Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Kitlitwomen Initiative, RIP Stephen Hawking, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine, and Ink, Iron and Glass by Gwendolyn Clare

It's about time! This is a great initiative that is asking that people encourage female children's lit authors, and encourage women and men to write inclusive books with people of color and various genders in them, so that children don't just have a selection of books and fairy tales that are white and full of stereotypical male and female relationships and roles.

Kidlitwomen Initiative to Call Attention to Gender Inequality in Children's Literature.

In the early days of 2018, children's author/illustrator Grace Lin
a group of women colleagues and had a "conversation fueled by passion,
anger, and heartbreak, but most of all by injustice." The concern was
about the industry itself: "our children's literature community, a
community that preaches to children about kindness and fairness, is
egregiously not fair," she said in an open letter. Lin's letter asks,
"Have you treated a male author as a 'rock star?' Have you declined a
'girl' book for your son or ignored an older woman? Have you minimized
the concerns of a woman of color? What have you done or encouraged or
defended that you feel uncomfortable about?" These questions, she hopes,
will encourage conversation. And to help this discussion along, she and
author Karen Blumenthal
the #kidlitwomen initiative on March 1, to coincide with Women's History

The intent is to use social media as a public forum to call "attention
to the gender inequities of the children's literature community,
uplifting those who have not received their due, and finding solutions
to reach equality for all." With more than 3,000 followers on their
consists of a series of pieces by women in the children's literature
industry, all posted either directly on the #kidlitwomen Facebook page
or to the author and/or illustrator's own website and compiled on the
Facebook page. 

RIP Stephen Hawking, who lived an extraordinary life, and a long life, despite having ALS, which was supposed to kill him after two years. He defied expectations and made the world a better place with his brilliant mind.

Obituary Note: Stephen W. Hawking

Stephen W. Hawking
the Cambridge University physicist and bestselling author "who roamed
the cosmos from a wheelchair, pondering the nature of gravity and the
origin of the universe and becoming an emblem of human determination and
curiosity," died early this morning, the New York Times reported. He was

"What a triumph his life has been," said Martin Rees, a Cambridge
University cosmologist, the astronomer royal of Britain and Hawking's
longtime colleague. "His name will live in the annals of science;
millions have had their cosmic horizons widened by his bestselling
books; and even more, around the world, have been inspired by a unique
example of achievement against all the odds--a manifestation of amazing
willpower and determination."

Hawking's landmark book, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to
Black Holes (1988), has sold more than 10 million copies, and inspired a
documentary film by Errol Morris as well as the Oscar-winning movie The
Theory of Everything.

"Scientifically, Dr. Hawking will be best remembered for a discovery so
strange that it might be expressed in the form of a Zen koan: When is a
black hole not black? When it explodes," the Times wrote, adding that
his career defied the odds in that as a graduate student in 1963, he
learned he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and was given only a few
years to live. Despite this, he "went on to become his generation's
leader in exploring gravity and the properties of black holes, the
bottomless gravitational pits so deep and dense that not even light can
escape them."

Dr. Hawking's other books include The Grand Design (with Leonard
Mlodinow); The Universe in a Nutshell; The Nature of Space and Time
(with Roger Penrose); the George's Secret Key children's book series
(with Lucy Hawking); Black Holes and Baby Universes; An Illustrated
Brief History of Time; A Briefer History of Time (Bantam Press, 2005);
and his memoir, My Brief History.

Larry Finlay, managing director of Transworld, told the Bookseller
"It is truly our privilege to have been Stephen Hawking's publisher for
the last three decades. He has increased the popular understanding of
scientific theory like no-one else since Einstein. Not only was he one
of the world's greatest thinkers, he was also a man with an infectious
sense of mischief and wit."

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid was a surprisingly delightful book that I read in one sitting. Though it's fiction, the main character reminded me of the scandalous marriages of the beautiful Elizabeth Taylor, and of so many of the other Hollywood stars of the "golden era" when studios created classic movies and starlets feared the gossip columnists of the day, who could make or break their careers. The story follows the movie career of actress Evelyn Hugo (whose real last name is Herrera, as she's Cuban, but can pass as white), who marries one man after another to gain influence and eventually to cover up her bisexuality and love of her fellow starlet Cecelia St James. Here's the blurb: 
“The epic adventures Evelyn creates over the course of a lifetime will leave every reader mesmerized. This wildly addictive journey of a reclusive Hollywood starlet and her tumultuous Tinseltown journey comes with unexpected twists and the most satisfying of drama.” —PopSugar
In this entrancing novel “that speaks to the Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor in us all” (Kirkus Reviews), a legendary film actress reflects on her relentless rise to the top and the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.
Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jump start her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
“Heartbreaking, yet beautiful” (Jamie Blynn, Us Weekly), The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is “Tinseltown drama at its finest” (Redbook): a mesmerizing journey through the splendor of old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means—and what it costs—to face the truth.
As a former veteran print journalist, I really empathized with Monique and her excitement in being granted access to this glamorous star and her exclusive story. The twist at the end (which I won't spoil for you) can be seen coming by a bit over halfway through the book, and yet it will still sent a shiver down my spine. This is a testament to Reid's finely honed prose and excellent plot, as well as her beautifully-drawn characters who lead readers to a satisfying conclusion. I'd give this page-turner an A, and recommend it to anyone who is interested in classic movies and movie stars.

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine was a book that I picked up because it was about a bibliophile who loves to read and translate books from English and French into Arabic. Because Aaliya lives in war-torn Beirut, Lebanon, she has come to live the "life of the mind" where she withdraws from society and even the women in her building and focuses instead on the books that she reads and the characters inhabiting them. Though Aaliya is a sour, bitter and reclusive person who almost comes off as a misanthrope, I found her life and her discussions of books and authors to be fascinating, if more than a bit cynical and mean. For example, she dismisses nearly all of American literature written by women as whiny and vapid, with their characters only problems being "a malodorous vagina." This hasn't been even close to my experience of American women's lit, of course, but when Aaliya talks about the dull and horrid novels of Hemingway, and notes that Hills Like White Elephants (a short story) may be the only exception to that rule, I found myself nodding along and agreeing with her. I also agreed that Faulkner is by far the better writer of the two, though I also felt that Fitzgerald was a better writer as well. Here's the blurb: An Unnecessary Woman is a breathtaking portrait of one reclusive woman’s late-life crisis, which garnered a wave of rave reviews and love letters to Alameddine’s cranky yet charming septuagenarian protagonist, Aaliya, a character you “can’t help but love” (NPR). Aaliya’s insightful musings on literature, philosophy, and art are invaded by memories of the Lebanese Civil War and her volatile past. As she tries to overcome her aging body and spontaneous emotional upwellings, Aaliya is faced with an unthinkable disaster that threatens to shatter the little life she has left. Here, the gifted Rabih Alameddine has given us a nuanced rendering of one woman's life in the Middle East and an enduring ode to literature and its power to define who we are.
“[A] powerful intellectual portrait of a reader who is misread….a meditation on being and literature, written by someone with a passionate love of language and the power of words to compose interior worlds. It’s about how, and by what means, we survive. About how, in the end, what is hollow and unneeded becomes full, essential and enduring.”—Earl Pike, Cleveland Plain Dealer
Though I found Aaliya to be nearly autistic in her fear of dealing with people, especially her horrible mother (who wanted nothing to do with her as a child, and then screams in fear/anger when Aaliya's greasy half brother try to drop her mother off for her to care for now that she's ancient, has dementia and is in failing heath) and it seemed ridiculous to me that a woman in her 70s is unable to even share coffee with her neighbors, let alone deal with her mother, I still couldn't wait to see what she did next, and what would happen to her bookstore coworkers or others from her past. The prose is somewhat uneven, but the plot is strong and well formed. I would give this book a B+, and recommend it to anyone who is interested in a middle eastern bibliophile's view of the world. 

Ink, Iron and Glass by Gwendolyn Clare is a YA steampunk fantasy that has a very interesting science fiction premise of what would happen if you could write worlds (and people) into being a reality? I have to note that the main character is a person of color and an "Islander" and that people of different colors and sexual orientation are part of this book, which I think is wonderful. Intersectionality is long overdue in YA Literature. At any rate, I was fascinated by the books that allow you to 'script' a world into being, and the intricate worlds that were wrought by the main character's reminded me of computer program developers and game creators who write computer scripts that bring worlds into being on the computer screen. I often wonder how long it will be before we have an artificial intelligence who creates a world and people who can cross over into our reality and live a "real" life. Here's the blurb:
Can she write a world gone wrong?
A certain pen, a certain book, and a certain person can craft entirely new worlds through a branch of science called scriptology. Elsa comes from one such world that was written into creation, where her mother—a noted scriptologist—constantly alters and expands their reality.
But when her home is attacked and her mother kidnapped, Elsa is forced to cross into the real world and use her own scriptology gifts to find her. In an alternative Victorian Italy, Elsa finds a secret society of young scientists with a gift for mechanics, alchemy, or scriptology—and meets Leo, a gorgeous mechanist with a smart mouth and tragic past. She recruits the help of these fellow geniuses just as an assassin arrives on their doorstep.
In debut author Gwendolyn Clare's thrilling Ink, Iron, and Glass, worlds collide as Elsa unveils a deep political conspiracy seeking to unlock the most dangerous weapon ever created—and only she can stop it. Kirkus Reviews: Elsa's homeland can't be located on a map: Veldana and its people exist as a result of scriptology, a craft whose practitioners can scribe new lands into existence. Veldana is the creation of a white Frenchman, but Elsa's mother, a Veldanese master scriptologist, advocated for her people's autonomy and is now the fabricated world's caretaker. (Among other colonialist acts, the creator scribed pregnancies against the brown-skinned Veldanese women's will.) The dark-skinned, green-eyed, 16-year-old Elsa, also a brilliant scriptologist, will one day proudly inherit the responsibility. When her mother is abducted, Elsa leaves Veldana for Earth—the real world—to find help. Events lead her to a yet-to-be-unified Italy, where she finds herself a resident of the Casa della Pazzia ("House of the Madness"), a sentient residence for orphan pazzerellone, or "mad scientists." Each student possesses one of three "madnesses": alchemy, mechanics, or scriptology. There, the fiercely independent Elsa reluctantly finds allies: olive-skinned Italians Leo and Porzia and brown-skinned Tunisian Faraz. As the four get closer to finding Elsa's mother and learning the reason for her capture, they discover an enemy who will stop at nothing to use scriptology as a weapon to "edit" the Earth. This debut novel is fully realized steampunk-fantasy, offering an alternate history that deftly and creatively adopts the politics of 19th-century Italy to create a compellingly unique world. Although the book uses the language of mental illness to describe its characters' specific magical talents, in this world "mad" seems to carry none of the baggage it does in ours. Exciting and original.
I agree that this book is exciting and original, however, I felt that Elsa was too easily cowed and fell in love with Leo, who is a loud, entitled and obnoxious jerk, when he and his fragile male ego should have been sent packing. Instead, all sorts of allowances are made for him because of his ego and macho attitude, which weakens the empowering of women/girls theme that the author sets up. Also, Leo's family are liars, traitors and assassins, so we are left with him betraying all the people who have loved and raised and helped him for a majority of his life. I couldn't feel any compassion for such a person, though I know as Elsa's love interest, we are supposed to believe that he did everything to protect her from his evil mafia family. I am sure more will come to light in the second book, which I plan on reading. The prose was good, if a tad syrupy, which lead to the plot being bogged down once or twice. Still, I'd give the book a B, and recommend it to anyone who likes YA Steampunk.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

RIP Cynthia Heimel and Russ Solomon, B&N's Book Club, Upcoming books of note, Blood of a Thousand Stars by Rhoda Belleza, Compulsion by Martha Boone and Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

RIP author Cynthia Heimel, whose books were very funny and ribald.

Obituary Note: Cynthia Heimel 
whose first book, Sex Tips for Girls, "established her in the early
1980s as a fearlessly funny writer about men, feminism, female
friendships, flirting, birth control and lingerie," died February 25,
the New York Times reported. She was 70. Heimel later adapted Sex Tips
and But Enough About You, a 1986 collection, into the play A Girl's
Guide to Chaos, which opened later that year off Broadway at the
American Place Theater.

"I used to say about Cynthia's writing, and her being, that she had the
soul of Janis Joplin in the voice of Hedda Hopper," said novelist and
comedy writer Emily Prager. "She was a voice for liberation with
manners, freedom without regret and the blues with a grain of salt."

Heimel published several more collections, including If You Can't Live
Without Me, Why Aren't You Dead Yet? (1991), Get Your Tongue Out of My
Mouth, I'm Kissing You Goodbye! (1993) and If You Leave Me, Can I Come
Too? (1995).
I think this is a great idea for Barnes and Noble, who have had to close a number of stores due to so many people buying books online. Still, there's nothing quite like a physical bookstore with real booksellers and customers who are one's fellow bibliophiles. If there were a B&N closer to me than 20 miles away in Issaquah, I would happily show up for the book club meeting and discussion. 

B&N Launches National Book Club

Barnes & Noble has launched the Barnes & Noble Book Club, a national
book club that will meet seasonally at the company's 632 stores to
discuss "some of the greatest books being published." The book club
meetings, all held on the same day, will be led by B&N booksellers and
feature "exclusive content and special in-store promotions for book club

The book club's first pick is The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer,
which will be published by Riverhead Books on April 3. The B&N Book Club
meetings about the novel will be held on Wednesday, May 2, 6-7 p.m.,
local time.

Liz Harwell, director of merchandising, commented: "Meg Wolitzer's The
Interestings firmly established her as one of the most important writers
of our time, and The Female Persuasion further cements her importance
with a timely story about a young woman who meets a mentor that changes
her life. The Female Persuasion is a must read of the year."

B&N is offering customers an exclusive edition of the book that includes
a reading group guide and an essay by the author. Book Club participants
on May 2 will receive a free regular, tall, hot or iced coffee and one
free cookie from the café, and one signed copy of the book will
be given away. Customers are asked to sign up at the customer service
counter in store to participate.
On May 2, Wolitzer will appear at B&N's Upper West Side store in New
York City for a discussion, q&a and book signing.

Tower Record's Russ Solomon was an icon in the business and book/record world. I don't know of anyone my age or a decade younger who didn't visit Tower Records looking for a great album or a good book or two. RIP to this man who died in a great way.

Obituary Note: Russ Solomon
Russ Solomon, the charismatic, hard-driving, smart and funny founder and
longtime head of Tower Records and Tower Books, died on Sunday at age
92. He left in a way that seemed appropriate, which the Sacramento Bee
captured in the headline of its obituary
"Founder of Tower Records dies at 92 while drinking whiskey and watching
the Oscars."

His son, Michael Solomon, told the Bee: "Ironically, he was giving his
opinion of what someone was wearing that he thought was ugly, then asked
[his wife] Patti to refill his whiskey. When she returned, he had died."

Tower Records were iconic stores, which began in Sacramento in 1960,
then spread across the country and around the world, with branches as
far away as London, Tokyo and Singapore. The stores sold some books, and
there were a few freestanding Tower Books locations. The company also
sold videos. At its height in the 1990s, the company had 200 stores and
sales of more than $1 billion a year.

As the Bee noted, Solomon was a retail pioneer and "operated on a
philosophy that was obvious to him but extraordinary for its day: Build
big stores and pack them with as much music as possible."

Unfortunately for Tower, in the early '90s, superstores then became the
rage in a variety of categories. In the book world, Borders and Barnes &
Noble expanded across the country. Then Amazon opened, and soon digital
downloading of music became popular. Tower, which had expanded rapidly
and had high debt, began to have serious problems. The company closed in
2006, although a few franchise operations continue in business

documentary by actor Colin Hanks about Tower that starred Solomon, was
released in 2015.

Famously in the Tower headquarters lobby, Solomon had a collection of
ties that he had cut off dressed-up visitors; attached to the ties were
the former owners' business cards.
And Megan Zusne wrote: "Thanks to Tower Records, to Russ Solomon, I
experienced a book career of a lifetime! And now, heavily involved in
the music business (and even living in a city and state that has never
had a Tower store), I carry a certain cachet, since EVERYONE seems to
have heard of Tower Records and its reputation as the hippest place to
work on the planet. Thank you, Russ Solomon."

I need a copy of this book, which I think I could have written, if I would have had the resources and stamina to do so.

Book Trailer of the Day: Surviving & Thriving With an Invisible Chronic Illness

Surviving & Thriving With an Invisible Chronic Illness: How to Stay Sane

and Live One Step Ahead of Your Symptoms by Ilana Jacqueline (New Harbinger Publications).

My son and his friends are anxiously awaiting, as I am, the last book in the Kingkiller Chronicles, Doors of Stone, and it looks like the book might finally be on its way to publication! Hurrah!
Blood of a Thousand Stars by Rhoda Belleza is the sequel to Empress of a Thousand Skies, which I believe I read last year. This book didn't move quite as fast as the first book, but it was still a good read, and it provided a nicely wrapped up ending for the conflicts begun with the first book. Here's the blurb:
War tears the galaxy apart, power tests the limits of family, and violence gives way to freedom in this exhilarating sequel to Empress of a Thousand Skies.
With a revolution brewing, Rhee is faced with a choice: make a deal with her enemy, Nero, or denounce him and risk losing her crown. 

Framed assassin Alyosha has one goal in mind: kill Nero. But to get his revenge, Aly may have to travel back to the very place he thought he’d left forever—home.

Kara knows that a single piece of technology located on the uninhabitable planet Wraeta may be the key to remembering—and erasing—the princess she once was.

Villainous media star Nero is out for blood, and he’ll go to any means necessary to control the galaxy.Vicious politics and high-stakes action culminate in an epic showdown that will determine the fate of the universe.

While the prose was nice and clean, the plot zigged and zagged more than once, and I felt it was dizzying and disjointed a couple of times. But I liked Kara and her journey, though I found both sisters to be a bit too much of martyrs and self-effacing to the point of ridiculousness (must heroines always hate themselves and doubt that they have any talent or value?). Aly, meanwhile, grew into a character whom I really enjoyed. So I'd give this book a B, and recommend it to anyone who read the first book and wants to see who ends up on the throne.

Compulsion by Martha Boone is a rather odd YA novel that weaves Native American lore and civil war-era plantation stories into a tale of family feuds and Romeo and Juliet-style love triangles. Here's the blurb:
All her life, Barrie Watson has been a virtual prisoner in the house where she lived with her shut-in mother. When her mother dies, Barrie promises to put some mileage on her stiletto heels. But she finds a new kind of prison at her aunt’s South Carolina plantation instead—a prison guarded by an ancient spirit who long ago cursed one of the three founding families of Watson Island and gave the others magical gifts that became compulsions.
Stuck with the ghosts of a generations-old feud and hunted by forces she cannot see, Barrie must find a way to break free of the family legacy. With the help of sun-kissed Eight Beaufort, who knows what Barrie wants before she knows herself, the last Watson heir starts to unravel her family’s twisted secrets. What she finds is dangerous: a love she never expected, a river that turns to fire at midnight, a gorgeous cousin who isn’t what she seems, and very real enemies who want both Eight and Barrie dead. Publisher's Weekly: In Boone’s debut, an expansive Southern gothic tale, Barrie Watson is sent to live with her aunt Pru on Watson Island after Barrie’s shut-in mother, Lula, dies and her godfather is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Barrie was born with a “finding gift” that compels her to seek what is lost or left unsettled, and amid the Beaufort and Colesworth clans—the founding families of Watson Island, along with Barrie’s forebears—Barrie learns she isn’t the only one with a gift. Curses plague Watson Island, ghosts haunt its mansions, evil spirits live in its woods, and a frightening “Fire Carrier” emerges at night over its waters. Together, Barrie and a handsome Beaufort boy named Eight seek justice and to right old wrongs. Though the novel is grounded in the present day, there’s an old-fashioned quality to Boone’s dialogue and characters; she skillfully blends rich magic and folklore with adventure, sweeping romance, and hidden treasure, all while exploring the island and its accompanying legends. An impressive start to the Heirs of Watson Island series.
I really liked the fact that the characters in this book weren't all white heterosexual teenagers who were rich and spoiled, with fabulous parents. Barrie's godfather is a gay drag queen with impeccable taste and a wonderful wit, and the mansion she's staying in is falling apart. Meanwhile, her beau, Eight, is living a rich life that is still sterile to him, and the Colesworth heirs are impoverished and angry and truly awful, violent people. Barrie seems a bit too naive and willful, as she insists on letting herself be drawn into traps that everyone else could see miles away. Her needy whining about doing "anything" for family is almost pathological, as is her clinging to Eight as if he's the only boy in the universe whom she can ever love, when she's only just met him. Eight seemed like a creepy dweeb to me, someone who could read what any given person wants, and chooses to use his "gift" to get with as many young women as possible. And Barrie's Aunt Pru is just pathetic. Still, the book was a page turner, as Boone has a storytelling "gift" of her own. I'd give it a B-, and recommend it to anyone who likes folklore in their YA paranormal romances.

Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce is the first book in a new YA series by the prolific fantasy author. I've read more than a few of Pierce's works, and I love the fact that she's always had strong female protagonists who refused to be pigeonholed into 'traditional' female roles. Pierce's protagonists are warriors, healers and leaders. Which is why I was so confounded by the young boy protagonist, Arram, and surprised that most of the women/girls played peripheral roles in the story. I understand wanting a middle eastern protagonist who isn't the usual white kid, but why, of the three main characters (who are in what amounts to magic/wizards school, just like Harry Potter) does the lone female, Varice, have to be so giggly and have her talents be mainly found in the kitchens, making food and mothering her two male cohorts, Arram and Ozorne? She's even described in a stereotypical sexist fashion, with Arram drooling over her "curves" and her beauty, and longing to kiss her, even before he's 12 years old (apparently puberty comes very early in this world). The description of Arram's errections as a prepubescent child, were nauseatingly pedophilic, and totally inappropriate. Why sexualize such a young character?  Though he's a prodigy with his magic, he's also insufferably arrogant and immature, and more than once he whines about having to basically take orders from his female teachers, one of whom ends up dead. Here's a blurb:
Arram Draper is on the path to becoming one of the realm's most powerful mages. The youngest student in his class at the Imperial University of Carthak, he has a Gift with unlimited potential for greatness—and for attracting trouble. At his side are his two best friends: Varice, a clever girl with an often-overlooked talent, and Ozorne, the "leftover prince" with secret ambitions. Together, these three friends forge a bond that will one day shape kingdoms. And as Ozorne gets closer to the throne and Varice gets closer to Arram's heart, Arram realizes that one day—soon—he will have to decide where his loyalties truly lie. In the Numair Chronicles, readers will be rewarded with the never-before-told story of how Numair Salmalín came to Tortall. Newcomers will discover an unforgettable fantasy adventure where a kingdom's future rests on the shoulders of a talented young man with a knack for making vicious enemies. Publisher's Weekly: In the intriguing first book of Pierce’s Numair Chronicles, set in the medieval fantasy world of her Tortall books, she provides an in-depth look into the magical education and youth of Arram Draper, who later becomes the powerful mage Numair Salmalín. At age 10, Arram is the youngest mage in his class at the Imperial University of Carthak. His raw talent or Gift is enormous and difficult for him to control; it both gets him into trouble and gets him noticed. He quickly makes friends with his roommate, prince Ozorne Tasikhe, and the lovely and kind Varice Kingsford. Although Pierce touches on weighty subjects including slavery and the environment, they’re balanced by the relatively lighthearted adventures of Arram and his new friends. She makes the most of the university setting, hinting at possible conflict ahead by way of Ozorne’s wish to avenge his father’s death.
I really didn't like Arram, and I wasn't too fond of his manic depressive prince friend Ozone, either. Neither seemed like they had much in the way of compassion or intellect when it came to slaves or women, as they were focused on themselves. And Varice, as I've said previously, comes across as vapid and boy crazy, interested mostly in her clothing, how she looked and in flirting and being girly. I was so disappointed by this portrayal of the few women in the book, that I nearly wept. I was also somewhat disappointed by the rough road of a plot, not smoothed at all by the often disjointed prose. This is not the Tamora Pierce whose work I've read and loved in the past. I don't know what has happened to make the author dish up this messy stew of a novel, but I certainly hope that its only temporary, and that eventually Pierce will get back to writing heroines and engaging stories full of wit and charm. It makes me sad to say that I can only give this novel a C, and I'd only recommend it to die-hard fans who don't really care what she writes, as long as it happens within the world of Tortall. 

Monday, March 05, 2018

Author Sherman Alexie's Sexual Harassment, Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, The Queen's Rising by Rebecca Ross, The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan

I was initially sick and disgusted to hear that author Sherman Alexie has been charged with sexually harassing Native American women for years. I've read several of his books, and he always seemed to be a smart and creative man who was an ally of feminists, not another scumbag abuser/harasser. But then my friend Litsa Dremousis broke the silence and came out publicly with the accusations, and suddenly, it all became clear, that not even someone as smart and savvy as Alexie could keep from using his power as a lauded author to try and force women to have sex with him, or to keep his harassment and abuse of them under the rug. SHAME on him, and thank heaven for Litsa for being these women's advocate and coming forward, so that he won't continue to get away with it.

Sherman Alexie's Response to Harassment Accusations

After a month of online charges that he has been abusive to many women,
particularly Native American women, author Sherman Alexie issued a
yesterday. It's a mix of admission and denial and, as with so much of
the matter, it's somewhat vague.

"Over the years, I have done things that have harmed other people,
including those I love most deeply," Alexie wrote. "To those whom I have
hurt, I genuinely apologize. I am so sorry.... There are women telling
the truth about my behavior and I have no recollection of physically or
verbally threatening anybody or their careers. That would be completely
out of character. I have made poor decisions and I am working hard to
become a healthier man who makes healthier decisions. Again, I apologize
to the people I have hurt. I am genuinely sorry."

But at the same time, Alexie rejected "the accusations, insinuations,
and outright falsehoods" made by Litsa Dremousis, author of Altitude
Sickness, the most open and active of the women who have accused Alexie
of misbehavior. Alexie admitted to being "consenting sexual partners"
with Dremousis, a relationship that ended in 2015, adding that last
October, she sent an e-mail to his wife about the previous relationship
and "posted something on my wife's Facebook page." After that, "Ms.
Dremousis has continually tweeted and spoken in public about my
behavior, making accusations based on rumors and hearsay and quoting
anonymous sources."

For her part, on Facebook, Dremousis responded by saying that some of
Alexie's statement is "accurate. Some is not. Part of his statement
about me [is] 100% false. I've never written on his wife's Facebook
page. I don't even know if she has a Facebook page."

While she apparently hasn't accused Alexie of harassing her, she has
said he had harassed perhaps as many as 80 women, who have been in touch
with her, and in October, just as the #metoo movement began to spread
across the country and internationally, she "confronted him about his
sexual harassment of women."

She stressed that she was open about their affair. "I knew he'd use a
consensual affair which ended w/ us staying good friends as a way to
discredit dozens of women *who consented to nothing*."

She ended: "A man I confronted four months ago about his sexual
harassment of women finally issued a statement wherein he doesn't deny
it. That's all I'll say I'll for now."

The accusations involve sexual harassment and charges that Alexie
threatened the careers of any women who might talk publicly about his
behavior. Some of the charges were made on the comments thread of a
School Library Journal article
about sexual harassment in children's publishing, where last month
several people said Alexie had harassed them or they had witnessed
behavior that might have been or led to harassment.

None of the charges by the women are on record yet, (Editors note, as of 3/5/2018, they are now on record with NPR) making them difficult to evaluate. But many in the book world have reacted negatively to Alexie, who, of course, had been beloved by many
booksellers, for his work, for his portrayals of Native American life
and for providing the inspiration to create Indies First Day, the event
on the Saturday after Thanksgiving that seeks to unite writers and indie
booksellers. His YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time
Indian won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, and he
has won many other awards, including the John Dos Passos Prize for
Literature. And just last month, as the accusations were coming to
light, Alexie won the 2018 Carnegie Medal for literary excellence in
nonfiction for You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir.

As the Seattle Times noted yesterday in a story about the Alexie
the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.Mex., has renamed
its Sherman Alexie Scholarship the MFA Alumni Scholarship. And as
reported by Seattle Met, Debbie Reese, editor of the American Indians in
Children's Literature, has removed Alexie's photo
from the AICL's gallery of Native writers and illustrators.
There has been a number of reckonings in Hollywood and in the publishing industry now that men in power are being "outed" as abusers. Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak, had this to say about her anger at men just now being vilified for their abuses:
"I’m so fucking angry,” Anderson, the author of the 1999 novel Speak told BuzzFeed News. “On the one hand, you’re supposed to be joyful because we’re having these conversations. But from my perspective, why are we still stuck in this toxic patriarchy bullshit?"
Now, as the great Reckoning continues to fell men in power who have previously benefited from the silence of their alleged abuse victims, Anderson's book is being published as a reinterpreted graphic novel of the same name.
Speak, a National Book Award finalist that went on to win many other awards, was also adapted into a movie starring Kristen Stewart in 2004. “I’ve never met a woman who hasn’t, at some level, been harassed or touched or groped,” Anderson said. “It’s this giant scale of behavior, but I’ve never met a single woman who hasn’t been through that. What Speak has done for the past couple decades is open up a conversation for some people in a quiet way.”
“Thank goodness we have gotten to this point, and I think social media plays a big role in victims of sexual violence feeling strengthened and supported enough to start speaking out,” Anderson said. “But it’s about 800 years overdue, and I think, too, the power of right now is everyone seeing the positive consequence of speaking out.”
Even as sexual harassment was a huge part of the Oscars last night, I feel, like Anderson, that its overdue, and that we are just getting started. Things are going to have to change in society if women are to have a fair shake at their careers and at life. 

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear is a Steampunk science fiction adventure romance, full of dastardly villains, fascinating inventions and saucy prostitutes in 19th century Seattle. It is written in first person, which was an odd choice, I felt, but since the story is being told as if the protagonist is writing it down for a book, it comes off as charming, most of the time. Here's the blurb:
"You ain't gonna like what I have to tell you, but I'm gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I'm one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It's French, so Beatrice tells me."
Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable's high-quality bordello. Through Karen's eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, begging sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone's mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn't bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.
Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper yarn of the old west with a light touch in Karen's own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science. Publisher's Weekly: Bear’s rollicking, suspenseful, and sentimental steampunk novel introduces Karen Memery  a teenage “seamstress”—that is, a prostitute—at Madame Damnable’s Hôtel Mon Cherie in Rapid City. This Pacific Northwest city of an alternate 1878 is home to airships, surgical machines, and other mechanical wonders that can also be put to horrific use. As Karen meets and begins to fall for Priya, another sex worker who escaped from evil pimp Peter Bantle, they learn that Bantle has more dark plans than brothel competition. U.S. Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves and his Comanche partner, Tomoatooah, also tie Bantle to the gruesome murders of some of Rapid City’s most vulnerable women. Her story is a timeless one: a woman doing what is needed to get by while dreaming and fighting for great things to come.
I really enjoyed the resourceful Karen and the other "ladies" of the bordello, but I felt that Karen and her beloved Priya took too many risks that didn't pay off, and ended with her being caught more than once by the bad guys, when it seemed that they could have avoided much of this with better planning. Still, it was, indeed, a rollicking tale with a plot that never slowed down. The prose was a bit cliche'd, like the prose you'd expect from reading an old pulp Western novel (my grandfather used to read those), but eventually I was able to overlook it and get into the story. I'd give this fun book a B+, and recommend it to anyone who likes strong female protagonists and Steampunk.

The Queen's Rising by Rebecca Ross is a YA fantasy novel that felt very Shakespearean and was beautifully rendered with succulent characters and beautiful worldbuilding. While I was expecting the usual love triangle and whiny protagonists, I was delighted to discover that there was none of that to be had here, only a young woman named Brienna who longs to find her "passion" and place in this world, and who loves her fellow students and supports them when they find patrons and she doesn't. Here's the blurb:
Grave Mercy meets Red Queen in this epic debut fantasy, inspired by Renaissance France, about an outcast who finds herself bound to a disgraced lord and entangled in his plot to overthrow the current king.
Brienna desires only two things: to master her passion and to be chosen by a patron. Growing up in Valenia at the renowned Magnalia House should have prepared her. While some are born with a talent for one of the five passions—art, music, dramatics, wit, and knowledge—Brienna struggled to find hers until she chose knowledge. However, Brienna’s greatest fear comes true—she is left without a patron.
Months later, her life takes an unexpected turn when a disgraced lord offers her patronage. Suspicious of his intent, she reluctantly accepts. But there is much more to his story, for there is a dangerous plot to overthrow the king of Maevana—the rival kingdom of Valenia—and restore the rightful queen, and her magic, to the throne. And others are involved—some closer to Brienna than she realizes.
And now, with war brewing, Brienna must choose which side she will remain loyal to: passion or blood.
I was not only surprised by the lack of the usual YA tropes, I was thrilled that Ross's prose was sterling, moving along the elegantly designed plot without a hitch. It was so well written, in fact, that I could not put it down, and read the entire book in one sitting. The historical "plot to overthrow a bad usurper king" was mesmerizing as it was intricately woven through Brienna's journey as a "knowledge" major (or passion, as they call areas of study) and her search for her own origins as an adopted child. I'd give this book a well deserved A, and recommend it to anyone who finds historical fantasy and romance interesting.

The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan was a book I found at Dollar Tree that seemed to be right up my alley. I love British mysteries and science fiction/romance, and I had assumed that this "chick lit" novel set in England would be just the thing to brighten up my February reading list. Unfortunately, every single woman in this novel loathes herself, and that curdles what would otherwise be a cracking good read. There is so much misogyny and body dismorphism and anorexia/bulimia throughout the novel that I felt sick for the characters and the people around them who have to deal with the fallout of their terrible behavior (which mirrors their own internal turmoil).  Here's the blurb:
There are many reasons to bake: to feed; to create; to impress; to nourish; to define ourselves; and, sometimes, it has to be said, to perfect. But often we bake to fill a hunger that would be better filled by a simple gesture from a dear one. We bake to love and be loved.
In 1966, Kathleen Eaden, cookbook writer and wife of a supermarket magnate, published The Art of Baking, her guide to nurturing a family by creating the most exquisite pastries, biscuits and cakes. Now, five amateur bakers are competing to become the New Mrs. Eaden. There's Jenny, facing an empty nest now that her family has flown; Claire, who has sacrificed her dreams for her daughter; Mike, trying to parent his two kids after his wife's death; Vicki, who has dropped everything to be at home with her baby boy; and Karen, perfect Karen, who knows what it's like to have nothing and is determined her facade shouldn't slip.
As unlikely alliances are forged and secrets rise to the surface, making the choicest pastry seems the least of the contestants' problems. For they will learn--as Mrs. Eaden did before them--that while perfection is possible in the kitchen, it's very much harder in life, in Sarah Vaughan's The Art of Baking Blind.
Though the women all get to know one another during the baking competition, and we get to know more about them with each chapter, I felt that their negative feelings about themselves and their lives were just overpowering their stories and making it hard to root for them. the only character that I liked was Jenny, who is close to my age, and has grown daughters. Her husband becomes a fitness fanatic and a real dbag, who constantly rips her down because of her weight, which, of course, she loses due to stress of the competition and of seeing her husband develop a relationship with another woman. Though the book is ostensibly about food, all of these women seem obsessed with depriving themselves of it, of nourishment and kindness and love. Starving yourself and vomiting are somehow seen as normal and the one character who finally gets called on her bulimia is truly a horrible person, but because she's thin, she's seen as "perfect." Being a woman in England apparently means that you can't be proud of your accomplishments, you can't be seen as overweight and you can't age or be successful without having a tragic back story, as does the woman for whom the baking contest is named, Kathleen Eaden, who has a premature child with cerebral palsy that no one knows about and eventually has a "normal" child whom everyone lauds. Why you would hide your child and quit your career because of a disability is really beyond me. Are the English people really that shallow and judgmental? The prose is decent, but the plot is uneven and the characters sour and unappealing. I'd give this book a C, and only recommend it to people who enjoy reading about women who constantly beat up on themselves, are selfish and awful and mean and sick. If you're looking for something uplifting, this isn't your novel, even though it does have a weak HEA ending.