A Red-Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Erin Bellavia


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A Red-Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire

I reviewed Chimes at Midnight, the seventh volume of Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series, back in 2013. After I finished The Winter Long (Book 8 in the series) in the fall of 2014, I celebrated by starting over at the beginning and rereading Books 1–7 in the span of about two weeks. I know some people always reread a series when a new one is on the way, but I have never been one of them.

The Winter Long, though, was a game-changer. Almost everything we thought we knew about the events of Books 1–7 was turned on its head. And the reread revealed that Seanan knew exactly what she was doing the whole time.

The only conclusion I can draw from this is that Seanan McGuire is an evil genius. (Kidding. I knew Seanan was an evil genius a long time ago.)

In A Red-Rose Chain (DAW, September 1, 2015), Book 9 of the series, the pace isn’t quite as intense as it’s been in the previous two installments. The stakes, though, are as high as ever. It begins with the new Queen’s seneschal being elf-shot, which leads to Toby being sent to the neighboring Kingdom of Silences as a diplomat in order to avoid a war between the two kingdoms. Fans of the series will know that Toby and diplomat are probably not words that should appear in the same sentence.

Toby gathers her team of Tybalt, Quentin, May, and resident alchemist Walther and heads to Silences. The things Toby and company learn there reveal a much, much darker side of Faerie—one that’s certainly been alluded to in previous books. To their surprise, they find their old nemesis, the former Queen in the Mists, at the side of Silences’ King Rhys. I wouldn’t have previously thought this possible, but the false Queen’s evil is somewhat dimmed by Rhys. The pair prove to be a formidable enemy.

These books are always difficult to review without spoiling too much, but I’ve said before and I’ll say again: Seanan’s character development and world-building are top-notch. Toby’s relationship with Tybalt continues to delight. This book also includes an expanded role for Walther, along with some interesting and masterfully-handled reveals and character moments.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a Toby story if the gang didn’t find themselves in some incredibly tight spots, and if Toby didn’t bleed a lot. (She does. A lot.) This installment is true-to-form in terms of adventure, if somewhat slower-paced than the previous ones, and some of the events have potentially far-reaching implications for the future of the series. Again, I don’t think fans will be disappointed.

A Red-Rose Chain is on shelves now. Once Broken Faith, Book 10, will be published in the fall of 2016.

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Seanan McGuire wrote Finding Your Fairy Godmother: A Guide to Acquiring a Literary Agent for Absolute Blank in September 2009. We interviewed her alter-ego, Mira Grant, in April 2011. You can find her at Live Journal and on Twitter as herself and Mira Grant.

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Chimes at Midnight by Seanan McGuire

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Erin Bellavia


Chimes at Midnight

Chimes at Midnight (DAW, September 3, 2013), the seventh book in Seanan McGuire’s October “Toby” Daye series, hits shelves everywhere this week. I was lucky enough to once again find myself in the possession of an advance copy.

My feelings about Seanan and Toby haven’t changed since my review of Ashes of Honor last year. Opening any of the books in this ongoing series is like going on an adventure with an old friend, and Chimes at Midnight doesn’t disappoint. This time, Toby finds herself investigating a series of deaths caused by the extremely addictive and deadly goblin fruit.

As the plot unfolds, Toby once again finds herself at odds with The Queen of the Mists—but this time, the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. Toby is exiled and has only three days to save herself and the kingdom from a queen who, it seems, rose to the throne under very suspicious circumstances.

Among her many strengths, Seanan has a gift for creating complex, believable characters that make the reader care. This book is no exception. Toby is aided in her quest by her usual close-knit group of allies: her squire Quentin, who reveals some vital information about Faerie; her fetch May, once a harbinger of Toby’s death, but now a trusted friend; the once-feared, now-loved Luidaeg; and, of course, Toby’s love interest Tybalt, the King of Cats. I think all of the Toby-Tybalt shippers will be pleased with the way the relationship is progressing. In Chimes at Midnight we’re also introduced to some fantastic new characters, including Mags, the Library of Stars librarian.

At the heart of this story are Toby’s ongoing struggle between her fae and human natures and the increasingly complex politics of Faerie. Seanan’s skilled worldbuilding brings the reader into a world that, while fantastic, always feels real. And as always, Seanan weaves a satisfying tale that leaves just enough unanswered questions to leave the reader eager for more.

Fans of the series will not be disappointed with Chimes at Midnight. And if you’ve never heard of urban fantasy, or aren’t quite sure where to start, the October Daye series would make an excellent entry point.

Chimes at Midnight is on the shelves now.

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Seanan McGuire wrote Finding Your Fairy Godmother: A Guide to Acquiring a Literary Agent for Absolute Blank in September 2009. We interviewed her alter-ego, Mira Grant, in April 2011. You can find her at Live Journal and on Twitter as herself and Mira Grant.

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Email: billiard[at]toasted-cheese.com

Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire

Candle-Ends: Reviews
Erin Bellavia


Ashes of Honor

I’m going to start this review with a confession: I don’t think I’m very good at writing reviews. When I love things, I love them. I loave them. I lurve them. And when I love things, I have a hard time being objective. (I do occasionally hate things. I tend to avoid writing about them and instead pretend they didn’t happen.)

It was no surprise to me that I lurrrrrved Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire. Ashes is the sixth installment in the adventures of October “Toby” Daye, a half-human, half-fae private investigator living in San Francisco. Life hasn’t been easy for Toby; she’s been turned into a fish, watched friends and lovers die, and has nearly died herself too many times to count. Toby’s stories have a certain noir feel to them, and I don’t think it would shock anyone to learn that McGuire was a fan of the three-season series Veronica Mars. (I usually picture Toby as a darker-haired version of Kristen Bell.)

When I reviewed the first book in the series, Rosemary and Rue, I said, “Seanan McGuire’s first novel, Rosemary and Rue, is for anyone who has ever believed in faeries, for anyone who has ever wished to step into a wardrobe and out into a world that is magical and every bit as real as our own.” I stand by that statement, and would apply it to any and all of the books in this series. If you read one, you’ll be a part of Toby’s world forever, looking anxiously forward to the next time you can return.

Ashes of Honor has the usual mystery for Toby and her ragtag Scooby gang to solve; Toby’s fellow knight, Etienne, hires her to find his missing changeling daughter, Chelsea (whose existence has just been revealed to him). Chelsea is a teleporter like her father, but her power is out of control and threatens to tear holes in the very fabric of Faerie if she isn’t found and stopped. She’s popping in and out of realms she shouldn’t be able to enter, and someone seems to be using her for their own nefarious purposes. It’s a great adventure with a series of twists and surprises, and an ending that satisfies.

Even more satisfying, though, was the development of Toby’s relationship with Tybalt, the local King of Cats—a “will they or won’t they” that’s been in the works since the first book. I won’t give away details, but I don’t think any Tybalt fans will be disappointed. I know I wasn’t!

If you’ve followed the events of the last couple of books, you know that Toby has gained a near-supernatural ability to heal herself. One thing I really appreciated about this book was the way Toby talked about the injuries still hurting—an idea that gets glossed over in a lot of stories in which characters have healing powers.

Toby’s world gets richer and deeper with every book, a testament to McGuire’s worldbuilding ability. I’ve never found a trip into Toby’s San Francisco (and the pockets of Faerie that overlap it) disappointing, and I’m always looking forward to the next time I can return.

Tl; dr: Ashes of Honor was awesome. I lurved it. I hope you do, too.

Ashes of Honor hits the shelves September 4.

 

Seanan McGuire wrote Finding Your Fairy Godmother: A Guide to Acquiring a Literary Agent for Absolute Blank in September 2009. We interviewed her alter-ego, Mira Grant, in April 2011.

Seanan’s Live Journal
Seanan’s Twitter
Mira Grant’s Twitter

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Email: billiard[at]toasted-cheese.com

30 is a Magic Number

The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors
Erin “Billiard” Nappe


Days before my 30th birthday, I got an early present.

Smack in the middle of my forehead was the biggest, reddest, nastiest pimple you’ve ever seen. Seriously. I’m talking Mount Vesuvius, here. My roommate kept telling me it was my “birthday zit.” Thanks, that makes it better.

At the same time, I found myself obsessively picking through my hair, looking for rogue grays. I get them. They’re usually short and wiry, with minds of their own, poking out from my part screaming, “look at me!”

I look with dismay at my blemish-ridden skin. What kind of cruel trick of nature is that? Gray hair and zits?

Sigh. Such is my lot in life.

I had been looking to this day with a mixture of anticipation and dread for about the past two years. On my twenty-eighth birthday, I had a bit of a meltdown. Why? Because suddenly, I felt, I had crossed an imaginary line. I wasn’t just 28. I was almost 30.

A lot of people, women in particular, use their 30th birthday as a benchmark, a measure of success or failure, a means of comparison, of evaluation. It turns into a list of “supposedtobes.”

Supposedtobe successful.

Supposedtobe to be rich.

Supposedtobe married.

Supposedtobe a homeowner.

Supposedtobe a mother.

Some of them are my “supposedtobes” and some of them are general “supposedtobes.” What I definitely was not supposed to be was single, underemployed, underpaid, and sharing an apartment with my best friend.

But I think that perhaps the scariest thing about leaving my twenties behind and entering the rank of “thirtysomething” is this:

I am now officially an adult.

Now, I know… that technically happened 12 years ago, when I gained the right to vote, but let’s be serious.

Some might say that it happened when I graduated from college, got my first job, or moved out of my parents’ house. When I began paying my own bills and being (gasp!) responsible for myself.

But I say it happened two weeks ago, when I crossed that symbolic threshold from young adulthood into actual adulthood.

When I turned 30.

I certainly don’t feel like an adult. I don’t feel like I’m any older, wiser or more mature than I was two weeks ago. I haven’t suddenly been handed the Secret Code to the Universe. But still, here it is, and here I am… and something funny happened along the way.

I’m okay with it. I’ve made peace with my station in life. I realize that the choices I’ve made have led me to where I am. I realize that life is not a race, and getting there first (wherever “there” is) does not make one person better than another. My life has changed dramatically in the past few years, in good ways and bad.

I decided, at 28, to go back to school and begin a new career. My relationship with the person I thought I was going to marry ended.

It became a time to let go of all my old expectations, to set new goals, build new dreams, look forward instead of looking back. It became a time to embrace the inner me.

Said roommate and best friend did a wonderful job of easing the turning-30 pain for me. She organized get-togethers, gifts, surprises, and filled the entire weekend with all of my favorite people. Instead of moping around and feeling sorry for myself, I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire time.

On Saturday night, we went to see one of my favorite bands. My friends got me sufficiently tipsy, and I flitted about all night smiling and dancing, wearing my flashing “Kiss Me, It’s My Birthday” button with pride. One young ‘un, about 21 years old, asked me how old I was.

“Guess,” I told him.

“Twenty… three?”

“Oh my God, I’m going to hug you.”

I told him I was turning 30, which prompted him to exclaim, “Wow! You’re the hottest 30-year-old I’ve ever seen!”

I think I’d like to keep him.

But seriously, it all just goes to show that the cliches are true. You’re only as old as you feel. Growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional. Age ain’t nothin’ but a number.

I am 30. Hear me roar.

Now hand me some Clearasil.

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E-mail: billiard[at]toasted-cheese.com.

Out There

The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors
Erin “Billiard” Nappe


“Tell me I’ll never have to be out there again.”

In one of my all-time favorite movies, When Harry Met Sally, Sally’s friend Marie utters those words to her new love Jess. By “out there,” of course, she is speaking of that vast wasteland that is the World of Dating. I’m utterly convinced that dating qualifies as one of the levels of Hell.

Despite having been told, more than once, that I would never have to be “out there” again, I’ve been recently drop-kicked back into the singles scene. I decided to go at it with gusto, rather than wallow in my self-pitying misery for years the way I did after Ex #2.

So what’s a newly-single girl to do? Why, hit the local bars, of course.

My first bar experience, sans-boyfriend, was not particularly eventful, but it was mildly amusing. I was propositioned by a gentleman who was clearly much younger than I.

“How old do you think I am?” I asked him. I’m often thought to be much younger than I actually am, and I figured he had mistaken me for someone his own age.

“Uh… twenty… four?” he guessed.

I shook my head.

“Lower?” he asked.

“Higher,” I told him. This is sometimes fun.

“Twenty-six?”

I shook my head again.

“Twenty… eight?”

“Close,” I told him.

“That’s okay,” he said. “I love older women. My last girlfriend was, like, 30.”

Sweetheart? Referring to me as an “older woman” is not going to win you any points. Now, run along and watch Spongebob Squarepants or something.

The next evening, my friend and I were sitting at a quiet bar having a drink, and I noticed a gentleman sitting by himself at the bar. He had a sort of Michael Vartan-esque quality about him that I found intriguing. That is, until he opened his mouth.

He introduced himself (we’ll call him “Jim”) as a “certified painter.” He had a strange, oddly unidentifiable accent, and he lost me when he started talking about astrology. Not quite “hey baby, what’s your sign,” but it was only the tiniest of steps up. He gave me his card (yup, says it right there: certified painter) and asked if he could call me sometime. I ever-so-politely declined, claiming that my broken heart wasn’t quite ready
for that.

I thought that was the last I’d seen of Jim, but I was wrong. Oh, how wrong I was. We ran into him again a few weeks later. He remembered my name.

“Um,” I stammered.

“Jim,” he said.

“Right. Jim.” I looked at my friend. “Remember Jim?” She looked back at me blankly. “The painter,” I added.

“Oh. Jim,” she said. “It’s all coming back to me now. Like a bad Celine Dion song.”

Now, some might have taken that as an insult. Not Jim. He took it like a trooper and kept right on going. There was only one escape—the only single gal’s refuge—the ladies’ room. I hid until it was safe, and then resumed my seat at the bar.

But sometimes it’s even worse. Sometimes, you run into Stupid Men Who Can’t Take a Hint. I was sitting at the bar, and this gentleman says to me that I look like some actress whose name he can’t remember… finally, he comes up with Isabella Rosselini. Um, sure. I really wasn’t interested, but I was polite. I made small talk. But as the night went on, I had to apply the “three strikes, you’re out” rule.

Strike one: “Have you ever had your hair long?”

Okay, I am well aware that all men LOVE long hair and never want us to cut it. However, I have been wearing my hair short for years, and I like it. People who suggest that I should do otherwise tend to irritate me.

Strike two: (to my friend) “Do you always speak for her?”

Excuse me? I don’t recall you speaking directly to me and her answering for me. Has it occurred to you that I may be tired of talking to you?

Strike three: This, my friends, is the clincher—the one that shifted me from mild annoyance into downright loathing: “So… are you two a couple?” (to me and my friend)

Huh? Oh, yes, I see… because if I’m not interested in you, clearly I must be a lesbian. (Oh wait! I get it! I’m with a girl, I have short hair, and I’m not into you. It’s all so obvious…) I actually said, out loud, (foolishly thinking that he had sensed my displeasure and already walked away) “What the [expletive] ever.” He was still standing behind me. But did that make him go away? Of course not. He still felt the need to say “So, you’re not interested?”

Sigh.

And that, ladies, is just a small snapshot of what awaits us “out there.” If you’re in a committed long-term relationship, thank your lucky stars. Hug your SO and thank him/her for rescuing you from the fiery inferno of Dating.

If not, wanna meet me at the bar?

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Billiard is ready for adventure on all fronts. As well as her recent foray into the dating world, she just started teaching high school.

Me

Fiction
Erin Nappe


“What do we do now?”

Shadows from the single candle flickered on Heather’s face. It masked the basement smell with green apple. She rolled her eyes at me.

“Nothing, Kristy. Just wait.”

I sighed. I was sick of waiting. My arms, and my butt, were starting to hurt. I drummed my fingers impatiently on the plastic pointer thingy.

“Stop it,” Heather hissed. “You’ll make them mad.”

“Make who mad?”

“The spirits, stupid.”

Right. The spirits. Like I really believed the spirits were going to talk to us on a piece of Parker Brothers cardboard.

We were sitting cross-legged on my basement floor, with the board between us. There was nothing much down there—a couch, an old TV, a box full of old toys. We thought the basement seemed like a good place. Heather had brought the board. She insisted she’d talked to lots of spirits. I wasn’t convinced. The silence was starting to make me jumpy, though.

“You know, in CCD, Sister Helen told us this is a sin,” I said, just to hear the sound of my voice.

“Sin, shmin,” Heather said.

“I don’t think it’s working any—”

The thing started to move under my hands, slowly at first, then faster, gliding around the board in a figure-8.

“Hello, are you there?” Heather said.

Are you doing that? I mouthed at her. She shook her head.

The pointer moved to Yes.

“Can you tell us your name?” Heather continued.

It moved in circles, around the alphabet, then stopped on M. It moved to E, and stopped.

“Me? Your name is Me?”

No

“Well, can we call you Me?” Heather looked cross-eyed at me, a giggle ready to burst from her lips.

Yes

“What do we ask?” I asked her.

“Whatever you want. I’ll start,” she looked back at the board. “When did you die, Me?”

The thing moved again. It felt charged. It felt… I don’t know… alive. It was creepy.

No

Heather wrinkled her eyebrows at me.

“No? You didn’t die?”

It moved to the center of the board, then back to No.

“You’re still alive?”

No

“Were you ever alive?”

No

She frowned.

“Have you always been a spirit?” I asked.

Yes

“Ok then Me, do you mind if we ask you some questions?” Heather continued.

No

I shifted. The basement floor seemed to be getting harder. The old carpet didn’t put much padding between us and the cement. Our shadows danced on the wall.

“Ask about Jason,” I said. Jason was in my math class, and I was hoping he’d be going roller skating on Saturday.

“Okay, Me, Kristy wants to know if she’s gonna play tongue hockey with Jason this weekend.” She giggled.

Heather,” I moaned. “Don’t be gross.”

The pointer moved in circles.

Yes

I blushed, then tried to think of another question.

“Me, what’s your real name?” I said.

Slowly, it started to move again. M-E-F-A-

It stopped.

“What’s going on?” I whispered.

“Sometimes they have trouble spelling,” Heather said. “Just wait.”

The planchette slid to S-T-O. It paused, then crawled over to F.

A

L

“Do you have any idea what it’s saying?” I asked.

Heather shook her blonde braids. “No clue.”

It sat still for a long time. Heather’s face looked creepy in the candle’s glow. “Me, are you still here with us?” I said.

Yes

It moved to the letters again, spelling out l-e-e-s.

“Lees?” I said. “What do you suppose that means?

Heather shrugged. “Can you see us?” she chimed in.

Yes

I shivered.

“How?” I wondered aloud.

The pointer moved furiously, spelling out n-a-k-e-d b-a-b-y.

Even though she was the one who warned me about making the spirits mad, Heather couldn’t keep from laughing. She actually snorted.

“Naked baby?” I said.

S-A-L-L-Y.

“Who’s Sally?” Heather said.

“I don’t know,” I said. I didn’t want to let her know I was a little freaked, but I was. “This is boring,” I said instead. “Let’s quit.”

“Okay,” Heather said. “We have to say goodbye. Is that okay Me?”

The thing started circling the board, faster and faster, until it flew out from under our hands, across the floor, without stopping on “good bye.” The candle went out, and I sucked in my breath, jumped up and ran for the light switch. I flicked it on. When the room filled with light again, and the dark scary shapes turned back into furniture, I looked at Heather and laughed. “What happens when they don’t say goodbye?” I asked.

“I dunno. Some people think they hang around for a while,” Heather said.

“Well, let’s put the board away and go upstairs,” I said. I turned around, to see where the pointer had landed, and I saw it.

Cold hands gripped my spine. I wanted to scream, but all that came out was a whisper.

“Heather—”

It was sitting on top of the toy box, naked, ice-blue doll eyes open and staring.

My old doll, the kind with eyelids that closed when you laid her down, and opened when you sat her up. Her name was Sally.

I bounded up the stairs, Heather following right behind me.

*

I snuggled under my covers, clutching my teddy bear, but I couldn’t sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw that doll. Heather had gotten up, and I heard her go into the bathroom. I guessed she couldn’t sleep either.

Sally had been inside that toy box for years, buried under countless other toys. She hadn’t been there when we went downstairs. It was impossible.

“Just go to sleep.” I told myself. “Tomorrow, you and Heather will laugh about this.”

The bedroom door creaked open again, and a shape loomed in the doorway.

“Heather?”

I hoped it was her. I didn’t want to be alone.

In the silence that followed, I listened to my own breathing. It seemed so loud, it filled the room. I squeezed my eyes shut, afraid to look.

Please let it be Heather. Please let it be Heather. Please let it be Heather…

“Yes Kristy,” breathed a voice that was not quite Heather’s. “It’s Me.”

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Erin can be reached at billiard[at]toasted-cheese.com.