Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

It’s been a while since I’ve read this book but after watching the series on Netflix, I’m reminded of why I enjoyed it so much. The division between the theoretical practitioners of magic versus the practical and the pros and cons of each is interesting in its parallel to the debates of the scientific ethical board. (Yes there’s a working ethical board that regulates scientific research despite what most of science fiction will tell you.)

And that’s the debate of: just because we can should we? The theoretical practitioners stating the dangers and costs of using magic while the practical justify the use of magic by the good that they can do with it. And they do accomplish many good deeds alongside the bad. The good being Strange’s work for the military (although that gets a little shady when he raises the dead) and the bad very clearly being Norrell’s raising of Lady Poole. In it’s self it isn’t bad but he bargains away half of the girl’s life away to a supernatural being that he’s more than well aware is no good. Eventually leading to her mental break and opening everyone to the machinations of the supernatural being.

It parallels the ethical debates of implementing any new research but I’ll use stem cell research as my example. It could be argued that the harvesting of stem cells could lead to unethical practices. On the other hand, the good that it could do. Growing tissues for grafts, healing damaged organs and who knows what else. And if you have the power to do something good isn’t your responsibility to do all that you can?

I found that Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell brought up these opposing sides and the consequences of their actions or inaction perfectly. There are more examples of this in fiction but nowhere is it so clearly delineated as this book.

A Death in the Theater

“I’ve got one that’ll top Alice’s.” Kitty’s competitiveness is in full force tonight. Alice and Jane giggle. Alice pours from the newly opened bottle of wine and splashes a little on the table. They giggle even harder. Kitty shushes them and her accompanying hand gesture nearly knocks her glass over. “It has a secret passageway, magicians and even a hidden treasure.”

Kitty’s presence, which serves her so well in the courtroom, has her friends instantly quieting. Although it might’ve been the uncharacteristic romantic tone she’s already taken. Once she’s sure she has their attention she begins.

“When I first started out I had horrible hours. I was working late one night, reviewing some documents an’ wishing that I was anywhere else when I got a call. A woman on the line asked for help writing her will. So I did, thinking it’d be a nice distraction. An’ boy, was it ever. My favorite part was the clue that would tell her heir where to find her stash of gold. Only they would understand what she meant. Something about a favorite book or something.”

Jane interrupts with a snort and nearly ends up spurting wine across the table.

“Really, Kitty. A stash of gold? We said we were going to tell each other mystery stories from our personal es- experiences, not fish-nal pirate tales.” Jane runs what she just said through her head and nods when she realizes it’s comprehensible.

“Well I like it, fictional or not. And pirates are hot.” Alice shouts, a little louder than necessary, from kitchen as she grabs three bottles of water out of the fridge and a Tupperware of snack foods.

“It’s not fictional and there aren’t any pirates.” Alice boos at Kitty’s declaration but quiets down as soon as Kitty takes the last swig of her wine. “Now where the hell was I? Right, so I helped her with the will, told her to have it signed by two witnesses that weren’t in it an’ keep it somewhere safe. She was very sweet. As thanks, she sent me tickets to the office for a magic show at the theater she owns.”

“You went.” Jane is completely sure of her statement. Nothing keeps Kitty from free anything. After the incident of ’09 Jane refuses to go to any more sales with her. Her toe will be forever crooked. Kitty nods and continues.

“The theater was gorgeous. There were some amazing statues in the lobby, marble floors an’ columns, an’ ceiling painted like the night sky. It made me think of something straight out of a movie.” Kitty gives an appreciative sigh and her eyes are a little dreamy looking. Both Jane and Alice share a similar desire to see the theater themselves and wonder if it’s still open. “The woman I helped, Ms. Wilson met me at the door an’ showed me to my seat. Right there in the front, almost too close had a crick in my neck from looking up. It was worth it though. The illusionist was amazing. At the end of the act he invited Ms. Wilson on-stage for a disappearing act, something that occurred at the end of every season.”

“There was supposed to be a cloud of smoke, she vanishes an’ this is the part that went all cock-eyed: she was meant to reappear in another cloud of smoke at the far end of the stage. When the second cloud of smoke cleared the stage was empty except for the illusionist. He looked confused, made some awkward joke an’ bowed off stage.”

Kitty pauses to crunch on a couple of the snacks. Alice and Jane both grab a couple as well. With all of them so occupied with eating, the table is silent for the first time that night. Mostly quiet anyway, there’s still the crunching of food.

“I wanted to make sure she was okay so I waited in the lobby. I tried to get someone to talk to me but I couldn’t get anyone to stop long enough. Everyone was scurrying around like mice with their heads cut off.”

“Don’t you mean chickens with their heads cut off?” Jane points out but Kitty waves her off.

“Eventually the cops came an’ they cleared out the lobby. They made me leave too.” Kitty looks like she’s still annoyed that she was forced out. Kitty shoves a cucumber into her mouth and chomps it angrily.

“Did you tell the police ‘bout the weird-o will? Oh! Oh! And the gold?” Alice words spill out, one quickly after the other. Her eyes have a gleam to them and Jane is glad that they’ve started to move away from the wine. Any more and they might have needed to carry Alice out of the door.

“Damn, woman. Let me finish! Between the two of ya we’ll be old an’ gray before I get it all out.” Kitty snaps a little more irritably than she meant to but she’s never taken interruption too well. “About two weeks later I got a call from the police asking me to come down to the station an’ answer a few questions. I gotta say the police were not in a very cheery building, really depressing actually. All stained and decrepit. They’d saw that she’d called me an’ wanted to know what it was about. I told them about the will-“ Kitty glares at an open-mouthed Alice making sure she doesn’t utter a word. Kitty resumes when Alice snaps her mouth closed and runs her fingers across her lips in a zipping gesture. “-and the gold. They weren’t quite as generous with their information when I asked my own questions.”

“On my way out I found a chatty receptionist- administrative assistant? Whatever the hell you call ‘em an’ she told me all about it. They’d found Ms. Wilson’s body at the end of the small passageway under the stage. Autopsy said she had a heart attack so at first glance it looked like natural causes. A couple of days later that the police found one of the stagehands hanging from the rigging, dead as a doornail with a suicide note saying that he’d done it.” Jane and Alice gasp at her announcement and lean towards Kitty’s side of the table. “Turns out he was Ms. Wilson’s nephew an’ had inherited everything. He also had a serious gambling problem that led him into a bad crowd. The note said that he wanted the gold to pay off his debts so he killed her to get the inheritance quicker. But that his guilt started to eat away at him.”

“That was one chatty administrative assistant,” Jane says with one eyebrow delicately arched.

“You know Kitty can charm anyone into spilling the beans. That is, when she puts her mind to it.” Alice tries to wink at Kitty but it ends up more of a slow blink. When Kitty continues there’s laughter in her voice despite the gravitas of the story.

“I- uh- met the assistant for –uhm- coffee a couple of days later an’ she told me the rest. They found a small puncture in between two of Ms. Wilson’s toes. After some more digging, they found that the men the nephew owed were connected with the mob. They found out about the will from the nephew. He thought it’d keep them at bay if they knew he had money coming but it backfired on him. They killed Ms. Wilson an’ tried to buy time by making it look like natural causes. They coerced the nephew into finding the gold. Once they had it, they staged his suicide and vanished. The illusionist disappeared- Oh, hey that was kinda funny.” Kitty snorts at her inadvertent joke. It seems that all three women are starting to find everything amusing. “Anyways the illusionist disappeared an’ they think he was a part of it.”

“They didn’t find him? How could they be sure that he was? Maybe the mob got to him too.” Jane points out after taking a big swig from the bottle of water Alice had placed next to what was now an empty wine glass.

“His false identity was another clue that he wasn’t quite right.” Kitty shrugs. “But they’ll never know for sure ‘til they find him.”

“Poor Ms. Wilson.” Alice says then as an after-thought, “And her nephew, of course.” Kitty and Jane speak similar declarations of sadness. Alice and Kitty turn to Jane expectantly.

“I’m going to have to give this some thought,” Jane announces. “You two are pretty good at this.”

A Girls’ Night In

“Okay. Okay. I got one.” Alice announces excitedly. Jane and Kitty share twin looks of exasperation and they’re not quick enough in looking away. Alice lets loose a peal of laughter when she catches the two of them at it. “I work in an office. My work isn’t quite as glamorous as a doctor’s or a lawyer’s.”

Jane and Kitty stumble over themselves in disagreeing and pointing out that she meets all kind of people on a personal level. Jane pours a little more wine in Alice’s glass, hoping that it’ll serve as a peace offering. But Alice isn’t offended, she just smiles and takes a sip. When she sets the glass back down again, there’s a bright pink smear of lipstick left behind on the rim.

“It’s alright. It wasn’t at work anyways. It happened when I went hiking a couple of months ago at Garner Park- or has it been almost a year?” Alice’s forehead smooths and she shrugs off her doubts about the timeline. She takes another sip and says, “This is good, Jane.”

Jane murmurs something and waves her hand to signal that Alice should go on with her story. Kitty has her elbow on the table and her chin resting in the palm of her hand, her eyes glued to Alice’s face with unwavering attention. They can both tell that Alice has a good one this time and she won’t be rushed. That doesn’t keep Jane from trying to hurry her along though. To tease her friends further, Alice carefully sets down her glass and swipes at the lipstick with her thumb.

“So let’s see, where was I? Oh yes. I had just gotten out of my car and made my way towards the head of the trail at Garner Park when I was stopped by a man. He was tall with red hair and brown eyes, very freckled. But what I remember most about him was his smile, he had very straight white teeth. He looked so kind.” Alice pauses again to take another sip. “He asked me if I knew where the overlook was and when I told him I did he looked so relieved. He pointed out his wife, she was standing by the map posted a little ways down the trail. She had on one of those large brimmed straw hats,” Alice traces a large halo around her head with her hands to show her friends the size of the hat. They both nod, too completely wrapped up in the story to say anything. “It had some daisies on the band and covered some of her face as she bent over the map. The man told me that they were making their way back from their honeymoon and his wife wanted to see the view of the river from the overlook but he wasn’t sure which overlook was best. I thought it very sweet so I told him that he should try going down about two miles on the trail on the left if he didn’t mind a little walk. He thanked me, called over his wife and they both turned in the direction I pointed out to him. As she passed, his wife gave me a shy smile. She was very pretty and looked so petite. Although next to her husband, most people would. I watched them go down the trail a ways before I left to go my own way.”

Alice took another sip and amusement quietly bubbled through her when she noticed neither Jane nor Kitty had even touched their own wine. She really was enjoying this.

“It was nice outside so I hiked a little farther than I usually do,” Both Kitty and Jane know that means she tacked on an extra three miles to her trail. “And when I walked back to my car I noticed the newlyweds going to their car as well. I asked them how they enjoyed the view and the husband was very enthusiastic in his praise. The wife said she enjoyed it as well but was briefer than her husband. She looked very happy and I felt satisfied that I had picked the right view from them. They waved goodbye and drove out of the lot.”

“I was just about to leave myself when I saw a hiker that I’ve met in passing a couple of time waving her arms to get my attention. I got out and asked her what was wrong. She held out the straw hat to me I saw on the wife earlier, it was crushed and a little dirty but I recognized the daisies. The hiker was worried that someone might be hurt. I asked her if she found it by the overlook the couple was at earlier and when she said yes I told that I saw it on a woman that had just left with her husband. The ranger looked satisfied with my answer but said she was going to make sure the rangers checked the trails, just in case.”

“Then I left.” Alice’s pause after this announcement wasn’t as silent as the others.

“Ya just up an’ left?!” Kitty’s incredulity made her accent thicker than usual. Alice shrugged and hastily chewed then swallowed the strawberry she had just grabbed off the snack tray.

“Why wouldn’t I?” Alice asks her. Kitty opens her mouth to give a reason but snaps it shut when she realizes that there really wasn’t one, just that she knows something hinky must’ve happened or else Alice wouldn’t be telling this story.

“So what happened?” Jane cuts in.

“Almost a week later,” Alice continues as she twirls the glass around in slow circles. “The police came and asked me some questions about the couple and the trails at Garner Park. I told them what I just told you. They showed me a couple of pictures. I picked out the husband and the wife pretty easily. When I asked what was going on, they told me it was an on-going investigation and couldn’t tell me about it. He was really rather short with me and after I answered his questions he just left. If ever there was a ruder or more abrupt man I never met him. I didn’t care for him at all.”

“How’d ya find out what was goin’ on?” Kitty asks impatiently. She’s always been the kind to skip to the end of the book if she felt the story was dragging on and today is no different.

“Don’t get your panties in a twist, Kitty. Let her finish.” Jane admonishes her friend with a teasing smile.

“I was reading the news the other day before work. The couple had gone up to overlook and the husband hit her over the head with a rock then pushed her off into the river below. They believe he thought the river would wash away any evidence but there was a drought and the current wasn’t strong enough.”

“Wait! If the wife was killed at the overlook how did you see her in the parking lot driving away?” Kitty interrupts. Jane chucks a strawberry in her direction and glares Kitty into unrepentant silence.

“I was getting to that. The wife had made a lot of money of her own with some internet business but the man was actually in love with her twin. The twin and the husband decided that they would kill the wife then she would take over the wife’s identity. He thought he could eat his cake and have it too. But he didn’t plan on the drought and his wife’s body was found quickly.”

“How awful,” Jane murmurs and her friends nod in agreement. Jane and Kitty take their first swallows of wine as Alice takes her last.

“An’ ya talked to a pair of murderers,” Kitty shudders.

There’s a moment of a slightly oppressive silence before Alice perks up and asks, “So who’s next?”

So many books, so little time

I’ve recently gone on a reading bender. I’m just resurfacing from it and I’ve got to say I’m in love with Kindle Unlimited. I can borrow some of my favorite classics, the entire Harry Potter series (I re-read them for the sixth time.) and endless others. It’s like having a library in my pocket. The best part though is finding those books that you might not be able to find somewhere else so easily. It’s like unearthing treasure.

I’m going to share my find with you. The writer, Cassandra Gannon is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Her mix of science fiction, romance and comedy appeals to me in a big way. Her stories always make me laugh at one point or another. I will say that the editing is a little rough, enough to be distracting at times but so much that it takes away from the overall story. The characters more than make up for any blips in the writing.

These three, in no particular order, are my favorites. They’re such unusual and fun stories, I’d highly recommend them. And I hope to read more of her books in the future.

Time-travelers

Someone has seriously pissed off Mother Nature. Today is the second time in the past couple of weeks that the electricity has been knocked out by a storm. For hours, I’ve been without air conditioning, lights, and horrors of all horrors, the internet. And yes I’m being a little whine-y but there’s a point here, just hold on.

I love stories about time-travel or even set in another time period. But I’m well aware that they mostly gloss over some of the more distasteful parts. And I’ve realized there’s no way I could do without electricity or plumbing- or modern healthcare. A couple of hours without and I’m all ready to placate Mother Nature in whatever way I can so this never happens again.

If I ever  get stuck in any time before the late 1800s, I’m gonna have a hard time. I don’t know how those time-travelers do it.

She had never been deprived of anything before. When she was young that meant toys and books. And she grew up it meant a good college.

Then came a stretch of unemployment. Considered too educated to do some jobs and not experienced enough for others, she was stuck in an occupational limbo.

And then it came time for repayment.

How could she have known that education would have cost her so much?

Deprive

Romantic Musings

I’m not sure why romance has been on my mind so much lately. A side effect of being single for so long and then making the mistake of making out with what was practically a stranger? I think I’ll just blame it on an imbalance of hormones. Whatever the reason, I feel like  discussing soulmates.

There are so many opinions on soulmates. Some believe soulmates are just a nice fairy tale. But I want to talk about the theory that I find the most frightening. That there’s only one soulmate for each of us and once they’re gone, that’s it. You’re doomed to a lonely existence. I don’t subscribe to this theory. I believe there are many kinds of soulmates and that they come into your life as family members, best friends or just people that get you. A soulmate doesn’t have to be a romantic partner, after all. But for the sake of this post, I’ll write this as if my perfect someone is wrapped up all into one  neat little package.

So what would happen if there was only that one person out there for me? I am almost positive the man would do something idiotic and leave me on my own. This very specific scenario has been stuck in my mind: He’s riding in the bed of a pick-up truck that hits a bump and he’s thrown out. His head hits the pavement and he’s knocked into a coma. And never we meet. I just can’t shake the feeling that something tragic would happen. I may be something of a pessimist or I’ve just read too many classic tragedies lately.

There I am, doomed to wander the Earth alone. Not that I would completely go to pieces, I love the time I have to myself. I have too many siblings not to appreciate peace and quiet. But I’d also love to share it with someone like a soulmate, someone that understand all the bits and pieces of me.

So, coma-soulmate if you exist, I give you this warning: You better wake up and find me soon or you can just stay in that coma. Because if you waste my time, I’ll give you hell.

Introductions

Hello everyone! I’m a fledgling writer and I’ve decided to start this blog to become a better writer. Because obviously writing pages of fiction a day and keeping a journal is just not enough. I’ll be posting things like random thoughts, short stories, book reviews, and anything else that might interest me – or you.

I’d like to add that I’m also new to blogging so bear with me while I find my way around. I’m so excited to begin!