A Conspiracy in Belgravia, by Sherry Thomas (audio)

Part 2 of this series, and this time Charlotte Holmes is looking into a mystery that involves her illegitimate half brother…

More fun. Other than a few language quirks – there was a bit too much Dickensian repetition of pithy jokes in the beginning – I enjoyed this second foray to Holmes’ world almost as much as the first. I think I do need a little break, though, which is good because the third book isn’t out yet. Just leaving this one as a mini-review since I don’t have much to say that I didn’t already say in A Study in Scarlet Women.

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A Study in Scarlet Women, by Sherry Thomas (audio)

From GoodReads: With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London. When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her. But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

1 – I’m not a fan of Sherlock Holmes in the original, and I’ve never until now enjoyed any revisitation or re-imagination of the Holmes persona. Not TV show or movie or modern book retelling. But this book was a lot of fun. It won’t be a book I’ll remember forever or anything, but I enjoyed the characters – even Sherlock – and had a fun time puzzling out the mystery. I also enjoyed that Thomas threw in some gender-study bits in this revamp as Holmes-as-female, especially surrounding female sensuality.

2 – The book was very confusing in the beginning. I was listening to the audio and I’m not sure if this was more clear in the physical book, but the story jumped around in time very abruptly for awhile. I had a hard time understanding what was happening, when they were happening, and how old Charlotte was at any given time. One scene, she’s caught sleeping with a man, in the next, she’s not ten years old yet, with no transition. So yeah, confusing. But after the first dozen scenes or so, the timeline became clear and I had no more problems.

3 – Unlike the original Holmes, Charlotte’s deductions seem reasonable and she doesn’t feel like some magic psychic snob with a personality disorder. She’s socially awkward and does her best to fit in, and she doesn’t think herself above everyone else. She’s cautious about her ability to make deductions and worries about the way it discomfits people. In a few words, she’s a vast improvement over any Sherlock I’ve ever read/watched.

4 – The audiobook is read by my favorite audio narrator, Kate Reading, so of course that lent itself to my enjoyment. It was, as usual, excellent.

5 – This is the really surprising thing. As soon as I finished this audiobook, I immediately downloaded the audio of the next book in the series from my library. So not only did I find a Holmes revisitation that I enjoyed, but I enjoyed it enough to want to read further right away. Yay!

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Dreadful Company, by Vivian Shaw (audio)

This second Greta Helsing novel, as I predicted, is an entirely separate plot from Strange Practice. The characters are (mostly) the same, with a few new people introduced. In this volume, Greta is in France at a conference when a coven of cliched vampires decides to kidnap her in order to lure one of her vampire friends to his death. Greta’s friends are all trying to figure out what’s happened to her, and Greta herself must figure out a way to escape. Meanwhile, the coven’s activities are causing a rip in reality that must be addressed by a group of demons and psychopomps.

Oh I love this series so much! I love that each story is standalone, but that I can keep catching up with the characters. Everything I said in my review of Strange Practice continues to be true – great writing, great characterization, perfect friendships, etc. Also, tons of tie-ins to Phantom of the Opera in this volume, yay! I can’t add much more other than to say that I hope the series continues for a long time!

PS – Audio continues to be excellent!

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Sunday Coffee – Updates

Oy. This week has been a roller coaster. I’m not really back to the blog yet, but I needed a place to update everything that has happened, so here goes (warning – long):

9/1: Sewer pipe backed up, but we caught it before there was too much damage. Jason took apart the guest toilet, thinking that was the problem. It wasn’t. We called out a plumber. It was an emergency Saturday call so he didn’t have a camera, but suspected roots in the line. He did some work to clear out debris caught on the roots, and said to go light on sewer usage until more work could be done.

9/2: Pipe overflowed again, and this time we didn’t catch it in time. Brand new living/dining floor destroyed. We ripped off the floor and started a new insurance claim. Plumber came out with a camera and discovered it wasn’t tree roots in the line but a giant calcium deposit. It was also very near where we had already dug, so he told us how to remove it ourselves (Jason can do basic plumbing work), in order to save us money. Jason dug out the pipe and the calcium deposits, but the line still wouldn’t drain. Plumbers came back out with a larger scope and discovered that the slope of our yard had bent the line of the pipe. They were going to need to get a city permit to dig eight feet into the xeriscaped yard, which could take awhile (both permit and digging). In the meantime, we had to go live in a hotel, and we thought we were going to have to cancel our vacation (we leave on the 13th). But the plumbers instead requested an emergency permit and started to look for someone to operate a backhoe on Labor Day.  Continue reading

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Foundryside, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Sancia is a thief-by-necessity in a world where class difference is sharply divided. She avoids those who have power, prestige, and wealth, but on a dangerous job which should pay a huge sum of money, she gets tangled up with the people she’d rather avoid. All of a sudden, Sancia has to team up with black market scientists, some rich elite, a self-appointed officer of law, and a sentient key in order to stop a couple ambitious people from becoming gods and destroying the world.

I first heard about this book from the author when I met him early in the year. He described his Divine Cities trilogy (which I read last year) as fantasy novels masking as thrillers, and he described this one as the opposite, a thriller masking as a fantasy. The description is pretty accurate, though I’d say it’s more like a heist novel masking as fantasy. I’m more a fan of fantasy than I am of heists or thrillers, so I definitely appreciated the Divine Cities trilogy more – however, this was still a very, very good book.

The book explores a question that I think is essential in fantasy world-building. All magic systems must have limits, hopefully limits that are as great as if not greater than the benefits of magic. There should be a cost to magic. Otherwise you just end up with the “anyone can do anything they want” situation (polyjuice potion, anyone?). But Foundryside asks: What happens if someone discovers a way to make magic limitless? What if someone figures out a way to give themselves infinite power? There’s no question that this is a Bad Idea, of course, but in a world where current technology and magic approaches that infinite point, how will people resist and/or react to the possibility of achieving that godlike state?

There’s also a lot of discussion about slavery, and how society becomes dependent on slave labor, and how people who have once been treated as objects still view themselves as such even after escaping slavery. There’s a lot of psychological untangling, in a world where reality itself can be bent to believe it’s different than it truly is. When the expert magic-scientists can convince objects that their nature is contrary to what it is in reality – example: a cross-bolt, when shot, believes that it is falling downward and has been falling downward for miles, so that its velocity and trajectory are devastating to the intended target – how can people cope with the psychological effects? If society treats objects as manipulatable reality, how would they view and treat the people around them, especially those of lower class?

Then there’s the way Bennett handles characters. None of them are entirely likable or good. Some of them are downright despicable in personality but good in heart. All have histories that don’t speak well for them. None of them are straightforward or simple. Same for their relationships with each other. There’s a huge class divide in the ragtag group mentioned above. Some people are outsiders because they work in the magic field in technology no one really understands (think “mad scientists”). Some are outsiders because their aims are different from the rest of society. Some are outsiders because they possess traits that are rare enough in this world that they must remain hidden. I loved seeing how these people eventually comes to terms with each other and become, if not friends, then at least partners who respect each other. Again, it’s not easy or simple or straightforward, but it’s the making of a connection that I imagine will continue in the next volume of this series.

The heist portions were my least favorite parts of the novel. I get bored during heists. It’s just not my thing. But the other stuff, both philosophy and the excellent characterization, was enough to outweigh that. My only other complaint was that there were way too many short exposition/info-dumps in the first few chapters. There’s a lot of world-building in this novel, I get that, but there didn’t seem to be a good integration of that world-building for a short time. Thankfully, though, that improved pretty quickly. And other than that, this was a delightful novel that struck the perfect balance between story, depth, and character exploration. I can’t wait to read the next one!

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August in Review

August was a hard month for me. I was just so sick of the lingering inability to get anything done. This is the third summer in a row when my house has been torn apart and under construction. Summer is always a hard season for me anyway, so having this triple-whammy the last few years has made it so much worse. The best I can say for the month is that the construction is over, the boys are back in school, I anticipate some cool fronts soon, and I have less than two weeks until my vacation. Thank goodness.

Goals
After finishing my kimono, some cross-body purses, and a hat that was a total fail, I’ve zeroed out my yarn and that goal is DONE. I’ve also gotten four professional massages now, which was the minimum on my goal list. Most of the rest of my goals involve fitness, nutrition, and weight loss, which were put on the back burner again this month due to construction, band camp, heat, and unpredictable schedules.

Health
It was decidedly another bad month in health, as one might expect from the things I mentioned above. Plus, my insomnia came back with a vengeance this month, ugh. I did the best I could considering the circumstances, but there was still a lot of eating out due to not having a kitchen, and very little exercise due to never knowing when I would have time (our contractor’s schedule was variable and unpredictable). I managed to exercise on 16 days, though half of those were not intentional (like hauling furniture or books around to get to different parts of the room). Yoga was pitiful – I did one workout on the 1st and didn’t do more yoga again until the 25th, and I only got in 5 sessions the entire month. Oy. Altogether, I exercised for only 12 hours, and only managed to walk/jog 22 miles. However, the lack of exercise and poor nutrition seems to have been balanced by how often I had “active rest days,” plus not having any alcohol this month. My weight is down about two pounds from the 1st to 31st, but it’s all within an easy maintenance fluctuation range.

Books
I stopped binging on fluff books this month and concentrated only on those that I really wanted to read. Total books read: 3. Total books loved: 3. Favorite of the month: This was extremely hard to choose because I loved all three books I read this month, but eventually I settled on Strange Practice. Marginally.

In Construction
After months and months of not having a house, construction finally finished (by Jason and me, sigh) on Aug 29th. My prediction was Aug 25th at the earliest, so it looks like I was spot on!

Highlights of August
Given what I said in my first paragraph above, highlights are a bit thin on the ground this month. Biggest moment, of course, was finishing the house and adding back books, decor, furniture arrangement, etc. Here are a few other high moments:

  • celebrating my grandparents’ 65th wedding anniversary and my grandpa’s 90th birthday
  • buying the first Halloween decoration of the year
  • writing the opening scene of a new novel
  • The boys are finally back to school! Yay!
  • getting several kitty-ducks to match my real kitties from one of my LuLaRoe retailer friends
  • getting the best massage I’ve had in two years
  • Ambrose finishing all his drive hours and driving test for driver’s ed (license test is scheduled for September)

Coming up in September
My plans for the month included rest, RIP reads, scheduled life, exercise, healthy meals, and an upcoming vacation (my first with just Jason in 4.5 years). However, on the 1st, we started having some major plumbing issues, and on the 2nd, our entire house flooded. We’re currently staying in a hotel until plumbers can rip our our xeriscaped front yard and repair a bend in the sewer line. That bend was causing calcium deposits to build up, which caused the blockage that flooded our house. The clogs are out, but the line must be fixed, and we have no working sewer line currently in our home.

At first, the prognosis was weeks in a hotel, canceling vacation, and spending nearly $10k on the damage (which includes having to replace our brand new living/dining room floor). However, our plumbers called in to have us put as a priority emergency repair, including getting an emergency permit from the city to have us use a backhoe to dig seven feet down into our yard. If all goes well, we should be able to move back home on Thursday, and the hole in the yard should be filled back in (after city inspectors verify the work) before we go on vacation. We may not have more than a concrete floor in our living/dining rooms, but that’s livable. It does mean that we may have more work to do as soon as we get back home from our cruise, but unless more bad news comes in (yesterday was a roller coaster of changing stories as the plumbers worked), we should at very minimum have a house to live in soon and a vacation to go on.

In other good news, Jason and I did pay for an insurance rider that covers backflow plumbing damage. We won’t know until tomorrow if that includes only the outside work, only the inside work, or both, but either way, something should be covered. And the plumbers are only charging ~$5000 for the work. The same guy has been working with us all weekend, coming out four times since Saturday, trying to schedule a backhoe operator on Labor Day, etc. These people are doing an amazing and honest job, and they will get the biggest glowing reviews I can possibly give them, and we’ll definitely call them for plumbing and a/c issues in the future. (Local peeps: Will’s All Pro Plumbing and Air Conditioning) You can never know too many excellent local folks who will give you fair, honest answers, prices, and work.

Anyway, I don’t mean for this to go on forever. Life is going to be crazy busy over the next little while. I’m going to disappear from the blogosphere until I’m home, or perhaps until October. Some book reviews might still go up (there’s one pending already from my last book of August) but otherwise, look for me in a month or so. And thank you to all the folks who have been following our saga on Instagram and Facebook, and lending support. Love you all!

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Sunday Coffee – The house is done!!!

As I mentioned last Sunday, the downstairs portion of the house finished about a week ago. The bathrooms gave us a lot of trouble (more below), but now, hallelujah, the house is DONE!!!**

Kitchen:

Ignore the open space by the window. We plan to build bench seating and a coffee bar in that area, but we’re going to wait until finances recover before doing that! (Temporary coffee bar setup below! This is the part that didn’t cost any money, haha!) The last photo in the above collage is a detail of the maple/black walnut butcher block countertops, which we really love!

Living/dining rooms:

That navy accent wall is my probably favorite part of everything we did during this project. (It looks darker in the picture than it is.) And I can’t tell you how good it feels to have decor up and books shelved for the first time in months! You better believe that all went up the very first day possible. Continue reading

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