Book Review: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Title: A Deadly Education (The Scholomance, #1)
Author: Naomi Novik
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Publication date: September 29, 2020
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Lesson One of the Scholomance: Learning has never been this deadly.

A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.

There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.

El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students. 

Unlike Hogwarts, Scholomance is a magical school that no one in their right mind would want to attend. Everything there wants to kill you, it seems. Evil magical creatures, known as maleficaria, lurk everywhere, drooling over the chance to eat some yummy young wizards. Students never go anywhere alone, and even with companions, death is literally around every corner.

Be careful taking food in the cafeteria line — it might be poisonous. Don’t be first or last into a room. Don’t sit near air vents. Try not to shower too often — there’s no telling what might come up through the drain.

And if you actually make it through all four years, there’s still no guarantee of survival. Graduation from Scholomance involves fighting your way out through a mass of deadly maleficaria waiting at the gate, and in typical years, only a fraction survive.

If all this sounds terrifying and exhausting… it is. Given the grisly death waiting around every corner, you might be wondering why this school exists in the first place and why any reasonable parent might send their children there. The answer is that while students’ lives are in danger 24/7 at the school, they’re still slightly more protected there (the school exists in an alternate dimension only barely tethered to the real world) than at home, since apparently young magical people are so packed full of deliciousness that they’d be under constant attack with little protection if they remained with their families.

El, short for Galadriel, seems to have an affinity for power and dark magic, and finds terrible spells of mass destruction at her fingertips all the time. She has to make a conscious effort to avoid doing harm. She’s also prickly and seems to give off an aura of evil, even though she’s not, so she’s pretty friendless, and that leaves her vulnerable.

That changes, though, when school hero Orion Lake saves her life a few times. Suddenly, the wealthy, established kids who belong to enclaves (big, secure settlements of magical people) want to include El in their circles, as a way of getting Orion on their sides. El is more interested in true allies than sucking up to get into an enclave, and she’s also more than a little irritated that everyone assumes Orion keeps saving her because they’re dating. So there’s that.

When I said that Scholomance is exhausting, that applies to the experience of reading it as well. It’s so unrelentingly claustrophic that the reading experience, for me at least, just isn’t fun. I got tired of chapter after chapter showing all the ways the students could die. Scholomance sounds like a terrible place, and there are practically no lighter moments within the book to break up all the looming deadly attacks.

The author does a good job of showing the awfulness of the experience of being there, but I can’t say that I needed to read quite that much about it. I didn’t feel like I got a good sense of what drives El or why she has such an affinity for darkness and destruction. We learn about a prophecy that says she’ll basically destroy the whole world, but I still felt like there was something about her personality that didn’t quite click. Likewise, we get to know some things about El’s eventual circle of friends, including Orion, but I didn’t get a good feel for who they actually are as people.

After publication, the author was called out for racial insensitivity due to a paragraph about the perils of dreadlocks. She’s apologized, and the paragraph will be revised in future printings. I believe her when she says it was unintentional, but it’s hard to understand how a book can go through the editing and publication process and not have something like that caught. (And really, if the same content was included, but with a reference to long hair instead of dreadlocks, it would have gotten the same point across without feeding into racial sterotypes.)

I had to wonder about a particular passage:

I got angry all over again, and I looked at him straight-on and hissed — when I’m really angry, it’s a hiss, even if there’re no actual sibilants involved — “We didn’t.”

Why did that passage catch my eye? Because I’ve been reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, and recently highlighted this bit in my review of The Light Fantastic:

Another voice, dry as tinder, hissed, “You would do well to remember where you are.” It should be impossible to hiss a sentence with no sibilants in it, but the voice made a very good attempt.

Homage? Coincidence? I’m not sure, but it definitely jumped out at me.

Anyway…

While the book felt like a slog for at least the first half (seriously, the constant threat of death is TIRING), I eventually got caught up in the adventure enough to race through to the end.

A Deadly Education is book one of the Scholomance trilogy, with book two, The Last Graduate, due out in July 2021. At this point, I’m on the fence about whether to continue. I mean, probably yes? But I guess I prefer my magical boarding schools with at least an ounce of cheer. Scholomance is dark, dark, dark. I’ll need a good long break before I’d want to revisit it.

Mini-reviews: Three short takes on short-ish reads (or listens)

I managed to squeeze in a few quick and short books this week, in between a heavier book club pick and a book requiring more concentration than I anticipated. Here are my quick takes!

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Title: Fangirl (Manga), Volume 1
Author: Rainbow Rowell, Sam Maggs, Gabi Nam
Published: 2020
Length: 216 pages

The manga adaptation of the beloved novel by #1 Bestselling author Rainbow Rowell!
New York Journal of Books

Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, everybody is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life. Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath just can’t let go. Now that they’re in college, Cath must decide if she’s ready to start living her own life. But does she even want to if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Cath doesn’t need friends IRL. She has her twin sister, Wren, and she’s a popular fanfic writer in the Simon Snow community with thousands of fans online.  But now that she’s in college, Cath is completely outside of her comfort zone. There are suddenly all these new people in her life. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming boyfriend, a writing professor who thinks fanfiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome new writing partner … And she’s barely heard from Wren all semester!

The Fangirl manga is everything I could hope for! I loved the Fangirl novel when it came out, as well as the spin-off Simon Snow books. In the manga, it’s a wonderful chance to revisit the Fangirl characters all over again. The illustrations are clever, and the dialogue and pacing is well done. I really felt like Cath and Levi’s characters came across loud and clear.

My only complaint is that the story stops in the middle! This is volume 1 (of I don’t know how many), and it felt really jarring to have to stop just when I was getting into it.

Still, so much fun! But now, I immediately want to (a) reread Fangirl (the novel), (b) reread Carry On, and (c) know when the 2nd volume of the manga is coming out! Please let it be soon!

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Title: Serpentine
Author: Philip Pullman
Published: 2020
Length: 80 pages

A brand new short story set in the world of His Dark Materials and The Book of Dust by master storyteller, Philip Pullman.

Serpentine
 is a perfect gift for every Pullman fan, new and old.

‘Lyra Silvertongue, you’re very welcome . . . Yes, I know your new name. Serafina Pekkala told me everything about your exploits’

Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon have left the events of His Dark Materials far behind.

In this snapshot of their forever-changed lives they return to the North to visit an old friend, where we will learn that things are not exactly as they seem . . .

Illustrated throughout by Tom Duxbury, the perfect re-entry for fans of His Dark Materials and a wonderful companion to The Book of Dust.

This is a slim, hardcover volume, beautifully highlighted by woodcut-style black and white illustrations, that tells a story about Lyra and Pan set after the events of The Amber Spyglass (and before the subsequent events in the Book of Dust series).

Lyra and Pan are still dealing with their changed relationship, so terribly affected by the trauma of The Amber Spyglass. They’re still together, but everything is different. In Serpentine, it seems as though they’re finally starting to face their new reality together.

This is a lovely little book, and those invested in His Dark Materials will want to read it — but it feels a little slight to take up a hardcover of its own (and sell at a hardcover price).

(For what it’s worth, I’m glad to own it — it will look quite handsome on the shelf next to Lyra’s Oxford and Once Upon a Time in the North, two other small but lovely installments in the greater world of the series.)

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Title: Once More Upon a Time
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Published: 2020
Audiobook length: 3 hours, 26 minutes

A dazzling fairy tale about falling in love again by The New York Times best-selling author of The Star-Touched Queen and The Gilded Wolves.

Once upon a Time, there was a king and queen in a land called Love’s Keep who once loved one another, but alas, no more. Without love, they were doomed to be ousted from their kingdom at the end of a year and a day.

A year and a day passed.

This is where their story starts.

Imelda and Ambrose can’t remember why they got married. A year and a day ago, Ambrose consulted a witch, trading their love to save Imelda’s life—and they’ve been stuck with one another ever since. When that same witch pays them a visit on the day they lose their kingdom, she promises to make their deepest wishes come true in exchange for a simple favor and a short journey. With nothing left to lose, Imelda and Ambrose agree. But, over the course of their enchanted road trip peppered with a delirious cloak, cannibals, and at least one honey badger, something magical happens…little by little, step by step, they regain what they had forgotten.

They remember why they fell in love.

When the end of their journey nears and they confront parting ways forever, a new decision faces them. Will Imelda and Ambrose choose their deepest wishes, or will they choose each other—again?

I stumbled across this fairy tale audiobook while poking around on Audible and thought it would make a nice break in between longer listens. And I was right!

Once More Upon a Time is a light, fun fairy tale that takes a happily ever after that wasn’t, and turns that into a starting place. The two main characters are king and queen of a kingdom which magically dictates that it can only be ruled by people experiencing true love. The problem is, while Ambrose and Imelda were madly in love when they married, their love was traded away for a cure for Imelda’s accidental poisoning. Ever since, they’ve been living as strangers, aware that they must have once loved each other, but unable to remember what it felt like.

Forced to leave their kingdom, they’re offered a quest, with the promise of having whatever they want at the end. Ambrose wants a kingdom, Imelda wants freedom… but what they get turns out to be just what they need.

Some of the fairy tale elements work better than others, and some are just downright silly and unconvincing, but still, this was a nice, quick listen with some sweet touches.

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Of these three, I’d say my favorite was Fangirl, but I enjoyed the other two as well. Have you read or listened to any short fiction lately? Please share anything you’d like to recommend!

Audiobook Review: Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal

Title: Valour and Vanity (Glamourist Histories, #4)
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Narrator:  Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: April 29, 2014
Print length: 405 pages
Audio length: 10 hours, 12 minutes
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Acclaimed fantasist Mary Robinette Kowal has enchanted many fans with her beloved novels featuring a Regency setting in which magic–known here as glamour–is real. In Valour and Vanity, master glamourists Jane and Vincent find themselves in the sort of a magical adventure that might result if Jane Austen wrote Ocean’s Eleven.

After Melody’s wedding, the Ellsworths and Vincents accompany the young couple on their tour of the continent. Jane and Vincent plan to separate from the party and travel to Murano to study with glassblowers there, but their ship is set upon by Barbary corsairs while en route. It is their good fortune that they are not enslaved, but they lose everything to the pirates and arrive in Murano destitute.

Jane and Vincent are helped by a kind local they meet en route, but Vincent is determined to become self-reliant and get their money back, and hatches a plan to do so. But when so many things are not what they seem, even the best laid plans conceal a few pitfalls. The ensuing adventure is a combination of the best parts of magical fantasy and heist novels, set against a glorious Regency backdrop.

More fun with Jane and Vincent! Yes, I’m hooked on this series. Listening to the audiobook for #4, Valour and Vanity, was just as much fun as the first three. I’m only sad that there’s just one more left!

In Valour and Vanity, we’re treated to a high calibre caper. The synopsis is right to describe it as something out of Ocean’s Eleven!

Following a disastrous sea voyage in which they lose all their money and possessions, Jane and Vincent arrive in Venice penniless. To make matters more difficult, their intended host, Lord Byron, has left town on romantic pursuits, leaving Jane and Vincent with no place to go and no funds to pay for lodging or even a fresh set of clothes. Fortunately, a fellow traveler from their ship offers them his generous assistance…

And clearly, there’s more to the story, but I’m not going to give any spoilers! Let’s just say that there are twists and turns, all sorts of sneaky double-dealing, plus helpful nuns, a brave puppeteer*, gondola chases (yes, you can in fact have a chase scene with gondolas!), glass-blowing, and so much more.

*Fun fact: Author Mary Robinette Kowal is a professional puppeteer, so her inclusion of a heroic puppet-master here is just delightful.

Once again, Jane and Vincent are a terrific twosome. They’re unconventional, incredibly talented, and very much in love. They also feel real in the way that they face difficulties and disagreements, react emotionally, talk things through, and find ways to move forward. They don’t have to be perfect around each other — they love each other passionately and accept each other exactly as they are.

The Venice setting is new and different for this series, and provided a great setting for a plot where Jane and Vincent have to navigate without any of their usual allies or safety nets. The action is fast-paced, and the schemes are just oh-so-clever.

One sure sign that you’ve become overly involved as a reader is when you can’t stand for bad things to happen to beloved characters, even if the bad things lead to exciting storylines. This was my only problem with Valour and Vanity — I’m so in love with Jane and Vincent that it upsets me too much when their well-being is threatened, so even though the caper aspects of the story are really fun, I was also incredibly tense throughout! I just needed to know that the characters I care about would come out okay in the end. (Yes, of course they do. After all, we still need to get to book #5!)

This series continues to be a delight, and I can’t wait to start the final book, Of Noble Family. Well… I’m actually dreading it, because I don’t want the series to be over… but still, I have to know what happens next!

For an interesting look at the author’s puppetry career and her transition to writing, check out this article.

Shelf Control #239: Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: Central Station
Author: Lavie Tidhar
Published: 2016
Length: 275 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A worldwide diaspora has left a quarter of a million people at the foot of a space station. Cultures collide in real life and virtual reality. The city is literally a weed, its growth left unchecked. Life is cheap, and data is cheaper.

When Boris Chong returns to Tel Aviv from Mars, much has changed. Boris’s ex-lover is raising a strangely familiar child who can tap into the datastream of a mind with the touch of a finger. His cousin is infatuated with a robotnik—a damaged cyborg soldier who might as well be begging for parts. His father is terminally-ill with a multigenerational mind-plague. And a hunted data-vampire has followed Boris to where she is forbidden to return.

Rising above them is Central Station, the interplanetary hub between all things: the constantly shifting Tel Aviv; a powerful virtual arena, and the space colonies where humanity has gone to escape the ravages of poverty and war. Everything is connected by the Others, powerful alien entities who, through the Conversation—a shifting, flowing stream of consciousness—are just the beginning of irrevocable change.

At Central Station, humans and machines continue to adapt, thrive…and even evolve.

How and when I got it:

I bought myself a copy after reading another book by this author.

Why I want to read it:

One of the weirdest and most original books I read in 2019 was Lavie Tidhar’s Unholy Land, and it immediately made me want to read more by this author.

Unholy Land was my first encounter with Israeli science fiction. Central Station, published two years earlier, looks like another strange and fantastical trip to a futuristic world. The story includes space exploration and other dimensions, but is also set in that world’s version of Tel Aviv, and honestly, I can’t wait to see what it’s like.

The only reason that I haven’t read this yet is the perpetual problem of having way too many books to read and always finding something else that’s a higher priority. I really do want to get to Central Station!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Read Because Someone Recommended Them to Me

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books I Read Because Someone Recommended Them to Me.

I could probably list hundreds, but here are the first 10 that come to mind… with a big THANK YOU to the amazing people who did the recommending! (With review links where available, in case you want to know more about the books…)

1. Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland: Recommended by my husband’s friend, whose book group read this over the summer. (review)

2. Finishing School series by Gail Carriger: Even though I loved the Parasol Protectorate series, I was under the impression that I wouldn’t care for these books — but my daughter kept insisting I needed to give them a try. She was right! So enjoyable. (review)

3. Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell: A captivating novel about Shakespeare and his players, which I probably never would have read except that my book group picked it for a group read. Loved it! (review)

4. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Reid Jenkins: I’ve loved this author’s works, but for some reason didn’t get around to reading Evelyn Hugo despite owning a copy… until all the rave reviews from other book bloggers convinced me to finally read it. Thank you, all! Such an excellent book. (review)

5. The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler: I had never heard of Octavia Butler as of about 15 years ago, before a coworker (who’s also once of my best book buddies) urged me to read this. Truly a life-changing read.

6. Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow: I first heard of these books because they were recommended by another favorite author, Diana Gabaldon, on her “Methadone List“. The Kate books quickly became favorites, and I hope the author never stops writing them! (series overview)

7. If I Grow Up by Todd Strasser: My son, who is the most reluctant of readers, insisted that I read this book. And since he almost never reads willingly, I had to check it out to see what it was that made such an impression. (review)

8. The Blind Side by Michael Lewis: I am not a sports fan. At all. So why would I read a football book? Because one day while driving to work, I heard a review on NPR, and it was so highly recommended that I thought I’d give it a try. Glad I did!

9. All of Tamora Pierce’s books! I could list tons of books recommended by my daughter, but Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books were her favorites as a teen (and probably still are), and I finally got around to reading them over the past couple of years. And with minor exceptions, thought they were excellent!

10. I would be remiss if I didn’t include Letters from Thailand by Botan, which is the book that is at least partially responsible for me falling in love with my husband! If he hadn’t recommended it, we might never have started talking about books, and we all know how a booklover’s heart glows when you get on our favorite subject! If you want to know the backstory, you can check out my post here.

What books made your list this week? Please share your TTT link!

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The Monday Check-In ~ 10/19/2020

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

The sun came back out this week, and it’s been glorious. Doing my best to walk every day!

What did I read during the last week?

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow: Beautiful and powerful. My review is here.

Murder by Other Means by John Scalzi: A really enjoyable Audible Original. My review is here.

Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker: This book is by Seanan McGuire, using a pen name that’s also the name of a character in her novel Middlegame — a character who wrote a book called Over the Woodward Wall, a bestselling children’s book that also secretly a guide to alchemy. Confused yet? I can’t believe I’m saying this about a Seanan McGuire book, but I didn’t particularly enjoy reading this. There are some clever bits, but mostly it feels like a journey to Wonderland, with lots of nonsensical elements and magical moments. It just never really came together for me, sad to say.

Pop culture & TV:

I finally got around to watching season 3 of The Crown, and ended up enjoying it much more than I thought I would. It was a little jarring adjusting to the cast changes for this season, but they’re all so talented that it ended up being a great watch. Educational too — I find myself Googling details during every episode to find out more about the people and events. Can’t wait for season 4 to drop next month!

And in my lighter moments when I just need a quick and easy piece of entertainment, I’ve been watching The Legend of Korra. I didn’t care much for it at first, but it’s growing on me!

Puzzle of the week:

For a city dweller, I sure seem to be drawn to country settings. Here’s this week’s puzzle. Cows! Quilts! What more could I want?

Fresh Catch:

I’ve been splurging. So excited for my new books! Now I need time to read them.

 

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Beloved by Toni Morrison: My book group’s book for October. I read this book when it was first released, and still have my old hardcover edition! It’s been a long time, and I’m enjoying experiencing the beautiful writing all over again.

Now playing via audiobook:

Valour and Vanity (The Glamourist Histories, #4) by Mary Robinette Kowal: Onward with the series! These books are so good.

Ongoing reads:

Outlander Book Club is re-reading Outlander! We’re reading and discussing one chapter per week. This week: Chapter 19, “The Waterhorse”.

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Title: The Once and Future Witches
Author: Alix E. Harrow
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: October 13, 2020
Length: 528 pages
Genre: Historical fiction/fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.

Alix E. Harrow’s debut novel, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, was one of my favorite reads last year, so it’s a pleasure to have another amazing experience with her newest book, The Once and Future Witches.

The Once and Future Witches takes place in 1893, in a world similar to our own, but with some key differences. Chief among these is the history of witchcraft — a plague and a purge some years earlier have resulted in the complete annihilation of witches or witchcraft, or so the men in power would like people to believe.

While the knowledge and power of witches seem to be lost, grandmothers and mothers still pass down to their daughters the little words and ways that make life easier, from simple spells to help with cleaning or harvest to healing rituals and ways to escape from someone who means you ill. In this world, what we’d call fairy tales are known as witch tales, and they’re regarded as simple folklore, merely children’s entertainment. But for the women who tell the stories, they know there’s something more hidden in the simple words and songs.

Our main characters are the three Eastwood sisters — Beatrice Belladonna, Agnes Amaranth, and James Juniper. While raised on a family farm, they now as adults find themselves drawn together in the town of New Salem after a long separation caused by their abusive father.

When the three sisters are reunited, Bella inadvertently triggers a momentary return of the lost ways, creating both a public scare and an inspiration for women who long for more. The story is set at a time when women are rallying for the right to vote, and workers’ rights are also front and center in the wake of awful mill and factory conditions and the abject poverty of New Salem’s underclass.

The Eastwood sisters soon lead a growing underground movement of women who are willing to risk everything to rediscover their own power and make a place for themselves in their world. But there are forces working against them, who will use whatever means necessary to silence their voices and make sure they keep to their approved places.

This is a powerful, uplifting, and complicated read. At over 500 pages, the story is intricate, with ample detail on the world of New Salem, the sisters’ histories, the witch-tales handed down, and the allies and friends they make in the battle for their rights and their lives. The writing is beautiful, with magical realism in its imagery mixed with the brutality of the slums and factories and the tired lives of the women looking for more.

I love how the quest to reclaim witchcraft melds so well with the fight for the vote, for equal rights and better working conditions. The characters here are distinct and memorable — upright librarian Bella and her unexplored passions, independent Agnes and her devotion to protecting what’s hers, Juniper with her fierce, feral nature and her readiness to fight. The sisters are amazing, as are the other women (and one man) who populate their story.

Likewise, the relationships between the sisters is gorgeously depicted. There is a lifetime’s worth of hurt and betrayal and resentment between them, but beneath all that, there’s also the bonds of sisterhood and love. As truths emerge that shed light on misconceptions about their shared pasts, they have to deal with their bitterness and pain in order to wage their fight for power and freedom.

I can’t say enough good things about The Once and Future Witches. It has to be read and experienced to really get what it’s all about. While it took me a few tries to get past the early chapters, I think that was mostly due to my distracted mind rather than the book itself. Once I shut out the world and really focused, I just couldn’t put it down.

A perfect October read. Don’t miss it!

Audiobook Review: Murder by Other Means by John Scalzi

Title: Murder by Other Means
Author: John Scalzi
Narrator:  Zachary Quinto
Publisher: Audible Originals
Publication date: September 10, 2020
Print length: n/a
Audio length: 3 hours, 3 minutes
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

From Hugo and Audie Award-winning author John Scalzi comes an exciting sequel to The New York Times best-selling, number one Audible hit The Dispatcher, performed by the incomparable Zachary Quinto.

Welcome to the new world, in which murder is all but a thing of the past. Because when someone kills you, 999 times out of 1,000, you instantly come back to life. In this world, there are dispatchers—licensed killers who step in when you’re at risk of a natural or unintentional death. They kill you—so you can live.

Tony Valdez is used to working his job as a dispatcher within the rules of the law and the state. But times are tough, and more and more Tony finds himself riding the line between what’s legal and what will pay his bills. After one of these shady gigs and after being a witness to a crime gone horribly wrong, Tony discovers that people around him are dying, for reasons that make no sense…and which just may implicate him.

Tony is running out of time: to solve the mystery of these deaths, to keep others from dying, and to keep himself from being a victim of what looks like murder, by other means.

If you’re looking for a quick audio listen that’s a noir/sci-fi treat, you have to check out this new audiobook by John Scalzi!

Murder By Other Means is the newly released sequel to The Dispatcher. Both are terrific. These Audible Originals are written by John Scalzi, narrated by Zachary Quinto, and just so much fun.

In the world of these books, death has been (mostly) defeated. For some unfathomable reason, as of about 10 years earlier, anyone who is murdered instantly zips back to life back in their own home, naked, and completely unharmed. This is not true, though, for natural or accidental deaths (basically, anything non-murdery). Die without murder, and dead is dead.

Hence, the rise of a profession known as Dispatchers. Say you’re going into surgery for a risky procedure — well then, keep a dispatcher on hand, so if things go wrong, one quick bullet in the brain will send you home again. There’s the 1 in 1000 chance that the dispatching won’t work, but most people are willing to take that chance.

In these audiobooks, our main character is Tony Valdez. Time are tough, and there aren’t as many legit dispatcher jobs these days, so when Tony is offered something that’s not entirely by the book, but that pays piles of cash, he does the job. And then things get screwy. After witnessing a robbery at his local bank branch, complete with dead and not-so-dead bodies, Tony is implicated, and when one of the investigating detectives ends up dead too, things go from bad to worse.

Tony has to figure out how to clear his name, get the cops off his back, and solve a puzzle regarding a slew of deaths in the city that can’t be murder… but they sure seem like they are.

At just barely 3 hours, this audiobook is perfect for a quick entertainment. The action is fast-paced, and the narration is terrific. The vibe is noir, but with enough weird elements to let you know you’re living in a Scalzi world. I had to keep reminding myself that this wasn’t a Dresden book (minus the magic) — it’s that kind of smart, quick urban storytelling.

Murder By Other Means includes enough stage-setting that you can listen to it without being completely lost, but it makes a lot more sense to listen to The Dispatcher first, to gain a full picture of what life in a death-less world feels like.

Shelf Control #238: Outside the Dog Museum by Jonathan Carroll

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: Outside the Dog Museum
Author: Jonathan Carroll
Published: 1991
Length: 267 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Harry Radcliffe is a brilliant prize-winning architect—witty and remarkable. He’s also a self-serving opportunist, ready to take advantage of whatever situations, and women, come his way. But now, newly divorced and having had an inexplicable nervous breakdown, Harry is being wooed by the extremely wealthy Sultan of Saru to design a billion-dollar dog museum. In Saru, he finds himself in a world even madder and more unreal than the one he left behind, and as his obsession grows, the powers of magic weave around him, and the implications of his strange undertaking grow more ominous and astounding….

How and when I got it:

I found this at a library sale several years ago, and it’s been sitting in an unshelved stack of books ever since.

Why I want to read it:

Well, I’m not exactly sure that I want to read it, which is probably why it’s still sitting in its lonely stack waiting for some attention. I’ve read one book by this author, Bones of the Moon, which was incredibly weird (and also has one of my favorite covers of all time).

Once again, I was drawn to a Jonathan Carroll book because of the cover. (You have to look closely — but look! Doggos!)

I really can’t tell from the synopsis what this book will be like, how weird it’ll be (likely, very), or whether it will end up holding my attention. But, I do love the title and cover!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Super Long Book Titles

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Super Long Book Titles.

I did a similar topic several years ago, so I’m challenging myself to come up with a new list without repeats (even though some of the titles from my earlier post are true favorites). In any case… here are my top 10 books with awesome long titles!

1. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman: I haven’t actually read this one, but I’m usually a fan of his books, so I’ll need to get to this sooner or later. And hey, that’s a great title!

2. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz: I listened to this YA audiobook (narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda!!) and loved it.

3. If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name by Heather Lende: Charming non-fiction about life in small town Alaska. Added bonus: cute moose on the cover!

4. The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases edited by Jeff Vandermeer and Mark Roberts: A strange little guidebook to weird (fictional) illnesses — I picked up this book at a library sale a couple of years ago, and while I haven’t read the whole thing, it’s fun to open at random and read in small doses.

5. The Day the Babies Crawled Away by Peggy Rathmann: This was such a favorite picture book to read with my kids! I love the story, the rhymes, and the illustrations!

6. The Curious Case of the Werewolf That Wasn’t by Gail Carriger: A delightful short story from a favorite author, finally revealing the backstory of a mysterious character. As always, lots of good fun.

7. How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin’ Days by Megan O’Russell: I’d never heard of this book until a few days ago when it popped up on one of my Amazon recommendation lists. I don’t know if I want to read the story, but I do love the title.

8. Alexander, Who Used To Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst: Since I included a different Alexander book the last time around, I thought this would be a good one to mention. Judith Viorst’s books are so funny and clever.

9. European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss: I’ve been a little obsessed with the Athena Club trilogy this year, and since I’ve already talked about the 1st in the series quite a bit, I thought I’d switch things up and include #2.

10. My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me edited by Kate Bernheimer: This is a repeat from my earlier post about book titles, but it’s just too good not to include! This is a terrific collection of new and retold fairy tales, and the title has always stuck with me.

And there you have it – a random assortment of all sorts of books with long book titles.

What books made your list this week? Please share your TTT link!

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