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Thrice Burned Review

(Reposting this review after noticing the formatting of the original was kinda messed up. We can’t have that!)

Thrice Burned
Thrice Burned

As with the first book in the series (Jewel of the Thames), Thrice Burned consists of three casebooks, or mysteries, each told in the first person by Portia herself. Each casebook concerns itself with at least one mystery, each one carefully crafted. The clues are tantalizingly distributed, drawing the reader in, allowing them just as much fun as Portia herself has in trying to solve the mysteries. But there is much more on offer here than mere riddles. There are elements of historical fiction too, as each casebook is set in nineteen-thirties era London, England, featuring Scotland Yard Constables and street urchins and reporters and clergy men and plenty of other skillfully drawn characters, right down to their authentic clothing choices and distinctive accents.

Thrice Burned is the second book in an ongoing series of mysteries featuring the brilliant young consulting detective Portia Adams, who comesby her gifts honestly as the granddaughter of not only the great Sherlock Holmes, but Holmes’ friend and chronicler Watson as well. It is a nifty conceit for a series, and author Angela Misri makes the most of it. Portia Adams is utterly believable as the direct descendent of the iconic detective and his sidekick, inheriting every ounce of Holmes’ gifts for observation and deductive reasoning, but leavened with Watson’s humanity.

Each casebook features a stand-alone storyline and a neatly resolved ending, but Misri is not satisfied to let it go at that. Like many a modern era television series, each episode builds upon the last, throughout both this book and its predecessor, from casebook to casebook. As in real life, Portia and her friends continue to mature and develop. Relationships are never straightforward. Portia herself, although gifted, is no superhero, suffering from the same feelings and emotional frailties as many young women her age. Misri delves into Portia’s inner life just enough to make her real, but not at the expense of the adventures and mysteries that are the real appeal of this excellent series.

Already top-notch from the get-go, Misri’s plotting and characterization improve with each casebook, increasing in complexity and depth. This bodes well for future books in the series.

The Great Bookshelf Tour: Third Stop

Third stop on the Great Bookshelf Tour, intended to be a tiny, inoffensive distraction from the strange, science-fiction-come-true travails of our lives these days.

We’re on the second shelf from the top, a land of books guarded by a friendly looking bear, a fox who appears asleep on the job, and some tiny owls. I dare any evil-minded entity to get past them. Starting on the far left, I see a Farley Mowat book I’ve yet to read. The bear is in the way and I’m too comfy on the couch to go downstairs and see what the book is called. I just looked all his books up online and still can’t figure out which book it is. He wrote a lot of books! Later, if I’m ever able to move again, I’ll wander downstairs, identify it, and name it in the comments. If I remember. Okay, never mind, I had to get up to feed the animals: turns out it’s No Man’s River, and it’s supposed to be pretty good.

Robert Ludlum, The Bourne Identity. A terrific piece of popular fiction, now a movie series, but the book is much better, I promise you. There because I’ve read it at least twice already, and probably will read it again.

His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman. Contains all three books in the series. Just finished this one about a month ago. I thought it was quite an accomplishment. Not perfect, still a heck of an achievement. Original story, memorable characters, adventure, a bold premise that would have had him burned at the stake in any other century, a smattering of science in an otherwise fantasy, and most importantly, I felt what I was reading. It’s all about emotion, you know. That alchemy of your emotions intermingled with the characters’ emotions that produces magic. Pullman achieved some magic, here.

Which brings us to Ultra, the first of the books on my shelf by a friend and colleague, in this case David Carroll, who also works at the CBC. This is David’s first book, about a young ultra-marathon runner, and it’s an excellent book. David’s an ultra-marathoner himself, so he knows of what he writes. I bought Ultra because I like to support my friends, as they have supported me, and I kept it because it’s a good book, which I will re-read one day.

Tales of Time and Space, edited by Ross R. Olney, is a collection of science fiction short stories that my parents bought me when I was a kid. There are some great stories in here by the likes of Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Silverberg, Jack Finney and so on, but my favourite is The Last Command by Keith Laumer. When I was choosing a radio play to adapt for CBC Radio’s Faster Than Light way back when, I selected The Last Command as an alternative to The Cold Equations, but the powers that be favoured The Cold Equations (which was fine, as it’s another favourite).

The rest of the books on this portion of the shelf are by Lois McMaster Bujold, all of them part of (or leading up to) the Vorkosigan saga. If you haven’t read this yet you don’t know what you’re missing. Miles Vorkogisan is one of those characters who leaps off the page. The least of them is eminently readable, the best of them special indeed. Standouts are The Warrior’s Apprentice (not here because I gave my copy away) and Memory, but try to read them all in order.

And let me know what you think.

Other Stops on the Tour

The Great Bookshelf Tour: Second Stop

Yesterday I began a virtual tour of my main bookshelf, because I know that’s what these troubled times call for: knowledge of my bookshelf. (Take that, out of touch celebrities! Nonsense from an out-of-touch ordinary person).

Moving on from where we left off yesterday (John DeChancie’s Starrigger) brings us to another of my personal favourites: Megan Lindholm‘s Wizard of the Pigeons. I love this book of a homeless man who may or may not be a wizard, or who may just be mentally ill, whose life is beginning to fray at the edges. I love it despite the book’s deeply flawed ending. It’s as though Lindholm abruptly decided “I just need to end this sucker” and then turned what had been a fascinating, evocative, poignant tale into an action thriller belonging to a completely different, rather inferior book. But don’t let that put you off: it is a testament to how terrific the rest of the book is that the ending doesn’t completely undermine it. A conceit from this book has informed much of my life since having read it: that we all possess little bits of personal magic. I have three myself that I have always been able to count on, which I would divulge, but then they might go away. And it’s when your personal bits of magic go away that your life begins to fray. Megan Lindholm, incidentally, is rather more popular now writing as Robin Hobb.

Next up, On a Beam of Light by Gene Brewer. This is Brewer’s follow up to K-Pax, which I first discovered as a movie starring Kevin Spacey. Not as good as K-Pax, it’s still worth a read to see where the story goes, but may not survive the next great purging of the bookcase. Where is K-Pax on my bookshelf, you might ask? I probably gave it to someone. I give a lot of books away, because I believe that they’re better served in the hands of other readers, rather than simply languishing on a bookshelf somewhere. And I never loan books: I give them away. That way my friends don’t have to worry about getting the book read and back to me. They can take their time, deciding which book to read next, and then reading the book I gave them when the time is right, so that it can be properly enjoyed.

Roger Zelazny. I first heard of Zelazny when my roommate at the time, one Paul Darcy, shouted at no one in particular, “You bastard!” and slammed the book he’d been reading shut. It seemed Zelazny had finished his book on a cliffhanger. Paul explained to me about the Amber series, which I immediately read (Paul has rarely steered me wrong. Did I say rarely? I mean never.) My favourite Zelazny book, though, is Lord of Light. It is said that Zelazny, who died too young at 58, never quite fulfilled his promise, never quite wrote the magnum opus expected of him. They are wrong. That magnum opus is Lord of Light. A book, legend has it, conceived around a terrible pun buried deep within (it may be true; the pun is there, all right, as terrible as the book is brilliant).

Stephen R. Donaldson. This guy’s one of my favourite authors. You either love him or hate him. My first exposure to Donaldson was Lord Foul’s Bane, of the Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series. I found it in a bookstore in Summerside, PEI, read the first three pages, was immediately captivated. Took it home, read as far as a certain infamous scene, and then bit it as hard as I could and threw it across the room. Or at least, thought about doing that (Paul Darcy told me he did that once reading a Margaret Atwood novel). I persisted, read the rest of the series, and recently reread them. I consider that first series genius. So genuinely character driven, all hinging upon the protagonist’s psychological make-up.

Sitting atop these books are two by Jack Campbell. I haven’t read these yet. The novel I’m trying to write right now (when I’m not procrastinating by writing lengthy blog posts) is pure space opera, so I’m reading the competition to make sure I’m up to date. Campbell is supposed to be good at space battles using real universe physics, something I’m interested in incorporating.

That’s that shelf. I ask again: what’s on yours?

Other Stops on the Tour

The Great Bookshelf Tour — First Stop

First stop on the Great Bookshelf Tour…

Author Robert Charles Wilson recently started a virtual tour of his bookshelves. I thought this was a good idea, a bit of a distraction from everything going on, and thought I’d join in. The contents may be somewhat embarrassing (among other things… I mean really, who cares about my bookshelf? forgive me; I’m suffering from cabin fever and slowly going mad) but I’m just going to let it all hang out. So without further ado, we’ll begin with the top left hand corner of my primary bookshelf, along with a few words of explanation.

I live in a bungalow, and I don’t live there alone, so the books I hang onto are routinely and ruthlessly pruned. Every book and object I retain is there for a damned good reason. Many books date back to my childhood, so they’re either really, really good, or there for powerful sentimental reasons. (I will note at this point that the decorations adorning my bookshelf are courtesy of a certain Loved One with whom I do not argue, and I appreciate the beautification.)

On the far left are magazines and anthologies that have featured my short stories over the years. Past that, Alfred Bester, The Demolished Man. Really have to re-read that one again soon. Then James Gleick… love this guys work every since reading his biography on Richard Feynman. And I love time travel.

Which brings us to my James Blish Star Trek Collection. Started gathering these when I was eleven. Took another three of four years to get them all. I’m probably one of the few people who read most Star Trek episodes before ever seeing them. And I’ve loved James Blish ever since. (Surface Tension, anyone?) Note the original Trek novel Blish penned at the end there, Spock Must Die, the first adult Trek novel ever written (clocking in at 118 pages) until 1976. To me, Blish was canon. Somewhere in his Star Trek writing, possibly Spock Must Die (though I can’t find it just now) I distinctly remember Blish giving Kirk the middle name “Thaius” instead of “Tiberius.” Nobody had bothered to tell him what the “T” stood for so he just made something up. So to me that’s Kirk’s real middle name.

Next up we come to one of my favourite books of all time, The Postman, by David Brin. It’s one of only three books I’ve read in a single sitting in my entire life (the others are Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Replay by Ken Grimwood). I was so excited to see the movie version of The Postman that I drove from Summerside PEI to Charlottetown during a terrible snowstorm to see it, dragging my father and sister Susan Rodgers long as well. And then sank lower and lower in my seat as I realized what a botch they’d made of it. I had the opportunity to talk to David Brin about it a few years later. He told me that filmmakers got one thing right about the book: they captured the heart. Everything else they got wrong.

One of my faves as a kid

Hidden behind the figurine of the girl is The Radio Planet by Ralph Milne Farley, originally published as a serial in Argosy All-Story Weekly in 1926. It’s a sentimental fave. I haven’t re-read it in a few decades, but I remember loving it as a kid. Below is a picture of the cover.

Beside that is Starrigger, by John DeChancie. I found it in a used bookstore in Whitby one day and enjoyed it. I think it’s a series, and this one isn’t even the first one. Always figured I’d find and read another in the series someday, but never have.

Finally we have All the Bells on Earth by James P. Blaylock, friend of one of my favourite authors, Tim Powers, the two of them mentored by and friends with Philip K. Dick. I enjoyed this book and hang onto it intending to re-read it someday. And I really need to read more Blaylock.

And thus we come to the end of this, the first portion of the Great Facebook Bookshelf Tour. 

What’s on yours, and why?

Other Stops on the Tour

Artspace Book and Zine Fest Coming up in Peterborough

I’m looking forward to attending the 5th annual Artspace and Zine Fest coming up in Peterborough on Saturday February 29th. It will be held at the Peterborough Public Library in The Community Room, which you’ll find on the bottom floor of the library at 345 Aylmer St N.

According to the organizers, “The event will feature artist-made zines, comics and graphic novels, letterpress prints and cards, the work of small presses, woodcuts, screen prints, handmade books and other types of book and paper arts.”

It’ll also feature me! Along with my friends Tanah Haney and Tanah’s husband Mark Harrison, with whom I’ll be sharing a table. Tanah is a local poet, harpist, novelist and music teacher. Mark is a photographer, graphic designer and digital artist. They’ll be there with their collaborative work “Where the World Bleeds Through,” which represents a collaborative journey through poetry and art spanning over 25 years. I’ll be there with my debut novel A Time and a Place and my new short story collection, Other Times and Places

Hope to see you there Saturday, February 29, 2020 10am to 5pm!

Find out more here: https://artspace-arc.org/event/5th-annual-artspace-book-zine-fest/

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