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review 2019-01-22 09:28
The Penguin Classics Book, Henry Eliot (Ed.)
The Penguin Classics Book - Various Authors,Henry Eliot

I first engaged with the Penguin Classics imprint in the second half of my teens when I started reading Thomas Hardy, as a result of an English lesson that used a passage from The Woodlanders, describing fallen leaves - thanks, Mr. Bray! (He was one of those teachers who was better the more enthusiasm or talent you displayed - no good for the recalcitrant or below average.) Anyway, I was delighted one day when I saw a flimsy paperback that turned out to be a catalogue for the series, including the Modern Classics, too - being handed out for free! Of course I took one and used it for reading inspiration. I still have it, decades later!

 

Now, the imprint has a new print catalogue - a large format hardback of over 400p, with the Modern Classics to get their own separate volume - costing £30. The lsit has expanded an enormous amount since the '80s! Is it worth it? After all, a constantly updated listing is available online for free.

 

Well, for me the answer is a resounding, yes! This isn't simply a list of books in print. As well as short descriptions of each book, there are micro-biographies of the authors and sidebars about the history of Penguin Classics and biographies and anecdotes about editors and translators who have worked on the series. There's even a page explaining ISBNs and their origins. Did you know that the first three digits of a bar code are a geographical origin code? Since books are fundamentally international, they have their own code, known as "bookland" - which is why ISBN13s all start "978" or "979." I love that books have their own country! It's probably more peaceful than the human occupied ones.

 

The Penguin Classics remit is gigantic; the classics of world literature up to and including WWI - thousands of years. The book therefore stands as a guide to the world of books that are still considered important/great/interesting/entertaining after at least 100 years. It shows up some of the impacts of world history just by charting how much (or little) material came from where and when. The list has not been sniffy about genre, at least as far back as the '80s, by the way. It has changed constantly (not just growing) - books have gone out of print, been replaced with new translations, expanded, split up into multiple volumes, conflated into fewer volumes, so I expect this volume was out of date by the time it went on sale, but that in no way detracts from its value to me as a ready reference and source of inspiration.

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review 2019-01-18 05:41
The Spirit in Question (Lila MacLean Mystery, #3)
The Spirit in Question - Cynthia Kuhn

I enjoy this series a lot - it's cozy without being twee, and the mysteries are reasonably well plotted most of the time.  I also love that Kuhn shows way more than she tells; this might be the only reason I'd tell someone to read these in order.  The stories don't require it at all, but the author doesn't waste her established readers' time by going over all the backstory.  New readers might feel lost if they started with book 3 instead of book 1.

 

The Spirit in Question isn't anything I can rave about, it was just an enjoyable story.  My first inclination was to give it 3.5 stars, but that's more a reflection of my bias against mysteries that take place in the theatre.  It's a haunted theatre though, so that gave it an edge for me.

 

The plotting was solid; I had no idea who the killer was.  But on the other hand, the motive for the killer felt a little weak.  Possibly, maybe, one that unconsciously falls back on an old stereotype that feminists would grind their teeth over.  It didn't bother me, but I did notice it.

 

My only complaint about the series overall is that she doesn't write them faster.  I need more solid, dependable cozy/traditional series in my life like this one.

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review 2019-01-16 22:09
What Angels Fear / C.S. Harris
What Angels Fear - C.S. Harris

It's 1811, and the threat of revolution haunts the upper classes of King George III's England. Then a beautiful young woman is found raped and savagely murdered on the altar steps of an ancient church near Westminster Abbey. A dueling pistol discovered at the scene and the damning testimony of a witness both point to one man, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, a brilliant young nobleman shattered by his experience in the Napoleonic Wars.

Now a fugitive running for his life, Sebastian calls upon his skill as an agent during the war to catch the killer and prove his own innocence. In the process, he accumulates a band of unlikely allies, including the enigmatic beauty Kat Boleyn, who broke Sebastian's heart years ago. In Sebastian's world of intrigue and espionage, nothing is as it seems, yet the truth may hold the key to the future of the British monarchy, as well as to Sebastian's own salvation...

 

Perhaps a 3.5 star book?

Certainly good, but maybe not exactly my cup of tea. Probably because of the time period, which so many people seem to adore. I, however, have a complicated relationship with the time of carriages, cloaks, dueling pistols, and severe class distinctions.

I also went into this expecting a paranormal angle of some sort, which was completely off base. Yes, our hero, Sebastian St. Cyr, has a couple of special abilities, but as the author explains at book’s end, this is from a documented genetic condition, not a paranormal cause.

If you enjoyed this book or this time period, I would recommend Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia or Veronica Speedwell series. Also try E.L. Tettensor’s Nicolas Lenoir duology or The Hanged Man by P.N. Elrod. These last two have distinct paranormal aspects, which made them preferable for my reading tastes.

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review 2019-01-16 21:47
In the Bleak Midwinter / Julia Spencer-Fleming
In the Bleak Midwinter - Julia Spencer-Fleming

Heavy Snow...Icy Desires...Cold-Blooded Murder

Clare Fergusson, St. Alban's new priest, fits like a square peg in the conservative Episcopal parish at Millers Kill, New York. She is not just a "lady," she's a tough ex-Army chopper pilot, and nobody's fool. Then a newborn infant left at the church door brings her together with the town's police chief, Russ Van Alstyne, who's also ex-Army and a cynical good shepherd for the stray sheep of his hometown. Their search for the baby's mother quickly leads them into the secrets that shadow Millers Kill like the ever-present Adirondacks. What they discover is a world of trouble, an attraction to each other—and murder...

 

I never know these days when I pick up a mystery whether it will be a hit or a miss—I have read so many of them at this point that I’ve become pretty picky.

So I was pleasantly surprised by this selection—for a first book of a series, it was great. First off, I enjoyed the author’s style. I was never distracted by the words, I was able to immerse myself in the world of Millers Kill, N.Y. and go with the flow.

Secondly, I really connected with her two main characters, Rev. Claire Fergusson and the Chief of Police, Russ Van Alstyne. I loved Clare’s independence, the unexpectedness of her being an Episcopalian priest, being ex-army, driving an impractical hot little red car, and learning the ins and outs of this new community where she has been hired. I also couldn’t help liking Russ, who grew up in the community and has returned after his army career.

Just like Agatha Christie, Spencer-Fleming has chosen a small town as a setting for her story. It gives Clare and Russ a much better knowledge of the people around them, making the crime-solving aspect much more informed and interesting. Solving murders in a big city involves much more luck, while these mysteries set in small communities allow for much more exploration of the human decisions that pull people into criminal acts.

Unlike so many series where I’ve sampled one book and feel no need to follow up, I suspect I will catch up with Claire and Russ again in the near future!

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review 2019-01-16 21:07
The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic / Emily Croy Barker
The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic - Emily Croy Barker

Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman.  During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty.  Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.

Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her "real life" against the dangerous power of love and magic.

 

Not quite what I was anticipating—which is a bit of an issue when the book is over 500 pages!

Under normal circumstances, I adore books which include the Fae, which this one does. Nora, our main character, bumps into an odd guy on campus and he rather obscurely grants her wish for a complete change of pace in life. One assumes that he is a member of this book’s Faitoren who was inhabiting our world, instead of the alternate world that Nora is transported to.

This is very much an alternate reality book—like Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant series, H. Beam Piper’s Paratime novels or Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. In this iteration, Nora gets transported into a rather medieval world which relies on magic rather than technology. Of course, she discovers some facility for magic, which saves her life from being total drudgery.

One of my main issues was the character of Aruendiel, the magician who rescues Nora from the Faitoren and assumes responsibility for her in this very, very patriarchal world. He’s no Dumbledore or Gandalf—he’s cranky, prejudiced, and arrogant. His relationship with Nora is a very reluctant one, consisting more of feeling responsible for her than any affection. Then when the balance seems to twist towards Aruendiel wanting more of their relationship, he isn’t willing to unbend enough to verbalize it, leaving Nora really to twist in the wind, wondering if she’s imagining things. Just to confuse things even more, Aruendiel seems to try fairly often to foist her on other men as a wife or he is searching for a “window” to send her home to her own reality. There’s a limited amount of speculation about the magician’s age and I gained the feeling that he was way too old to be a viable love-interest for Nora.

There is some exploration of the notion that Nora, coming from our reality, doesn’t act enough like a (subservient) woman in the magic time line. But the chances to explore the nature of the relations between men and women gets short shrift (except on the many occasions when Nora is pissed off about it). She basically works like a galley slave on Aruendiel’s estate except when he grants her special privileges to study or practice magic.


Although Nora ends up feeling attracted to Aruendiel, I just couldn’t feel the basis for it. He was too old, too arrogant, too prejudiced against women. I could understand some respect for him as a teacher (although he didn’t seem to be all that great an instructor, honestly), but beyond that was beyond my ability to suspend my disbelief.

Nevertheless, there’s a lid for every pot and I’m sure that this book will suit a lot of readers better than it did me.

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