Booklist 2014

The Reading list Books 2014

Malcolm Brooks Painted Horses
Alix Christie Guttenberg’s Apprentice
Lynn Cullen MrsPoe
Anthony Doerr All the Light We Cannot See
Maria Duenas The Time in Between
Charles Finch The Last Enchantments
Thomas Christopher Greene The Headmasters Wife
Ned Hays Sinful Folk
Susan Hill The Strange Meeting, The Magic Apple Tree
**Bruce Holsinger A Burnable Book
*Nancy Horan Under the Wide and Starry Sky (Franny Stevenson)
*Anthony Holden Poems that make Grown Men Cry
Martin Jensen The King’s Hound
Sarah Jio Goodnight June
Rachel Kuschner Flamethrowers
Wendy Lesser Why I Read
David Liss Day of Atonement
Charlie Lovett First Impression
Elizabeth May Falconer
Hilary Mantel The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
Val McDermid Northanger Abbey
Jennifer McMahon The Winter People
Patrick Modiano Missing Person
Solomon Northup 12 Years a Slave
*Robin Oliveira I always loved you (Mary Cassatt in Paris)
Jeremy Page Salt Sea Change
Hilary Scharper Perdita
Julie Schumacher Dear Committee Members
Nina Siegal The Anatomy Lesson
Alexander McCall Smith Forever Girl
Rosie Thomas The Illusionist
Helene Wecker Golem and the Jinni
*Gabrielle Zevin Storied life of AJ Fikry

Meg Anbott Fever
Stephanie Barron Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas
Cara Black Murder in Pigalle
*Alan Bradley The Dead in their Vaulted Arches
*Alan Bradley As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
*Christopher Brookmyre Bred in the Bone When The Devil Drives
Susanna Calkins From The Charred Remains
Andrea Camilleri Fourth Secret
Kate Carlisle The Book Stops Here
Alys Clare Blood of the South
**John Connolly A Wolf in Winter
*Diana Gabaldon Written in my own Heart’s Blood
Alex Grecian The Devil’s Workshop
Susanna Gregory Death in St James’s Park
Elly Griffiths The Outcast Dead
**Martha Grimes The Way of all Fish (Sequel to Foul Matter)
Martha Grimes Vertigo 42
Sophie Hannah Monogram Murder (new Poirot)
Peter James A Twist of the Knife
Emma Jameson Marriage can be Murder
Charlaine Harris Midnight Crossing
Gregory Harris Bellingham Bloodbath
Anthony Horowitz A Study in Silks
Rupert Penny Jones White Chapel
J. Sydney Jones Empty Mirror, Requiem in Vienna, The Silence
Craig Johnson Any Other Name, Wait for Signs
Charlie Lovett First Impression
Peter May Entry Island
Alexander McCall Smith The Handsome Man’s Cafe
Carol McCleary No Job For a Lady, Alchemy of Murder, Illusion of Murder
Sharyn McCrumb King’s Mountain, Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas
Mary Miley Silent Murders
Jenny Offill Dept of Speculation
Lauren Owens The Quick
Gigi Pandian The Accidental Alchemist
Oliver Potzsch The Ludwig Conspiracy
**Ian Rankin Saints of the Shadow Bible
Paula Paul Medium Dead
Anne Perry Blood on the Water
Thomas Perry A String of Pearls
Deanna Raybourn Night of 1000 stars
Kathy Reichs Bones Never Lie
Peter Robinson Children of the Revolution
John Sandford Field of Prey, Deadline
AD Scott Beneath the Abbey Wall
Ian Simpson Murder on the Second Tea
Simone St James Silence for the Dead (Haunting of Maddy Clare)
Olen Steinhauer All The Old Knives
Sam Thomas The Harlot’s Tale (midwife mystery)
*Charles Todd Hunting Shadows (Rutledge)
*Charles Todd Unwilling Accomplice (Bess Crawford)
*Nicola Upson Death of Lucy Kyte
Bob van Laerhoven Baudelaire’s Revenge
*Jacqueline Winspear Care And Management of Lies
Kim Wright City of Light (city of mystery)

Mary Balough Only Enchanting
Tessa Dare Romancing the Duke
Susan Hayes and Loretta Nyhan I’ll be Seeing You
Madeline Hunter Accidental Duchess
Susanna Kearsley Splendor Falls
Susanna Kearsley A Season of Storms
Stephanie Laurens By Winter’s Light
Amanda Quick Otherwise Engaged, The Hot Zone
*Deanna Raybourn Whisper of Jasmine
Imogen Robertson Circle of Shadows
Jess Russell The Dressmaker’s Duke

Maragret Foxe Prince of Hearts, a dark heart
Colleen Gleason The Clockwork Scarab
*Emma Jane Holloway A Study in Silks, in Darkness, in Ashes
Cherie Priest Boneshaker
Meljean Archer The Iron Duke

Children’s /YA
Anne Bishop The Others, Written in Red, then Murder of Crows
Alan Bradley The Dead in their Vaulted Arches
Gail Carriger Curtsies and Conspiracies
Colleen Gleason Clockwork of Scarab
Jennifer Holm 14th Goldfish
Sarah J. Maas Thrones of Glass (Assassin prequels)
*Gregory McGuire Egg and Spoon
*Ransom Riggs, Hollow City (Miss Peregrine)
William Ritter Jackaby (para Sherlock)
**Maria Semple Where’d You Go Bernadette?
Robin Sloan Ajax Penumbra
Lemony Snickett All the Wrong Questions

Alain Baraton The Gardener of Versailles
John Cleese So, Anyway
Martha Grimes Double Double
Tom Nissley A Readers Book of Days
*Mary Robinson Everybody Matters, (my life giving voice)
*Janice MacLeod Paris Letters
*Carol Wall Mr Owita’s Guide to Gardening

Science Fiction
Lev Grossman Magicians trilogy
***Deborah Harkness The Book of Life (Discovery of Witches3rd)
Charlaine Harris Midnight Crossing(ed. Dead but not Forgotten)
Robin Hobb, Dragon series!, Fool series
GRR Martin et al. Rogues
Diana Pharaoh Francis The Black Ship, The Cipher
Terry Pratchett Raising Steam
Terry Pratchett Stephen Baxter The Long Mars
*Douglas Nicholas Something Red, The Wicked
Terry Pratchett and Stephen Briggs Turtle Recall revised Disc World
*Patrick Rothfuss The Slow Regard of Silent Things
Samantha Shannon The Bone Season, The Mime
Sherwood Smith Blood Spirits, Revenant Eve, Banner of the Damned
Sherry Thomas The Burning Sky

2014 Nonfiction
Peter Ackroyd Foundation
Alain Baraton The Gardener of Versailles
Benedict Carey How We Learn
Phil Cousineau The Painted Word
Richard Flanagan The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Thomas Foster 25 Books at Shaped America
Robert Frost Letters (vol 1)
Atul Gawande Being Mortal
Marilyn Johnson This Book is Overdue
Ruth Kassinger A Garden of Marvels
**Elizabeth Kolbert The Sixth Extinction, an Unnatural History
Gale Lawrence The Beginning Naturalist
William Patrick Martin A Lifetime of Fiction
Elizabeth May Falconer (Edinburgh)
Alexander McCall Smith What WH Auden Can do for You
Tim McGrath Give Me a Fast Ship
Robert A. Mello Moses Robinson and the Founding of Vermont
Terry Pratchett A Slip of the Keyboard
Michelle Raffin The Birds of Pandemonium
Amity Schlaes Coolidge
*Hampton Sides In The Kingdom of Ice
Amy Stewart The Last Bookstore in America
Matthew Stewart Nature’s God

Short Stories
John Connolly Caxton Lending Library Museum of literary Souls, Museum of Literary Souls
Douglas Nicholas The Demon
George Orwell All Art is Propaganda
Kathy Reichs Bones in her Pocket
Charles Todd The Maharani’s Pearls

Ben Cathryn Sill Field Guide to Little Known and Seldom Seen Birds

* denotes excellent reads!


Wouldn’t you like to curl up with a good book for four hours on a gray Saturday in January?
Join us for the first National Readathon Day Jan. 24, 2015! hashtag: #timetoread.

Penguin Random House is launching America’s first National Readathon Day, Jan. 24, 2015, from noon to 4 p.m. The campaign encourages bibliophiles to get together and make time to read. The readathon supports the National Book Foundation using an online fundraising service, The National Book Foundation presents the annual National Book Awards, as well as its educational programmes including BookUp, after-school reading program which has given out over 25,000 books.

Partners in the readathon include Mashable, which will dedicate one session of its book club to the project, and Goodreads. Bookstores, libraries and schools are encouraged to join in. People can sign up to participate in the readathon on their own or form teams that pool their fundraising resources.

The idea of reading as a fundraiser has been a great success (26 years!!) in Los Angeles. The Library Foundation of Los Angeles, which supports the city’s public libraries, will hold its Stay Home and Read a Book Ball on Feb. 28, 2015. For the ball, instead of dressing up and going out, people make a donation and pledge to stay home and read.

You might take for granted how easy it is for you to read this sentence, but millions of Americans still struggle with basic literacy. 40% of American adults are either at or below basic reading proficiency, and 14% are fully illiterate. But the trouble doesn’t stop there. Each year, millions of Americans — especially our youth — are losing touch with the power and importance of reading books. As Malcolm X said, “People don’t realize how a whole life can be changed by one book.””

Help change lives this winter by celebrating National Readathon Day with Penguin Random House, GoodReads, Mashable, and the National Book Foundation. Together with your support, we hope to help fund their efforts to educate, tutor, create and sustain a lifelong love of reading.

Need a book??? The Friends of the Rochester Public Library Bookstore have great books for a lovely winter read! There is a huge selection of excellent fiction, nonfiction, YA, and children’s books at fabulous prices. Join Paige Turner between 10am and 4 pm.

As for me? I will be reading poetry- Sunday is the Burns supper in celebration of the national poet of Scotland (Robert Burns, born 25 January). It is perhaps our biggest holiday celebration and involves both reading and writing poetry (and prose). In his spirit I have given a dozen children’s books, several adult books, donated time and money, and will be reading to my heart’s content. Join me.


New World Order

The Mime Order Samantha Shannon
Publisher: Bloomsbury (January 27, 2015)
528 pp
3.5 stars (3 for the first half, 4 for the latter half)
Genre: YA series, science fiction, dark fantasy, paranormal, urban fantasy, romance; now also known as New Adult (half YA//adult, graphic, violent)
Sequel to The Bone Season
Samantha Shannon is a British novelist, recently graduated from Oxford University (read English language and literature at St Anne’s). Her first novel, The Bone Season, (2013/14) was well received, published as one of expected seven series. She is an interesting young writer with a vivid imagination and the ability to translate this into riveting reading. If you don’t like cliff hangers, wait until the series is more advanced. Each book picks up right where the other left off. Read the charts, maps and glossary first to familiarize yourself with her terminology. They must be read in order.
London in 2059 is governed by Scion, a security force that uses Oxford as a prison (Sheol 1). The heroine, 19 year old Paige Mahoney(#40) is an intelligent, impetuous, clairvoyant (dreamwalker) who works in Seven Dials within the criminal underbelly, as people with unnatural gifts are targeted (and have been since 1859, hence 20 Bone Seasons). It’s a fairly simplistic plot, although the characters are complex and complicated by her world building/foundation.
Her keeper there, the Warden (Arcturus) provided mysterious, initial tension, and indeed I was waiting for him to appear in the second novel where they have escaped the prison and are hunted. The action promptly picks up with his arrival (halfway through!). He balances Paige, having age and experience to her youth and instability. While he challenges her, she provides the hope he has lost. Romantic tension will be resolved eventually, but is an important story element.
Paige remains a fighter, and is strong and resourceful, a strong female lead, with a lot to learn. She returned to her old Mime boss (Jaxon Hall), who is slowly revealed to be quite a vile human, yet he is protecting Paige. While using her of course. The first half of the book reflects youth with indecision and inaction, although that can also be prudent while fact collecting. Steeped in politics, personal agendas, dickinsonian / penny dreadful details I became frustrated with where the story was going. Then it galloped right along, with twists and turns to yet another cliff. I am not sure I would reread this when the next installment appears. I do want to know what happens to the characters, but 5 more years? I was lucky to have recently read The Bone Season in the library, and delighted to be chosen to review this book. I loved her command of language, her creative world building (rotmonger, thaumaturge, Gutterlings), her nods to the old order (EA Poe, title, plus Raven – member of Guard Extraordinary, from the ravens of the Tower of London). I am still very impatiently waiting for Patrick Rothfuss to provide us with his trilogy. If you haven’t read that, drop everything else.

Read on:
If you like Christopher Paolini, Trudi Canavan’s Black Magicians trilogy, Richelle Mead’s Gameboards of the Gods, and the Shadow and Bone series by Leigh Bardugo
NPR quoted a UK source which stated her as the next JK Rowling, but I don’t think there is much similarity. I liked it better thanThe Hunger Games.

Opening: “It’s rare that a story begins at the beginning. In the grand scheme of things, I really turned up at the beginning of they end of this one.”
“Hope is the lifeblood of revolution, without it we are nothing but ash, waiting for the wind to take us.”
Rephaite- pl. Rephraim. A biologically immortal, humanoid inhabitant of the Netherworld. …known to feed on the aura of clairvoyant humans.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley – thank you!
Available at the Rochester Public Library (it already has several reserves)!

New Genre!

Perdita. By Hilary Scharper
Publisher Sourcebooks Landmark (January 20, 2015)
(2013 by Canadian Touchstone)
448 pp
4.5 stars
Genre: historical, literature, gothic, eco gothic, paranormal, mystery, romance, nature and art themes, Canadian sensibilities.
She is a Canadian author, (Phd Yale, Assoc Prof Cultural Anthropology, Univ Toronto). Scharper with her husband also spent a decade as a Bruce Peninsula assistant lighthouse keeper, later stewards for the Cabot Head Light House and Bird Observatory.
This is her debut novel, very much a product of her love of nature (she describes her fiction as Eco gothic, a new literary genre building on traditional 19th century gothic, with the landscape as an active, central character). As a scientist myself I am thrilled with this new genre, as society as a whole should create a sustainable respectful relationship with nature. In our anthropogenic centric society we need to become more aware and familiar with nature but still are over consumers.

How many of you remember the Greek myth of Perdita (“lost one”)?
Or Shakespeare’s Winter Tale?
Or Walt Disney’s 101 Dalmatians? (Pongo’s mate)?
I was absolutely enthralled with this tale: it is beautifully written, has well paced parallel stories of the present day and late 1800s through journal entries and letters and has a complex message.
Well developed characters include:
1. Marged Brice, 134 year old, who has outlived her time, but needs to pass on Perdita.
Also called dark eyed junco. She gives her diaries (from 1897) to Garth to convince him of her story, and they become a fascinating time capsule. And so much more.
2.Tad or Hugh Brice (Welsh for Dad) who was a light keeper at Cape Prius, Georgia Bay for 30 years, father to Marged.
3. George Stewart, acknowledged by the Group of Seven, and one of Canada’s finest painters (I couldn’t find any information on him!? I love the Group of Seven (and the latter Canadian Group of painters) and would love additional Scottish connections to this region). George is the mysterious love interest to Marged, but perceptive landscape master.
4. Garth Hellyer, distinguished professor, currently working on a Longevity research project. He is asked to interview Marged, and is entrusted with her journals/diaries and letters. The reader is taken back to 1897/8 when so many things happened to Marged. Garth, a WWII historian, won the Governor General’s Award for Literature. But he’s recovering from love and loss, perhaps once burned twice shy.
5. Clare (no last name for childhood friends?!) Clare had a job as curator for British Museum, currently back to the Bay to summer and sort through her life.

This has a lovely romantic story between Clare and Garth while also untangling the mystery of Marged, Perdita, and George Stewart. Nature is a major character in this book, with evocative descriptions of bracing waters, rocky shores and all those who have gone before. There is tension between city and country life, differences between surface appearance and moral character, wild vs domesticated. There is also an element of artistic temperament, beautiful,descriptions of the process of painting, but also the character of painters. Her language is lyrical when describing nature, of wind, trees, waves and water.

I am hoping there is a sequel. Or at least a continuation of her themes. While I enjoyed the parallel stories, each could have been further detailed, delving deeper into their times. There is SO much more to the Marged story after the diaries end and when we find her in the home. I had to look up additional information on George Stewart, Tom Tomlinson, Group of Seven, Hesiod. I read this in one sitting, just delighted with the detail and coming of age story. It passed the test of second reading, looking for quotes, finding additional clues, finding myself transported to the Georgian Bay shores. I want the painting Sylvan Chapel to exist.

Read On:
Historical fiction, mystery, supernatural, Canadian gothic (see Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood, Susanna Kearsley) as well as traditional (see Bronte, Stevenson, Doyle and Wharton).
Read if you like Kate Morton (2009) House of Riverton or Diane Setterfield (2006) The Thirteenth Tale.
Of note Scharper also has a story collection titled: Dream Dresses and God and Caesar at the Rio Grande(UMinn Press, which won the outstanding academic book award). She has several fascinating nonfiction articles as well.

What was the nickname my father had given her smile? Aurora borealis- he had always referred to Clare as his northern lights.
The secret for old age is that we should sit like a tortoise, walk sprightly like a pigeon, and sleep like a dog.
George called my eyes a Great Lakes blue.
I thought most long stories had a short version.
What would your trees say about you?
May the wind and the trees always carry your name- branch to branch, breath to breath- across my beloved Bay.

Of special note: the cover art by Amanda Kain is particularly fine and evocative.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley – thank you!
Available at the Rochester Public Library (I requested all three of my libraries to order this book, and will purchase a copy myself!)

Keep Your Lights On

The Quiet Deaths by Amy Hudson

review by Helen McIver
4 stars
Well written, well plotted, psychological thriller
Amy Hudson grew up in Oxford and read English at university. This is her fascinating intricate debut mystery novel, available from Troubador Publishing at WHSmith and
DCI Mark Morgan has a lot going on in his life. The police station in Hipton, a small market town, is about to be subsumed by nearby Bristol constabulary. His brother Joe is working too much in London, leaving little time for his children or wife Becky. Becks as Mark calls her, is also a stressed school teacher, caring mother and daughter-in-law. Much of the story revolved around her, through her eyes. His father, Harvey, is a cantankerous old man (only 75), complicates the backstory by revealing he is dying of bone cancer, while not wanting his sons to know. He recognizes that his wife Liz needs someone to talk to, and believes Becky is the logical person. This however adds even more stress to her.
Meanwhile, a number of deaths have occurred over several months. All seemingly unrelated, all believed of natural causes. Except that you as the reader know otherwise. Because you have read the opening paragraph. Which states: “Agnes Brink sat at her desk staring at her reams of notes, re-reading them over and over again. She made a decision which she found remarkably easy. In order to reunite with her family she would have to kill. ” I will never look at in quite the same way. Agnes Brink discovered that her relatives were murdered in 1712 and decides if she kills individuals in the same age group (grandmother Anna, son Hendrix and grandson Caspar) they will be reunited with her. The flashbacks from 2013/2014 to 1985, 1988 present a few clues as to the true nature of Agnes Brink, but sympathy is not among them. Perhaps it should be, as she had a wretched childhood. But as she randomly selects her victims, sanity escapes.
I became attached to the characters and was worried who she was going to murder, each time, especially as she goes undetected. I was truly uneasy when the murders were complete but we were only half way through the book. You have no idea if she is finished, will she get caught, what is to happen next. DCI Morgan finally puts all the pieces together, but so much remains unresolved at the end of the book. I wasn’t all that sure I wanted to know what happens to them next! It is not a comfortable read, there is an edge to all the characters and a lot of dark english reality. However, the complicated family is well established for a continuing series.
Read on:
If you like Susan Hill, not just her Simon Serallier series, but her other edgy ghost stories and mysteries.
If you read Frances Fyfield/Frances Hegarty’s psychological thrillers.
If you like Barbara Vine and Ruth Rendell.


“Already the father murdered in 1712 would be at peace now.”

“….not particularly interested in his life, only his death.”

“”Happy Birthday dad.” “Yes yes even older today,” Harvey added, but there was a glint of humour in his faded blue eyes. He knew what he was like and didn’t much like it either, but he was 75 today and he wasn’t planning any changes now.”
“If this Agnes Brink thing turned out to be an international incident then it wouldn’t do Hipton any harm at all. It would put it on the map at last and might secure a few more precious years for its station safely out of Bristol’s clutches.”

received as an ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Believe the (Im)possible!

– it’s all probable
By Jennifer L. Holm
The Fourteenth Goldfish
210 pages random house for young readers
Good for YA 8-12/14 year olds (gr 5-7)
Adults will find this fun to read too, perhaps even reading the story out loud together (I would love to be the grandfather’s humorous voice. Make sure you have Wikipedia handy or several books to look up parallel stories.) There are good discussion points in each chapter, including adapt and change, poignant passages, heartfelt family issues: adult parent/ child, grandfather/father and daughter, mother and daughter.
Some school issues are addressed too – appearances are not everything, learn to look beneath the surface, become friends, build confidence.
11 year old Ellie Cruz is a smart little girl, starting middle school but struggling with too many changes. She is quite perceptive, interestingly especially concerning her mother. Then Grandad comes back as a teenager, to live with them; he was a famous scientist but his fountain of youth experiment worked too well on him. This book beautifully addresses family issues, as the author is an adept pro. I will be looking for more of her books.
I had no doubt Ellie would mature to a lovely, interesting (and one hopes scientific) adult. She has learned that life is about passion, interests and talents and good humor throughout helps. Science is presented in everyday light: Chemistry in cooking physics in relationships, astronomy in life. Science doesn’t have all the answers and there are consequences that need to be thought out. This is entertaining and educational (I loved the future research section).

Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.
Jonas Salk (would that we all lived by this message)

Good for chapter books
Good as step to graphic books
Good for grandparents to purchase!
Review by Helen McIver
4.5 stars
Digital ARC from NetGalley (thank you!)

A Winter Cosy

Gigi Pandian The Accidental Alchemist

This is a rather charming, cosy read, perfect for a winter’s afternoon (to be published January 2015). It has quirky characters and could be classified as urban fantasy, perhaps YA, cosy mystery, or a paranormal romp. It’s a quick light read.
Gigi Pandian previously has written the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery (ongoing) series. Her debut novel Artifact (2012), won the William F Deeck Malice Domestic award. This series includes Pirate Visnhu (2014), with Quicksand to be published March 2015. A short story The Hindi Houdini was shortlisted for both Agatha and Macavity awards.
Midnight Ink publishes this tale of a 300 year old herbalist/witch/alchemist Zoe Faust who specializes in spagyrics- plant alchemy which extracts the healing property’s of herbs. She is finally ready to settle down (Portland Oregon), buys and old house, starts to unpack, when all sorts of things happen. 1) The most wonderful character of the book shows up: an impish gargoyle who stowed away in her belongings from France and who desperately needs her help if he is to ‘stay’ alive (he’s turning back into stone). But he is a master French chef and would be my new best friend if he’d just come live with me. I love his charm and name (Dorian Robert Houdin). 2) Handsome detective Max Liu, who is investigating a body that presented itself on her doorstep (thus preventing her house repairs). I hope the continuing series will develop their friendship/relationship. (The only two people in Portland who don’t like coffee?!) And 3) the three adolescents (Brixton, Veronica and Ethan) who provide quite some comic relief while being relevant and real. I found them very predictable (except for the green smoothies!) but became so attached to Dorian I sped read through the book. I love that Dorian’s father Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin was a French stage magician and clockmaker and the father of modern magic (a master showman and illusionist, 1805-1871).
Pandian is a breast cancer survivor who has learned carpe diem, and eating good food. It’s easy to recommend The Accidental Alchemist just for the food- yes, I read the mouth watering descriptions and ever the skeptic (teenagers drinking green goo?? And loving it??!) that I tried several and definitely enjoyed them (I prefer chocolate colour, so used the cocoa instead; adult version?). Visit the website too.
Suspend disbelief, enjoy an imaginative little mysterious gem as a distraction on a chilly afternoon.

Read on
If you like Elizabeth Peters, Agatha Christie or John Dickson Carr
3.5 stars
Read as an ARC ebook from Netgalley

“Did I mention that when I was born in Massachusetts, it was 1676?”
“The gray creature looked similar to the famous “thinker” gargoyle with short horns and folded wings. The main difference was that this gargoyle held an old leather-bound book in his arms.”
“I have control of myself now, I simply do not understand why anyone would leave France?!”
“I do not think things make much sense when one has left France.”
“Life is too short to eat inedible food because it is healthy.”
“A false answer is often easier than a complicated truth.”
“One of the very few positive things about living so long was getting to read so many books.”

Library and Bookstore Magic

I have fallen under another book spell. The Magicians series by Lev Grossman has been on my radar for a few years. This summer I picked up a hardback of Magicians Land (2014) to go with The Magicians King (2011) which I had also found in my beloved Friends’ bookstore a year before. As I couldn’t start mid series, I put myself on the ebook waiting list of the library. It arrived!
I am not even 100 pages into the book The Magicians (2009) and I know I will be absorbed and lose several days consuming this series. I was absolutely delighted with the writing, the characters, the mystery and finally, the magic. Actually it’s all magic!

The Magicians won the 2010 Alex award, given to ten adult fiction books appealing to young adults, and the 2011 John W. Campbell award for best new writer. (NB finding this award list has given me a whole new set of authors as I found many favourites including Naomi Novik, Mary Doria Russell, Gail Carriger, Scott Lynch. GRR Martin won in 1973, currently held by Sofia Samatar.) Grossman has been a journalist, essayist, writer for numerous magazines. “I wrote fiction for 17 years before I found out I was a fantasy novelist.” (I loved his interview with Neil Gaiman.) The Magicians was labelled “Harry Potter for adults” but it is much better than that. Briefly, it is a contemporary dark fantasy series about Quentin Coldwater and other extremely gifted people who are admitted to Brakesbills, a secret private college of Magic on the Hudson River.

Don’t expect Harry Potter. These are intellectually gifted, relatively normal teenagers, self absorbed, bored, insecure, and unprepared. I found it a bit hard to believe that Fillory (Narnia) could be so intensely important to a college bound student. It is an eclectic group of complex students, each dealing with his or her issues, reality and magic. While it is an original tale, there are a few universal truths about understanding the ramifications of your actions. There is a dour realism to this magic and you don’t have the benefits of special effects. Magic has to be learned, like Latin. It is taxing and has consequences. The graphic sex, drugs, violence and swearing (with alcohol, cliques, depression) put this firmly in an adult series. I would have edited out at least half the swearing.

Interesting, complicated thoughts and discussion:
You have to grow up to be happy. You certainly need to live.
How to interact with people who are just as bright as you are, or indeed smarter, for the first time in your life. And the rest of your life.
Not necessarily fantasy as I can relate to most of these people.
If I had read some of the reviews, I suspect I would not have started this series. (Disaffected twenty somethings as a sequel to disaffected teens)
Magic might be the tools left behind after the inverse was created.
Reading a series to completion was worth waiting for.

“He who completes a quest does not merely find something. He becomes something.”
“That was the thing about the world: it wasn’t that things were harder than you thought they were going to be, it was that they were hard in ways that you didn’t expect.”
“It didn’t matter where you were, if you were in a room full of books you were at least halfway home.”
― Lev Grossman, The Magician’s Land
“Magic: it’s what happened when the mind met the world, and the mind won for a change.”
― Lev Grossman, The Magician King
“In a way fighting was just like using magic. You said the words, and they altered the universe. By merely speaking you could create damage and pain, cause tears to fall, drive people away, make yourself feel better, make your life worse.”
“The truth doesn’t always make a good story does it?”
― Lev Grossman, The Magicians

Recommend the audio book read by Mark Bramhall.
4 stars, entire series

Read on:
To China Mieville, Donna Tartt, Douglas Coupland
Jo Walton (Among Others, 2011) and Peter Straub (Shadowlands, 1980)

Pictures from an Institution

Julie Schumacher Dear Committee Members

Dear Reader,
Buy the book, give it as a gift, loan out your copy, order it from the library. This epistolary novel is a laugh out loud tale not just for academics, but all walks of life. You may spend an enjoyable afternoon reading, but I preferred short bits, perhaps 4 or five letters at a time. (It’s only 200 pages, but best if not digested all at once). If you have any connection to the Ivory Towers you will recognize the biting satire, social criticism, and frustrating quagmire of politics and funding. It could easily be a diary.

The letters are quite clever, and reveal much about the writer, as an academic, as a husband, lover, teacher, at once observant while equally oblivious, generous but also petty, happy but unfulfilled. One third of the letters are letters of recommendation, which in and of themselves reveal a great deal of society and expectations today. Sadly. I kept reading me to see how much damage he could do…. As a whole, it has a bitter edge, is a rather lacerating commentary on academic life but also full of human foibles, entertaining yet poignant. And lost. No one writes letters anymore; we have several generations that cannot compose an email let alone a letter. In retrospect, it was funny while I was reading it.

But I hope you will pick up this book and enjoy this lighthearted but thought provoking read.

A Reader
3.5 stars (note- this book also doesn’t work well as an audio book- I barely glanced at who they were addressed to, but the addresses are properly read out, delaying the amusement of the letter.)

Read on
For other epistolary novels: Jonathan Miles Dear American Airlines (2008), Maria Semple Where’d you go Bernadette? (2012) Joey Corneau Overqualified (2009).
Fans of David Foster Wallace should like this.
Reminiscent (campus, academic, literary lives) of Richard Russo Straight Man (1997, who also favorably reviewed Miles), Sam Lipsyte HomeLand (2004), Jincy Willet’s Winner of the National Book Award (2002, recommended by Nancy Pearl).

Read as an ARC ebook from NETGALLY