Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Book – Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal, is having a rough time of it. England’s magicians are torn by internal strife at the same time the country is demanding their assistance in the war against Napoleon, and Zacharias’s own reform ideas are being shoved to the side. And the rumors surrounding his own ascension to the post after his mentor’s death are stirring. As the first African Sorcerer Royal, Zacharias is none too popular among England’s magical elite.

Meanwhile, Prunella Gentleman, the mixed-race orphaned daughter of a mysterious wandering magician who has been raised by the mistress of a School for Magical Ladies, is growing frustrated with her lot. Ladies, after all, are not supposed to be magical, and those who are unfortunate enough to suffer the affliction have to be carefully trained to avoid using it at any cost. Prunella, on the other hand, is sure she could do something great with her life, if only she were given the chance.

The collision of these two – Zacharias who desperately wants to keep the peace, and Prunella who is determined to fend for herself no matter what society thinks – provides the largest part of the enjoyment of Cho’s first novel. Despite the cover, this is a Regency fantasy of the best kind, featuring dignified English magicians, grasping English politicians, and, uniquely, powerful and fascinating main characters from the underside of the empire. Fans of Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Mary Robinette Kowall’s Glamourist Histories should love this.

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

Book –What happens when we die?  Does Heaven await us in the afterlife, or perhaps the fiery pits of Hell?  Maybe, our souls merely evaporate into the air, leaving no trace of our existence.  Shall we meet the pearly gates or travel the River Styx?

Gabrielle Zevin explores this age-old question of what happens after life in her novel, Elsewhere.  Imagine that you wake up in a strange bed, aboard a ship you’ve never seen before, embarking on a journey to a place you’ve never heard of, called Elsewhere.  Fifteen year old Liz thinks she’s having a bad dream, until it finally hits her; she’s dead.

Dead and stuck in Elsewhere, all Liz wants to do is go back home, or at the very least find a way communicate with her family so they know she’s okay.  But the afterlife has other things in store for her.  In Elsewhere, people age backwards instead of forwards, and they return to Earth as infants.  so Liz is placed in the custody of her late grandmother, a woman she has never known.  This isn’t how it was supposed to be!  Liz doesn’t want to build a new life growing young; she wants her life back.  Maybe, just maybe, there’s more to  the afterlife than meets the eye…

I adored this book as a teen, and still consider it one of my favorites today.  The world of Elsewhere seemed like a fantasy to me, a quite intriguing hypothesis of what lies in store for us in death.  A morbidly light read, with a fun cast of characters and a charming story.

 

Interstellar (2014)

Movie – Heavy in physics, theoretical and practical, Interstellar is slow moving, with lulls that may drive some viewers away. It is just shy of three hours making some of the scenes long and hard to bear. Interstellar, however, does a good job at keeping viewers interested through an absorbing story, enveloping screen shots, wonderfully original score, and of course, sarcastic robots.
The story is one of plight and extinction. If Coop (McConaughey), cannot find an alternate planet for the remaining population of Earth everything will end. Food is scare and crops consist of corn, nothing else. I don’t think I could eat only corn for the rest of my life. Even then, the corn will soon die out too. The only way to survive is to travel through a wormhole to find an alternate earth-like planet.
A little wonky on what happens when you enter a black hole; die hard physicists may not like this part. But since no one has ever been inside a black hole, I feel Nolan can do as he likes. I enjoyed McConaughey, as well as the small part Matt Damon had, and loved the robots. This one is for fans of slow moving engrossing storylines, deep space travel, and unbreakable bounds. Those who are looking for alien life and futuristic worlds will have to look elsewhere.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Book – Dr. Faraday is a respectable country physician, but he keeps his childhood a secret – his mother was a maid at Hundreds Hall, home of the ancient and established Ayres family. And now that the new maid of the household is his patient, he’s even more reluctant to let it be known where he came from. But the Ayreses – widowed Mrs. Ayres, her spinster daughter Caroline, and her son Roderick – have much more to worry about than their friend the doctor’s history. Strange things are happening at Hundreds Hall, things that are putting a strain on the well-being of the family. Dr. Faraday is convinced that it’s only the effects of living in an old and decrepit house, but the family is sure there’s something more sinister going on.

The Little Stranger takes its time getting where it’s going; this is no fast-paced thriller. Rather, you have plenty of time to get to know Dr. Faraday, Mrs. Ayres, Caroline, Roddy, and Hundreds Hall itself. It’s the kind of haunted house story where you’re never quite sure who’s right and what’s really happening – although it helps to remember that the narrator, Dr. Farraday, has his own biases that may be getting in his way and ours. This is the perfect novel for a cup of tea and a gloomy October afternoon.

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr.

2873d4688a8572a593231496241444341587343Book – Alice Sheldon was one of the most remarkable science fiction writers of the sixties and seventies. Uninterested in once again being The Woman in a man’s world, she wrote under the pen name of James Tiptree, Jr. entirely anonymously until 1977, at which point several people who had praised the masculinity of her writing were very embarrassed.

Personally, I don’t see how people couldn’t see she was a woman. “The Women Men Don’t See” is a story that could be comfortably classified as women’s fiction, even with the aliens, and “The Screwfly Solution” is a science-fictional horror story of women’s fears. “Houston, Houston, Do You Read” is a response to the feminist utopia novels popular at the time.

Every story in this collection (admittedly a best-of collection, but it represents a huge proportion of her short fiction overall) is outstanding. Many of them will linger on in your memory, cropping up in conversation when you’re talking to people who’ve never heard of Tiptree before. That’s all right – you’ll get to introduce them.

The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

the_gods_of_gotham-1Book – If you have any interest in mystery, historical fiction, New York City, Holmesiana or just plain well-written human drama, Lyndsay Faye is the author you never knew you needed in your life.  Unless you did, in which case well done you.

Timothy Wilde is a New York City bartender in 1845, lending an ear to the world’s problems and working up the courage to confess his love for his childhood sweetheart, Mercy.  When a fire does away with his job and his life savings, however, he stumbles his way (pushed by his brother, the larger-than-life, twice as troublesome and three times as irresistible Val) into the work he never wanted but always should’ve had: as a ‘copper star,’ a member of New York’s brand-new police force.  A chance encounter with a ten-year-old girl in a blood-covered nightgown puts him on the trail that ends in the bodies of twenty children and sends the entire city into a flurry of tension along racial, ethnic and especially religious lines.  And while his determination to find the truth will make an investigator of Tim, it will also challenge his preconceptions about the people he loves.

Written in rich period language (a glossary is included), The Gods of Gotham is a fast-paced and atmospheric thriller that stands on its own merits as both a mystery and a piece of historical fiction.  But what makes it exceptional are Faye’s writing style and command of human nature.  Her prose is insightful, incisive and deeply felt, and her characters memorable and well-rounded.  New devotees will be pleased to hear that Tim’s adventures continue in Seven for a Secret and the recent conclusion to the trilogy, The Fatal Flame.

 

 

The Thirteen by Susie Moloney

3e6e15b726eca635462760f5f2479687Book – Paula hasn’t been back to Haven Woods, the idyllic suburb where she grew up, since she was sixteen. That summer she found out she was pregnant, her boyfriend died in a terrible accident, her father died in a car crash, and her mother sent her away, so in spite of the good memories she’s got plenty of reasons not to come home. Until one day she gets a call from her mother’s old friend Izzy, saying Paula’s mom is in the hospital and won’t she please come see her. Paula and her fifteen-year-old daughter Rowan don’t have much of a life in the city, so it’s not like they’re giving up much to go live in Haven Woods until Paula’s mom is back on her feet. But Haven Woods has more going on than Paula ever suspected, and Izzy has her own reasons for wanting Paula – and Rowan – to stay forever.

This book was just a lot of fun to read. Although nominally a horror novel, Moloney doesn’t mess around with making you guess at what’s going on – plenty of scenes from Izzy’s point of view at the beginning of the novel clue you in right away that these are bad, old-fashioned Devil-worshiping witches that Paula’s going up against, ignorant though she is. Aside from the supernatural elements, though, The Thirteen is also a story about the powerful bonds between women – mothers, daughters, friends – and the ways you can never entirely escape your own childhood. Like Moloney’s other novels, including her haunted-house story The Dwelling, I think this would make a great movie.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

9781250049377Book – The demands of balancing work and two daughters, especially when you are the primary breadwinner can make you forget why you fell in love with your husband in the first place and cause you to screw up your priorities and forget what is really important in life. In Landline, Rainbow Rowell offers heartfelt insight into the life of career driven Georgie and the choices she makes during the holiday season.  When she realizes her decision may lead to the ultimate unraveling of her relationship with her family and husband Neal, who offered to be the stay-at-home dad, she feels that the only way to fix things at this point is to resolve past relationship issues.  But her husband is unreachable in the present and the only success Georgie is having in contacting him is by landline from her girlhood home and the Neal that she is talking to is the Neal that she started dating years ago and fell in love with in college.  Readers of this delightful and humorous novel, will be rewarded in knowing how the couple’s relationship began and bloomed and will be wondering if the resolutions of the past will be enough to guarantee them a future.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

particularBook – Imagine if you could taste someone’s emotions when you bite into a piece of cake, fresh from the oven.  Maybe you’d taste your mother’s happiness at the success of a new recipe, or the local baker’s despair of his broken marriage.  Would it be a gift?  Or a curse?

Aimee Bender’s explores this whimsical idea in her novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.  On her ninth birthday, Rose Edelstein is shocked to discover she has a taste for feelings after biting into a slice of cake baked by her mother. In that first bite, her world is shattered when Rose tastes her mother’s sadness and anguish.   Her new-found “gift” sends her reeling from the impact of knowing too much about people’s hidden secrets.  There is no escape from the emotions that assault her.  In this magical coming of age novel, Bender weaves a sorrowful, yet hopeful tale of a young girl caught up in the sentiments of others, trying to find herself among them.

I thought this was a wonderful read, a simple yet fantastical story that is actually quite relatable.  While the element of magic may not be found in our own lives, every family has its hidden secrets, the things we try to bury within ourselves.  This novel allows us to consider what might happen if those secrets were revealed, as well as realize the burden they hold over us.

 

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

elizabeth is missingBook – Maud is concerned that her friend Elizabeth is missing.  Maud is also aware that she frequently forgets things and becomes confused; that’s why she writes things down of importance on pieces of paper that she leaves around her house or stuffed in her pockets or purse.  She is distraught because no one takes her seriously regarding her friend’s disappearance. Maud’s search brings up other old memories, the disappearance of her sister Sukey during post World War II.  Though authorities determined that Sukey simply ran away to start a new life away from her husband, due to lack of evidence to suggest foul play,  Maud has always been haunted that her older sister would have shared this secret with her and bid her farewell. Could the two mysteries be connected?

This is a bittersweet glimpse inside Maud’s dementia.  She doesn’t always know who her daughter is, she keeps buying tins of peach slices when she has a pantry full, and forgets to drink the cups of tea she’s made.  We feel her panic when she gets lost or can’t remember why she is at a certain place and why she is interacting with “strangers”.   She realizes that she may only have a short time until her memory fails her completely to resolve the disappearances of her friend and sister.

This is the author’s first book and it received starred reviews from Library Journal and BookList.  This novel would make an excellent book club selection.