25 October 2014

The Penguin Book of Witches edited by Katherine Howe

Summary from Goodreads:
Chilling real-life accounts of witches, from medieval Europe through colonial America

From a manual for witch hunters written by King James himself in 1597, to court documents from the Salem witch trials of 1692, to newspaper coverage of a woman stoned to death on the streets of Philadelphia while the Continental Congress met, The Penguin Book of Witches is a treasury of historical accounts of accused witches that sheds light on the reality behind the legends. Bringing to life stories like that of Eunice Cole, tried for attacking a teenage girl with a rock and buried with a stake through her heart; Jane Jacobs, a Bostonian so often accused of witchcraft that she took her tormentors to court on charges of slander; and Increase Mather, an exorcism-performing minister famed for his knowledge of witches, this volume provides a unique tour through the darkest history of English and North American witchcraft, never failing to horrify, intrigue, and delight.

Penguin is not kidding when they say "real-life" accounts.  Katherine Howe has collected primary source documentation on the persecution of suspected witches,  The transcripts of trials and interrogations are chilling - one was guilty of being a witch simply by accusation. The incidents occurred primarily in Colonial America but a few from England are included. Howe has a doctorate in this exact period of United States history - as well as being descended from accused witches on both sides of her family tree - and provides excellent introductions to each piece of material.

The Penguin Book of Witches is an excellent short anthology of court records and testimony.  However, it does not read smoothly.  Howe did not re-write the accounts simply to make the reading experience easier, which I appreciate because there is no reason why the testimonies cannot be read in the original rather than in a "modernized" edition (cf. my least favorite question at the bookstore: "Do you have an English translation of [insert English language classic like Jane Eyre here]?").  But the layout of the actual text makes for difficult reading.  Unintelligible or missing writing was noted in the transcripts as [torn] or [illegible], right in line with the text and was confusing.  I would be reading along and read [torn] as something actually stated and have to back up to re-read.  In future editions, Penguin should add a few spaces around the lacunae and perhaps place the text in italics - this is a short book so a few more pages could be spared for ease of reading.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book through the Penguin First to Read program.

20 October 2014

Darling Beast (Maiden Lane #7) by Elizabeth Hoyt

Summary from Goodreads:

Falsely accused of murder and mute from a near-fatal beating, Apollo Greaves, Viscount Kilbourne has escaped from Bedlam. With the Crown's soldiers at his heels, he finds refuge in the ruins of a pleasure garden, toiling as a simple gardener. But when a vivacious young woman moves in, he's quickly driven to distraction . . .


London's premier actress, Lily Stump, is down on her luck when she's forced to move into a scorched theatre with her maid and small son. But she and her tiny family aren't the only inhabitants—a silent, hulking beast of a man also calls the charred ruins home. Yet when she catches him reading her plays, Lily realizes there's more to this man than meets the eye.


Though scorching passion draws them together, Apollo knows that Lily is keeping secrets. When his past catches up with him, he's forced to make a choice: his love for Lily . . . or the explosive truth that will set him free.

At the end of Duke of Midnight, we were introduced to the men running Harte's Folly, a London pleasure garden and theatre that is now a smoking ruin.  Also at the end of Duke, we find out that Apollo Greaves, falsely accused and imprisoned-in-Bedlam-but-now-escaped Viscount Kilbourne, has taken refuge there while hiding from his sister Artemis's husband (Maximus, Duke of Wakefield, was not entirely convinced that Apollo in insane, so he kept Apollo in his basement after breaking him out of Bedlam.  Go read Duke of Midnight - it makes far more sense if you do).

A few months later, when Darling Beast opens, the garden is under re-construction and has gained another set of inhabitants: Lily Stump, celebrated actress under contract to Harte's Folly, and her son Indio and their housekeeper/nurse/dresser/old friend Maude.  Their small savings have dwindled.  No theatre means no income to pay her and her contract burned a lot of bridges in the London theatre community.  When Indio and his little dog Daffodil (aka Daff) make the acquaintance of the enormous, mute gardener (Apollo) Lily finds herself dangerously attracted to him.  It seems the regenerating garden holds many secrets: Apollo's identity, his location (which involves Artemis as well), Lily's past, and the secret to her success.  Only two of these secrets might prove to be fatal.  An opportunity for Lily to earn extra money at a country house party brings everything out into the open.

Elizabeth Hoyt has delivered another excellent installment of the Maiden Lane series. It's a beautiful story for Apollo and Lily in another cross-class romance with a bit of shading for Trevillion and Phoebe, who will be featured in the next book, Dearest Rogue (due in May or June 2015, I think).  The inclusion of a curious little boy and his energetic dog (Hoyt says in her acknowledgements that Daffodil was inspired by someone else's Italian greyhound but I see a lot of her Miss Puppy Pie in Daff; I'm still rooting for a series of picture books inspired by Miss Puppy Pie's exploits) provide many opportunities for laughter as does Apollo's insistence on calling Maximus "His Grace the Ass" (Apollo has his reasons).

My new favorite addition to the cast of Maiden Lane is Valentine Napier, the 7th Duke of Montgomery, who is a sort of silent partner in Harte's Folly.  Dry, witty, nattily dressed, and canny as all hell, he's the Hoyt answer to Eloisa James's Leopold Dautry, Duke of Villiers, from the Desperate Duchesses series.  I wonder if the mysterious Miss Royle will end up with Montgomery (in my head he sounds EXACTLY like Tom Hollander in his Lord Admiral role from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies; if they ever adapt these - because who knows - he better be on the casting list).  Although before we get to Montgomery, we'll have a book for Asa Makepeace first, in Sweetest Scandal, I think, who is a completely different sort of personality from his younger brother, Winter (Thief of Shadows).

19 October 2014

#Readathon Wrap-Up Fall 2014

Hello all!

Just a short Readathon wrap-up post!

I didn't get as much read this time around as I have in past years (the total page count is a bit down) due to work and I just couldn't get that "reading groove" going.

But I did finish four books and start a fifth:

So that's 992 pages and I read for 10 hours and 41 minutes total.  That's still really good!!

Thanks to all the organizers at Dewey's Readathon and I'll be ready to read-it-up in the spring!

18 October 2014

It's time for #Readathon! Dewey's 24-hr Readathon Fall 2014 edition

It's October and that means Readathon!  I'll be reading most of today, Saturday, October 18, except for the 12-6 block because I have to work at the bookstore.  Boo.

But I have a nice stack of books:

Authority by Jeff Vandermeer
The Penguin Book of Witches edited by Katherine Howe
Age of License by Lucy Knisley
People I Want to Punch in the Throat by Jen Mann
The Mathematician's Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer
Field Notes on Democracy by Arundhati Roy
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by AS King
The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
California by Edan Lepucki
On the nook: Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt and Gutenberg's Apprentice by Alix Christie
On the iPad: First Impressions by Charlie Lovett, The Human Body by Paulo Giordano, and a DRC that I kind of can't tell you I have (but it will be amazing!!!)

(I made a video of my stack and a few readathon tips for my BookTube channel if you want to watch)

In a goofy departure from my norm, most of my stack is comprised of library books and DRCs.  Go figure.

Righty-ho, then.  My coffee will be brewing, my scones are baked, my brownies are baked, my Excel spreadsheet is ready, and with any luck I will be awake for the kick-off at 7am CDT.

But if I'm not, my post will be up then.  Haha.

Get ready, get set, READ!!

12 October 2014

Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming

Summary from Goodreads:
In his unique and engaging voice, the acclaimed actor of stage and screen shares the emotional story of his complicated relationship with his father and the deeply buried family secrets that shaped his life and career

A beloved star of stage, television, and film, Alan Cumming is a successful artist whose diversity and fearlessness is unparalleled. His success masks a painful childhood growing up under the heavy rule of an emotionally and physically abusive father—a relationship that tormented him long into adulthood.

When television producers in the UK approached him to appear on a popular celebrity genealogy show in 2010, Alan enthusiastically agreed. He hoped the show would solve a family mystery involving his maternal grandfather, a celebrated WWII hero who disappeared in the Far East. But as the truth of his family ancestors revealed itself, Alan learned far more than he bargained for about himself, his past, and his own father.

With ribald humor, wit, and incredible insight, Alan seamlessly moves back and forth in time, integrating stories from his childhood in Scotland and his experiences today as a film, television, and theater star. At times suspenseful, deeply moving, and wickedly funny, Not My Father’s Son will make readers laugh even as it breaks their hearts.

I first noticed Alan Cumming as an actor in the movie Circle of Friends (he plays the skeevy clerk who bamboozles Minnie Driver's mother into thinking he's helping the family business).  He then popped up as the manager in Josie and the Pussycats, among other things, and right now he can be found performing on Broadway in Cabaret and introducing Masterpiece Mystery in his delightful Scots accent.  I knew little about his personal life - not surprising since he's not one of those A-listers being stalked by the papparazzi - but after reading the promotional copy (which was similar to the summary above) I knew this was a memoir I should read.

At minimum, Not My Father's Son is a well-structured and well-written memoir about the crazy summer that Alan Cumming spent shooting an episode of the British geneaology series "Who Do You Think You Are?" - learning about his maternal grandfather and undergoing severe emotional upheaval from his abusive father. Cumming has a great writing style (he does not appear to have a co-writer) and while many parts of the book, particularly episodes from this childhood, are upsetting and sad, he doesn't let the reader dwell or wallow in the past. There's a fantastic digression about the insanity that is the Eurovision Song Contest and another digression about his hair since he had just started appearing regularly on The Good Wife and was during this time period going au naturel with his natural salt-and-pepper color. And another short digression centered on the BS women put up with in clothing, nails, and hair removal (he was shooting part of a miniseries at the same time as all the "Who Do You Think You Are?" stuff where he played a transvestite).  The story of Cumming's journey into his family's past was so compelling.  Well done.

(And he calls his mother Mary Darling - because Darling is her maiden name and she's also a darling. It makes her seem like a distant relation of the children from Peter Pan. Isn't that sweet?)

Dear FTC: I received access a digital review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.