Stewartry

Just looking around, till Goodreads does something else spectacularly stupid. On behalf of all the GR refugees, sorry about the disruptions, Booklikes!

 

I'm here on Goodreads

 

I'm here on LibraryThing

 

I'm here on Wordpress

 

and just ... here, here.

Murder by Matchlight

Murder By Matchlight - E.C.R. Lorac
It's so lovely to find a new-to-me golden age mystery, and one that almost lives up to favorites of its era. Murder by Matchlight – which I received through Netgalley, thanks very much – is a Dover reissue of a book originally published in 1945, the story of a murder in a park in London as the war continues to rage across the Channel.

And it was wonderfully enjoyable. The mystery is a lovely puzzle, with the wartime setting, some fun and exotic elements, and sheer happenstance combining into just a whole lot of fun. One suspect says:

"I’d wanted to kill Johnnie Ward—which I didn’t—I shouldn’t have done it in a way that would have brought Scotland Yard to my door next morning. Oh, no. If I’d done it, no one would have been any the wiser. I may be a clown, but I’m an efficient clown."

Which is a wonderful defense, isn't it?

I loved the characterizations. The victim was terrific – lovable, in his way, so that the reader can find room for regret at his death … but he also had plenty of truly exasperating ways and habits, and inspired lots of lovely motives. The police refused to follow the "official detectives are always idiots" school of thought, and the young hero-suspect declined to over-involve himself in the case and become an improbable sleuth. And the theatrical folk of the boarding house where the victim (and a bunch of the suspects) lived were marvelous.

(Also: there is a character named Tracey. Mr. Tracey. Heh.)

The setting is equally enjoyable. Set in 1944 and published in 1945, this is a London where nearly every able-bodied man is either at war or on his way, and where the civilians left home are in almost as much danger as their loved ones in actual battle as bombs rain down with alarming regularity. It's a setting in which a murder investigation – especially, in a way, this investigation – feels almost irrelevant.

"It seems to me that the fact that one ne’er-do-well has met a violent end is not a matter of supreme importance in a world which is in the throes of a convulsion which may destroy civilization itself before we’re through."

I was almost afraid to click on the author's name to see his – oh, no, sorry: HER other books. So often I read something by an author new to me, fall in love, and then find that there's little (or nothing) else out in the world by that writer. But! According to her Goodreads author profile: "She was a very prolific writer, having written forty-eight mysteries under her first pen name, and twenty-three under her second." Pardon me while I do a bit of a happy dance.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

 

A Drop in the Night: The Life and Secret Mission of a World War II Airman - Royce Fulmer, Thea Rademacher
I love tales of WWII. I was intrigued when A Drop in the Night came up in my feeds as an Amazon freebie, the tale of an ordinary young American whose life is dramatically changed by the War. Royce Fulmer took experience as a youth as a bootlegger, transmuted his expertise with cars to expertise with planes, and eventually became a valuable member of a top-secret Air Force squad responsible for dropping people and supplies into Nazi-controlled areas. It's a fantastic framework for a story, and a friend, Thea Rademacher, took it all down as he told it and turned it into a book.

And, sadly, it's one of those things that with a tremendous amount of editorial attention and structure could have lived up to the fantastic framework.

The typos in this were horrendous, and endemic. "One of the most famous groups, 'The Marquis,' took their name from a type of scrub bush found in the high ground of Southeastern France." I did not know about the scrub bushes – but I did know about the Maquis. There was a comment on the "high causality rate".

Perhaps the one that made me twitch the most was the persistent error of "World War LL" for the obvious. That might be a formatting error rather than straight up typo, but the fact remains it was never caught and corrected.

A fair number of the grammatical errors in the book are down to the fact that Ms. Rademacher apparently adhered to Mr. Fulmer's exact words in relaying his story. She retains his colorful language (lots of dropped g's, and charming things like "You'd shit your britches seein' how we did this at first") and sentence structure ("If something happened, not work exactly right, then I was there to help them"). In places, though, use of quotation marks is erratic, and it's not clear whether something is a Fulmer quote or a Rademacher narration, and so "since he last outran the police" or "the sharecroppers use to fight with knifes" are just a little dismaying.

Honestly – just personal feeling here – I just didn't enjoy most of the horse's mouth bits. Example, showing a bit more crudeness than I admire (that sounds prissy, doesn't it? Sorry) along with a smidgen of "Huh?":

"Clark Gable was there. I saw him. He went through school there; he was three weeks ahead of me. He flew a combat mission or two, but then got into photography. Girls would just piss their pants when they saw him. He wore clothes just like the rest of us. People would point him out a little bit. He lived in the officer barracks. I never did go for that movie star bit, except for Jimmy Stewart. He was a squadron commander. I heard a lot about him because he flew combat missions. He didn't mess around with any Clark Gable stuff."

Some of the editoral issues are almost certainly in the relation of the story. There were some accidentally hilarious misplaced modifiers:

- "One of four siblings, his father died from cancer when all the children, very close in age, were also very young."
- "Fatherless until he was four, Lessie Mae met another man who would become Royce's step father."

And there were other errors that made this a less-than-enjoyable read. "They arrived at Goose Bay, a province of Newfoundland and Labrador in an area that today is in Canada. With short, mild summers that last only a few weeks…"

This all became a bit fuzzy. Goose Bay was never a province – it's an airfield. Newfoundland and Labrador form the province of Canada, and they were an independent dominion until they joined the Canadian Confederacy in 1949 as one province, the last to join. The detail about the "short, mild summers" is apparently true of the area of Labrador where Goose Bay is located, but I can tell you from experience that at least the west coast of Newfoundland has summers that last just as long as they do in, say, the Northeastern US, and they can be just as hot and humid. It's a big province – where I used to spend time is nearly a thousand miles south of Goose Bay.

There is quite a bit of "Captain Obvious is obvious", for example in the section introducing the flight crew. "The pilot of the aircraft was the man in charge." Uh … huh. "…The third officer on the flight crew was the navigator, Jack P. Barton. It was his job to keep the plane on course to its destination, giving the pilot compass headings. He was to know where the plane was at all times." Yes, thank you. Navigator, navigating. I see. "…Most of the missions were intentionally flown on moonlit nights in an effort to reduce the risk that the low-flying plane would collide with the landscape". Very wise.

That last bit, about planes colliding with the landscape, is key to the book. It was, of course, a very real danger, and was the cause of a great many causalities – er, casualties. But it's repeated over and over and over, to an eye-rolling degree.

And there's also some "Hey, I found this out in research and thought I'd share":

"Royce and the other enlistees shared a Quonset Hut with another crew. These light-weight prefabricated barracks provided greater protection from cold English winters compared to previous barracks, a tent with a wooden floor. The shelters were easily assembled with simple tools. Quonset Huts were first produced in Quonset Point, Rhode Island. This New England town took its name from a Native American tribe that once lived there. For them, Quonset meant boundary."

Also: "…Lambourn. Located in the southeastern part of Berkshire County, England, gold bracelets dating back to 1200 B.C. have been found here. The beloved author JRR Tolkien lived near this village."

I'll take British Village Trivia Unrelated to the Book for $400, Alex. I love Tolkien with all my heart, but here he was completely irrelevant.

So, yes, it's a great story. Top-secret, highly dangerous, highly important sabotage and espionage missions into Nazi-occupied areas? Fantastic. Impressive. Thank you for your service. But the telling of this story did nothing to showcase the heroism and courage of these flight crews (the Carpetbaggers) or of the men they ferried to their missions (and women – something like 37 of the people the squad dropped behind enemy lines were women) – and in fact perhaps half the book is spent on Mr. Fulmer's checkered past and his life after the war. While he well deserves to have his story told, and while he had a fairly epic post-war experience, I have to say it was something of a letdown to go from high-risk WWII flying to the business world and family life of post-war America … especially since I believe a fair interpretation of the book description (not to mention the cover and the title) indicates that the Carpetbaggers would be the focus of the book.

I seem to say it often: there's something there, if it was only prepared and presented well. It made me a bit sad to read an acknowledgement someone whose "grammar skills and eye for detail are now legendary". Oh. Dear.

 

The Deathsniffer's Assistant

The Deathsniffer's Assistant - Kate McIntyre
I have had wildly variable luck with steampunk. So perhaps it's just as well that The Deathsniffer's Assistant wasn't deep-dyed steampunk. There was a lot to like about the setting and writing, magic and the way it was used. But I couldn't warm to any of the characters. The young hero, Christopher, was timid and insecure, and being inside his head could be almost stressful with that level of quaveryness. It was also uncomfortable watching him react sexually to … just about everyone (mainly because it made him so uncomfortable. He was a very confused young man). His extremely gifted sister, Rosemary, was intriguing, part of which being the fact that she did not react as I expected her to very often, but she was a) too young and b) not 'on stage' enough to become attached to. The victim's family were kind of hideous. And as for Olivia Faraday … I don't get it. She wore a different unsuitable outfit every day; she was abrasive and inappropriate and outright aggressively rude in ways that I found hard to fathom. "Too far!" she challenged as she spun Olivia around to face her. "Too damned far, Faraday!..." There was nothing to make any sense of it.

The book description includes the line, "It is about the relationships between broken people who clash more often than not, but manage to shape and learn from one another in spite of this." I didn't get that out of it. Olivia didn't strike me as broken so much as determinedly eccentric; by the time any evidence appeared of past trauma causing her behavior, it was too late: I was already settled into a distaste for her. And unfortunately Christopher's brokenness was not calculated to elicit any sympathy either.

What really distanced me from this book, though, was a sort of nauseous horror at the way magic was harnessed. Actually, there were two magical systems going on in this world: one was fascinating, in which each individual was sorted as a child into a sort of a guild based on his innate gifts (if any). Christopher was a wordweaver. "Some wordweavers performed well enough as fiction writers, but it was at the bottom of the authorized profession list – and tended to pay abysmally when it paid at all." Heh. It was all very strictly controlled, and strictly enforced. Olivia was Rosemary showed early signs of a very strong gift in the whole aspect of magic in this world which made me uncomfortable: binding.

While I enjoyed the exposition of what I've just described, this part was less successfully explained, in my mind. The picture that finally emerged was one of humans binding elementals and such creatures to perform largely mundane tasks. Lighting, a sort of Skype using mirrors, freezing water and washing dishes, making trains and flying cabs go … running ferris wheels … and (here's the one that made me queasy) electrocuting criminals. Problem was, the reason the creatures had to be bound was because (er, duh) they were unwilling. And, being unwilling, they constantly tried to break loose. And when they broke loose … Very Bad Things happened.

And I can't say I blamed them at all. Kind of cheered them on, actually. If I were bound by some idiot to keep a freaking ferris wheel turning, I'd do my level best to break loose and roll that thing into the nearest river or roadway, with as many shrieking humans aboard as possible.

As mentioned, while the aspect of individuals' abilities was well enough explained to get me through, I got a bit lost when cloudlings and 'binders and such were spoken of with no explanation, and when creatures I'm familiar with – like salamanders and water sprites – were handled in a completely unfamiliar way. More exposition would have helped. Background. Something.

The murder mystery itself was … fine. It was another one that reminded me of a prime time cop show, where a suspect is dragged in, interrogated, turns out to have a solid alibi, and is kicked to the curb without apology ... and then another … and another … Wait, now we're back to one of the earlier suspects …

There were small problems with the writing which I can but hope will be taken care of (like "innervated exhileration" … insert Princess Bride quote here), but overall it was well phrased. If the decent writing could have extended to better character development and exposition, it could have been a lot of fun.

I received this from Netgalley for an honest review - thanks!

 

Beware the Little White Rabbit - and authors who review their own books

Beware the Little White Rabbit - Shannon Delany, Judith Graves, Rhiannon Angell, Leap Books
Oh, so that's why I've been seeing Alice so often lately: it's the 150th anniversary.

I hate to admit it – but I've never been entirely enamored of Alice. It's another childhood classic that I somehow never read, like The Wizard of Oz - just never had a copy, or something.

The call for entries seems to have specified that there be a young main character named Alice, a white rabbit, and a fall. Another theme running through a lot of the stories is that parents can be perilous, unreliable, sometimes dangerous. As with all collections of stories by various author, there is a wild variety of style, quality, and subject matter, but the variety of things done with the basic elements in this baker's dozen of stories is pretty impressive.

I just wish I liked Alice in Wonderland more. I should, I suppose; I'd like to; I don't. Oh well. Happily, I have more than enough enthusiasms without Alice.

Alice, Through the Wormhole – Charlotte Bennardo – Alice in space, in a trippy chase after stolen tea, which is more than just tea. Meh; kind of clever, but kind of annoying - ***
They Call Me Alice – C. Lee McKenzie – blend of Chinese mythology, young adult romance, and Alice; really kind of lovely. Though it focused more on the Chinese mythology than on Alice; the heroine could have been called anything, and the rabbit had no relation to Wonderland. Still, it fits well enough, and had an affect on me. ****
Alice, Last of the Bleeding Hearts – David Turnbull – I wasn't thrilled with this one; where the last story's connection to AinW seemed distant, here it felt forced, a science fiction story hammered into an Alice mold. Flaws in the narration showed up here – unless the text actually read "soldiering iron" twice? I wasn't enamored of this version of the Cheshire Cat; I wasn't impressed with the intelligence of the "last of the bleeding hearts" (announcing her weapons to the Red Queen? Wouldn't they be more effective as surprises? And Alice knows how to play chess but wonders at the knights moving in "an odd, L-shaped manner"? ** Meh.
The Watchmaker's Ball – Christine Norris – Here the narrator used a very nice British accent, fitting the Alice-contemporary setting. It was an interesting idea (except how did that mechanic know to give a warning?), interestingly executed – fun. ****
Rabbit Fever – Jackie Horsfall – I don't know. I just don't know. I like the concept of an Alice from another time period, but she seemed a little too prescient. I didn't love it. **
Mustang Alice – Medeia Sharif – My initial comment was simply "oh you have got to be kidding". It's not often I DNF a short story – but I skipped most of this one after Alice stole the car. Nope. (If it had been a Volkswagen Rabbit, now…) *
White Is a Human Construct – Laura Lascarso – Read with a Southern accent – very good and rather intense story of abuse and madness and what it takes to get out of both. I liked what was not said as much as what was. *****
Alice and Her Shadow – Tom Luke – Told in the second person present tense: "None of the streetlamps are working, and your shadow is beginning to worry you." – NICE. I didn't like it – it's a very disturbing story – but I appreciated it to pieces. Creepy as all hell. And in light of a recent (possible)(unconfirmed)(oh please no) major character death on The Walking Dead and how Damon Lindelof, producer of other shows, talked about it … story arcs and taking the show in a direction and that sort of thing. Yeah. *shiver* ****
Alice in Wilderland – Jessica Bayliss YA love story – which should have annoyed me, to be honest – but my initial reaction was "NICE". ****
The Aviary – Crystal Schubert - "ok" love the idea of rescuing someone who doesn't want to be rescued "kids" "my life on hold" Oh, I really don't care about the inside of her belly button. I really don't. "her ribbon arms" I get selfishness, but while she was off enjoying her love nest her family was dying. **
Broken Tethers – Holly Odell – Chick talks to herself a whole hell of a lot. I mean, I do too, but not in text. As such. Was this supposed to be funny? **
Undercover Alice – Jennifer Moore – Aussie (why?) Cute enough story, but not great. ***
Follow the Steam Rabbit – Liam Hogan – parachute? Not awful; not great. ***

The book is introduced as having "dazzling silhouette pieces for the interior title page of each Alice tale" – not exactly a plus to the audible book listener; it's a shame that line isn't deleted from the audio edition.

This audiobook was provided by the narrator at no cost in exchange for an unbiased review courtesy of AudiobookBlast dot com.

ETA: It took a remarkably long time to get on Goodreads to post a review there. And come to find out three of the authors and both editors involved in this book not only reviewed it but gave it five stars. The first word that comes to mind on that subject is 'tacky' - but it's worse than that. It's drastically skewing the rating of a book which not so many people have reviewed. It's worse than getting family and friends to rate and review - they would have fewer horses in the race. I *was* giving this three stars, as a rough average of my opinion of the stories. Under the circumstances, I feel the rating needs a bit of realistic balancing out. Pity.

My rating is balanced by those of:
Judith Graves
Shannon Delaney
Jackie Horsfall
Medeia Sharif
Jessica Bayliss

With just a couple of exceptions, this was not a good experience.

 

Corridors of the Night – Anne Perry - David Colacci

Corridors of the Night: A William Monk Novel - Anne Perry
It's been a long, long while since I read an Anne Perry, but I've always liked the William Monk series best. (amnesia! What's not to like?) I was tickled to win Corridors of the Night as a LibraryThing Early Reviewer.

First off, this CD edition (CD's!) has a lovely narrator, David Colacci. He sounded very familiar, but I don't think I've listened to any of his before; for some reason – perhaps his accent? – I developed a desire to hear him read Tolkien. I'll look for him.

As for Anne Perry and her Hester and William Monk… Again, it's been a long time, so while they were familiar along with Oliver Rathbone, there were several new characters, and new developments for the familiar ones, which took a little getting used to. It was doable, though; Perry offered enough recaps of what had gone before that I adapted pretty quickly.

Unfortunately, that recapping was not isolated to what went on in past books. There was a certain amount of what I always refer to (and hate that I have to keep referring to it) as reality-show-recapping, the literary equivalent of the nasty tendency to repeat after a commercial break exactly what occurred before the commercial break.

And then there's the unfortunate fact that the way the story is told – the suspenseful first half, followed by the courtroom drama of the second half – leads to a whole lot of reiteration. The whole thing unfolds, then Oliver's butler tells him about it, then the prosecution lawyer recaps it again, then Oliver tells this Beata person … and then there's the courtroom testimony. Yes, thank you, I KNOW the children are too young to testify. Yes, thanks, I get that blood transfusions were first tried 200 years ago – and I might never forget it, since repetition is a great way to learn things.

One more: Oliver goes to his inamorata Beata's home, and the butler doesn't ask why he has shown up at that hou – well, no, he wouldn't, would he? Then a moment later "The butler did not care why he was here, and he certainly did not need an explanation." Uh, right.

I still like Hester and William Monk. I liked the new additions to their "family", although the adopted urchin is almost a cliché character in Victorian novels. The writing – except for what I've complained about – was professional and well-executed, and my deep frustration with what I complained about alternated with simple enjoyment. Perry's novels have always struck me as a little chilly, a little emotionally distant, and this one is no different.

There will be some spoilers at the end – but first I'll make note of two (other) things I learned from the book. You'll want to stop around here somewhere if you want to go forth unspoiled.

Monk: "Have you ever watched her butter the cut end of a loaf and then slice it afterwards so the butter holds it together and you can do it really thin?" Well, now, that's just a great idea. Never thought of that.

And

"Apples grow near the sea." Really?? Thinking Washington State and here in New England, I suppose they do.

Okay, I'm going spoiler-y.

The book in brief: Hester is helping a friend by taking over her nursing duties in a soldiers' and sailors' hospital (know how I know that? I was told. Many times), discovers three children tucked away in a ward, learns that blood is being taken from them – lots of it – and the blood is being used to try and save people with "white blood disease" (leukemia), loss of blood, etc. In short, as a rich man is undergoing this transfusion treatment, she protests – the children are dying – and next thing she knows she is waking up from a drugged sleep to find herself prisoner in the middle of nowhere. She is given to understand by the chemist in charge of the experimentation, Hamilton Rand, that she is there to help the patient's daughter look after him, to tend to the children, and to be kept from telling anyone. And she realizes that if the patient dies, she probably won't be far behind.

What utterly baffled me was that both the narrator and, shockingly, Hester, kept coming up with excuses for Hamilton Rand's physician brother Magnus. He may not have been directly complicit, but he knew damn well what was going on – and did nothing to stop it – and was only non-complicit out of cowardice, allowing his brother to hide it from him.

And then … and then Hester goes back to work at the same hospital, reporting to Magnus Rand. I understand the reasoning: not only are nurses in short supply and desperately needed, but she needs to go back to prove to herself and whoever else that she can. So, fine. I get it. But then she goes back to work for Hamilton Rand. The one who kidnapped her. The one who would have killed her without, apparently, a second thought.

The one who they strongly suspect is responsible for a bunch of skeletons dug up in an orchard on his land (hence the tidbit about the apples). "Well, all doctors lose patients." YES, BUT THEY DON'T BURY THEM IN THEIR ORCHARD.

"I have no time for emotional games, Mrs. Monk, and I hope we are beyond that now. … This work's important, as I do not need to explain to you. I think you are almost as well aware of it as I am. I know that you disapprove of my use of the blood of children, even though it works. I, in turn, do not bear you any grudge for testifying so powerfully against me in court." Well, that's awfully decent of you, old man. "You acted according to your conscience. It is childish to bear any ill will because of that." "I wish you to assist me in this continued work from time to time as I need you." ARE YOU KIDDING? There are bodies in an orchard; three small children terrorized; a woman strangled in a gutter; you're still having dreams where you smell ether and blood – and you go stand at his desk?! Are you stupid or insane?

*ahem*

To wrap up (and reiterate, in keeping with my complaints about the book), intense frustration mingled with an enjoyment of skillful writing and old familiar characters. I'm not sure why Anne Perry's novels faded from my reading list… But honestly, I don't think I'm in any great hurry to play catch up.

 

The Santa Claus Man

The Santa Claus Man: The Rise and Fall of a Jazz Age Con Man and the Invention of Christmas in New York - Alex Palmer
Far be it from me to be part of "Christmas creep"; I'm as nauseated as anyone to see holiday decorations dominating stores and Christmas-themed commercials cropping up on tv. But this book was published in, and I read it in, October, and – well, after all, this is how it all began…

I roll my eyes at sentimental movies. That part in the Two Towers film where the whole theatre was filled with the sound of sniffling found me sitting in a boiling fury at the ridiculous schmaltz of it all. I cry at Hallmark commercials, and cannot bear to watch an ASPCA commercial or listen to Kathy Mattea's "Where've You Been". I am basically a hard, cynical shell over a soft and squishy center, simultaneously all kinds of jaded and a huge ball of mush.

So is this book.

It is the tale of what is simultaneously one of the best and worst things, one of the the happiest and most cynicism-inspiring things, about the Yule season in modern times: Yes, Virginia, it's Santa Claus. Herein is the complete evolution of the jolly old elf, from skinny Dutch saint to corpulent reindeer-wrangler, and that's tremendous fun to follow. It’s sad to think that just about a hundred years ago no one would have dreamed of putting Christmas merchandise in a store in September… Can you imagine? No commercials targeting children (no commercials, period!), and no commercialization – Christmas treated as a family celebration. A religious holiday! Remarkable.

As a sidebar to the main story, The Santa Claus Man depicts the death of that mindset.

It also depicts the death (sorry: spoiler) of the United States Boy Scout. Not the Boy Scouts of America, mind you – they're alive and well. No, a hundred years ago there were two organizations, and the one you've probably never heard of, the one whose boys used to carry guns, the USBS was the one who became involved with the Santa Claus Association – and with whom John Duvall Gluck became more and more involved, leading to the downfall of all of the above.

It's a fascinating story, a portrait of New York City in the teens and 20's, of philanthropy and greed, of goodwill to all blended with casual racism, of propaganda and duplicity and heartfelt sentiment, the greatest wealth and the deepest poverty and the interaction between the two. It's an absolute validation for all the cynicism the most world-weary cynic can bring to bear … but there's also a fair amount to feel warm and fuzzy about. Funny old world, isn't it, where the two are so inseparable? The beginning of the story, as this one man decides to do something about all those children's letters to Santa Claus which landed in the dead letter office every year, actually brought a lump to my throat.

The end did too, but by then it was nausea.

Something that bothered me all through the book – due to that squishy center, I guess – was this sort of sentiment: “There are thousands of folk willing and anxious to help make the Yuletide happy for children". That's wonderful, I kept thinking, but – where are those thousands of folk the rest of the year? Isn't there a certain terrible irony to the idea that impoverished children might receive a toy they wished for – but not have enough blankets on their beds?

Gluck received a letter from the personal secretary of William Kissam Vanderbilt, inheritor of $55 million from his father, Grand Central Railroad owner William H. Vanderbilt. Gluck likely tore open the envelope with excitement, curious what the rich man might be offering the association. “Dear Sir,” read the letter. “Mr. Vanderbilt requests me to send you the enclosed check amounting to $10, his contribution towards your Santa Claus fund.”

This is a terrific read, very well-written and meticulously researched, never pulling a punch no matter whose relation Gluck was. But be warned: despite the title and the topic, this isn't really a cozy Yuletide read, not the sort I've always looked for to read by the light of the Christmas tree.

 

This was received from Netgalley for an honest review - thanks!

Bats of the Republic

Bats of the Republic: An Illuminated Novel - Zach Dodson
This is an extraordinary work – a complex and rather beautiful mixed media project telling a tale of the past and the future through letters, drawings, transcripts, telegrams, and other documents bound together with not-quite-standard storytelling. In the past, a young man undertakes a journey to prove himself worthy of the girl he loves; in the future, his descendant struggles to find his place in a controlled and controlling society where all documents are secured by the government and bloodlines are all.

I wish I could have connected with the story. I felt distanced from it; I only had a limited time to read it, as it was a downloaded e-pub from Netgalley (received in exchange for an honest review, thanks!), and I wound up skimming most of it. It's all very beautifully designed… I'm sure there were all sorts of layers I missed; it feels like this was one of those books that layer in anagrams and puzzles and hidden clues and whatnot. Nick Bantock – that's who this reminded me of.

So: no, I didn't read it, but I think I experienced enough to appreciate it. It's definitely worth investigating – in a paper edition, I think, or a more interactive digital version; the e-pub didn't quite cut it.

 

The Great Bazaar and Brayan's Gold

The Great Bazaar and Brayan's Gold (Demon Cycle Novel) by Brett, Peter V. (2013) Hardcover - Peter V. Brett
Oh, so that's what all the fuss is about with Peter V. Brett. The Warded Man has been on my radar for some time; I have it, somewhere, but somehow never cracked it open.

I certainly will now. This pair of novellas (with extras) was an excellent introduction and inducement. I absolutely look forward to more of this world and of Arlen, Brett's hero. The writing was beautifully, deceptively simple and straightforward – it felt like a solid old-fashioned fantasy, and I mean that as a high compliment. Vivid settings, gripping adventure, strong characters, a truly marvelous and unique concept, and a sense of humor – what's not to love?

I'm actually really happy that this was the first Brett book I've read. It will serve very nicely as a gateway drug.

I received the ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review – which is this, with thanks.

 

Line

Line; an art study - Edmund J. Sullivan
Long, long ago, in a fantasyland not that far away, I went to art school. I don't do much with that part of my brain any more, but now and then I cherish fond hopes of doing a Victor Frankenstein on whatever talent I had/have (*kzot* "It's alive!!"). Hence my interest in "Line".

What I didn't realize when I requested it, or when I started reading it, was that this was a Dover reprint of a book originally written in 1922. I mean, look at that cover.

My first clue was – well, the language. Apart from that, which might just have been a stylistic choice, nothing really raised any suspicion that this wasn't a new, slightly pedantic book. My ears figuratively perked up at his discussion of a "new" instrument that sounded interesting. I enjoyed the advice ("Altogether preferable to the stick charcoal is the Siberian compressed charcoal" and "Hard smooth forms are often best expressed by a swift line") and opinion ("if an artist can become pleasurably excited about the handling of a tool, that tool is for the time being the best possible"). I learned that "etching" means "biting", "and refers, not, as is frequently thought, to the use of the needle, but to the use of the acid." And I enjoyed the glimpses of the author's humor: "The present writer once ventured to introduce this definition of the two processes as “biting and scratching” into the draft of an official report; but it never got beyond the draft, being considered too vivid and undignified for an official document.

But then, all of a sudden, there appeared "the 'n' word", used quite casually. That was a shock. Yup – definitely not a recent release.

If you can get past that, and can settle happily into the rather elaborate writing style, I recommend this highly. It made me chuckle; it made me want to go stock up on Siberian compressed charcoal and go sit in a field somewhere. That I didn't do the latter is my fault. That the author used an unfortunately common-for-the-time derogatory isn't really his.

Received from Netgalley for an honest review - thanks!

 

Glad Audible has such a good return policy.

The Breadwinner: The Breadwinner Trilogy - Stevie Kopas, Stevie Kopas, Scott Birney

Based on an author's (or narrator's?) post in a Goodreads group, I tried out the sample available of this book on Audible, liked what I heard, and threw caution to the wind and bought it. It is an interesting slant on the ground AMC trod this summer with Fear the Walking Dead: the very beginning of a zombie apocalypse, as people are still standing and watching creatures who used to be friends and family shambling closer and closer, wondering why cousin Jimmy is so pale, and why is he growling … The Undead in this universe were fast and loud and persistent, and I liked that.

Unfortunately, that's about all I liked.

I didn't much care for any of the characters. One main character, the lawyer Sampson, fluctuates between Slimy Lawyer and Put Upon Nice Guy, to the point that I was uncomfortable when another main character who was a teenaged girl met up with him; I kept expecting the scumbag to re-emerge. I will say all the characters were something more than cardboard … it's just that what they were instead was inconsistent and, unfortunately, ultimately unlikeable. Also, not entirely believable: the level of bickering in the middle of a world-ending crisis might, sadly, have been realistic, but it was incredibly annoying to read - - and, also, I find it hard to believe that, coming upon a CVS that had gone unlooted (which is highly improbable, security gate or no security gate), our heroes not only stock up on water and power bars and lighter fluid but … deodorants. And then a while later use up most if not all of that incredibly valuable lighter fluid on something really stupid for which they could have used any number of other accelerants.

I'll come back to the characters.

The narration had some high highs and low lows. The voice of the narrator and those used for male character voices were mostly fine, though it was a little interesting that two of the three black men in the cast of characters were pretty much identical. The women, though … *shudder* In the book, the women, excepting teenaged heroine Veronica, are at best worthless, at worst "batshit crazy" and overall really horrendous. In the narration, they're the epitome of cliché gay caricature voice – terrible.

The language periodically made me twitch: "the people her and her brother had stumbled upon", for example. And the constant use of "lie" as the past tense for … "lie". I thought it was "lied", which made me see faintly red, but I checked Google Books: nope. Bodies lie about, little islands of present tense in the midst of a past tense book. (Along with "squat" as the past tense for "squat".) A few actions like a man placing a bag on his back are described with such gravity and emphasis that they should be significant. (They aren't.) And things like "Ben shared a laugh with himself", or someone's "happy hands"…? No.

Another bit I didn't much like was what seems to be a nastily right-wing stance (referring to the uber-bitch Juliette as a spoiled liberal – which, no).

Going back to that CVS: First of all, CVS in Florida carries booze? Huh. Anyway. The store was described as having no other door than the front entrance. I find it hard to believe there's any public building without a back door, for trash removal and to comply with fire codes if nothing else.

The car name-dropping gets old; I'm not sure why we need to know exactly what everyone drives, except to make occasional points about some characters' wealth and so on.

The cuts in the narrative are sometimes abrupt and confusing – going from talking about Sampson and Moira to a new chapter (hard to distinguish in an audiobook) and "they all" in the first sentence – but here "they" refers to Abe and company; later, a shift in the other direction, from Abe & co to Sampson.

One thing I have to give some credit to the author for: the tale of what happened to Al. It was, at first, nicely handled – by which I mean the story was withheld and and evaded for quite a while, which I at first found irritating but came to appreciate as – at first – a nice bit of storytelling, good suspense-building. However, it stretched out too long, to the point that when some ([spoiler][never all[/spoiler]) of the details finally came out I had already pretty much figured out what happened and didn't need to be told. There were a few near misses like that in the storytelling – and inconsistencies, such as Veronica telling the story of how her father was attacked – but not as the father told it. She was not there; she has only what her father related to her. Where did the new details in her version come from?

I wanted to continue liking the book. I would have loved to like it more than the afore-mentioned "Fear the Walking Dead", about which I was kind of lukewarm. But "Breadwinner" didn't suffer from comparison – it just suffered from its execution. This wasn't the first time I've had cause to bless Audible's return policy … I wish it would be the last.

Not what I expected

The Blythes are Quoted - L.M. Montgomery
What a melancholy book. (There will be some spoilers here for the story of the Blythe family: be warned.) A collection of stories in which the Blythes are more or less tangential – "quoted", bracketed by post-Great War snippets of Blythe conversation and poetry by Anne and Walter. Actually, in a fair number of them the Blythes are loathed, which feels strange – and, to LMM's credit, is not necessarily an indicator of whether we ought to like the character doing the loathing. Some are bad 'uns – but not all.

Oh, Walter.

There are some strange patterns in the stories collected in The Blythes Are Quoted. Those who don't like Anne ("Uncle Stephen did not like the Blythes ... he said he did not like educated women" … "Nobody in the Brewster clan, it seemed, approved of the Blythes" … "Miss Shelley could not conceive of Mrs. Blythe cherishing bitterness for thirty years. She liked her but she thought her too shallow for that.") and who feel slighted by them ("I hinted it to Dr. Blythe ... and such a snub as he gave me! And Dr. Blythe can give snubs when he wants to, I can assure you.") As I said, it's unsettling to run into this attitude.

Then there is an alarming theme of animal abuse, looked at completely differently than we do now ("Even if you'd taken the money and burned the binder house I'd have wanted you" – this to someone who killed a dog and a cat and chickens and a goat; "'what he did to the kitten' ... That memory was intolerable") – and, on a similar track, fox farms. In three separate stories foxes are mentioned as a commodity. Odd.

There was also a sort of a theme of unresolved questions. "Epworth Rectory. I don't think that mystery has ever been solved." "Susan, to herself:-'I could tell them the story of that fiddle if I liked. But I won't. It's too sad.'" (Thank you, Susan – there was enough sadness in this book as it was.)

There are still all the things I've always loved about L.M. Montgomery's writing: humor ("Chrissie felt much better. 'In about twenty years or so I'll be pretty well over it,' she said") and pathos (not always a bad thing) and solid story-telling. But this is the dark side, keeping uppermost in my mind throughout the book that Lucy Maud took her own life. Grief and haunting and regret and pain … there are still happy endings. But the interspersed Blythe reminiscences and conversation are a reminder that "happily ever after" never takes into account wars and the deaths of children. It was surprisingly hard to read … I don't think The Blythes Are Quoted is going to be part of my semi-annual LMM-reread.

 

Choose your own romance!

Between Hedge and Manor - Skyler White

What a nice surprise. A grown-up choose-your-own adventure – which must be fun to write, to explore the different possibilities. It was – inevitably – a bit repetitive, but I enjoyed the writing much more than I expected to. ("His eyes, dark and deep as any well, looked up into mine. For a moment I thought I'd fall straight in and wind up with my neck broken, and me never heard from again. Or I'd drop the tray on him.") There's an interesting setting here I would enjoy seeing more of. Fun.

Could've been something great

The Heartbeat Thief - A.J. Krafton
This could have been spectacular. It missed some amazing opportunities, though, and was poorly written, and unfortunately that impacts my rating and opinion of the book. Along with the ending.

Unless it is based in some mythology or folklore I've never heard of, the author created a new kind of vampire. Dead/undead, unkillable, stealing heartbeats from others to take the place of those no longer stirring her own heart, Senza Fyne is perpetually eighteen years old. Once so afraid of death that she agreed to this still-hearted existence, now she avoids staying in one place for too long and watches as those she loves age and die.

The initial problem I have with this really terrific premise is … it simply takes too long to manifest. For nearly a third of the book (29%, thank you Kindle reading progress counter) Senza is battered by first the death of a favorite grandmother and then of a friend, and – along with her mother's constant badgering that she needs to snare a husband before her great beauty fades – that is supposed to be the reason she is so terrified of death. It doesn't work. She meets with the mysterious Mr. Knell quite some time after the second death in her life, when she seemed to be beginning to recover. If at that point she had, say, witnessed a child run over in the busy street or something of the sort, I could understand her worry blossoming into a full-blown obsession. Or if another adventure in the story had been the focus of the beginning, I would have bought into the whole plot much more readily.

The adventure I refer to there is Senza's involvement in the Jack the Ripper murders. Without spoilers, I will say that it felt wildly implausible; for one thing, there's no historical basis as far as I know that all of the Ripper's victims knew each other. I think that would have been counted as evidence. Late nineteenth century police work was primitive, but even then something like a common pimp or customer among the victims would probably have come to light. And quite simply the depiction of the victims in this book is historically inaccurate, and served to make me less than trusting of pretty much the rest of the author's research. (For one thing, the final victim was blonde.)

At least Senza didn't become a gorgeous female Forrest Gump, inserting herself into historical events at every turn, and I'm grateful for that. Her peregrinations take her out of history, which actually makes the Whitechapel events stand out even more – not in a good way.

Senza is gorgeous – stunningly gorgeous. And the reader is never allowed to forget it, not for a moment. Tight third-person perspective or no, her astonishing beauty is kept at the forefront. ("I can’t imagine you ever looking less than perfect.” She dropped her gaze. She couldn’t imagine it, either.) Oddly, it's never made out to be a burden as I've seen elsewhere; the only readon it's not an asset is that, as her mother does keep reiterating, beauty fades. But Senza has a brain as well, and reads constantly – especially Shakespeare. This should have been endearing, for me. It wasn't, merely because it all comes back, as so many things do, to "show and tell". No matter how many times I'm told that Senza is ever-so-clever and knows Hamlet by heart and can out-argue philosophers and scholars … I was never shown it. There are very occasional scenes in which she is shown reading – or, rather, sitting somewhere with a book and thinking about Mr. Knell or her troubles; she quotes Shakespeare once, to my knowledge; otherwise her dialogue and behavior show no indication of all those brains.

One major area where the unique and fascinating premise of the book is simply let down is in the way it is dealt with in the narration. By this I mean: The book is told from the point of view of Senza, the thief, whose existence is turned upside-down by this "gift", and who – at a sheltered and innocent eighteen – has to learn how to manage the new facts of her life. An incident is described from the first days of her altered state – but apart from her awareness of the need to avoid another such incident, there's not really anything here about how she avoids it (does she lock her door at night? Use a doorstop? Claim to kick and snore in order to avoid bedfellows?) The mechanics of stealing heartbeats are glossed over, but more would have been better: I would have preferred less buildup to the change and more on her learning curve. And at certain points the stolen heartbeats are described as having a flavor or weight to them – but again there is little more than that provided. Again, in a tight-perspective narrative, where POV never leaves the main character and where that character's entire existence centers around others' heartbeats, I expected there to be more color, more data. What do they taste like? How do they have weight? What are the mathematics to their being used up? How does she work out her routine of where and from whom they're stolen?

So, the idea was terrific, let down by execution – and by the writing. For example, the author has a strange disconnect with gender in her vocabulary, which perhaps will be fixed for a final draft. The mysterious Mr. Knell constantly calls Senza "bien-aimé" – the masculine form of the endearment; a man's hair is described as "blonde", commonly the feminized form of the adjective.

"The captivating woman with the eyes that never stopped." Stopped what? "Most interesting was the fact that the fan, once the ultimate female weapon, had been replaced by the ever-useful garter belt and the secrets they concealed." What secrets, and how big is her garter belt? "Exploring the costal colonies—states, she’d remind herself" – aside from the typo, Senza wasn't so old she'd be thinking of the states as colonies. This is ridiculous.

I had an issue with the idea of a love interest being named Gehring. Sorry – too many evil echoes.

And yes, I am aware that at least some of the problems I saw might have been resolved before the book's final release; this was, after all, a Netgalley ARC (thanks to them and the publisher for a free copy for review.) Things like a move to France with no mention I could find that Senza ever learned to speak French. Things like a fairly important character (the innkeeper) who is never given a name. Things like "too" and "as well" being used in the same sentence; "everyone … were"; "laying" where "lying" should have been used (this is becoming more and more common); things like part of a sentence being in the present tense and the other part in the past; things like someone "knicker"ing to a horse (which is wrong in so many ways). Et cetera, et cetera… I did a lot of highlighting. ("His heart banged like a bull"?)

Speaking of horses, the line "And she had no interest in being sold off, ridden for sport, or put out for stud" irked me deeply. She is rather unlikely to be put out to stud, no?

Speaking of horses some more: "He grasped her hand and tugged it toward him, reining her in like a yearling." What? I'm sorry, anyone who's reining in a yearling needs to be reported to the RSPCA. And … I just don’t see the simile. (It's far from the only bad simile – I just don't want to make this a ten-pager.)

And still speaking of horses and being deeply irked, "the master’s quarter horse". As with verbal anachronism, I have absolutely no patience with horse-related anachronism. The odds of someone having a quarter horse – which is a specific breed, not something more vague – in 1921 France is just short of impossible. I should just write and save a diatribe to cut and paste into reviews for books like this: it's so easy to avoid stupid mistakes like this which only serve to rile people who know a little. Research. It took me less than five minutes to confirm my strong hunch that this was totally wrong. Why did I have to?

Sadly, this is one of those times that upon working through my notes and beating a review into shape, my rating for the book goes down. I’m leaving it with one and a half stars simply because the idea was so very interesting. But I'm tempted to take one away because it was just badly done.

And the ending was dreadful. What an absolutely terrible idea - almost bad enough to completely negate the original concept. Pity.

 

Witchfinder General – Ronald Bassett

Witchfinder General - Ronald Bassett
I don't normally read horror novels to "celebrate" Halloween. (I don't normally read horror novels, period.) So we'll just let Witchfinder General – which I find to my surprise was originally published in 1966, and inspired a film starring Vincent Price(!) – stand as my token horror for October, and for all the Octobers I have lived through up to now. It may just do for all the Octobers to come, as well.

From Wiki: "Upon its theatrical release throughout the spring and summer of 1968, the movie's gruesome content was met with disgust by several film critics in the UK, despite having been extensively censored by the British Board of Film Censors." Hollywood Citizen News referred to the film's "orgiastic sadism". From a poster for the American release, verbatim: "LEAVE THE CHILDREN HOME! … and if YOU are SQUEAMISH STAY HOME WITH THEM!!!!!!!" (< that's seven exclamation points. I didn't add or subtract any.)

I think the production might have emphasized parts of the story and downplayed (or probably excised) others, but this story doesn't need the "Hollywood treatment" to make it horrific. Constantly confronted by ignorance and stupidity, lately I haven't been able to stop wondering how on earth the human race made it to the 21st century. It just doesn't make sense that a species capable of this much idiocy managed to even make it bipedal, much less to the moon (though the fact that the last time we were on the moon was forty years ago is relevant). This book … This just underlines what I've been saying. And highlights it. Puts it in italics. And 72 point font. With Word Art added. A line from The Mikado comes to mind: "Nobody's safe, for we care for none" – literally anyone could be accused of witchcraft, for any reason from genuine belief to jealousy or simple dislike to a desire on the accuser's part to curry favor… and once accused they would pretty much be on an irreversible course to torture and death. And literally anything the accused might say in her own defense was … worthless. The "evidence" in these witch trials is hair-raising. It would actually be funny if it hadn't been part and parcel of the torture, rape, and murder of hundreds of people, mostly women, mostly elderly or physically or mentally disabled. And if this book wasn't based on truth. Matthew Hopkins, Stearne, and the named victims in the book? Real. God help us (but not his God).

It's as if we decided today to seek out vampires, and began pulling from their homes anyone who was allergic to garlic. Or who was pale. Or around whose house someone once thought they saw a bat fly (though it was dark and they couldn't be sure, but they felt funny the next day, and the pint of Jack Daniels had nothing to do with that). I wish I was exaggerating.

I will always remember reading L.M. Montgomery's Anne books, viewed as the epitome of wholesomeness, and being shocked that the folk of Avonlea would have regarded ten-year-old me as an object of contempt, if not outright loathing, because I was Roman Catholic. Weirdly, this was my first experience of religious intolerance. I find this book, set toward the beginning of the strongest anti-Catholic sentiment, kind of remarkable in that we (the dread papists) aren't even remotely the evil-doers – we are the prey. I'd forgotten how brutal it all was. Gosh, we were capable of just anything – Heaven forbid part of the dossier against someone included Catholic leanings. I mean, I know full well that hideous things have been done by Catholics and in the name of Catholicism - just as hideous things have been done in the name of every other religion there is … but I'm really, really happy that the witch trials can't be pinned on Catholics. Just sayin'. Sir Andrew Aguecheek – "born" not so long before Hopkins – is not exactly a font of wisdom, but I begin to really understand the line: "O, if I thought [he was a Puritan], I’d beat him like a dog!"

This novel is well-written. It's very readable – except for the parts that are almost impossible to read. But if I had been more aware of what I was getting into I never would have requested it on Netgalley in the first place, or having requested it would have shirked it without a qualm. To follow this I am going to need something filled with sweetness and light and hope and … puppies … definitely puppies.

 

From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves

The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building - David J. Peterson
If you're looking for a quick and fun read about the experience of creating languages for and maybe behind the scenes scoops about Game of Thrones or Defiance, this is not it. If you're looking for a long, complex, and fun read about the experience and practice of creating languages in general, this is definitely it.

I admit, I was expecting the former, which was why I requested a digital galley from Penguin's First to Read program. And it was, shall we say, startling to very early on begin to explore the nuts and bolts of language invention – conlanging. Here, suddenly, were terms I hadn't seen since the days when some school friends and I wandered the halls on our way to Latin class chanting "Nom Gen Dat Acc Abl… Nom Gen Dat Acc Abl… " (which stood for Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, Ablative.) (Yes, we were weird.)(You probably should have gotten that from "we voluntarily took Latin".) I hadn't given those terms another thought since. (I kind of liked it that way.) And then came flurries of terms I had never heard before in my life…I admit it: I skimmed. But I never quit, because the writing was so entertaining. (David J. Peterson hates onions. Just saying.)

Every time the skimming almost did turn into "ok, that's enough, moving on", I came across a cool fact – like "The tilde on top of the ń began its existence as a second letter n written directly above the main n" (or "…In American Deaf culture, deaf with a lowercase d refers to the inability to hear; Deaf with an uppercase D refers to the ability to sign."); or an even cooler revelation about language, or life, that made me blink and smile and even possibly let out a faint squeak, like the bit about the pronunciation of "knight". (And "And stories like this one lie behind all grammar.")(And "…Is one a word? Sure. Two? Of course. Twenty-three? Yes… But if that's the case, doesn't English then have an infinite number of words…?") The examples given are interesting and attention-retaining. ("What is David Bowie?"). Even skimming, I learned quite a bit from this book, and had fun doing it.

The next time anyone complains about English being a difficult language, point them to Finnish. Or Chinese. Or "the Tsez language, spoken in the Caucasus mountains, [which] has sixty-four cases, fifty-six of which are local (not a joke)." "It rained. What rained? The clouds? The sky? The … weather?" ("…English, whose orthography was devised by a team of misanthropic, megalomaniacal cryptographers who distrusted and despised one another, and so sought to hide the meanings they were tasked with encoding by employing crude, arcane spellings that no one can explain. ("Ha, ha! I shall spell 'could' with an ell! They will powerless to stop me!")

One of the things I learned was that, quite possibly, conlanging is one of those things – like crochet and making gifs – from which I need to put my hands up and back away slowly, because I could far too easily become interested, find myself sucked down a rabbithole, and *poof* would go vast tracts of time I should be spending on one of the things I'm already involved with. I don't know if I would ever take the plunge – but I have too many hobbies and potential hobbies and projects and distractions than are good for me. Until I learn to do without sleep, I need to keep my distance from anything else that might suck me in.

And remember – "Do not call a conlang a fake language. Those who do only make themselves look foolish."
 
First To Read

 

The Paper Magician - Charlie N. Holmberg
The Paper Magician had every appearance of something I would love. What a lovely cover. What a wonderful idea for a system of magic.

Ah well. What a shame.

It is, I think, a terrific system of magic – but there is so little information about other branches that it's hard to know. Paper magic is fascinating. The Paper Magician is sorely lacking.

"Ceony Twill, eldest of four and top of her graduating class", scholarship student, had her heart set on a certain kind of magic. Paper magic wasn't it – but will she, nil she, she was packed off to apprentice to Magician Emery Thane to become the newest paper magician. And that's part of my early confusion with this book: she was at the top of her class, but was given no choice about where she would go?

Another confusion is when and why exactly Ceony comes to feel as she does about Thane, the master magician to whom she is apprenticed. I mean, the revelations about her scholarship are relevant, and a huge point in his favor comes early: "There, wagging its little paper tail, stood a paper dog". But I don't think it's spoiler-y to say that Ceony goes from resentful student to passionately in love, with no transition or warning whatsoever. I found it all a little uncomfortable, both the struggle to catch up to her mood swing and also in wondering just how old this girl was. Apprentices have historically been pretty darned young – fourteen comes to mind, but I think it's often younger. But Ceony's age is never given until finally, finally it is revealed that she is twenty.

Which only adds to the confusion, because every impression she gave throughout the book is of a younger girl.

Most of my confusion, though, simply came from very confused and confusing writing. Such as: "She could not have been any older than Mg. Thane. Not so much older than Ceony herself." The person in question was eleven years older than Ceony.

There are run-on sentences. "She had never considered herself someone prone to worrying, and it seemed almost silly to worry over someone whom she'd only worked with for a short time, let alone someone she hadn't wanted to work with in the first place, but she worried." Good grief, take a breath.

There are vaguely specific yet baffling descriptions. "She wore two-inch gray heels that fastened with two cords around her ankles." Two cords per ankle? "The front doors did look like they were meant to open via the mouselike hinges" – mouselike? Huh? "Ceony flew up from the yellow cottage disguised by spells" – The house was disguised, or Ceony? Seriously, it could be either. "Ceony stopped retreating. She would not be a mouse, nor would she be a grasshopper." How – what – when did a grasshopper become an exemplar of standing one's ground? Grasshoppers … hop. Was the author thinking of the grasshopper and the ant? That's a whole 'nother fable.

There is one scene in which – told to avoid spoilers – someone tries to stop the Baddie from being bad. The someone has a gun. The someone has, apparently, one bullet. Whether this is because it was a single shot weapon or whether someone was too lacking in foresight to load more than one bullet may not have been explained; I don't recall. And it's irrelevant, because the gun is never used. I was shouting at the Kindle (or at least making all-caps notes) of "SHOOT HER" … nope. (*paging Mr. Chekhov...*)

There are *sigh* anachronisms for a book supposedly set in an alternate 1901. (Research, y'all. It's not the enemy.) "They simply phased through her". Not in 1901 they didn't, as far as I can tell. "The psychotic woman" – technically, she could be called psychotic in 1901, but I doubt it was in common usage. It's an iffy one. "Grath and his gofers" – "Gofer" as meaning "lackey" came into usage in the 50's. The 1950's. "Bucking back and forth like a rodeo bull" – did I mention this is 1901 ENGLAND? The date on etymonline.com for "rodeo" is 1914. This is absurd. "Okay" made me twitch, but it's borderline.

And there are plain and simple mistakes. "Ceony pet the back of the dog's neck." *flinch* Petted, please. "The large, molten sun sunk slowly". *wince* Sank, thank you. "She spied over her shoulder" … What? "The room heaved as Lira's hand sailed across Emery's face." … What? "…Though his name didn't sign the page" … *sigh* … "She curled her hair with a little more flare" … I surrender.

What made my eyes go very wide was when I reached the acknowledgements at the end and saw "Thank you to Brandon Sanderson, the best writing teacher any aspiring author could have…"

Oh dear. Maybe that's some clue as to why I never got into his solo work.