The Monday Check-In ~ 9/11/2017

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.

What did I read last week?

South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby: I started this one a couple of months ago as an ARC, but the formatting was so bad that I couldn’t enjoy it. I’m so glad I found it at the library and decided to give it another shot! A terrific read — my review is here.

In audiobooks, I finished listening to Rebel Angels by Libba Bray. I have very conflicted feelings about this series, but now that there’s just 1 book left, I think I need to finish.

Outlander returns!

Outlander is back! Season 3 premiered last night, and the first episode was wonderful, of course. I’ll be doing reaction posts for each episode, as I did last season. Stay turned for my episode 1 post, coming today or tomorrow.

Fresh Catch:

Two new books this week, both via Book Depository.

I’m so excited for both of these!

Elsewhere on the blog:

Make sure you check out this terrific guest post by Sarah Zama of The Old Shelter blog, all about fantasy writers and the worlds they create.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:
 

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray: Book #3 of the Gemma Doyle trilogy, and it’s HUGE. I have to admit that the size (800+ pages) is a turn-off — I’m not that committed to the story to want to spend quite so much time on this book. But, I did decide to read this trilogy this year, so I might as well finish.

Now playing via audiobook:

Venetia by Georgette Heyer: Is there ever a bad time for Georgette Heyer? Her works are candy delights. I’ve just started this audiobook, and it’s already lifting my spirits.

Ongoing reads:

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: My book group’s classic read! We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week.

Lord John and the Hell-Fire Club by Diana Gabaldon: Outlander Book Club is doing a Lord John readalong — we’ll be reading all of the Lord John novels and stories in story chronology. Our current read is the first Lord John novella, Lord John and the Hellfire Club. Anyone who’s interested is welcome to participate, so let me know if you’d like more information on how to join in.

So many books, so little time…

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South Pole Station: Some thoughts on belief and science

I read the wonderful South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby this past week (reviewed here), and thought I’d share a passage that seems particularly timely in light of the current weather catastrophes striking parts of the country:

From a section describing a debate between a climate change denier and the scientists who oppose him:

“To believe in climate change — ” Pavano tried, but Sal interrupted him.

“See, look at his language. He’s talking about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny. Scientist don’t believe in things. They either know things or they don’t.”

 

 

 

 

Thinking of friends and family in Florida, and wishing everyone safety and shelter as the hurricane passes through.

Guest Post: Fantasy Authors – Why You’ll Believe Their Lies

I’m thrilled to welcome Sarah Zama to Bookshelf Fantasies! Thank you, Sarah, for providing this terrific guest post.

FANTASY AUTHORS: WHY YOU’LL BELIEVE THEIR LIES

by Sarah Zama, The Old Shelter (see author bio below)

Tell me. Are you a fantasy reader?

As a fantasy writer (and reader) I often hear readers say  they don’t care for fantasy and prefer to read stories that are realistic.

Let’s talk about it.

What is storytelling?

As Flannery O’Connor said, everybody knows what a story is until they try to write one. Defining storytelling is harder than one would think, but years ago I came across a fascinating definition. It answered the question, what’s the difference between chronicling a true event and telling a story? The chronicle and the story largely adopt the same elements and can even concern themselves with the same events, what then is the difference between the two forms of telling?

Let’s say there is a car accident. A journalist will try to relate events as close as possible to how they happened, trying to replicate the dynamics and the cause-effect evolution, adding all relevant info.

We already have a ‘problem’ here: how does the journalist decide what is relevant? How does she describe events that happened at the same exact time? We have two cars moving towards each another, there are people on both of them, and things are happening inside both cars. How does a journalist decide what to relate out of all this info?

The obvious answer is that she will have to make choices. Choose which event to tell first and which tell later. Choose what details she will actually mention and which she will leave out altogether.

This will colour her account of a personal flavour… and that’s where storytelling begins.

Where a chronicler will try to leave her personal judgment out as much as possible, a storyteller will push it at its utmost consequences, with the goal to give a meaning – a very specific, personal, carefully chosen meaning – to  those events. When recounting that car accident, a storyteller will put special care in choosing who are on board those cars, what they’re doing and where they’re going. She will carefully decide what events she will tell first and what later and how they will intertwine, the chain of events and their timings, she will decide whether and how to tell the impact that accident will have on those people. And her goal won’t be to just recount how the accident happened, but it will be a carefully chosen message about something she thinks it’s important for her and for her readers.

Storytellers make choices all the time and every choice intentionally lends a meaning to the story.

So we could say that while chronicles try to manipulate events as little as possible to present them ‘how they happened’, stories intentionally manipulate events with the specific goal, the specific purpose to send out a chosen ‘message’. Where the point of the chronicle is the events, the point of the story is the message, or if you prefer, the theme.

 

Mimic and fantasy stories

Stories are generally divided into two big categories:

  • Mimetic stories which mimic life as closely as possible. They may be based on actual facts, but even when they aren’t, they depict the world, people and the workings of life as we are accustomed to see them play out every day around us
  • Fantasy stories which adopt elements who aren’t experienced in our everyday life. These fantasy elements may range from slight deviations from what we know (magic realism) to full-fledged reimagined worlds that look like nothing we’ve ever or would ever experience (high fantasy)

Readers and writers familiar with one realm are normally very hesitant to wander over to the other realm because they think they won’t fit in. Readers of mimetic fiction, in particular, think that what a fantasy story would ask them to believe is really too weird and unrealistic and so they will be unable to immerse themselves in the story the way they like to do.

 

Why would I suspend my disbelief?

Now, dear reader, be honest with me. You don’t believe for a moment that the novels you read are in any way true. They may be ‘realistic’ but they aren’t true. Beside, the fact that they are realistic is the important factor, because if they are, you can happily pretend they are as good as true and you can pretend that you can be part of that story.

This is a specific phenomenon called suspension of disbelief.

The term and concept  of suspension of disbelief was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817, and refers to readers’ willingness to accept the story as it is, even when they recognise elements that challenge reality as they know it. Since Coleridge was a Romantic (by this I mean he was a member of the Romantic movement), he referred specifically to any fantasy elements present in the story. Since then, the concept has taken up a larger meaning encompassing the totality of storytelling.

The core concept is that authors can employ any element in their story, unlikely as it may be (being it fantastic creatures or very daring chains of coincidences) and the reader will accept it as long as the author makes it plausible.

Prof. J.R.R. Tolkien went even further. He theorized that an author needs to be able to create a fictional world that not necessarily adheres to reality (he was after all talking about true speculative/fantasy fiction), but that works in the same way reality does. This ‘secondary reality’ may be very different from reality as we know it, but the rules that governs it must be as stringent and logic as those governing our real world. It must have the ‘intimate consistency of reality’, no matter what it looks like on the outside. It must be plausible in that context. At that point, the author won’t even need to ask readers to suspend their disbelief, because given the rules that govern that secondary reality, the readers will accept this is exactly how that reality should work.

Along these lines, Prof. Rosalba Campra went as far as saying that all stories with a perfectly functioning secondary reality should be considered realistic whether they have fantasy elements (like Middle Earth) or not.

Have I messed up your ideas well enough? Good!

Now tell me, why would you suspend your disbelief in regard to any story? Well, as a reader, I have an answer: because – as it’s for storytellers – when we read fiction we are more concerned with themes then events. If events sustain the theme convincingly and plausibly, then we are willing to play along even if the element is in itself unlikely. If the story is worthwhile in terms of themes and involvement, if it enriches us as persons, then we are willing to believe the lie.

Why then, some readers think that fantasy is more a lie than any other story? Why some readers think that ‘it doesn’t exist, it’s not realistic, so it can’t give me any worthwhile experience.’

As a writer of fantasy stories, I often wonder: is the appearance of the story really so important to obscure its theme?

 

Commissar Montalbano: a case study

Ragusa Ibla (main setting for Il Commissario Montalbano)

Years ago I read an interview with Italian mystery novelist Andrea Camilleri about his acclaimed series Il commissario Montalbano. If you are unfamiliar with it, this is a series of mystery novels set in Sicily, Camilleri’s homeland. Salvo Montalbano is a police detective who investigates murders in his little town, Vigata, following Italian police procedures… if sometimes interpreting them in his personal way, and juggling himself between strict magistrates, shadowy mafiosi, young ambitious entrepreneurs projected in the future and old Sicilians living the traditional way and only speaking dialect. The novels themselves are written in a mix of Italian and Vigata dialect.

All perfectly mimetic, wouldn’t you say? Especially if you think that the Siclianity radiates from every little element of Camilleri’s stories and he has often been praised for how vividly his stories depict the reality of Sicilian life.

So let me tell you that Vigata doesn’t exist. Montelusa, the province to which Vigata depends, also doesn’t exist. And even the dialect the novels are partly written in doesn’t exist.

Camilleri made it all up, just like Tolkien made up the Shire, in Middle Earth, and all its languages. Vigata works perfectly well and it sounds like reality because it mimics it so well and so close that readers are deceived into believing it is reality itself, when in fact it’s a very well crafted secondary reality, just like The Shire.

But there’s more. What I find particularly interesting is why Camilleri decided for a fictional place. He initially wanted to set his stories in an actual place, Porto Empedocle (which is indeed the set of the tv series), but because he knew from the beginning that he wanted to write a series of novels all set there, he quickly realised the murder rate of this town would soon exceed the actual murder rate of Porto Empedocle by far.

He could have played along anyway, pressing on the readers’ suspension of disbelief, ignoring that if that murder rate turned up in Porto Empedocle in real life, it would cause all kinds of political and social alarm. Or he could create a completely fictional place, although recognizably Sicilian, where he would be free to create his own custom made reality where he could decide whatever was best for the stories and their themes.

So yes, Camilleri created a fantasy reality so to make his stories more realistic. Although not true, Vigata does have the intimate consistency of reality more than Porto Empedocle would have had.

 

So tell me. Are you a fantasy reader?

_______________________________________

About the author:

Sarah Zama was born in Isola della scala (Verona – Italy) where she still lives. She started writing at nine – blame it over her teacher’s effort to turn her students into readers – and in the 1990s she contributed steadily to magazines and independent publishers on both sides of the Atlantic.

After a pause, in early 2010s she went back to writing with a new mindset. The internet allowed her to get in touch with fellow authors around the globe, hone her writing techniques in online workshops and finally find her home in the dieselpunk community.

Since 2010 she’s been working at a trilogy set in Chicago in 1926, historically as accurate as possible but also (as all her stories are) definitely fantasy. She’s currently seeking representation for the first book in the Ghost Trilogy, Ghostly Smell Around.

Her first book, Give in to the Feeling, came out in 2016.

She’s worked for QuiEdit, publisher and bookseller in Verona, for the last ten years.
She also maintain a blog, The Old Shelter, where she regularly blogs about the Roaring Twenties and anything dieselpunk.

CONTACT INFO AND LINKS

Email: oldshelter@yahoo.com
Blog: www.theoldshelter.com
Websitehttp://sarahzama.theoldshelter.com/

 

Book Review: South Pole Station

Do you have digestion problems due to stress? Do you have problems with authority? How many alcoholic drinks do you consume a week? Would you rather be a florist or a truck driver?

These are some of the questions that determine if you have what it takes to survive at South Pole Station, a place with an average temperature of -54°F and no sunlight for six months a year. Cooper Gosling has just answered five hundred of them. Her results indicate she is sufficiently resilient for Polar life.

Cooper’s not sure if this is an achievement, but she knows she has nothing to lose. Unmoored by a recent family tragedy, she’s adrift at thirty and—despite her early promise as a painter—on the verge of sinking her career. So she accepts her place in the National Science Foundation’s Artists & Writers Program and flees to Antarctica—where she encounters a group of misfits motivated by desires as ambiguous as her own. There’s Pearl, the Machiavellian cook with the Pollyanna attitude; Sal, an enigmatic astrophysicist whose experiment might change the world; and Tucker, the only uncloseted man on the continent, who, as station manager, casts a weary eye on all.

The only thing the Polies have in common is the conviction that they don’t belong anywhere else. Then a fringe scientist arrives, claiming climate change is a hoax. His presence will rattle this already imbalanced community, bringing Cooper and the Polies to the center of a global controversy and threatening the ancient ice chip they call home.

A winning comedy of errors set in the world’s harshest place, Ashley Shelby’s South Pole Station is a wry and witty debut novel about the courage it takes to band together, even as everything around you falls apart.

That synopsis needs a little tweaking, I think. For starters, I don’t think I’d describe South Pole Station as a “comedy of errors”. While there are funny moments, I don’t think of this book as a comedy at all. The characters are quirky and odd, but the setting and the stakes become increasingly serious as the plot moves forward, and the individuals portrayed here all seem to have buried hurts in their pasts that they’re trying to escape from or figure out. So no, not a comedy.

Putting that aside, let me start by saying that I truly enjoyed South Pole Station. I seem to be fascinated by people who willingly walk away from society with the intent of spending months at a time in isolation at the farthest reaches of the planet. I’ve read a few novels and one memoir related to time at the Pole, and can’t help being intrigued by the special mindset it takes to make a commitment of that sort.

In South Pole Station, Cooper is going to Pole because she can’t quite be anywhere else. Her family life is raw after a devastating loss, she has no support systems and little hope for her art career, and latches on the NSF Artists and Writers program as if it’s her only lifeline. She feels compelled to go, both to prove something to herself, to lay her ghosts to rest, and to find something meaningful to give her purpose again.

At the Pole, she meets the scientists (Beakers) and support workers (Nailheads) who call the place home, as well as the odd group of artists on the same grant — an interpretive dancer, a historical novelist, and a literary novelist, among others. They’ve all come seeking inspiration, but they’re also expected to pull their weight, going through fire training and all the other essentials for survival in such a stark and inhospitable place.

The bonds that form among the people at Pole are strong, as are the gripes and grudges that quickly emerge among a group of argumentative, strong-willed people forced to live in extremely close quarters for extended periods of time. The dynamics can be insanely fun, but veer quickly to the dark side when their group understandings are threatened — as is the case when Frank Pavano, a climate “denier” arrives to conduct research that’s antithetical to everything the Polies believe in. Pavano, as we discover, is sponsored by big oil and by Republican Congressmen on a mission, and he’s ostracized and opposed at every turn by the hardcore Beakers and even the Nailheads. When there’s a terrible accident, it becomes a national scandal as headlines scream about bullying and harassment and the exclusion of diversity of opinions.

Be warned — there are heavy doses of science talk in this book, and I’ll admit that some of the talk about cosmology and quantum physics made my head spin. At the same time, that’s one of the book’s charms — it doesn’t talk down to its readers, and assumes we’ll all manage to keep up.

The characters are well developed and full of personality, from Cooper the artist to Sal the scientist to Denise the anthropologist and Doc Carla, the station’s one and only medical staffer. It’s great fun to see these oddballs bounce off each other, entertain each other, fight with each other, and fall in love with each other.

While Cooper is our main point-of-view character, we do get sections focusing on other characters’ backstories and inner workings, and these parts add to the richness of the story and enhance our understanding of the characters’ actions and motivations.

All in all, I found South Pole Station to be a captivating look at a unique social dynamic, as well as a story of interesting characters in a highly unusual situation. Oh, and add in politics and scientific discoveries and artwork, and it’s one book that really doesn’t fit any of the usual fictional trends or tropes.

A final note on my reading experience: This just goes to show how much damage a badly formatted ARC can do! I know we shouldn’t let formatting issues influence our reviews, but I can’t help but be turned off by a book that’s impossible to read. The finished, published version of South Pole Station includes emails and letters and other documents that enhance the story, but in the ARC version, these weren’t set off from the main text in any way, making it incredibly difficult to understand what went where. I DNF’d the ARC, and basically walked away from the book at 15%. Luckily, I happened across a copy at the library a few months later and decided to give it another chance, and I’m so glad I did! It’s sad to think that based on my initial reading experience, I would never have read this terrific novel.

Summing up my rambles… I thought South Pole Station was great! I love the setting, and had a lot of fun getting to know the characters. I was drawn into the scientific competitions and the political maneuvering, and felt the ups and downs of Cooper’s emotional journey. So yes, that would be a big thumbs-up recommendation!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: South Pole Station
Author: Ashley Shelby
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: July 4, 2017
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library

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Shelf Control #87: The Last Days of Dogtown

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! Fore 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!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.png

My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Title: The Last Days of Dogtown
Author: Anita Diamant
Published: 2005
Length: 288 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A magnificent storyteller with vast imaginative range, Anita Diamant gave voice to the silent women of the Old Testament in The Red Tent. Now, in her third novel, she brings to vivid life an early New England world that history has forgotten.

Set on Cape Ann in the early 1800s, The Last Days of Dogtown is peopled by widows, orphans, spinsters, scoundrels, whores, free Africans, and “witches.” Nearly a decade ago, Diamant found an account of an abandoned rural backwater near the Massachusetts coastline at the turn of the nineteenth century. That pamphlet inspired a stunning novel about a small group of eccentrics and misfits, struggling in a harsh, isolated landscape only fifty miles north of Boston, yet a world away.

Among the inhabitants of Dogtown are Black Ruth, an African woman who dresses as a man and works as a stone mason; Mrs. Stanley, an imperious madam whose grandson, Sammy, comes of age in her rural brothel; Oliver Younger, who survives a miserable childhood at the hands of a very strange aunt; and Cornelius Finson, a freed slave whose race denies him everything. At the center of it all is Judy Rhines, a fiercely independent soul, deeply lonely, who nonetheless builds a life for herself and inspires those around her to become more generous and tolerant themselves.

This is a story of hardship and resilience — and an extraordinary re-creation of an untold chapter of early American life. With a keen ear for language and profound compassion for her characters, Diamant has written her most moving and powerful novel.

How I got it:

I found it at our big annual library sale.

When I got it:

A couple of years ago.

Why I want to read it:

Anita Diamant’s books have been a little hit or miss for me, but I really loved her most recent novel, The Boston Girl (reviewed here), and the synopsis for this book makes it sound like it might have a similar flavor. The synopsis itself intrigues me –some of the characters sound fascinating. I’m eager to give this one a try.

__________________________________

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!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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The Monday Check-In ~ 9/4/2017

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.

What did I read last week?

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford: Gorgeous book. My review is here.

The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy: Techno-horror — my review is here.

Fresh Catch:

Have I mentioned yet this week that I love my book club? Well, I do. We do several secret exchanges during this year, and this week I received my summer book swap package in the mail from a lovely member of the group. So many goodies for me to enjoy!

And here’s a close-up of that awesome bookmark:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:
 

I’m trying to decide which of two library books I feel like starting right now:

  • South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby: I started this one a couple of months ago as an ARC, but the formatting was so bad that I couldn’t enjoy it. Figure I’d give it another shot in hard copy form.
  • The Waking Land by Callie Bates: Isn’t that a gorgeous cover?
Now playing via audiobook:

Rebel Angels by Libba Bray: Book #2 in the Gemma Doyle trilogy — getting close to the end. This book seemed to drag a lot more than the previous one. I may skip the audio for #3 and just zip through it in paper format instead — not sure that I want to devote another 20 hours of listening time to this series.

Ongoing reads:

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott: My book group’s classic read! We’re doing two chapters per week. Really enjoying it so far.

Lord John and the Hell-Fire Club by Diana Gabaldon: The wonderful and lovely Outlander Book Club is starting its Lord John readalong, in which we’ll be reading all of the Lord John novels and stories in story chronology. We’re kicking things off this week with Hellfire! Anyone who’s interested is welcome to participate, so let me know if you’d like more information on how to join in.

So many books, so little time…

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Take A Peek Book Review: The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Hell on earth is only one click of a mouse away…

The Dark Net is real. An anonymous and often criminal arena that exists in the secret far reaches of the Web, some use it to manage Bitcoins, pirate movies and music, or traffic in drugs and stolen goods. And now an ancient darkness is gathering there as well. This force is threatening to spread virally into the real world unless it can be stopped by members of a ragtag crew:

Twelve-year-old Hannah — who has been fitted with the Mirage, a high-tech visual prosthetic to combat her blindness– wonders why she sees shadows surrounding some people.

Lela, a technophobic journalist, has stumbled upon a story nobody wants her to uncover.

Mike Juniper, a one-time child evangelist who suffers from personal and literal demons, has an arsenal of weapons stored in the basement of the homeless shelter he runs.

And Derek, a hacker with a cause, believes himself a soldier of the Internet, part of a cyber army akin to Anonymous.

They have no idea what the Dark Net really contains.

Set in present-day Portland, The Dark Net is a cracked-mirror version of the digital nightmare we already live in, a timely and wildly imaginative techno-thriller about the evil that lurks in real and virtual spaces, and the power of a united few to fight back

My Thoughts:

This book wasn’t what I expected. I was looking forward to inventive techno-horror… but didn’t really get that until the final third of the book. Instead, we spend time with the main characters as they deal with the evil building up in Portland as the literal gates of Hell threaten to spill open and engulf the world. Parts of this book feel very 70s-throwback-ish, like The Omen with technology, as all sorts of demonic entities, including hellhounds and various gross and disgusting things come teeming out at people from dark corners… and it’s up to our ragtag bunch of misfit heroes to save the day.

In the final part of the book, we see how the forces of evil use the ubiquitous network of tech to infiltrate every person’s consciousness, providing a dire look at just how wired in and dependent we truly are (as if we had any doubt).

The Dark Net is a quick, sometimes gross, sometimes scary read that frightens more with its reflections on our lack of privacy in our cyber-dominated lives than by its invocation of demons and evil gaining world domination.

Interested in this author? See my review of The Dead Lands.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Dark Net
Author: Benjamin Percy
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: August 1, 2017
Length: 272 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Library**

**Note: I originally received a review copy via NetGalley, but decided to wait to read a hard copy of the finished book instead.

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Book Review: Love and Other Consolation Prizes

From the bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet comes a powerful novel, inspired by a true story, about a boy whose life is transformed at Seattle’s epic 1909 World’s Fair.

For twelve-year-old Ernest Young, a charity student at a boarding school, the chance to go to the World’s Fair feels like a gift. But only once he’s there, amid the exotic exhibits, fireworks, and Ferris wheels, does he discover that he is the one who is actually the prize. The half-Chinese orphan is astounded to learn he will be raffled off–a healthy boy “to a good home.”

The winning ticket belongs to the flamboyant madam of a high-class brothel, famous for educating her girls. There, Ernest becomes the new houseboy and befriends Maisie, the madam’s precocious daughter, and a bold scullery maid named Fahn. Their friendship and affection form the first real family Ernest has ever known–and against all odds, this new sporting life gives him the sense of home he’s always desired.

But as the grande dame succumbs to an occupational hazard and their world of finery begins to crumble, all three must grapple with hope, ambition, and first love.

Fifty years later, in the shadow of Seattle’s second World’s Fair, Ernest struggles to help his ailing wife reconcile who she once was with who she wanted to be, while trying to keep family secrets hidden from their grown-up daughters.

Against a rich backdrop of post-Victorian vice, suffrage, and celebration, Love and Other Consolations is an enchanting tale about innocence and devotion–in a world where everything, and everyone, is for sale.

Love and Other Consolation Prizes is a truly lovely look at memories, connections, and the complicated ways in which families are formed.

We meet Ernest as an adult in 1969, as the World’s Fair (with its brand-spanking-new Space Needle) is getting underway in Seattle. Ernest is living apart from his beloved wife Gracie because of a disorder that has stolen most of her memories and leaves her highly agitated whenever Ernest is around. As he sees the city preparing for the spectacle of the World’s Fair, he’s brought back to his memories of 1909, when he fell in love with two very different girls during a visit to the Alaska Yukon Pacific Expo, held at the very same place.

Ernest’s earliest memories are horrific — his life as a starving child in China whose mother gives him away because she knows she can’t care for him. He’s basically sold as chattel and carted across the sea to America, where he moves through a succession of charity homes and schools, always an outsider due to his interracial heritage. Equally horrible is the way in which his patron offers him off as a raffle prize, a humiliating experience for Ernest which ultimately leads to the happiest years of his life. As a 12-year-old servant in the Tenderloin brothel, he’s treated kindly and given a home, surrounded by the upstairs girls and the servants, all of whom shower him with love and make him feel for the very first time as if he truly belongs.

At the Tenderloin, he forms a deep attachment to both Fahn, a Japanese girl a few years older than him who works as a servant, and Maisie, the tomboy daughter of the house madam who seems destined to follow in her mother’s footsteps. The three of them form a tight-knit unit, and stick together through unexpected changes to their happy home.

Author Jamie Ford keeps us guessing until close to the end. We know that Ernest loved both girls as a young boy, and that he ended up married to one, but he manages to avoid revealing the answer without any unnecessary gimmicks. It works; both girls love Ernest and have special relationships with him. We can tell how much they all care for one another, with the purity of an adolescent friendship that hasn’t bloomed into outright romance.

Mixed in with Ernest’s memories of the early 20th century are scenes from 1969, as he begins to share pieces of his past with his grown daughter, revealing his own secrets but wanting to preserve his wife’s. As the novel progresses, the entire family is changed by some of the truths that begin to be revealed.

He drew a deep breath. Memories are narcotic, he thought. Like the array of pill bottles that sit cluttered on my nightstand. Each dose, carefully administred, use as directed. Too much and they become dangerous. Too much and they’ll stop your heart.

The writing in Love and Other Consolation Prizes is beautiful. Through rich descriptions, we get a true sense of Seattle in the early 20th century, with the flavors of its neighborhoods, the personalities and politics of its citizens, and the diversity and tensions springing from so many different people living in such close proximity to one another.

The descriptions of Ernest’s time at the Tenderloin really shine. The brothel isn’t tawdry; it’s an upscale establishment, frequented by the upper crust of Seattle society, with girls who receive dance, elocution, and Latin lessons in order to be able to entertain and converse intelligently with the clientele. The people of the Tenderloin are a family, and it’s only Madam Flora’s illness that brings an end to the idyllic days there.

Likewise, the more horrible aspects of Ernest’s past — the memories from China and the sea journey, especially — are painted for us in language evocative of the experiences as they would have been felt and remembered by a child. These sections of the book are upsetting and feel quite real, but since we know from the start that Ernest survived and ultimately thrived, the bad parts never overwhelm the more upbeat parts of the story.

I highly recommend Love and Other Consolation Prizes. As historical fiction, it succeeds in bringing the reader into the world of Seattle in both 1909 and 1969, tied together nicely by the World’s Fair at each of these two times. And as a story of human relationships and the complications of love, it simply shines. Love and Other Consolation Prizes is a gorgeously written book that tells a fascinating tale, and in my opinion, is one of 2017’s must-reads.

Interested in this author? Check out my review of his first novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

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The details:

Title: Love and Other Consolation Prizes
Author: Jamie Ford
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: September 12, 2017
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Gorgeous cover for new Alpha & Omega book!

Fresh from Facebook — here’s the cover of the upcoming new Alpha & Omega book by Patricia Briggs! Burn Bright will be released in March 2018. Doesn’t this look amazing?

 

Burn Bright is book #5 in the series, a spin-off from the Mercy Thompson series (which I adore as well), starring werewolf couple Charles and Anna. If you haven’t read these amazing books yet, you have from now until March to get caught up!

There’s no preorder link available yet on Amazon… but believe me, I’ll be pouncing on it as soon as it’s there.

SO EXCITED.

Shelf Control #86: Mistress of the Art of Death

 

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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! Fore 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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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Title: Mistress of the Art of Death
Author: Ariana Franklin
Published: 2007
Length: 384 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A chilling, mesmerizing novel that combines the best of modern forensic thrillers with the detail and drama of historical fiction. In medieval Cambridge, England, four children have been murdered. The crimes are immediately blamed on the town’s Jewish community, taken as evidence that Jews sacrifice Christian children in blasphemous ceremonies. To save them from the rioting mob, the king places the Cambridge Jews under his protection and hides them in a castle fortress. King Henry II is no friend of the Jews-or anyone, really-but he is invested in their fate. Without the taxes received from Jewish merchants, his treasuries would go bankrupt.

Hoping scientific investigation will exonerate the Jews, Henry calls on his cousin the King of Sicily-whose subjects include the best medical experts in Europe-and asks for his finest “master of the art of death,” an early version of the medical examiner. The Italian doctor chosen for the task is a young prodigy from the University of Salerno. But her name is Adelia-the king has been sent a “mistress” of the art of death. Adelia and her companions-Simon, a Jew, and Mansur, a Moor-travel to England to unravel the mystery of the Cambridge murders, which turn out to be the work of a serial killer, most likely one who has been on Crusade with the king.

In a backward and superstitious country like England, Adelia must conceal her true identity as a doctor in order to avoid accusations of witchcraft. Along the way, she is assisted by Sir Rowley Picot, one of the king’s tax collectors, a man with a personal stake in the investigation. Rowley may be a needed friend, or the fiend for whom they are searching. As Adelia’s investigation takes her into Cambridge’s shadowy river paths and behind the closed doors of its churches and nunneries, the hunt intensifies and the killer prepares to strike again . .

How I got it:

I picked it up off of our “book swap” shelf at work. (We have a shelf in our staff break room where people can leave books and take books. You never know what you’ll find!)

When I got it:

Earlier this year.

Why I want to read it:

It sounds fascinating! A woman physician/medical examiner in medieval times, a murder investigation, the status of Jews under Henry II — so many great elements make this book sound like something that will definitely hold my interest. Now that I’ve checked Goodreads, I see that there are three follow-up books — but I’ll start with one and see how it grabs me.

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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!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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