Shelf Control #335: The Book of Speculation by Erica Swyler

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!

Title: The Book of Speculation
Author: Erika Swyler
Published: 2015
Length: 339 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off six years ago and now reads tarot cards for a traveling carnival.

One June day, an old book arrives on Simon’s doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller who purchased it on speculation. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things, including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of “mermaids” in Simon’s family have drowned–always on July 24, which is only weeks away.

As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon’s family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he get to the heart of the mystery in time to save Enola?

In the tradition of Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, The Book of Speculation–with two-color illustrations by the author–is Erika Swyler’s moving debut novel about the power of books, family, and magic.

How and when I got it:

I picked up a paperback in 2016, and it’s been on my shelf ever since.

Why I want to read it:

As I’m writing this post, it occurs to me that perhaps I never even read the synopsis before today! The plot sounds kind of bonkers, in a really good way, but doesn’t seem in the slightest bit familiar. So, I’m thinking I may have grabbed this book at a library sale based solely on the cover. I mean, can’t go wrong with a book with books on the cover, right?

Now that I’ve read what it’s about, I’m much more interested in finally giving the book a try. Generations of circus mermaids? A mystery curse? Count me in!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

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 with Geographical Terms in the Title

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 with Geographical Terms in the Title.

This was a fun one, and I had plenty to choose from!

Here’s my list:

  1. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  2. Silver Bay by Jojo Moyes
  3. The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory
  4. Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire
  5. Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery
  6. The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore
  7. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  8. The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
  9. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
  10. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George


What books made your list this week?

If you wrote a TTT post this week, please share your link!

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The Monday Check-In ~ 9/12/2022

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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.

One of my hobbies/passions, going all the way back to my teens, has always been Israeli folk dancing. It’s something I let go of for about 10 years while raising kids, working, etc, but just this past spring, as in-person dancing starting up again after two years of not happening during the pandemic, my husband and I decided to try getting back into it, and it’s been amazing.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to go to two different dancing events, and it was so much fun! It’s incredible how much comes back, despite being away from it all these years. My feet are very sore, but it was worth it!

What did I read during the last week?

Be the Serpent (October Daye, #16) by Seanan McGuire. This new release (in my favorite urban fantasy series) absolutely blew me away! My review is here.

Fangirl, volume 2 (manga) by Rainbow Rowell and Sam Maggs: This manga version of a favorite novel was fine, but didn’t make much of an impression — maybe because it’s only one-quarter of the story, and it didn’t feel like anything that happened in this volume was particularly memorable. *shrug* I’ll still read the rest, whenever the last two volumes are released…

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi: So much fun! The story is amazing, and audiobook narration (by Wil Wheaton) had me laughing out loud in the car (probably causing other drivers to have doubts about my wellbeing). My review is here.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell: I read this one for my book group (I’m actually a week early!), and once again, I’m very grateful. Without my book group, I might not have gotten around to this lovely book! My review is here.

Birds of California by Katie Cotugno: I just finished the audiobook late Sunday. Review to follow.

Pop culture & TV:

Fantasy prequels continue! The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and The House of the Dragon are both holding my interest much more than expected.

For lighter viewing, I started watching Uncoupled (starring Neil Patrick Harris) this week. Funny, sweet, and doesn’t require much brain power!

Fresh Catch:

Ooooh, new books!

After a botched delivery attempt with a damaged book, a replacement edition of Stephen King’s newest novel arrived over the weekend! Can’t wait to get started.

I also got myself a nice gift — I had some Amazon points stocked up, and used them to get this all-in-one edition of the Paper Girls graphic novels. I read the first 2 or 3 volumes a few years ago, but after watching the TV adaptation, I was feeking inspired to go back and read the whole thing from the beginning.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

What to read, what to read? After finishing Hamnet, I was planning to start Fairy Tale right away… but it’s 600 pages and I do have some September ARCs to consider too.

Now playing via audiobook:

Mr. Perfect on Paper by Jean Meltzer: Just getting started! I enjoyed the author’s previous book (The Matzah Ball), and hope this will be a fun listen.

Ongoing reads:

My longer-term reading commitments:

  • Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon: Over at Outlander Book Club, we’re doing a group read of BEES, reading and discussing two chapters per week. If anyone wants to join us, just ask me how! All are welcome.
  • Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci: I’m reading this story collection in little bits and pieces. I only read one more story this week — about a cheerleader who hires the school geek group to tutor her on geek culture so she can impress her boyfriend. I really liked it!

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Title: Hamnet
Author: Maggie O’Farrell
Publisher: Tinder Press
Publication date: March 31, 2020
Length: 372 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Drawing on Maggie O’Farrell’s long-term fascination with the little-known story behind Shakespeare’s most enigmatic play, Hamnet is a luminous portrait of a marriage, at its heart the loss of a beloved child.

Warwickshire in the 1580s. Agnes is a woman as feared as she is sought after for her unusual gifts. She settles with her husband in Henley street, Stratford, and has three children: a daughter, Susanna, and then twins, Hamnet and Judith. The boy, Hamnet, dies in 1596, aged eleven. Four years or so later, the husband writes a play called Hamlet.

Award-winning author Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel breathes full-blooded life into the story of a loss usually consigned to literary footnotes, and provides an unforgettable vindication of Agnes, a woman intriguingly absent from history.

New York Times Notable Book (2020), Best Book of 2020: GuardianFinancial TimesLiterary Hub, and NPR.

Hamnet is a powerful, emotional, beautifully written story about grief, mourning, and sorrow. Also, Shakespeare.

In Hamnet, the main point-of-view character is Agnes, although we do get passages from the perspectives of Agnes’s children and husband too. Agnes is gifted with sight and special powers. A talented healer, she can also see people’s futures simply by touching them. About herself, she has one clear vision: She will be the mother of two children.

When Agnes meets her husband, the son of a disreputable glovemaker and Latin tutor to her stepbrothers, they’re immediately drawn to one another, and eventually marry. Agnes can see her husband’s unhappiness casting a shadow over their lives. He lacks purpose, a means of fulfilling his own pursuits — so she sends him off to London, ostensibly to further his father’s business interests there. They plan for him to get settled, then send for Agnes and their children.

But all does not go as intended. Already the parents of a healthy girl, Agnes soon delivers not the 2nd child she expects, but a 2nd and 3rd. The twins are a girl and a boy, the girl born so weak and fragile that she was not expected to survive. She names the babies Hamnet and Judith, and they are inseparable. It soon becomes clear that moving to London will never be an option for Agnes and her children — Judith’s health is too delicate to allow her to live in a crowded, dirty city. And so Agnes and her husband live apart, with him returning for visits when he can, although he’s achieving success as a playwright and creating a separate life for himself in the world of theater.

But Agnes can never quite forget her own vision, of herself as the mother of two children.

She fears her foresight; she does. She remembers with ice-cold clarity the image she had of two figures at the foot of the bed where she will meet her end. She now knows that it’s possible, more than possible, that one of her children will die, because children do, all the time. But she will not have it. She will not. She will fill this child, these children, with life. She will place herself between them and the door leading out, and she will stand there, teeth bared, blocking the way. She will defend her three babes against all that lies beyond this world. She will not rest, not sleep, until she knows they are safe. She will push back, fight against, undo the foresight she has always had, about having two children. She will. She knows she can.

When “pestilence” — the Black Death — reaches the family’s home in Stratford, it’s Judith who is stricken. But Hamnet will not abide the idea of losing his twin, and eventually, he is lost while Judith survives. Agnes and the family are plunged into the horrors of loss, the devastating death of a child punching a hole through the fabric of their lives.

In Hamnet, Shakespeare himself is never named (he’s always the husband or the father or the son), but we know who we’re reading about. It feels appropriate for him to be presented in this way — if the story were about him, his life and career would overshadow all the rest. Here, though, it’s a story about a family, and especially about a mother, trying to find a way to live in the shadow of unbearable grief. The father’s way of dealing with the loss, through the power of his words, is just one aspect of what the family experiences.

The writing in Hamnet is absolutely gorgeous. I’m not usually a fan of “literary” fiction, but this novel is an exception for me. The carefully constructed characters, the lyrical descriptions of their world and their lives, and even the passages describing the transmission of the plague are all presented in a way that’s beautiful and haunting and powerful.

Hamnet is a special book, and I’m so glad my book group chose it for this month’s discussion. Once again, thanks to the group, I’ve read an excellent book I might otherwise have missed!

Very highly recommended.

To read more about Hamnet:

New York Times review (written by Geraldine Brooks)
NPR review
Washington Post review

Audiobook Review: The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

Title: The Kaiju Preservation Society
Author: John Scalzi
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: March 15, 2022
Print length: 272 pages
Audio length: 8 hours 2 minutes
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Kaiju Preservation Society is John Scalzi’s first standalone adventure since the conclusion of his New York Times bestselling Interdependency trilogy.

When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on.

What Tom doesn’t tell Jamie is that the animals his team cares for are not here on Earth. Not our Earth, at at least. In an alternate dimension, massive dinosaur-like creatures named Kaiju roam a warm and human-free world. They’re the universe’s largest and most dangerous panda and they’re in trouble.

It’s not just the Kaiju Preservation Society that’s found its way to the alternate world. Others have, too–and their carelessness could cause millions back on our Earth to die.

If you’re looking for highly dramatic science fiction with dire stakes, intricate world-building, and mind-boggling technology… this is not that book.

BUT… if you’re looking for a super fun sci-fi romp that’s funny and fast and full of f-bombs and smart-asses, well, look no further!

The Kaiju Preservation Society is a feel-good story (yes, really) about an alternate-dimension earth where gigantic creatures known as kaiju are powered by internal biological nuclear reactors, everything in the environment wants to eat people, and a team of adrenaline-junkie scientists and grunts work to keep the kaiju safe, and to keep our Earth safe from them.

It’s 2020, New York is on the verge of lockdown as COVID hits, and Jamie Gray, expecting a promotion at work, is instead laid off, joining the ranks of food-delivery drivers during the pandemic. A chance encounter with an old friend leads to a job offer with KPS, an organization devoted to the welfare of “large animals”, as they explain to Jamie during the interview.

Before he can reconsider, Jamie is whisked off to a secret location (in Greenland, of all places!), where he and a few other newbies are ushered through a dimensional portal into an alternate world, where scientists work to study and preserve kaiju life. Jamie’s job, as he reminds people repeatedly, is to “lift things” — he’s one of the few non-scientists at the base, but he’s a good guy, a hard worker, and indeed, good at lifting things, and he’s soon fully immersed in the crazy life of KPS.

The action is non-stop, and it’s a wild world into which we (and Jamie) are thrown — there are tree crabs and giant parasites and swarms of flying insects, all of which would love to eat people. Not to mention the kaiju themselves, who are scary and huge and have a tendency to explode under certain circumstances.

When bad guys show up, the action gets even heavier, but the banter and humor never flag, even when our scrappy band of heroes face death at every turn. I mean, it’s pretty clear that the good guys will win, but the fun is in seeing just how that comes about.

I always love John Scalzi’s books, and The Kaiju Preservation Society feels like a throwback to the style and attitude of some of his earlier books (which I happen to adore), such as the ridiculously entertaining The Android’s Dream.

The audiobook is narrated by Wil Wheaton, who does many of Scalzi’s books, and is amazingly talented when it comes to narrating action and multiple character voices. He projects tons of humor, even when our lead characters are confronted by gigantic creatures that may eat them — even their fear and hysteria come across as funny.

I really appreciated that the audiobook included the author’s note at the end — many don’t, which is a pet peeve of mine. Here, it was incredibly helpful and enlightening to hear about the author’s experiences in 2020 and 2021, and why and how he ended up writing this particular book during the pandemic.

All in all, I’d say that The Kaiju Preservation Society has to be one of my most fun listening experiences of the year! If you have low tolerance for salty language and progressive politics, this may not be the best choice for you — but those obstacles definitely don’t apply to me, and I loved every moment!

John Scalzi is a go-to, must-read author for me, and The Kaiju Preservation Society is a total win. Coincidentally, just this week, his publisher announced his next upcoming novel, Starter Villain, to be released in June 2023. Sign me up!!



Shelf Control #334: Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

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!

Title: Victories Greater Than Death
Author: Charlie Jane Anders
Published: 2021
Length: 288 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Tina never worries about being ‘ordinary’—she doesn’t have to, since she’s known practically forever that she’s not just Tina Mains, average teenager and beloved daughter. She’s also the keeper of an interplanetary rescue beacon, and one day soon, it’s going to activate, and then her dreams of saving all the worlds and adventuring among the stars will finally be possible. Tina’s legacy, after all, is intergalactic—she is the hidden clone of a famed alien hero, left on Earth disguised as a human to give the universe another chance to defeat a terrible evil.

But when the beacon activates, it turns out that Tina’s destiny isn’t quite what she expected. Things are far more dangerous than she ever assumed. Luckily, Tina is surrounded by a crew she can trust, and her best friend Rachael, and she is still determined to save all the worlds. But first she’ll have to save herself.

Buckle up your seatbelt for this thrilling sci-fi adventure set against an intergalactic war from international bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders.

How and when I got it:

I bought a hardcover soon after the book’s release in 2021.

Why I want to read it:

This is a more recent book for me, in terms of Shelf Control picks, since it’s only been on my shelf for a year. Still, I’ve had it for a year and haven’t picked it up… so the question is, will I?

I do know that Charlie Jane Anders is a writer I really enjoy. I used to read her columns quite a bit when she wrote for io9, and I really enjoyed her novel All the Birds in the Sky. At the same time, I do already have two other books by her on my shelves, still unread, so why did I add a 3rd?

I’m actually not entirely sure why I bought this book, but I believe I’d seen a few very positive reviews, and there was a hardcover sale that day, so I gave in to temptation! Victories Greater Than Death is not a long book, and it seems like it would be a quick, enjoyable read. It’s YA sci-fi, and space battles and clones and aliens sound like a winning combination!

This is the first in a trilogy (book #2, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, was released in April 2022, and the 3rd book, Promises Greater Than Darkness, is expected in 2023). I don’t think I realized that this wasn’t a stand-alone when I purchased it, but I suppose I’m up for giving it a try and then deciding if I want to continue.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

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 Loved So Much I Had to Get a Copy for My Personal Library

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 Loved So Much I Had to Get a Copy for My Personal Library.

This does happen for me quite a bit! Sometimes it’ll be an audiobook I’ve listened to that I need to own in print, or maybe I’ll have read either an ARC or e-book or library book and fallen for it so hard that I needed my own copy!

Here are my top ten:

1 . The Emily Starr trilogy by L. M. Montgomery

2. The Good Neighbors (graphic novel trilogy) by Holly Black

3. If It Bleeds by Stephen King

4. Newsflesh trilogy (boxed set) by Mira Grant

5. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

6. The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

7. Wonderstruck, The Marvels, and The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

8. Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour

9. Plain Bad Heroines by emily m. danforth

10. Mythos by Stephen Fry


What books made your list this week?

If you wrote a TTT post this week, please share your link!

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Book Review: Be the Serpent (October Daye, #16) by Seanan McGuire

Title: Be the Serpent
Series: October Daye, #16
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: DAW
Publication date: August 30, 2022
Print length: 384 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

October Daye is finally something she never expected to be: married. All the trials and turmoils and terrors of a hero’s life have done very little to prepare her for the expectation that she will actually share her life with someone else, the good parts and the bad ones alike, not just allow them to dabble around the edges in the things she wants to share. But with an official break from hero duties from the Queen in the Mists, and her family wholly on board with this new version of “normal,” she’s doing her best to adjust.

It isn’t always easy, but she’s a hero, right? She’s done harder.
Until an old friend and ally turns out to have been an enemy in disguise for this entire time, and October’s brief respite turns into a battle for her life, her community, and everything she has ever believed to be true.

The debts of the Broken Ride are coming due, and whether she incurred them or not, she’s going to be the one who has to pay.

Includes an all-new bonus novella! 

Some long-term ongoing fantasy series overstay their welcome. And then there’s October Daye, a series that 100% proves that there’s no such thing as too much or too long, so long as the writing and the plot make it worthwhile.

And in the name of Oberon himself, I’m here to declare that the 16th October Daye book blew me away, caught me in its spell, and will haunt me for the coming year (until #17 comes along).

In Be the Serpent, we pick up two months after the events of the previous book, When Sorrows Come. That book brought the long-awaited wedding of Toby and Tybalt — and being a book about October Daye, hero of the realm and a total bad-ass knight, it also brought plenty of bloodshed, mayhem, attempted overthrow of a kingdom, and an assortment of awful bad guys.

But hey, it ended with happiness! Toby and Tybalt are married — and in book #16, Be the Serpent, they’re living together in wedded bliss. I’m a little peeved that we didn’t actually get to see them enjoying their Disneyland honeymoon (I’d pay good money to see Tybalt on the Dumbo ride), but they had fun, and that’s what counts.

Happiness doesn’t last long, however. As the story opens, a hearing in the Kingdom of the Mists is just concluding when the children of Toby’s closest childhood friend begin to scream as if in dire pain. Rushing to their family home, Toby discovers a scene of blood and heartbreak. It’s almost too much to bear, and how can Toby share such terrible news with her dearest friend?

As the plot unfolds, true terror is revealed. And I really can’t say much more about the plot than that, because it’s a doozy and it took my breath away. What I will say is that events occur that upend Faerie as we know it, and that tie together storylines that go all the way back to the first book in the series.

The ending is a total gutpunch as well, and I can’t think of another book in the series that ended without our heroes being (at least temporarily) in a fairly good or at least safe place. The ending here is upsetting and nightmare-inducing, and I think I’m going to spend the next year really mad at Seanan McGuire for leaving me in such an upset state!

The book includes a bonus novella, Such Dangerous Seas, which is also deeply dark and sorrowful. (As opposed to the novella at the end of When Sorrows Come, which was basically a fun romp through Toby and Tybalt’s wedding reception — which now feels like a brief shining moment of joy before the horrors of Faerie came crashing back down). Such Dangerous Seas features the sea witch, the Luidaeg, one of my favorite characters — but it’s a terribly sad story about her earlier years and the awful things that happened to her.

Be the Serpent is shocking, heart-breaking, and scary as hell. It’s also yet another brilliant showcase for our hero Toby and her chosen family, who band together no matter what. Whatever happens to these characters, they love one another unreservedly, and their family ties, commitment, and loyalty are big pieces of what makes this series so special.

Having to wait a year for the next book is going to be terrible for my well-being! And I guess that’s a pretty clear indication of just how great Be the Serpent is. If you’re an October Daye fan, you’re probably already reading it!

And I’ll say, yet again, that if you haven’t read the October Daye series yet, you’re missing out on something special. Start from the beginning (Rosemary and Rue) — you won’t be able to stop!

The Monday Check-In ~ 9/5/2022

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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.

So lovely to have a 3-day weekend! Although I’m a little sad that summer is pretty much over…

What did I read during the last week?

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn: A fun read, although I’m not entirely comfortable with the main concept. I keep wavering between a 3.5 and 4 star rating. My review is here.

When Sorrows Come (October Daye, #15) by Seanan McGuire: An audio re-read, in preparation for the newly released 16th book in the series. I loved this one all over again! My review from my first read is here.

Pop culture & TV:

I actually went out for entertainment this week! My husband and I went to see the national touring company production of Oklahoma (the 2019 Broadway revival version). It was… thought-provoking, different, uncomfortable, sometimes funny, sometimes disturbing. Here’s the trailer, which seems to make it seem very upbeat and full of fun dance moments, but honestly, that’s not the overall mood. Some excellent performances, but also some really weird staging choices (including scenes taking place in utter darkness and the use of huge video projections).

And in home entertainment…

So much fantasy! Between The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and The House of the Dragon, there’s almost too much to choose from!

Fresh Catch:

No new books this week.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Be the Serpent (October Daye, #16) by Seanan McGuire: Well OF COURSE I was going to start this book the first second I could! As of writing this post (Sunday afternoon) I’m getting close to the end, am completely blown away by where the story has gone, and absolutely need to keep reading until I finish. It’s amazing to see how strong a series can be after so many books! Keep an eye out for my review, once I reach the end and recover a bit!

Now playing via audiobook:

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi: I bought a hard copy of this book when it came out earlier this year, but didn’t have a chance to get to it until now. Loving the audiobook version, narrated by the super talented Wil Wheaton!

Ongoing reads:

My longer-term reading commitments:

  • Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon: Over at Outlander Book Club, we’re doing a group read of BEES, reading and discussing two chapters per week. If anyone wants to join us, just ask me how! All are welcome.
  • Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci: I’m reading this story collection in little bits and pieces. I haven’t gotten very far yet, but the first story — about an encounter between Jedi and Klingon cosplayers at a con — is quite fun.

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

Title: Killers of a Certain Age
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: September 6, 2022
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Older women often feel invisible, but sometimes that’s their secret weapon.

They’ve spent their lives as the deadliest assassins in a clandestine international organization, but now that they’re sixty years old, four women friends can’t just retire – it’s kill or be killed in this action-packed thriller.

Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie have worked for the Museum, an elite network of assassins, for forty years. Now their talents are considered old-school and no one appreciates what they have to offer in an age that relies more on technology than people skills.

When the foursome is sent on an all-expenses paid vacation to mark their retirement, they are targeted by one of their own. Only the Board, the top-level members of the Museum, can order the termination of field agents, and the women realize they’ve been marked for death.

Now to get out alive they have to turn against their own organization, relying on experience and each other to get the job done, knowing that working together is the secret to their survival. They’re about to teach the Board what it really means to be a woman–and a killer–of a certain age.

Just because a woman hits 60, it doesn’t mean she’s weak or powerless. And the women of Killers of a Certain Age are here to make sure we don’t forget it!

In this action-rich thriller by the talented Deanna Raybourn, the four women at the heart of the story should be enjoying the celebratory luxury cruise marking their retirement — but when they spot a fellow assassin from the shadowy organization they work for hidden among the ship’s crew, they realize they’ve been targeted, and soon enter a fight for their lives.

As the foursome evade death through all sorts of clever, daring, inventive means, they know that the kill order must have come from the top, and in their world, as the blurb says, it’s kill or be killed. Banding together, they plot, scheme, and fight to take out the Museum’s Directors. With their own lives on the line, one mistake could mean the end for all of them.

Killers of a Certain Age is a fast-paced adventure, with the four main character at its heart using their mad skills, cunning, and whatever tools they have at hand to turn their own assassinations back on their adversaries and, they hope, finally leave the business behind them for good.

Each woman is given a backstory, although some are more fleshed out than others. The Museum, we’re told, was originally founded in the aftermath of the second World War, with the purpose of finding and eliminating the many Nazis who managed to slink away and evade justice. Over the years, the Museum’s mission expanded to include drug lords and criminal masterminds. Unaffiliated and uncontrolled by any one government, the Museum is a well-funded, top secret, highly powerful organization that moves through the world via stealth and surveillance, and takes out those deemed the highest threats.

Now, to enjoy Killers of a Certain Age, we readers have to put aside any qualms about the morality of an extra-legal assassination organization. We’re clearly meant to root for Billie, Mary Ann, Helen, and Natalie, and to understand that they see themselves as forces of good. Yes, they clean up the rot that pervades the world and evades more traditional types of justice. But at the end of the day, they’re women who’ve spent 40 years traveling the world and murdering people. I can’t bring myself to feel sorry about them dispensing justice to Nazis and cartel bosses… but I can’t say I’m entirely comfortable with this either.

Still, accepting that these are our heroines, it’s certainly fun to cheer for their success, especially when they take advantage of other people’s views of older women to be able to slip into places unseen and unchallenged.

There are some funny moments (such as the women using a menopause-tracking app with animated kitten avatars as a way to communicate without being tracked), but overall, it’s not a particularly funny book (which readers coming from the world of the author’s Veronica Speedwell mystery series may be expecting). The characters are memorable, and I loved reading a story where women “of a certain age” not only matter, but truly kick ass, take names, and make a difference.

The underlying concept — four assassins as the heroes of a story — still doesn’t sit entirely well with me, but overall, this is a fun, fast, exciting read. Kind of like a female James Bond squad, but with murder. If you don’t take it too seriously and just go with the concept, it works!