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:

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:

Mar 03 2020

Every Reason We Shouldn’t (Every Reason We Shouldn’t #1) by Sara Fujimura

As a teenager who never really “fit in” but who got along just fine with my peers because I was happy with myself and didn’t really care about what other people thought, my number one favorite kind of novel was about protagonists who didn’t fit in and didn’t really care either. You know how rare that was in YA fiction when I was growing up? Most heroines, especially if they had some God-given talent, just wanted to be “normal,” which is about the most soul-crushing thing I could ever think of.

Fast forward several decades, and you have books like Every Reason We Shouldn’t, with main characters who know they’re talented and are happy to spend their lives focusing on pursuing their ambitions instead of mooning over how they don’t “fit in” at the local high school. Don’t get me wrong, Olivia and Jonas aren’t assholes who think they’re better than their school friends. They just have different goals and I 100% love how Sara Fujimura shows that that’s okay. It’s especially refreshing because their goals aren’t academic either but sporting, which in a book about mostly Asian kids and parents is unusual but not at all unrealistic.

Anyway, Olivia Kennedy is the biracial daughter of Michael and Midori, an Olympic gold medalist pairs skating team who now own Ice Dreams, a rink in Phoenix, Arizona. An awful accident when Olivia was a toddler left Midori in crippling pain, tho she still puts on her game face in order to coach students now that she’s retired from pro skating. Meanwhile, Michael tours with Olympians On Ice in order to help pay for Midori’s mounting medical bills. Olivia and her own skating partner, Stuart Trout, showed a lot of potential at the juniors level but have struggled since graduating to the adult category. Stuart took off for college while 15 year-old Olivia quietly seethes at Ice Dreams, helping her mom and spending time with Mack, their jill-of-all-trades employee, who dropped out of college herself after having a baby less than a year before the book opens.

When Jonas Choi shows up, wanting to rent out Ice Dreams for his speed skating training, Olivia finds herself quickly attracted to this handsome, athletic guy who understands her in a way that the rest of her Phoenix friends don’t. As they try to balance high school with training on the ice, their relationship strengthens… but more importantly, so does Olivia’s faith in her own skating abilities.

ERWS eschews all the standard YA tropes to produce a delightfully lived in novel about a teenage girl determined to prove that she isn’t a has-been at fifteen. Olivia isn’t perfect — she’s mean to her mom over perceived slights because she’s sensitive to her mom’s true feelings about her talents, never mind the fact that her mother is practically an invalid — but I found her exceedingly easy to relate to, especially since her pride is mortified realistically and often. Ms Fujimura is writing for her own biracial kids, so that they’ll see people like themselves as the leads in contemporary literature, and I think she’s done a wonderful job of creating complex, lifelike characters who represent their Asian-American heritages without being caricatures.

My only thing is that I don’t really understand why this is the first in a series. The ending takes place a year after the bulk of the story, so unless the sequel chooses to focus on people who aren’t Olivia and Jonas, I kinda don’t get the point of the jump. I do hope the next book continues to focus on skating tho, as I haven’t read a fun series on the subject since the YA Silver Skates novels way back when. ERWS is way better tho. It could be a little more tightly written in places, but overall, it’s a really solid YA novel with excellent Asian-American representation.

Permanent link to this article:

Mar 02 2020

Re-Coil by J.T. Nicholas

Re-Coil is set in a future where humanity has spread to colonize the solar system, having achieved immortality via the use of coil technology, a hybrid of quantum computing with genetic engineering that means you only lose as much of your life as you neglected to back up in your secure file. Carter Langston is a loner who ekes out a living performing salvage work with the rest of the crew of the Persephone. When a retrieval goes monstrously awry, he finds himself downloaded into a fresh body, with barely any time to recover before an assassin tries to end him for good. Discovering that someone tried to wipe out his backup file — something that should be virtually impossible — he reaches out to his former crew members and can find only one, also on the run. Shay Chan has been downloaded into a body she cannot stand, but that won’t stop the duo from seeking to discover why they’ve been targeted for annihilation. The secrets they uncover point to the very destruction of humanity as they know it, if they can’t rise to the occasion and eliminate a threat that’s out to get them first.

Y’know, for all that I love speculative fiction, and for all my background in information technology, I have to admit that cyberpunk is probably one of my least explored subgenres. I mean, I’ve read all the requisite Gibson and Stephenson (I’mma let you finish, but The Diamond Age is one of the best novels of all time,) but J T Nicholas’ Re-Coil might be my first experience with cyberpunk in outer space. At the very least, it’s my most memorable, probably by dint of how wonderfully earned that ending felt! You know that I love me some space operas and military sci-fi and first contacts, but this might be the first book that opens me to the prospect of actively seeking out more entertainment to do with wetware hacking (in space!) That might sound weirdly specific, but covers a lot involving cloning and artificial intelligence, none of which I’ve really cared about with the exception of the gone-too-soon Almost Human. Gosh, it’s hard to talk about how this novel slips neatly in and out of sci-fi subgenres without ruining the surprises in store for you, but Re-Coil is a surprisingly fast and fun book, considering how deliberately ponderous it needs to be. Mr Nicholas grounds his tech in reality, so it takes hours to breach a hull, for example, and space walks are incredibly risky propositions. And it’s not just the tech that’s well thought out: the effects of transhumanism on society, eradicating certain prejudices while reinforcing class consciousness, feels like a natural progression, even as Shay struggles to reconcile her identity with the new form she’s been given. It’s hard to describe how this book, like the coil Carter wears for most of the proceedings, manages to be so heavy and deft at the same time. I’m a fan, tho.

We’ve been given the opportunity to participate in the Titan Books’ blog tour for Re-Coil, so look for our interview with Mr Nicholas on the 12th! In the meantime, check out some of the other cool stops on the tour with the handy-dandy infographic.

Permanent link to this article:

Mar 01 2020

Kickstarter Alert! DRACULA – Curse of the Vampire by Jonathan Green and Martin McKenna

We know you’re here because you like books, but if you’re anything like me and Laura (who originally met via gaming!) you’ll also love gamebooks. For those of you new to the idea, a gamebook is one where you Choose Your Own Adventure, only with dice or a pack of cards to help you pick out a path through the text. Yes, it’s a lot like a video game in book form, or a tabletop role-playing game you can play without other people!

Jonathan Green is the author of 21 gamebooks prior to his latest, Dracula — Curse Of The Vampire. Some of these books are now rare and expensive collectibles, and several were successfully funded first on Kickstarter, so he’s got a proven track record when it comes to things like these. If you’d like to get in on the ground floor, check out the Kickstarter campaign link here.

Adapted from Bram Stoker’s classic novel, D-CotV allows you to assume the role of one of four characters: Jonathan Harker, Mina Murray, Dr John Seward or even Count Dracula himself! Featuring illustrations from gamebook fantasy art legend Martin McKenna, whose illustrations from Revenge Of The Vampire are below, it’s sure to be a spooky good time. Want to try before you buy? Check out a pdf preview of Jonathan Harker’s adventure here!

And if you’re especially partial to the art, back the campaign for a physical copy of the book within the first 24 hours to receive a free art book of Mr McKenna’s work! There are a ton of other cool rewards too, depending on your backer level. Dice, cards, and ooh, a personalized illustration, anyone?

We’ll be reviewing a copy once the book is published, but that can’t happen unless you back the Kickstarter. Get on it so we can all enjoy some interactive Gothic horror!

Permanent link to this article:

Feb 27 2020

Front Desk (Front Desk #1) by Kelly Yang

Welp, that’s two five-star amazing children’s books in a row for me, I honestly feel blessed.

My 8 year-old borrowed this from his teacher, so it’s been sitting, with that compelling cover, on the dining room table where we eat and study and play for a few weeks now. Jms has already finished reading it, and when I finally got a break in my work schedule, I picked it up in order to be able to discuss it with him (and because that cover is adorable!) But also I knew from the blurb that this book was extremely relevant to my interests as an Asian-American immigrant myself.

Front Desk is about 10 year-old Mia Tang, whose parents have emigrated from China to the USA in the 1980s in search of a better life, free of the vagaries of an oppressive government. Tho her parents are highly educated, the language barrier confines them to low-paying jobs which barely allow them to survive. So when they find an ad looking for someone to manage a motel, with free rent included, the Tang family thinks this could finally be the break they’ve been looking for.

The Calivista Motel is owned by Mr Yao, and from his very first conversation with the Tangs, it’s clear that exploitation is his go-to. But the Tangs, being recent immigrants who don’t know any better, accept his terms, in the same way that millions of other immigrants throughout history have accepted predatory terms due to believing that that’s what it takes to get ahead in America. While her parents struggle to keep up with the day-to-day running and maintenance of the motel, Mia works the front desk when she isn’t at school, where she has a whole other set of problems to deal with, involving popular kids and her own struggles with the English language. As she slowly becomes aware of the unjustness of the situation her parents are in, she also encounters racism, not only to herself and her parents, but also to the motel’s African-American clientele and in particular Hank, one of the weekly tenants.

This would be a complete downer of a novel — an Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle for kids, if you will — if it weren’t for Mia’s belief in the power of words, especially written, to change the world. Her spirit and wit and sheer determination to do the right thing, culminating in one of the most satisfyingly triumphant endings I’ve enjoyed in a while, made for a book that was a sheer delight, even as I sobbed my way through entire, fortunately short because middle-grade, chapters. This was an absolutely tremendous book, and I’m fervently glad my kid’s teacher loaned it to him.

Probably more fervently than my actual kid. We agreed that we both enjoyed the book and had the same favorite parts, but he absolutely was not as affected enough by the proceedings to cry, due to the fact that he’s 8 and has never had to live through that kind of thing. Maybe when he’s older, he’ll revisit this book and understand why his mom loved it so much. I just hope he’ll be lucky enough to have continued to not have to live through that kind of exploitation, but that he’ll have developed an empathy for the less fortunate regardless.

Is it too much to hope that Front Desk, like The Jungle before it, will spur our society to do better, to look on its most unfortunate with compassion, to reform its laws towards more humane purposes rather than less? The current political climate is discouraging, but books like this may at least sow in our young the seeds of a brighter future. And! The sequel comes out in September!! I can hardly wait, but will try to modify my use of exclamation points in the meantime!

Permanent link to this article:

Feb 26 2020

Foreign Devils by John Hornor Jacobs

Foreign Devils continues the cowboys and Romans mashup started in The Incorruptibles, a story that will conclude in Infernal Machines. I am very glad that I don’t have to wait for John Hornor Jacobs to write the third volume, because boy howdy is Foreign Devils a middle book.

Foreign Devils by John Hornor Jacobs

As the Ruman Empire strides through its 2638th year, war looms with its nearest rival, Madiera, the result of ill-fated journeys in Occidentalia that were chronicled in The Incorruptibles. Because the Cornelians were in the thick of it, the Emperor Tamburlaine commands them to return to Rume and make amends. Fisk and Shoestring, heroes of the first volume, are ordered to remain in Occidentalia’s Hardscrabble Territories and hunt down the traitor engineer Beleth, who may be going over to the Madierans and taking key secrets about Rume’s military disposition and its command of daemons to a rival power. Fisk and Shoestring have plenty of personal reasons to capture Beleth as well, although truth be told they’d just as soon shoot him on sight and probably would do exactly that if disobeying an imperial order weren’t a fast ticket to crucifixion.

Fisk is none too pleased with imperial orders, since he became very closely associated with the Cornelians at the end of The Incorruptibles and revealed most of his Past, a family history involving exile from Rume and infamy at its highest levels. Nevertheless, for the sake of his new ties he is willing to hunt Beleth across the great plains of the new world, while the Cornelian family takes a fast, demon-powered steamship across the ocean to the eternal city.

Foreign Devils has Shoe again narrating his and Fisk’s tale in the first person, and adds letters sent back via a sort of demon telegram that tell of the Cornelians’ journey, the events that transpire in Rume, and their embassy as the Emperor’s representative in far Kithai. It’s fun, pulpy adventure all around with genteel travellers in hardbitten territory, conks on the head, corrupt guards, a scheming semi-urbane spymaster, demon-infested traps for our heroes, plus much more. And that’s just what happens to Shoe and Fisk. In Rume the protagonists experience how dangerous the Emperor can be, even to his oldest friends. The journey to Kithai brings unexpected transformations to the patrician embassy party, not least to the younger sister who had been such a spiteful viper in The Incorruptibles. Both sets see the immense destructive power unleashed when daemonic energy is released in an uncontrolled fashion. Jacobs writes it as nearly equivalent to a nuclear detonation.

Events of Foreign Devils also complicate the picture of the world that was portrayed in the first book. As little as Fisk wants to countenance it, the vaettir are not all implacable killers, as Shoe’s first-hand encounters attest. Not all of the dvergar are reconciled to Ruman supremacy in Occidentalia, and some of them are organizing underground groups to assert their own interests when Rume and Madiera clash. Fisk is left with a little uncertainty about Shoe’s ultimate loyalties. I think Jacobs means for this to be a source of tension, but I would be extremely surprised if this trilogy wound up as a tale of betrayal between partners; they’re just not that kind of books.

The journey to Kithai is interesting in itself, and for me as a reader interesting also in a meta way, seeing how this portrayal of China compares to against others that I have read. There are dragons of various sorts, and junks, and a scene where the foreign emissary refuses to bow to Kithai’s power. There is also much puzzlement on the part of the Rumans when the emissary from Kithai to Rume, who is returning with them, tries to explain Qi.

Foreign Devils continues the pulpy fun that began in The Incorruptibles, though I think it might have been a better book if it had been shorter and tighter. It is also very much a middle book: the villain is not caught for good, the war is not fully started, the rebellion is still being fomented, the mysteries of the vaettir remain unsolved, and so forth. One of the stories ends with a bang, the other with a battle, and neither is anywhere close to resolution. Time to see what’s happening with those Infernal Machines, I imagine.

Permanent link to this article:

Feb 26 2020

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I am not 100% sure why I put this book on hold from the library, but I’m so glad I did. Perhaps it was recommended to me as a book for people who loved the recent movie Knives Out? Because I absolutely loved both.

The Westing Game is a challenge set by millionaire (this was the 1970s: in modern terms, he’d likely be a billionaire) Sam Westing, who invites 16 heirs to compete for the chance to earn his fortune now that he’s dead and gone. It’s no coincidence that all 16 heirs either live in or have a connection to Sunset Towers, a five-storey modern apartment complex on the shores of Lake Michigan, with a view to the supposedly abandoned and purportedly haunted Westing estate. Paired off to compete in solving clues to find out who killed him, the 16 contestants find themselves growing both together and closer as strange events begin to befall them in their hunt for the truth.

I know that Turtle, the 14 year-old, is supposed to be the heroine of the piece, but Ellen Raskin does such an amazing job of fleshing out the supporting characters that it feels more like a win for everyone when the book comes to its close. I particularly enjoyed the stories of Angela, Judge Ford and Sydelle, tho honestly my heart was warmed by everyone’s stories here. And it’s weird, because it’s not like Ms Raskin really delves into any of her characters’ interior lives. She’s just so adept at sketching with dialogue and the nuance of small gestures that it’s hard not to feel the humanity of everyone involved, even when they’re being called out on their failings. Seriously, it was a welcome shock to my modern sensibilities to have this book from the 1970s be far more socially progressive than some of the contemporary stuff I read today. It reminded me, in more ways than one, of my all-time favorite children’s book, The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, which also embraced empathy and diversity while telling a ripping good mystery.

And as with all great children’s books, this is the kind of novel that survives a reader’s growth to adulthood. If you haven’t read it already, do it now! One note, tho: maybe avoid the Kindle version. It felt a bit ironic that the ebook I had included a delightful section on Ms Raskin’s obsession with typesetting and design when the preceding text clearly lacked most of what she’d insisted on, due I suppose to the vagaries of Kindle/e-type settings. Hmm, maybe I ought to buy a hard copy of this novel for my 8 year-old for his upcoming birthday. I hope he enjoys it as much as I did.

Permanent link to this article:

Feb 23 2020

Dark River by Rym Kechacha

Wow, this book.

Dark River tells the tales of two women, separated by millennia but whose struggles eerily echo one another’s as they both embark on perilous migrations in the face of environmental disaster. Shaye is a Neolithic woman whose tribe is concerned at the way the waters of their plenty time place have begun to run from instead of to the ocean, fouling the water and driving away game. When an initiate of the sacred oak grove where they usually winter comes asking them to make the pilgrimage early, so they may try to appease the spirits with a grand ritual, Shaye willingly agrees, as it seems her best chance at being reunited with Marl, the man she loves and father of her son, Ludi.

In an England some decades from now, Shante is waiting for the visas that will allow her family to join her husband up in a northern city safer from the ravages of the rising seas. When the visas finally come through, she and her sister Grainne and her son Locke prepare to leave the world they’ve always known… only to find that greater danger awaits them on their path than in the crumbling city they’d left behind.

I finished reading Dark River while on a weekend trip at 4 a.m. and immediately wanted to call my husband to have him wake the kids so I could tell them I love them. Of course, since it was ridiculous o’clock and no one at home would have appreciated the gesture, I did not. Now, I am ordinarily quite susceptible to books making me want to be more loving towards my kids, but this book made my heart hurt in a new way. I imagine it’s how people who enjoyed Cormac McCarthy’s The Road felt. For the record, I thought The Road was self-congratulatory nonsense: Dark River, on the other hand, showcases the love of a person for her family, and especially her child, without turning it into an unsightly display of wallowing masochism, even in the face of terrible odds.

And that, I think, is why Dark River hurt me so much, because it drives home the fact that there are no guarantees. There are only so many things we can do to safeguard our families. So many things are out of our hands, making it even more important for us to tell the people we love that we love them while we can. And for all that, Dark River isn’t a book without hope. It’s still important to try, to use the lessons of the past in order to keep surviving.

My only quibble with the novel was with the end of Shante’s story. I was surprised that her thoughts turned to her dad instead of her son, given the circumstances. Perhaps she wanted to take her mind off her grief, but it felt like an oddly abrupt change of subject given what we knew of her. I did however very much like how the narratives weren’t entirely in lockstep, with the differences only making each character feel that much more realistic and relatable.

Dark River is Rym Kechacha’s debut novel and is just an absolute masterpiece of speculative eco-fiction. To read more about this terrific novel, check out the other sites on the blog tour listed in the handy infographic above.

Permanent link to this article:

Feb 20 2020

An Interview with Marian Womack, author of The Golden Key

Q. Every book has its own story about how it came to be conceived and written as it did. How did The Golden Key evolve?

A. The story emerged, oddly enough, in California while I was attending the Clarion Workshop. It was the story I wrote to be workshopped the week when Catherynne Valente was teaching us. I got a lot of useful feedback there. Then I decided to develop it as a novel for my Cambridge University Creative Writing master degree. It was a slow process, we’re talking years, in which scenes and characters and events fell into place. But I have always known that I wanted to write about Norfolk, a place I have a lot of conflicting emotions about.

Q. The Golden Key is a novel that seems very much inspired by a sense of place, in this case the mysterious fenlands of England. How would you describe your relationship with this particular geography and what spurred you to write about it?

A. I went first to Norfolk in the early 2000s, and the impressions and emotions that the place inspired have been difficult to shake. I have never felt so much that I was in a place that was haunted, where getting lost would be easy. I think that was where I first learnt of the expression “being pixie-led”. As it happens, we almost lost our sense of direction when a cloudy mist descended over the Fens. That first moment of indeterminacy has stayed with me all these years, and I still think of East Anglia as a place that could be a portal to another realms. My husband’s family comes from that part of the world, so we live very nearby, in Cambridgeshire, and it is still a place that occupies a large portion of our imaginary,

Q. Helena Walton-Cisneros was my favorite character in the novel, and her wry observations regarding the sexism of the time really resonated with me as a feminist. Without trying to narrow your range, do you ever find yourself writing with a particular audience in mind? Are there any particular audiences you hope will connect with this story?

A. I write mostly for myself, I write the kind of story that I would like to read as a reader, and that would make me satisfied. I think writing for an audience is probably not a good idea.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: