it's a tiny wonderful moment.
If the women or the mystery were stronger, it'd be perfect. As it is, highly enjoyable.
Had this just been a book of Regency magic and manners it would have been charming enough: the period is evoked more convincingly than usual in both dialog and mores. But no, Kowal wasn't content to leave it at that: there are complications such as creative and technological insight and war. You don't get a lot of that sort of development, which is a pity, because I really love seeing characters work through problems and setbacks. There were also books being read, both for information and group entertainment, which doesn't appear nearly as often as it should in books.
So, awesome. All the pleasures of an Austen novel, such as the mortifying realization of how the regular and normal behavior of one's family is perceived by others. But also the kinds of things that are left out of Austen. Although she must have known a great deal about solving problems in her work and testing out various options, I can't recall any instance of someone actually doing anything like work, let alone encountering challenges in it. And the wars, of course, were never mentioned directly, despite the number of officers in uniform who are so very appealing to the young women. Mind, I'm not saying that Kowal is trying to fix Austen in any way, just that she has found interstices in which to introduce other elements without seeming to contradict the historical feel. Plus, the heroine is not beautiful and knows it, a rare element in fiction.
I'm very eagerly looking forward to reading the rest of the series, and then moving on to Kowal's other work.
Something of a black comedy: all theatrical effects, pun intended. A Broadway play turned deadly has Mallory managing to rope everyone into working the case. Entertaining, of course, but also O'Connor succeeds at pulling in reference to every Broadway story I can think of. The end result is perhaps less of a puzzle to solve and more of a dazzling performance. Vicious fun.
The Glamourist Histories start with an extremely well-done Jane Austen sort of Regency romance with magic as an art form. Then with each subsequent book Kowal makes great leaps in the development of the art, development of the characters within their marriage, the opportunity to take her couple places Austen never went like the Napoleonic wars and the slave trade, while always managing to maintain the Austen tone.
It's kind of astounding even though Novik does essentially the same thing with the Forester/O'Brien tradition of naval war novels.
And now I'm off to read, because writing this up I realized that I skipped the second book in the series entirely. I knew my September was rough, but, wow, that's a pretty huge error to make.
Vastly entertaining. I enjoy the relationships between Lady Julia and everyone else enormously. Plus there are her pets and I am really enjoying her development, both in her pursuits and her marriage.
Atmospheric as all get out. Death on a small Shetland island: it's practically a locked-room mystery.
I really don't know what it is about Cleeves I like so much: the overthinking detective, the isolation but also the interdependence. There's just a mood to them that's quite pleasing. You know as the reader it's all going to come out in a big burst, and the tension is amazing.
I read this as part of Halloween Bingo, so the fact that this book could reasonably be applied to about half the squares is woth mentioning. This is the first book I've read which used the singular nongendered they/their as pronouns, which slowed me down a bit at the beginning. But it worked, and never felt gimmicky. Z. was a plausible fourteen year old zombie who's entire family died in an auto accident: only Z reanimated.
There's werewolves and high school bullying and good teachers and bad teachers and a growing movement in favor of shooting all the monsters. As a metaphor, it is terrifying. But it's also the story of school misfits becoming friends, and of teens solving a mystery, so there is significant fun as well as the terror.
I'm delighted it was recommended to me, and I can't wait to read Shrieve's subsequent books. As good as this debut was the next one should be astounding.
Forty years since my first reading. It's still a compelling and catchy story. I love the unsolved mystery of it, as well as the solved one. All of the details were lost to me, only the barest plot outlined remained, and yet, it was memorable.
No doubt there is far more one could say about this than "that's weird and cool." But that's all I've got. It was handed to me and it only takes a very short time to read, so I gobbled it up. Some of the scaled art was particularly intriguing.
Heartbreaking and Truly Terrifying.
I was sitting around the supper table with my family discussing theories about the Salem Witch Trials. The ergot theory was put forward, and I dismissed it, largely because of the scale: hundreds of people accused, tortured, and tried over more than a year, but also because the initial accusers would roll around on the floor in seeming fits but immediately recover, and none of them suffered anything like an actual injury during those supposed fits. Then the Spouse mentions that French town, you know...
I did not know. I had never previously heard of the book nor the incident it describes in well-researched, well-documented, and well-communicated detail. In August of 1951 some three hundred people in and around Pont-Saint-Esprit in Provence, France were poisoned. It was a horrible accident that killed five people,hospitalized more than a hundred, and caused many to suffer lasting debilitation.
As a medical mystery, it is enthralling. All the local GPs as well as the large number of treating physicians from the nearest largest cities agreed they were seeing an event out of history a mass poisoning due to ergot. They had to look in history books to get treatment ideas.
Then there's the legal mystery: who are what will be blamed and have to pay? The investigators had quickly found the suspect flour, but then there were years of examining the evidence. The police couldn't accept the ergot theory because the volatile alkaloids disappeared too quickly and too completely. There was literally no evidence. The legal wrangling that followed lasted a decade.
It's a fascinating book for those interested in medical or historical mysteries. Fuller is thorough in his recounting, but never boring. Since I didn't have Truly Terrifying, I took advantage of that black dust jacket for
This is my cover. I like it rather more.
One advantage of re-reading for Bingo: I get around to finally writing up books I loved once upon a time. These books are every bit as charming as I recall. Miss Melville, like Miss Marple and an infinite string of other Misses of a certain age, is overlooked and discounted, still. When artists keep ending up dead, she notices, she listens, she figures it out.
It's a little funny to me that I liked these so much as a college student. Now it makes sense: there aren't nearly enough middle-aged heroines around. And Miss Melville is always so polite, so well-brought-up, so pleasant that no one seems to notice how very clever she is.
While this would suit a number of squares, including Cozy Mysteries, I picked Amateur Sleuth, because a retired assassin and lauded professional painter amuses me as a sleuth. Also, I really love the word "sleuth"
because so much work! I only have ten minutes to read and I can't waste the time to go to another room to get whichever book I'm on. Gah! But I'm going to have a day off soon, when I will get to finish some of these, maybe.
But pretty card with called squares in red, and hardly anything read.
The best I can figure is someone went through a random collection of scenes never used for other books because they weren't very good, shuffled them into a chronological order, and then typed it up with consistent names.
It's a mess, and none of the aspects rise above thoroughly mediocre: half-hearted Gothic, suspense, romance, travel, adventure, wish-fulfillment, etc. And a really surprising number of bastards or children who were legitimized by marriages between their mothers and people who were not their fathers.
Disappointingly, the Black Opal of the title is pure McGuffin, everyone ends up well off in a lovely home, the three possible love interests don't seem to interest the heroine much, and events are too random to even be coincidental. Of all the squares I considered using it for, it didn't really live up to any of them. I'm going with Gothic because it does have recognizable Gothic elements, even if they're not well-developed.
Nonetheless, it was an interesting read. It wasn't like the Victoria Holt books I read in the 70s, nor is it at all like contemporary romance or suspense. Although it lacked a real commitment to formula, it was very definitely written by someone who knew what would make an enjoyable read. Consider it a lesser work by a real pro. It certainly didn't put me off Holt: I have a couple more I'm considering.