Seven stories from Audrey Driscoll’s Herbert West Series…
The Nexus A 101-year-old professor reminisces about about his most memorable—and dangerous—student, Herbert West.
Fox and Glove To win a bet with his friend Alma, librarian Charles Milburn needs information from a dead man. But first he has to convince Herbert West to help him obtain it.
From the Annexe As if a relationship with a part-time necromancer isn’t complicated enough, what if it were more than friendship?
A Visit to Luxor On a climb up a hill near Luxor, Egypt, Francis Dexter and Andre Boudreau encounter bandits and supernatural entities.
One of the Fourteen A chance meeting in a pub brings Dr. Francis Dexter into a perilous realm between life and death.
The Night Journey of Francis Dexter Determined to confess one of Herbert West’s worst crimes to the victim’s son, Francis Dexter is subjected to a terrible revenge.
The Final Deadline of A.G. Halsey Nearing the end of her life, newspaperwoman Alma Halsey struggles to figure out what really happened to her granddaughter in Luxor, Egypt, and to warn her of threats to her heart and soul.
…and seven tales of illusions, delusions, and mysteries on the edges of logic
Welcome to the Witch House As if moving into a dump of a haunted house isn’t bad enough, Frank Elwood discovers conceited math student Walter Gilman is already living there, for his own peculiar reasons.
The Deliverer of Delusions Miranda Castaigne gives up her romantic life with artistic ex-pats in Paris to discover the truth about her eccentric brother’s death in a New York City insane asylum.
The Ice Cream Truck from Hell Friends Will and Doof investigate a mysterious ice cream truck that cruises their town at night.
The Colour of Magic Things get weird when the tenant in Marc’s basement suite insists on painting her bedroom with a very special paint.
A Howling in the Woods When Doug’s son Todd keeps playing a recording he’d made in the woods, of a strange howling sound, Doug orders him out of the truck—and into those woods.
The Glamour Fifteen-year-old Ann, convinced she was switched at birth with the daughter of a wealthy family, sneaks into their home on the evening of a celebration.
The Blue Rose Deon the Fabricator’s obsession with creating a blue rose leads him to make a perilous journey to the Blasted Lands. His childhood friend Luna of the City Guard undertakes a search for him and learns hard truths about love and duty.
The pre-order price of $0.99 has been extended, but only for a short time!
I’m delighted to announce a new book by the gifted and prolific author D. Wallace Peach:Liars and Thieves (Book One of Unraveling the Veil)
Behind the Veil, the hordes gather, eager to savage the world. But Kalann il Drakk, First of Chaos, is untroubled by the shimmering wall that holds his beasts at bay. For if he cannot cleanse the land of life, the races will do it for him. All he needs is a spark to light the fire.
Three unlikely allies stand in his way.
A misfit elf plagued by failure— When Elanalue Windthorn abandons her soldiers to hunt a goblin, she strays into forbidden territory.
A changeling who betrays his home— Talin Raska is a talented liar, thief, and spy. He makes a fatal mistake—he falls for his mark.
A halfbreed goblin with deadly secrets— Naj’ar is a loner with a talent he doesn’t understand and cannot control, one that threatens all he holds dear.
When the spark of Chaos ignites, miners go missing. But they won’t be the last to vanish. As the cycles of blame whirl through the Borderland, old animosities flare, accusations break bonds, and war looms.
Three outcasts, thrust into an alliance by fate, by oaths, and the churning gears of calamity, must learn the truth. For they hold the future of their world in their hands.
A question for Diana– What was the biggest challenge for writing this story?
Probably making sure that the magic system was consistent and made sense. In the past, my magic system has been very limited (an amulet, a magic book, a single unique skill). This series was much broader with each race having specific skills that vary in individuals. And the skills grow. It’s tricky to make the magic appear logical as well as limited enough that it doesn’t solve every problem.
D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life after the kids were grown and a move left her with hours to fill. Years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books, and when she started writing, she was instantly hooked. Diana lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two dogs, bats, owls, and the occasional family of coyotes.
Today I’m happy to introduce a historical novel set in the place I call home, Victoria, British Columbia.
From a work camp to their shared home with a view of the posh residences along the water’s edge, three generations of women struggle and toil against harsh realities and constant challenges to better their lot in life as they build the future of their family and, along with it, that of a burgeoning city. With two dressed in widow’s weeds and one in a maid’s uniform, their home gains the nickname ‘the House of Crows.’ Edie journeys across oceans, searching for the place where she can build a home. Lucy readies herself for the challenges of a new world, only to suffer loss after loss. Maggie slaves her days away in service to the rich, never losing hope that more awaits her. Interwoven timelines explore the earliest days of Victoria, illuminating the oft-forgotten histories of the women who laid the groundwork for the world we know today.
With its combination of historical sweep and intimate personal details, this book reminds me of Helen Hooven Santmyer’s novel …And Ladies of the Club. It brings to life the early years of the city of Victoria, British Columbia from the 1850s to the 1890s through the lives of three generations of women. The narrative is carefully structured to present each character’s life in chronological order, but at the same time braids the three together. Transitions from one point of view and time period to another are clearly labelled and not confusing.
The three main characters are distinct and memorable. Scottish immigrant Edie, embittered by a lifetime of toil and disappointment, Lucy the romantic, who finds escape and inspiration in nature, and Maggie, whose hopes for a happy future depend on finding a good husband. Their lives parallel the growth of Victoria from frontier settlement to growing town to capital city. The relations among the social, religious, and ethnic groups are shown as the story unfolds. Judicious use of Scottish pronunciation is incorporated to distinguish Edie’s voice from her daughter’s and granddaughter’s.
Although the story is about three women, the determining factor in all three lives is their husbands. The men’s strengths and weaknesses, their presence and absence, are the challenges to which the women must respond in order to survive and grow. None of these women is a rebel against the social dominance of men, but within the social restrictions of the day, each of them manages to carve her own niche.
Readers familiar or at least acquainted with Victoria and its history will greatly enjoy this book, because of frequent references to real geographical features, streets, structures, people, and events. All readers will find it easy to relate to the women’s struggles, hopes, sorrows and joys.
House of Crows is available in paperback through Amazon stores and from the publisher, Three Ocean Press.
Pictures for Several Thousand Words, Part 1, with images for stories from the Herbert West Series, may be found here.
The first two speculative fiction stories in Tales from the Annexe predate my acquaintance with Canva, so I did not have images for them when I began putting this post together. I decided to do something about that, and I am pleased with the results.
Available at a special pre-order price of $0.99 USD (or equivalent) from these Amazon outlets USUKCAAUDE
Tales from the Annexe, a collection of fourteen stories, is now available for pre-order.
Seven stories from the world of Audrey Driscoll’s Herbert West Series, followed by seven other tales of illusions, delusions, and mysteries from the edges of logic.
Discover Herbert West’s connections to Egypt, and how a dead man can help solve a mystery. Share Charles Milburn’s ruminations as he explores another dimension of his friendship with Herbert. Experience the horror of a long-anticipated revenge. Sample the treats on offer from the ice cream truck from Hell. Ride along with a dad who abandons his ten-year-old son in the woods where something howls. Find out why a woman paints her bedroom a very special colour. Accompany fifteen-year-old Ann as she tries to prove she belongs to the glamorous family on the other side of town.
These and other curious encounters may be found in this annexe to the ordinary.
Available at a special pre-order price of $0.99 USD (or equivalent) from these Amazon outlets USUKCAAUDE
I recently rediscovered a book I have no memory of buying. As you can see from the price stickers in the photo, it was a bargain. Especially considering what a fun read it’s been.
Christopher Lloyd was an eminent British gardener (“horticulturist, ” as he called himself) and writer on gardening. This book is a collection of his essays first published in Country Life between 1964 and 1993. They are arranged by month, a practice that makes sense considering that gardening is an activity governed by the seasons.
Reading the thoughts of this longtime expert gardener who was also a good writer was an informative delight. I must have read this book whenever it was I bought it, but I somehow forgot doing so. That made this re-reading a fresh experience.
Gardening was both passion and profession for Lloyd. He was opinionated, but spoke from knowledge and experience. His garden at Great Dixter was open to the public, which led to opinions about the habits of garden visitors. And on the habits of plants, from trees to tiny alpines. Dogs in the garden. Thefts of plants and cuttings, including confessions of long-ago heists perpetrated by Mr. Lloyd and his mother and fellow gardeners. His thoughts on the sound of certain words — “cultivar” (ugly) or “inflorescence” (delightful). The virtues of rough grass, which made me think I’m on to something with my Boulevard Project. The death of a plant as an opportunity for something new to be added. The essays cover a dizzying variety of garden-related topics, from plant propagation to cooking.
Great Dixter Garden is now managed by a charitable trust as a biodiversity and educational centre and is open to visitors. Its official website may be found here.
As well as enjoying Mr. Lloyd’s thoughts on gardening, I’ve been bustling about in my own patch, so thought it was okay to borrow his book’s title for this post. Deadheading continues, as well as staking, snipping, weeding, lugging watering cans, and fretting about when to activate the soaker hoses and sprinklers.
I can’t really complain about the weather so far this season. We haven’t had unseasonable cold or heat, and there was adequate rainfall from April through June. Today (June 27th), as I write this, however, we have dull clouds and a blustery wind, but without rain. My least favourite kind of weather, since the wind batters plants and tugs on them and dries out the soil. And it’s unpleasant to be in the garden with flying debris whizzing by as branches clash and clank overhead. (Okay, I’m complaining after all, but whining about the weather is a gardener’s prerogative.)
Update: today (June 28th) has been a complete contrast — sunny and clear with a little breeze. And we had a few millimetres of rain overnight; not enough to make much difference, but it was nice to hear its patter on the leaves. Summer rain here is a blessing.
Since this is a Garden post, a few photos are obligatory. About the middle of June I ran around trying to get decent close-ups of flowers. Being a lazy photographer, I didn’t work too hard at it, and my camera isn’t intended for macro work. These are the best of a dubious lot.
My patch of garden is not comparable to the size, sophistication, and magnificence of the one at Great Dixter, but all gardens and gardeners have something in common.
Here are my thoughts on four more books I read and greatly enjoyed in the first six months of 2020.
First, books by writers from Australia, which seems to be a beehive of creativity in the 21st century.
The Old Woman & the Mad Horse – Case File for: The Big Three Mining Investigation by Cage Dunn and Rose Brimson The tension starts on the first page and doesn’t let up until nearly the end. Hella Solaris is an investigator for a shadowy organization opposing a mega-corporation’s efforts to gain technological domination of the earth’s population. Her intent to step back from active service in a small rural community is thwarted, first by the presence of an angry horse, and then by a criminal element who wants to drive her away, and finally, by discoveries and developments that entangle the personal with the professional.
This is a thriller of sorts, but much of the action is internal. Hella gathers information, processes information, formulates theories, has “aha” moments and “oh shit” moments, weighs priorities and calculates risks. The point of view is close third person. Very close; for most of the book the reader is inside Hella’s head, seeing what she sees—often on the screens of various electronic devices—following her thoughts, experiencing her emotions. The pace is dizzying and there are opportunities to lose the thread, especially when tech-related acronyms and initialisms abound. I ended up reading the book twice, to make sure I picked up on all the crucial details.
Hella is an interesting character, for a number of reasons. I can’t say she’s entirely likable, mainly because of her conscious and deliberate use of manipulative techniques in relating to others. She does have good reasons for this, and the two characters she ends up working with—Cam the cop and his daughter Cella—are totally relatable. There are lengthy scenes in which the three test one another’s capabilities and work on trust issues. The climax scenes involve a showdown of sorts, full of revelations and twists. I have to say, a few points seemed a bit implausible to me, but on the whole, the book comes to a satisfying and hopeful conclusion.
Two other books by Cage Dunn worth checking out are: Diaballein and Herja, Devastation (co-authored with poet Frank Prem).
A.C. Flory is another talented Australian writer whose books I have enjoyed greatly.
Vokhtah (The Suns of Vokhtah #1) is remarkable for the imagined world on which it’s set. Vokhtah has two suns. Its dominant life forms are the Vokh, creatures I visualized as similar to pterodactyls, and their smaller cousins and supporters, the iVokh. Most of the story is about the latter. These creatures are not human. Humans do not exist on this world, but human readers can relate to the thoughts, dilemmas, and emotions of the iVokh who are the primary actors.
The Vokh reign like feudal lords over their eyries, which are managed and maintained by the iVokh, who are divided into a variety of physical types with different abilities, including (in the case of a few) telepathy and mind control. Traders are a clan who distribute goods among the eyries, and Healers are a guild with skills and knowledge to maintain life, and end it when necessary. The interactions of the groups are governed by iron-bound protocols and traditions, complicated by secrets and enmities. Sex, especially for the Vokh, is a brutal, violent business, but outside of mating occurrences, there is no gender. The only personal pronoun is “it.”
This is not a quick, easy read. I re-read the first half of the book before writing this review to make sure I understood some of the details. The characters, even the sympathetic ones, don’t actually have names. They are designated by ranks and titles, some of which change over the course of the story. The reader is plunged into this alien world on the first page and has to figure out how things work while following the action. Some might give up in confusion, but the dilemma of the Drudge who is the first character encountered is eminently relatable. By the time that’s resolved, I was thoroughly engaged in the world and the story, keen to find out more about the strangely fascinating creatures with two hearts and inflatable wings.
The book features a constructed language (conlang), but it does not appear frequently enough to be daunting. There is a helpful glossary at the end, which also explains how the creatures vocalize. Otherwise, the prose is clear and straightforward, with description kept direct and businesslike. There is no hyperbole. Dialogue is minimal, even though the iVokh have a characteristic (and curiously attractive) way of expressing themselves.
Setting aside the alien aspects, the theme of this book is change and difference. Individual characters, and the groups to which they belong, must come up with ways to cope with situations they find unacceptable or challenging. Both the physical environment and the social structure are harsh and unforgiving. Transgressions come with a high price. It appears this is the first book in a series, and indeed much remains unresolved at the end. I was delighted to read in the author’s blog that a second volume is forthcoming.
Flory’s Innerscape trilogy offers another fascinating reading experience. It’s set in a 22nd century world where artificial intelligence and virtual reality tech are used to create a kind of paradise. But it’s not without trouble.
Next, a book set in British Columbia.
Slow Curve on the Coquihalla (A Hunter Rayne Highway Mystery #1) by R.E. Donald.
I like a mystery with more to it than just the whodunit. This one delivers. The main characters are fully developed and memorable, each one with quirks and distinctive characteristics, especially tough El Watson and biker dude Dan “Sorry” Sorenson. A variety of shifty, shady types add a bit of grit. There’s a lot (but not too much) info about the trucking business. And it’s set in a place I happen to know well — British Columbia’s Lower Mainland and southern interior. The changing scenery and weather are sketched in to give the reader a picture of this scenic region.
Hunter Rayne is no longer in the RCMP so must conduct his investigation into a fellow trucker’s death unofficially, calling on former colleagues for help. Sometimes his efforts take a back seat to his regrets and worries about his relationship with his daughters, who have grown up without much of his presence in their lives. Many miles are logged while he figures things out, and many encounters in bars and roadside eateries. Something I found a bit excessive was descriptions of characters’ clothing in almost every scene. On the other hand, typos and errors were not an issue, and the ebook formatting was excellent. All in all, I enjoyed riding along with Hunter.
For the final book this time around, we head down the west coast…
Occasional Soulmates by Kevin Brennan.
From the book description: When the thirty-eight-year-old San Francisco doctor meets her new patient, a handsome British expat with the unlikely name of Dylan Cakebread (and an uncanny resemblance to Jude Law), she’s convinced it’s the start of her own relationship novel.
My review: The most striking thing about this book is that its author is a guy. Either Mr. Brennan is a mind-reader or he had really good intel from women. I loved the girly-gossipy tone of the narration, especially the parts where Sarah and her best pal Jules dissect relationships and classify men. I appreciated the development of Sarah’s relationship with Dylan, anticipating some aspects and being surprised by others. I really liked the presentation of San Francisco and environs as a setting — scenery, streetscape, restaurants, food, wine. Lots of food and wine. The only thing that didn’t quite work for me was Sarah stepping out of the story to present it as a “relationship novel.” It didn’t spoil the story for me, but didn’t really add anything useful either. In fact, seeing that term in the first sentence sort of told me how the book would end. Not the actual ending, of course, just the nature of it. But it was still an engaging, entertaining, and ultimately compelling read.
It’s hard to believe 2020 is almost half done. Given how it’s gone so far, there’s a lot of room for improvement. Let’s hope it gets better. In the meantime, a good book is always helpful. I’ve read nearly 30 books this year. Here are some of the best.
You Beneath Your Skin by Damyanti Biswas. This novel of contemporary India is a clever interweaving of setting, characters, plot, and issues. The plot revolves around a series of shocking crimes against women. New Delhi in winter was a surprise to me — foggy, smoggy, and cold. The intricate plot zigs and zags from wealthy enclaves to slums, from shopping malls to back alleys. The characters are real people with flaws and fears, trying to do what is expedient and figure out what is right. Family relationships play important roles, churning up emotions and stretching endurance to the breaking point. As investigations proceed, the realities of policing and politics force choices with serious consequences. I read quickly to find out what and who, but I think a reread is needed in order to appreciate subtleties and nuances I probably missed. There are quite a few sentences and phrases in Hindi, but the meaning or at least the gist is conveyed sufficiently that I did not find this a problem; on the contrary, it was interesting to see the interplay of languages among the characters.
The Man Who Found Birds Among the Stars, Part Seven: Fifth Island in the River: a biographical fiction by Lorinda J. Taylor This is the seventh book in a very long story. It continues the excellent writing of the previous books, with the additional thrill provided by the fact that the long-planned and much-deferred mission from Earth to the stars finally takes place. It wouldn’t make sense to start reading with Part 7 of the series, so here is my review of Part 1: Eagle Ascendant
Combining hard science fiction with a heartfelt coming-of-age story, this is an engrossing read. Much of its appeal for me was the methodically constructed society in which it is set. By the 28th century, human beings have learned some hard lessons and mended their ways. With a democratic world government, no military forces or organized religions, and an economic system that looks like a benign form of socialism, space travel within the solar system is highly developed, carried out by an organization whose structure and culture is reminiscent of present-day navies. The main character, Robbin Nikalishin, grows up in this world, experiencing family problems, school days, friendships, and love affairs. He is drawn to a cutting-edge space exploration program based on temporal quantum theory. This fictional science sounded plausible to me, but then, my understanding of actual quantum physics is practically nil. Step by step, the story builds to a gripping climax, ending with an irresistible situation that compels one to read Part Two. I am not a real fan of the SF genre, but I can heartily recommend this book.
In fact, I heartily recommend the entire series. The terrible event that ends the first book devastates Robbin Nikalishin and the interstellar program. Parts 2 through 6 relate the many trials and tribulations endured by both before the phoenix rises again. What I love about this series is the balance between realistic human drama and plausible future technology. Readers who expect space combat in their science fiction need not look here, but those who dislike too much science with their fiction will be pleased.
The Huralon Incident (Springbok Chronicles Book 1) by E.A. Wicklund Readers who do enjoy space combat will be delighted and entertained by this book. I was surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did, given my dislike of long and detailed fight scenes of any kind. Captain Evander McCray of the Egalitarian Stars of Elysium is a distinct and memorable personality. He’s bold, intelligent, somewhat impulsive, and totally loyal to the principles of the Navy. He has a softer side, displayed by his interest in reconstructing Earth’s fragmented history (sometimes with amusing misinterpretations), and even learning how to bake! Intelligence officer and assassin Aja Coopersmith, McCray’s lover, is also memorable, notably for a certain ruthlessness combined with a “farm girl” background and a surprising desire for a peaceful life. Supporting characters have enough distinctive traits to be distinguishable from one another. Technology is almost a character in itself. The Q-ship ESS Springbok is a technological wonder, and its crew are equipped with “nanites” that enhance their physical capabilities and enable them to communicate nonverbally. These abilities certainly come in handy at moments of crisis. Nanotechnology does everything from shipbuilding to laundry. Artificial intelligence systems also play a major role in getting things done. And there are killer robots called Reapers. Some of the bad guys are almost comically evil, although aspects like media manipulation and political corruption appear quite plausible.
Underground: A Human History of the Worlds Beneath Our Feet by Will Hunt When I saw a mention of this book in someone’s blog, I had to read it, because I had recently read another book on the same subject and wanted to compare them. Both describe visits to the limestone quarries under Paris and other fascinating legal and quasi-legal adventures. I thought Underground was a more straightforward approach to the topic of things subterranean than Robert Macfarlane’s Underland, also published in 2019. Like Macfarlane, Hunt writes about his own experiences, but uses them as starting points to look at human experiences of and attitudes toward being underground. From a theory that all life on earth originated underground, to the physiological and psychological effects of sensory deprivation, to the use of caves as sacred spaces, every chapter contains fascinating facts and intriguing observations. I’m left with the apparent paradox that to us creatures of earth’s surface, underground spaces are at the same time realms of terror and irresistible attractions.