Pocketful of Lodestones by Elizabeth Crowens

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A Pocketful Of Lodestones by Elizabeth Crowens

 

The Time Traveler Professor, Book Two:

A Pocketful of Lodestones

by Elizabeth Crowens

on Tour October 1-31, 2019

Synopsis:

The Time Traveler Professor, Book Two: A Pocketful of Lodestones by Elizabeth Crowens

In 1914, the war to end all wars turns the worlds of John Patrick Scott, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Rebecca West and Harry Houdini upside down. Doyle goes back to ancient China in his hunt for that “red book” to help him write his Sherlock Holmes stories. Scott is hell-bent on finding out why his platoon sergeant has it out for him, and they both discover that during the time of Shakespeare every day is a witch-hunt in London. Is the ability to travel through time the ultimate escape from the horrific present, or do ghosts from the past come back to haunt those who dare to spin the Wheel of Karma?

The Time Traveler Professor, Book Two: A POCKETFUL OF LODESTONES, sequel to SILENT MERIDIAN, combines the surrealism of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five with the supernatural allure of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell set during WWI on the Western Front.

Sometimes a story is so complex that the reader truly has to commit to it, blocking out all distractions and really thinking about the words being read. A Pocketful of Lodestones is that kind of book. 

For this reader, the psychological torment experienced by John Patrick Scott was harder to read but more engaging than the mysterious “red book.” The author successfully captured the sheer horror of the Front during World War I, both during the war and afterwards in the asylum. 

The Time Traveler series is hard to plug into a category because it crosses genres and does so very successfully. There’s mystery, horror, science fiction, and even a little romance. Fans of stories focusing on time travel and, for Pocketful of Lodestones, on war will enjoy this.

The Time Traveler Professor, Book Two: A POCKETFUL OF LODESTONES was the First Prize winner of the Chanticleer Review’s Paranormal Fiction Awards.

Book Details:

Genre: Alternate History, Mystery, Fantasy Noir
Published by: Atomic Alchemist Productions LLC
Publication Date: August 1st 2019
Number of Pages: 334
ISBN: 9781950384051
Series: The Time Traveler Professor #2
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One: Kitchener’s Call to Arms

August 1914

“Have you ever killed a man before?”

I had, but close to three hundred years ago. So, I lied and just shook my head.

“Your name, son?” the recruitment officer asked.

“John Patrick Scott,” I said, with pride.

The officer handed me a card to fill out. “Write your date of birth, where you live and don’t skip any questions. When finished, bring this over to Line B.”

Born during the reign of Queen Victoria, somehow or other I managed to travel to the 23rd century, feudal Japan, and ancient China long before the Great War started. The army wanted to know all the places I had traveled, but it was doubtful that much information was required.

Since the war to end all wars commenced, recruiting centers sprang up like wildflowers. This one took over an Edinburgh public library. If unaware as to why the enthusiastic furor, one would’ve guessed the government gave away free land tracts with titles.

“Let’s see how clever you blokes are. Tell me the four duties of a soldier,” another enlistment administrator called out.

An overeager Glaswegian shouted, “Obedience, cleanliness, honesty and sobriety, sir!”

The chap next to him elbowed his side. “Takes no brains to read a bloody sign.”

Propaganda posters wallpapered the room with solicitous attempts at boosting morale. Kitchener wanted us and looked straight into our eyes. Proof of our manhood or perhaps stupidity. Queues of enthusiasm wound around the block. Impatient ones jumped the lines. We swore our allegiance to the King over a bible. As long as the war lasted, our lives were no longer our own.

Voices from men I’d never see again called out from the crowd.

“It’ll be over in six weeks.”

“Are you so sure?”

“Check out those men. All from the same cricket team. Play and die together. Medals of Valor in a blink. Local heroes with celebrations.”

“I’ll drink to that.”

A crusty old career soldier yelled out to the volunteers, “Does anyone speak Flemish?”

Suddenly the place got quiet. Then he looked at me. “Soldier, do you know anything besides the King’s English? French?”

“Fluent German,” I said. “That should be helpful.”

“Since when were you with the Bosches?”

“Fourteen years, sir. Before the war.”

“And what were you doing in enemy territory?”

“Worked as a teacher. A music professor and a concert pianist when I could get the engagements and sometimes as an amateur photographer. They weren’t our enemies then, sir.”

“Have you ever shot a rifle, son?”

“Actually, I have…”

“Find a pair of boots that fits you, lad. Hustle now. Time’s a wasting.”

The Allied and German armies were in a Race to the Sea. If the Germans got there first, then England was in danger of invasion. Basic training opened its arms to the common man, and it felt strange to be bedding alongside Leith dockworkers and farmers, many underage, versus the university colleagues from my recent past. Because of the overwhelming need for new recruits, training facilities ran out of room. The army took over church halls, local schools and warehouses in haste. Select recruits were billeted in private homes, but we weren’t so fortunate.

Except for acquired muscles, I slimmed down and resembled the young man that I was in my university days except with a tad more gray hair, cut very short and shaved even closer on the sides. No more rich German pastries from former students as part of my diet. At least keeping a clean-shaven face wasn’t a challenge since I never could grow a beard. Wearing my new uniform took getting used to. Other recruits laughed, as I’d reach to straighten my tie or waistcoat out of habit despite the obvious fact that I was no longer wearing them.

While still in Scotland during basic training, I started to have a series of the most peculiar dreams. My boots had not yet been muddied with the soil of real battlefields. New recruits such as I, had difficult adjustments transitioning from civilian life. Because of my past history of lucid dreaming, trips in time travel and years of psychical experimentation I conducted both on my own and with my enthusiastic and well-studied mentor, Arthur Conan Doyle, my nightmares appeared more real than others. My concerns were that these dreams were either actual excursions into the Secret Library where the circumstances had already occurred or premonitions of developments to come.

The most notable of these episodes occurred toward the end of August in 1914. In this dream, I had joined another British platoon other than my own in Belgium on the Western Front. We were outnumbered at least three to one, and the aggressive Huns surrounded us on three sides.

Whistles blew. “Retreat!” yelled our commanding officer, a privileged Cambridge boy, barely a man and younger than I, who looked like he had never seen the likes of hardship.

We retreated to our trenches to assess what to plan next, but instead of moving toward our destination everyone froze in their tracks. Time was like a strip of film that slowed down, spooled off track, and jammed inside a projector. Then the oddest thing happened to our enemy. For no apparent reason, their bodies jerked and convulsed as if fired upon by invisible bullets over the course of an hour.

When the morning fog lifted, the other Tommies and I broke free from our preternatural standstill and charged over the top of the trenches with new combat instructions. Half of our platoon dropped their rifles in shock. Dead Huns, by the thousands, littered No man’s land long before we had even fired our first retaliatory shot!

I woke up agitated, disoriented and in a cold sweat. Even more disturbing was finding several brass shell casings under my pillow — souvenirs or proof that I had traveled off somewhere and not imagined it. I roused the sleeping guy in the next bed and couldn’t wait to share this incredible story.

“Shush!” he warned me. “You’ll wake the others.”

Meanwhile, he rummaged inside his belongings and pulled out a rumpled and grease-stained newspaper clipping that looked and smelled like it had originally been used to wrap up fish and chips.

He handed it to me with excitement. “My folks sent this me from back home.”

The headlines: “Angels sited at the Battle of Mons”

Almost as notable was the article’s byline written by my best friend from the University of Edinburgh, Wendell Mackenzie, whom I had lost track of since the war started.

He begged me to read on.

“Hundreds of witnesses claimed similarities in their experiences. There were rumors aplenty about ghostly bowmen from the Battle of Agincourt where the Brits fought against the French back in 1415. Inexplicable apparitions appeared out of nowhere and vanquished German enemy troops at the recent Battle of Mons.”

“This looks like a scene from out of a storybook.” I pointed to an artist’s rendition and continued.

“Word spread that arrow wounds were discovered on corpses of the enemy nearby, and it wasn’t a hoax. Others reported seeing a Madonna in the trenches or visions of St. Michael, another saint symbolizing victory.”

“Now, I don’t feel so singled out,” I said and handed the newspaper articles back to my comrade.

For weeks, I feared talking to anyone else about it and insisted my mate keep silent. Even in wartime, I swore that I’d stay in touch with my closest acquaintances, Wendell Mackenzie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was easier to keep abreast of Arthur’s exploits, because of his public celebrity. On the other hand, Wendell, being a journalist, could be anywhere in the world on assignment.

* * *

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Mackenzie,

I regret having missed Wendell when he never made it over to visit Scotland, and you wonder if someone up above watches over us when we make decisions where to go and when. In my case it was when I decided to take a summer vacation and travel to Edinburgh before the war. Those without passports or proper documentation endured countless detours and delays getting back to their respective homelands. One of Mrs. Campbell’s lodgers had been detained in France.

With nothing to return to back in Germany, I joined the Royal Scots. Military training commenced in Edinburgh, and at least they had us wearing uniforms of pants tucked into gaiters as opposed to the Highland troops who wore kilts. Although I was born and bred in Scotland, as a Lowlander that’s one outfit you’d have to force me into with much duress.

Our tasks would be in the Scots Territorial units deployed on our coastline in case of an enemy invasion. Potential threats could come from spies or submarines, but most say that the worst enemy has been the frigid wind blowing off the North Sea.

As there is always talk about combining forces and transfers, my aunt can always forward letters. It would mean more than the world to hear from Wendell saying that not only is he all right, but also in good spirits.

Yours most devoted,

Private John Patrick Scott

* * *

Dear Arthur,

In our last correspondence, I conveyed that I was unable to return to my teaching post in Stuttgart. With your tour in the Boer War as my inspiration, I joined the military. We learned the basics: how to follow commands, first aid, march discipline and training in all matters of physical fitness. My feet have been in a constant state of rebellion, since my previous profession as a pianist was a sedentary occupation.

Deployment was supposed to be along the coast of Scotland, but the army reassigned me despite first promises because of too many staggering losses on the Western Front. I requested to be part of the air corps and a pioneer in new battle technology, but my recruiting officers had other plans. Our regiment left for Ypres in Belgium. None of the Tommies could pronounce the name of this place, so everyone called it Wipers. You’re no stranger to war, but everyone has been surprised that it lasted longer than anticipated.

Yours Most Devoted,

Private John Patrick Scott

* * *

Troops from all over under the wing of the British Expeditionary Forces piled on to ships to sail out to the continent. The locals from Edinburgh didn’t expect to leave bonnie ole Scotland. They told us we’d defend our shores from foreign invasions. I’d crossed the North Sea before, but then it was a sea of hope and a new life full of opportunity when I got my scholarship to continue my musical studies in Germany, now the enemy.

I turned to the nearest stranger, hoping that a random conversation would break the monotonous and never-ending wait until we set anchor in Belgium. “How was your basic training?”

“Three months at an abandoned amusement park,” the soldier replied. “We trained for the longest time in our street clothes and were told they ran out of uniforms. Probably sent recycled ones after the first troops died. Used wooden dummy rifles until the real ones arrived. What about you?”
“We used an abandoned dance hall. Never could get used to waking at 5:30 a.m.”

“Word got around that in Aldershot soldiers had luxury facilities with a billiards room, a library, private baths and a buffet. I suspect that was for the regulars, the old-timers, not new recruits like us.”

“I should’ve enlisted elsewhere,” I grumbled, not that it would’ve made much of a difference if we’d all die in the end.

He pointed to my face and examined my flawless hands. “You don’t look like much of an outdoorsman. Pale, hairless complexion. No scars.”

“I’m a concert pianist.”

“Not much use on the Front.”

“Probably not. Excuse me, I need some air.” I bundled up in my great coat, wrapping my muffler a wee bit tighter.

Wasn’t sure which were worse — the soldiers with their asphyxiating cigarettes or numbing sleet turning into ice pellets. Hadn’t gotten my sea legs, yet. Stormy swells churned my stomach. Sweet Scotland. Lush green grass and the sky the color of blue moonstone. Never thought I’d be so sentimental. Continued staring until brilliant hues of the shoreline merged into dismal grays of a foggy horizon. In the transition from civilian to soldier, I stepped through a door of no return unless I desired to come back home in a coffin.

Chapter Two: The Other Lost World

Ypres, Belgium Late fall, 1914

A sea of strange men, but all comrades-in-arms, all recent transplants marched to their assignments and followed orders without question to who-knows-where on the way to the battlefield sites. We sallied forth, anonymous troops with a distorted sense of time and distance through the streets of has-been cities, once thriving communities. Poetry in ruination.

As we marched through the Grote Markt (Grand Market) heading out toward the Menenpoort (or Menen Gate) I didn’t expect to get an education. The soldier to my left kept talking out loud and compared notes of local tourist attractions. He was probably unaware that anyone else had overheard his comments.

“That long, distinctive building with the church hiding behind it must be the Hallen… or their Cloth Hall. There were impressive paintings on the interior walls of the Pauwels Room depicting the history of this town and its prosperous textile trade.”

“How do you know this?” I asked, trying not to attract too much attention.

“I’m a historian. Used to teach at a priory school in Morpeth.”

Perhaps I was naïve, but I asked, “Why would the armed forces recruit someone with a background in history?”

“That didn’t influence my enlistment although I’m sure it’ll come in handy somewhere. Before the war, I traveled all over Europe when time permitted. I brought original postcards with me as to what this town used to look like. It’s frightening to see the difference.”

“Your name?” I asked.

“Private Watson. What about you?”

“Not John Watson, by any chance?”

“No, Roger Watson, why?”

I shook my head thinking about Arthur and bit my lip to hide a slight smile. “Oh nothing… My name is Private Scott, John Patrick Scott.”

“What brings you to this dismal corner of the earth?”

“Ich war ein Musiklehrer. Pardon me, sometimes I break into German. I’m from Edinburgh but was living in Germany as a music teacher. Can’t be doing that sort of thing now.”

“I suppose not.”

“Roger, sorry to have eavesdropped, but it sounded so interesting. Then you are familiar with the area we just marched through?”

“That was the central merchant and trading hub of Ypres and has been since the mid-fifteenth century. On the north side over there is St. Martin’s Cathedral. You can already see the damage from German attacks.”

There was no escaping the needless destruction by aggressive enemy bombing. We continued marching forward in formation. A little way beyond the city gate, we passed by the remains of a park and children’s playground. The soldiers took a rest break and snacked on portable rations.

Many of them took off their boots and massaged their feet. Not too far away, I found a shattered brick in the rubble of what had been a schoolhouse and brought it back to where everyone was having his makeshift picnic.

Watson noticed that I kept twirling the small fragment in my hand while intermittently closing my eyes. “Scott, what are you doing?”

“Pictures form in my mind similar to movies. It’s the art of psychometry,” I replied.

“Psycho — what?” Another soldier overheard us talking.

“Sounds like something from Sigmund Freud,” one called out.

“Not at all, it’s like a psychical gift or talent. It has nothing to do with psychoanalysis.”

“What’s the point?” the first one asked.

I felt under pressure to put my thoughts into words. “I can understand what building this brick was part of when it was intact and what was here before it was destroyed.”

“That’s incredible!” Watson exclaimed. “If you are able to uncover bygone times by psychical means, I am all ears.”

When everyone else discounted my talent, Watson gave it full praise. Others became impatient and weren’t interested in our sidebar history lesson.

“Can you use those skills beyond inanimate objects?” one soldier asked.

“Find me an object, someone’s former possession,” I said.

Another soldier found a broken pocket watch not far from a trampled garden. He tossed it over, and I caught it with both hands. When I closed my eyes, the images materialized in my mind’s eye.

“A loving grandfather was reading to his grandchildren from an illustrated story book. He was balding. Wore spectacles. Had a trimmed white beard.

“‘Time for bed,’ he said, looking at his watch. Tick tock, tick tock. It was a gift from his father.

“He kissed each grandchild on the forehead as they scampered off. Two girls, one boy, all in their nightgowns. The tallest girl was a redhead with… pink ribbons in her long, curly hair. Then the bombs dropped. Fire. The roof collapsed. All was lost. Then… then… Oh my God!”

“Scotty, what’s wrong?” Watson asked.

I looked at the blank faces around me. “You don’t see him?”

Watson was baffled. “See who?”

“That grandfather,” I said, horrified and clutching onto that timepiece. His ghost was standing right in front of me!

Then I realized that no one else was capable of seeing him. Inside, I panicked until my frozen fingers let go of the watch, and it tumbled into the dirt. That’s when his phantasmal form vanished, but there were still indelible memories impressed upon the ether that refused to fade with the passage of time.

Warning bells tolled from a nearby church. “Quick, run for cover!” our commanding officer shouted.

Double-time over to shelter. Incoming bombs whistled and boomed in the distance. Civilians followed, carrying their most precious possessions, also fleeing for their lives.

The sanctuary already suffered from shell damage that left large gaping holes in its roof. Birds nested above the pulpit. Cherished religious statuary had been knocked over and broken. Several nuns rushed up and motioned the way for us to take refuge in the basement. We joined the crowd of scared families, members of the local community.

“Isn’t Britain giving them haven?” I asked Watson. “I thought most of the civilians evacuated by now.”

“There are still the ones who want to hold out,” he explained. “Wouldn’t you if your entire life and livelihood were here for multiple generations? That’s why they’re counting on us, but the Germans are relentless. Ypres is right on the path of strategic routes to take over France.”

When several farmers brought over their pigs and chickens, our retreat began to resemble a biblical nativity scene. From inside the cellar, we could hear the rumble of the outside walls collapsing.

“We’ll be trapped!” People yelled out in panic.

A group of sisters prayed in the corner. Our trench diggers readied themselves to shovel us out if it came to that. One terror-stricken woman handed me a screaming baby.

“I found him abandoned.” At least that’s what I thought she said in Flemish, but none of us could understand her. Confused and without thinking, I almost spoke in Japanese, but that would’ve been for the wrong place and an entirely different century during a different lifetime.

“What will I do with him?” I said to her in German, but she didn’t comprehend me either. I couldn’t just place him down in a corner. We’d be marching out in a matter of minutes.

I approached a man with his wife and three other children. First I tried English, then German, random words of French, and then I tried Greek and Latin from my school days. Finally I resorted to awkward gestures to see if he’d take the child. But he shook his head, gathered his brood and backed off.

Troops cleared a path out of the cellar. We needed to report to our stations before nightfall.

“Sister, please?” I begged one nun, interrupting her rosary. To my relief, she took the infant.

“Oh Mon Dieu!” I cried out in the little French that I knew. “Danke, thank you, merci boucoup.” Then I ran off to join the others.

Watson slapped me on the back. “Looked like you were going to be a father, mate.”

“Not yet. Got a war to fight,” I replied.

***

Excerpt from The Time Traveler Professor, Book Two: A Pocketful of Lodestones by Elizabeth Crowens. Copyright © 2019 by Elizabeth Crowens. Reproduced with permission from Elizabeth Crowens. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Elizabeth Crowens

Crowens has worked in the film and television for over twenty years and as a journalist and a photographer. She’s a regular contributor of author interviews to an award-winning online speculative fiction magazine, Black Gate. Short stories of hers have been published in the Bram Stoker Awards nominated anthology, A New York State of Fright and Hell’s Heart. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America, The Horror Writers Association, the Authors Guild, Broad Universe, Sisters in Crime and a member of several Sherlockian societies. She is also writing a Hollywood suspense series.

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A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier


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1932. After the Great War took both her beloved brother and her fiancé, Violet Speedwell has become a “surplus woman,” one of a generation doomed to a life of spinsterhood after the war killed so many young men. Yet Violet cannot reconcile herself to a life spent caring for her grieving, embittered mother. After countless meals of boiled eggs and dry toast, she saves enough to move out of her mother’s place and into the town of Winchester, home to one of England’s grandest cathedrals. There, Violet is drawn into a society of broderers–women who embroider kneelers for the Cathedral, carrying on a centuries-long tradition of bringing comfort to worshippers.

Violet finds support and community in the group, fulfillment in the work they create, and even a growing friendship with the vivacious Gilda. But when forces threaten her new independence and another war appears on the horizon, Violet must fight to put down roots in a place where women aren’t expected to grow. Told in Chevalier’s glorious prose, A Single Thread is a timeless story of friendship, love, and a woman crafting her own life.

Tracy Chevalier is known for her insightful and sensitive portrayals of strong women, and she carries that through in A Single Thread. Violet Speedwell wears her “surplus” designation like a scarlet letter turned into a fashionable brooch. She misses sex with her fiancé who died in the war, so she takes herself off to hotel bars to pick up “sherry men.” She’s sick of her bitchy mother, so she takes a job in another town and changes her whole life. All this during a time when women were either married, about to be married, looking to get married, or were spinsters. Violet refuses to accept that her life is any less important than the married women around her as we watch her live her life on her own terms and help others to do the same.

Chevalier is excellent at relationships, and she creates a fascinating web of those here, with Violet at the center. “Women’s work” often involves needlework, and Chevalier opens up a fascinating piece of history revolving around the broderers – women who embroidered the cushions for cathedrals and churches. Chevalier drops Violet smack in the middle of a group of women who have all experienced loss and disappointment, but have learned to hide it very well. Violet changes that and draws the women out, while at the same time finding a new path for herself.

This will be popular with book clubs, and I predict a few embroidery groups to form around it as well. Recommended.

Publication Date: September 17, 2019
Published By: Penguin Group Viking
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Inland by Tea Obreht


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From the Publisher: In the lawless, drought-ridden lands of the Arizona Territory in 1893, two extraordinary lives unfold. Nora is an unflinching frontierswoman awaiting the return of the men in her life—her husband, who has gone in search of water for the parched household, and her elder sons, who have vanished after an explosive argument. Nora is biding her time with her youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking the land around their home.

Meanwhile, Lurie is a former outlaw and a man haunted by ghosts. He sees lost souls who want something from him, and he finds reprieve from their longing in an unexpected relationship that inspires a momentous expedition across the West. The way in which Lurie’s death-defying trek at last intersects with Nora’s plight is the surprise and suspense of this brilliant novel.

Mythical, lyrical, and sweeping in scope, Inland is grounded in true but little-known history. It showcases all of Téa Obreht’s talents as a writer, as she subverts and reimagines the myths of the American West, making them entirely—and unforgettably—her own.

Obreht’s storytelling is at its finest in this magical and gritty tale of two unlikely heroes who inhabit entirely different worlds. Obreht moves back and forth between Nora, a frontierswoman possibly abandoned by her husband and adult sons trying to keep herself and young son alive during a drought and Lurie, an orphan, outlaw, and cameleer trying to stay a step ahead of the law and alive.

Both Nora and Lurie navigate their way through life aided by “ghosts.” For Nora, it’s the ghost of her dead daughter and for Lurie, it’s primarily the ghost of his adopted brother who died of typhoid. Nora’s ghost, Evelyn, acts as a sounding board for Nora, allowing her to test ideas and often tempering her wilder ideas. Lurie’s ghost, Hobb, goads him into theft by instilling an undeniable want that Lurie cannot resist.

While I kept expecting the two stories to come together sooner and in a stronger way, the way things turned out was really pretty perfect. This stands tall along with recent American West stories News of the World and Whiskey When We’re Dry. Recommended.

Praise for Inland

“As it should be, the landscape of the West itself is a character, thrillingly rendered throughout. . . . Here, Obreht’s simple but rich prose captures and luxuriates in the West’s beauty and sudden menace. Remarkable in a novel with such a sprawling cast, Obreht also has a poetic touch for writing intricate and precise character descriptions.”—The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)

“Beautifully wrought.”—Vanity Fair

“Obreht is the kind of writer who can forever change the way you think about a thing, just through her powers of description. . . . Inland is an ambitious and beautiful work about many things: immigration, the afterlife, responsibility, guilt, marriage, parenthood, revenge, all the roads and waterways that led to America. Miraculously, it’s also a page-turner and a mystery, as well as a love letter to a camel, and, like a camel, improbable and splendid, something to happily puzzle over at first and take your breath away at the end.”—Elizabeth McCracken, O: The Oprah Magazine

Publication Date: August 13, 2019
Published By: Random House
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates


cover165563-mediumFrom the National Book Award–winning author of Between the World and Me, a boldly conjured debut novel about a magical gift, a devastating loss, and an underground war for freedom.

From the Publisher: Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her—but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.

So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the Deep South to dangerously idealistic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.

This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a remarkable and important writer, perhaps one of the most important to emerge in the last few years. His first foray into fiction writing is a heartbreaking, uplifting, lyrical masterpiece. Family is the one thing that can keep people going, even through the hardest of times. Family today can mean many things, and people find family where they can. Coates gives us an intimate view of what family meant to slaves living on plantations in the South in the 19th century, where a child or a parent could be sold and sent away at any time. Try to imagine living under a condition like that. I cannot fathom it, and that makes me more aware of the science and research around post-traumatic slave syndrome.

Here, Hiram loses all memory of his mother when she is sold away, and he spends his life trying to recover from that loss. Along the way, he comes to understand that his people, the Taskers, have a unique relationship to the earth, the sky, the water, and to each other. Coates tells a story imbued with the magic of creation and re-building as we follow Hiram from South to North and back again, driven and guided by his own gifts and spirit.

This is not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Advance praise for The Water Dancer

“In prose that sings and imagination that soars, Coates further cements himself as one of this generation’s most important writers, tackling one of America’s oldest and darkest periods with grace and inventiveness. This is bold, dazzling, and not to be missed.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Coates brings his considerable talent for racial and social analysis to his debut novel, which captures the brutality of slavery and explores the underlying truth that slaveholders could not dehumanize the enslaved without also dehumanizing themselves. Beautifully written, this is a deeply and soulfully imagined look at slavery and human aspirations.”—Booklist (starred review)

Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Published By: Random House
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Almost Lost Arts by Emily Freidenrich


9781452170206This book is a celebration of tactile beauty and a tribute to human ingenuity. In-depth profiles tell the stories of 20 artisans who have devoted their lives to preserving traditional techniques. Gorgeous photographs reveal these crafts people’s studios, from Oaxaca to Kyoto and from Milan to Tennessee. Two essays explore the challenges and rewards of engaging deeply with the past. With an elegant three-piece case and foil stamping, this rich volume will be an inspiration to makers, collectors, and history lovers.

The subtitle of this book is “Traditional Crafts and the Artisans Keeping Them Alive,” which accurately reflects the content, but does not come close to expressing the sheer joy and steadfast commitment these artisans find in their work.

As a librarian, I was pleased to see a chapter devoted to Donald Vass, the “Book Mender” for the King County Library System in Issaquah, Washington. Book mending is truly a lost art in libraries, given the relatively low cost and low quality of the books being published today. It’s cheaper to buy a new one than fix a book with a broken spine. Most library systems, including mine, eliminated the Book Menders years ago. It brings me joy to see Mr. Vass carefully attending to these broken books, and the photo of the “century-old cast-iron board cutter” leaves me envious. It also makes me sad to read “he has worried that the program will dissolve with his retirement.” I’m betting that’s true.

There are lots of “lost arts” books out there right now, but this one features some artisans and skills I did not expect. There’s

  • Peter Bellerby, who makes custom globes that are works of art;
  • Brittany Nicole Cox, the Antiquarian Horologist who repairs vintage and ancient clocks and timekeeping devices;
  • Wet plate photographers who actually create *new* tin types;
  • Steve Stepp & Robert Coverston, who create new cassette tapes;
  • Image colorists Matt Loughrey and Grace Rawson who bring new details to life in vintage photos through exacting coloring techniques.

Almost Lost Arts introduces you to these and so many more people across the globe who are keeping the old crafts and arts alive. There is a good balance of text and color photos which blend together to describe the history and the current application of the particular art. The descriptive text is fascinating and well-researched.

I have only two technical issues: there are some editing issues in the advanced copy I received (page 67 in the wet plate photography chapter has some misspelled words, and sentences that repeat); and something that annoys me in books that rely on photos and words to tell the story – when you have captioned photos on a page, end the text block with a period. Don’t make the reader go to the next page to finish the sentence/paragraph then have to go back to read the photo captions.

Other than those two minor quibbles, this is a fabulous book. Beautiful and informative. Buy it for every maker you know who loves the old ways. They will not be disappointed.

Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Published By: Chronicle Books
Thanks to Chronicle Books for the review copy

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman


cover161184-mediumFrom the Publisher: In 1941, during humanity’s darkest hour, three unforgettable young women must act with courage and love to survive. In Berlin, at the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. She finds her way to a renowned rabbi, but it’s his daughter, Ettie, who offers hope of salvation when she creates a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked.

Lea and Ava travel to Paris, where Lea meets her soulmate, then to a convent in western France known for its silver roses, then to a school in a mountaintop village where three thousand Jews were saved. Meanwhile, Ettie is in hiding, waiting to become the fighter she’s destined to be, waiting to avenge her little sister.

What does it mean to lose your mother? How much can one person sacrifice for love? In a world where evil can be found at every turn, we meet remarkable characters that take us on a stunning journey of loss and resistance, the fantastical and the mortal, in a place where all roads lead past the Angel of Death and love is never ending.

I have started to write this review about 10 times and simply cannot express the blend of tragedy and joy you will find in this book. Hoffman has taken the horrifying historical context of the Holocaust and distilled it into the stories of four women: Lea, Ettie, Marianne, and the golem-woman Ava. It’s about survival when everything you know is ripped away; disbelief that your neighbors, friends, and country can suddenly turn on you because of your beliefs; love when the world seems consumed by hate; courage when faced with unimaginable loss, and humanity when it’s needed most. It takes a writer as skilled as Hoffman to take these heart-wrenching stories and tell them with such grace and beauty.

The story begins and ends with love – the undying, monumental love of a mother for her child, and of the child for her mother. Hoffman’s trademark magical realism is here in the form of Ava, the golem created to keep Lea safe who performs her job to perfection. In the face of unimaginable horror, ordinary people find strength, courage, and yes, love.

The best of the year for me.

“Oh, what a book this is! Hoffman’s exploration of the world of good and evil, and the constant contest between them, is unflinching; and the humanity she brings to us—it is a glorious experience. The book builds and builds, as she weaves together, seamlessly, the stories of people in the most desperate of circumstances—and then it delivers with a tremendous punch. It opens up the world, the universe, in a way that it absolutely unique. By the end you may be weeping.” —Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Olive Kitteridge

“Alice Hoffman’s new novel will break your heart, and then stitch it back together piece by piece. It’s about love and loss, about history and the world today, about what happens when man goes against the laws of nature for good and for evil. It’s my new favorite Hoffman book—and if you know how much I adore her writing, that’s truly saying something.” —Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and A Spark of Light

“An exceptionally voiced tale of deepest love and loss…one of [Hoffman’s] finest. WWII fiction has glutted the market, but Hoffman’s unique brand of magical realism and the beautiful, tender yet devastating way she explores her subject make this a standout.” —Booklist (starred review)

Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Published By: Simon & Schuster
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

A Cloud of Fraud by Linda Ferreri

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A Cloud Of Fraud by Linda Ferreri BannerOn Tour June 1-30, 2019

Synopsis:

A man is shot dead in front of City Hall in Philadelphia where his family is tangled in a bitter lawsuit. One brave woman, drawn there by a work of art, finds herself following a twisted trail to the hills of Le Marche in Italy to learn why. All the while, the cloud of fraud grows thicker and darker around her. 

This thrilling story grabs and holds the reader from the first chapter through unexpected twists all the way to the richly satisfying ending. Art expert Claire Bliss and police Comandante Baldo are joined and antagonized by unforgettable characters in both Philadelphia and Italy. The authenticity of Ferreri’s players and their territories give special vibrance to the novel.

Lovers of the Renaissance will be drawn in immediately by the book’s cover, a painting of Mary Magdalene by Carlo Crivelli (ca. 1480) in the Rijksmuseum. Inside the book, a great art crime story unfolds together with a gem of a murder mystery.

Readers here know that my preferred genre is mystery and suspense, which can range from hardcore, blood-and-guts police procedurals, to softer Jessica-Fletcher-esque cozies, to cleverly plotted and researched historical novels, and so on. I am particularly fond of mysteries that involve books or art, so I was happy to review this madcap mystery when offered from the publisher.

There are two parallel stories happening here: a legal drama involving a (possibly) forged will, and theft of artwork by Italian Renaissance painter Carlo Crivelli. The two stories are linked by Arthur Seri, a quiet, unassuming art expert who is suing his cousins over his uncle’s will, which he believes was forged. At the same time, Arthur is working with a larger-than-life Russian to authenticate parts of a Renaissance era altar piece painted by Crivelli.

And then Arthur Seri is killed. Shot in the back on the steps of the Philadelphia Court House. Enter art expert Claire Bliss, who also happens to own a home in the Le Marche region of Italy where Carlo Crivelli painted. Claire finds herself neck-deep in a confusing and dangerous game involving fake paintings, Arthur Seri’s very Italian landlady, the above-mentioned Russian, and an Italian police chief pining for his missing wife. The action moves between Philadelphia, New York, and Italy as Ferreri weaves all the various plots and subplots together into an unexpected ending.

There is SO much going on here that I was reminded of the 1930’s era madcap mystery movies where there are lots of characters, lots of motives, and lots of movement. Ferreri does an excellent job of managing all the different strands and bringing some resolution to the two separate stories of the Crivelli paintings and the forged will. Her depiction of Rose Cicarelli is spot on for the Italian grandmas and mamas in my life, especially Rose’s comment on the very last page, which made me howl with laughter. So accurate! The characters here – Claire and Baldo – have the makings of becoming a duo in a series. I would enjoy reading more about the New York sophisticate Claire and the provincial Italian police chief Baldo. Ferreri’s experience in the art world will surely make for more entertaining books in the future. Now I’m going back to find her earlier books on the Crown of the Andes.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Published by: Linda Ferreri Trustee
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Number of Pages: 315
ISBN: 978-0-578-47624-7
Purchase Links: Amazon | Kindle | Apple Books | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Early on in the Hard-heads case, at one of the bar association luncheons, Judge Pirandello had positioned himself next to one of his former clerks who was now a successful litigator in the Probate Court. Biggers, by name. There was the introductory chat about the wellbeing of their family members and the joke about the latest case here or there. The dialogue was familiar to both of them. The Hard-heads plaintiff was a problem person, the judge had learned, and he needed to be squashed to put an end to mostly frivolous claims, driven by greed. Everybody in the family knew it, the judge heard. He knew the type. The Probate Court was littered with greedy relatives, angry children with buxom young stepmothers wearing expensive jewelry their fathers had bought. He knew it all. The judge wanted rid of this case, and so he was pleased to learn that it was not worthy of His Honor’s dignified much less close attention. The Hard-heads case had to go.

It would have gone long before now, the judge was thinking to himself as he growled into the cup of black tea, but these damned people had refused to take the hint, refused to be cowed or put in their places. Here and there at the few hearings he had conducted over this motion or that, he had seen a shrug of the shoulders by one or another lawyer.

“What could we do?” They might as well have said that out loud. The judge understood.

His knee was throbbing, but Judge Pirandello refused to have it replaced. The fact that cold weather was coming on made it worse. The goddamned orthopedic surgeon was another money-grubber. Were there no professionals left in his world who were not money-grubbers? He stretched his corpulence forward over the edge of his chair to reach for his footstool, then winced as he elevated the bad leg. He yelled out for Mary to bring him another cup of tea. Then, he opened the enormous file on the small table beside his chair.

In Re the Estate of Seri. He hated even the name. Italian people should not behave in this fashion, he thought. His own father would have come back from the dead to beat the daylights out of his heirs if they had behaved as these people were behaving. Suing one another. Claiming fraud. All of it. Disgraceful, he thought. They were each poised to receive a generous amount of money but no, that wasn’t good enough. As with errant children, the Judge was both angry with and ashamed of the parties.

***

Excerpt from A Cloud of Fraud by Linda Ferreri. Copyright 2019 by Linda Ferreri. Reproduced with permission from Linda Ferreri. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Linda Ferreri

Linda Ferreri is the author of several art crime novels as well as witty illustrated iBooks. She is a highly respected international art law expert who divides her time between the United States and Le Marche in Italy.

Sometimes she says her most amusing book was her first, The King of UNINI, a sophisticated little romance set in Paris.

Catch Up With Linda Ferreri On:
acloudoffraud.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

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Monster She Wrote by Lisa Krieger & Melanie Anderson


9CD8CA8F-41F6-4647-8B19-E4A3B5E67949It’s been years since I took a deep dive into early gothic and speculative fiction, and never just focusing on women authors, so I thought this would be a nice refresher. Kroger and Anderson have written a *readable* and engaging piece of non-fiction that delves into all the kick-ass women who wrote science fiction, paranormal, horror, and speculative fiction from the 17th century on. Many of them wrote using male pseudonyms, but others started their own publishing houses just for women!

While I especially enjoyed the chapters on the early writers in the field, I also found many unfamiliar authors to explore who wrote for the pulps, or who wrote under male pseudonyms. This book had me scouring my bookshelves for English and Victorian ghost story and short story collections to see if I actually had some of the stories referenced. I now have a stack of ghost story books all set for a summer reading project and am thinking about putting together a reading challenge for my Litsy friends using the authors referenced in the book. Here are a few I plan to explore…

Authors to Revisit:

  • Margaret Cavendish (Mad Madge)
  • Ann Radcliffe
  • Mary Shelley
  • Mary Anne Radcliffe
  • Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Charlotte Riddell

Authors to Explore:

  • Regina Maria Roche
  • Margery Bowen
  • L.T. Meade
  • Charlotte Dacre
  • Marjorie Lawrence
  • Amelia Edwards (apparently the model for Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody character)

These are just a few of the authors featured in this handy book. Find it when it comes out. This one’s a winner, folks!

Publication Date: September 17, 2019
Published By: Quirk Books
Thanks to NetGalley for the review book

Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson


bookwomanPhotos of the pack librarians of the early 20th century have been all over library social media recently, so I was pleased to find a book about the service. While this story includes the pack service as a central element, the real story is Book Woman Cussy Mary, a member of blue people of Kentucky. Not only is Cussy Mary a woman attempting to develop a career as a librarian, she is also different because of the blue color of her skin. I was prompted to research the blue people because I’d never heard of them, and was fascinated to learn about how the families evolved.

The story here is hard to read, given the horrible living conditions of people in the Kentucky hills in the early 20th century, which were even worse for women and those who were different. I was surprised and unsettled by the violence against Cussy Mary so early in the book, and had to actually put it down for awhile to process what happened to her. I did pick up again and finish the book, finding comfort in the fact that she eventually ends up okay, but the path there was so filled with bigotry, hatred, and violence that I would warn readers who are triggered by violence against women and minorities to be cautious reading this.

Published By: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear

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393C3BD1-8718-43E5-AA7C-12979BFBC4DCWinspear’s Maisie Dobbs is one of my favorite fictional characters and the series is one I recommend constantly. The American Agent signals the beginning of a new chapter in Maisie’s life, and is every bit as good as previous entries in the series.

Back to driving ambulances and deeply involved in saving lives during Hitler’s Blitz of London, Maisie is also waiting for a hearing to determine whether she can finally adopt Anna, the child refugee who entered her life in In This Grave Hour. Maisie and best chum Priscilla drive into the heart of the bombing every night, and meet intrepid “girl reporter” Catherine Saxon. Maisie senses a kindred spirit in the young woman, and is suitably distressed to discover that Catherine has been killed. Maisie is asked to look into Catherine’s death, given that she was the daughter of a prominent American senator. During her investigation, Maisie renews and intensifies her relationship with the American agent Mark Scott, first encountered in Journey to Munich.

Winspear has done a spectacular job in helping Maisie grow into a confident, brave, intelligent woman who has known tremendous heartbreak but has survived through grit and resilience. If it sounds like Winspear is tying up a number of loose ends here, she is and it is supremely gratifying. The mystery here is secondary to the bigger story of Maisie moving on with her life, although it is handled with the same cleverness and wit we have come to expect from Winspear.

The book itself is shorter than previous entries in the series, which made for a wonderful few hours immersed in 1940s London and Kent. Highly recommended.