Monday, February 17, 2014

quotable Gabrielle Zevin

We read to know we're not alone.  We read because we are alone.  We read and we are not alone.  We are not alone. (The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry)
I read The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry from start to finish this afternoon/evening. The novel is scheduled for release on 1 April 2014.  I recommend it highly.
disclosure (because we can't have an endorsement without a disclosure statement): I received a review copy of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry from Algonquin Books via NetGalley. A review is forthcoming.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

"A Study in Emerald" by Neil Gaiman
and the Martin Wallace board game
of the same name

Neil Gaiman's "A Story in Emerald" is a particularly well-conceived mashup of Sherlock Holmes and the Cthulhu Mythos, which was originally published in Shadows over Baker Street, edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan. I first learned about it last April when Russell came across a Kickstarter campaign for a board game by Martin Wallace inspired by the story. We were sufficiently intrigued to back the campaign and I used Russell's June birthday as an excuse to buy a book in which the story appeared:  New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird.

Our copy of A Study in Emerald (the game) arrived at Chez Morsie sometime around Christmas, but we hadn't gotten around to playing it so when our friend Michael brought his copy to game night last week, I jumped at the chance to learn the game even though I hadn't read Gaiman's story yet. I read the story today.

The story is set in an alternate Victorian London that should seem pretty familiar to readers. The biggest difference between "A Study in Emerald"'s London and that of Doyle is that Victoria is one of the Great Old Ones, who have been ruling the planet for the past 700 years. Like Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet," "A Study in Emerald" introduces the consulting detective and his narrating companion. There is a murder with which Inspector Lestrade and his team need assistance. At the crime scene "RACHE" is spelled out in the victim's blood, though in this case the blood is green. While I am no expert on the Sherlock Holmes canon, it seemed to me that Gaiman admirably maintained the feel of Doyle's/Watson's writing (though this is helped along by the fact the story's introductory passages mirror that of "A Study in Scarlet"). I liked how Gaiman was able to introduce the backstory of the Great Old One's takeover without having it seem like a tangent. While I enjoyed "A Study in Emerald" as I was reading it, when I finished the story I was thrilled. I can't explain why without spoiling it (I even insisted that Russell must read it himself). There's more in "A Study in Emerald" for Sherlockians than there is for Lovecraft aficionados, but I'd recommend it to both (and especially to readers who appreciate both Doyle's and Lovecraft's worlds).

A Study in Emerald (the game) is built upon the political tensions described in Gaiman's story: the Great Old Ones rule the world, but there is a group of "restorationists" plotting to overthrow them. In the game, which plays 2-5, players are randomly and secretly assigned to either the Loyalist or Restorationist factions. Ours was a 4-player game and I was the token Restorationist; I did not win.

Interestingly enough, per Wallace's design notes, the inspiration for A Study in Emerald was not Gaiman's story but The World that Never Was by Alex Butterworth, a history of anarchism.
I felt that there was enough material her for a board game but was note sure about the reception it would receive. I had this feeling that some players might object to a game where your main occupation would be going around blowing up various world leaders. It just so happened that I had recently read "A Study in Emerald" which suggested a solution to my problem--turn the leaders into monsters, thus depriving them of any sympathy they may otherwise garner. (Design notes, A Study in Emerald rule book, 16)
Not to mention the added cache of both Gaiman and the Cthulhu mythos with gamers.  If nothing else, the "A Study in Emerald" overlay was marketing genius.  I don't tend to spend much time reading rule books (preferring to have games taught to me) and I would skip over design notes just as I usually skip over acknowledgments in the books that I read. I had Russell dig out our copy of the rule book when I started writing this post because I wanted to read Wallace's justification of his inclusion of zombies1 (and vampires) in the game when they don't appear in the story,2 and that's how I learned about the real inspiration for the game, which I found particularly interesting.
  1. For what it's worth I was holding my own against in the Loyalist faction until the zombies card was in play. When Dan, who had the zombies card in his card, managed to get his hands on a card that allowed his deck to cycle more quickly, I (and the Restorationist cause) was doomed.
  2. He justifies zombies because of a real life Dr. Frankenstein-type individual that appears in Butterworth. He has no good excuse for including vampires.

seasonal reading: Wintersmith
by Terry Pratchett

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett
series: Tiffany Aching (3); Discworld (35)

With so many parts of the US having a particularly cold and/or snowy winter and Punxsutawney Phil predicting another 6 weeks of winter today on Groundhog Day1, Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith seems like the most appropriate of reading choices.

Wintersmith is the third book in Pratchett's Tiffany Aching Adventures (after Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky), which follows the coming-of-age adventures of a young witch (and her bumbling, not-quite-accidental helpmeets, the Nac Mac Feegle2) who lives within his Discworld world.

In Wintersmith, Tiffany inadvertently draws the attention of the titular character, who is the personification of the winter. The Wintersmith's attempts to woo Tiffany yield a long and preposterously harsh winter (with Tiffany-shaped snowflakes no less). Tiffany must find a way to subdue with Wintersmith while, unbeknownst to Tiffany, the Nac Mac Feegle train up a hero (who will be familiar to readers of the series) to rescue Spring from the underworld (that hero himself draws the parallel to Orpheus). More importantly (from the bildungsroman3 perspective at least), Tiffany must take responsibility for her role in attracting the Wintersmith.

I've mentioned before that the Tiffany Aching books were my primary reading matter during the recent family flu epidemic.  While I enjoyed the books (which came highly recommended by my father), I feel like I would have liked them better if I hadn't read them one right after the other.4 It just seems to be that my reading of the series would have benefited from enough of a gap that absolutely everything from the previous installment(s) was not so fresh in my mind.
  1. Groundhog Day (aka Candlemas): "On Candlemas the woodchuck is said to emerge from his hibernation in order to look for his shadow. If he sees it, he will return to his burrow for six more weeks. If he doesn't, he knows that spring will arrive soon. The belief is related to the association of Candlemas with the sowing of the crops, sunny weather foreboding harsh days and so poor planting" (The Folklore of American Holidays edited by Cohen and Coffin, 65).
  2. The titular characters of Wee Free Men.  Loveable rogues, the Nac Mac Feegle are like tiny, very clannish Scotsmen, who happen to be fairies (or pixies, I guess) and have the social structure of bees.  Their primary interests are drinking, brawling, and stealing.
  3. I suppose this should be bildungsbuchreihe (or something like that) since it's not a novel, but the overarching storyline of a series.
  4. Some series beg for binge reading, others do not.

January 2014 reading recap

Books Read in January

10. The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier (review forthcoming) - Netgalley
9. Graceling by Kristin Cashore (audio; see post) - public library
8. Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett (see post) - from my dad
7. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (see post) - from my mom
6. Courtney Crumrin: The Night Things by Ted Naifeh (see post) - purchased at independent comic book/gaming shop
5. The Witch's Daughter by Paula Brackston (audio; see post) - public library
4. A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett (see post on Wintersmith) - from my dad
3. Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (mentioned in this post; see also post on Wintersmith) - from my dad
2. Far From You by Tess Sharpe (double-review post with How Sweet It Is by Melissa Brayden forthcoming) - Netgalley
1. The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh (see post) - Netgalley

Saturday, February 01, 2014

mom-approved: Donna Leon

Yesterday I ran straight from work to the public library on an errand for my mom. Lately she's been stuck at home in pain with limited mobility because of a herniated disc in her back or something along those lines. Now, my mom is a voracious reader. Her favorite genres are historical fiction and mysteries, though like me she reads broadly across most fiction genres and appreciates the occasional nonfiction title when it relates to long-term or of-the-moment interests. However, right now she's only interested in reading books from one particular author: Donna Leon. Two of the Donna Leon books she requested from one of our library system's other branches had come in and I needed to collect them before the library closed at 6 pm.

She's working her way (possibly nonsequentially) through the books in Leon's Guido Brunetti series of mysteries set in Venice. So far there are 23 titles in the series:
  1. Death At La Fenice (1992)
  2. Death in a Strange Country (1993)
  3. The Anonymous Venetian aka Dressed for Death (1994)
  4. A Venetian Reckoning aka Death And Judgment (1995)
  5. Acqua Alta aka Death in High Water (1996)
  6. The Death of Faith aka Quietly in Their Sleep (1997)
  7. A Noble Radiance (1997)
  8. Fatal Remedies (1998)
  9. Friends in High Places (1999)
  10. A Sea of Troubles (2001)
  11. Willful Behavior (2002)
  12. Uniform Justice (2003)
  13. Doctored Evidence (2004)
  14. Blood from a Stone (2005)
  15. Through a Glass Darkly (2006)
  16. Suffer the Little Children (2007)
  17. The Girl of His Dreams (2008)
  18. About Face (2009)
  19. A Question of Belief (2010)
  20. Drawing Conclusions (2011)
  21. Beastly Things (2012)
  22. The Golden Egg (2013)
  23. By Its Cover (2014)
Leon has also published a stand-alone novel, The Jewels of Paradise (2012), which is also set in Venice.

I'm pretty sure that I have a copy of Acqua Alta kicking around here, in turn I am pretty sure that I got it from my mom and that she picked it up as vacation reading. When I figure out where I put the book (if indeed I am remembering this all correctly), I'll read it and see whether I find the series as exciting as my mom does.