All the hovering possibilities: a review of Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

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Frog Music

“By evening, the heat of the day has thickened like a smell. P’tit finally falls into a snuffling doze in her locked arms.
A tap at the door. . . Jenny Bonnet, the pool of purple around her eye faded to greenish yellow, the swelling gone down. It was only two days ago when the thug walloped her chez Durand, Blache calculates. That was in Blanche’s old life, before she brought P’tit home.”

– Frog Music, Emma Donoghue

San Francisco, 1876: During an unbearable heat wave and a dangerous outbreak of smallpox, Blanche Beunon bends over to unlace her boots and bullets fly over her head, killing her new friend Jenny Bonnet almost instantly. Blanche is sure her lover and his best friend are behind it, that the bullets were meant for her. Jenny, a prototypical coucher surfer who makes her living catching frogs for restaurants and has done jail time for her habit of wearing men’s clothing, was simply in the wrong place. But can it be more than that? From the notorious House of Mirrors where Blanche dances to Chinatown where she and her lover live, Frog Music draws a picture both bright and bleak of post–Gold Rush San Francsico and brings to life a real unsolved murder.

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DeeBrief review: The Accident by Chris Pavone

Set in the publishing world, The Accident goes from the slush pile to a Bourne Identity–style chase through New York. But are the stakes really that high?

The Accident

“‘You think that has something to do with the manuscript?’
‘I do. Isabel does.’
‘What? Why?’
‘Because it can’t be a coincidence that the morning after the girl finishes reading the bombshell, someone shoots her in the head. In her own apartment.’

– The Accident, Chris Pavone

What if one of the most powerful men in the world had a secret, scandalous past? And what if that man could be brought down by a single manuscript? Literary agent Isabel Reed and editor Jeff Fielder are about to find out—and they could pay with their lives—in Chris Pavone’s thriller The Accident. Set in the publishing world, The Accident goes from the slush pile to a Bourne Identity–style chase through New York. But are the stakes really that high?

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The best interests of women: a review of The Massey Murder by Charlotte Gray

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and
Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race
Around the WorldFor author and historian Charlotte Gray in The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial that Shocked a Country, the murder is an access point, a window into Toronto a hundred years ago, and into the changing social fabric of Canada.

The Massey Murder

“Now, within a city and country under stress, Carrie Davies’s actions played into contemporary disquiet about the dissolution of Old World standards of behaviour. Whatever did Carrie Davies think she was doing? Was this the kind of thing that would happen if people didn’t know their place and women were given the vote?

The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial that Shocked a Country, by Charlotte Gray

Carrie Davies would have been one of the countless unknown servants of wartime Toronto if not for her actions on February 8, 1915. An eighteen-year-old  immigrant from a big family in England, she was working to support herself while sending money home. But then she picked up a gun and shot the man she worked for: Charles Albert Massey, of the prominent old Ontario Massey family. For author and historian Charlotte Gray in The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial that Shocked a Country, the murder is an access point, a window into Toronto a hundred years ago, and into the changing social fabric of Canada.

Toronto is my adopted city, the place I moved to in 2008 to continue schooling, to pursue a career and become an adult. It’s the city I know and love best, having learned its streets, its festivals, its hidden restaurant and pub gems, in a way I never did where I grew up: savouring rather than taking the terrain from granted. I also arrived in time for a crippling garbage strike and a mayoral race that, years later, has left city hall in the grip of personal and possibly criminal scandal. I have a fascination for Toronto’s politics and its history. So The Massey Murder is exactly the book I was looking for. Less a focused true crime account and more an examination of class, gender, and history, Gray has written a compelling narrative of the Toronto that was a century ago.

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Romantic improvisation: a review of Vienna Nocturne by Vivien Shotwell

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Vienna Nocturne

“Anna had seen many virtuosi play. Wolfgang Mozart surpassed them all. He exhaled, and so many breathing notes unfurled from his unhesitating hands. He played as she had always wished to sing—how she imagined she might sing if she were not so excitable and striving, but selfless and assured, bound to music alone.

– Vienna Nocturne, Vivien Shotwell

In the late 1700s, a young English soprano sets sail with her overprotective mother to find fame and fortune on the Italian stage. And find them Anna Storace does with the company at La Scala Opera House. In Vienna Nocturne, by opera singer Vivien Shotwell, we follow “L’inglesina” from her carefree heights in Milan to Austria where great suffering, great love, and the incomparable Mozart await her under the watchful reign of Joseph II.

It’s easy to throw on some “soothing” Mozart when we’re reading or studying, or to think of Mozart’s music as old-fashioned. But debut novelist Shotwell allows us to peek behind the curtain of one of the greatest moments in operatic history, giving us a keen reminder of the drama, personalities, and political intrigue at play as this music was being composed. Based on the real life of the celebrated soprano who originated the role of Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro in 1786, Vienna Nocturne is about not just the passion in the music, but an illicit love affair between Anna and the married upstart composer Wolfgang Mozart.

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DeeBrief review: The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

This is foremost a ghost story, a chilling tale about loved ones who have died—but maybe not permanently. McMahon excels in creating taut situations set against the spooky backdrop of unforgiving east coast mountains and forests

The Winter People

“‘Because you are the closest I will ever come to a child of my own, the secret will go to you. I will write it all down, everything I know about sleepers. I will fold up the papers, put them in an envelope, and seal it with wax. You will hide it away, and one day, when you are ready, you will open it up.’
‘How will I know I am ready?’ I asked.
She smiled, showing her small teeth, pointed like a fox’s and stained brown from tobacco. ‘You will know.'”

– The Winter People, Jennifer McMahon

Today I’m introducing my blog’s second new feature of the year: DeeBrief reviews. I review far fewer books than I read, often because of time constraints, job, life, having finished too many books at once, or simply not having quite as much to say about a particular title. Often books that I would love to recommend or discuss with you get left in the dust. DeeBrief reviews will be concise snapshots, running about 500 words in length (my regular book reviews are usually 1000-1500 words). Hope you enjoy this new feature! It’ll certainly let me get to more books on my blog.

Something’s going on in the woods outside West Hall, Virginia. The sleepy little town is home to more than just a charming farmers’ market and a quirky history. What really happened to Sara Harrison Shea, whose body was found skinned alive after the death of her only child in 1908? And in the present, where has Ruth and Fawn’s mother gone? In Jennifer McMahon’s atmospheric ghost story The Winter People, three women across a century will discover the truth about “sleepers” as they search for missing loved ones.

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They’re Watching: a review of The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

What can you say about a girl with a hole through her middle, or a boy with bees living in his stomach? Or immortal pigeons and impossible creatures? They’re pretty peculiar. In Hollow City, Ransom Riggs’ sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Jacob Portman also calls them his friends. Jacob is Peculiar too.

The Panopticon

“It’s why nobody kept me. Except Teresa and she got murdered, and whose fault was that? The therapist said it wasnae mine, but I could have checked on her, I could have made her come through for lunch. I could have knocked on the door after her client left and asked her if she wanted a cup of tea. . .
The experiment know.
They dinnae know this, though: I’d die before I’d pick on someone. I would. You dinnae bully people, ever, ’cause all bullies are cowards.”

– The Panopticon, Jenni Fagan

Anais Hendricks, 15 years old, covered in blood, and coming down off a trip she can’t remember, is accused of attacking a police officer and leaving her in a coma. If the officer dies, Anais will be in worse trouble still. She’s been moved through dozens of foster homes, and the one touch of stability she’s had ended when her adoptive mother Teresa was found murdered, possibly by one of her own johns. So Anais is off to the Panopticon, a home for juvenile offenders, and those with nowhere else to go, designed so that its inhabitants can be seen everywhere by its guards. The kids who call it home may be referred to as “clients” by the staff, but they’re clients who can be monitored at all times.

And Anais knows all about monitoring: she believes she was grown in a petri dish by a shadowy group called “the experiment.” They watch her every move, and they’re closing in on her. Just when she thinks she can breathe someone she trusts warns her about the experiment—or is that just a hallucination? What about the stone winged cat perched above the Panopticon? Was it really foretold by the monk at the insane asylum who claims to have met Anais’s birth mother? There’s a lot going on in this pulsing, ferocious narrative, driven by the forcefully independent voice of Anais.

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Blog Tour: a review of Archetype by MD Waters

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Archetype

Archetype new

 

Don’t you tell him, that voice sounding very much like mine tells me. Lie. Lie your goddamn ass off…
Men in white lab coats and gray scrubs drive into the room the second I start to convulse. And yet, I continue to try. I have to overcome this. I want to go home.
I told you to lie, She says coolly. You don’t understand yet, but you will.
I only understand that I am at war with myself, and I do not know why. One way or another, I will win.

– Archetype, MD Waters

When she opens her eyes into the glaring light of a hospital room, Emma Burke has no idea where she is—or even who she is. And it’s only after intensive therapy and visits from her doting husband Declan that she begins to understand that she is a wife who has been through an ordeal too terrible to describe. But in MD Waters’s future dystopian debut Archetype, nothing is as it seems. This pageturner blends the amnesiac suspense of SJ Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep with the fertility-challenged future patriarchy of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and a dash of Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember it For you Wholesale” (the basis of the Total Recall films).

How well it manages to do so is the question. Emma is plagued with nightmares (or are they memories? Visions?) of a life that doesn’t fit the picture Declan paints for her—especially of another man she seems to have intense feelings for and a revolution in which she is a warrior. She lives in a society where too much genetic modification has caused a plague of infertility and a shortage of women in general, where girls are brought up in facilities that train them to be wives. America is in the throes of a Man in the High Castle–like war, and security  cameras are pushing 1984 levels of intrusiveness. There’s a lot going on in Emma’s life, not the least of which is how she can figure out who she is, if she doesn’t remember who she used to be (and if the memories she does have don’t fit the life she sees before her).

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