Survive with Fantasy

Sometimes we need fantasy to survive the reality.Another week with profoundly troubling national news against the backdrop of a lot of being busy meant my library card got tagged for action again. This time, I checked out Gail Carriger’s Prudence. I’m having a hard time deciding whether it was because I was truly exhausted or because this iteration of the series of series that started with Soulless just didn’t suck me in the way so many of her other books have. I very much enjoyed the ending and the philosophizing on the nature of what a progressive government should look like among the characters in Carriger’s steampunk world. I’ve also already checked out Imprudence, since I’m curious to see how the additions to the cast stir things up. And I would absolutely recommend this third series in the world Carriger has built for steampunk and new adult fiction fans.

I just may be over stories that feature such young protagonists.

The one article I’m going to share this week that deals in worrisome study results, should actually be taken as an exhortation to reduce the amount of stress in our lives. A different study highlights the real source of the difference the Head Start program has made for some of America’s kids. And a profile of Ina Garten that closes with the quote “This isn’t the final thing I’m going to do, but it’s the next step I’m going to take.” is worth reading. For an entirely different perspective on the direction the world is headed, Vox aggregated 23 charts and maps that show that even while we live through darkness, there are a number of things about our world that are actually improving.

Finally, to really give your smile muscles a work-out, enjoy this aggregation of videos of a dog who enjoys the hell out of jumping into leaf piles. I’m actually considering what it would take to build a pile like that for KouKi, since she would be the one to have that kind of reaction out of our current three.

Hubs and I watched episodes 2 and 3 of the newest Dr. Who series this week. It continues to shine with strong writing and characterization, as well as unexpectedly rich emotional arcs. There are potentially other candidates for our stay-at-home date nights, including the rebooted Charmed, and a movie hubs stumbled across with Michael Peña in a non-comedic role, called Extinction. Honestly, we have such a backlog of movies to watch, it will be interesting to see what comes out on top of the pile. But the theme of the week is strong for both of us: We really need the fantasy in order to survive the reality.

As for my other trip into a made-up world… my WIP only advanced 883 words over three days of writing this week. I’m coming up on the halfway point of the book, and am having to consider carefully how and when that action really ramps up to fall appropriately in the pacing. Based on my calculations, if I can somehow get to the point of averaging 1,000 words per day, I can finish this book by the end of November. I may actually make that my NaNoWriMo-adjacent goal, since I don’t want to make the mistake of starting something else new while I’m in the middle of my current WIP.

My Fitbit says I averaged 4,866 steps per day last week as well as 7 hours and 49 minutes of sleep.

So for as “behind” as I’ve been feeling, at least some habits are sticking. And I’m grateful that I have a safe haven at home where I can enjoy others’ creativity. Until next week, check out the other ROW80ers’ progress, and I’ll return with my next check-in.

Being A Light

Build someone up. Put their insecurities to sleep. Remind them they're worthy. Tell them they're magical. Be a light in a too often dim world.We had house guests this week. It doesn’t happen that often, so when it does, we spend a week in a flurry of deep cleaning the house and shopping for groceries. The irony of this is that this means we’re tired when our guests arrive. And are flattened when they leave.

This time wasn’t really any different. But our visitors were family, and it had been years since we’d seen them, so it was nice to spend time together. And to revive my mother-in-law’s recipe for spedini–celebrated by cooking them together with friends and reminiscing over the many, legendary meals she cooked for all and sundry.

Underlying that was worry for a friend who recently lost their father. And another friend who is struggling with burn-out. And the fact that our Milwaukee house is still on the market.

News reports about Vancouver struggling with the influx of money from China, or that the same behaviors pathologized in poor people are lionized in the rich, or that inequality in pay in Silicon Valley means 90% of residents make LESS than what they made in 1997 when adjusting for inflation, don’t soothe those concerns. The humanity of western doctors being intimidated by the invention of thermometers only reminds me in a different way of how easily human egos are bruised and retreat into defensive anger.

So reporting about the winners of the latest annual Nikon microphotography contest, and new footage of a rare deep-sea cucumber were the anodyne I needed.

As well as enjoying the latest installment of Dionne Lister’s Witchnapped series. And Seanan McGuire’s first in her InCryptid series, Discount Armageddon. Both were exactly the kind of escapism I was craving–light romantic tension in worlds where the protagonist is trying to find her footing among all kinds of crazy. I think adding those two to my Goodreads challenge means I’ve read more books this year than I have in quite a while. And another author friend of mine reached out to ask if I could review a charity anthology prior to its release in early November, so that number is in no danger of stalling out. At the moment, I have Gail Carriger’s Prudence checked out from the library as an eBook, so it is likely to be a curious tension for me for the rest of the year–whether I read, or whether I write.

As for my WIP, I added 1,688 words this week, surprising myself with two quite productive writing nights when I was wiped out from the combination of work and home-prep duties. I seem to recall this having happened in the past: When I’m at just the right level of exhaustion, my brain lets go and my fingers fly, and all of a sudden I have more words than I expected. I’m just at the half-way point, and am actually excited that I don’t seem to have the “floppy middle” syndrome I’ve faced in the past… There might be something to my attempt at hybridizing pantsing with plotting.

Because of all the to-ing and fro-ing in the house, my average step count last week also jumped–to 6,650 steps per day. Naturally, something had to give, so my average hours slept per night dropped to 6 hours 54 minutes, with an abysmal low of 4 hours 48 minutes Sunday night. And hubs and I had more than enough socializing this week than to have time for keeping up with our shows.

So while there is great uncertainty about a huge number of things, this week’s quote is my reminder: Do what you can to be a light for the world. There’s more than plenty darkness out there; don’t let it swallow you. Even if it means you are just cleaning your house. Or cooking extra food. Or escaping into fiction. Or whatever it is that nourishes your soul.

I’ll be retreating into our home nest this week to do what I can in the way of being the light over the longer term by generating more of my story. I encourage you to do whatever it is that makes you shine brightest. And to go check out how my fellow authors are doing in their pursuits of their goals.

March Madness

"Now that we have learned to fly in the air like birds and dive in the sea like fish, only one thing remains--to learn to live on earth like humans." -George Bernard ShawThe irony of the years I’ve lived in the DC suburbs is that for as anti-team-sports as I am in general, I’ve participated in office pools for the NCAA men’s basketball tourney… and done well. In fact, I won both of the past two years. And my bracket this year still has seven of the eight final teams playing alive and well and in the running. It’s an odd, statistically improbable path to office camaraderie for me, and in some part of my mind reflects on the George Bernard Shaw quote I’m sharing this week. What is it to live like humans?

In my case, and in the case of everyone I know, it’s mostly down to how to live with failures large and small. I’m back to that old Buddhist saying of “life is suffering,” but also, how do we move past that? Live in the moment? One author buddy of mine was noodling on that theme in her blog this week and reminded me of the power of the phrase “at this time.” Another author friend of mine is dealing with the repercussion of a new diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis, and how that means she must learn to budget her energy. My mom is re-learning how to walk properly after hip replacement surgery this week–and what it means to have one key component of her body fail her sufficiently to require that kind of intervention.

My failure of this round was my inability to finish my latest novel. Looking back at my original goal of February 10 for a completed first draft just made me shake my head. I’m not sure where I was imagining I’d find the time or energy or focus to get back to my fast-drafting mode. I’ve been lucky to get a thousand words a week; this week I managed zero. Between the migraine that morphed to a 24-hour flu that had mostly passed by the time mom went through her surgery, and the follow-up duties that went with that, as well as the freakish return of winter, I’m having a hard time remembering much about the week, let alone that I was to have written at some point during its course.

On the other hand, I read an interesting article on “transrealism” and discovered I may be part of the first major literary movement of the 21st century.

😀

Seriously. From the article:

Through this realist tapestry, the author threads a singular, impossibly fantastic idea, often one drawn from the playbook of science fiction, fantasy and horror. So the transrealist author who creates a detailed and realistic depiction of American high-school life will then shatter it open with the discovery of an alien flying saucer that confers super-powers on an otherwise ordinary young man.

The connection of the fantastic with the realistic has played a major role in every one of my stories, and offers such richness for my imagination, I’m guessing this will remain largely the playground I explore. Certainly, the theme of challenging what constitutes “normal” figures greatly in most of my conversations, as well as bleeds into my writing. I may have to become more intentional in pushing my writing that direction. Normal, to again refer back to Bernard Shaw, is a human illusion. Each of us faces the difficulties that land regularly at our feet with varying degrees of grace or unconscious ineptitude.

I read two more books this week. One great, one not. Comparing what makes one author’s work a hot mess where another leaves her readers with the warm, fuzzy feeling of completion is another way of becoming intentional. The first included allusions to so many threads to other works in her series none of her secondary characters managed to differentiate themselves in my mind. Given the brevity of the story, too, the leap from “getting to know you” to “we’re mates” was also jarring. In contrast, Gail Carriger’s Romancing the Inventor was an enthralling journey. The characters jump off the page and nestle themselves into your brain long after you’ve finished reading. Neither story could in any way be stretched to help define “normal,” but the exploration of ethics and relationships certainly helps add color to what “being human” ought to mean.

Hubs and I also stayed on top of Designated Survivor. I suspect our jaws are still clattering around on the floor as we consider the radical plot twist the writers on that show threw our way last week. I’m crossing my fingers that the mole in the White House isn’t the jingoistically indicated character, and am having a hard time figuring out how the darkness of betrayal could be reflected in any of the primary characters we’ve come to know so far.

Aside from the entertainment breaks and care-taking duties, we did manage to keep up with our walks. Tashie is definitely stronger, and the small up-tick in my average step count reflects that fact. My phone says I managed a 2,828 daily average this week.

I have renegotiated my new deadline with my editor in the meantime. My new goal is 2,000 words per week. Given how I’ve done so far this year, that could be an invitation for yet another renegotiation this summer, but a different part of being human is to push ourselves–stretch for things that seem beyond our reach. I’m glad I have the ROW80 group to keep me honest in my goal-setting and -pursuit, so I’ll be back again next week, even if the rest of the group isn’t.

On Being Tired

"I'm tired, boss. Mostly I'm tired of people being ugly to each other." -John Coffey, "The Green Mile"It being the night when the entertainment industry celebrates the best in movie-making, it feels fitting to hearken back to a movie that was nominated for four Oscars, and denied in all categories, despite the depth of the topic and the portrayal Michael Clarke Duncan invested in his character. And the money quote of the movie. When I saw the image I’m sharing this week, it felt like a good reminder, something worth spreading through the world again:

“Paul Edgecomb: On the day of my judgment, when I stand before God, and He asks me why did I kill one of his true miracles, what am I gonna say? That it was my job? My job?

“John Coffey: You tell God the Father it was a kindness you done. I know you hurtin’ and worryin’, I can feel it on you, but you oughta quit on it now. Because I want it over and done. I do. I’m tired, boss. Tired of bein’ on the road, lonely as a sparrow in the rain. Tired of not ever having me a buddy to be with, or tell me where we’s coming from or going to, or why. Mostly I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world everyday. There’s too much of it. It’s like pieces of glass in my head all the time. Can you understand?

If you haven’t seen The Green Mile (adapted from the Stephen King novel of the same name), take the time to do so. That sense of pieces of glass in our heads is a prescient echo of the discord we’re living with today. And the questionable redemption and complex morality depicted are worth reflecting on again as well.

So hubs and I continue to try to remain focused on those pieces of our life that we can control, that bring us happiness. I was able to take a day off this week to catch up with myself and my sleep after the intensity of work since the end of January. I read another book. (I’m sure you’re shocked.)

It actually started because I was interviewed for the USA Today Happy Ever After blog, which was featuring authors of lesbian scifi. When it first went live, I had another squee-worthy moment of again sharing the same atmosphere as Gail Carriger. (If you remember back to my release day announcement, we were both on the hot new releases in LGBT Scifi on the Amazon genre best-sellers list then. Funnily enough, the book that boosted her to number one in that category was the one she was talking about for her portion of this interview feature, too, Romancing the Inventor.) Thus I discovered Born Out of Wedlock, by Lyn Gardner. In some ways it’s your classic love story between a billionaire and a pauper, in others, it takes all those tropes and dumps them on their head. And it’s an F/F love story. Some of the things my editor for The Builders pointed out to me about F/F love stories were beautifully limned in this tale–how carefully the relationship is built up, not only between the two protagonists, but also among all the main characters. The stakes are high, but the relationships are real, so the payoff for the reader is well worth the wait. I’m not generally greatly enthusiastic about contemporary romances, but this one hooked me.

That meant hubs is still waiting for me to watch… any number of shows and/or movies that are in our queue. I’m lucky he loves me and understands that sometimes I’d rather read than watch. And we’d gotten our date night earlier at one of our favorite Italian restaurants, so I may have bought him off with food…

😉

In other news, Natasha started rejecting her pain meds yesterday. (And, seriously, how does a dog simply “un-swallow” ONE, small pill?) She’s so much happier not being doped up, and her gait has definitely improved. So maybe all the therapies we’ve thrown at her are finally allowing her to heal from her various injuries. We’re still taking it easy on the walks, so even though the weather has been unseasonably beautiful, my step count dropped back down to an average of 2,322 this week.

I’ve also renegotiated my deadline with my editor and added a few more words to my WIP, despite only barely waking up from my overwork fog this weekend, to the tune of 566 new words. A slow-but-steady approach should get me to my new deadline without too much stress. I hope.

In the meantime, I’m back to cheering on my ROW80 mates, and will return again next week to report on my progress.

Release Day: The Builders

The BuildersAs promised, today is the official release day for The Builders. At 61,211 words, it’s my longest novel yet and branches me out into the niche romance market of lesbian romances. I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to go there, but the characters were stubbornly female and stubbornly attracted to each other.

😀

Amazingly, in the few hours it’s been available to the public, demand has been strong enough to propel it to #5 in Amazon’s “Hot New Releases in LGBT Science Fiction” list and #15 in Amazon’s top 100 paid “Best Sellers in LGBT Science Fiction” list. I’m unbelievably excited to have my book listed on the same page as one of Gail Carriger’s latest:

Amazon Hot New Releases, bestselling LGBT science fiction

Thank you to all the readers who have made this possible! I hope the story is as entertaining and thought-provoking for you to read as it was for me to research and write.

To whet your appetite, here’s the blurb:

Earth’s alien progenitors have returned. For Tara Shifflet, abuse survivor and meeting planner, that wouldn’t be as big a deal as getting home to her therapy cat, except that getting anywhere in the U.S. is dicey in the wake of public uproar about first contact. For Navenah, a short-term assignment with vague directions to find generators to save her dying race leads to frustration and misunderstanding. The two women find unexpected pleasure together, but will that solve the galactic die-off?

I’m excited to see audience response to this story, even while I work on formatting the print version.

Escaping Reality

"Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It's a way of understanding it." -Lloyd AlexanderIt’s been a fiction-filled week for me–though I haven’t gotten to write anything of my own in that time. I’m very much enjoying the stories I’m getting to read via my workshop, and Gayla is churning hard on a brand new story, loosely related to her Deadlands Hunt book–and I have the honor of getting each new handwritten page as a text as she ratchets her word count higher.

😀

I’ve also been sucked into the Ghosts of Tsavo, which the author sent to me via my blog for review. I’ll give you a preview of my review by saying that if you enjoy Gail Carriger’s work the way I do, you should ABSOLUTELY run to buy this book, too–and it’s currently only $.99.

All of these things have made me consider one more time why I dedicate so much time and energy to fictional words. When I ran across Lloyd Alexander’s quote, then, it struck me as pertinent. Even more so when hubs forwarded an article detailing 10 choices we’d regret in 10 years from the Buddhist perspective. In particular, endlessly waiting for another day to do the things you want to do is deadly. And gives me a handy excuse to recuse myself from the social whirl to further enjoy the variations in understanding all the fiction I enjoy brings to my life.

😉

That list also validates the ROW80 project for its ongoing focus on helping authors develop a backbone (accountability) and document results (not giving up after repeated failures). So I walked five days this week for a total of 5.7 miles. I caught up with my crit group requirements. Hubs and I enjoyed another installment of Agent Carter for a stay-home date night.

I’m still a laggard on the house-settling and PMP studying. But that latter is shoving to June now anyway, since I’ve been approved for a more formal study group through work. I still have work to do to prepare marketing materials for hubs’ Virginia-based practice, and any other freelance work that comes my way, so I’m not ready to say I have a handle on my own expectations of myself yet, but the longer days and some of the lifestyle changes we’ve made in the past week have energized me. The workshop-generated critiques have, too. I think I might have the drive to push through to the end of the novel that’s been eluding me for over a year.

🙂

I’m marking up my regained focus as another win for fiction.

😀

Meantime, I suggest you check out how the other ROW80ers are wrapping up this round. I’ll be back next week, documenting my own progress and considering, again, how my furbabies really are my kids

Book Review: Curtsies & Conspiracies

Curtsies & ConspiraciesI’m finally catching up to my NetGalley obligations, posting reviews of books I’ve gained access to through my membership. In this case, it’s the second in Gail Carriger’s Finishing School Series, Curtsies & Conspiracies. As I mentioned last week, I inhaled both the first and this second book in the series in a sitting, enjoying the near-contiguous hand-off between the two.

In book two, Sophronia has started to settle in to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality when the group is warned that its members will face the first of the tests to determine whether the girls are, indeed, worthy to continue.

As usual, Sophronia sees conspiracies behind conspiracies, but has to suffer ostracism from her peers for her unusually high marks. Thus, she begins a closer association with non-student Vieve, Mme Lefoux’s niece, as well as the sootie, Soap, who’s been helping her keep Bumbersnoot well-fed. Together, the unlikely trio explore some of the details of the technology at the core of the series.

“The first aether-borne dirigible flight, and we get to witness it! Do you realize, if Giffard’s calculations are correct, this could halve float times? Can you believe it? We could get all the way to Scotland in four days! I wonder how he is handling aether-current monitoring. Can you imagine being that high up?”

Sophronia was not as impressed as Vieve thought she should be. “It is still faster by sleeper train.”

“Yes, but this is floating. Floating! Using aether currents. The possibilities are endless. It’s so exciting!” Vieve bounced up and down on Sophronia’s bed.

The young inventor had stopped by for a visit after breakfast. Sophronia had no idea where the scamp ate, but clearly it was within hearing distance of the assembly.

The expanding circle of incongruous names (Lord Dingleproops?! Felix Golborne, Viscount Mersey?? Professor Shrimpdittle! Picklemen, for crying out loud!) accounts for a reliable thread of laughter on its own, without considering the string of ridiculous circumstances Sophronia injects herself into. So while the author defined the Parasol Protectorate series as a comedy of manners, this series is shaping up to take the ridiculous deeper into the sublime.

I very much appreciate the association of the very fine points of etiquette with profound silliness, since it serves to underline the constraints under which people have chosen to operate while also illustrating that from another perspective, even constraints can serve a purpose and bring greater meaning to any given set of interactions.

So once again I will highly recommend a Carriger book for those looking for immersive, addictive escapism to a world that, while in some ways is staid and antiquated, also has interesting parallels to ours. The steampunk crossover with paranormal should appeal to a wide audience, even with such a young protagonist.

Book Review: Etiquette & Espionage

Etiquette & Espionage: Finishing School Series Book 1This is another book I picked up through my NetGalley membership. I’d thoroughly enjoyed Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series (and reviewed Soulless, Timeless, Heartless, Changeless, and Blameless on my blog), so even though this new series falls into the YA genre, it carries over enough of the steampunk world-building and even a few of the characters from that first series that I was tipped into wanting to read it. After all, a series intro like the one that comes with this book promises great things:

It’s one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It’s quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School.

The writing style shows Carriger has continued to strengthen her trademark voice. The humor is deeply embedded in the story–but in a British, stiff-upper-lip tone that reflects what I enjoy most about Monty Python:

“How do you do? Isn’t this a spiffing day? Really, quite spiffing. I’m Dimity. Who are you?”

“Sophronia.”

“Is that all?”

“What, isn’t it enough?”

“Oh, well, I mean to say, I’m Dimity Ann Plumleigh-Teignmott, actually, in full.”

“Sophronia Angelina Temminnick.”

“Gosh, that’s a mouthful.”

“It is? I suppose so.” As though Dimity Ann Plumleigh-Teignmott were a nice easy sort of name.

The nicest part of the story is Sophronia’s evolution from family misfit to something even more interesting–and the subversive commentary on women’s roles even in very early 20th-century England. Above all, this finishing school is a way for young women of quality to become aware of the wider application of feminine wiles and tricks of accoutrement. It’s easy to imagine a school like this turning out the Mata Hari–in fact, the timeline of that woman’s life falls neatly into the framework established for this story, and I’m having a head-slapping moment for not having tumbled to that fact earlier.

😀

For the first in a series, this book does not suffer from over-explanation–though I suspect my deep familiarity with the Parasol Protectorate series may also mean I would have been irritated had the author gone into additional detail about the politics and world in which Sophronia is making her way. In fact, the inclusion of Mme Lefoux and her niece operated as something of Easter Eggs for me, and served as tidy reminders of the wider world Sophronia faces. Because, certainly, she is young and naive when she starts at the boarding school, and needs the perspective their experiences can bring to bear.

In view of the fact that I swallowed the book (and its sequel) in a sitting last year while I was supposed to be focused on finishing homework myself, I can highly recommend this book for its ability to draw the reader into an escapist fantasy operating on a consistent set of internal rules. For anyone who wants a more scientific take on young people away at school for the first time (as opposed to the magic in Harry Potter‘s universe), this should fit the bill nicely.

A Girl with a Book

"Extremists have shown what frightens them most: A girl with a book." -Malala YousafzaiI seem to have lost a week… I know I’ve managed to stay on top of an editing freelance job and been productive at the office, but without specific deadlines for school papers hanging over my head, and with hubs fighting a terrible flu… I think every day was a Monday, until it was the weekend, and I woke up in the middle of the night last night thinking today was going to be Monday, too, and I’d forgotten to set my alarm.

This is not boding well for my NaNo dreams. It doesn’t help, either, that NetGalley recently made Gail Carriger’s Etiquette and Espionage Finishing School series books 1 and 2 available for reviewers. Carriger sucks me in every time, but in light of Malala Yousafzai’s historic achievement earlier this month, I’m not sure my kind of being a girl with a book quite measures up–even if the age groups do match up.

😉

I love the sentiment of her quote, regardless. I could certainly match extremists for rage, should anyone try to pry books out of my hands, or words from my grasp.

Tomorrow I find out for sure what the requirements are for my capstone project. I halfway suspect the unknowns of that are part of what stressed me out this week. So last night, rather than do anything productive, I curled up with hubs and watched our first movie selection from the backlog of the past two years: Men In Black 3. We’d started it because we’d figured it would be the same kind of light-hearted sci-fi silliness its predecessors had been, and were surprised by the depth of the ending. If you want to see an example of how a franchise adds emotional weight to the story arc its characters have followed over the course of a series, this is a great example. Naturally, that meant we sat up half the night watching the extra features, too. No wonder I’m leery of movie nights: with those bonus elements… a 2-hour movie can turn into a 5-hour marathon. Still worth it.

Because of weather and illness, we also only managed three walks for 7.4 miles this week. Not bad, but not my goal, either.

So, we kick off a new week, my final week of new coursework requirements, and the final week before NaNoWriMo begins. I’m trying to help Gayla meet her Friday release deadline goal for Frost and Bothered, so I’m not sure there will be any fiction writing again for me this week, which means I’ll be jumping into November’s start cold, if I do. Strangely, I have a good idea about the structure and even how I want to start my NaNo offering… Maybe that’s my excuse for not working on my other WIPs–I seem to do best if I focus on one thing at a time. Either way, I’ll report back next week on my progress, and hope you check out my ROW80 cohorts‘ successes until then.

Book Review: Timeless

TimelessI waited anxiously for the final book of the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger to be released, and then made myself wait a little longer to actually buy it until my book budget was available and my time budget opened a sliver.

Carriger has created such a unique voice with this series I almost have to read it in a posh, British accent, which alone brings a smile to my face. The fact that Alexia Tarabotti is such an unapologetic iconoclast who navigates her way through life with the characteristic stiff upper lip and punctilious approach makes the series feel witty on a profoundly intellectual plane. Not to say there isn’t slapstick in there, but it comes off as unintentional humor in the face of the always-exciting existence of one of the very few preternaturals in the world.

After the ending of Heartless, I wondered how Carriger would carry the story forward. The blurb says:

Alexia Tarabotti, Lady Maccon, has settled into domestic bliss. Of course, being Alexia, such bliss involves integrating werewolves into London High Society, living in a vampire’s second best closet, and coping with a precocious toddler who is prone to turning supernatural willy-nilly.

Until, that is, she receives a summons that cannot be ignored. With husband, child, and Tunstells in tow, Alexia boards a steamer to cross the Mediterranean. But Egypt may hold more mysteries than even the indomitable Lady Maccon can handle. What does the vampire Queen of Alexandria Hive really want from her? Why is the God-Breaker Plague suddenly expanding? And how has Ivy suddenly become the most popular actress in all the British Empire?

To carry over the metaphor from the book: The Alexia Tarabotti books are appeasement for me along the lines of treacle tarts for Alexia. I gobbled this one down in an afternoon, and wished there were more to come.

The emotional range of this book took me by surprise, starting as it did with the fully ridiculous:

Ivy Tunstell, Alexia’s dear friend, played the vampire queen. She did so with much sweeping about the stage and fainting, her own fangs larger than anyone else’s, which made it so difficult for her to articulate that many of her speeches were reduced to mere spitting hisses. She wore a hat that was part bonnet, part crown, driving home the queen theme, in colors of yellow, red, and gold. Her husband, playing the enamored werewolf, pranced about in a comic interpretation of lupine leaps, barked a lot, and got into several splendid stage fights.

The oddest moment, Alexia felt, was a dreamlike sequence just prior to the break, wherein Tunstell wore bumblebee-striped drawers with attached vest and performed a small ballet before his vampire queen. The queen was dressed in a voluminous black chiffon gown with a high Shakespearian collar and an exterior corset of green with matching fan. Her hair was done up on either side of her head in round puffs, looking like bear ears, and her arms were bare. Bare!

Conall, at this juncture, began to shake uncontrollably.

What’s fascinating is that even here, there is foreshadowing, and the book’s structure neatly closes out both the story arc introduced in this final novel as well as the mystery of Alexia’s father and the nature of the impact preturnaturals can continue to have even in their death.

I was glad that in this series the final book didn’t lose any of the verve and originality that drew me to the story in the first place, and finished on the kind of strong note that really makes me hope there will be a book about Alexia’s offspring sometime down the road. In the meantime, I will reiterate my earlier, strong recommendations: This book is a lot of fun and absolutely worth reading for anyone who likes vampires, werewolves, steampunk ethos, or low fantasy/alternate history.

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