The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson

The Daylight Gate

The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The north of England is untamed. It can be subdued but it cannot be tamed. Lancashire is the wild part of the untamed.

In this novella, published on the 400th anniversary of the 1612 trial of the Pendle Witches, Winterson draws on those events in crafting a work of historical fantasy, a tale of horrifying events, beautifully told.

The historical facts are these: in 1612, a group including Alice Nutter, Elizabeth Device, James Device, Alizon Device, Katherine Hewitt (“Mould-Heeles”), Elizabeth Southerns, and others were arrested under charges of witchcraft. A key witness was Elizabeth Device’s nine-year-old daughter, Jennet.

Winterson takes these facts and creates a new dark and magical story around them. She draws in other historical figures, including local magistrate Roger Nowell, William Shakespeare, John Dee, and court clerk Thomas Potts, whose account of The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster was published in 1613. The 1605 Gunpowder Plot and the fate of the convicted conspirators is also woven in; there is little difference, in some minds, between Witches and Catholics. “Popery witchery, witchery popery,” Thomas Potts says more than once.

The writing is lovely, spare but rich in imagery. It is an atmospheric book, focused on people and emotions, how human beings can love and betray each other. There are truly horrific scenes, especially toward the end, that pass by in such a small section of narrative that it sometimes took my brain a few pages to realize what I had just read and be struck not only by the terrible violence, but by the casual way torture is inflicted on one person by another. It feels so very wrong, but true.

Trigger warnings for rape, torture, and child abuse.

Source: I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while. I think I picked it up at my local used bookshop, where I regularly check to see if they have anything new (to me) by Winterson and a couple of other authors.

Challenges: Counts for the 2018 Mount TBR Challenge, the Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge, and R.I.P. XIII (Readers Imbibing Peril)

 

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A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals #1) by Alyssa Cole

A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals, #1)A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
My rating:
4 of 5 stars

Dear Ms. Smith,

I hope that my letter finds you well. I, Likotsi Adelele, assistant to His Royal Highness, have sought you out high and low over the last few months, at the behest of the most exalted – and most curious – Prince Thabiso. He has tasked me with finding his betrothed, and I believe I have succeeded: it is you.

Naledi Smith lost her parents to a car crash when she was so young she barely remembers them. Without any other family, she lived in a series of foster homes until she aged out of the foster care system. Now in grad school and working multiple jobs to make ends meet, she has zero time for these weird emails that keep showing up, claiming that she is some sort of long-lost African princess, if only she will please send all of her personally identifying information to confirm.

Prince Thabiso grew up wondering whatever happened to the girl to whom he was betrothed when they were just small children. An only child, facing increasing pressure from his parents to settle down with a wife, he is extremely curious when his assistant believes she has tracked the woman down – and she lives in New York City, where Thabiso just happens to be headed on business.

A misunderstanding on first meeting gives Thabiso the chance to get to know Ledi personally before revealing his – and her – true identity. But will there be a way to finally tell her the truth without the betrayal coming between them?

Since this is a romance novel, you already know the answer to that: the happy ending is guaranteed. Oh, but the getting there. Ledi is the sort of character who is so real you would swear you know her. She hasn’t had it easy, and the walls she’s put up around herself are totally understandable. A scientist to the core, she thinks of the distance she puts between herself and others as a

social phospholipid bilayer: flexible, dynamic, and designed to keep the important parts of herself separate from a possibly dangerous outside environment. It had been working for the prokaryotes for eons, and it would suffice for a broke grad school student, which was only slightly higher on the evolutionary scale.

She is smart and funny, and a devoted friend, and she deals with everything that comes her way until her resilience is finally tested to the breaking point. She is a woman of color, working in a STEM field, and she has no family to support her. I loved getting inside her head and seeing the world through her eyes.

The third-person perspective shifts between Ledi and Thabiso, and Thabiso is also an absolute delight. He is honestly baffled by everyday things like taking the subway or cooking a meal from scratch, because he grew up having his every need or want taken care of without his having to even think about it. He so wants to step up and do the right thing… if he can only figure out what it is and how to do it. His assistant, Likotsi, seems to be the closest thing he has to a real friend. His parents are determined to see him married off and settled down to the business of managing the kingdom, navigating the complicated issues that come with the crown.

The kingdom of Thesolo comes across as something of a Vibranium-less Wakanda. It’s a gem of a country in the south of Africa that was never colonized, instead growing into a modern nation that maintains strong ties to its past. In my head, Queen Ramatla is totally Angela Bassett, and no one can convince me otherwise.

I enjoyed this book so, so much. There are elements of Cinderella and other fairy tales, but this is a thoroughly contemporary romance. Ledi and Thabiso have chemistry that leads to some very steamy scenes, yet Ledi is clearly aware of possible health risks (as an epidemiology grad student, one would hope so!) and how to be as safe as possible on that front. The dialogue is entertaining, even when it’s really only one-way, as when Ledi finally sends a two-word response to Likotsi’s “spam” emails. One of my favorites might be when the postdoc in Ledi’s lab approaches her, about to drop some more of his work on her. The entirety of the next paragraph reads: “This motherf***er, she thought.”

(I should note here that the redaction of the curse word is mine; the actual word appears in the book. If salty language and sexytimes on the page are not your thing, this is probably not the book for you!)

The next book in the series features Portia, Ledi’s best friend; the teaser chapter in the back promises good things. Personally, I’m hoping we eventually get a book about Likotsi. A girl can dream.

Source: Checked out from my public library

Challenges: It would qualify for Read Harder 2018 Task 10, but I’ve already completed that one.

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Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life by Shelley Tougas

Laura Ingalls Is Ruining My LifeLaura Ingalls Is Ruining My Life
by Shelley Tougas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We moved all the time, but always to real cities with malls and movie theaters and bus lines; never to a place like this, a land so quiet and empty the wind had nothing to blow. Rose was no help. She hadn’t wanted to leave Lexington, either, but she never complained. Mom and Rose were all sunshine, all the time, the Florida of moods.

At age 12, Charlotte is tired of moving from place to place. Most recently, her mother has brought Charlotte, her twin brother Freddy, and their younger sister Rose from Lexington, Kentucky, to Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Their mother wants to write a book about a prairie girl, and she’s decided the former hometown of Laura Ingalls (Wilder) is the place to do it. While Rose has always been relentlessly optimistic, like their mother, Charlotte has always had Freddy on her side, but something seems to be pulling him away from her now, too.

This contemporary novel explores the ideas of what home, family, and friendship mean, touching on experiences of racism and poverty, without feeling didactic. Charlotte is smart and prickly, trying to shield herself from being hurt by others by not letting others get close to her. Her first-person narration reveals her weaknesses as well as her strengths; there are moments you can see clearly that her perceptions are about to lead her astray, but you understand her feelings. Because of the limited perspective, some of the secondary characters, especially the adults, read flat and cartoonish, though.

But the book isn’t all inner conflict and introspection. There’s also a bit of a mystery that Charlotte has to solve that is fun for the reader, if not for the character. At various points throughout the book, the Ingalls family and the way they were portrayed in the beloved children’s books and television show are examined in light of historical facts in a way that may pique some readers’ interest to find out more.

There are quite a few references to events in the Little House books (can they really be called spoilers when the book is over 80 years old?), so be aware of that when recommending to young readers. And do recommend this book, because it is an entertaining contemporary read, told with humor and heart.

Source: Checked out from my public library (I had a NetGalley e-ARC, but I didn’t get to it in time!)

Challenges: None

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You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly

You Go FirstYou Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard balanced an unopened Dr Pepper upright on her hand and thought: This is what it feels like to hold my dad’s heart.

She’d read online that the heart weighed about twelve ounces.

Same as the Dr Pepper.

(Somebody should probably mention to Charlotte that there’s a difference between ounces (mass) and fluid ounces (volume). Although Google tells me that a 12-ounce can of soda weighs about 13-14 ounces, so it’s pretty close!)

I’d been especially looking forward to this book since reading Kelly’s Newbery-winning Hello, Universe in February. This book has much of the charm of that book, with its painfully realistic middle-schoolers, but without the magical realism that was a part of Virgil’s story.

Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard is dealing with her dad’s sudden health problem and the way her best friend seems to be drifting away from her now that they’ve started the seventh grade. Eleven-year-old Ben Boxer has just found out his parents are divorcing, and he doesn’t know how to talk to them about the troubles he’s been having fit in at middle school. Charlotte and Ben play online Scrabble against each other regularly. It’s their only interaction: Charlotte lives in Pennsylvania, and Ben lives in Louisiana. They’ve never met in person. But they have more in common than they think, and they might just be able to help one another.

Kelly captures the agonies of middle school perfectly – as a mom myself, I just wanted to hug both Charlotte and Ben. Their struggles are so familiar. At an age when they’re just starting to figure out who they are, the world seems to be suddenly rearranging itself all around them. The chapters alternate perspective between Charlotte and Ben, revealing the parallels in their lives to the reader before they really connect with other as more than word game adversaries. They’re both smart and awkward, and there are a lot of kids who will recognize themselves. Like in Hello, Universe, there isn’t a lot of action on the page; the development is emotional and psychological rather than physical. For those who enjoy character-driven stories, though, it’s a gem.

Source: Checked out from the public library

Challenges: None.

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Round-Up Review: The ScotShop Mysteries

A Wee Murder in My Shop (Scotshop Mystery, #1) A Wee Dose of Death (ScotShop Mystery #2) A Wee Homicide in the Hotel (ScotShop Mystery #3)

A Wee Murder in My Shop by Fran Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Wee Dose of Death by Fran Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Wee Homicide in the Hotel by Fran Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As with the Gethsemane Brown books, I’m putting up one review for all three of these. I read all three of the span of five days, so they’re sort of a single entity in my head at this point.

Those Gethsemane Brown books seem to have sent me down a major rabbit hole of cozy mysteries, by the way. Specifically, it seems, cozies with ghosts in them. I did not see that coming, frankly.

Peggy Winn lives in Hamelin, Vermont, where she runs the ScotShop, selling all things Scottish to tourists. She makes regular visits to the Perthshire town of Pitlochry to purchase authentic Scottish wares for her stock. At the opening of the first book, she’s particularly glad to get on that transatlantic flight, because she’s just discovered her (now ex-)boyfriend in bed with her (now ex-)best friend. While in Scotland, she happens upon a strange shop and purchases a lovely tartan shawl, which she soon discovers comes with a genuine Scottish ghost. Macbeath Donlevy Freusach Macearacher Macpheidiran of clan Farquharson, deceased circa 1359, to be precise. She nicknames him Dirk.

Peggy returns to Hamelin, ghost in tow, to discover her ex-boyfriend is now her late ex-boyfriend – he’s been murdered overnight inside her shop. In the grand tradition of cozy mysteries, Peggy takes on the task of unmasking the murderer, since the local police chief is not exactly pursuing all leads.

In the second book, the local police chief is still thoroughly unhelpful, and Peggy (and Dirk) take on the task of figuring out who killed a local college professor in a deserted mountain cabin. Once that mystery is solved, the third book brings the Highland Games to Hamelin, along with (yet another) murder for Peggy and Dirk to investigate.

This appears to be a three-book series, without a fourth installment on the horizon. Which is a bit of a shame, since it seems poor Dirk will never actually get to reunite with his own Peigi or otherwise get to rest in peace.

I found the series charming, with its slightly eccentric small-town characters. The interactions between Dirk and Peggy, fraught with communication difficulties due to the seven centuries of linguistic development between their respective versions of English, in addition to cultural differences, are entertaining. Peggy’s relationships with the secondary characters round out the story and provide some interesting glimpses into parts of her life not revealed on the page. It is some of the loose ends of those threads that have me rather hoping for another sequel.

Also, I kind of want a Scottie dog now.

Source: Checked out the first book as an e-book from my public library via Libby; borrowed the second and third in paperback form from the library.

Reading Challenges: None. I’m ignoring the glares coming from Mt. TBR over there.

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Round-Up Review: Teapot Collector Mysteries by Amanda Cooper

 

Tempest in a Teapot by Amanda Cooper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Shadow of a Spout by Amanda Cooper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Grim Steeper by Amanda Cooper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thelma Mae Earnshaw peeped through the lacy curtains that adorned the side window of La Belle Epoque, her quaint(ish) inn and tearoom. She was trying to figure out what had her archenemy and business competitor, Rose Freemont, in such a fuss.

Another cozy mystery round-up review!

The Teapot Collector Mystery series is centered on Sophie Taylor, who at age 29 has just been through the rise and failure of her own New York City restaurant. Her father is eternally traveling on business, and her mother would like her to marry a nice (wealthy) young man already and turn into the sort of Society Lady Sophie has never wanted to be. Instead, Sophie heads upstate to Gracious Grove, a tiny town with more interest in tea than seems reasonable (maybe because the town also happens to be dry). There, her octogenarian grandmother, Rose Freemont, runs Auntie Rose’s Victorian Tea House and could perhaps use a hand. Next door, Thelma Mae Earnshaw runs a rival tearoom, because her entire life seems to revolve around trying to get even with Rose for a supposed slight decades ago. Her business never quite gets the upper hand, and it isn’t helped any when Thelma’s granddaughter’s mother-in-law-to-be dies suddenly right there in the tearoom. Soon, Sophie is trying to untangle the web of connections between families and businesses in Gracious Grove to figure out who could have murdered the woman and why.

In the second book, Rose and her business partner (and best friend) Laverne go to the annual International Teapot Collectors Society convention together for the first time, since Sophie is still in Gracious Grove to mind the shop. Their jaunt takes a nasty turn when the state ITCS president is murdered in the night… after a public argument with Rose over identification of a peculiar teapot. Since said teapot is found next to the body, Rose quickly becomes the suspect everyone is watching. Sophie drives up to assist in finding the real killer.

At the opening of the third book, Rose has had a health scare, and Sophie wants to help out in any way she can. The town’s annual Tea Stroll is coming up, there’s some sort of scandal going on at the local college, and – eventually – a man turns up dead on the Auntie Rose’s Victorian Tea House property.

This is a fun series, with a cast of quirky recurring characters who get into each other’s business the way people will in a small town. While Sophie grew up in a moneyed family, with luxuries like a vacation house in the Hamptons and an education at private boarding schools, all she wanted as a teenager was to stay at her grandmother’s house in Gracious Grove with the kids she was able to hang out with during her visits. A number of those kids are now the adults of Gracious Grove, and Sophie runs into a few bumps trying to fit back in. The narrative shifts between characters: while it returns frequently to Sophie, the scenes are sometimes viewed through the eyes of Rose or Thelma Mae. The sections told from Thelma Mae’s point of view are particularly interesting, making a character who could have been a flat stereotype of a cranky old lady into someone more real. I could understand why she does some of the things she does, even as I would like to tell her, “No! Don’t do that! Just go talk to Rose!” It’s a good thing the characters are interesting in their own right, since it takes a while to get the mystery in each book, especially the third one. There’s also a very slow burn romance developing for Sophie, which is very sweet. And each book includes tips on tea and a recipe for a little treat. I hope there will be more installments in the series.

Source: Checked out from my public library

Reading Challenges: Um, none. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

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The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue (Guide, #1)
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the morning we are to leave for our Grand Tour of the Continent, I wake in bed beside Percy. For a disorienting moment, it’s unclear whether we’ve slept together or simply slept together.

This novel reminded me of reading Voltaire’s Candide in an English translation in college. What I remember most about that is that it was one adventure after another, a sort of Energizer Bunny of a story that just… kept… going. I recently did a little digging to figure out if what I remembered was accurate, and I ran across the term “picaresque novel”, for which the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms provides this explanation:

In the strict sense, a novel with a picaroon (Spanish, picaró: a rogue or scoundrel) as its hero or heroine, usually recounting his or her escapades in a first-person narrative marked by its episodic structure and realistic low-life descriptions. The picaroon is often a quick-witted servant who takes up with a succession of employers. […] In the looser sense now more frequently used, the term is applied to narratives that do not have a picaroon as their central character, but are loosely structured as a sequence of episodes united only by the presence of the central character, who is often involved in a long journey[…].

Okay, so The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue doesn’t strictly meet the definition, but it’s pretty close. It’s set in an unspecified year sometime in the eighteenth century. The first-person narrator, Henry “Monty” Montague, is the eighteen-year-old Viscount Disley, a lad pretty committed to a daily routine of drinking, gambling, and romping with assorted girls and boys. His father, the earl, has been vocal (and physical) in his disapproval of Monty’s habits, especially the “mucking about with boys” that was a major factor in Monty’s expulsion from Eton.

Monty is looking forward to one last hurrah of a Grand European Tour with his best friend (and the boy he’s been in love with for years), Percy, before returning to England, where his father expects him to settle down and learn how to handle estate he is expected to inherit. Monty is disappointed to discover that, in addition to bringing his fifteen-year-old sister, Felicity, along for a portion of the tour, he and Percy have been assigned a “bear-leader” who pledges to keep them on the straight and narrow.

That doesn’t last past Paris; events at a party at Versailles quickly lead to Monty, Percy, and Felicity – separated from their supposed guardian – finding themselves in a flight from city to city, trying to keep one step ahead of some dangerous pursuers. Secrets of all sorts are revealed as one challenge follows another, and Monty learns quite a lot more than he bargained for.

Monty, Percy, and Felicity are all realistically complicated characters. Monty is a rogue who has trouble seeing past his own privilege, but his biracial best friend and science-minded younger sister can (eventually) get through to him. The difficulties Percy and Felicity face are realistic edges in a story that verges on the fantastical.

This book is, most of all, fun. Monty’s attraction to boys as well as girls isn’t an issue for him (other than the fact that it drives his father’s vicious treatment of him); his problem is that he isn’t sure how to tell the boy he likes that he, well, likes him. Having a crush on your best friend that you’re afraid to confess because you can’t bear the thought of losing that friend? That’s a problem teenagers across time, space, gender, and orientation can all understand. This is a picaresque (hey, there’s that word!) adventure novel and a romance, so you know that despite the obstacles (and more obstacles… and more obstacles) they face, our heroes will get to their happy ending.

And Felicity is getting a book of her own, slated for October 2018. I am so looking forward to The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. I can hardly wait.

Source: Checked out from my public library.

Reading Challenges: Um, none. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

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A Study in Lavender by Joseph R. G, DeMarco (ed.)

A Study In Lavender: Queering Sherlock Holmes
A Study In Lavender: Queering Sherlock Holmes
edited by Joseph R.G. DeMarco
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Is Sherlock Holmes homosexual? Is Watson? Should we even be asking these questions?

DeMarco opens the Introduction to this collection of short stories with these questions. The following stories look at many facets of queer life in Victorian London as they touch on the lives of Holmes, Watson, Lestrade, and various original characters. In most of the stories, the (identified) queer characters are people other than Holmes and Watson themselves. Indeed, Holmes and Watson are all but entirely absent in at least two stories.

As with any anthology, the style varies between contributors. Most of the tales are written in traditional pastiche style, modeled on the Canon stories and narrated by Watson. One story is in third-person, one story is narrated by Holmes himself, and one story is a first-person narration by an original character.

I enjoyed the stories overall. There were a few that I just didn’t connect with, and the very first one surprised me with (content warning and spoiler alert!) references to incest. That topic is a Hard Pass for some readers, and I personally find it problematic in context. But that’s my personal engagement with the book, and yours is bound to be different.

If you are looking for Holmes/Watson romance, this is (mostly) not your book. If, however, you are looking for thoughtful, well-written explorations of the challenges faced by queer people in Victorian London, with a little Sherlockian flair, then this is the book for you.

Source: Purchased new

Reading Challenges: Counts for the Official TBR Pile Challenge and Mount TBR.

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Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Hello, UniverseHello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eleven-year-old Virgil Salinas already regretted the rest of middle school, and he’d only just finished sixth grade.

It’s the beginning of summer vacation, and the lives of four middle-schoolers are about to cross in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is small and quiet in a family of loud, large personalities. Kaori Tanaka is determined to use her gift of the “second sight” to help other kids. Valencia Somerset loves nature, but doesn’t really want to spend as much time alone as she does. Chet Bullens wants to impress people, especially his father, and believes to make himself bigger he must make others small.

I hadn’t heard about this book before it won the Newbery (though I did have Kelly’s two previous middle-grade books on the shelf at my library), so I really didn’t know what to expect.

I loved this book. It’s sweet and funny, and it captures so much of what it means to be at that age, just on the precipice of teenager-hood, when you’re figuring out who you are and what you believe.

The characters are diverse in a way that feels totally natural, and none of them are one-sided. The perspective rotates among Virgil, Valencia, Kaori, and Chet, giving the reader a wealth of information not available to the individual characters. Valencia’s chapters are written in first person, while the other three are all third-person. (I am curious about that choice!) Chet’s chapters, in particular, were a little heart-breaking to me as an adult (and the parent of an eleven-year-old). While the book is very much centered on the kids, I thought the glimpses of the adults in their lives were really interesting. And Lola is just fabulous.

The action of the novel takes place over just a day or two, so a lot of the “action” is internal, with the characters confronting their own ideas. There’s more than a touch of magical realism, too, giving the book an added dimension, but not drawing the story over the line into fantasy. Are these converging events nothing more than coincidence, or is the universe trying to get the characters’ attention?

This is a lovely little book that touches on big themes – friendship, bullying, standing up for yourself and others. If things seems to wrap up just a little bit too neatly, well, that’s the universe for you.

Source: Checked out from the public library

Reading Challenges: Counts for the Newbery Reading Challenge (Medal Winner: 3 points).

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The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

The Grownup

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn’t stop giving hand jobs because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it.

That’s our introduction to our unnamed narrator, who has recently started posing as a fortune-teller who reads auras (in the front room of the same establishment where she has been providing orgasms to lonely men in the back room). She’s a clever young woman who grew up a grifter and relies on her keen observation skills to provide just the right story to the right person to part them from their money. But her skills at reading people might not be quite enough in this creepy, twisty tale.

This is a skinny little book at just 62 pages, a hardback the size of a thin paperback. It was originally published as a short story in George R. R. Martin’s Rogues anthology under the title “What Do You Do?” (Which is a really excellent title for this story, actually.) It won the 2015 Best Short Story Edgar.

The narrator (I really wish she had a name) is a compelling character. She’s so sure of herself – a confidence woman in multiple senses. I was reminded a bit of Selina Dawes in Sarah Waters’ Affinity, brought up into the 21st century. She’s flawed in ways she recognizes and in ways she doesn’t. She should be one of those “unlikeable” characters, but you want to like her.

I haven’t read Gone Girl, even though it seems like everyone else has. I really enjoyed this little taste of her writing, so I can see why everyone’s been buzzing about her novels.

Source: Book of the Month club

Reading Challenges: Counts for Read Harder (Task 15: A one-sitting book), Mount TBR

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