Tag Archives: Seanan McGuire

November 2, 2014

Books of the Week:

  • Hidden, Benedict Jacka
  • The Winter Long, Seanan McGuire
  • Undead and Unwary, MaryJanice Davidson
  • Dear Daughter, Elizabeth Little

A jackpot of good reading this past couple of weeks, with only a couple of discards. I am always excited to get a new Benedict Jacka, because his protagonist Alex Varus is such a complex character, and thus seems all the more real. Alex wants to survive, and he wants to be a better wizard and man; but those sometimes seem mutually exclusive goals, and there in lies the struggle that keeps Alex moving. Hidden, in which Alex helps a former apprentice who is engaged in the same struggle, is just as exciting as the first book in the series, a hard act to maintain.

Since I’m also a huge fan of Seanan McGuire, it was great to be able to read The Winter Long back to back with Hidden. McGuire just keeps inventing fresh and credible perils for her hero, October Daye. A character we though long dead makes a reappearance in The Winter Long, and Toby’s romance with the King of the Cats, Tybalt, grows deeper and more serious . . . if only Toby can survive. When you’re a designated Hero, as Toby is, action is the order of the Daye. Sorry, I couldn’t resist . . . .

Just when you think MJD has done everything she can do with her Betsy, she thinks of something new. Betsy, Queen of the Vampires, is begged by her half-sister Laura, Satan’s daughter, to help in the running of Hell. Everyone but Betsy sees the problems with this arrangement. But Betsy finally answers the call of duty, and finds that things really aren’t what they seem, even in hell. Between the dead mice and pricey vodka in the freezer, Mark’s need to keep his brain occupied, Sinclair’s new ability to play in the daylight, and best friend Jessica’s vanishing baby twins, Betsy has her hands (and head) full.

Elizabeth Little’s debut crime novel, Dear Daughter, has some scathing things to say about the nature of celebrity, but mostly it’s a great crime story. Janie Jenkins, young and just out of jail due to a mishandling of evidence in her case, was convicted at 16 of killing her mother. Painted black than black by the media, misunderstood or misinterpreted by almost everyone, Janie is certainly no saint; but she also didn’t kill her mother. Probably. Her quest is to find out who did. But that leads Janie back into her mother’s past, and she comes to know her mother far better in death than she did in life. At first (I confess) I found Janie repellent, but I was also compelled to keep on reading, and I was very glad I did.

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“Reality” television, of course, isn’t “real.” If it’s not scripted, it’s at least manipulated a bit. Common sense and observation will tell you that. I used to be quite the snob about reality television, and I’m still a little proud that I’ve never watched an episode of “Survivor” or “Naked and Afraid.” I tell myself that with so much real privation and lack of basic resources in the world, it’s stupid to watch created situations in which people have placed themselves voluntarily.

But I’ve discovered there’s a niche of viewing that appeals to me: watching people with ability doing something that I could never do. I love “Chopped,” though I might literally throw up my hands and scream if I had to open one of the famous baskets and prepare a dish from its contents. I LOVE “Project Runway,” though I’m not fashionable, could not wear any of the clothes, and can barely sew on a button. That’s why it seems miraculous to me when designers can produce a wearable garment in 24 hours.  I can’t miss an episode of “Life Below Zero,” in which Alaskans live on what they can glean from the land, often at great peril. (Though I suddenly realized last season that the cameramen would save them, right?) I like “Househunters” and “Househunters International” because I just like to look at houses, and seeing how people live in other countries is interesting.

The only reality show with which I’ve had personal experience was “Halloween Wars” in 2014. I was delighted to be invited to be a guest judge on one episode. I’d never seen the show, but I watched an episode before I left for Los Angeles, so I knew what to expect, more or less. Here’s where the common sense comes in: the contestants are rehearsed on where to line up, prompted to shout encouraging things to each other, and sometimes are told the same “new” information several times to get a good shot of their reactions. This is not a shocking revelation. Their skills are still called into play in a very tense situation, since the result can have quite an impact on their livelihoods.

Since I have a bad habit of leaving on the television while I cook (I do know all the ingredients in advance and have more than twenty minutes, let me point out), I’ve seen some reality shows I’d never planned on watching. “Botched,” about plastic surgery gone wrong, which was stomach wrenching and fascinating at the same time, but not something I’d want to watch again. I admit I’ve watched episodes of “Toddlers and Tiaras” with much the same reaction. So those are off my radar.

What about you? Do you have a guilty pleasure in the thundering herd of “unscripted” television? Or do you deny that there’s any guilt involved?

Charlaine Harris

April 14, 2014

Books of the Week:

 

  • Nightshifted, Cassie Alexander
  • Possession, Kat Richardson
  • Night Broken, Patricia Briggs
  • Sparrow Hill Road, Seanan McGuire
  • Derek’s Bane and Wolf at the Door, MaryJanice Davidson

 

Nightshifted was an unexpectedly appealing book. It sounded interesting, and I bought it on a whim. Paid off in spades! Cassie Alexander’s first book about Nurse Edie Spence is dark and energetic. Edie Spence works at much-despised County Hospital because she has made a deal with the Shadows who inhabit it; her addict brother’s life is safe as long as she works on ward Y4. Y4 has its own elevator, it’s so secret. This ward is for supernatural creatures with medical problems. Edie is new, and she makes mistakes. Mistakes on Y4 can have dreadful consequences. You’ll really enjoy this book; I’m looking forward to reading the others in the series.

 

Kat Richardson is long-time friend of mine, and I’m an admirer of hers. I think Possession is the best book in her Graywalker series in a long time. Not that any of them have been slouches, because Kat is a very good writer – but Possession is baffling and exciting. Three “vegetative” patients suddenly start exhibiting talents they’ve never had, with no awareness they are acting. Harper is called in by the sister of one of them, and as she explores this phenomenon she becomes more and more aware that something terrifying is going on, something that must be stopped at any cost.

 

I hesitated over reading Night Broken, because I personally dislike old girlfriend/first wife reappearing plots. But Patricia Briggs can make such a tired trope sing. Mercy’s Adam has a first wife that is so frustrating you want to scream, because Christy has a talent for making other people love her and want to help her. And she’s not evil. She’s “just” manipulative in the extreme, perhaps not completely consciously. There are pack members who still think Christy was a more desirable wife for Adam than Mercy is. Of course they’re wrong, and we proceed to find out in the course of a truly harrowing book why Mercy is the lead female in the pack, though she’s a coyote.

 

Sparrow Hill Road is Seanan McGuire’s May book. In fact, it comes out the same day mine does. This is a departure for McGuire, as “Midnight Crossroad” is for me. Other than that, they’re completely different. Sparrow Hill Road is about a ghost, Rose Marshall, and her struggles to live in the ghost world and to avenge her own death. It’s fascinating, the way anything by Seanan McGuire is, but it’s not as lighthearted as her Incryptid books. Enjoy the story of Rose and her tribulations in the afterworld.

 

I needed a dose of funny last week, so I reread MaryJanice Davidson’s Derek’s Bane (werewolf Derek is charged will killing Dr. Sara Gunn, whom a visionary werewolf believes is the reincarnation of the evil Morgan le Fay), and Wolf at the Door (werewolf accountant Rachel is sent to Minnesota to spy on the Queen of the Vampires, our very own Betsy, but in the process meets another accountant, Edward Batley, who is trying to make his life more interesting. He succeeds beyond his wildest dreams. Davidson is always fun, and somehow I feel more optimistic about things in general after I’ve read a book of hers.

 

 

THE WORLD IS WATCHING

 

While watching the news recently, I saw a few minutes of testimony in the Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa. I’m sure most of you are familiar with this case, that of the Blade Runner and the young woman he shot to death, Reeva Steenkamp. Whatever your opinion of his state of mind at the moment of shooting (Did he truly think there was an intruder in his house, or did he knowingly kill Steenkamp?) you have to be aware he’s putting on the performance of his life.  So is the prosecutor.

 

How much does being watched change the event being watched? Do you think televising a trial make it a different event altogether? While theatrics in the courtroom are nothing new – lawyers have been summoning up the drama since there was such a profession – having a crowd of onlookers in a courtroom can’t compare with the thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, who are passive participants in a televised trial.

 

Is it remotely possible to block that from one’s awareness?

 

Since the words said in that courtroom are echoing around the world, in effect, the defendant is on trial twice: once in the courthouse, and in secondly in the court of public opinion.

 

Sure, it’s always been that way, at least to some extent. I don’t imagine Lizzie Borden was a popular dinner guest after her acquittal – but most likely if she travelled, she would not be recognized. Reaching further back in time, probably no one was anxious to sip tea brewed by Scotland’s Madeleine Smith, who ended her days in America in secret. And these two were acquitted, as possibly (though not probably) Pistorius may be.

 

Now that we have such universal and instantaneous information networks, I don’t believe there’s any way for the verdict reached in a courtroom to be the final one. I think we’ve all joined in being judge and jury.

 

Charlaine Harris

March 24, 2014

Books of the Week:

  • Quiet Dell, Jayne Anne Phillips
  • Mariana, Susanna Kearsley
  • Would-Be Witch, Kimberly Frost
  • Half-Off Ragnarok, Seanan McGuire

Jayne Anne Phillips’s Quiet Dell is the fictional version of a real event, the murder of a family and certainly at least one single woman by the would-be Lothario Harry Powers. Powers, who used several names in his pursuit of lonely widows and divorcees in 1930-1931, must have had some charisma or source of mesmerism unconnected to his appearance. Asta Eicher and her three children (Grethe, Hart, and Annabel) were murdered by Powers, but the case for which he was tried was the death of Dorothy Lemke, whose remains were also found on land owned by Powers. Phillips’s central character, a woman reporter, is richly invented to convey the pathos of the women victimized by Powers. Emily Thornhill acquires an entire family from the beginning of the book to the ending, and if none of them is truly related to her, they become a family nonetheless. Using the language and social norms of the thirties, Phillips manages to make Emily come alive.

Susanna Kearsley’s Mariana is the story of Julia Beckett, illustrator of children’s books, who is compelled to buy a house she’s come across three times at moments in her life. Julia meets two men in the vicinity who seem also to have been drawn there, Iain Sumner, and Geoff, descendant of the lords of the manor. They’re both attractive men, and Julia feels she may have moved to the right place. But she begins to have flashes of the past, in which she’s wearing clothes that are not made any longer, and she opens the door to rooms which suddenly have old-fashioned furniture in them. Julia is seeing her past life as Mariana, and as she begins to find out more and more about Mariana, she learns more and more about herself. This is a lovely time-travel book.

Would-Be Witch is more of a romp. Kimberly Frost writes about Tammy Jo Trask, a Texan with flaming hair and a temper to match. Tammy Jo is half in love with her ex, and more than a little in lust with the very sexy magician Bryn Lyons. She feels she has never developed her “witch” genes (her absent mother and aunt are both practitioners), but she is a magnet for trouble. When the family locket holding the family ghost is stolen at a home-invasion robbery, Tammy Jo must go through hell and high water to retrieve it.

Half-Off Ragnarok is Seanan McGuire’s latest InCryptid novel, and it’s just as much fun as the first two. The main character in H-O R is Alexander Price, brother of Verity, who “starred” in the first two. Alex seems to be quieter, but his life is just as interesting as Verity’s. While he works at a Midwest zoo, Alex is actually studying the local incryptid population and taking an interest in another zookeeper, Australian Shelby Tanner, who is not what she seems. So many people aren’t, in a Seanan McGuire book! Even Alex’s assistant Dee has snakes instead of hair, and the child who sneaks into the zoo so often is actually a wadjet, there to cuddle with her boyfriend, a male wadjet who retains the form of a snake. This is as delightful as McGuire’s books usually are, and I had a great time reading it.

 

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I might as well call this blog “What the hell?” or “I Throw up my Hands” because these are both things I said this past week. You know that feeling? When you decide the deck is stacked against you, and then one more thing happens to push you over the edge?

I had a little surgery, which was no big deal to anybody but me. And it turned out fine. But I was pretty nervous, and I walked out with a big bandage on my arm, and after a week, when I went back, the site was still sore and unpleasant. Finally, the surgeon was able to close it, which was an immense relief, and then . . . I turned out be allergic to the bandage his nurse put on.

This seemed to me to be adding insult to injury. Either I developed this allergy (presumably to Latex) because of the previous bandaging, or the new bandage had more of whatever I’m allergic to in it, because everywhere it touched my skin, I had swelling and redness and those little itchy bumps in a spectacular display.

Hardly life-threatening or disfiguring or even very serious, right? But while I was worried about other things to begin with, just enough to push me over the edge into paranoia.

Does it sometimes seem that Life, with a capital L, is taunting you? Or is this just a series of random events, a piling of misfortune upon misfortune? I’m reminded (in a more serious vein) of families who return from an interment to find that the house has been burgled. In a way, you can see that coming (lawbreakers can read the obituaries, too, just the same way that you can’t discover you’re allergic to Latex until you put some next to your skin and find out you are).

In another way, the tragi-comedic viewpoint of life has to kick in when the bad things start stacking up. Minor or major, it requires a great attitude adjustment to find the ridiculousness of it all, and to laugh at it.

So let’s pretend we’re at a bar together, and let’s belly up and have a drink, and laugh at life. There’s more to enjoy than not, and laughter is the best defense against misfortune pile-ups.

Of course, it can take good long while to get to the point where you can laugh.

Charlaine Harris

January 31, 2014

Books of the Week:

 

  • Jane and Prudence, A Few Green Leaves, An Academic Question, An Unsuitable Attachment, Barbara Pym
  • The Cat and Bones books by Jeaniene Frost
  • Indexing, Seanan McGuire

As you can see, I continued my Barbara Pym binge. There are minor characters who pop up in many of the books, and they are fun to meet over and over; and some of the main characters from a previous book also are glimpsed in later books. Pym is at her funniest and most honest when she reveals peoples’ true reactions to the same events. I wonder how she saw the future of her most unlikely couple, Ianthe Broome and John Challow. Pym books are a series of small delights.

 

The Cat and Bones books are far steamier fare, but they’re written with style and verve and an attention to being true to character. Many, many people have enjoyed this series about Catherine, the Red Reaper, and her vampire lover, Bones. I could never stand Cat’s mom, Justina, and I’ve always had issues with her, but the irony of her becoming the thing she hated most – a vampire – and then being such a good one, is not lost on me. From being a damaged child and an endangered teenager, Cat becomes the strongest woman around, which is absolutely satisfying. I’m still reading the earlier books before I read the last one in this excellent series.

 

Indexing, which Seanan McGuire originally presented chapter by chapter, proved hard for me to get into at first. McGuire is a mistress of world building, but I had only a tenuous grasp of this one in the opening of the book. McGuire gives us a world in which fairy tales come true over and over, where a small task force must keep the narrative contained to avoid the general populace being swept up in the consequences. Or simply to keep it secret? I wasn’t sure. The main character, Henrietta (Henry), is a potential Snow White, and her muscle, Sloane, is a potential Evil Stepsister. Like all McGuire books, there are touches of humor and not a little suspense and outright fear, as Henry gets caught up in a place where all the previous Snow Whites are trapped in a snowy wood. Any McGuire is worth reading!

 

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Isabel Allende, originally from Chile and now living in San Francisco, is a bestselling literary author. I know many, many people who admire her intensely, and I am sure this is deserved. By all accounts, she is a great writer. But as far as the mystery community is concerned, she put her foot into her mouth in a major way.

 

She thought she would write a mystery “as a joke.” Though I don’t want to put words into Allende’s mouth, to me this translates: I’m so amazingly ‘literary’ that condescending to write a genre novel is incredibly funny.

 

This is a quote from her NPR interview:

 

“The book is tongue in cheek. It’s very ironic … and I’m not a fan of mysteries, so to prepare for this experience of writing a mystery I started reading the most successful ones in the market in 2012. … And I realized I cannot write that kind of book. It’s too gruesome, too violent, too dark; there’s no redemption there. And the characters are just awful. Bad people. Very entertaining, but really bad people. So I thought, I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but it is a joke. My sleuth will not be this handsome detective or journalist or policeman or whatever. It will be a young, 16-year-old nerd. My female protagonist will not be this promiscuous, beautiful, dark-haired, thin lady. It will be a plump, blond, healer, and so forth.”

 

There are a lot of factual errors in this statement. There are quite a few mysteries with young protagonists (can you say “Flavia de Luce”?) There are many, many mysteries that do not have promiscuous thin women as protagonists. And most mystery protagonists are NOT bad people. They are driven to solve problems, to seek justice, to right wrongs, to save the innocent. Admittedly, they may do bad things in the course of achieving their goals. But many do not. In limiting herself to bestsellers, Allende left untouched a huge body of work that would have informed her vision more fully: because the mystery genre is ALL about redemption.

 

Allende’s book is Ripper, and before I read the interview, I considered buying it. But having devoted my professional life to genre literature, I don’t think I will. So, am I coming down too heavily on Isabel Allende? As a writer who’s been misunderstood a lot(!), maybe I should have more tolerance for her poor choice of words. And probably, after a week, I’ll just shrug and forget it. After all, it’s not like my opinion will make any difference to Isabel Allende. But I still don’t think I’ll buy the book.

 

Charlaine Harris