Hey, readers. I have decided to move my blog over to a new blog host, and have grabbed my own domain name. With the assistance of the amazing Ashley @ Creative Whim, the new site is up and running.

If you follow my blog on wordpress, you’ll automatically begin receiving updates once subscribers are moved. If you subscribe by email and want to continue receiving posts, you’ll need to visit the new blog and subscribe again.

My new home is: The Dead Writers Society. That blog will continue to focus on my adventures in reading (mostly) dead authors. I will remain active on Booklikes as well.

I hope to see you there!


Whose Body

“Why can’t you marry and settle down and live quietly, doin’ something useful?” said the Duke, unappeased.

“Because that was a wash-out as you perfectly well know,” said Peter; “besides,” he added cheerfully, “I’m bein’ no end useful. You may come to want me yourself, you never know. When anybody comes blackmailin’ you, Gerald, or your first deserted wife turns up unexpectedly from the West Indies, you’ll realize the pull of havin’ a private detective in the family. ‘Delicate private business arranged with tact and discretion. Investigations undertaken. Divorce evidence a specialty. Every guarantee!”

Whose Body
is the first of the Lord Peter Wimsey series, written by Dorothy Sayers. Mrs. Sayers wrote ten Lord Peter novels, as well as short stories featuring her gentleman-detective between 1923 and 1937. Lord Peter ages in real-time with her stories, and they are contemporary mysteries set during the year in which they are written.

In 1998, Jill Paton Walsh took up Mrs. Sayers’ mantle and completed her unfinished last Lord Peter novel, called Thrones and Dominations. She has since published three more Lord Peter books, including The Attenbury Emeralds, which actually reaches back to 1921 and tells the story of Peter Wimsey’s first foray into detecting. The Attenbury Emeralds case is mentioned in Whose Body, but the story is not fully (or even partially) told.

I bought all of the original novels over the Christmas holidays this year, as they were all on sale. All of the Open Road editions of the Peter Wimsey books have similar covers, all featuring Peter’s monocle as part of the image. I find the covers both clever and appealing.

The mystery in Whose Body is quite grim, actually, although the treatment of it is lighthearted (as is so often the case with “Golden Age” mysteries). It is a classic upper crust mystery, although the murderer is quite frankly a sociopath who conveniently commits suicide at the end – this is another common feature of Golden Age mysteries. The murders often dispose of themselves to avoid the sticky and lower-class legal process that will result from their being caught-out by our amateur sleuth.

There is light satire of the British pre-WWII social conventions and the relationship between Lord Peter (aristocrat) and his valet (Bunter). In Whose Body, Lord Peter has a recurrence of “shell shock” from his experiences during WWI, and is cared for Bunter, who is obviously very close to Lord Peter. As a random aside, their relationship rather reminds me of the relationship between Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings, which was taken from Tolkien’s observations of the relationship between batman and officer in WWI. One of the great strengths of this book is the touching, affectionate and convincing relationship between Wimsey and Bunter.

Also, Bunter gets some of the best lines:

“Yes, Mr. Graves, it’s a hard life, valeting by day and developing by night—morning tea at any time from 6.30 to 11, and criminal investigation at all hours.”

The next book in the series is Clouds of Witness.

tyrants daughterDisclosure: I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley.

I had mixed emotions about this book. It is ambitious, and engaging, and is a very fast read. I think I read it in about an hour and a half, while watching to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. I am not sure that it succeeded in all of it’s ambitions, but I would generally recommend it.

It is a first person narrative from Laila, with very short chapters. I liked the narrator – she was convincing to me. The cast of this book is limited to a few people: Laila, her mother, her brother, the CIA agent, a few classmates, a few other immigrants from home. The country that Laila has fled is an unnamed country in the Middle East. We are obviously meant to think of Iran or Iraq, but the author never identifies the setting of Laila’s country of origin. The action takes place in a relatively short period of time after Laila’s arrival in the U.S.

There was so much going on in the background of this book: the various forms that privilege can take, how one person’s privilege is another person’s cage, misogyny, the impact of religious fundamentalism, growing up in a world where physical safety is just another commodity, available only sometimes and only ever to the wealthy.

Laila is an insightful narrator, but she is not precocious. She is an ethical person, but not a questioning person. Or at least she wasn’t until after her father is assassinated.

I would love to get the rest of Laila’s story. Those of you who read the book will know just what I mean.

cursed by cupid Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley.

This is really a novella – I think that the amazon page indicates that it is 50 pages long. Short book, short review:

I thought that this was adorable, and laughed out loud several times reading it. The MC, Tilly, has been romantically cursed for 3 years after breaking one of those annoying chain letters. She has had many terrible first dates, some of which are described to us in painful, humiliating, and hilarious detail.

She meets Bryant when she spills chocolate shake all over herself and his place of business. Things rapidly spiral out of control from there. Tilly is likeable, Bryant is handsome and persistent. It is a clean romance, appropriate for anyone who reads romance.

This book is pure, unadulterated cotton candy, seasonally suited to Valentine’s Day. I would absolutely read a full-length novel by Wendy Sparrow.

Thanks, Entangled Publishing. I really enjoyed this one.

sinful folk

Cross-posted on Booklikes and amazon.

Disclosure: I won a free copy of this book from an author. It was a no-strings attached sort of a thing, and there was no agreement that I would review this book at all as a part of the giveaway. In addition, I was very excited about the release of this book because the author is someone I follow here on Booklikes, so I had read various excerpts from the book before getting my hands on it (digital hands, really) and it looked fantastic.

I was not disappointed.

I’m going to witter on for a bit about myself, to explain what kind of a reader I am. I have read a lot of historical fiction, including the grand dame of English historical fiction, Sharon Kay Penman, and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Both of these writers primarily write in a period that is quite a bit later than the period chosen by Mr. Hayes for his novel, but they – Penman in particular – are well known for the quality of their research and writing.

I am not tremendously knowledgable about the English Middle Ages and am definitely not reading as a scholar. However, I am pretty picky about obvious errors and I am quite picky about good writing, and I love a great story. Ned Hayes is one of those authors who is the total package.

Sinful Folk was, in a word, wonderful.

Most historical fiction focuses on the nobles not the vassals. This makes sense, as it is undoubtedly much easier to research how the royalty and the powerful members of the church and the wealthy lived. The peasantry are usually there, in the book, as an aside. They serve things, they (if they are male) are the cannon fodder for the foolish wars embarked upon by the powerful, or they (if they are female) are a sexual outlet – sometimes consenting, sometimes not so much – for the men of noble blood that they might encounter. Nonetheless, they are mostly interchangeble. Unnamed, unknown, unimportant.

But, of course, in the Middle Ages, as in any other period, those are the people who do most of the living and loving and hating and dying. This book gives them a voice in Mear, or Miriam. And it is a beautiful voice, utterly convincing.

“In the end, I listen to my fear. It keeps me awake, resounding through the frantic beating in my breast. It is there in the dry terror in my throat, in the pricking of the rats’ nervous feet in the darkness.

Christian has not come home all the night long.”

The book begins with the death of Mear’s son, Christian. He is burned to death in a terrible fire, along with four other boys. The men of the village, including Miriam, because she is living as a man, and a mute one, at that, take a pilgrimage in the dead of winter, seeking justice for their boys. The story is the story of their journey, and the life story of Miriam, who has secrets that are slowly revealed as the journey unfolds, picking up other travellers as they go. It is incredibly dangerous for peasants to be abroad on the road in winter, especially as they travel without the permission of their Lord. This is no light-hearted picaresque tale about villagers on a pleasure trip – the characters face real dangers, real hardship, and experience real terrors and injuries. It is winter, in the midst of a famine, and the world is a harsh and unforgiving place.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

(Poem by Christina Rosetti)

I don’t want to spoil the story, so I will stop here. Ned Hayes has a story-teller’s sense of timing and mystery, and a poet’s grasp of language. He could have been a bard in another time.

Rooks have clustered on either side of the long road. It is as if they line a grand parade route for our passage. Their black feathers are stark as soot against the White Road and the snow. They stab at the ground with their strange bare bills and unfeathered faces.”

January 2014

Best of the month:

This is hard, because I read some great books this month!

The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann was a great historical fiction read, well-researched, fun to read, building to a ripping finish. I also loved And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard because she writes so beautifully, Emily Beam was a delightful character, and she wove the poems into the story with what appeared to be effortless proficiency. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis was a bit on the long side, but her treatment of the middle ages was fantastic. I had a love/hate relationship with Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. It was a shocking and intense read, and I am left bewildered and amazed at her skill as a writer. I cannot imagine how anyone could find Wuthering Heights romantic, but I know that I will never forget reading it.

Worst of the month:

Kaleidoscope by Kristen Ashley. For further discussion, you can read my review on booklikes, here.

Progress on Challenges:

Back to the Classics:

Category completed: A classic by a woman author – Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

The Bronte Project:

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

The Classics Club

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

The C.S. Lewis Project

Prince Caspian
Voyage of the Dawn Treader

A Century of Books:

1950 – A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie
1964 – A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie
1985 – Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys

Cross-posted from Booklikes. Book 13 of 2014. I received a free ARC of this book from Netgalley. It is scheduled for publication on 1/28/14 by Delacorte Press.

and we stay

See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world
See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world
The breath from your own lips, the touch of fingertips
A sweet and tender kiss
The sound of a midnight train, wearing someone’s ring
Someone calling your name
Somebody so warm cradled in your arms
Didn’t you think you were worth anything
See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world
See what you lost when you left this world, this sweet old world [Sweet Old World by Lucinda Williams]

Oh, I loved this book so much. It is the story of Emily Beam, in the few months after her boyfriend, Paul, has done something unspeakable at her old high school, committing suicide in the library after she has broken up with him. Emily has been enrolled at a boarding school at Amherst.

Mount Holyoke

What doesn’t this book have? Well, it doesn’t have a love triangle, or bad boys with tattoos, or smexy sexy alphas who control their girlfriend’s every move, or any sort of paranormal creature (and, no, the “ghost” of Emily Dickenson doesn’t count, since she is really more of a presence than an actual spirit).

It is slow and introspective, a look into the resilience of youth following a devastating tragedy. It is about blossoming friendship and growing up and forgiving yourself. And it’s about words and the power of words to heal.

Jenny Hubbard can put together words so beautifully that it broke my heart sometimes. I am barely a fan of poetry, but Emily Beam is a poet, and scattered throughout the book is a series of poems that she wrote in those first weeks and months at school, and they are brilliantly evocative and spare and lovely.

I feel like words are inadequate for me to explain why I loved this book. I connected with it – I have a girl and I have been a girl, and I work with girls who have been through trauma, and so for me, Emily Beam is every girl who uses words to process her pain. I loved this book.