Friday, January 19, 2018

Short Book Reviews: A Norfolk Shrieking Pit Mystery

The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross (From the Casebooks of Jesperson & Lane) by Lisa Tuttle (Random House Hydra).

 In this second adventure of the intrepid Victorian private detectives Jasper Jesperson and Miss Lane. While the daring duo evoke shades of Holmes and Watson with a touch of the supernatural here and there, they are anything put pale imitations. 

While a mysterious murder sets them off on this latest adventure to Norfolk, the story is as much about the denizens coming to terms with an uneasy crossroads between the modern, scientific future and the folkloric, magical past. When a new client falls dead on their doorstep, a young man in apparent health whose heart has given out, the sleuths follow clues to Norfolk, where the victim’s close friend has established a society dedicated to reviving the “ancient religion” of Britain. 

A kidnapped baby, accusations of witchcraft, cunning men and wisewomen steeped in the lore of plants that can cure – or kill – and a tragic love affair lead Jesperson and Lane down a twisted path, past the “shrieking pits” and back to London, through greenhouses filled with exotic, poisonous plants, and to a clergyman’s parlor. Lively, witty, and often unexpected, these stories are a true delight. 

I especially like the deft way the author treads the line between fantasy and reality in a way that heightens the emotional stakes and vividness of the tale.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Today's Wisdom from Middle Earth

“The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Monday, January 15, 2018

Lace and Blade 4 Author Interview: Marella Sands

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Lace and Blade 4 offers a bouquet of sensual, romantic, action-filled stories. Order it from online booksellers in ebook and paperback editions. The Table of Contents is here.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Marella Sands: In fourth grade, our teacher wrote a sentence on the board first thing in the morning, and we had to use it as the first line of a story. I still have some of those stories, and they are truly terrible in a funny way. My favorite was about me living in a haunted house. The ghost was so powerful, it killed everyone else on my block, so I moved. Apparently, I was a rather practical nine-year-old. Anyway, after that, I never really stopped.

DJR: What inspired your story in Lace and Blade 4?
MS: A few years ago, a Pakistani man I know introduced me to the game of cricket. He was so excited about it that I guess I just caught the fever, because then I started watching it (also, I read "Cricket for Dummies," which is actually a real thing). For my birthday that year, I asked for a subscription to Willow TV (all cricket, all the time). While I was watching a match and wondering what to do for this story, I suddenly thought, why aren't there more team sports in fantasy stories? Not just mentioned in passing, or set up as a bit of world-building, but introduced as something so integral to the plot, you couldn't have the story without the sport. Almost instantly, I had my four main characters, who play a very cricket-like game in a vaguely West African-like land. 

DJR: What authors have most influenced your writing?  What about them do you find inspiring?
MS: The first two that come to mind are Richard Adams and J.R.R. Tolkien, because the two books I couldn't put down for years were Watership Down and The Lord of the Rings -- sweeping fantasy stories that just carried me away into worlds so completely I was almost distraught I couldn't actually go there. If I lived in the world of Fahrenheit 451 and had the opportunity to be a book, I'm not sure I could choose between them.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Children of the Spaceship City

Edward Willett The Cityborn. DAW July 2017
One thing I adore about good YA is the agency of the young people. That is, they make judgments, set their own goals, and demonstrate both persistence and resourcefulness. That describes the two central characters in this dystopic-sf novel. Having landed on a distant planet, a spaceship gradually transforms into a city, and then decays. 

While the officers clone themselves and then use nanobots to pass on their memories and skills to the next generation, the Captain has for various reasons not passed to new bodies. And as the Captain’s vital signs sink ever lower, so do the parallel vital functions of the City. A desperate scheme results in the creation of two children, in vitro offspring of the Captain and First Officer, who are then theoretically capable of taking the place of the dying Captain and restoring the City. 

One of the children is kidnapped by a rebel underground, dedicated to overthrowing the class tyranny of the Officers; now a young adult, he is joined by the other, who narrowly escapes being turned into a mind-controlled Captain. The two are catapulted into a quest filled with action, suspense, and the emotional turmoil of carving out an individual identity in a world determined to control and exploit them. An exciting, absorbing read for adult as well as YA readers.