Michaeline: Review: “Masquerade in Lodi”

"Masquerade in Lodi" by Lois McMaster Bujold, A Penric and Desdemona Novella. Penric and a girl in a long party dress (both in masks) cross a bridge over a canal during a festival in Lodi

“Masquerade in Lodi”. Image via Amazon.com

Good news for me this month! Lois McMaster Bujold’s newest Penric and Desdemona novella came out on Oct. 14, 2020 for Kindle and iBooks (as of this writing, there were still problems with the Barnes and Noble upload).

And of course, there’s nothing like a masquerade for October!

Although, I stretch the point a bit – Lodi looks a lot like our Earth Venice on the edge of the Print Era. The masquerade is a five-gods holiday called Bastard’s Eve, and is set during midsummer. It’s celebrated with revels and fools and drinking and masks of all sorts. And food onna stick! It’s not a harvest festival like Halloween or a pre-fast festival like Mardi Gras.

The book will stand by itself just fine, I think, but for readers who have read other Penric and Desdemona novellas, it falls between “Penric’s Fox” and “Penric’s Mission” – just after Penric’s unwritten nervous breakdown as a doctor who can’t save everyone, and before he becomes a spy and political operative.

In many ways, Penric is in limbo. He’s recovering from his breakdown. He’s quietly engaged in translation (what Desdemona scornfully calls “busywork”), and he looks forward to Bastard’s Eve because everybody will be out of the temple, leaving him alone to his thoughts and mild rehabilitation.

But of course, his boss and his god (the Bastard) have other plans for him. A mad sailor has Continue reading

Michaeline: Mexican Gothic is Gothic Romance Distilled

cover of Mexican Gothic a young woman in a dark red New Look dress; her eyes are cropped out, and so are her feet. She carries a bouquet of flowers. Green flocked wallpaper in the background

Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (via her blog)

Last week, I was in the mood for something dark and spooky for Halloween month, and Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia was everything I wanted and more!

The book, which came out June 30, 2020, reminded me of so many different kinds of Gothic romance. It’s a bit weird, but the first thing that came to mind was Stella Gibbon’s Cold Comfort Farm, written way back in 1932. CCF was apparently a parody of dark and gloomy “rural life” gothic romances that were popular at the time; a sophisticated young society woman gets involved with distant family who live on a dilapidated farm and have quite a few issues. In CCF, the heroine is no-nonsense, and whips everyone right into shape with Modern Ideas, and most (if not all) get a suitable happy ending.

Noemí Taboada is a dazzling, giddy yet intelligent socialite in 1950s Mexico City who is sent by her father to check up on an orphaned cousin who is having some problems in her marriage. Noemí reluctantly agrees, and while she brings modern ideas and solutions with her, she doesn’t (and can’t) implement them in the bossy, brusque way Flora Poste does to Cold Comfort farm. Her antagonists are stronger, more stubborn and weirder, and quite frankly, it makes for a better conflict.

Cousin Catalina has married Continue reading

Jilly: English Garden Romance

How’s your weekend so far? Are you glued to the news or ready for a respite from reality? If you’re currently self-medicating with The Great British Bake-Off or English property renovation shows, you might consider checking out The Garden Plot, a thoroughly English contemporary romance by debut author Sara Sartagne.

Full disclosure. I’ve known Sara for a very long time. I won’t embarrass either of us by saying how long, but back in the day we attended the same Derbyshire school and shared English classes. I lost touch with her later and had no idea she was writing fiction until we met again online in Mark Dawson’s self-publishing community.

Regular readers of this site will know I’m more likely to read a swords-‘n-sorcery adventure than a charming small town contemporary romance. I read The Garden Plot because it’s Sara’s debut and it’s set in a picturesque Derbyshire village. I’m reviewing it because I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Garden Plot is an engaging, low-stress, opposites attract romance between Sam, a left-leaning garden designer who’s struggling to keep her small business afloat, and widower Jonas, a wealthy, conservative, workaholic property developer who’s on forced sick leave as he recovers from a viral illness. Sam is commissioned by Magda, Jonas’s match-making teenage daughter, to revamp the garden of Jonas’s recently acquired country house and (with luck) revitalize Jonas too. High jinks ensue. Continue reading

Michaeline: Book Rec: The Garies and Their Friends (1857)

A rather hard to read cover; 18 pence with preface by Mrs. Stowe

The Garies and Their Friends by F.J. Webb was published in London in 1857; mixed marriage, Black society in Philadelphia, race riots prompted by real estate speculators, battles and bravery and sweet romances (and a couple of tragic ones) are all in this little book. Image from The Internet Archive version of the book.

I just read a fascinating book this week. The Garies and Their Friends  was written by Frank J. Webb, a Mixed-race man from Philadelphia. His book was published in 1857 in London, when he accompanied his wife, Mary Webb, on a speaking tour. 


The book is a family drama, set a little before Frank J. Webb’s own time. Clarence Garie (a White slave owner) and his true love, Emily (his Mixed slave and mother of his two children) decide to move to Philadelphia on the advice of Emily’s cousin, Winston (a freed Black man passing as White), and are welcomed by the Ellises, a free Black family. The goal? To get freedom for Emily and the children.

The other major character in the book is Charles Ellis, the talented young son who was born a free Black, who must fight White prejudice to get a place in the world. He wins a prize at school, and a wealthy white woman offers to take him to the country for the summer. After much discussion, his family accepts.

The Garies soon run afoul of prejudice – particularly from their neighbors, the Stevens. “Slippery George” Stevens is a White power-hungry lawyer who wants to incite riots in order to buy up Philadelphia real estate – and if those riots should happen to spill over on his neighbors, the Garies, so much the better. The riots also wreak havoc on the Ellis family, and if I explain much more, I’ll be getting into spoiler territory.

In the foreword, Lord Brougham says Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote him that “(t)he style is simple and unambitious.” That’s good news for us 21st century readers – the style is indeed clear and lacks a lot of frills and digressions that make 19th century literature a pain. The plot, though, is anything but simple. It’s complex and multi-layered, but always clear. There are mobs, betrayals, violence, love, love thwarted by prejudice, love that overcomes prejudice, and love that will make you smile. It’s true that Webb slides into a little sentimentality towards the end, but perhaps by that time, he deserved a little indulgence.

Drawing of F.J. Webb's wife, a Black orator who toured Great Britain in the 1850s

There are no sure pictures of Frank J. Webb that I could find; you’d think the grandson of Aaron Burr would leave behind a few photos. But his first wife, Mary Espartero Webb, was a Black orator who toured Great Britain in the 1850s, during which time Webb probably wrote his book.

I won’t spoil the ending, but justice is meted, some lovers marry, and overall it’s a happy ending.

What’s extremely interesting is viewing this own-voices story from a 21st century filter. Folks, this was written more than 160 years ago, and Black people are still fighting a lot of the same damn things!! Interviews that go wonky when the employer realizes the applicant is a person of color, disdain of mixed marriages, the silly “one-drop-of-Negro-blood-makes-you-a-Negro” thing, people advising other people to erase their culture and heritage and “pass”, and just the general idea that Black people are something Other. Why is White privilege not Everyone’s privilege yet?

As a liberal white woman, I read the book and nodded along with the author’s subtext; I loved it when the smart people of color put it over on the White evil-doers. (And I did appreciate seeing White do-gooders, too, who are represented in a spectrum from White people who actually do some good, to White people who say they are going to do some good, but it’s just not financially feasible right now. It seemed very realistic.)

The book had very little audience in the US when it was published, according to Wikipedia. But maybe its time is now. Its analysis of the different ways to be Black, and how those can combine with White society to varying results can be a real eye-opener.

And when your eye-opener is a thrilling page-turner as well? Well, all the better. You can read The Garies and Their Friends on Gutenberg here, or buy it, and maybe get more modern analysis.

Here are some other sources you might like to check into after reading the book. Frank J. Webb seems to have been quite circumspect in his life; there’s only one photograph that I could find that said something to the effect, “The man on the right might be Frank J. Webb.” But his international life crossed the oceans, and he left his words behind.

Katherine Henry, “Garies (The) and Their Friends,” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia (website), (Copyright 2015, Rutgers University)

Eric Gardner, “’A Gentleman of Superior Cultivation and Refinement’: Recovering the Biography of Frank J. Webb,” The Free Library (website), (Copyright 2001, African American Review/Gale Group)


Mary Maillard, “’Faithfully Drawn from Real Life’: Autobiographical Elements in Frank J. Webb’s The Garies and Their Friends,” (PDF) (Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. CXXXVII no. 3, July 2013)
 (Downloaded immediately for me, with no warning.)

Michille: Beach Reads 2020 (and before)

His Lady to ProtectI’m a week late to post for the start of the summer season with the holiday weekend behind us wherein lots of folks (idiots) in my area and around the country headed to the beach. For our non-US friends, Memorial Day in the US is a federal holiday for remembering and honoring people who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. It is currently observed on the last Monday of May, which means a lot of Americans have the day off (and head out of town or have a cookout).

With beaches on the mind (or currently in my imagination), I was thinking about beach reads for this summer. I’m not heading out anytime soon because having 100,000 Americans die of COVID-19 (that we know of) scares the crap out of me, especially since I was dog sick in January just after returning from a 2-week trip to China. Pneumonia makes me one of those ‘vulnerable population’ folks. But I will probably have some time to put my nose in a book despite the new crazy workload created by this pandemic (and I’m just so incredibly thankful that I have a job that I can still do [albeit 12 hrs a day]). Continue reading

Michaeline: Review: From the Moderne Vampyre Genre

Accounting ledger in French which is also the cover of the book; title in Dynatape

*The Utterly Uninteresting & Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant* by Drew Hayes. (Image via Amazon US.)

I’m not a huge fan of vampire stories, but it turns out I really like the ones where Everyman (or Everywoman), the unspectacular and messed-up mortal, gets turned into a vampire. There’s just something about that juxtaposition of cool immortality with lingering mortal uncertainty that really interests me.

I loved the first few MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead series with Betsy, Queen of the Vampires – in the first book, Undead and Unwed, a former Bridget Jones-type gets thrust into the Vampire lifestyle after an accident. And What We Do in the Shadows is a sweet movie about vampire “sharehouse” in Wellington, New Zealand. (I’m referring to the 2014 film; I didn’t know about the 2019 TV series until now. See? Blogging has some great side benefits!)

Now there’s another vampire world I can add to my list: I just read The Utterly Uninteresting & Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes and had a lot of fun!

All three of these vampire universes share characters who are very much aware of the vampire tropes, and how they (as vampires) turn tradition on its head. They don’t want to be evil bloodsuckers, and their main focus in life isn’t their next meal, but trying to “live” an undead life with a degree of comfort – and they want to be better people.

Fred is particularly aware in many ways that he’s part of the Vampire Story. He thought he’d turn into a suave and effortlessly cool vampire after waking up under a dumpster drained of his blood, but Continue reading

Jilly: Free Books for Honest Reviewers

If you’re a regular visitor to 8LW, chances are you’re an avid reader. Would you like to get your hands on the latest releases, for free, before they hit the market? If you’re willing to write an honest review of the book on Amazon, Goodreads or a similar platform, chances are you could do just that.

In today’s ultra-connected world, most savvy bibliophiles use reviews to help them decide whether to click the button and buy the book. Which means that most savvy authors will do everything they can to make sure their book has a good selection of honest reviews. Starred ratings are useful, but a paragraph or two describing what worked—or didn’t—for the reviewer is invaluable. It’s as important to warn off the wrong reader as it is to attract the right one, because word of mouth works both ways and the last thing an author wants is a disappointed reader.

So how do authors find these treasured reviewers? Sometimes through carefully cultivated “street teams”, but often by using a reputable ARC (Advance Review Copy) organization such as NetGalley, Hidden Gems or Booksprout.

It’s not permitted for an author to buy reviews, nor is it allowed to give a reader a free book in return for a review, honest or not. However, publishers large and small are allowed to pay an ARC organization who will match advance copies of their books with eager readers. The readers are not paid and are not required to review the books they receive—but as you may imagine, readers who reliably post insightful reviews are in great demand, while those who take the freebies and post anodyne one-liners, or nothing, aren’t likely to stay on the list for long.

Told you that to tell you this: there’s a huge demand for good reader/reviewers. Continue reading

Jilly: Sara Whitney’s Tempting Heat

An unexpected upside to becoming a writer is that I find myself reading books written by friends, and friends of friends. I love seeing people I know become debut authors and then go on to build their lists. There’s something thrilling and insider-ish about being part of their adventure.

Here on 8LW we’ve shared the excitement surrounding the publication of Jeanne’s Touched by a Demon books and Nancy’s Harrow’s Finest Five series, and we’ve enjoyed interviews with some of Jeanne’s fellow Golden Heart alumnae. This week was another first for me: the debut of Sara Whitney, one of my Golden Heart classmates.

Tempting Heat is a contemporary second-chance romance novella set in Chicago, with the two main characters stranded in forced proximity during an epic snowstorm. I really like those tropes. Second-chance stories raise the emotional stakes quickly because the characters already have shared baggage for the author to play with, and forced proximity adds extra pressure because the characters literally have nowhere to go—they have to face Whatever Went Wrong first time around.

An unexpected downside to becoming a writer is that I find it hard to lose myself in a book. My inner editor starts offering critique and before I know it I’m assembling a list of things I’d tweak or change or rewrite instead of enjoying the story. So I was ridiculously happy to find myself immersed in Tempting Heat, sharing Finn and Tom’s long-overdue reconciliation-cute.

The story starts when Fiona (Finn) discovers a half-awake, hungover Tom emerging from her flatmate’s bedroom some hours after said flatmate departed to deal with a work emergency involving a weekend-long trip to Las Vegas, and just as a gigantic snowstorm shuts down all transport options. Continue reading

Michaeline: Book Review: Jackie Lau’s Man vs. Durian

Handsome Asian guy holding a durian fruit

Image via Amazon

I’ve talked about Jackie Lau here at Eight Ladies before; I was impressed with Ice Cream Lover, a book about ice cream, Canadian love, and a grumpy but adorable Asian-Canadian hero who meets a bicultural Ice Cream Queen. (Both the heroine and the ice cream are bicultural.)

That was Book Two in the Baldwin Village series, and Book Three, Man vs. Durian, was just released on August 27, 2019. Jackie writes fast, and she writes well – an amazing combination for readers who devour books and want more.

The marketing tags for Man vs. Durian promise a fake relationship, a very sweet hero, a grumpy heroine, and lots of food – and the book delivers on all counts.

First, I really like to have food in a book – good food, bad food, food that provokes emotions and socially smooths the path for our characters. Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me revolves around chicken marsala and doughnuts; Lois McMaster Bujold invented the delightful and talented cook, Ma Kosti, with her little chocolate desserts of plutonium-like density. Food, written well, taps another level of our consciousness, and gives a story depth and heft.

Second, a fake relationship – in other words, the good old “marriage of convenience” trope in modern form – is also something I enjoy. In this case, Valerie (our heroine) has disappointed her mother on both the professional and the biological empire fronts (no boyfriend, no marriage, no grandchildren being the logical progression). Harassment made her quit a job she liked in computers, blacklisting prevented her from finding a new one, and a sucky boyfriend, straight from Reddit’s Relationship Advice pages, soured her on love. She’s now scooping ice cream in the shop from Baldwin Village Two, sorting out her options, and she’d like to get her mother off her back.

On the spur of the moment, she invents a Peter – who is not only a male boyfriend, but a children’s doctor. And, as fate would have it, Continue reading

Michaeline: Making the Best of a Dystopian Timeline

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Images via Wikimedia Commons)

In preparation for Margaret Atwood’s new book, The Testaments (officially released Sept. 10, 2019), I re-read two classic dystopian novels. I finished George Orwell’s 1984 on Sunday, and Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale on Tuesday, then read right through The Testaments (the sequel to THT) on Wednesday.

That’s a whole lot of dystopia, folks. Fortunately, I survived the experience unbowed.

Orwell’s 1984 is THE fright novel about totalitarian systems. His vision is broad and deep, and his prose (generally) is economical and delivers its truth bombs with great precision. This is the book that gave us doublespeak, Big Brother and a clear way of talking about the rise of totalitarianism – in fact, he infodumps two chapters of a pretend totalitarian how-to manual in the last third, and it’s still a page turner. It’s not recommended for folks who need a happily-ever-after – Orwell’s book is bleak, and the only happy ending is death, and the government is stingy with even that. Continue reading