CON WOMEN AND SUFFRAGISTS: WELCOME TO THE CITY OF LIES

Elizabeth Miles is a woman living in the early twentieth century, a woman living by her wits, a con artist who specializes in separating men from their money.  She’s also the protagonist of City of Lies by Victoria Thompson, new historical fiction at The Field Library, and she’s going to take you on a wild ride.

Elizabeth has many names and many identities and up till now she’s been pretty successful as a grifter, but at the beginning of the book she discovers to her horror that she’s badly misjudged her mark.  Oscar Thornton, it turns out, is not just some stupid, easily befuddled rich man but a powerful criminal in his own right, and he is NOT pleased to have some young woman steal from him.  He is, in fact, so displeased that he and his minions are chasing Elizabeth down after having already caught and beaten up (and possibly even killed) her fellow con artist and brother.

What can she do?  Well, being a young woman of quick wits, Elizabeth discovers a Suffragist march outside the White House, and insinuates herself among the rich women marching for their rights, hoping she can join them in getting arrested.  Not that going to jail would be a good thing, but it would be better than getting caught by Thornton and his men.  And the authorities are quite annoyed at the ruckus the Suffragists are making, so they are all arrested, Elizabeth among the true believers, and sent to jail and then to the workhouse because there isn’t room for them in jail.

The one thing Elizabeth doesn’t anticipate is that she will find herself treated like a sister and a friend by these women whom she would ordinarily consider just potential marks, slow and stupid. She doesn’t expect to start admiring their intensity, their passion, their determination, and for the first time in her life, she’s finding friendships among women of her age.  When two of the women bring her with them to their home in New York, she even begins to find people who are attracted to her (without, of course, their knowing what she really is).

Unfortunately for Elizabeth, Thornton knows these women, too, and is able to track her down in her new residence, and her new life is becoming more and more dangerous, to her and to the women who have taken her in.  Will she be able to stay a step ahead of her enemies?  Will she fall back into her old life?

City of Lies is filled with vivid depictions of the Suffragist movement (don’t call them Suffragettes; just don’t) and what the women in it were willing to do and endure to win the right to vote. It’s one of those historical novels that makes an era come alive while giving you three dimensional and complicated characters to root for.  If you’re at all interested in the Women’s Suffrage movement or the period between World War I and World War II in America, or if you’re interested in feisty, surprising women, check out City of Lies, which happens to be the first book in a projected series (something to rejoice about).

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2017 WORLD FANTASY WINNER: THE SUDDEN APPEARANCE OF HOPE

What would you do if you were utterly forgettable?  Not just a person who’s not very memorable, but someone who is erased from people’s memories as soon as they’re no longer talking to you or looking directly at you?  What would you do if even your own parents forgot who you were, forgot you were their child?  What if that state of being constantly forgotten started when you were a teenager and showed no signs of ever changing in your adulthood?  How would you make friends?  How would you get a job? How would you graduate from any school?  How would you find a place to live? How would anyone be able to hold you accountable for anything you did, right or wrong?  How would you survive?

What if there were a new app that promised to make you perfect?  All you have to do is input your information into the app and follow its instructions and you will become better and better until you are actually perfect?  How successful would an app like that be in our modern world?

Those two things, the state of being continually forgotten by everybody and the app that makes people perfect (and who decides what constitutes “perfect”, anyway?), are the heart of the 2017 winner of the World Fantasy Award, The Sudden Appearance of Hope, by Claire North, which is available at the Field Library (and also, for those participating in the 2017 Reading Challenge, a book that qualifies as a fantasy novel).

Hope Arden has been dealing with her invisibility since she was 16.  She’s become a thief because no matter how much evidence she might leave at a crime scene, nobody is going to remember seeing her and she’s not going to get caught. Or at least that’s what she thinks. Maybe she gets a little cocky when she sets out to steal a priceless jewel from around the neck of a princess at a Saudi Arabian soiree, and she discovers that people are sufficiently angry at that theft to try to track her down, invisible or not.

At the same time, Hope’s discovered the existence of this new app, Perfection, and the way it’s manipulating people into eating the “right” things, buying the “right” things, living in the “right” places in order to become perfect.  She discovers the high cost of allowing this app to run one’s life, and she decides to take that app, and its creators, down, regardless of the cost to herself.

The combination of Hope’s troubled life and the way this particular app changes the world struck the voters of the World Fantasy Association as novel and fascinating.  Check it out and see for yourself.

 

WInner of 2017 World Fantasy Award — The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

 

SLACKERS SAVE THE WORLD FROM INTERDIMENSIONAL HORRORS: WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST READ?

Sometimes a book has the perfect title, that tells you exactly what you’re about to find inside the covers.  The new book by David Wong, What the Hell Did I Just Read? A Novel of Cosmic Horror, is one of those perfectly-titled books.

John and David are two guys in their twenties who don’t seem to have much direction in life.  If it weren’t for Amy, David’s extremely patient girlfriend who also happens to have a full time job that pays enough to live on, they would probably be living on the street, eating out of garbage cans. As it is, they work odd jobs and hang out, but their real forte is investigating nightmarish incursions of other dimensions into the world of their Undisclosed town, and trying to keep monsters from other dimensions from taking over this world.

In this book, the inciting incident seems serious enough: a young child is kidnapped by what looks like a particularly slimy pedophile, with suggestions that this pedophile might not be entirely human. Of course he isn’t human, he’s some kind of shape shifting monster, and as John and David join forces with the child’s father, Ted, a former Special Forces soldier who’s determined to wreak revenge on whoever stole his daughter, the bad guy in question makes himself appear identical to David, so David has to spend a certain amount of his time and energy telling Ted and the police that really, he’s not the kidnapper, no matter how it looks.

But then it gets weirder.  There are other kidnappings, first of a young boy whose mother is associated with a motorcycle gang/religious cult, and then of a whole group of children in a bus, and there seem to be multiple versions of David and John, and even Ted and Amy, wandering through the story, so close to the real versions that even people who know them well have trouble telling if this is a fake or not.  And those children who were supposedly kidnapped?  Well, maybe they’re not who the adults around them think they are, either.  Maybe they’re not even children. Maybe these adults never actually HAD children, but these creatures have persuaded the adults that they are their children.  Maybe there is a deep and terrifying plot behind all this weirdness, and it’s up to Amy and David and John, the last people you would ever want to be in this position,  to save the world.

It’s not for everyone; you have to have a certain willingness to enjoy somewhat juvenile humor involving bodily functions and sex (one of the characters lives above a sex toy shop, and the merchandise of that store figures here and there in the story), and you have to restrain your natural inclination to grab lazy slacker characters and shake them for being such idiots.  However, if you can get past those little issues (and you don’t mind the frequent four letter words), What the Hell Did I Just Read? can be a lot of fun.

It’s warped, it’s bizarre, it’s compulsively readable, and it’s even funny.  If the idea of slackers vs. Lovecraftian monsters from the beyond strikes you as a great premise for a book, then by all means pick up What the Hell Did I Just Read?, and you’ll be in for a treat.