Book Preview – The Eternal Audience of One by Rémy Ngamije

The Eternal Audience of One by Rémy NgamijeThe descriptions for books are too often overlooked and underrated. If you’re unfamiliar with an author or are looking for a new book without the recommendation of a reliable friend, you really only have the cover and the description to go by (and they do say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, though the cover is invaluable when it comes to catching a potential reader’s attention). In the case of Rémy Ngamije’s The Eternal Audience of One, yes, the cover caught my eye but it was the description that truly captured my interest. Lifting two sentences from the first page of the first chapter about the nature of stories and the characters’ relationships to both beginnings and endings, the description provided the smallest taste of the prose and narrative voice and that alone was enough to get me hooked as a reader. Luckily, that taste was not a manipulative tease but a wonderful encapsulation of Ngamije’s humorous and clever approach to a story that demonstrates the ways we confront and hide from difficult realities about our lives, our situations and ourselves.

Séraphin, a university student in Cape Town, faces the all-too-familiar prospect of an uncertain future as his graduation from law school looms just a few months away. His family back in Namibia have high hopes and expectations for him, especially his parents who have had to compromise and sacrifice since fleeing Rwanda for the safety of their young family. Luckily, his close circle of friends is incredibly understanding and supportive of his lack of direction as they plot their futures with varying degrees of drive and direction themselves. But the uncertainty, the stress of school, and coming from such different backgrounds also force some rifts among the group of friends to the surface. Continue reading

Book Review – The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

The Year of the Witching by Alexis HendersonI can’t remember how many of the book recommendation algorithms last year recommended Alexis Henderson’s debut novel The Year of the Witching to me in the weeks and months after it released. The concept sounded right up my alley but it took a while for my “currently reading” pile and the library waitlist to sync up so I was only really able to dive in a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the engaging read I’d hoped and expected it to be. The concept was everything I’d thought and wanted it to be, but there was something in the execution that fell flat and made it difficult for me to engage with the book. I’ve since learned there will be a second book in this sort-of duology releasing later this year (interviews with the author are a little vague on whether it’s a sequel or not but it is definitely going to be related to The Year of the Witching). At this point I’m undecided whether or not I’ll add that one to my “to read” list.

Immanuelle Moore grew up in the shadow of her dead mother’s sin. Not only had her mother taken a lover (Immanuelle’s father, sent to the pyre for daring to love her mother in defiance of the Prophet), she had attempted to kill the Prophet himself. Because of her origins, Immanuelle was determined to show how different from her mother she was, following the religious teachings and customs of Bethel without questioning them and resisting the lure of the Darkwood. But when she finds herself in the Darkwood by chance and is gifted with her mother’s journal, Immanuelle has a harder and harder time resisting its pull. When the first plague begins, she senses she’s the only one who can stop them but it will require breaking from what she’s grown up believing and delving into her parents’ past. Continue reading

LGBTQIA+ Books

In honor of Pride, here are some books by LGBTQIA+ authors and/or telling LGBTQIA+ stories.

Hala Alyan

Nicole Dennis-Benn

Naoise Dolan

Jeffrey Eugenides

A.J. Hackwith

Alexis Hall

Casey McQuiston

Erin Morgenstern

Matthew Norman

Anna North

Rivers Solomon

Heather Walter

Book Preview – All Together Now by Matthew Norman

All Together Now by Matthew NormanWhen I read Matthew Norman’s Last Couple Standing early last year, I enjoyed it enough to keep an eye out for more of his work. So, when I saw that he had a new novel coming out, I jumped at the chance to preview it if possible. Like Last Couple Standing, Matthew Norman’s new novel, All Together Now, focuses on what time can do to long-lasting relationships – especially friendships – and what it takes to reconnect with our past selves so we can be proud of (and recognize) who we’ve become. In this case, it takes being confronted with the lies you’ve told yourself (and others) as well as the possibility of losing everything.

Robbie Malcolm is a thirty-five-year-old math genius who’s turned his gift for numbers and prediction into a billion-dollar business. But no amount of money can buy Robbie more time. He has late stage pancreatic cancer and only months to live. So, Robbie decides to go out with a bang and fix for his best friends what he can’t fix for himself – their futures. Getting television producer Cat, freelance artist and suburban mom Blair, and failed novelist Wade to travel out to Fenwick Island (one of their favorite summertime getaways from their high school days) Robbie reunites the Baltimore Prep Rejects for a weekend they won’t forget. It’s the first time they’ve been in the same place in six years and the survival of their friendship (as well as their personal lives) is at stake. But confronting the truth can be painful, even when you have your best friends at your side.

As is to be expected, grief is a heavy theme in this book, but it probably isn’t the grief most would expect to feature most prominently. While the friends – and Robbie – must come to terms with the news of his illness and what it means, the four Baltimore Prep Rejects spend most of the novel facing the fact that the dreams they had when they were in high school aren’t going to come true – or if they do, not in the ways they imagined them. What’s more, the newer “dreams” they have for themselves – and, in some cases, lie about to each other – also need to be faced and grieved. It’s only when they let those illusions go that they are truly able to look to the future and build themselves into the people they want to be.

One thing Matthew Norman does so well is on full display in All Together Now – he builds truly believable friendships, complete with deep history and connection. The story of how these four came to be friends and the circumstances of how they then became the Baltimore Prep Rejects is thoroughly and genuinely relatable, it’ll make you want to break out the yearbook (and then Facebook) to catch up with how your own high school friends are doing. The four have drifted a bit and aren’t in regular contact anymore but their old ways of communicating and being together come back so quickly. And like the deepest of friendships, they fight and hold each other to account while also completely supporting one another in the ways that they need – not always the ways that they want.

Though it follows some predictable patterns, All Together Now has a solid foundation that reinforces the idea that no one is perfect but it’s never too late to try and do better, and that having the right people in your life can make all the difference.

All Together Now will be available June 15, 2021.

Book Review – Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo

Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo Every once in a while, I need an easy and fun read which made it the perfect time to dive into Jane Igharo’s Ties That Tether. Guaranteed to have a happy ending, Ties That Tether is a bit of a romance but more time is spent exploring the repercussions of the romance on the heroine’s relationship with her family and culture – particularly her relationship with her mother – than on the couple themselves. Delving into the immigrant experience and the impact that has on one’s sense of self, I found Ties That Tether to be the right balance of light-hearted fun with the dash of serious undercurrents that I need to thoroughly enjoy myself.

Azere immigrated to Canada from Nigeria with her mother and younger sister shortly after the death of her father. She was twelve and made him a promise that she wouldn’t forget or forsake her heritage – when the time came, she would marry a Nigerian man. Her mother refuses to let her forget that promise and so Azere is on yet another painfully disastrous setup when she meets Rafael Castellano. He’s white but he’s only in town while he interviews for a new job and they hit it off immediately so Azere breaks her rule for one night, figuring she’ll never see him again or have to worry about disappointing her mother. A few weeks later she not only sees Rafael again, avoiding him is going to be impossible and disappointing her mother looks inevitable. Continue reading

Book Review – Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith

Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-SmithIn the wake of the BLM rallies last summer, I promised myself I would try to read more books by Black writers. I bookmarked and saved many of the lists making the rounds during the #BlackoutBestsellerList push and Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith was one of the books I bought that week after seeing it on this list of books by Black women. The heartbreaking premise was so powerful I added it to my cart immediately. But I also hesitated to start it for that same reason – I’ve got to be in the right headspace to face something I know is going to make me cry. And while Whiskey & Ribbons DID make me cry, there was so much hope and happiness in its pages that the heartbreak wasn’t as thoroughly devastating as I expected it to be. It shows how much grief really is a part of life and how it’s up to us whether or not we let loss destroy us – how much life is about choice even if death rarely is.

Two weeks before Evangeline gave birth to her son, her husband, Eamon, was killed in the line of duty. From the day Noah was born, Eamon’s adopted-brother and life-long best friend, Dalton, was there to help take care of both Evangeline and the baby – fulfilling a promise to Eamon. But six months later, when Evangeline and Dalton find themselves snowed in with Noah at Evangeline’s parents’ house, the two of them must finally confront where they stand with one another and with their grief. Continue reading

Book Review – Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo Rule of Wolves was the first book in the Grishaverse that I had to wait for. I had it pre-ordered and had hoped to read it before the first season of Shadow and Bone dropped on Netflix, but I had a few too many other books I’d committed to previewing during those weeks so I ended up watching the show first. Luckily, getting to see Leigh Bardugo’s incredible characters brought to life so brilliantly only made me more eager to finally dive into what promises to be the last Grishaverse novel for a while. Though it left off in a thoroughly satisfying place and could easily be a final resting point for the Grishaverse, I truly hope this isn’t the last of these characters or this world because it’s been such an enjoyable ride that I’m not ready for it to end (and given the final scenes, it does leave considerable space still open for future tales).

Ravka continues to face potential war on too many fronts. The Fjerdans are determined to attack from the north to remove Nikolai from the throne and impose a puppet ruler who will help them wipe out the Grisha. To the south, Queen Makhi of Shu Han also continues to conniving a way to both remove the threat her beloved sister, Ehri, and start a war with Ravka that will have the people’s support. But perhaps the greatest threat to Ravka comes from the failed attempt to rid Nikolai of the beast that shares his body – a failed attempt that resurrected the Darkling and reactivated some of the destructive powers of the Fold. Continue reading

Book Review – The City of Tears by Kate Mosse

The City of Tears by Kate Mosse I read Kate Mosse’s The Burning Chambers after I learned that The City of Tears was actually the second book in an ongoing series. And though I felt The Burning Chambers had its issues when it came to establishing the characters, setting, and story, I was eager to dive into The City of Tears to see what happened next to those characters I’d come to enjoy so thoroughly. And I did begin reading pretty soon after finishing the first book. About halfway through the novel, however, I hit a bit of a wall where my enjoyment of the characters themselves became too stalled in a combination of disappointment and boredom for me to do more than wade through the rest slowly. While I’m sure there will be more installments in this series, I doubt I’ll bother with them.

The City of Tears picks up where the epilogue of The Burning Chambers left off (after another prologue set far into the future). Minou must decide if she and the rest of their family are going to join her husband, Piet, in Paris over the summer to celebrate the marriage of Henri of Navarre to Marguerite de Valois, the sister of the King – a marriage designed to help unite the warring Hugenot and Catholic factions of France. But the specter of Vidal still looms from time to time and someone from Amsterdam has been trying to get in touch with Piet, though whether it has to do with the Protestant cause or the death of his mother, they aren’t sure. Ultimately choosing to go to Paris with their children, tragedy is in store for the Reydon-Joubert clan even before the horrors of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre start to unfold. Continue reading

Book Preview – Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Sorrowland by Rivers SolomonI was enthralled with Rivers Solomon’s The Deep when I read it back at the end of 2019 so when I saw that Solomon had another book publishing soon, I jumped at the chance to read this one too. While the novel played out in a very different way than I expected from when I first read the description, it reminded me so much of one of my other favorite writers (Octavia Butler) that I was in no way disappointed. Brutal and fantastic in every meaning of those words, Sorrowland explores themes of power and oppression as well as resilience, resistance, and duality, challenging many of the norms that society accepts and perpetuates.

Vern’s been living in the woods and evading the fiend hunting her for two months since her escape from Cainland and its “Blessed Acres” compound where she’d grown up. But as she goes into labor and births her twin sons, the dangers of her situation truly hit home with more than herself to protect. As time goes by, however, Vern begins to notice changes in her body and her abilities, starting with inhuman strength, endurance, and healing. Between the changes and her own desires – both to be a good mother to her boys but also to remain her own, sometimes selfish, person – Vern starts to venture beyond the woods and into the white man’s world that Cainland had taught her to loathe and avoid. But the threats there and those from Cainland may not be as different as she’d once thought. Continue reading

Book Review – Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace

Creativity, Inc. by Ed CatmullWhen I choose to veer away from my usual fiction stomping grounds into the realm of non-fiction, it’s usually with an eye toward history. So, if it hadn’t been the selection for our first book club at work, I don’t know that I ever would have looked twice at Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull. As familiar as I am with the works of Pixar having grown up with them and then watched my niece enjoy them – and having thoroughly enjoyed the Pixar exhibit while it was at the Museum of Science in Boston back in 2015 – I wasn’t as interested in a book about the philosophies and day-to-day business practices their leadership put in place to develop their now famous (and in some ways, infamous) workplace culture and extended success. But, I was excited about book club at work, so I waded in and through an interesting introspection that, in some key ways, hasn’t aged well.

Beginning with Ed Catmull’s fascination with Disney and animation as a child, the book takes the reader through the earliest days of computer graphics development and the birth of Pixar as a division of Lucasfilm that George Lucas ultimately sold in the 1980s to a notoriously demanding (and many would say ‘difficult’) Steve Jobs. Once Toy Story proved that computer animated motion pictures were viable in the market, Catmull and the others at Pixar looked for new ways to challenge themselves and the accepted practices of the industry as they continued to grow. With the successes piling up, he takes the reader through the surprising buy-out by Disney in 2006 and the responsibility he had as he helped revive Disney Animation while still in his role at Pixar (and keeping the two entities separate companies in practice as well as intention). Continue reading

Book Review – Malice by Heather Walter

Malice by Heather WalterYou can’t judge a book by its cover but the cover art is meant to catch the eye and capture interest. The cover for Heather Walter’s Malice certainly caught my attention and once I read the description, I knew I had to read it. I’m a sucker for reimagined fairy tales and this one promised plenty of intriguing twists on the classic Sleeping Beauty story. As I approached the end, however, I began hoping that there would be a second book in the series because there was no way enough could happen in the dwindling page count for me to find the ending satisfying. Luckily for me, it does look like there will be a sequel (though I can’t find anything about a tentative release date yet). As such, the ending to Malice left me torn.

Alyce lives in the kingdom of Briar as one of the magically skilled Graces… but she isn’t a Grace. While the Graces are gifted with magic from the light Fae of Etheria, Alyce’s magic comes from the parents she never knew, at least one of whom was a Vila, the main foes of Etheria and Briar who were (almost) entirely eliminated by the humans of Briar during the war. Found as an infant and raised to be the Dark Grace, Alyce has always been treated with contempt, fear and disgust by her fellow Graces and everyone else in Briar. Until she happens to make the acquaintance of the last crown princess of Briar, Aurora. Alyce soon finds herself trying to help Aurora break the curse that all the women of Briar’s ruling line face before Aurora runs out of time. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Widow Queen by Elżbieta Cherezińska

The Widow Queen by Elzbieta Cherezinska It isn’t too many generations back on my father’s side that my family migrated from Poland and the last few years I’ve found myself drawn to learn more about that part of my heritage. Since fiction has always helped drive my interest in history (and vice versa), when I saw a novel about a Polish princess who became a commanding queen, I jumped at the chance to read it. Elżbieta Cherezińska’s The Widow Queen is the first of her two novels about Świętosława to be translated into English (with the second hopefully being released in 2022). Inspired by figures from 10th century history (a period where the historical record has quite a few gaps), The Widow Queen has done what my favorite historical novels always do: it’s inspired me to search out and learn more.

Świętosława, her brother, and their half-sisters are all expected to play their part in their father Duke Mieszko’s plans to expand his rule and influence in what will become Poland. But Świętosława has never been one to simply do what she’s told. Earning herself a nickname meaning “bold,” Świętosława proves adept at navigating the treacherous waves of warring kingdoms and shifting alliances in the North and Baltic Seas, though she learns quickly that the price of her power and safety is almost always paid in personal sacrifice and that choice can be a powerful illusion.

Continue reading

Book Preview – When Stars Rain Down by Angela Jackson-Brown

book cover - when stars rain downI don’t remember what it was about the description for Angela Jackson-Brown’s upcoming When Stars Rain Down that first caught my attention but I’m always a sucker for good historical fiction and am trying not to always go for the same eras and places. There have been a few novels set in the 1930s that I’ve read and probably even one or two set in the rural south. But most of those were personal family dramas about white people coping with the aftermath of the Great Depression, hardly touching upon race relations in any way other than simply setting the scene, creating the atmosphere of the time and place. When Stars Rain Down captures the perpetual exhaustion and toll of racism on Black people – particularly on Black women – and shows that while almost a century has passed, some things still haven’t changed.

Opal Pruitt is proud to help her Granny as a housemaid for a white family in Parsons, Georgia in the late 1930s. As her eighteenth birthday approaches, Opal finds herself confronted with a lot of change. First, there’s a boy, Cedric Perkins, who shows an interest in courting Opal – though her Granny and uncles don’t seem too keen on the idea. Secondly, when there’s a warning that the Klan plan to cause mischief in Colored Town, Opal isn’t sure whether she believes the best course of action is to lie low like Granny and many of the church elders suggest or if it would be better to fight back like Cedric and some of the other young men in the community want to. Opal must learn when and how to listen to her instincts as well as how and when to bear the burdens of others’ good intentions. Continue reading

Book Preview – One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

book cover - one last stopAfter reading Red, White & Royal Blue two years ago, I’d been keeping an eye out for what Casey McQuiston’s next book would be, hoping to maybe get a preview copy. It just so happened that I was lucky enough to win an advance copy of her upcoming One Last Stop in a Goodreads giveaway late last year. Currently slated to hit book stores at the start of Pride, One Last Stop is both a queer romance and an exploration of the LGBTQ community and its history.

August has spent the better part of her life helping her mother search for a long-lost uncle and the skills she learned as part of that search have left her more than a little socially uncertain. She’s transferred colleges several times and the latest switch means a move to New York City where roommates and a job are a necessity. Despite her efforts to remain a loner, she realizes her new roommates are becoming her friends and there’s a girl on the subway who’s become the highlight of August’s commute. But she soon learns there’s more to Jane than just coincidence or an overlapping commute that keeps them running into one another on the Q train. August is determined to help Jane, even if it means putting herself through the emotional wringer. Continue reading

Book Review – Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

Spoiler Alert by Olivia DadeAfter a few heavier reads, it was time for something in the “just plain fun” category and the gods of the Library Waitlist agreed. A recommendation from a friend, Olivia Dade’s Spoiler Alert falls squarely into the category of romantic comedy, reveling in some of the tropes of the fanfiction it celebrates. It also happens to be both a celebration and critique of fandom culture, celebrating the communities it creates while also calling out some of its most prominent flaws.

Marcus is wrapping up filming on the final season of the hit show he stars in but it’s been a while since he’s found the material satisfying (and he isn’t alone). Since he’s contractually obligated to keep his mouth shut about any criticism along with the new plot lines, he’s relieved to have found a mostly-safe outlet for those frustrations: fanfiction and a server dedicated to his character and the show. It’s been a space for him to develop skills like writing alongside close but also anonymous friendships. April also knows what it’s like to keep her professional life separate from her personal obsession with the show and its relationships, but she’s ready for all that to change. Determined to stop hiding pieces of herself from the world, she works up the courage to post a picture of herself in cosplay to Twitter. When the photo unintentionally goes viral and captures Marcus’ attention, circumstances threaten to expose Marcus’ secret but if it means getting to be with April, the risk might just be worth it. Continue reading

Book Review – A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

A Thousand Ships by Natalie HaynesI’m still not sure how it happened, but I managed, in all my years of schooling – including getting both a BA and MA in English literature – to read either The Iliad or The Odyssey. And I’m not saying it was assigned to me and I just didn’t bother cause I found them boring or tedious or anything. No, I unintentionally found a slew of courses that never saw it on the syllabus. I was actually rarely assigned anything from that particular classical canon. Nope, the entirety of my knowledge of them comes second hand through the allusions to the classics in other works like Shakespeare and so many early British novels (and I think there was definitely an episode of Wishbone where the cute pooch was cast as Odysseus). Despite my patchwork knowledge of the Trojan War’s literary history, when I saw an NPR tweet about Natalie Haynes’ A Thousand Ships and its premise of telling the story through the women of the tale, I could not get my hands on a copy fast enough. Having completed this account of events with the focus on the ladies (and with so much irreverence for the original epics’ approach), I find myself pondering tackling The Iliad or The Odyssey now…

Calling on female perspectives from each side, each class, goddess and mortal woman alike, A Thousand Ships presents the harsh reality of the aftermath of war for the women of both sides. The women of Troy wait on the beach for the Greek victors to divvy them up as slaves, to separate them from one another and take them once and for all from their home. While waiting, they discuss where and when things went wrong, they speculate of the fates of those absent from their group, and they grieve their innumerable losses. Through their eyes, the sheen of battlefield glory dulls and every bit of blood spatter and dried sweat gets examined. When the heroes are all dead, when both sides have lost more people than remain and one side declares ‘victory,’ it doesn’t mean the death and destruction are over. Far from it. Continue reading

Book Preview – The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan

The Arsonists' City by Hala AlyanFamily dramas can be some of the most compelling stories around… or the most tedious. I wasn’t sure what to expect when the description for Hala Alyan’s upcoming The Arsonists’ City first caught my attention, but the premise was enough to draw me in: the father wishes to sell his own father’s ancestral home in Beirut while his wife and children are opposed to the move. Hala Alyan’s tale most definitely fell into the former category of family drama for me. Largely a tale of secrets, hopes, and disappointments, The Arsonists’ City packed emotional punches on every front, taking predictable plot twists and leading them down unfamiliar paths to avoid the usual clichés.

When Idris Nasr’s father passes away, he decides the time has come to sell the family home in Beirut. But his wife, Mazna, opposes the idea and wields all the guilt she can muster to get her two oldest children to travel to Beirut with them. Ava is a biology professor and mother of two young children having marital problems. Mimi is a restaurant manager who still dreams of hitting it big with his band despite so many others moving on to other dreams. Their youngest sister, Najla, is already in Beirut and reluctant to have the rest of them visit, having moved there for university before deciding to stay for good and embrace her own musical success and the safe distance from her judging (and occasionally resentful). Having the entire family (and extended family) in the same place for the first time in years forces each of them to confront the problems in their own lives and leaves long-buried secrets peeking out of the dirt, tempting further excavation. Continue reading

Book Review – A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. MaasIt’s been a few years since there was a new installment in Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series. Last week’s release of A Court of Silver Flames brought a return to the familiar characters of the Inner Circle. With a slight shift in focus, quite a few new characters and new threats, the series is poised to continue expanding its borders and scope. Compared to Maas’ Throne of Glass series, this series relies far more on the strength of its characters to carry the reader through a sometimes-shaky plot. Delving into darker, more psychologically difficult places than the previous books of this series, A Court of Silver Flames also indulges more in the explicitly “smutty,” weaving a compelling journey of a character’s journey from determined self-destruction to forgiveness and hope.

In the aftermath of the war with Hybern, the peoples of Prythian are still working to rebuild and recover from their various traumas. It’s become clear to the members of the Night Court’s Inner Circle that giving Nesta time and space hasn’t worked and some form of intervention is needed. She’s offered two options: first, she can live at the House of Wind away from Velaris, train with Cassian in the mornings and spend her afternoons working in the priestesses’ library, or second, she can return to the human lands and make her own way alone. Reluctantly agreeing to the first option, Nesta digs her heels in, determined to be as disagreeable and vicious as everyone around her apparently believes her to be. But Cassian has always had a knack for figuring Nesta out and getting under her skin and getting her away from the triggers that send her spiraling might just allow them the space needed for him to help her make progress in facing her trauma and building a new life for herself.

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Book Preview – The Conductors by Nicole Glover

The Conductors by Nicole GloverSo many things drew my attention to Nicole Glover’s upcoming The Conductors. I’ve been trying to read more books by Black writers and realized how many books I had read set around the Civil War and the experiences of escaped slaves had actually been written by white authors. I also really enjoy when fantasy elements get layered into historic fiction. The Conductors manages to bring magic into the post-Civil War years in truly brilliant ways, losing none of the racial tensions or stakes at play while emphasizing the unique issues faced by the freed population.

Hetty and Benjy Rhodes are famous in their Philadelphia community. Powerful practitioners of Celestial magic, they used their skills as they helped lead others to freedom on the eve of the Civil War and even through the fighting. In the years since the war ended, the married couple have become the go-to pair for their community in matters requiring investigation where the local authorities aren’t trusted (which is most cases). But when a late-night call to examine a dead body in an alley turns out to be a friend of theirs and his corpse bears a legendary cursed mark, Hetty and Benjy begin questioning how well they really know their circle of friends. Continue reading

Book Review – Last Act in Palmyra by Lindsey Davis

Last Act in Palmyra by Lindsey DavisI adored Poseidon’s Gold, the fifth book in Lindsey Davis’ Marcus Didius Falco series. After a that spent so much time and focus in Rome and on Falco’s family, it makes sense that book six, Last Act in Palmyra would bring a significant change of scene. While I wasn’t as underwhelmed as I was with Iron Hand of Mars, I am ready for a return to Rome and the familiar supporting cast of characters that are so much of what I enjoy about this series. Given where Last Act in Palmyra leaves off, I’m hopeful for book eight.

Having been disappointed in his hopes of being raised to a socially acceptable position that would have enabled him to marry Helena Justina, Marcus Didius Falco is reluctant to take any more work from the emperor. However, when an old friend asks for Falco to travel across the empire in search of a runaway musician and it happens to overlap with some reconnaissance work in the same area, he’s willing to kill two birds with one stone and escape Rome (with Helena) for a bit. But it doesn’t take long for things to start going wrong. At one of the first significant stops on their journey, Falco and Helena stumble across the body of a recently murdered playwright. Soon, they’ve joined the traveling acting group as they try to uncover the murderer and find the missing musician. Continue reading

Book Review – The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

The Burning Chambers by Kate MosseWhen it comes to books and series, I’m a completist. That means when I pick up a book, go to start it, and discover it’s actually the second or third book in a series, nine times out of ten, I’ll put the book aside until I can read the ones that come before it. As soon as I realized that Kate Mosse’s recent The City of Tears is actually a sequel to The Burning Chambers, I immediately went to my library to make sure I started at the intended beginning (and going back to read the description of The City of Tears after having finished The Burning Chambers, I know I’m going to be glad to have the familiarity with the characters and their histories). While I was initially wondering if I’d bother with book two as I stumbled through the first half of The Burning Chambers, the back half brought much more focus and purpose to the story and I will be diving into The City of Tears very soon to see what’s in store for these characters.

The unrest in sixteenth-century France between the Catholics and the Huguenots is growing and beginning to tear cities apart across the country. In the Joubert household in Carcassone, a twenty-year-old secret soon becomes entangled in the power struggle as well. Nineteen-year-old Marguerite “Minou” Joubert does what she can to care for her younger brother and sister since their mother’s death but her father’s recent ailments have added to her worries. As the situation continues to develop, Minou finds her path repeatedly crossing with that of Piet Reydon, a Huguenot hoping a peaceful and tolerant resolution can be reached. The threads of Piet’s personal mission to hide and protect a valuable artifact overlap more and more with the nefarious forces tugging at Minou from the past approaching an unavoidable collision in the mountains of Puivert. Continue reading

Book Review – The Empress by Laura Martínez-Belli

The Empress by Laura Martínez-BelliThere are periods of history and figures in history that I return to time and again and, as a result, I’ve become familiar with them. Then there are those whose stories capture my attention and I am compelled to learn more. Charlotte of Belgium who became Carlota, Empress of Mexico for a few brief years, falls into the latter category. Her story and that of her husband, Maximilian, have crossed my path a few times (most frequently in the feeds of various history podcasts I enjoy). So, when I saw that there was a novel about Charlotte/Carlota being released, I jumped at the chance to read it. Having now finished Simon Bruni’s translation of Laura Martínez-Belli’s The Empress, I find my interest has shifted from the story being told to the process of translation itself. My proficiency in Spanish has improved as I’ve worked at it during the pandemic, but I’m nowhere near a point where I could compare the translation against the original Spanish novel. With such incredible material to work with, I found the novel to be a bit of a mess and as I worked through it, I was couldn’t help but wonder (and speculate) where that might be due to the translation, where it might carry over from the original novel and how much it might be intentional.

Ambitious and seeking more for herself and her marriage, Charlotte of Belgium throws herself into becoming Carlota, Empress of Mexico when Napoleon III presents the opportunity to her and her husband. But Carlota’s devotion to her new country and people is quickly tested when less than two years after their coronation she must flee to France to beg for further aid in order to sustain their Empire. Fears of poisoning and conspiracy drive Carlota to meander along the border between sanity and insanity, but her fears may well have been warranted. As the narration jumps back and forth in time as well as between Carlota, one of her ladies in waiting, Constanza, a soldier from her protective detail, Philippe, and a few others, the defining tragedies of Carlota’s life unfold for the reader. Continue reading

Book Review – A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir

A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa TahirThe wait for the next book in a series is always a difficult one. That is compounded when the coming book is both the final installment and released after a longer wait than the others. I made my way through the first three books of Sabaa Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes series pretty quickly and around the time the third book (A Reaper at the Gates) was released back in 2018. Now, I had originally thought it was a trilogy and that there would be no waiting but upon finishing book three realized I would be playing that waiting game after all but I was eager to see how the series would end. Then the wait turned out to be two years and by the time A Sky Beyond the Storm was released last month, I had a bit and was left with more memories about where my emotional investment stood than the particular details of certain plot threads. Still, I was excited for the final volume and (after reading through my old reviews and a recap of the series as a whole) delved into Tahir’s world once more. In many ways a satisfying conclusion, A Sky Beyond the Storm still struggles at times, especially with pacing and setting up key revelations leaving some plots more rewarding than others.

The Commandant with her army continues to wage war alongside the Nightbringer and his jinn, devastating the Empire and massacring the different peoples who have defied them. Blood Shrike, Helene Aquilla, is determined to win back her infant nephew’s kingdom, though the reforms her sister the regent is pushing for threatens to cost them allies. Laia is certain that the only way to end the war is to kill the Nightbringer but isn’t even sure such a feat is possible. The Soul Catcher, Elias Veturius fights to stay out of the affairs of humans, even as they argue that the concerns of the human world do affect his work passing the souls of the dead to their final rest. As the war rages, the three find their paths drawing closer and closer to the center of a maelstrom that threatens to bring destruction to more than just the Nightbringer’s human targets. Continue reading

Book Review – The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

The Red Queen by Philippa GregoryI don’t write a review for every book I read (though I do come pretty close). There are always going to be those guilty pleasure reads that I enjoy but don’t pay close enough attention to or books that stall so much merely finishing them is accomplishment enough. For the most part, Philippa Gregory’s books fall into the former category for me. I think I tend to read her books as a way to inspire my history major side to then find non-fiction works on the same figures and time period. Also, because there tends to be so much overlap between her novels, I find myself skipping around (which is not something I feel is generally conducive to writing a series of comprehensive reviews). Long story short: I wasn’t planning to review Philippa Gregory’s The Red Queen when I began reading it. A little more than halfway through I started to change my mind. Writing about the way Gregory crafts the narrative of Margaret Beaufort (the mother of Henry VII) and explores her psychology is simply too irresistible.

As a child, Margaret Beaufort was convinced she was called by God to serve some divine purpose. Obsessed with tales of the undoubtedly holy Joan of Arc, Margaret sought out those who met or saw her in action and begged her mother to let her join a convent where she could dedicate herself to serving the church. But Margaret is also a direct descendant of the house of Lancaster and King Henry VI’s reign is starting to show cracks. Margaret is married off to the king’s half-brother, Edward Tudor, and urged to perform her duty – bear heirs for her family. After narrowly surviving the birth of her son, Margaret’s understanding of her divine calling shifts: God will someday make her son the King of England and, as his mother, she must help him and the royal house of Lancaster to prevail. Continue reading

Book Review – The Camelot Betrayal by Kiersten White

The Camelot Betrayal by Kiersten WhiteI’ve been looking forward to Kiersten White’s The Camelot Betrayal since I finished The Guinevere Deception last year. White’s twists on the classic Camelot mythology continue in this second installment of her Camelot Rising Trilogy. The Camelot Betrayal expands further into the familiar cast of characters while fleshing out their alternate backstories and feeding Guinevere’s confusion around her sense of self and purpose as the larger conflict plays out. I appreciated the way that responsibility is tied into Guinevere’s journey to figure herself out. It’s one of those themes that comes up frequently in series but is often only half addressed. Characters will step up to take responsibility through action but the consequences – or more precisely, the wider ripples of consequence – are often glossed over.

After having been manipulated by Mordred into raising the Dark Queen, Guinevere is determined to do everything in her power to help Arthur protect Camelot in the coming conflict. Trying to balance playing a more active role against Arthur’s fears for her safety, Guinevere is finally finding herself at home in Camelot and settling into her role as queen. The unexpected arrival of Guinevere’s sister, Guinevach threatens to throw a wrench into everything. Guinevach is the real Guinevere’s sister and could so easily expose the careful deception Guinevere and Arthur have been executing. Is the girl really who she says she is, or could she be an agent of the Dark Queen? Continue reading