Jun 17 2019

Der Vater eines Mörders by Alfred Andersch

In May 1928, the director of an old-fashioned high school in Munich enters a ninth grade classical Greek class to check and see how the students are coming along with their lessons. Der Vater eines Mörders tells how one student, Franz Kien, experienced the hour, what he saw and heard, what he thought and felt. Andersch describes the hour in exquisite detail, from the relations within the class to what Kien thinks about his regular teacher, to Kien’s observations about the changing power dynamics within the class as the director quizzes one student after another, sidelining the regular teacher and giving lessons, most of them inadvertent, that reach well beyond Greek.

Der Vater eines Moerders

Why, though? Why did one of post-war Germany’s most renowned authors turn to that May afternoon at a distance of more than half a century for the subject of the last work that he completed during his lifetime? The explanation is in the work’s title, although the explanation of the title does not come until the half-way point in this 80-page novella.

Despite its short length, Der Vater eines Mörders addresses but does not answer the big question of twentieth-century Germany: how did Hitler happen? The book is set in Munich, which the Nazis regarded as the “capital of the movement” (in contrast to Berlin, which was the capital of the Reich both before and after their seizure of power). Five years before the book takes place, Hitler and his crew had attempted a coup in Munich but had been stopped by the republican authorities’ use of force. Hitler had been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for treason, though he served less than one. In the month that the book takes place his ban from public speaking had been lifted; he and his party had of course been active in Munich the whole time.

The school where Der Vater eines Mörders takes place is not just any high school in Munich. It’s the Wittelsbacher Gymnasium, a secondary school named for Bavaria’s ruling house. Wittelsbacher is a real school; Carl Orff, for example, attended. It is one of the “humanistic gymnasiums,” a type of school in the German-speaking world that emphasize classical learning, teaching Latin and ancient Greek to all students. In the early 20th century, only these schools were allowed to give the credential that allowed students to enroll in any type of university studies; graduates of non-humanistic schools had limits placed on their choice of university education. Education at a humanistic gymnasium was and is considered a means of entering Germany’s elite.

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Jun 15 2019

The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner

“No one sends for a niece they’ve never seen before just to annoy her family and ruin her life. That, at least, is what I thought. This was before I had ever been to the city. I had never been in a duel, or held a sword myself. I had never kissed anyone, or had anyone try to kill me, or worn a velvet cloak. I had certainly never met my uncle the Mad Duke. Once I met him, much was explained.” (p. 3)

That’s how you open the follow-up to a perfect book. The Privilege of the Sword starts about fifteen years after Swordspoint, and follows the fortunes of Katherine, the first-person narrator who was born around the time of the other novel’s events and raised as a proper country gentlewoman in one of the lesser branches of the Tremontaine family. She helps her mother in managing their modest estates, keeping track of the spoons and suchlike, until one day. Duke Tremontaine has been hounding his sister’s family with lawsuits over bits of property, never quite ruining them, but also giving them to know that if he ever turned his resources to the task, he surely could. Katherine’s family has been adjusted to the death of her father; one brother has gone to the city to try to make his fortune, the other cannot be spared because he is actually good at farming and stewardship, while Katherine and her mother keep up the domestic side of things, as well as appearances. Mother and daughter both harbor hopes that she will go to the city and make a good match. They are getting by when the lawsuits return, threatening to tie up their income and cost more lawyers than they can possibly afford. And then a letter arrives, turning things upside down again.

“And now here was the Mad Duke, actually inviting us to the city to be his guests at Tremontaine House. My mother looked troubled, but I knew such an invitation could mean only one thing: an end to the horrible lawsuits, the awful letters. Surely all was forgiven and forgotten. We would go to town and take our place among the nobility there at last, with parties and dancing and music and jewels and clothes—I threw my arms around my mother’s waist and hugged her warmly. ‘Oh, Mama! I knew no one could stay angry with you forever. I am so happy for you!’
“But she pulled away from me. ‘Don’t be. The entire thing is ridiculous. It’s out of the question.” (p. 6)

Katherine is mistaken; much of the novel’s early parts are concerned with how very many different things Katherine is mistaken about.

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Jun 15 2019

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

A Deepness in the Sky is about as close to opposite of Just One Damned Thing After Another as it’s possible to be and still have both books inhabit the same genre. Deepness is big (774 pages in the mass market paperback edition that I have), full of carefully worked out ideas about space and science and technology and progress, plays faithfully within the known laws of physics with just a few exceptions, features aliens and at least two different kinds of humans, offers interplanetary battles, speculates about alternative economic arrangements, considers carefully what a slower-than-light interstellar collection of civilizations would be like, and much more. Deepness won the Hugo in 2000 for best novel.

It’s also a total slog.

Honestly, there was more life in the first forty pages of One Damned Thing than in the first four hundred of Deepness. I don’t know what happened; Deepness is set in the same Milky Way as A Fire Upon the Deep, which is terrific. Fire has at least as many nifty ideas, not least that our galaxy has several different zones in which the laws of physics behave differently. Out toward the edge, FTL travel, superintelligent AIs, and many other attributes of the technological singularity are not only possible, they occur with predictable regularity. Further in, none of these are possible; they are known to the characters of Deepness as the “Failed Dreams.” Fire has a memorable alien: a dog-like creature whose consciousness only arises in packs. They struck me as plausible, convincing, and truly different from human consciousness. That’s more or less a trifecta of science fiction creature creation.

There are aliens in Deepness; Vinge calls them spiders, but they talk like post-WWII white Californians. I was reading Ada Palmer‘s Seven Surrenders at the same time I was reading A Deepness in the Sky, and I found Palmer’s far-future humans far stranger than either of Vinge’s non-earth human civilizations or his aliens. There’s an argument from the text that the spiders are (through translators) presenting themselves as less alien than they actually are and thus manipulating for their own reasons the humans who have entered the spiders’ star system. It’s plausible, but (a) I’m not sure that I buy it, and (b) it doesn’t change the experience of reading the many, many chapters that take place before that explanation can make any sense. That experience had me very close to uttering the Eight Deadly Words.

Part of why I didn’t is that the setup of Deepness is genuinely nifty. The main site of the action is a system called On-Off, named for a star whose intensity rises and falls drastically over periods of time that are, by cosmic standards, extremely short. For the planet orbiting On-Off in the habitable zone, that means summers that last for many years followed by equally lengthy winters chilly enough for most of the atmosphere to freeze solid. (Seasons more extreme than Westeros; A Game of Thrones was published just a few months before Deepness. Ursula K. Le Guin, for example, posited a similar but less stark environment in her second novel, Planet of Exile in the mid-1960s.) Improbably, life has evolved on this planet, and just as improbably, it has achieved sentience and civilization, adapted to the need to go into hibernation and survive underground until the next thaw. Two starfaring civilizations have been observing On-Off for centuries, enough to know its profile and when it will change states. As luck, or the authorial hand, would have it, both civilizations have chosen to send expeditions to On-Off to catch the beginning of the next On phase.

One civilization, the Qeng Ho, is a loosely knit collection of trading systems and clans, tied together by common approaches to combating cultural drift, by families that control the interstellar fleets, and by a few extraordinary individuals who ration their conscious years carefully among decades or even centuries spent in cold sleep between the stars. The other, the Emergents, control a far smaller number of star systems, but do it much more tightly through tight hierarchies and a means to focus human mental abilities so tightly that they exceed the computation available in that part of the galaxy.

It’s an interesting set-up. Unfortunately, I found the characters one-note, going clickety-clack through their various machinations until the plot engine reached the high point it had been climbing toward through all those pages. It was too much for too little, in the end. There’s another book in the set, Children of the Sky. I own it, and may eventually read it. Online resources tell me it’s a direct sequel to A Fire Upon the Deep– That gives me hope that it’s more engaging than A Deepness in the Sky.

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Jun 14 2019

An Interview With G. S. Denning, author of The Sign Of Nine

Q. I’ve never done a follow-up interview before! I’d like first to thank you for the delightful first interview we conducted. What new and delightful things have you encountered since last we spoke that you’d like to share with our readers?

A. I’ve never done a follow-up interview, either. First! Double-first! Let’s do this.

Well, since we last spoke, Warlock Holmes has moved into its dark middle chapter. Book 4 and 5 are sort of the “Empire” section. I’m spending two years making all my characters and the readers who care for them suffer! Bwaaa-ha-ha!

Q. Irene has definitely been my favorite female character in your books so far, a view that has only been encouraged by the depiction of the dire Mary Morstan in The Sign Of Nine. Can I look forward to an eventual showdown between Irene and Mary in the final book in the series?

AI thought about that. I thought about having Mary present in all the following books (and this series might go to 8 or 9, if I get to parody all 60 Holmes stories). But there’s one big thing in the way of that: she dissapears from the original stories. Suddenly, she’s just… gone. I could write her in, but I’m already trying to get Adler and Moriarty bigger roles and I’m in danger of not being a very effective parody if I stray too far from the originals. I’ve got a fine balance to maintain, here. Now—without engaging in too many spoilers—there is a showdown planned for Mary. But I won’t promise it’s necessarily with Irene. All I’ll say is that my Mary is not just going to fade away. My readers will know exactly what happens with my Mary Morstan. Oh, yes they will… *rubs hands and cackles in a dark corner*

Q. While romance has always been a significant interest of Watson’s, much to the bewilderment of Holmes, it’s really the friendship between the two men that is the sustaining relationship of any fiction about them. What are your thoughts on the importance of friendship vs romance?

A. I have always thought people put too much distance between the two. The best romances are not usually the people who are just hot for each others’ pants. They occur between people who have a fundamental connection to which attraction can be added. Friendship is a great basis for this. In the case of Watson and Irene, it’s respect. Watson is fascinated with her because she’s smarter than him. She keeps besting him. So, of course, he can’t think about anyone else. By the end of book 5 (which I know is a long way away for you guys, sorry) I’ve made it pretty clear why she likes him. Because he’s a good man. Like Han Solo, he always says he’s playing it safe and looking out for himself, but he never does. He puts his wellbeing and safety aside to help others all the time. He even tries to help Irene (though she doesn’t need it). After all the shallow, awful men she’s accustomed to, she can’t help but admire how good he is. She knows Holmes is good. She knows Watson is good. They respect each other for it. She respects them. They keep calling her a murderer and a liar—which she knows she is—and she just has this frustration that she’s not allowed into their “good-person” club.

Q. You’ve been a big proponent of geek culture becoming mainstream. With two of the biggest geek properties in popular media, the Avengers and Game Of Thrones, recently winding down their effective main stories, what other stories do you think will come to the forefront, Sherlock and Lovecraft aside?

A. Honestly, I think there’s going to be a bit of a vaccum for a while. And yes, I know there’s never been so much geek-friendly entertainment. I know there’s never been such a focus on writing in television. But still, I have this fear that everyone is going to rush to try to fill that void. And the things they’re going to throw in are going to be like… well… like Penny Dreadful—based on a flavor that they know we geeks will like; filled with a lot of cool ideas and cool visuals; but definitely not the finished, polished, complete packages that are
prepared to fill the shoes that have just been vacated.

That said: hey, Netflix, call me! You want to start doing movies, eh? How about movies, supported by streamed episodes of the same IP? Because there were 4 Holmes novels and 56 short stories. That’s 4 longer movies and 56 smaller episodes of Warlock Holmes that I’ll let you have for little more than the promise you’ll do them well.

And that’s the big thing for whatever geek-dynasty is going to supplant the MCU and GoT: you need to do that stuff really well. Even GoT faltered at the end. Star Wars has blown up the Death Star 3 bloody times! Don’t try to fool us. Be bold! Craft something marvelous!

Q. Speaking of Lovecraft, I know you’ve been very interested in seeing what other authors do with the setting now that it’s public domain. Do you have any recommendations of such that you’ve enjoyed so far? And do you think you’ll ever turn your hand to it yourself?

A. Well, in a sense, I am. There has always been an idea in Warlock Holmes that magic is dark and bad. That gods are not what we expect. That the idea of the human soul or immortality is laughable. And that outside our comfortable little reality are horrible, evil beings that would crush us utterly if they ever got in here. I owe most of my paycheck to Arthur Conan Doyle, sure, but Lovecraft should get a cut, too.

I think if I ever tried Lovecraft more directly, my take would be this: my protagonist is basically Cthulhu. He sees the humans and all they’ve built and he’s fascinated. He wants to experience it all. He wants to fanboy over all of it. He wants to be loved and included and have what people have: good friends with whom to enjoy all the marvels humans have created. Unfortunately, he’s 200 feet tall and destroys all he touches. And his only friends are the kind of humans who are glad he does. Poor fella.

As far as what I’ve seen that’s fun like that… hm… I see so little now that I spend 40 hours a week at my day-job, 25 hours a week on Holmes, and still try to have time for my wife and two young girls. Hell, I don’t even sleep that much. Oh! Here’s one! Go back and check out the much-ignored Todd and the Book of Pure Evil. Basically, it’s like dirtier, funnier, Canadian Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Q. In our last interview, we talked about your very intriguing YA novel, a sort of Romeo and Juliet with intrepid adventurers on one side and mad scientists on the other. Will we be able to look forward to reading that in print in the near future?

A. The project isn’t dead, really, but it is delayed. Honestly, Wonder-Woman, Squirel-Girl and Black Panther
have done a lot of what it was trying to do: say welcome to a more diverse range of comic-book lovers. And
since my writing hours are limited, Titan Books and my agent want to see that spent on Warlock. And they’re
right. I have this cold, creeping dread of being time-crunched into putting out a bad book. Bad books last
forever. My grandkids will be judging me on that. Marketing is wise. Sleeping is wise. But most importantly,
I’ve got to spend my time making sure I’ve got a worthy book 5.

Q. What other projects are you working on with the Warlock Holmes series winding down?

A. Well… It isn’t. Titan has only purchased 5 books—and that’s normal. They’ve got to make sure I keep bringing in enough dough to support more, before they commit to making anything unprofitable. But I know it would take me 8 to 9 books to finish the series off. And… I don’t know… I’m so married to this series now that I think I’d finish it, even if Titan gave me the boot. I hate leaving stories unfinished, and I know how to finish this one.

Q. The Graphic Audio version of your books so far is so much fun, and I’m not ordinarily a fan of audiobooks myself. Are there any other media adaptations of Warlock Holmes forthcoming?

A. Yeah. I love those guys. And they just keep getting better. I enjoyed their version of my first and second books, but by book 3… well, let me just say: I’ll probably never read my own third book again. I’ll just listen to those guys’ radio-play version. They’ve agreed to do The Sign of Nine and I’m so happy!

No other adaptations on the horizon. We have had 3 film nibbles and a rumor that the Veep writers were
adapting Warlock, but nothing with any teeth, so far. Don’t give up, though. I haven’t.

Q. On the subject of media adaptation, what would be your dream casting of a Warlock Holmes movie?

A. Right now I’m on a kick where I’d like to see it color-swapped or gender swapped. I’ve wanted to be more of an ally for geekdom as an opt-in culture. Unfortunately, the first project I’ve gotten into the public eye is very old, very white male-centric. But, come on, try and tell me that Key and Peele would make a fantastic Holmes/Watson duo. You know who else would make a charming Watson? Masie Williams. And I hear she just came available. I totally want to see Masie looking put-upon in a fake moustache, don’t you?

Q. You and I both love this series, but go ahead and tell the readers why you love this latest installment, The Sign Of Nine!

A. I think the real strength of Sign of Nine is in Watson’s drug-dream scenes. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that I go almost 20 pages without a joke in one of them gave me cold, hard terror-sweats. But they’re worth it. They give insight to the villains and the larger world of the story which—assuming my readers have been along for this whole ride—it was rather time for. I didn’t want this to come as a total addendum, absolutely outside the frame of the story. So, I made sure that even if the dreams themselves were extraneous, the price Watson paid to get them was central to the arch of the book. And—without spoiling too much—that price sets up book 5.

~~~

Author Links:

g s denning

~~~

The Sign Of Nine was published May 21st 2019 and is available via all good book sellers. My review of the book itself may be found here.

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Jun 13 2019

Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

Here’s a cure for excessively serious or positively ponderous. In Just One Damned Thing After Another, Jodi Taylor took a premise that’s been used numerous times before — history as a practical academic discipline, aided and abetted by time travel — and simply wrote the hell out of it. St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research is an out of the way annex of Thirsk University, somewhere in the UK, and they definitely do not do time travel. As the director puts it, “We investigate major historical events in contemporary time.” (p. 11, emphasis in the original) And the first-person narrator, Dr. Madeleine Maxwell, thinks to herself, “Put like that, of course, it all made perfect sense.”

Just One Damned Thing After Another

That handwaving is as close as Taylor gets to explaining how the historians’ traveling machines work, which is to say not at all. She doesn’t care, because this isn’t the kind of book that looks at physics too closely, or carefully examines the implications of a technology that allows transportation through time and space, or that charts in exquisite detail the consequences of undertaking numerous hazardous missions with high casualty rates. This is the kind of book that in just over three hundred pages sends its major characters to the Western Front of World War I, to an unknown but predator-filled location in the Mesozoic, and to the very flames of the Library at Alexandria.

Maxwell has an unhappy family history that is never explained, but which leaves her unattached in the present; she has advanced training in history and archeology, which give her the skills and mindset for a hands-on approach to history. Together, they produce a devil-may-care approach that suits the book’s madcap pace. Then there’s her penchant for risk-taking or, as she puts it in her internal narration of a most unusual job interview, “Thinking carefully is something that happens to other people.” (p. 10)

While many laws of physics are waved away for the sake of the story, there is something of a law of conservation of history. Or History, as the director of St. Mary’s puts it.

“Think of History as a living organism, with its own defence mechanisms. History will not permit anything to change events that have already taken place. If History thinks, even for one moment, then it will, without hesitation, eliminate the threatening virus. Or historian, as we like to call them.” (p. 12)

So there’s dangerous but exciting work. Naturally there’s a team of people eager to do it, and a supporting cast that’s also full of quirks and striking personalities. The security team is particularly striking, but usually give fair warning when they are about to do it.

The new historians are put through rigorous training before they can be trusted to accompany more senior members on any missions.

“Wednesday was [the] Self-Defence [examination]. I made no headway at all with Weasel as he none too gently chucked me around all over the place, grinning his stupid head off all the time. I waited until a particularly heavy fall then placed my hand on my lower stomach, curled into a ball and uttered, ‘Oh God, the baby!’
“Weasel stopped dead, saying ‘What …?’ and I hacked his legs out from underneath him, leaped to my feet, ran across his chest, and rang the bell, which was the whole point of the exercise. Weasel shot me a filthy look and, at this point, there was no scribbling [on the examiners’ clipboards] at all. Major Guthrie threw down his clipboard and walked off.
“‘Oh dear,’ said to a watching Murdoch.
“‘No, you’re OK. He’s gone round the corner where no one can see him laugh.'” (pp. 32–33)

The pace isn’t much slower anywhere in the book, and it’s so full of life that it’s a joy to read from start to finish. Plus it’s a cracking good adventure story because not only does History itself resent intruders from one part in another, the Institute has enemies within the University (disproving the old adage about stakes being low in academic politics), and not everyone within the Institute is a reliable as they first appear. Taylor pulled out all the stops, but, improbably, there are now at least six sequels in the chronicles of St. Mary’s. One damned thing after another.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/06/13/just-one-damned-thing-after-another-by-jodi-taylor/

Jun 04 2019

Wastelands 3: The New Apocalypse edited by John Joseph Adams

I genuinely cannot remember the last time I read a short story collection so consistently stunning. Honestly, there’s not a weak one in the bunch, and that’s saying a lot considering there are 34 tales of post-apocalyptic life in this hefty volume. Whether the end of the world comes about due to war or infection or alien invasion or climate disaster (or other reason I’m presently forgetting,) these stories chronicle the ways life goes on. It is a surprisingly joyous anthology. Hope is one throughline: survivors use the trappings of fallen civilizations to bring their fellows a reminder of a shared humanity, as in Tananarive Due’s One Day Only or Meg Elison’s Come On Down. Change is another, as in Susan Jane Bigelow’s The Eyes of The Flood or Ken Liu’s The Plague, which latter also offers biting commentary on cultural imperialism. The most interesting and worthwhile stories have to do with survivors who aren’t the average protagonist of dystopian fiction, such as the transgender hero in Emma Osborne’s Don’t Pack Hope or the physically disabled heroine of Corinne Duyvis’ And The Rest Of Us Wait.

As you might be able to tell, this is an unapologetically progressive anthology. John Joseph Adams has curated an impressive selection of science fiction that is truly forward-thinking, from some of the most famous names in the business. Even the stories that eschew hope for either a jaded acceptance of the end (Adam-Troy Castro’s inventive The Last To Matter) or to preserve the status quo (Catherynne M. Valente’s The Future Is Blue) do so out of a belief in the power and worth of humanity. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure how much of a downer 500+ pages of the end of the world would be but Mr Adams has put together the perfect blend of pathos, humor and courage with which to see through the horrors of the apocalypse.

It’s kind of shocking to me how unfamiliar I was with Mr Adams’ work prior to this considering how much speculative fiction I consume. I mean, Gardner Dozois and Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling are names embedded in my reader’s brain as editorial greats; after this collection, I have a new star to add to that pantheon. Reading this volume brought to mind the days when a tome like this was the most coveted book of the year for me: that interest has waned in recent times, but Wasteland 3: The New Apocalypse has re-sparked my love for sf&f anthologies.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/06/04/wastelands-3-the-new-apocalypse-edited-by-john-joseph-adams/

Jun 02 2019

The Lovely And The Lost by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Not every teenager knows what they want to spend the rest of their life doing, but Kira Bennett is different and determined. After being rescued as a child from a feral existence by her adoptive mother, she is dead set on following in Cady’s footsteps by becoming one of the best search and rescue trainers and teammates ever. Alongside her adoptive brother Jude and their spirited neighbor Free, as well as the dogs they’ve been raising for this purpose, she’s well on her way to achieving her goal. Sure she still has a problem with human interaction, but that’s something she’s continuing to grapple with and learn.

And then Cady’s estranged father shows up asking for help. Bales Bennett is an ex-military man who first started Cady on her career path, but the two stopped talking after a bitter argument before Jude was born. When Barnes explains that he needs her help to find a missing child, Cady simply can’t refuse. She packs up her kids and their dogs, and they take the five-hour drive to Cady’s hometown of Hunter’s Point, on the edge of the Sierra Glades National Park. Nine year-old Bella Anthony has gone missing from her family’s campsite, and the Bennetts (plus the intrepid Free) are on the case:

We got to work. Within ninety seconds, a plastic bag was being passed around so the dogs could get the girl’s scent. I assumed it contained clothing, until it came to me.

Not clothing–a blanket, I realized, my stomach inexplicably heavy. A baby blanket.

The fabric might have been lavender once, but it was faded nearly to white now. It was threadbare and tattered, and the moment I saw it, I wondered if the little girl slept with it at night. When she was lonely, when she was scared, did she hold on to it? Did she press her face into it?

Did it help?

I will find you. The promise unfurled inside of me, unexpected and with the strength of a creature with a life and will of its own. I will bring you home.

Despite Kira’s emotional investment, she knows that recovering Bella will be a hard task given that the park covers over 750,000 acres of wilderness. Not helping matters is Gabriel Cortez, the surly and secretive teenage boy Bales is fostering, whose assistance seems to run hot and cold. Add to this the unsettling presence of Mac Wade, a gentle giant with a complicated history with Cady, and the overtly hostile behavior of the town sheriff, for whom Bella’s disappearance is only the latest in what’s starting to look like a deliberate pattern, and Kira is soon struggling not to revert to the instinct-driven, violent creature she used to be.

Her dogs help a lot, but Kira’s real anchors are Jude and Free. It’s so refreshing to see such a tightly knit group of unconventional teenagers who aren’t riven by pettiness and romance. Jennifer Lynn Barnes writes about young people with a naturalness that makes for compelling and often humorous reading, such as here, after the girls have gotten Gabriel to loosen up a little:

A loud and unmistakable sound–followed by an equally unmistakable smell–permeated the air.

“You’ll have to excuse Duchess,” Free said primly. “Cocky teenage boys make her ladyship gassy.”

“Her ladyship?” Gabriel asked, arching an eyebrow.

“Duchess,” I explained, nodding to the dog. “Also known as her ladyship.”

“I hesitate to point this out,” Gabriel said, “but the proper address for a duchess is Her Grace.”

Free and I stared at him.

“What?” Gabriel muttered. “A former juvenile delinquent can’t enjoy the occasional historical romance novel?”

And while The Lovely And The Lost is an excellent young adult novel that grapples with questions of humanity and identity, it’s also a densely layered mystery about missing persons on the very edge of the wilderness that will have you guessing as you compulsively turn page after page. I was really impressed with the way Ms Barnes wove all the different plot strands together to create a highly readable and oddly relatable thriller with a truly unique heroine.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/06/02/the-lovely-and-the-lost-by-jennifer-lynn-barnes/

May 31 2019

The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith

“That’s the mystery series where no one dies, right?” said Kid One.

Yes it is, I said.

“Well how can there be danger?”

Ah, that’s the genius of this series, isn’t it? And oh, sweet youth, to think that death is the only kind of peril that’s strong enough to drive a story. Heartbreak, humiliation, loss of status, greed, or even seemingly less fraught things like misunderstandings and miscommunications — all of these can lead to situations that call for the skills of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Then there are happier motivations, like the one that prompts the main case in The House of Unexpected Sisters: the desire to correct an injustice.

The House of Unexpected Sisters

Mr Polopetsi, the exceptionally mild-mannered chemistry teacher who sometimes assists at the agency, knows a woman, “Her name is Charity. She was married to a man called Mompoloki, but he is late now. He was always smoking, you see, right from the time he was ten years old, they told me, and now he is late. Late from smoking.” (p. 23) Immediately before this information about Charity and her late husband, Precious Ramotswe, the founder and owner of the Ladies’ Detective Agency had observed to herself that “There were odd side-roads in any conversation with Mr Polopetsi, and all that business about chemical symbols had been one such deviation. Once you got round all those, though, and were back on track in a conversation, he could explain things clearly enough.” (p. 22) The talk about smoking sends Mr Polopetsi off on another tangent, and it is a while before Mma Ramotswe can bring him back to the ostensible topic at hand. Not before a third sidetrack appears and shows something of both the characters speaking and the society in which they live:

“I was told there are two children,” said Mr Polopetsi. “I do not really know these people, and so there may be more, but I am told there are twins — both boys. They are still young. Maybe five or six — something like that.”
“It is a shame for them,” said Mma Ramotswe. “It is a shame for them to lose their daddy like that.”
Mr Polopetsi looked down at the floor. “There are many children like that, Mma. Remember?”
He did not have to explain further. There had been that disease and it had taken such a toll; mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts — the children had lost all these people, to such an extent that even the grandmothers, those resilient, uncomplaining women who could support the very sky on their shoulders, even they had buckled under the strain of looking after the children who were left behind. (p. 24)

Like many people opining on the troubles of others, Mma Ramotswe is also speaking about herself. Though she was a grown woman by the time her father died, she still feels his loss keenly, and thinks of him nearly every day.

Eventually, though, even Mr Polopetsi gets to the point:

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/05/31/the-house-of-unexpected-sisters-by-alexander-mccall-smith/

May 27 2019

Hoisted from comments: Father Boyd

Imagine my surprise!

Father Neil's Monkeyshines

“Hi, Doug, I don’t comment on my own books usually. But this is Eastertide. Bless Me, Father (5 books and 3 TV series) was a best-seller in its day, the 1970s. I didn’t expect is to be selling as many copies in 2019. And thousands watch the TV series on Youtube each year.
“I am adding 3 new books to the series on publisher’s demand, the first is out as Father Neil’s Monkey-Shines, the best of the series in my view, but authors’ judgements about their books are seldom accurate.
“I’ve never made public that after 1992 I stopped publishing but continued writing. Laziness? Wanting to spend all my efforts on improving my craft? All I know is a dozen or more of my best books, novels mostly, are sleeping happily on my computer. with titles like THE WORST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS and BAWDY TALES. I’m leaving my literary executor to do what he likes with them.
“I wish you well in all your many endeavors. PS My bestselling book was in Germany: Gottes Erster Diener.”

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/05/27/hoisted-from-comments-father-boyd/

May 26 2019

One Dark Throne (Three Dark Crowns #2) by Kendare Blake

I would not have predicted any of this from first starting this series, and I absolutely love that about these novels.

All three queens have managed to survive the events of the first book, but Queen Katharine has come back… different. Betrayal will do that to you, of course, but even so, her former-and-perhaps-still beloved, Pietyr, thinks something else has driven her return from certain death. Meanwhile, Queen Arsinoe is trying to come to grips with her powers even as her best friend, Jules, discovers new facets of her own. Queen Mirabella, once the favorite to ascend, is now questioning whether she even wants any of this. The lack of freedom as sole queen would be bad enough, but having to murder her sisters to take the throne is a price that now seems far too high, especially after the revelations of the last book and the continuing lessons of this one.

I was actually really pleased by the ending, for the queens, at least. Becoming queen of Fennbirn is a nightmarish process, and I’m happy that it can seemingly be escaped without death altogether. I felt really badly for Katharine, tho: I know she’s been the most villainous of the sisters in this installment but even without the supernatural influence, I can see why she’d go super dark. And then to discover at the end the cost of her upbringing on her body was so rough, and so dark, and so weirdly satisfying to me as a reader.

Kendare Blake sets up her narrative targets then lops their heads off with perfect strokes, and it is so much fun to read along as she weaves together more twists than Detective Pikachu can focus a magnifying glass on. The only thing I didn’t really understand was Jules’ decision at the end. I sorta got it, and since it wasn’t a point-of-view chapter of hers, I could hardly expect more internal explanation than was on the page, but I’m definitely looking forward to seeing her motivations explored in the next book, which I’ve put on hold with the library tho who knows when I’ll be able to actually get to it. Terrific series with two really strong installments so far: here’s to reading more!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2019/05/26/one-dark-throne-three-dark-crowns-2-by-kendare-blake/