Book – Lord Peter Wimsey, the famous amateur detective, will do just about anything in the pursuit of an interesting case. This time, he’s gone incognito to take a job at an advertising agency where, several weeks ago, one of the employees had a suspiciously convenient accident on the spiral staircase. He flings himself into the work with gusto – both the investigation, and the writing of advertising copy, at which he proves surprisingly adept.
This is the eighth book starring Lord Peter Wimsey, but it really doesn’t matter; it’s one of the ones you could read in any order. Dorothy Sayers first created Lord Peter in Whose Body? in 1923, where he appears as the usual kind of Golden Age detective, a younger son of the nobility with a useful servant and an unusual hobby. He stands out from the Hercule Poirots and Roderick Alleyns of the genre, though, as he develops in psychological complexity throughout the series. We learn about his shell shock from the War, his reluctance to turn over criminals to the law when it will mean their deaths, and his sensitivity to the double standards faced by women of his era.
Murder Must Advertise is one of my favorites of the series, although I admit it’s probably not the best one – but it’s just so much fun. It’s a delightful peek into the pre–Mad Men era of advertising, which Lord Peter is learning along with the reader. There’s also a wonderful cricket game toward the end of the book. I’ve read it five times now and I still don’t understand cricket, but everyone’s having a marvelous time.
Book – In ancient Athens, one of the pupils of Plato’s Academy is found dead. His teacher Diagoras is convinced the pupil’s death is not as accidental as it appears, and asks the famous Heracles Pontor, the “Decipherer of Enigmas,” to investigate. As the death toll rises, the two men find themselves drawn into the dangerous underworld of the Athenian aristocracy, risking their own lives to solve the riddle of these young men’s deaths.
The Athenian Murders is more a game than a novel. It’s a novel, too – if it weren’t it would be intolerably tedious, like the Greek fiction it’s pretending to be – but the point of it is the game, not the fiction. While Heracles Pontor and his employer are getting into trouble with the Academy and the families of the murdered youths and eventually a rather ominous cult, the really interesting stuff is happening in the footnotes. You see, the novel we are reading is being translated by an unnamed Translator from a transcription by an earlier scholar. And the Translator is sure that this is an eidetic text, in which the original author has hidden images that combine to form a second, hidden meaning. His colleagues tell him he’s going crazy with this obsession, and he starts to believe them – until he’s kidnapped and forced to finish translating both the manuscript and the eidesis.
To tell any more would be to give away the twist, and to do that would be to spoil the whole book. Just know that the mystery, while serviceable, is not really the point here. If you’re as intrigued by the sound of eidesis and mysterious translators as I was, though, give it a try – this is a book that rewards intellectual curiosity.
Book – The Thorn of Dentonhill by Marshall Ryan Maresca is the first in a new series, and what a series!
As a magic student at the University of Maradaine, Veranix Calbert should be busy enough. However his past won’t allow him to only study, go to class and gallivant like the other students. Shrouded in secrecy, his mission is to avenge his parents and shut down the drug trade found in the city. When he starts to needle and annoy the drug lord Fenmere, he is christened “The Thorn” and a city finds a possible hero. But can he handle the pressures and the danger?
A fantastic cross of Arrow, Batman, and Harry Potter, this story brings us to the seedy streets, the rarefied towers of academia, and the secret societies of mages all working in the city of Maradaine. I picked this book up on a whim and am very glad I did so. It does read a bit on the young adult side, but that adds to its charm. There’s no smut in a book that could’ve gone that route. Instead the author depends on a fast-moving story and characters that are well-thought out and written.
Book – Cinder is a cyborg mechanic earning wages in New Beijing to support a very unkind stepmother and two stepsisters. All around her, people are dying of a strange plague while under constant threat of invasion or annihilation from moon-dwelling people called the Lunars. And while Cinder can fix nearly anything, she cannot find a way to make her life her own.
When Prince Kai asks her to repair his broken android, she agrees and manages to keep her mechanical aspects hidden. As they begin to spend more time together, Cinder finds that she has been volunteered by her truly wicked stepmother to serve as a test subject. Under the care of a strange doctor, Cinder begins to uncover secrets about herself and her origins. But time is running out if she is to save her world and her prince from the Lunars and their diabolical queen.
It has been ages since I read such an interesting mash-up of classic fairy tales. It was really fun trying to spot the similarities between details in Cinder’s world and those found in other fairy tales, but I really enjoyed all of the differences along the way. I can’t wait to read Scarlet, Cress and Fairest.
If that is not incentive enough, Cinder is a 2016 Rebecca Caudill Award nominee. The entire Lunar Chronicles series is available in both print and on our Caudill Award Kindle.
Book – Jon Ronson started out investigating a hoax being played on a group of neurologists, but ends up exploring the depths of what he calls the “madness industry.” A top psychologist teaches him how to recognize the signs of psychopathy in others, and he sets out to explore his new knowledge in the corridors of power.
This a was fun, funny, casual read. And therein lies the problem: I felt that the fun, funny parts of the book were distracting severely from the actual serious parts of the book. While the implications of psychopathy as a category (that is, deciding it’s a real thing and treating psychopaths as people different from the rest of humanity) range from interesting to downright scary, Ronson kind of mentions this in passing and then goes on to spend quite a lot of time with the weirdest people possible, from the criminal who insists he can’t be a psychopath to the psychiatrist who insists that that insistence proves that he is. (Confused yet?)
Maybe I’m just weird in not liking nonfiction that doesn’t seem to teach you anything. But Ronson seems to me to have caught the “objective journalism” disease – he doesn’t give away any opinions on anything. No opinions other than “these guys are weird,” that is, which is pretty much the only opinion I don’t like my authors to have. Okay, they’re weird, but nobody ever thinks of themselves as irredeemably weird, so what else is going on here? Ronson never gets to the what else.
Book – A fabulous introduction to the Cynster world and those who live in it. By Winter’s Light is the story of Daniel and Claire, a tutor and a governess for the next generation of Cynsters. Their romance is overseen and manipulated by their charges amidst a family holiday season in Scotland. With her usual deft style, Stephanie Laurens weaves a fun holiday tale that gives you insight into the personalities and abilities of the up and coming generation. I was delighted by the interactions between the cousins and really pleased with the romance that was built between Daniel and Claire. Both storylines meshed well and it was neat to see the older generation in love and happy all around.
This is the 21st book in the Cynster Saga, but they can all be read as stand-alones. I just enjoy revisiting ‘old friends’ as I continue to read about the exploits that only Cynsters seem to have and revel in.
Book – Emily Ruff, sixteen-year-old street hustler, is recruited by mysterious besuited operatives into an elite Virginia boarding school with an unusual mission. A decade later, unremarkable Wil Parke is kidnapped in a Portland airport by a man who, contrary to all appearances, claims to be saving Wil’s life. And somewhere in-between and on the other side of the world, the two will meet at the center of an unprecedented cataclysm that will destroy the entire town of Broken Hill, Australia–an event caused by nothing more or less than one very deadly word.
Lexicon is not quite science fiction, not quite fantasy, but will appeal to fans of both. The story centers around the Poets, an organization that uses neuro-linguistic programming–technology which the text itself admits is indistinguishable from magic words–to hack the human brain and control the behavior of others. The fast-paced, exhilarating plot is rounded out with just the right amount of romance. The villain is suitably loathsome, the heroes are stalwart and clever, but all of the characters are believable and well-rounded, with faults to match their virtues. While fans of dystopian novels with gutsy heroines will love Emily, the worldbuilding in Lexicon is pleasingly distinct from the increasingly overdone post-apocalyptic genre. In fact, much of the fascination of the story lies in just how believable it can be. Overall, Lexicon is a deeply satisfying, ready-for-the-big-screen thriller.
Book – Bridget used to work as a lawyer; now she stays at home with baby Julia while her computer-programmer husband Mark supports their little family. Bridget and Julia aren’t alone in the house while he’s gone, though. There’s a shadowy figure, a ghost that creeps through the rooms. Mark can’t see the ghost, but Bridget is all too sure it’s real.
A hundred years ago, Rebecca is the daughter of a doctor, and although she’s unsure she chooses to marry a farmer, an old friend, and become a farm wife. She struggles with her new life and fights with her husband almost constantly. Their life together may be interesting, but it’s anything but happy.
While alternating between the stories of Bridget and Rebecca gives some hints about the nature of the ghost that haunts Bridget, it remains a little unclear just what the connection between the two women really is. I found I enjoyed that; I like a little mystery with my scariness. I also liked that neither of the two main characters were really, well, nice. Rebecca is profoundly selfish, while Bridget can’t stop herself from looking down on her friends. That doesn’t mean they aren’t likeable, though – Bridget’s devotion to her daughter is extremely moving, and Rebecca is caught in an impossible situation that’s hard not to empathize with. I was enthralled by both of their stories, and I only wish I could have learned a little bit more about them.
Book – What do Sokrates, the god Apollo, a nineteenth-century spinster, Marcus Tullius Cicero, a ninth-century Libyan slave, Giovanni Mirandola, and an array of twenty-first century robots have in common? They’re all inhabitants of The Just City, Plato’s thought experiment made manifest. Oh, and less than half of them are there of their own free will.
After being spurned by Daphne, Apollo decides to spend some time as a human in an attempt to understand “volition and equal significance,” and his sister Athene suggests that the best place to do so would be in her city. She’s creating Plato’s Republic and filling it with people who prayed to her and wished to live there. Like any utopia, the problems start piling up quickly. Plato thought you could build a civilization starting with ten-year-old children, so they buy more than ten thousand of them out of slavery, even though some of the Masters of the City worry that buying from slavers will make their city unjust before it even begins. Their hard labor is done by robots brought by Athene out of the future, but when Sokrates strikes up a conversation with one it begins to look as though the City has been relying on slavery after all. And of course everyone comes with the flaws of their own histories as well, because Plato was wrong, and a ten-year-old child is not a blank slate.
Fair warning: this book is in large part about consent, and there are several scenes depicting consent and its absence in sexual contexts. But it’s a careful, detailed exploration, tying together many different ideas about free will, virtue, and good intentions. Anyone who’s ever wished for a life dedicated to the pursuit of excellence should find this book fascinating.
Graphic Novel – Agatha Clay is a favorite student of Professor Beetle, the Spark (or Mad Scientist) who runs Beetleburg on behalf of the Baron Klaus Wolfenbach. Agatha is pretty sure she’s no Spark herself – until the day Professor Beetle is accidentally killed when he throws a bomb at the Baron’s son Gilgamesh. Agatha’s life is thrown into chaos when she’s held captive on the Baron’s airship Castle Wolfenbach, a hostage against the good behavior of Moloch von Zinzer, who everyone but Gil believes is the Spark behind the devices Agatha has been building in her sleep. And then there’s the infectious Slaver Wasps, the odd behavior of the Jägermonsters, Gilgamesh’s inconvenient crush, and the bossy and imperious Emperor of All Cats…
Girl Genius is a long-running webcomic, also available in print volumes, whose tagline is “Adventure, Romance, MAD SCIENCE!” And there’s certainly plenty of all three. Agatha is the best kind of adventure hero – she always runs toward the sound of gunfire. She’s smarter and more capable than she thinks she is, but she gains confidence as the series goes on. My favorite characters, though, are the Jägermonsters, half-human monsters with ridiculous German accents who like fighting, pretty girls, and hats. (“You know how dose plans alvays end. The dirigible is in flames, everybody’s dead, an’ you’ve lost your hat.”) It’s a never-ending series of wacky fun, not to be taken too seriously at all. The Library owns the first ten volumes in print – start with Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank.