Yet More Bookables

Posted at September 07, 2021

Hey, books!

The House in the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune

I read The Big Idea post about this one, was intrigued, and reserved it from the library.

Take a Harry Potter-like mix of magic and the real world, except the muggles are in the know. Substitute the Ministry for Magic with ministries responsible for suppressing magic. Finally, replace the teenager cursed with destiny with a conscientious middle-aged civil servant who believes he’s doing the right thing.

Linus Baker works for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He inspects various orphanages where magical youth are taught not to use their powers. He’s sent on a mission to an orphanage containing the most dangerous of creatures. Will he recommend to Extremely Upper Management that it should be closed down, or will he fall under the spell of the enigmatic headmaster Arthur Parnassus?

It’s a weird book. Parts of it read like YA, other parts like a romance, all set against a backdrop of systemic oppression. Whenever I thought about the world, it didn’t really make much sense. But it’s a kind and wholesome read. I really felt for the characters, and wanted Linus to let himself have a happy ending.

The Lost Girls of Foxfield Hall, by Jessica Thorne

I was looking at Twitter, and saw @octocon tweet that they were starting a panel with Jessica Thorne on their Twitch channel. So, OK, I figured I’d check it out. It was so entertaining that I bought her latest book.

It tells the stories of two women. In 1939, Lady Eleanor Fairfax returns home to Foxfield Hall, while her father and fiancé head off for the war effort. According to the historical record, she will mysteriously disappear during the upcoming Harvest Festival. In 2019, Megan Taylor is hired to restore the overgrown maze of Foxfield Hall, now a hotel. Her brother is M.I.A. in Afghanistan. Through magical happenstance, the two of them meet at night inside the maze. Can Megan use her future knowledge to save Eleanor? And what of the ghost that’s said to be trapped in the maze?

It’s an intriguing setup. I thought for sure that Eleanor and Megan would visit each other’s time period, but no — they only overlap inside the maze. There’s a lot of creepy stuff going on. My only real complaint is that I couldn’t follow the action during the climax.

Out of Era, by Edmond Barret

I really enjoyed this one! I was compelled to spew a Twitter thread on the topic:

Maskerade, by Terry Pratchett

I’ve been lending my Discworld books to a friend lately. I couldn’t let this one go before rereading it. The witches subseries is my favourite, and this might be his best farce.

Nanny Ogg writes a cookbook with … saucy recipes, and publishes it under the name “The Lancre Witche”. Granny Weatherwax, vaguely known to the outside world as the Lancre witch, can’t be having with this. The two go off to Ankh Morpork to have a word with the publisher about royalties. In the meantime, they might as well check in with young Agnes Nitt, who’s joined the chorus of the Ankh Morpork Opera in order to evade a potential future in witchcraft. Unfortunately, there’s a mysterious phantom going around killing people…

It’s a fun read. It’s also a great Nanny book — she’s usually in Granny’s shadow, but she holds her own in this one. I love this one.

Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett

Also a good one. People argue that it’s the pinnacle of the series. The first time I read it, I was annoyed that it retcons Commander Vimes’ backstory again:

  • In Guards! Guards!, he’s just a guard.
  • In Men At Arms, he’s the descendant of Stoneface Vimes, a Cromwell-like figure who killed the last king.
  • And in Night Watch, we learn he participated in a rebellion when he was young.

It’s fine. I understand that the backstory has to get shoehorned in to make the story work, and it’s a fantastic story. But this is the sixth book featuring the character. I should already know about this. Argh.

Did I mention it’s a fantastic story? There’s a magical storm that causes a bit of a time travel accident. Now Vimes has to assume the identity of his old mentor John Keel, and teach his younger self how to be a good copper. And he has to capture Carcer, the murderer he was trying to apprehend during said magical storm. And he has to do this during the last days of Lord Winder’s reign, while the city falls apart. And he has to keep the timeline intact… which means walking into the receiving end of a massacre.

Pratchett wrote comedic books. This one’s funny, but it’s dark, and more serious than most of his stuff.. There’s an undercurrent of outrage going through the entire thing. Parts are harrowing, and Carcer is terrifying.

Elfshadow, by Elaine Cunningham

I finished this back in July. It’s a fun book, but I can’t think of anything specific to bring up other than I liked it. Uh, the dynamic between Arilyn Moonblade, a half-elf assassin, and Danilo Thann, a noble fop who’s secretly badass, was a lot of fun. The twist isn’t hard to figure out, but I give the book props for having Arilyn figure it out well before it’s explicitly spelled out for the reader.

You should read the review at Let’s Read TSR. 😀

1632 by Eric Flint

Uh, I fell down a rabbit hole.

1632, which can be downloaded for free at the publisher’s website, is about a small West Virginia town called Grantville. It is suddenly transported through space and time to the Holy Roman Empire during the Thirty Years’ War. After getting their footing, they decide to kick off the American Revolution 150 years early.

It’s an absurd premise, but the book takes it seriously. The amount of research and thought that went into this is boggling. Yeah, sure, there are sections where their technological superiority dominates their opposition. But it also grapples with their inability to sustain themselves without 21st century supply chains, lack of resources, and limited numbers.

The characters — and there are a lot of them — are mostly two dimensional. But it’s not a character-driven story. They’re there to provide different perspectives for the political conflicts that have to be navigated to ensure this town’s future.

I really loved it. So much so that I followed it up with…

1633, by David Weber and Eric Flint

Yep, the next book in the series. The fate of the newly established United States of Europe is tied to that of King Gustav II Adolph of Sweden. They are spending their precious resources on establishing their military and armaments to solidify the Swedish king’s hold over the various principalities of his conquered territory. In the meantime they’ve sent diplomatic missions to England and the Netherlands, where they discover that copies of future high school history textbooks have been smuggled into the hands of the elite.

There’s a lot more in this book from the perspective of “down-timers” (versus “up-timers”: Americans from the 21st century). Grantville was an unknown in the first book, and Gustav was able to use their technology to surprise his opponents. Now this new United States of Europe is a more known quantity.

It was good. Definitely much more expansive than the first book. My biggest complaint is that many of the plot threads drop at the end — presumably they’ll be picked up in the next book.

Ring of Fire by Eric Flint (and others)

This is the first of several short story collections set in the universe established by 1632. It’s pretty cool, actually — there’s a mix of professional and amateur authors, it was organized on a forum, and everything in here is canon to the series.

Some stories introduce new characters. Others go into stuff that isn’t covered in the main books. One story is about an up-timer teenager who starts up a little baseball league. Another is about a Jesuit priest trying to put a stop to witch trials. There are multiple stories going into religious issues, including a story juggling up-timer Reform Jews, Sephardic Jews, and Ashkenazic Jews. (I felt out of my depth on that one.)

The terrible thing about this book is that it establishes subseries. I want to know what happens with Monsignor Mazarini when he goes to Rome with Catholic texts from the future, or what happens next in Prague.

This is a series with a truly absurd number of books.


I should do these posts more frequently, and probably at less length. Cheers. 😀