Thursday, October 17, 2019

Elliott Bay Books at Sea-Tac Airport, Advice from a Bookstore Cat, Travel Mug Library, Quote of the Day, Queen Bee by Dorothea Benton Frank, Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes, Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, and Will My Cat Eat my Eyeballs? by Caitlin Doughty


It's almost Halloween, and I am excited for the start of holiday season, not to mention birthday season for myself and my family, all of whom have winter birthdays. Outside, it's time for what Seattlites call "The Great Dark," where we get lots of cold rain, hail and every now and then a dusting of snow. That's okay with me, as I am a big fan of settling in a cozy chair or bed with a cup of hot tea and a few good books. Speaking of good books and procurement thereof, it would appear that Elliott Bay Bookstore has decided to expand their operations to Sea-Tac airport, which will be a godsend to weary travelers in search of some distraction during long flights.
Elliott Bay Book Company Arrives at Sea-Tac Airport
Elliott Bay Book Company http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz42105343 in Seattle, Wash., has opened a bookstore in Sea-Tac Airport http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz42105344 in association with the Hudson Group. The store is located in Concourse C and features staff picks, bestsellers and plenty of books by writers from Seattle and the greater Pacific Northwest.
The Hudson Group has launched similar airport ventures with other indie bookstores, including Vroman's in Pasadena, Calif., Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, Colo., and Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tenn. Hudson has locations in more than 80 airports and transportation hubs around the U.S.
I love it when cats speak out via their human servants, LOL. This looks like a fun bit of advice from a Hawaiian kitty.
Advice from a Bookstore Cat
Posted on Facebook by Talk Story Bookstore http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz42105362, Hanapepe, Hawaii: "Dear All Bookstore Cats: If I 'Meow' ten times while my servant is dealing with our customers, I get carried to the back room to have my lunch. It always works. I don't even need to walk there anymore. Try it--trust me, it works."
This is a great idea that I wish more coffee or tea stands would adopt. It would save on so much plastic/cardboard waste from mugs and stirring straws.
Cool Idea of the Day: 'Travel Mug Library'
Canadian bookseller NovelTea Bookstore Café http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz42105367 in Truro, N.S., is launching a "new 'Travel Mug Library! We are asking our customers to bring us a few of the many travel mugs that so many of us have stored in our cupboards. Our NovelTea team will then inspect, wash & sanitize them, and then the various travel mugs will be available for our customers to borrow as needed, and hopefully return--so that each mug can be used again and again!"This new initiative is in addition to: dine-in option with washable cups, plates and cutlery; 5% discount for bringing your own reusable travel mug with you; encouraging customers to bring their own reusable take-out containers; offering compostable cutlery, take-out containers and trays; offering a great selection of reusable straws, and cups for purchase #ReduceSingleUseOctober." 
I totally agree with Tom Mole here. Nothing can replace an actual bookstore for enjoyment

Quotation of the Day
"Bookshops are machines for serendipity--opportunities to discover the books you didn't know you wanted. The algorithmic recommendations served up by online booksellers can't compete with the pleasure of finding something unexpected on the shelves of a bookshop, reading a dozen pages standing up and knowing, as you shift your weight from foot to foot, that you've got to take it home. And no online search engine can match the knowledge of booksellers, who have an almost superhuman ability to locate the book you're looking for, even if you can only remember the color of the cover.... Whether we think of bookshops as places we can escape the pressures of the world, or spaces in which to imagine its transformation, a world without them would be infinitely poorer."--Tom Mole, author of The Secret Life of Books, in a column for The Big Issue.
Queen Bee by Dorothea Benton Frank is the last book published by the author, who died recently. I decided to pick up a copy in memory of other books of hers that I'd read and enjoyed in the past. Unfortunately, this book was a "paint by the numbers" cliche-ridden tome that fulfilled every trope about Southern women and romance novels that exists. That said, there were still the funny, weird/quirky and warm characters that Frank is known for, they just were given a tired script to work with. Though Frank employs a Southern take on transvestite and transgender men who become drag queens, I found the motivations of the female characters to be murky and half-hearted when it came to accepting those on the LBGTQ spectrum. Here's the blurb: 
Beekeeper Holly McNee Jensen quietly lives in a world of her own on Sullivans Island, tending her hives and working at the local island library. Holly calls her mother The Queen Bee because she’s a demanding hulk of a woman. Her mother, a devoted hypochondriac, might be unaware that she’s quite ill but that doesn’t stop her from tormenting Holly. To escape the drama, Holly’s sister Leslie married and moved away, wanting little to do with island life. Holly’s escape is to submerge herself in the lives of the two young boys next door and their widowed father, Archie.
Her world is upended when the more flamboyant Leslie returns and both sisters, polar opposites, fixate on what’s happening in their neighbor’s home. Is Archie really in love with that awful ice queen of a woman? If Archie marries her, what will become of his little boys? Restless Leslie is desperate for validation after her imploded marriage, squandering her favors on any and all takers. Their mother ups her game in an uproarious and theatrical downward spiral. Scandalized Holly is talking to her honey bees a mile a minute, as though they’ll give her a solution to all the chaos. Maybe they will.
Queen Bee is a classic Lowcountry Tale—warm, wise and hilarious, it roars with humanity and a dropperful of whodunit added for good measure by an unseen hand. In her twentieth novel, Dorothea Benton Frank brings us back to her beloved island with an unforgettable story where the Lowcountry magic of the natural world collides with the beat of the human heart.
I found the mother's falling in love with a heterosexual transvestite man who likes to dress as a pirate somewhat disingenuous, and Holly's total domination by her cruel mother (who suddenly becomes lovely and kind when she falls in love with the pirate, who they keep mentioning is ex-military, for some reason) and shy caregiving of the mother and loutish neighbor and his children also rang false, or a bit too good to be true, with me. The prose was smooth, but the plot was much too easy and the characters much too stereotypical for my taste. Still,  I'd give the book a B, and recommend it to fans of DBF's other works.
Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes is a YA science fiction novel recommended on a Barnes and Noble list of new  and diverse YA fiction that you should read. Because I always think there is room for diversity of every kind in science fiction and fantasy, I picked it up at the library, and though the prose was a bit too amateurish for my tastes, I'm glad that I read it. Here's the blurb:
A hilarious, offbeat debut space opera that skewers everything from pop culture to video games and features an irresistible foul-mouthed captain and her motley crew, strange life forms, exciting twists, and a galaxy full of fun and adventure. 
Captain Eva Innocente and the crew of La Sirena Negra cruise the galaxy delivering small cargo for even smaller profits. When her sister Mari is kidnapped by The Fridge, a shadowy syndicate that holds people hostage in cryostasis, Eva must undergo a series of unpleasant, dangerous missions to pay the ransom.
But Eva may lose her mind before she can raise the money. The ship’s hold is full of psychic cats, an amorous fish-faced emperor wants her dead after she rejects his advances, and her sweet engineer is giving her a pesky case of feelings. The worse things get, the more she lies, raising suspicions and testing her loyalty to her found family.
To free her sister, Eva will risk everything: her crew, her ship, and the life she’s built on the ashes of her past misdeeds. But when the dominoes start to fall and she finds the real threat is greater than she imagined, she must decide whether to play it cool or burn it all down.
SPOILER ALERT: It didn't surprise me at all that Eva's sister Mari actually staged her kidnapping herself, as she's some kind of intergalactic spy, but I was surprised by how easy it seemed for Eva to forgive her after all her lies and deceit get Eva and her crew into trouble. Her weird boyfriend Vakar seems like a bizarre choice, but apparently Eva has a translator that tells her how he's feeling by how he smells, so readers are regaled in every chapter with a run down of what he smells like, which becomes tedious after the first few times, especially since the author seems to have a penchant for the smell of licorice. The so called psychic cats really don't do much but sit on people's laps and purr, or hiss at those they don't like. They don't seem to have any real stake in the plot, nor do they show any psychic powers other than once at the outset of the tale. That said, this is a farcical story that is a fun distraction if you like science fiction/romance hybrids. My only other problem with this book is that the author doesn't translate the Spanish language phrases or chapter titles used throughout the book. So I'd give this novel a B-, and recommend it to anyone fluent in Spanish who also likes science fiction and female protagonists.
Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is the third book in the Beautiful Creatures series, and probably the last book of theirs that I will read. The main male protagonist, Ethan, is just too sexist, possessive and whiny for me to read any more about his obsessive love of  magical "caster" girl Lena. I know it's set in the South, and that prejudice and discrimination and sexism run deep there, however, since this book is fantasy, and the authors female, they could have overthrown those tropes and made the female characters who have their own agency seem more than pitiful weaklings brought down by the powerful male magic workers and their evil female counterparts. Because if you have a handle on your abilities, and you aren't fawning over a guy, then of course you must be evil! Here's the blurb:
Ethan Wate thought he was getting used to the strange, impossible events happening in Gatlin, his small Southern town. But now that Ethan and Lena have returned home, strange and impossible have taken on new meanings. Swarms of locusts, record-breaking heat, and devastating storms ravage Gatlin as Ethan and Lena struggle to understand the impact of Lena's Claiming. Even Lena's family of powerful Supernaturals is affected - and their abilities begin to dangerously misfire. As time passes, one question becomes clear: What - or who - will need to be sacrificed to save Gatlin?
For Ethan, the chaos is a frightening but welcome distraction. He's being haunted in his dreams again, but this time it isn't by Lena - and whatever is haunting him is following him out of his dreams and into his everyday life. Even worse, Ethan is gradually losing pieces of himself - forgetting names, phone numbers, even memories. He doesn't know why, and most days he's too afraid to ask.
Sometimes there isn't just one answer or one choice. Sometimes there's no going back. And this time there won't be a happy ending.
SPOILER, it becomes clear about halfway through the book that Ethan is going to have to sacrifice himself to save his hometown and all his family and friends from total annihilation. What's sad is that by that point, I was actually hoping for his demise, because Ethan and his newly-incubus-powered douchebag friend Link are such jerks that they're almost unbearable. All either thinks about is having sex with the caster girls they're "in love" with, and readers are treated to yet another sexist description of how little they wear and how "third degree burn hot" they are. Yuck. I struggled to finish this YA book, because it was redundant and boring, with the characters frittering away their time on stupid romance cliches. While the prose is decent, the plot is too simplistic, and you can see the ending coming a mile away. I'd give this Southern paranormal fantasy novel a C+, and only recommend it to those who have read the first two books. 
Will my Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions From Tiny Mortals About Death, by Caitlin Doughty is a somewhat macabre non fiction book filled with gallows humor and a lot of interesting information on death and dead bodies. It's Q&A format keeps the chapters focused, on topic and fascinating, even if you're a bit squeamish. Here's the blurb: 
Best-selling author and mortician Caitlin Doughty answers real questions from kids about death, dead bodies, and decomposition. 
Every day, funeral director Caitlin Doughty receives dozens of questions about death. The best questions come from kids. What would happen to an astronaut’s body if it were pushed out of a space shuttle? Do people poop when they die? Can Grandma have a Viking funeral?
In Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?, Doughty blends her mortician’s knowledge of the body and the intriguing history behind common misconceptions about corpses to offer factual, hilarious, and candid answers to thirty-five distinctive questions posed by her youngest fans. In her inimitable voice, Doughty details lore and science of what happens to, and inside, our bodies after we die. Why do corpses groan? What causes bodies to turn colors during decomposition? And why do hair and nails appear longer after death? Readers will learn the best soil for mummifying your body, whether you can preserve your best friend’s skull as a keepsake, and what happens when you die on a plane.
Beautifully illustrated by Dianné Ruz, Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? shows us that death is science and art, and only by asking questions can we begin to embrace it.
Turns out that cats (and dogs) will eventually eat their owners if they are hungry enough and haven't been fed their kibble for awhile. The questions, though somewhat morbid, are all answered with good humor and sincerity by Doughty, with odd illustrations of an Asian girl and an Asian skeleton are presented at the beginning of each chapter, for some reason that I couldn't discern. But I think what Doughty is doing here is important, in that she's trying to de-stigmatize death and help children (and adults) come to terms with the end of life that is part and parcel of being mortal. Her witty answers to each question keep the book from getting too gross or dark, so it keeps the attention of the reader all the way through. While it's short (200 pages) its well worth the price for Doughty's charming walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I'd give it an A, and I would recommend this book to anyone who wonders about what happens to our bodies after death, and those who are looking for frank discussions of some end of life choices.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

The Snow Sister movie, War of the Worlds TV series, Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, His Dark Materials TV series, Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Wonderland edited by Marie O Regan and Paul Kane, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow and Stormrise by Jillian Boehme


Happy Tuesday on this brisk autumn day! I am going to try to get this blog post completed before I have to attend book group tonight, so I'm going to forgo my usual ramblings and get right into the tidbits from Shelf Awareness, followed by the reviews.
This looks like a fascinating book and movie, so I am looking forward to it's debut/premier.
Movies: The Snow Sister
Anonymous Content's "fledgling Nordic division is teaming up with popular Norwegian author Maja Lunde" on a film version of her children's book The Snow Sister http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz42018262, which will be published this fall "in more than 25 territories from 20 international publishing houses," Deadline reported. The novel was published in Norway last October by Kagge Forlag.
Lunde will adapt her novel for the screen. Her books "have been translated into 36 languages and her debut novel, The History of Bees (2015), was a significant hit, selling to several territories before Norwegian publication," Deadline wrote. Her recent screenplays include the Netflix acquisition Battle.
I think that setting this new version of War of the Worlds in a time period closer to when it was written is a brilliant idea. I also think placing it in England is a wonderful idea, and the cast list is superb. This is another series that I will look forward to viewing.
TV: War of the Worlds
The BBC has released the first trailer for its reboot of War of the Worlds http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz42050435, based on the classic novel by H.G. Wells, Deadline reported. Filmed in Liverpool, the series was adapted by Peter Harness (Wallander) and directed by Craig Viveiros (And Then There Were None).
The cast includes Rafe Spall (The Big Short), Eleanor Tomlinson (Poldark), Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting) and Rupert Graves (Sherlock). Deadline noted that this is "the first adaptation set in Edwardian England, rather than America, and follows George, played by Spall, and his partner Amy, played by Tomlinson as they attempt to defy society and start a life together against the escalating terror of an alien invasion. Graves plays George's older brother Frederick, while Carlyle stars as Ogilvy, an astronomer and scientist."
 I loved The Night Circus, so I was thrilled when I read that Morgenstern had written another book that will be out this month. I can hardly wait to read it, though finding money for books right now is difficult, as we're in a financial pinch in my household. Still, I know the universe will manage to miracle a copy to me, eventually.
Book Review
The Starless Sea
In her first novel in eight years, Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus) weaves a sprawling, ambitious spell of a story in which a young man becomes caught up in a centuries-old secret world of hidden archives, thwarted love and forces beyond human comprehension.
As a grad student in emerging media studies, Zachary Ezra Rawlins feels guilty about spending his winter break on pleasure reading rather than playing video games. When he takes out an uncatalogued book, Sweet Sorrows, from the university library, he reads about lovelorn pirates, the star-crossed romance of Time and Fate, and the rites of ancient orders dedicated to guarding a vast underground library on the shores of a mysterious sea. He also finds a short chapter about his own childhood, detailing a time when he unwittingly walked away from a chance to enter this secret world, and it perplexes and scares him. Determined to understand how a book written before his birth could chronicle his life, Zachary goes on a quest to track down its origins. His search leads him to a costumed ball where he meets elegant, pink-haired Mirabel and compelling, roguish Dorian. He's swept into a world where a door painted onto a wall can open, the Moon can take human form, and owls serve a shadowy monarch. Zachary searches for a way to protect a Harbor on the Starless Sea, a labyrinthine story repository filled with puzzles, secret rooms and the best room service in any world.
Thoughtful, slightly awkward Zachary makes a perfect every-reader, with his desire to take part in stories and his sympathetic nostalgia for the Choose Your Own Adventure novels. Morgenstern delivers more of the lush, lavish prose passages that made readers fall in love with The Night Circus, creating elaborate scenes that include a sprawling dollhouse landscape, a perpetual party set in a pocket universe outside time and an ocean made of honey. In a narrative of enormous scope and scale, Morgenstern takes slow, painstaking care in assembling the story's components behind fairy tale sleight-of-hand. Readers should enter her world prepared to spend a large portion of the experience combing for clues in short, metafictive fables written in a romantic, whimsical style reminiscent of the Flax-Golden Tales on the author's website.
While the plot takes its time coming together, the journey is nothing short of magical, like a fantastical, delirious dream that makes awakening back to reality a disappointment. Set aside a few quiet hours to devour this opulent feast. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
I'm also looking forward to this new adaptation of His Dark Materials series, which I loved reading, and will be keen to see on the screen.
TV: His Dark Materials
HBO released the official trailer for His Dark Materials http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz42079391, a TV series adaptation of Philip Pullman's fantasy novel trilogy, "and it looks quite--for lack of a better word--epic," IndieWire reported.
The inaugural season covers the story of the first book, Northern Lights (a.k.a. The Golden Compass). The cast includes Dafne Keen, James McAvoy and Ruth Wilson.
"I thought it was time for the books to be liberated in a space that could do them justice," executive producer Jane Tranter had said during a Comic-Con panel. IndieWire noted that the adaptation "has already seen success prior to airing: The series has been renewed for a second season, which is currently being filmed. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Andrew Scott (as live-action cast), as well as Helen McCrory and Cristela Alonzo (as voice cast for dæmons) are also among some of the stars in the ensemble cast for this upcoming epic, a joint BBC and HBO production."His Dark Materials premieres November 3 on BBC and November 4 on HBO.
Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is the sequel (and second book in the series) to Beautiful Creatures, which I read last month. The authors prose is evocative, if somewhat riddled with Southern dialect, and the plot, though meandering, does make its way to the end in a purposeful, if not swift, manner. My strongest problem with these two novels is that there is a pervasive sexism in the way that women/girls are portrayed in this book (unless they're old, then they are allowed their own power/agency). The young a pretty girls are all drawn as stupid, "slutty" and mean, or, if they are a "good" character, then they're weak and confused, trying to be a martyr and/or in dire need of rescue by the male protagonists, Ethan and Link, who are also stereotypically portrayed as overly hormonal, possessive and reckless teenage boys. The way these boys talk about the girls and themselves in sexist terms is rather nauseating, and abusive, in the case of John, a new character who uses Lena's vulnerable and confused state against her, and out of misplaced guilt, she almost dies of it. Here's the blurb: Ethan Wate used to think of Gatlin, the small Southern town he had always called home, as a place where nothing ever changed. Then he met mysterious newcomer Lena Duchannes, who revealed a secret world that had been hidden in plain sight all along. A Gatlin that harbored ancient secrets beneath its moss-covered oaks and cracked sidewalks. A Gatlin where a curse has marked Lena's family of powerful Supernaturals for generations. A Gatlin where impossible, magical, life-altering events happen. Sometimes life-ending.

Together they can face anything Gatlin throws at them, but after suffering a tragic loss, Lena starts to pull away, keeping secrets that test their relationship. And now that Ethan's eyes have been opened to the darker side of Gatlin, there's no going back. Haunted by strange visions only he can see, Ethan is pulled deeper into his town's tangled history and finds himself caught up in the dangerous network of underground passageways endlessly crisscrossing the South, where nothing is as it seems. 
Though I know we're supposed to think Ethan is the ultimate in romantic boyfriends, I found him, in both books, to be immature and overly possessive/obsessed with Lena, to the point that he doesn't let "no" mean no, and continues to stalk her after she's told him to go away. His idea of "love" is abusive IMO, and I am surprised that the authors would allow this kind of relationship to be highlighted. The "rescue" of the female protagonist is also a cliche that doesn't need perpetuating in modern YA literature. There are also tons of redundancies in every chapter. The authors seem to feel the need to summarize what has happened previously over and over again, as if someone with dementia was reading the novel. Still, I'd give this book a C+, and recommend it to anyone who has read the previous book, and who plans to read the third book in the series.
Wonderland, edited by Marie O'Regan and Paul Kane is an anthology of stories based in the world of the classic fantasy Alice in Wonderland. There were only two authors whose stories I wanted to read in this book, The White Queen's Pawn by Genevieve Cogman and Temp Work by Lilith Saintcrow. Having read many books by both authors I wasn't disappointed in either story, though Cogman's was more horror-oriented than Saintcrows. Still, it was nice to read something that was outside of their usual fantasy books/series, and I'd recommend this anthology for that alone. I would give these two stories As, but with the caveat that I didn't want to read the other stories by unknown authors, because I dislike reading works that aren't as well written as authors whose works are well known to me.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow was one of the rare books that I read on my Kindle Fire as an e-book. I am not really a fan of ebooks, because they're difficult to look back on, to quote or check on the ending, or anything else, plus it's hard for me to read from a screen for long periods of time without my eyes blurring. It's also difficult to erase them, so if you don't like a book you can't just take it back to the library or donate it. It's there to haunt you forever. Still, while this was an interesting book, I am glad that I didn't spend more than $10 on it, because it wasn't as well written as I'd hoped, nor was the story as cohesive as I would have liked it to be. Here's the blurb:
In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Lush and richly imagined, a tale of impossible journeys, unforgettable love, and the enduring power of stories awaits in Alix E. Harrow's spellbinding debut--step inside and discover its magic.

For some reason, the author skips POV from chapter to chapter, to tell the story of the protagonist's (January) mother and father, and their love that is so encompassing that it obliterates the mother's love (and fathers) for their infant daughter (or at least makes it a secondary concern). I found this to be reprehensible, not romantic at all, and while they both seem to feel bad about it, they also expect their daughter to understand and forgive their bad choices that adversely effected her life. I really didn't feel any sympathy at all for either parent, as they left their child in the hands of a monster and his monsterous minions. I would have preferred to have just read January's story, and I believe the whole plot would have felt less patchwork and hard to follow if Harrow had done this. The prose was a bit redundant and slow in spots, but the characters were very well fleshed out, though they weren't as sympathetic as I would have liked. I'd give this book a B-, and recommend it to anyone who is interested in time travel of the old fashioned, hardscrabble variety.  
Stormrise by Jillian Boehme is a YA fantasy along the lines of Disney's Mulan, about a young Chinese woman who pretends to be a boy in order to join the military and fight for her family and her country. Here's the blurb:
A combat warrior will risk everything to awaken the dragons and save her kingdom in Jillian Boehme's epic YA Fantasy debut, Stormrise, inspired by Twelfth Night and perfect for fans of Tamora Pierce.
If Rain weren’t a girl, she would be respected as a Neshu combat master. Instead, her gender dooms her to a colorless future. When an army of nomads invades her kingdom, and a draft forces every household to send one man to fight, Rain takes her chance to seize the life she wants.
Knowing she’ll be killed if she’s discovered, Rain purchases powder made from dragon magic that enables her to disguise herself as a boy. Then she hurries to the war camps, where she excels in her training―and wrestles with the voice that has taken shape inside her head. The voice of a dragon she never truly believed existed.
As war looms and Rain is enlisted into an elite, secret unit tasked with rescuing the High King, she begins to realize this dragon tincture may hold the key to her kingdom’s victory. For the dragons that once guarded her land have slumbered for centuries . . . and someone must awaken them to fight once more.
I have to admit that at first I kept hearing Donny Osmonds "I'll Make a Man Out of You" from Mulan as the background music during the first few chapters of the book and while Rain/Storm trains with the other warriors. Eventually, though, the story became more complex and the music faded as I was engrossed in Rain's life and her dilemna of falling in love with her sister's intended (they'd never met, due to arranged marriages common at the time) while still trying to maintain her secret as a female in a male military unit, where discovery is punishable by death. Though I found the prose delicious and the plot swift, I was unhappy with the extreme sexism of the Chinese culture portrayed in the book, though I realize it is historically accurate. Women really were seen as only valuable as wives/mothers who were completely subservient to men and considered weak and ignorant to boot. I also didn't understand Rain's forgiveness or kindness toward Sedge, the antagonist who tries to rape and kill her, yet when he finally dies she's devastated. I think he deserved a far worse fate than what was meted out to him. Still, this was a rousing tale of dragons and battle that reminded me a great deal of Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness series. I'd give it an A, and recommend it to those who like female-driven adventure and heroism. 


Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Burton to Host NBA, Incorruptible by Lilith Saintcrow, The Nightjar by Deborah Hewett, Home for Erring and Outcast Girls by Julie Kibler and the Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin


Welcome to October and autumn, my favorite time of year. The air is cool and crisp, the trees are in their beautiful fall colors and we are heading for the holidays, which I love, including my husband and son's birthdays in November and my birthday in December. Unfortunately, September and October are also the start of flu season, and my household has been infected for the past three weeks. I've had to go to the ER at St Elizabeth's for breathing treatments and antibiotics and the dreaded cortisone shot. Still, I am finally feeling better, and am now able to stay upright long enough to update this blog with reviews of all the books I've read while I was sick in bed. 
I have always been a fan of Burtons, since my family and I watched him in Roots, and I watched him on Reading Rainbow. I think it's fantastic that he is hosting the NBAs.
LeVar Burton to Host National Book Awards
Actor and host of Reading Rainbow LeVar Burton will be the master of ceremonies for the National Book Awards http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz41986164 on November 20 in New York City. At the awards, the winners in five categories will be announced, and lifetime achievement awards will be presented to writer Edmund White and to American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher.
Burton is probably best known for his roles as chief engineer Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation TV and film series and as the young Kunta Kinte in the original TV miniseries of Roots. He was the host and executive producer of Reading Rainbow, which aired from 1983 to 2009, one of the longest-running children's TV shows and winner of more than 200 awards, including multiple Emmys and a Peabody.
In 2012, Burton launched RRKidz, a digital educational publishing company, which now holds global rights to Reading Rainbow in a partnership with series creator WNED/Buffalo. Reading Rainbow has relaunched for a new generation of children, especially to classrooms in need, and through Skybrary, a digital online reading service, and Skybrary School, for teachers and students, he continues to promote the joys and benefits of reading.
In his new podcast, LeVar Burton Reads, he chooses a favorite piece of short fiction and performs it. He is currently touring the country with a live version of the podcast.
Burton is the recipient of 13 Emmy Awards, a Grammy and five NAACP Awards. As the National Book Foundation put it, he "has demonstrated in his career that he can do it all--acting, directing, producing, writing and speaking.... with millions of fans throughout the world, Burton continues his mission to inspire, educate and entertain."
Incorruptible by Lilith Saintcrow is, I believe, a stand alone novel (vs part of one of her many great series books) that infiltrates and expands on the angel legends to create a world in which a young waitress finds herself on the run from demons sent to kill her while she's protected by a military angel ala the original "Terminator" movie. 
Having read most everything that Saintcrow has written, I was assured of excellent prose, great storytelling and a swift plot, but it's the characters that really sell this particular slender volume, from the "incorruptible" Jenna, who thinks she's cursed and is cowed by her abusive ex boyfriend to the huge Legionnaire (read: angel) soldier,  Michael, sent to protect and keep her safe, these are people who feel full bodied and unforgettable. Their cross country adventure reads like an action movie on steroids. Here's the blurb:
Jenna Delacroix is determined to keep her life as simple as possible. Maybe if she tries hard enough to be normal the nightmares and strange occurrences plaguing her all her life will finally recede. But then the monsters arrive—and with them, the man who says he's her protector.
Lonely and disciplined, Michael Gabon is just a grunt in the Legion's endless war, but now he's stumbled across something special—a living, breathing Incorruptible, the first one he's seen in more decades than he can count. She's also being hunted. And now, so is he.
On the run without backup, the diaboli haunting their trail, their only hope is working together. Even that might not be enough, because the unclean seem to know more than they should. Whether it's treachery or bad luck doesn't matter to Michael. The only thing he cares about is seeing his Incorruptible safe...
…no matter who--or what--he has to kill.
Though there is only one romantic scene in the book, I felt that the romance between the protagonists was a strong through-line in the short 270 pages, and I was left hoping for more interaction by the end. However, due to how tightly woven the story is, I don't think Saintcrow could have fit more into the narrative without it seeming gratuitous. I'd give this enjoyable page turner an A, and recommend it to anyone who is interested in urban angel fantasy.
The Nightjar by Deborah Hewett was a book I was certain that I would like, because it had so many characteristics that I look for in a good read, ie female protagonist, magic, various kinds of people imbued with different magical talents, a quest or mystery of some kind, and a British background. I also always want good prose and excellent storytelling, of course, and a strong plot. Unfortunately, this book, which looked good from the outset, turned into a pumpkin within a chapter or two, and a moldering one at that. My first problem with it was that the protagonist was clumsy and stupid, and while that can be endearing if she grows and gets more savvy as the plot moves forward, our reluctant orphaned heroine Alice remains an idiot who puts herself and everyone around her in danger over and over again. She never learns from her mistakes and seems to take pride in her stubborn ignorance and rash, ridiculous actions. She's also immature, petulant and seems more than willing to overlook her 'protectors' lies and deceit for his looks and sex appeal, even when it gets her friends killed. Ugh. Here's the blurb:
The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt is a stunning contemporary fantasy debut about another London, a magical world hidden behind the bustling modern city we know.
Alice Wyndham has been plagued by visions of birds her whole life...until the mysterious Crowley reveals that Alice is an ‘aviarist’: capable of seeing nightjars, magical birds that guard human souls. When her best friend is hit by a car, only Alice can find and save her nightjar.
With Crowley’s help, Alice travels to the Rookery, a hidden, magical alternate London to hone her newfound talents. But a faction intent on annihilating magic users will stop at nothing to destroy the new aviarist. And is Crowley really working with her, or against her? Alice must risk everything to save her best friend―and uncover the strange truth about herself.
SPOILER alert, Crowley is a complete asshat who is only using Alice to get his sister's nightjar back, yet she still falls for him and seems to trust him when it's obvious that she should not. Though the prose was decent, I found the plot to be meandering and confusing, and, as previously stated, I hated the main characters, who were either too stupid to live or evil scumbags with their own agendas for using Alice's talents and heritage. Even the London setting seemed dilapidated and dull. I wish I hadn't purchased this book and wasted money on it, but at least now I know that I won't be wasting money on any of Hewett's other volumes. I'd give this book a C, and only recommend it to those who like bird-brained heroines who bungle everything.
Home for Erring and Outcast Girls by Julie Kibler is a story based on true events/places/people in turn of the century Texas. I didn't expect to like this story of the hard lives of drug addicted prostitutes and unwed mothers who find a home in a religious institution in Texas, but in the end the characters and their tales were irresistible. Kibler's prose is sturdy and yet manages to be lyrical at the same time, and her plot marches along at a metered pace that is not too fast or slow. Here's the blurb: In turn-of-the-20th century Texas, the Berachah Home for the Redemption and Protection of Erring Girls is an unprecedented beacon of hope for young women consigned to the dangerous poverty of the streets by birth, circumstance, or personal tragedy. Built in 1903 on the dusty outskirts of Arlington, a remote dot between Dallas and Fort Worth’s red-light districts, the progressive home bucks public opinion by offering faith, training, and rehabilitation to prostitutes, addicts, unwed mothers, and “ruined” girls without forcibly separating mothers from children. When Lizzie Bates and Mattie McBride meet there—one sick and abused, but desperately clinging to her young daughter, the other jilted by the beau who fathered her ailing son—they form a friendship that will see them through unbearable loss, heartbreak, difficult choices, and ultimately, diverging paths.
A century later, Cate Sutton, a reclusive university librarian, uncovers the hidden histories of the two troubled women as she stumbles upon the cemetery on the home’s former grounds and begins to comb through its archives in her library. Pulled by an indescribable connection, what Cate discovers about their stories leads her to confront her own heartbreaking past, and to reclaim the life she thought she'd let go forever. With great pathos and powerful emotional resonance, Home for Erring and Outcast Girls explores the dark roads that lead us to ruin, and the paths we take to return to ourselves. 
I was surprised at the number of women who were drug addicted at this time in history, and the way that the home helped them through withdrawl to start a clean life with their babies. This is something that you don't generally read about when you read about homes for unwed mothers. My only real problem with this book was the that the modern day chapters related from the POV of Cate, weren't as powerful or interesting as the lives of the women in the Berachah home. I'm also confused as to the outcome of Cate's pregnancy....we never learn what happened to her baby, if she gave it up or if the girl that she helps is actually her daughter? Yet Lizzie and Mattie's stories are so much more vivid that they make up for the weak modern day storyline, somehow. I'd give this book a B, and recommend it to anyone who is interested in real women's history at the turn of the 20th century. 
The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin is subtitled "A novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel, and that is basically what it is about, the long term feud and hatred between these two famed fashion mavens, particularly during the time before WWII when they dueled in their Paris fashion salons. Here's the blurb: An American woman becomes entangled in the intense rivalry between iconic fashion designers Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli in this captivating novel.

Paris, 1938. Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli are fighting for recognition as the most successful and influential fashion designer in France, and their rivalry is already legendary. They oppose each other at every turn, in both their politics and their designs: Chanel’s are classic, elegant, and practical; Schiaparelli’s bold, experimental, and surreal.
When Lily Sutter, a recently widowed young American teacher, visits her brother, Charlie, in Paris, he insists on buying her a couture dress—a Chanel. Lily, however, prefers a Schiaparelli. Charlie’s beautiful and socially prominent girlfriend soon begins wearing Schiaparelli’s designs as well, and much of Paris follows in her footsteps.
Schiaparelli offers budding artist Lily a job at her store, and Lily finds herself increasingly involved with Schiaparelli and Chanel’s personal war. Their fierce competition reaches new and dangerous heights as the Nazis and the looming threat of World War II bear down on Paris.
Because this story was about real women and actual events, I was riveted from the first page onward. Not being a fashionista myself, I was not aware of the history of Chanel or Schiap, as she was called during the book, nor was I aware that, for example, Coco Chanel was a Nazi collaborator during WWII. Not being a fan of Chanel's classic clothing designs anyway (they're made for women without curves), I was heartened to read that Schiap designed clothing that was ahead of its time in whimsy and with unusual fabrics and sizes. Mackin's prose is clean and evocative while her plot is brisk and assured. I really wish that the author would have gone into what happened to Gogo, Schiap's daughter, however, as she's an important part of the fabric of the story. I'd give this winning book an A, and recommend it to anyone interested in iconic fashion.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

RIP Cokie Roberts and Jane Mead, Quote of the Day and Vintage 1954 by Antoine Laurain, The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire, The Eyes of Tamburah by Maria V Snyder, and Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl


This has been a rough week for the passing of journalists and actors. Actor Aron Eisenberg, who played Nog on Star Trek's Deep Space 9, died at the age of 50 just a couple of days ago. Cokie Roberts, award winning journalist and household name, also passed recently. With all the icons in music, TV, journalism and film passing away in the past few years, not to mention my own father passing this year, you would think I'd be somewhat acclimated to death by now...but you'd be wrong. I am terrible at grief, it hits me over and over like a bag of bricks in the gut. Still, I like to think that we all, even those of us not granted fame or fortune, leave an indelible mark on the earth before we die. I believe my legacy is found not just in my journalism career, but also in my son, Nick, who is the most amazing and wonderful person I know. Anyway, RIP Cokie Roberts.
Obituary Note: Cokie Roberts
Journalist and bestselling author Cokie Roberts http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz41897713, "who joined an upstart NPR in 1978 and left an indelible imprint on the growing network with her coverage of Washington politics before later going to ABC News," died September 17, NPR reported. She was 75. Roberts was one of NPR's "most recognizable voices and is considered one of a handful of pioneering female journalists--along with Nina Totenberg, Linda Wertheimer and Susan Stamberg--who helped shape the public broadcaster's sound and culture at a time when few women held prominent roles in journalism."
Roberts was the author of six books, mostly recently Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868, which examined the role of powerful women in the Civil War era. Her other titles include Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation; Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation; We Are Our Mothers' Daughters; and From This Day Forward (with husband Steven V. Roberts).
Roberts "grew up walking the halls of Congress" as the daughter of Thomas Hale Boggs Sr., a former Democratic majority leader of the House who served in Congress for more than three decades before dying in a plane crash in Alaska in 1972, NPR noted. Her mother, Lindy Claiborne Boggs, took her husband's seat and served for 17 years, and also served as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.
George Will, who worked with Roberts on ABC's This Week, said, "She liked people on both sides of the aisle and had friends on both sides of the aisle. If you don't like the game of politics, I don't see how you write about it well. She liked the game of politics and she understood that it was a game."
The New York Times reported that in a statement, Michelle and Barack Obama called Roberts "a trailblazing figure http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz41897714; a role model to young women at a time when the profession was still dominated by men; a constant over 40 years of a shifting media landscape and changing world, informing voters about the issues of our time and mentoring young journalists every step of the way."
Quotation of the Day
Indie Bookstores 'Stretch My Existing Notions of the World
"Indie bookstore are some of my favorite places in the world. Since high school I've always hung out in bookstores, exploring shelves, discovering things I would never have encountered through a web browser. I absolutely love the physical connection to books--holding them in my hands, talking with staff, reading the shelf-talkers. Indie bookstores have always been the place to not just find what I might like, but also what might challenge me and stretch my existing notions of the world."
--David Yoon whose novel Frankly in Love (Putnam Books for Young Readers) is a top choice for the Fall 2019 Kids Indie Next List  in a q&a with Bookselling This Week
 Another person passed who was a poet and co owner of Prairie Lights, one of the most famous bookstores in Iowa.
Obituary Note: Jane Mead
Jane Mead http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz41901518, poet and a co-owner of Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City, Iowa, died September 8, the Napa Valley Register reported. She was 61. Mead was the author of five books of poetry and a chapbook, all of which were collected in To the Wren: Collected and New Poems 1991-2019, published in August by Alice James Books.
In a tribute, Alice James wrote http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz41901520: "We are deeply saddened by the passing of our dear Jane Mead. Her life was all too brief, and already we feel the loss of her presence among us acutely. What Jane gave us was an extraordinary gift. Her work expanded our poetic philosophy, as she sought to write within, around, and into the certainty of uncertainty, the mystery of our being and our relationship to the natural world. She demonstrated a careful and abiding love for the land and its creatures in her life and work. Her poetry transformed the landscape of American letters, exemplifying what the very best of our craft could achieve.
"A private soul and one known to delight as much in solitude as time spent with dear friends, we see the way Mead's quiet tenacity influences and shapes our desires for living a life of observation, contemplation, and sincerity.... We miss her greatly. We love her dearly. We are utterly changed by her always. Thank you, Jane."
Mead's books include The Lord and the General Din of the World (1996), The House of Poured-Out Waters (2001), The Usable Field (2008), Money Money Money Water Water Water (2014), and World of Made and Unmade (2016).
"An ardent advocate for the writing and reading life," Mead was also co-owner http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz41901521, along with poet Jan Weissmiller, of Prairie Lights, which celebrated its 40th birthday recently, the Register noted.
Vintage 1954 by Antoine Laurain is a saucy French romantic comedy novel (with a bit of fantasy/science fiction woven into the plot) that is short (about 200 pages) and as delicious as a flute of chilled champagne. Though it's translated from French to English, the translator has managed to keep the novel's French spirit completely intact, as we watch the alluring characters and wild situations unfold. Here's the blurb: Delightfully nostalgic escapism set in a gorgeously conjured Paris of 1954
When Hubert Larnaudie invites some fellow residents of his Parisian apartment building to drink an exceptional bottle of 1954 Beaujolais, he has no idea of its special properties.
The following morning, Hubert finds himself waking up in 1950s Paris, as do antique restorer Magalie, mixologist Julien, and Airbnb tenant Bob from Milwaukee, who's on his first trip to Europe. After their initial shock, the city of Edith Piaf and An American in Paris begins to work its charm on them. The four delight in getting to know the French capital during this iconic period, whilst also playing with the possibilities that time travel allows. But, ultimately, they need to work out how to get back to 2017, and time is of the essence...
The prose is effervescent and rich with details of Paris in the 50s, while the plot, predictable as it is, moves along with alacrity. Being American, I was particularly thrilled with the references to various American TV shows and motorcycles, and I loved how innocent American Bob was, and his wish for his wife to get better. If you're looking for a sweet beach read, or even one for a rainy afternoon in September, this should fit the bill nicely. I'd give it an A, and recommend it to anyone who is interested in a short and satisfying read.
The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire is the 13th novel in her urban fantasy October Daye series. though I have had a couple of problems with the main character, Toby the changeling's vomiting (and not eating regularly) in the past, I must say that in this book she only throws up once, and that is due to seasickness, which is perfectly understandable. She does, however, get stabbed and shot and beaten a few times, so the bloody part of her heroics (and her compatriots lack of effort in helping keep her from being stabbed in the back) remains a strong part of the plot. That said, there were more helpers making a difference here than in past books, and the fact that some of them were octopi wielding knives and tridents made this all the sweeter. Here's the blurb: Hundreds of years ago, the Selkies made a deal with the sea witch: they would have the sea for as long as she allowed it, and when the time came, she would call in all their debts at once. Many people assumed that day would never come. Those people were wrong.

When the Luidaeg—October "Toby" Daye's oldest and most dangerous ally—tells her the time has come for the Selkies to fulfill their side of the bargain, and that Toby must be a part of the process, Toby can't refuse. Literally. The Selkies aren't the only ones in debt to the Luidaeg, and Toby has to pay what she owes like anyone else. They will travel to the fabled Duchy of Ships and call a convocation of the Selkies, telling them to come and meet the Luidaeg's price...or face the consequences.

Of course, nothing is that simple. When Dianda Lorden's brother appears to arrest Dianda for treason against the Undersea, when a Selkie woman is stripped of her skin and then murdered, when everything is falling apart, that's when Toby will have to answer the real question of the hour. Is she going to sink? Or is she going to swim?
Toby comes up with a reasonable solution to all the problems set forth, however, I found the ending confusing and strange. SPOILER: I have questions! Are the Selkies still living on borrowed time? Are they going to be swimming with the Roane in mixed packs, or just sharing the sea? I enjoyed the peek into the world of the sea goddesses, but I found myself wondering when are we going to find the three fae god/goddesses responsible for all these messes that Toby ends up having to clean up, and when are they going to deal with all the havoc they've left in their wake, via their firstborns and their many grandchildren. Still, though the novel starts out a bit slow due to info dumping about what has gone on in the previous 12 books, the sterling prose gets things moving pretty quickly and then the plot takes off and never slows down until right before the somewhat messy ending. I'd give this book a B+ and recommend it to anyone who has read all the other October Daye books.
The Eyes of Tamburah by Maria V Snyder is the start of a new fantasy series that Snyder has published in Australia, which is why it took me about 6 weeks to procure a copy. I've read everything else that Snyder has written, though I loved her Poison Study series the best, probably because I read it first and fell in love with the wonderful characters. This book is something of a departure for Snyder, though it's still a fantasy set in a desert world similar to Dune or Aladdin. The dystopian civilization that the author has built is intricate and unusual, while not being so intrusive that it overwhelms the characters. Here's the blurb: Shyla is a researcher who resides in the underground desert city of Zirdai, which is rules by the wealthy Water Prince and brutal Heliacal Priestess. Even though Shyla is sun-kissed (an outcast from birth, considered cursed by the Sun Goddess) she is still renown for uncovering archaic facts, lost artifacts, ancient maps and obscure historical documents. Her quiet life is about to change when Banqui,an archaeologist, client and friend enlists her services to find the Eyes of Tamburah, legendary gemstones that bestow great magic on their wielder. These ancient objects can tip the balance of power and give whoever possesses them complete control of the city. But chaos erupts when the Eyes are stolen soon after they're found, and Shyla is blamed for the theft. Forced to flee, with the Princes soldiers and the Priestesses deacons on her trail, Shyla must must recover the jewels and clear her name, a quest that will unearth secrets more valuable than the Eyes themselves. 
While I enjoyed the colorful sands and unique animals (floating manatee like creatures that are tethered like furry balloons to the hot surface of the planet, and only come down by dumping gas from bags inside of them when it's cooler), I had a little problem with how cruel and harsh everyone but Shyla was, from the homeless population who try to kill her to the monks who won't help her without remuneration or tests of some kind (or her oath that she will become a monk and stay at the abbey, something she has no desire or intention of doing) to both sides of the political spectrum, with a vicious prince and a ruthless, cruel priestess who keep sending guards out to capture and kill her. Even the "good guys" of the Invisible Sword hold her hostage for a dozen days and torture her the whole time. I found it difficult to believe in a society that has no safe places, no places of refuge for a talented young woman. That said, Snyder's prose is as lush and elegant as ever, dancing along on a graceful plot that moves cautiously at first and then moves faster than a sandstorm. I'd give this new series an A, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys magical middle-eastern fantasy. 
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl is an entrancing YA Southern fantasy somewhat similar to Charlaine Harris' works with some Cassandra Clare mixed in for good measure. There's even some delightful reference to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. The author's prose is deep and delicious, while the plot has just the right amount of twists and turns to keep the reader's interest all the way through to the end. I couldn't put it down, once I started reading this hefty tome. Here's the blurb: 
Ethan Wate, a high school sophomore, plans to escape his small Southern town as soon as he can. Life has been difficult since his mother died; his father, a writer, has withdrawn into his study. Then Lena Duchannes arrives, and this strange new girl is the very one who has been occupying his dreams. She and her kin are Casters, beings who have supernatural powers. Getting to know her exposes Ethan to time travel, mortal danger, and love. The teens can hardly bear to be apart, but Lena's 16th birthday, when she will be Claimed for dark or light, is only 6 months away. To save her, they fight supernatural powers and the prejudice of closed-minded people. Yet, good and evil are not clearly delineated, nor are they necessarily at odds. In the Gothic tradition of Anne Rice, the authors evoke a dark, supernatural world in a seemingly simple town obsessed with Civil War reenactments and deeply loyal to its Confederate past. The intensity of Ethan and Lena's need to be together is palpable, the detailed descriptions create a vivid, authentic world, and the allure of this story is the power of love. The satisfying conclusion is sure to lead directly into a sequel. —Amy J. Chow, The Brearley School, New York City, for School Library Journal.
I agree that the style of these authors has the same allure and thrill as the Gothic romance of Anne Rice's Interview With a Vampire. I was spellbound by the creepy magical house and Lena's weird, scary relatives. Ethan's bizarre family, from his broken father to his friends who aren't really his friends, I was hooked from page one, eager to find out what happens next. In fact, I have the nest two books in the series on hold at the library. This meaty tome (565 pages) is well worth the time it takes to read it, and well worth an A. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Sookie Stackhouses stories via Charlaine Harris, or Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series. 


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Sunday, September 15, 2019

B&N Book Club's Pick, Quote of the Day, Paper Boat Booksellers Opens in West Seattle, Empire of Ruins and Island of Doom by Arthur Slade, The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs, The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee, and the Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins


Good day to everyone on this rainy Sunday afternoon. I am finally getting the blog updated after a roller coaster of a week of emotional and physical ups and downs. Throughout it all, however, I was able to enjoy some wonderful new books, some purchased online and others given by the new ASL librarian at the Maple Valley library during her annual talk for my book group. This young woman is now in charge of the MV, Covington, Black Diamond and Enumclaw libraries, so we were fortunate that she took the time to give us a list of books for consideration for next year's reading roster. She also brought a bin full of ARCs that we could sift through and keep, so I waddled over as fast as my cane would get me, and scooped up 6 preview copies of works that come out this fall or winter. Exciting! Anyway, here are some interesting tidbits from Shelf Awareness.
I can hardly wait to read this book, however, I think I will have to wait until the price goes down significantly before I invest in a copy.
B&N's September Book Club Pick: The Testaments
Barnes & Noble has chosen The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (Nan A. Talese, $28.95, 9780385543781) as its September national book club selection. The novel, which will be released tomorrow, will be the focus of a book club night at B&N stores around the country on Wednesday, October 9, at 7 p.m.
Liz Harwell, B&N's senior director of merchandising, trade books, said, "Margaret Atwood's much-anticipated sequel to the now classic The Handmaid's Tale takes readers back to Gilead 15 years later to follow three female characters, connected to Offred, living in the patriarchal totalitarian regime. We can't wait to put this book in the hands of readers and then invite them back to our stores to hear their reactions and insights to this landmark publication." For more information on the event, click here http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz41791336.
 Margaret Atwood is an amazing author, and famous for her snarky wit and wisdom. I totally agree with her sentiments on Amazon's "accidental" embargo violation.
Quotation of the Day
Atwood on Breaking the Embargo
"I think anybody putting an embargo in place in the future should attach a dollar amount. They should say if you violate the embargo, this is what it will cost you and that money will go to independent bookstores."
--Margaret Atwood on Amazon's violation of the embargo for her new novel, The Testaments (officially on sale today), in a BBC interview http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz41792963.
 I really wish that someone would drive me to West Seattle so that I could visit this new bookstore. It sounds delightful.
Paper Boat Booksellers Opens in West Seattle
Paper Boat Booksellers http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz41816195, a general-interest independent bookstore with titles for all ages, opens today in West Seattle, Wash. The 1,680-square-foot store has around 1,200 sq. ft. of selling space and carries all new books, along with a selection of sidelines including journals and toys.Store owners Desirae and Eric Judy had planned for a soft opening on Saturday but, due to a systems failure, had to postpone until today. The store's first event, an author talk with Nicole Meier (The Second Chance Supper Club) and Jennifer Gold (The Ingredients of Us), is scheduled for Friday evening, and will feature a discussion, book signing and "sweet treats." An official grand opening, meanwhile, will likely take place in late September or October.
The store made its debut as a pop-up shop in April, with the Judys setting up in a gift shop in West Seattle on Independent Bookstore Day. They signed their lease for a space on California Ave. in early May.
Empire of Ruins and Island of Doom by Arthur Slade are the 3rd and 4th books in his Hunchback Assignments series. The 4th book is the final one in the series, so, Slade ended it on a high note, with lots of resolutions for the characters and a solid breakup of the bad guys, AKA the Clockwork Guild organization. These steampunk adventures are fairly well written, without an ounce of fat or fluff on the plot to slow down the precision prose. They're short novels, weighing in under 300 pages, and the characters are well defined into black hats and white hats (Good vs Evil). The main character, Modo, is a steampunk version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame's Quasimodo, and his partners in spycraft are a young cockney thief saved from the streets, Octavia, and a Japanese/French young spy who becomes obsessed with Modo named Collette. There's Mr Socrates, an old British military man who heads up the PA group of covert operatives bound to save the Empire from the Clockwork Guild, and Tharpa, the Indian servant who teaches weapons and martial arts to the young spies. There's also Mrs Finchly who teaches acting to the spies, but she also acts as a surrogate mother to Modo. Here's the blurbs: Empire of Ruins: Secret agent Modo's next assignment? Find ancient Egyptian ruins hidden deep in the Australian jungle and the mysterious God Face, rumoured to be a powerful weapon—anyone who looks upon it will be driven mad. And he must find the God Face before the evil Clockwork Guild does! Island of Doom: After previous assignments in London, the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, and the Australian rain forest, this final adventure in the Hunchback Assignments series finds our hero, shape-shifting, masked spy Modo, on his most personal quest. Along with fellow spy Octavia Milkweed, they search for Modo's biological parents. But when the Clockwork Guild find Modo's parents first, Octavia and Modo chase them across Europe and North America to the Island of Doom. Joined by memorable characters from the first three books—some lovable, and some who are terrifying and evil—Modo and Octavia dash towards a thrilling conclusion.
Though I enjoyed these adventures I found Modo to be inordinately concerned with his looks, and how the young women, especially, are revolted by his disfigurement. Women in general are much more likely to overlook men's physical appearance in favor of their minds, or hearts or talents, and particularly the way that they treat women and children...if they are kind and generous and loving, (not violent or cruel or abusive) with a good heart and soul, and with enough money to support a family, a majority of women I know are very willing to love and attach themselves to men deemed "ugly" by physical appearance alone. Women tend to be much more vigorous in their own self hatred and critical of their every bodily flaw. You can see examples of this everywhere, in movies, TV and Hollywood in general, where there are numerous men that no one would call handsome who are attached to or married to beautiful women. So I found Modo's sidekicks, Colette and Octavia, to be cliched and stereotypical in how they behaved toward Modo, being nauseated by his face and yet fascinated by his talent for shapeshifting. They both also seemed somewhat stupid and clueless at times, while Modo was somehow held up as being the pinnacle of intellect because he has a good memory. Yet Modo reacted like an emotional child many times, and had to be saved from his own folly by Tavia 4 times. Still, this was an enjoyable series that I'd grade at a B+, and recommend to anyone who likes YA steampunk.
The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs was recommended to me because I enjoyed books by the late Dorothea Benton Frank and Fanny Flagg. Wiggs is a local PNW author, and is mainly known for her romance novels set in the Puget Sound area. So I splurged and got a hardback copy of the book in hopes that it would live up to author Adriana Trigiani's enthusiastic back cover blurb. Unfortunately, the redundancy and cliches/romance tropes proved to be too much for me to overlook when reading this book, so I found myself wishing that I had gotten a copy from the library instead. Here's the blurb:
At the break of dawn, Caroline Shelby rolls into Oysterville, Washington, a tiny hamlet at the edge of the raging Pacific.
She’s come home.
Home to a place she thought she’d left forever, home of her heart and memories, but not her future. Ten years ago, Caroline launched a career in the glamorous fashion world of Manhattan. But her success in New York imploded on a wave of scandal and tragedy, forcing her to flee to the only safe place she knows.
And in the backseat of Caroline’s car are two children who were orphaned in a single chilling moment—five-year-old Addie and six-year-old Flick. She’s now their legal guardian—a role she’s not sure she’s ready for.
But the Oysterville she left behind has changed. Her siblings have their own complicated lives and her aging parents are hoping to pass on their thriving seafood restaurant to the next generation. And there’s Will Jensen, a decorated Navy SEAL who’s also returned home after being wounded overseas. Will and Caroline were forever friends as children, with the promise of something more . . . until he fell in love with Sierra, Caroline’s best friend and the most beautiful girl in town. With her modeling jobs drying up, Sierra, too, is on the cusp of reinventing herself.
Caroline returns to her favorite place: the sewing shop owned by Mrs. Lindy Bloom, the woman who inspired her and taught her to sew. There she discovers that even in an idyllic beach town, there are women living with the deepest of secrets. Thus begins the Oysterville Sewing Circle—where women can join forces to support each other through the troubles they keep hidden.
Yet just as Caroline regains her creativity and fighting spirit, and the children begin to heal from their loss, an unexpected challenge tests her courage and her heart. This time, though, Caroline is not going to run away. She’s going to stand and fight for everything—and everyone—she loves.
  There is a tremendous amount of discussion and definition of sexual and physical abuse in this novel, so if Domestic Violence triggers you, I'd avoid reading it. One of the problems I had with the book is that they kept repeating these definitions and discussions over and over, along with a number of platitudes and cliches that read like something out of a DV pamphlet or a psychology text on why women allow themselves to be beaten and abused, only to return to their abusers. I kept wanting to shout "I GOT IT THE FIRST TIME!" at Wiggs when another paragraph on DV and drug abuse showed up. The fact that the sewing circle was mainly there to listen and not judge was a great thing, but they didn't seem to want to actually go toward the next step of helping DV victims with housing and jobs and legal help in escaping the cycle of violence and poverty. And our protagonist, Caroline, seems to go from not knowing how to parent two mixed race children to suddenly loving them so fiercely that she'd give up her hard-won career and reputation to keep them from their abusive scumbag father. The last two chapters have such a rushed feeling to them, that it seems like Caroline did a couple of emotional 360s and decided love is more important than her career in fashion design. Of course, the romance tropes are all there, with the petite heroine and the huge muscular beefcake hero who only realize their love in the final pages. Blech. Still, I'd give this book a C+, and recommend it to those who like their romances predictable and their novels full of redundant prose.
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee is a historical YA novel about the 19th century treatment of Chinese and Chinese Americans in the Southern United States. Lee's prose glistens and glimmers along the beautifully woven plot. Here's the blurb: "A triumph of storytelling. A bold portrait of this country's past, brilliantly painted with wit, heartbreak, and unflinching honesty. Everyone needs to read this book." —Stephanie Garber,New York Times bestselling author of Caraval
By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady's maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, "Dear Miss Sweetie." When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address some of society's ills, but she's not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender. While her opponents clamor to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo off on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby. But when her efforts put her in the crosshairs of Atlanta's most notorious criminal, Jo must decide whether she, a girl used to living in the shadows, is ready to step into the light. With prose that is witty, insightful, and at times heartbreaking, Stacey Lee masterfully crafts an extraordinary social drama set in the New South.

I have to say that I agree with Stephanie Garber's assessment of this novel, everyone should read it, it's that well written and researched. I loved Jo and her grandfather, Old Gin, and I was amused and delighted by Jo's bold step in writing the Miss Sweetie column, which had such witty and wise advice, especially coming from a teenager, albeit one who is wise beyond her years. Unfortunately, we never find out if Jo finds a way to marry Nathan without causing trouble with the laws that forbid the mixing of races at that time. Still, it is worth the price of admission to read of Jo's journey to self reliance. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who is curious about this era of history and the Chinese people who were left behind. 
The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins was recommended to me because I usually love books about bookworms/bibliophiles, and I also like magic realism or just urban fantasy where magic is woven into the plot, often to delightful effect. Here's the blurb: The residents of Dove Pond, North Carolina, know three things: they have the finest bar-b-que this side of Atlanta, their Apple Festival is the best that ever was, and the town has phenomenal good luck whenever the Dove family has seven daughters. Fortunately, that time is now, because Dove Pond desperately needs a miracle.
The seventh daughter, Sarah Dove, believes in all things magical. Books have whispered their secrets to her since she was a child. Now the town librarian, she makes sure every book finds the reader who most needs it. But recently the books have been whispering something different—that change is about to come to Dove Pond. Sarah is soon convinced that the legendary Dove Pond good luck has arrived in the form of new resident, Grace Wheeler.
After the tragic death of her sister, Grace has moved to Dove Pond with her grieving young niece and ailing foster mother hoping to retrench financially and emotionally before returning to her fast-paced city life. But she soon learns that life in a not-so-sleepy town isn’t as quiet as she’d hoped. Despite her best efforts to focus on her family, she can’t avoid the townspeople, especially her next-door neighbors, the quirky and talkative Sarah Dove and cynical veteran Chris Parker. Grace’s situation grows more complicated when she assumes her duties as town clerk and discovers that Dove Pond is on the verge of financial ruin.
Already overburdened by her own cares, Grace tries to stay aloof from the town’s issues, but she’s never been good at resisting a challenge. With Sarah’s encouragement, and inspired by the wise words of a special book, Grace decides to save her new town. And in her quest, she discovers the rich comfort of being a part of a loving community, the tantalizing promise of new love, the deep strength that comes from having a true friend, and the heartfelt power of finding just the right book.
With Karen Hawkins’s “fast, fun, and sexy”  prose, The Book Charmer is a feel-good story with plenty of heart that will appeal to fans of Sarah Addison Allen and Alice Hoffman. 
I have to agree with the blurb, that Hawkins prose is fun and sexy and moves along the plot like greased lightening. I am also a huge fan of Sarah Addison Allen's and Alice Hoffman's magical tales, so I was thrilled that one of the protagonists, Sarah Dove, could actually talk to books and hear their words in talking back to her, when they recommend who needs to read them next. In fact, I wish that there had been more of Sarah Dove's discussions with books old and new, and less of sourpuss Grace Wheeler's whining and cold attitude toward the town where she's taken refuge. I loved Travis, or Trav, as he's called, and in my mind he looked just like Jason Momoa, who is hotter than Hades and has a really cool motorcycle that he likes to work on. I was thrilled that everything worked out so well for the town, but I was bummed that we never find out if Sarah gets together with the hottie sheriff guy whom she's been in love with for decades. Still, this book was loads of fun, and I'd give it an A, and recommend it to anyone who likes books, magical realism and small towns full of quirky characters. 

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Nowhere Bookshop, RIP Terrance Dicks and Dorothea Benton Frank, My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer, Reticence by Gail Carriger and Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes


Though I wasn't a huge fan of her books, (I found them ridiculously overhyped and not as funny as most people did), I do love reading Jenny Lawsons Bloggess blog, which is much more amusing than her books, and allows people to get some insight into her life, living with mental illness. At any rate, I was chuffed to read that she's opening a bookstore/bar in her home town, Nowhere Bookshop, and I sincerely wish her the best of luck and success.
Author/Blogger Jenny Lawson to Open Bookstore/Bar in San Antonio
Author and blogger Jenny Lawson has signed a lease for a combination bookstore and bar http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz41704366 in San Antonio, Tex., that will be called Nowhere Bookshop, reported SA Current.
Lawson, aka The Bloggess http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz41704367, is the author of You Are Here: An Owner's Manual for Dangerous Minds (Flatiron), Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir (Berkley) and Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things (Flatiron). She tweeted on Saturday, "Big, terrifying news. Today I'm signing the lease for my bookstore bar. I want to vomit and cry all at the same time. Get ready for Nowhere Bookshop, San Antonio."Lawson added that the space needs work, including a new floor, so Nowhere Bookshop won't open for a while.

Anyone who loves Doctor Who, especially the classic Doctors, knows the huge impact of writer Terrance Dicks. I was so sad to read of his passing. RIP.
Obituary Note: Terrance Dicks
Terrance Dicks http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz41730789, children's author and writer of numerous Doctor Who novels and episodes, died August 29. He was 84. The Guardian reported that Dicks "had a long association with the BBC's longest-running sci-fi show," writing episodes from the late 1960s until the early 1980s. He also served as its script editor from 1968 to 1974.
Chris Chibnall, the program's current producer and showrunner, paid tribute to "one of the greatest contributors to Doctor Who's history, on-screen and off... As the most prolific and brilliant adapter of Doctor Who stories into Target novels, he was responsible for a range of books that taught a generation of children, myself included, how pleasurable and accessible and thrilling reading could be. Doctor Who was lucky to have his talents. He will always be a legend of the show."
In the 1970s and 80s Dicks wrote children's fiction, as well as more than 50 Doctor Who spin-off novels between 1974 and 2007, including The Sarah Jane Adventures. His other books include The Pyramid Incident and The Transylvanian Incident from Picadilly Press' The Unexplained series.
Author Jenny Colgan, who writes Doctor Who books under the name J.T. Colgan, said that Dicks's novelizations were "always the best.... Like many children's authors he was wildly undervalued--despite being a key ingredient in a lifelong love of reading, particularly among boys, he received almost no official recognition whatsoever. He claimed to be no stylist but his short chapters, clear sentences and ability to get to the point extremely quickly influenced a generation of writers."
His agent, Hilary Delamere told the Bookseller http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz41730790>:
"Not only was Terrance Dicks admired and respected by all his Dr. Who fan-base but Brenda Gardner, who published him first at WH Allen and then on her Piccadilly Press list for over 30 years, said he was an editor's dream author--delivering his well-written manuscripts on time, always open to editorial suggestions and felt that the author/editor relationship was always strengthened by alternating who paid for lunch!"
Albert De Petrillo, publishing director, BBC Books, described him as "a legend, and a major influence not only as script editor for the show, but also as a novelist."
Author Neil Gaiman tweeted http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz41730791: "I remember reading his and Malcolm Hulke's book The Making of Doctor Who when I was 11 or 12, and deciding then that I would one day write an episode of Doctor Who, because they had shown me how. RIP Terrance Dicks."
Another great author passed recently, the Geechee Girl herself, Dorothea Benton Frank. I read more than a few of her books, and always found them entertaining and soothing, because they were comfortable and easy to figure out, plot wise. RIP DBF.
Obituary Note: Dorothea Benton Frank
Dorothea Benton Frank http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz41732797, author of 20 novels set in South Carolina's Lowcountry, died September 2. She was 67 and had had "a brief but intense battle with myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, a type of cancer similar to leukemia," the Post and Courier reported.
Her novels, always commercially successful, "spin yarns about family love and conflict, friends who leave and return, impressive matriarchs--almost always set in the sands of South Carolina barrier islands," the paper wrote. "These are, literally, beach reads." Frank's most recent book, Queen Bee, was published in May by Morrow. Other titles included Sullivan's Island, Isle of Palms, Pawley's Island and Folly Beach.
Frank also "cultivated a public persona, promoted the Charleston area, hosted expansive events for her readers and made public appearances at book events. For years, she co-hosted the Post and Courier Book & Author Luncheon. Her fans could be content simply reading her novels, but they often had opportunities to immerse themselves in a Dottie Frank Lowcountry experience."
Carrie Feron, Frank's editor at William Morrow, who worked on her last 15 books, told the Post and Courier: "She was a big part of my life. She was vibrant and fun and fearless. She was a great collaborator." At annual copy editing sessions at Frank's South Carolina home (she also had a home in Montclair, N.J.), "she made me fall in love with a little island off the coast of South Carolina," Feron added. "It's such a special place, and she was so generous about it."
Cassandra King, author and wife of the late Pat Conroy, called Frank "a force of nature" with "such a big heart," the paper wrote. She recalled how much Conroy liked Frank, saying they "were so funny together. She called him Fat Boy and he called her the Dotted One."
On Facebook, Hub City Writers Project Spartanburg, S.C., wrote in part http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz41732799: "It is fitting that her last book was titled Queen Bee, because that's what Dottie was. And we know how lucky we were to welcome her for the past seven years when, on schedule (but maybe a few minutes late), she would whoosh into town to entertain her unflagging fans who came out by the hundreds from as far away as Kentucky to see their beloved friend, Dottie. For that was her gift. Whether someone tagged along to see Dottie for the first time or if a regular attending for the seventh year in a row, everyone--and I mean everyone--considered Dottie Frank a friend.
"She was also a very savvy writer who wrote richly appealing books that she promoted shrewdly and tirelessly. Her messages were subtle but she was fierce in her defense of causes she felt keenly: domestic violence and environmental advocacy, among others. She was talented, hardworking and an absolute joy to be around."
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell is this month's book from my library book group. I've read this and two other books by Durrell when I was a child more than 40 years ago, so I only had a vague memory of the prose and plot of this funny and fascinating work of non fiction. However, there is a show that is "inspired" by this book on PBS called "The Durrells in Corfu" that basically took the bones/premise of the book and then just went crazy with it, leaving behind a lot of funny and wonderful Greek characters and making many of the family members into romantic figures, while relegating the author himself to a secondary role, when he's the protagonist of the book and all their family antics are filtered through his budding naturalist's lens. Durrell's prose is rich, detailed and often florid to the nth degree. When I was young, I loved purple, florid prose because I felt that authors should be as drunk on words and wordcraft as I was. Now, decades later, it seems a bit excessive. Here's the blurb: The inspiration for The Durrells in Corfu, a Masterpiece production on public television: A naturalist’s account of his childhood on the exotic Greek island.

When the Durrells could no longer endure the gray English climate, they did what any sensible family would do: sold their house and relocated to the sun-soaked island of Corfu.
As they settled into their new home, hilarious mishaps ensued as a ten-year-old Gerald Durrell pursued his interest in natural history and explored the island’s fauna. Soon, toads and tortoises, bats and butterflies—as well as scorpions, geckos, ladybugs, praying mantises, octopuses, pigeons, and gulls—became a common sight in the Durrell villa.
Uproarious tales of the island’s animals and Durrell’s fond reflections on his family bring this delightful memoir to life. Capturing the joyous chaos of growing up in an unconventional household, My Family and Other Animals will transport you to a place you won’t want to leave.
Unfortunately, the overstuffed sentences became tedious after awhile, but that didn't prevent me from laughing uproariously at the hilarious mishaps of the family Durrell. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who loves nature and all manner of flora and fauna, including reptiles and insects. 
A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer is a beautifully crafted retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in alternate worlds, our modern one and the kingdom of Emberfall. Our heroine is a young woman, Harper, disabled by Cerebral Palsy who works to help her brother commit crimes to keep the mob from killing her mother, who is dying of cancer, and her brother, Josh, who is trying to deal with their loser fathers loan repayments (the father, of course, fled, leaving behind his children to handle a situation that would be deadly for an adult). The prose is stellar, full of wonderfully-crafted scenes that make the plot move so fast it's almost a blur. This is the kind of book you start reading and then discover that you haven't put it down in 8 hours and are nearly finished being engrossed by the gripping story. Here's the blurb: Fall in love, break the curse.
It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.
Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she's instead somehow sucked into Rhen's cursed world.
Break the curse, save the kingdom.
A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn't know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what's at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.
SPOILER: I think it's fascinating that the beast isn't some Disney-esque lion-like creature, but instead is a dragon with razor sharp claws, teeth and scales who kills every living thing he encounters. It's also interesting that Harper doesn't break the curse, in the end, it's a half brother who sacrifices himself for the sake of the kingdom. I also loved that Harper didn't let her disability stop her from being fierce and smart and helping others whenever she could. Seriously deserving of an A, I'd recommend this wonderful book to anyone who has ever loved Beauty and the Beast, the original fairytale, and those who enjoy well done urban fantasy.
Reticence by Gail Carriger is the fourth and final book in the Custard Protocol series, and the last we will see of the Soulless and Finishing School characters. With that in mind, Carriger pulls out all the stops for this volume, and we've got Kitsune, floating cities and lots of droll wit from the likes of the crew of the Spotted Custard, as well as Sophronia, Alexia and all the other characters from the previous books. Reading this book is like sitting down to a sumptuous tea after a long and dry day without food or libations. The prose is delicious, as with all of Carriger's novels, and the plot marches along appropriately.  Here's the blurb: Bookish and proper Percival Tunstell finds himself out of his depth when floating cities, spirited plumbing, and soggy biscuits collide in this delightful conclusion to NYT bestselling author Gail Carriger's Custard Protocol series.
Percival Tunstell loves that his sister and her best friend are building themselves a family of misfits aboard their airship, the Spotted Custard. Of course, he'd never admit that he belongs among them. He's always been on the outside - dispassionate, aloof, and hatless. But accidental spies, a trip to Japan, and one smart and beautiful doctor may have him renegotiating his whole philosophy on life.
Except hats. He's done with hats. Thank you very much.

I did my best to read slowly and savor this final volume, but try as I might, I still came to the end and cried, because these characters have become like family, and I will miss them all (even Tasherit, the lioness shifter, whom I never liked due to her harassment of Prim.I also find her asking Prim to "keep" her like a pet creepy, and the way that she licks her beloved, even in human form, also gives me the willies.)  Still, I loved the new Doctor Arsenic and her relationship with Percy, and I was thrilled that Rue finally had her baby, a girl, and that all is well aboard their airship. This book gets a well deserved A, and a recommendation to all the Carriger fans far and wide. It's worth every penny of the hardback price. 
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes was supposed to be a fun literary romance for those of us who aren't in their 20s and perky and blonde. Not labeled a frivolous beach read or a 'chick lit' novel, it sounded right up my alley, because it was supposedly about a smart gal who wanted to reinvent herself and ends up falling for her lodger, a down-and-out baseball player who is, of course, hot. Unfortunately, though it started out promising, the protagonist, Evvie (pronounced to sound like Chevy), is clearly not as bright as advertised, and I was furious at her cowardice nearly all the way through the book. Though it's OBVIOUS that her doctor husband was a narcissistic abusive asshat, who dies fortuitously in a car accident, Evvie considers herself to blame for his death and calls herself a 'monster' internally. She's frustratingly cowed and cringing throughout most of the book. It's not until page 258 that a minor character finally tells her that what she has experienced is severe emotional (and physical) abuse. And finally on page 260, we see Evvie grow a spine and tell her horrible mother NO, for a change, and from there on pages 263 and 270, Evvie finally listens to her therapist and others and moves on with her life, like she should have in the first 2/3rds of the novel. Here's the blurb: From the host of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast comes a heartfelt debut about the unlikely relationship between a young woman who’s lost her husband and a major league pitcher who’s lost his game.
In a sleepy seaside town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth “Evvie” Drake rarely leaves her large, painfully empty house nearly a year after her husband’s death in a car crash. Everyone in town, even her best friend, Andy, thinks grief keeps her locked inside, and Evvie doesn’t correct them.
Meanwhile, in New York City, Dean Tenney, former Major League pitcher and Andy’s childhood best friend, is wrestling with what miserable athletes living out their worst nightmares call the “yips”: he can’t throw straight anymore, and, even worse, he can’t figure out why. As the media storm heats up, an invitation from Andy to stay in Maine seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button on Dean’s future.
When he moves into an apartment at the back of Evvie’s house, the two make a deal: Dean won’t ask about Evvie’s late husband, and Evvie won’t ask about Dean’s baseball career. Rules, though, have a funny way of being broken—and what starts as an unexpected friendship soon turns into something more. To move forward, Evvie and Dean will have to reckon with their pasts—the friendships they’ve damaged, the secrets they’ve kept—but in life, as in baseball, there’s always a chance—up until the last out.
A joyful, hilarious, and hope-filled debut, Evvie Drake Starts Over will have you cheering for the two most unlikely comebacks of the year—and will leave you wanting more from Linda Holmes 
I vehemently disagree with that last paragraph, as this is not a joyful or hilarious novel at all. It does get hopeful toward the end, but for the most part, it's a head-scratcher that will leave you asking repeatedly WHY...like why doesn't Evvie tell her best guy friend, whom she tells everything, about her jerk of a husband, or his insurance policy? Why doesn't she want to spend the scumbucket dead husband's money? (he's not here to harm her anymore, and its only small recompense for all she went through with him). Why not tell her ex husband's parents the truth? Why not tell anyone the truth? It's pure cowardice on her part, when guys like that need to be "outed" for their crimes. He could easily have abused other women, and they're keeping silent because they think they're the only ones who were harassed. Evvie is just allowing the abuser the final word, and I think that's wrong. Just giving money, through a third party, to domestic violence shelters isn't enough. I think that the authors jobs with NPR allowed her access to getting this book published, because I fail to see how it would be lionized otherwise. The prose is okay, and the plot mediocre with an inevitable HEA. I'd give it a C+, and only recommend it to those who don't mind glaring plot holes and a cowardly female protagonist.