Good Series Alert: The Flavia de Luce Books

Attention: Alan Bradley just came out with Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, the 8th book in his Flavia de Luce series. Why does this need your attention? Well, if you didn’t already know about them, the Flavia de Luce books are definitely a fun series that deserves your time, and the release of a new book in the series is the perfect excuse to educate people about this fun and engaging mystery series. If you’re already familiar with the de Luce series, what are you still doing here? I just told you the latest book is out! Go get it, hurry! For people that haven’t read the series yet, do not follow those people and buy the latest book. There are a great deal of plot twists and turns in this series, and the best way to enjoy them is to start at the very beginning.

I suppose I should start at the beginning as well. The Flavia de Luce books follow the adventures of a young girl named… you guessed it, Flavia de Luce in a rural English town during the early 1950s. She lives with her two sisters and father in a sprawling country manor. The de Luce family has a rich (literally very obscenely rich) and storied past, but now it’s only these four in a giant manor, Buckshaw, and Flavia’s father has an increasingly difficult time maintaining the place.

Flavia is the youngest of three sisters, and resents the older two, Ophelia and Daphne, greatly, not just because of the constant malicious pranks they all pull on one another, but because is too young to remember her now dead mother, whereas her sisters still do, and frequently remind her of this fact. It’s a half playful, half cruelly spiteful relationship that a lot of siblings have. I won’t say I recognize it from personal experience, but I will say that my sister was totally adopted by my parents and that she actually grew up in the sewer raised by abnormally large rats and I would know because I’m the oldest. I do too know. What are you gonna do about it sis, huh? huh? And now I shall wait for her to drive all the way from Chicago to my place just to punch me and call me a poo-head.

These books aren’t just a family drama, although they do pull that element off very well. Flavia de Luce is a strange young girl with a keen aptitude for chemistry, and she uses this skill for justice. Specifically, she uses her curiosity and access to the manor’s old chemistry lab, built by some 19th century de Luce chemist, to poke around various murder investigations and solve them. There’s actually a startling amount of murder in this quiet rural town, about  eight novel’s worth, but if you don’t let that weird you out too much, the mysteries are very compelling. I should also mention that Flavia doesn’t stay in her hometown of Bishop’s Lacey forever, although saying any more on that could be considered an unnecessary spoiler. I’m trying to be good to you people here.

If you love quirky detectives and suspenseful mysteries, this series is a real treat. Check out the first book, Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. You might find you make it all the way through the other books and back up to ole Brinded Cat faster than you thought you could.


Rat Queens: Doing that Fantasy Twist

I’ve been swept up into a new series I tried just earlier this week. Lucky for you guys, I finished reading all that’s been released until now, or I would still be reading and I can’t guarantee I would’ve stopped to blog, bathe, or read the textbooks that my GPA is actually requiring me to read right now. Still though, if you can’t let yourself get swept away by some amazing books, then your life doesn’t have the necessary ingredients to create joy.

This time, I found the graphic novel series Rat Queens written by Kurtis Weibe with art by a couple different people, including Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Sejic, Tess Fowler and Tamra Bonvillain. It’s also published by Image, just like some of my other favorite reads, The Walking Dead, The Wicked + The Divine and Saga. If I fall in love with many more of these books, I may have to get the Image logo tattooed somewhere on my body.

Taking on the Fantasy genre and giving it a modern, edgy or otherwise unique twist is definitely a common motif in today’s fantasy landscape. It’s led to the popularity of fantasy variations like twisted renditions of fairy tales, and urban fantasy with traditional fantasy elements set in a modern urban environment, like one of my old favorites, Cassandra Clare. I love it all. It’s all my genre. Rat Queens is another interesting version of doing a fantastical twist on the traditional Tolkien, D&D fantasy.

The titular Rat Queens are a group of women with a variety of talents and interesting back stories that fancy themselves adventurers. They believe, or say they believe, that they keep their city, the Palisade, safe by questing about and killing monsters, but their drunken debauchery and mischief increasingly makes them, in some people’s eyes, more and more trouble than they are worth. This story takes the classic questing party, a mainstay in both fantasy books and roleplay games, and toys with it. The Rat Queens are almost more comparable to a gang than the ideal chivalrous knights/ rogues/ squid priestesses errant. Sure, they mostly save their truly deadly rage for goblins and trolls, but they definitely aren’t afraid of theft, brawling, and some serious destruction of property. This angle, along with an excellent sense of humor, makes the series a blast to read.

The characters, the Rat Queens themselves and the supporting cast, are what could really give this series some longevity. While at first you think they can be summed up in a quick word or two, Hannah the mage, Betty the rogue, etc. they each prove to have rich, well written back stories that make them much more fascinating with each revelation. Delilah is a healer and priestess that isn’t sure, at first, that she even believes the god she’s invoking her holy spells in the name of. Violet is a dwarf that’s not afraid of bucking tradition and expectations, including shaving off her luxurious dwarf beard. I don’t want to say much more and risk spoiling some truly enjoyable character arcs, but these are fun yet well realized characters whose personal foibles definitely kept me well entertained.

If you are a fan of the Fantasy Twist and/or graphic novels, I encourage you to check out Rat Queens for a great time. It’s an original series that likes to play with your expectations of the fantasy genre, but still always delivers quality stories.

Start the Terror Early

Alright guys, it’s a bit early, but I’m going to ratchet up the horror on this blog. It’s 51  days and counting until Halloween, but it’s also an election year so I think I can get away with this. I recently came across a book that scared me in that special way that makes you want to tell all your friends so they can read it too and join you in fear. It’s not technically a horror book, definitely more of what you’d call a thriller, but just because the terrifying parts are full of people and not zombies doesn’t make them any less suspenseful and terrifying. In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware kept me on my toes in the best way possible.

Ruth Ware recently released a new book, The Woman in Cabin 10. I saw it, thought it looked interesting, and then picked up the previous book Ware had written, In a Dark Dark Wood, because I hate waiting for new books. With authors I haven’t read before, that’s a pretty common maneuver for me. I haven’t gotten around to reading The Woman in Cabin 10, but reading In a Dark Dark Wood definitely peaked my interest in Ware’s writing.

The book starts in the middle of something going terribly, violently wrong for someone we eventually figure out is the protagonist, reclusive writer Leonora Shaw, (isn’t it odd how many novels star writers as the protagonist? It’s like there’s some strange bias in the industry…) We then flash back to the beginning of it all, Nora agreeing to go to a bachelorette party of a friend she hasn’t spoken to in ages. Everything, from the awkward meet and greet to the sloppy drunk party games gets that much more tense as you wait for the other shoe to drop and find out how things got so scary so fast.

As close as you are following the action though, Ware shows her skill as a writer by keeping you guessing, not letting things get too obvious or predictable. The story has many features of a classic parlor mystery, an isolated group of people cut off from the outside world, things get eerie, and then bam, everyone’s trying to figure out whodunnit. It’s funny how a great mystery can check off all those classic archetypes and still keep people guessing and on edge.

I read the whole book in just two days, partly because I knew my workload would soon be increasing once classes started up and I wouldn’t be able to pull any all-nighters with a book I actually liked for a while, but also because I simply had to know what happened next. I even out-read my own father, who started reading the book coincidentally before I got my copy. It used to be I’d only be able to finish my books before him because mine were shorter and had way more pictures.

It paradoxically felt great to stay up all night, tense with suspense and fear reading Ware’s book. That, I suppose, is why I’m looking forward so much more to Halloween than Election day. Fear and suspense are actually fun if you know they are just pretend and won’t have any real world consequences.

Could We Handle Hogwarts?

Alright, I know I just wrote a back-to-school post, but I didn’t realize this special day was coming up. Yesterday, September 1st, was the day Harry Potter and all the other Hogwarts students would have to get on the Hogwarts Express and head back to school. Right now, the little first years are probably surprised they made it through their first night in this crazy castle and all the returning students are happily reuniting with friends and yawning through their professors reading the course syllabus. If we’re talking the year 2016, I bet a bunch of muggle born  wizards are probably  bemoaning the lack of cell phone reception and wondering how the heck they’re supposed to play Pokemon Go out there.

That’s one of the things that I always wondered about Hogwarts. Really, I wondered it about a lot of the fictional schools for magic or supernatural arts I read about in so many YA and children books, but Hogwarts has a notable population of students from something like our world. The school isn’t in a fantasy world completely different from our own, like Unseen University in Discworld, or only accessible to people born into the more magical sides of life, like the Institutes in Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter series. Technically, the Potter series takes place in the nineties, so you wouldn’t have new muggle born students complaining about cell reception. Still, I feel like there definitely should’ve been more students complaining about having to use quills and parchment roles instead of ball point pens and notebooks like sane people, or maybe smuggling in walkmans, but Rowling remained frustratingly quiet on that front. Is being able to turn mice into teacups so fun that you really don’t miss being able to take notes with a simply clicky pen?

If it was bad in the nineties, I can only imagine having to be a student at Hogwarts now. The idea of an eleven year old who is probably used to typing essays on a computer suddenly being faced with a quill and rolls, not even pages but rolls, of parchment is crazy.

Also, I’m positive Hogwarts does not have a wifi network set up, and I’ve never heard the Scottish countryside praised for it’s stellar phone reception. I can’t imagine all those magic enchantments on the school that cut it off from the outside world make it any easier. Sure, Dean Thomas probably missed watching soccer matches on TV, but today’s students would have to deal with missing Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, and all the other ways they used to be able to instantaneously stay in touch with the outside world. I can imagine one wizard with muggle friends crafting a statement each year, explaining how it’s off to their mysterious, remote boarding school so no social media at all for the rest of the school year.

I would be absolutely fascinated to hear about any way Hogwarts has gotten around this strange block. Maybe the Muggle Studies department made it a project to install internet for some people to use so there’s no explaining the strange radio silence of so many students. Maybe they just got around to installing magical pay phones. Maybe some professors are lenient enough that a student could turn in an essay written in a gel pen on notebook paper taped into a roll and they’d only raise an eyebrow. I don’t know for sure, but some of this stuff must be happening in a wizarding world forced to confront muggle advances.

Honestly, as much as I fantasized about going to Hogwarts as a kid, learning magic and having my own owl, I just don’t think I could do it without some serious trouble. It’s not just that, at age eleven, I would’ve balled my eyes out at being sent away from my family for months on end. There would be such a culture shock and, frankly, too many useful muggle devices I could not live without, no matter how many magical substitutes I could find.

Seriously, I’d like for you to take a moment right now and honestly consider whether you could give up all the stuff you have in your cushy muggle life and try your luck at Hogwarts without breaking down and getting into a fight with a “proper” wizard about the pointlessness of their faux medieval aesthetic.