Apr 04 2020

The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key

Re-reading The Forgotten Door was a gift to my third-grade self. It’s the first book of any length that I remember reading, and the cover was still lodged in my brain after all of these years, not that I would judge a book that way, no. I remembered the barest bones of the story: a boy falls through a hidden and forgotten door from his planet to Earth; he is in danger here, but finds some people who help him; he can “make his feet light” and leap as if wearing seven-league boots; I thought that maybe he had some other extraordinary abilities as well. I did not remember exactly how it turned out, but I was fairly certain there was a happy ending.

Forgotten Door

I had already noticed a wintertime slowness to my reading this year, and that was before one death and another medical emergency in the extended family, to say nothing of the global pandemic. Picking up The Forgotten Door was a way to begin again at the beginning and see whether memory matched the material. I hoped that the Suck Fairy had not paid a visit.

The bare bones of the story that had stayed with me all that time were right, and sturdy bones they were for Key’s quick narrative. Little Jon gets distracted watching a meteor shower, takes a wrong step backwards and — “It happened so quickly, so unexpectedly, that Little Jon’s cry was almost instantly cut short as the blackness closed over him. No one knew the hole was there. It hadn’t been there the day before, and in the twilight no one had noticed it.” (Ch. 1) — falls to Earth. He hits his head as he falls, loses consciousness, and with it much of his memory.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/04/04/the-forgotten-door-by-alexander-key/

Mar 29 2020

Five Dark Fates (Three Dark Crowns #4) by Kendare Blake

This is the end of the series and what a strange and terrific end it is for the triplet queens of Fennbirn, doomed to fight each other to the death for a crown that not all of them will want. As this final entry opens, Arsinoe is attempting to bring Jules back to sanity, only to discover that Mirabella has fled the rebel camp for the Queen Crowned Katharine’s side. The extremely annoying Emilia insists that Mirabella is a traitor. Little does she know that Mirabella is more concerned with figuring out what’s wrong with Katharine than in gaining power for anyone, least of all herself. Mirabella, Arsinoe and Katharine are, in fact, all in agreement about their preferred outcome, but the island has other ideas, and many will die before a new dawn may rise over their beloved Fennbirn.

So, the good: the queens went out the way they wanted, more or less. I cried buckets at each devastating sacrifice. I also enjoyed Kendare Blake’s interrogation of monarchy and ritual and meaning, and her court politics are, as always, outstanding. I also greatly enjoyed her depiction of all the complexities of love.

The less good: how the aftermath was dealt with. I do not for one second believe that after all that, invading ships from the mainland wouldn’t overrun Fennbirn in a matter of months. I’m still not entirely sure what structure of government was left, since no one wants to govern and the Goddess seems to have basically shrugged and said “eh, well, at least my experiment worked for a few centuries.”

I think that’s pretty much my brain demanding more stories in this universe from Ms Blake, tho. Fennbirn is a fascinating place peopled by strong personalities, and I don’t feel that Five Dark Fates ended at a tidy place for any of Ms Blake’s creations, besides the three queens. This book goes by at a gallop, and some things, like the portent of the old temple and the whole deal with the Legion curse, fall to the wayside, which would be fine if this weren’t the final book. So… hopefully, this isn’t the final book? It would feel like something of a disservice to the fallen queens and all who came before them if it were.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/03/29/five-dark-fates-three-dark-crowns-4-by-kendare-blake/

Mar 27 2020

Salz im Blut by Andreas Neumeister

In the early 2000s, I am led to understand, the editors of the Süddeutsche Zeitung found that the paper had more printing capacity than was being used to put out the daily news. One way to set that capacity to productive use was with a foray into book publishing. The newspaper’s staff put together a list of 50 great novels of the 20th century, offered them in attractive editions at an attractive price (initially €4.90 for a hardback) and released them at a rate of one per week for the better part of a year. The list was a good one, and one of the cleverest things that the editors did was to select 50 great ones rather than attempt to agree on the 50 greatest. There were also some glaring gaps on the list, which made it good for arguing. I’ve read around 35 of them by now, although some, e.g., The Great Gatsby, I read long ago and in English.

Salz im Blut

The project must also have been a financial success because the Süddeutsche followed it with selections of children’s books, mysteries, a second set of 50 great novels of the 20th century, books that represent great cities of the world, and the series of 20 books to which Salz im Blut belongs: München erlesen. The phrase means “Selected Munich” and it carries connotations of a sommelier selecting a fine vintage. Salz im Blut is the seventh in the collection that I have begun, again by the unedifying principle of generally shortest to longest. (It may be quite a while before I get to the second volume in the set, Lion Feuchtwanger’s 878-page Erfolg.)

The jacket copy for Salz im Blut (Salt in the Blood) sounds promising, “Munich in the seventies and eighties from the unusual perspective of the ethnology student Erich Nachleger … On only supposedly known territory, he remains a discoverer, adding observations from the subculture and found bits of the past to the official picture of Munich.” Freddie Mercury loved the Munich of the 1970s, Dire Straits sang about the city’s gay underground in “Les Boys.” Given the long shadow of the 1930s and 1940s, though, the later decades are not a period often seen in writing about the city. Salz im Blut ought to be an engrossing, engaging entry into the era.

And yet. The first time I started the book, I got to page 30 or so and set it down in favor of something speedier. I picked it up and couldn’t remember who was who or what was what, so I started again from the beginning, which wasn’t all that many pages away. This time I have gotten to page 44. I set it down about three weeks ago, and now I only have vague notions of various people passing through its pages. I am reasonably sure that Erich Nachleger is the narrator, but I couldn’t tell anyone much about him at all, except that he doesn’t use dialog, writes in paragraphs that each tend to be two or three pages long, and has a thing about a weird post-WWII notion to relocate Munich entirely instead of rebuilding it. It’s not so much that I don’t care what happens to these people, it’s that I have no idea who these people are at all anymore.

Maybe later in the book there is a brilliant portrait of the city as a collection of young hedonists. Maybe Neumeister’s vision is so singular as to reward wading through the undifferentiated prose. Maybe this is a hidden gem that can only really be appreciated looking back at the whole work. I have no idea. I do know that it’s not a book for me, not now, not after two tries. The other five in the München erlesen set that I have recently read (I read the Thomas Mann book when the series was first published) all interested me much more than Salz im Blut.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/03/27/salz-im-blut-by-andreas-neumeister/

Mar 24 2020

The Last Human by Zack Jordan

Sarya was raised to believe that she is the last human in all the known universe by her adoptive mother, Shenya the Widow, a member of a matriarchal arachnid-like race of killing machines. On Watchtower, the space station where they make their home, Sarya passes as a low-intelligence member of a species bearing a resemblance to humanity, even as she wistfully researches what became of her people. Humans, she learned early on, were deemed too dangerous to live by the universe-spanning conglomeration that connects all the (other) known space-faring civilizations, and were thus exterminated. Sometimes 17 year-old Sarya feels so ordinary that she finds it hard to believe that humans could possibly be more dangerous than, say, her mother, but as adulthood approaches and she faces the prospect of a lifetime of menial work and being treated like a barely sentient being by almost everyone around her, she starts to wish for something more.

Enter Observer. A planetary intelligence who has eschewed connection to the Network that governs civilization, He offers Sarya the adventure of a lifetime, promising that He can lead her to what’s left of humanity. Sarya accepts but things quickly go awry, and she finds herself a pawn in a game between intelligences she has little hope of fathoming, much less beating. Being human, however, she’s not going down without a fight.

Despite being a rollicking, fast-paced space opera, The Last Human was also a deft if overt allegory for life and progress, whether of individuals or entire societies. Because Sarya, as our heroine, must learn and grow and become a better person, there’s definitely a huge chunk in there which mirrors most people’s adolescent impulse towards libertarian exceptionalist nonsense — a phase which fortunately most people subsequently grow out of. I was actually concerned, while reading the book, that Sarya might not and that I would have to rate this book poorly for being intellectual garbage, but Zack Jordan assuredly pulls the novel back round to an affirmation of good sense. Frankly, it got a little uncomfortable for me till he did, as I’m the kind of person who gets irritated when others are dumb on purpose.

That said, this was a surprisingly layered and highly ambitious look at sentience and evolution that could never have been written in any other genre. Mr Jordan is doing some really intellectually intricate, challenging stuff here that might not be every reader’s speed. I think he does linger a little too long on the bits where Sarya is under Observer’s sway, but that’s also where a lot of the action-y/grotesque bits are, so I can understand why he does so even if my sensibilities would prefer he hadn’t. This isn’t an easy book by any means, but it’s ultimately a rewarding, thought-provoking journey, with lessons that apply to any person’s daily life, examined or otherwise.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/03/24/the-last-human-by-zack-jordan/

Mar 23 2020

Girls Of Paper And Fire (Girls Of Paper And Fire #1) by Natasha Ngan

I unreservedly loved the first half of this book. I’ve had a problem recently with books claiming to represent the various of my identities and doing a pretty shitty job of it, so it was something of a relief to see how meticulous Natasha Ngan and the team behind Girls Of Paper And Fire were about promoting this novel as being based on her Malaysian-Chinese heritage through her mom. I was further delighted by the world-building, with its lovely references to recognizably Malaysian touchstones amidst the fantasy trappings. Ms Ngan does a beautiful job of representing our shared heritage and I am forever grateful to her for doing this.

The story itself follows Lei, the 17 year-old daughter of herbalists who is cruelly taken from her home by an ambitious general to be presented as a gift to the Demon King. There are three castes in the world of Ikhara: the fully human Paper, the mostly human but with demon/animal features Steel, and the mostly demon but still recognizably humanoid Moon. The Moon caste have been in power since the Night Wars that rent the kingdom, and the Demon King rules over all. Every year, eight women of the Paper caste are selected as his concubines. Lei is cast in with them.

Some of her fellow concubines are kind to her but some are awful, and then there’s Wren. As she and Lei fall in love, they must hide their relationship from a court where they are seen only as belongings of the King, making each shared kiss an act of treason. But Wren is hiding other secrets as well, secrets that could set their entire world on fire.

Brilliant premise, and really great first half execution. But then Lei goes from being spunky and relatable to hysterically demanding to know all Wren’s secrets, accusing her of lack of trust, and I just had horrible flashbacks to every crappy show and movie I’ve ever seen where this dumb “if you don’t tell me all your secrets, you don’t really love me” shit is thrown in to add drama to the proceedings. Every time Wren caved in to the emotional manipulation, I liked Lei (and respected Wren) a whole lot less. And Lei’s disgust when Wren kills someone who was trying to kill them first felt so wholly manufactured for the dramz that I could hardly even take her seriously from then on. It also felt like the careful control Ms Ngan had over her narrative began to fall apart, as plot points felt more hastily spliced in during the second half of the book, culminating in scenes and revelations that actually had me rolling my eyes. I think the worst was when her pendant finally opened. Given Wren’s stirring speech earlier about Lei’s drive to fight for what was right, Lei’s interpretation of what she found in the pendant felt almost like an insult, both to Wren’s belief in her and to the readers’ intelligence.

There’s so much great representation here in terms of culture and sexuality that it’s such a disappointment when the characterization and plot just go askew like that. I’m not entirely closed to the idea of reading the sequel, but even from the preview included in my Kindle copy, I’m disappointed by Lei’s continuing dumbassery. This is one of those series where I Want To Believe it’ll get better, and am hoping to be persuaded by others who have read further books.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/03/23/girls-of-paper-and-fire-girls-of-paper-and-fire-1-by-natasha-ngan/

Mar 19 2020

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

What a lot of fatuous nonsense.

First of all, let’s talk about the marketing for this novel. It’s being touted as the story of a Muslim Indian-American family and sure yes, but also it’s a very specific brand of Muslim, a conservative Shi’ah that’s as bizarre to me, raised a mainstream Sunni Muslim, as the traditions of the Church Of Mormon might be to the rest of Protestant Christianity. I’m not saying this to invalidate any of the belief systems on display (and I did very much appreciate the emphasis on Allah’s mercy and compassion) but there’s a bunch of stuff in here that emphasized to me the reason most Muslims are Sunni and only grudgingly accept the Shi’ah adherents as co-religionists, if at all. It’s a bit like marketing a book about a devoutly Catholic family in Northern Ireland as a book about a Christian family in Great Britain: technically correct but completely missing the point.

But, you know, all cultures/religions contain multitudes, and the American reading public can hardly expect to understand the difference between the sects (which, to me as a Sunni, feels like aggressive erasure but whatever) so it’s fine that the only Sunni in the book is a good dude who’s often baffled by but respecting of Shi’ah customs. Actually, I’m kinda glad that this book isn’t about Sunni Muslims because there is so much absurd religion-adjacent wallowing that I’d feel embarrassed if it were my people doing it.

So this book is about a family of five: dad Rafiq, mom Layla, oldest daughter Hadia, middle child Huda and troubled baby of the family Amar. Most of the book comes from the viewpoint of, in order, Hadia, Amar and Layla, with Rafiq getting the entire end section to herself. The family order here mirrors my own birth family, and even tho I think my younger sister by far the brattiest of us with her perpetual attention-seeking middle child syndrome, I was super annoyed that poor Huda didn’t get any viewpoint chapters. Tho this was likely because her personality was not built for wallowing, and therefore of little interest to this author.

Anyway, Hadia is your typical overachieving daughter while Amar is a total shitshow that everyone babies because he’s the boy. Rafiq tries to discipline him and this automatically makes him the bad guy. You guys, how a story about a conservative Muslim family had me rooting for the patriarch figure is beyond me. But maybe it’s because Hadia, who you’d think I would totally identify with, actually thinks like this about an heirloom watch that her dad proudly gifted to her for academic achievement:

She had taken from [Amar] what, in another life, would have belonged to him by birth. She had worked hard to be as valuable as any son. Her betrayals to her brother were scattered throughout the years, but perhaps being given this watch was the culmination of them all.

Pump the fucking brakes, girlfriend. Your dad can see that your brother — who wasn’t at all upset about the watch going to his sister, btw — wouldn’t appreciate the watch the way you would, and your response is to bemoan the fact that none of the men in your family are outright misogynists? GTFOH. Hadia is obsessed with tradition but only in the crappiest, most tiresome ways. She refuses an arranged marriage, instead falling in love with Tariq, the afore-mentioned Sunni Muslim. Good for her, right? But at their traditional Shi’ah marriage ceremony (half of which was straight up bonkers to me as a Southeast Asian Sunni,) she has the following thoughts about the mirror ritual

It was a ritual that had come about in the days when one never even saw the face of their spouse before they were wed. It had been how her grandparents on both sides had first seen one another. By the time her parents had gotten married, it was a formality; her father had visited her mother’s home twice. They had never spoken in private but had seen each other from across the room. Now that it was Hadia’s turn, it was no more than a performance–she had memorized Tariq’s freckle beneath his eyebrow, the spot on his beard that grew in a swirl. Each generation lost touch bit by bit. By the time it was her children’s turn, would there even be a point?

The point of tradition is that there’s sometimes no fucking point besides honoring how your ancestors did something! You do it because it’s pretty and/or or it reminds you of your heritage, and that is more than enough. How a woman who deliberately dodged an arranged marriage can then moon over the need to acclimatize two newlyweds to faces they’d never seen before is beyond me.

Anyway, if you’re into that bullshit, then you’ll love this book! If you’re into internalized misogyny, then you’ll also love this book! Like, if you thought Hadia’s thought processes repulsive, wait till you read Layla’s! And while I have some sympathy for Amar, he just keeps making bad choices, and everyone acts like it’s because his daddy didn’t love him enough. Look, I’ve known enough addicts to understand that you can’t beat addiction if you constantly blame others for your shortcomings. Rafiq does the fucking best he can. He’s not a perfect parent: he’s definitely religious and conservative with a temper that mainly manifests in yelling at his kids, but he deserves better than Amar being a selfish jackhole and Hadia being an enabling self-hater. In my mind, he goes off to live with Huda in Arizona and finds a peaceful happily ever after, with or without Amar. It’s the least he deserves after being unjustly blamed for every other crappy thing that happens in these pages.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/03/19/a-place-for-us-by-fatima-farheen-mirza/

Mar 17 2020

Cursed: An Anthology of Dark Fairy Tales edited by Marie O’Regan & Paul Kane

Modern fairy tale anthologies are 100% my jam, so I absolutely devoured this 300+ page compilation of 20 short stories and poems written by some of the finest contemporary writers of speculative fiction. Absorbing and for the most part well-written, this is a book of re-told fairy tales that are far darker in nature than the children’s stories most are familiar with, hearkening back to the genre’s origins as court entertainments for the sophisticated and louche. Most of the stories here veer directly into the horror category, with Karen Joy Fowler’s terrific The Black Fairy’s Curse being perhaps the least nightmare-inducing of the bunch. Don’t let that pretty cover fool you: there’s some seriously grisly crime and horror going on within these pages.

That said, I have misgivings about the theme as it applies to the content, as the “cursed” part of the stories is often hit or miss. While I enjoyed the twists of the volume’s opener, Christina Henry’s As Red As Blood, As White As Snow, I found it hard to substitute “cursed” for what is clearly “ensorcelled” (yeah, I’m that kind of nerd.) With the second story, a reprint of Neil Gaiman’s Troll Bridge, I was further irritated by the idea that a curse is something you assume for yourself instead of something imposed upon you: that’s just a penance, son. Of the other stories with questionable connections to curses, Lilith Saintcrow’s Haza And Ghani was exceptional, and I’d love to read more in that setting. I also really enjoyed Angela Slatter’s New Wine even if there wasn’t any curse involved.

Unsurprisingly, this anthology was strongest when it was on-theme, as with James Brogden’s excellent Skin, that re-told a familiar story in modern circumstances while still capturing the dark horror of the original. Christopher Fowler’s Hated was probably the most thought-provoking and topical of the bunch. Charlie Jane Anders’ hilarious Fairy Werewolf Vs. Vampire Zombie was another short that made me want to read more set in that universe, though for much lighter reasons than the gruesome Haza And Ghani.

I did have one other misgiving when reading this anthology. While cautionary tales, fairy or otherwise, can often be subtly misogynistic, Christopher Golden’s Peter Pan adaptation, Wendy, Darling, got on all my nerves, not something I expect from that author. I would also have enjoyed Michael Marshall Smith’s Look Inside if our narrator had sounded like an actual woman and not some guy’s idea of a woman. While it is true that circumstances would permit that a woman wouldn’t report a burglary, no modern-day well-off single Englishwoman in her right mind wouldn’t report a burglar who also left her a stalkertastic note, if only for a paper trail. Even for a fairy tale, it pushed way too hard outside of the realms of reason.

Overall, however, this was a worthy addition to the twisted fairy tales genre, and just another great anthology from Titan Books. But don’t just take my word for it: check out the other stops on the blog tour with the handy infographic above and see what other reviewers have to say about this book!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/03/17/cursed-an-anthology-of-dark-fairy-tales-edited-by-marie-oregan-paul-kane/

Mar 12 2020

An Interview with J. T. Nicholas, author of Re-Coil

Q. Every book has its own story about how it came to be conceived and written as it did. How did Re-Coil evolve?

A. It started out as a horror novel. Well, sci-fi horror. Think Alien or Event Horizon. I just had this image of a derelict ship full of bodies. Maximum creepiness. But as I was writing it and realizing that I needed some “why’s” I realized I wasn’t too interested in going the supernatural or “because aliens” route, so things started changing. Growing more in a mystery/thriller direction instead of horror, though I kept a few elements of those roots here and there.

Q. Do you write with any particular audience in mind? Are there any particular audiences you hope will connect with this story?

A. My number one goal is to be entertaining. I hope that anyone who likes a good action romp or mystery will be entertained by Re-Coil, and I think that is a pretty wide cross-section of potential audiences. Really, though, I just try and write the kinds of stories that I want to read. I think that’s all any author can do.

Q. One of my favorite things about Re-Coil was how, despite the leaps forward in transhumanism, the basic laws of physics were still strictly adhered to. How much of a science nerd are you when it comes to your science fiction?

A. I have to admit, I love both ends of the sci-fi spectrum (and everything in between). I love me some near-future, realistically extrapolated, built on a firm foundation of actual science science-fiction. And I also love universe-spanning, alien infested, Baroque space opera and science-fantasy. I am definitely a science nerd in that I like to look at emerging tech and think about what impact it’s going to have on society, and there’s a lot of cool stories to be had in that headspace.

Q. I also really enjoyed the social commentary in the book, showing what prejudices transhumanism manages to eradicate while also being sympathetic to innate body dysmorphia. Unfortunately, class consciousness and capitalist greed continue unabated. Would a sequel to Re-Coil attempt to grapple with how humanity might seek to redress those issues next, as I’m hoping the ending is hinting at?

A. If a sequel happens, then some of those issues would certainly be present and meaningful parts of the narrative (though I’m not sure a single book could hope to redress all of them). I like to think that Re-Coil ended with a call to action for the heroes, an awakening of a desire to do something about the problems plaguing society. I’d love to pick up that story line and run with it.

Sequels are, of course, not guaranteed in this business. Right now, I’m under contract for another novel with Titan, but not for a sequel to Re-Coil. If Re-Coil does well, then I’m certainly willing and ready to return to that world and pick up where I left off.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/03/12/an-interview-with-j-t-nicholas-author-of-re-coil/

Mar 09 2020

Death in the Family (Shana Merchant #1) by Tessa Wegert

Imagine if the manor house mystery shenanigans of Knives Out were being investigated by a female police detective with a recent history of job-related trauma. That’s what reading and thoroughly enjoying Tessa Wegert’s debut novel, Death In The Family, felt like to me, as we join Detective Shana Merchant in looking into the case of a young heir’s bloody disappearance.

Shana has recently rejoined the police force, despite the objections of her police psychiatrist fiance, Dr Carson Gates. The engaged couple had left New York City for his hometown in the Thousand Islands area to allow her to recuperate from her devastating experience as the last victim of a serial kidnapper she had been investigating. Unlike Blake Bram’s other victims, Shana managed to escape with her life. Over a year on, she finally feels ready to take up her career once more, with one major difference: the expectation of far less violence up here in bucolic Alexandria Bay than in the city she had been happy to flee.

So when the call comes in on a stormy day that someone has gone missing from a secluded private island, Shana isn’t hesitant about responding, with her partner (though technically her subordinate) Investigator Tim Wellington in tow. On the privately owned Tern Island, they meet the Sinclair family and entourage, only some of whom believe that Jasper, the 24 year-old youngest grandson, didn’t voluntarily disappear from bed the previous night. Shana, however, takes one look at the blood-stained sheets where Jasper had been lying next to his soundly sleeping girlfriend Abella, and knows that foul play was definitely involved, even if Tim needs more convincing:

“This doesn’t feel like a runaway situation,” I said. “Jasper’s phone is still charging upstairs. What twentysomething guy leaves the house without his phone? I think Jasper’s in trouble.” It was such a huge understatement; saying it out loud sounded stupid to my ear.

“We’ll find him,” Tim said again. “I know we will.”

“These people.” I shook my head. “This isn’t a soap opera, it’s a shit show.”

“They’re not from around here. So.”

The subtle class humor serves as a perfect counterpoint to a rising note of madness as the storm intensifies, cutting Tern Island off from outsiders and trapping Shana and Tim with someone Shana is convinced must be a murderer. But there’s no body, and as the hours pass and the pressure of investigating a group of privileged, demanding rich people starts to get to her, Shana’s mind begins to buckle, especially after one of them seems to deliberately scald her with boiling water:

I was of sound mind, yes. But when I looked at my palm, pink as a boiled Easter ham, it wasn’t a burn I saw, but blood. Blood, slick and glossy, gluey and thick. Blood between my fingers and coating my nails. It was like those thirteen months and the distance they put between me and Bram never happened. The walls pressed in around my body, and I found myself thinking, Please don’t let this blood be his. Oh God, I’m too late.

Fear, dazzling in its intensity, coursed through me. The flashback was so convincing I wanted to cry. My chest exploded with pain and I realized I’d been holding my breath. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them again, the imagined blood on my hand was gone.

The twists and revelations come fast and thick as Shana investigates the disappearance while struggling to keep a tight grip on her sanity. The last thing she wants to admit is that Carson was right and she needs more time away from a job she loves. But how far will she be willing to push herself and her suspects in order to get to the bottom of what happened to Jasper Sinclair?

I loved this book. As tightly plotted as an Agatha Christie novel but with the thrilling modern twist of a damaged police officer heroine, it combined some of the best elements of traditional and contemporary mysteries to tell an absolute knock-out of a story. It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel, so assured is the craftsmanship. Fortunately, it’s the first in what will hopefully be a long line of terrific Shana Merchant mysteries, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to reading them all.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/03/09/death-in-the-family-shana-merchant-1-by-tessa-wegert/

Mar 05 2020

These Witches Don’t Burn (These Witches Don’t Burn #1) by Isabel Sterling

Great concept, abysmal execution. I love, love, love the idea of teenage lesbian witches coming of age but there were two huge problems I had with this book that seriously interfered with my enjoyment of the story.

A brief on said story, before I go about lamenting where it could have done so much better: Hannah is a teenage Elemental witch from Salem, Massachusetts. Witches in this setting are hereditary, and there are lots of rules about not letting non-witches (in this setting known as Regs) find out about their existence. Aside from Elemental witches, who control the elements, there are Casters who brew potions and write spells, and Blood witches who can control anyone whose blood they can touch. Hannah just had a really bad break-up with another teen witch from her coven, Veronica, after a trip to New York City put her in the grip of a vengeful Blood witch. When inexplicably weird things start happening in Salem, Hannah fears that the Blood witch has tracked her down, but soon discovers that a far greater threat looms against the witch-kind of her hometown.

Sounds amazing, right? Plus, with that badass cover, how could I possibly resist?

The first sign of trouble was when the new detective arrested Hannah on suspicion of arson because she was unhurt at the scene of the second fire he found her at, despite dozens of other kids also being unhurt at the scene of both fires. You can expect that kind of amateur hour nonsense from a uniform maybe, and I was kinda maybe willing to overlook it until I realized that this was only the first of many astonishing lapses of logic used to provide conflict/drama and advance the plot. There were some really cool plot twists involving secret identities but it was always really clear who the bad guys were. I did like how Isabel Sterling dealt with (most of) the other characters tho, and Hannah’s relationships with Morgan and Gemma were really sweet and dealt with prejudices in really excellent ways. If the entirely ludicrous mystery-thriller part of this book had been cut out, I would have been 100% happier reading it.

But then we come to the second major problem I had with the book: the characterization of some of the people we’re meant to root for. While Morgan and Gemma were both really terrific creations, Veronica is a toxic person who Hannah should run far, far away from. It boggles my mind that Veronica is considered one of the leads of this book. Worse still, as the book wears on, Hannah turns from relatable teenager to completely insufferable brat. I have a really high tolerance for teenage brattiness, in all literary genres, but Hannah just did awful, stupid things, seemingly for the sole purpose of advancing the mystery plot! I was actually mad at Ms Sterling on Hannah’s behalf for making her do the dumb shit she did!

Amazing concept, brilliant cover, some really sweet moments but ugh, insultingly bad plot choices. Would definitely read another romance from Ms Sterling but probably never a mystery-thriller, that part was so bad.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2020/03/05/these-witches-dont-burn-these-witches-dont-burn-1-by-isabel-sterling/