Books of the Week:
- The Hanged Man, P.N. Elrod
- Perdition, Ann Aguirre
- Reap the Wind, Karen Chance
- The Queen of Patpong, Timothy Hallinan
P.N. Elrod has written a galloping adventure set in a mythical Victorian England. Alexandrina Victoria Pendlebury is a forensic psychic consultant, called by the police to give her opinion on a mysterious and horrible death. Alexandrina is made of strong stuff, but when she recognizes the dead man, the story takes a sinister turn. Being a psychic is not Alex’s only issue; she is at odds with her unpleasant family, there is some very dark magic showing its face, and she can’t count on anyone being what they seem. The Hanged Man is lots of fun.
Perdition, on the other hand, is a relentlessly dark take of life aboard a penal spaceship. The inhabitants, who are not governed by any jailers but are left to make their own society, are divided into factions, each headed by a strong and charismatic person. One such is “Dred” Devos, a woman fiercely determined to keep her bit of hell running. The newcomer, Jael, a tough mercenary, finds something he likes in Dred, and becomes her ally. But the course of Dred’s fight to stay on top is a grim one.
A new book by Karen Chance always fills me with happy anticipation. Her Cassie Palmer series is so fast moving and complicated (by now) that it’s the equivalent of watching a juggler with seven balls in the air. But Chance manages it in Reap the Wind. In every book, Cassie learns more about her role as the Pythia, and comes to new realizations about her power and her responsibility. And some of these don’t go hand in hand with the course her lover, Mircea the vampire, has plotted for her. Ah-oh.
Timothy Hallinan can’t write a bad book. The Queen of Patpong is an unexpected side trip in the chronicles of Poke Rafferty, a journalist who lives in Bangkok, Thailand. Poke has gained some financial security; he is married to his beloved Rose, a former prostitute, and they have adopted Miaow, who’d been living on the streets. Miaow now attends a private academy. Though the other books in this series deal with events from Poke’s perspective, Queen is the story of Rose, and how she ended up in the red-light district of Patpong. Rose’s past becomes important when a man she thought was dead returns to exact vengeance on her. I can’t tell you how much I admired this book.
This is the nervous season. I am an anxious hostess, for reasons I don’t fathom. Other women can shrug and laugh and assume everything will work out all right. I wish I were that way. I worry endlessly about events, including an upcoming baby shower and Thanksgiving dinner. The baby shower will be fine! As long as the mother-to-be gets a good start on her nursery and feels that she’s getting lots of support in this new phase of her life, what’s to worry about? And yet I can find things! Will I have enough punch cups? Do I have to buy ingredients for two batches of punch, or will one be sufficient? Why don’t people respond to the letters R.S.V.P. any more? A head count would be VERY helpful, right?
It’s less understandable why I give myself fits over the Thanksgiving dinner. It’s not like I haven’t served basically the same menu for many years: turkey, dressing, gravy, cranberry sauce, spinach madeleine, 7-layer sweet potato casserole, and two pies. In later years, with new members of the family, I have folded in some of their traditional dishes, too: mashed potatoes, rolls, green bean casserole. Even macaroni and cheese, which I can’t figure out at all. But heck, yes, if it makes people happy, I’ll do it or be glad if they bring it with them. I am starting to cook this week, so I can get at least three things in the freezer.
Then I’ll start to worry about Christmas, which is still a flexible feast. Last year, we tried making lasagna from scratch, and it was really good. But I trip up on the accompanying dishes. Many people in my neck of the woods make Mexican food (especially on Christmas Eve), but I don’t yet have the chutzpah to serve that cuisine to my daughter in law . . . who is of Mexican descent.
I don’t know why I drag myself over these coals every year. If a dish fails, we can always just go to the store and buy a replacement. Or try again. Or laugh and forget about it. Do you do this to yourself? I hope not! I hope you all have better sense than that.
Maybe I need to do deep breathing or something. Any suggestions gladly taken.