Tuesday, March 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

B&N Launches National Book Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and Live One Step Ahead of Your Symptoms http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz3628508 by Ilana Jacqueline (New Harbinger Publications).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 05, 2018

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

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

Sherman Alexie's Response to Harassment Accusations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Quote of the Day, White Fang, Book Trailer for the Great Alone, Elliott Bay Goes Airport, The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, Tower of Dawn by Sarah J Maas,Star Wars Leia, Princess of Alderaan, and Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

YES! Storytellers/authors are the "custodians of empathy!"

Quotation of the Day

"When all else is gone, it is stories that can save us. Ambiguity and
complexity are at the heart of human condition and now more than ever we
need writers to remind us of this.... We are the custodians of empathy,
the gateway to otherness. [It is writers who can show] how it feels to
be someone else, or to believe something else. This sometimes horrifies
us, but it is the best books that take us to these places.... Long live
stories, the written world and the publishers who believe in it and
booksellers who press it into hands of readers, agents who help writers
up and everyone else engaged in this great labor of love and faith."

--Writer and broadcaster Sally Magnusson in her keynote speech at the
Scottish Book Trade Conference in Edinburgh

This is awesome, I loved Jack London's stories when I was a kid...they were adventurous and fascinating.

TV: White Fang
Netflix picked up the animated feature White Fang
based on the Jack London story, and is planning a 2018 release, the
Hollywood Reporter wrote. Directed by Alexandre Espigares, who won an
Oscar for his 2014 animated short, Mr. Hublot, the project's voice cast
includes Rashida Jones, Eddie Spears, Nick Offerman and Paul Giamatti.

I just finished this book last weekend, and will review it below, but I think the book trailer is pretty cool.

Book Trailer of the Day: The Great Alone
by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin's Press).

Very interesting, that Elliott Bay has decided to branch out into airports. Hopefully, they won't be too snobby about their choice of books to highlight.

Elliott Bay Book Company Landing Next Year at Sea-Tac Airport

Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash., plans to open a bookstore at
Sea-Tac Airport in 2019 in association with the Hudson Group. Located on
the C Concourse, the store will feature "our staff recommendations,
bestsellers and our beloved Northwest authors and titles as well as the
latest releases you can grab when making your next connection," said
Elliott Bay general manager Tracy Taylor.
The Port of Seattle, which operates Sea-Tac Airport, has been putting an
emphasis on adding local and women- and minority-owned businesses,
particularly food retailers. "From kiosks to in-line stores, we are
excited to offer customers more choices for dining and retail
Sea-Tac Airport, to build a platform for local chefs and shop owners who
celebrate the Pacific Northwest, and to recognize equity and
sustainability practices that passengers can feel good about
supporting," Port of Seattle Commission President Courtney Gregoire told
South Sound magazine.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is her 16th novel (and I've read about 10 of them), and though it just debuted, it has become a huge bestseller and received a number of good reviews from print and online publications. Usually, I eschew bestsellers, because they rarely live up to the hype and I often find them to be formulaic and dull. But after reading and loving Hannah's The Nightingale last year, I thought that chances were good that she wouldn't disappoint with this year's bestseller, either. I was right, and The Great Alone is a page-turner that I devoured in one day, from the moment I woke up until I was ready for bed that night. The prose is, of course, brilliant, but it's the characters and sense of place that really set this wonderful novel apart, and that keep the riptide of the plot whooshing along.
Here's the blurb: Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.
Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.
Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown.
At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.
But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.
In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska—a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.
Though I can't fathom why any woman would stay with a man who beats her nearly to death, repeatedly, I do understand that women of that time (I was the same age as Leni in 1974), like my mother, had very few rights, including not having the right to get a credit card without their husband's okay, and having very few rights in court when it came to custody of children or of getting away from domestic violence and abuse. Though women had just gotten the right to a legal abortion, men still ruled the legal system and the police/government. My own mother, a nurse who worked every day to heal people and worked another shift at home raising three children (two with chronic illness), put up with a great deal of philandering and cruelty from my own father, because she knew that in a divorce, the courts wouldn't be on her side, and she didn't want her children to be caught in the crossfire. She waited as long as she could, until the year I graduated from high school and went off to college, to divorce my father, knowing that she still had to get my younger brother through his final year of high school, somehow. But my father wasn't beating her,and wasn't insane like Ernt, who should have been locked up many years before he moved his family to Alaska. Though he was a Vietnam vet and POW, and I gather we're supposed to have some sympathy for him because of PTSD, I loathed the man from the outset, and had no sympathy for his violent and insane attitude. And though I felt Cora should have grown a spine long before she did, I was saddened by what happened to her, and somewhat saddened by Leni's homecoming, though the ending was as close to an HEA as possible for these troubled characters. This book gets a well deserved A, and a recommendation to anyone who wonders what it was like to homestead in Alaska when it was still wild.

Tower of Dawn by Sarah J Maas is the 7th (or 8th, depending on if you count the coloring book) book in the Throne of Glass series, which I've read though and reviewed on this blog. Tower of Dawn isn't a direct sequel to the last Throne of Glass novel, however, which left Aelin, our heroine, in the hands of the enemy fae queen in the end. This novel takes up the story of Lord Chaol Westfall, who, in my opinion, was a real bastard and treated Aelin like crap because he was frightened of her power (and jealous of it, I think. Most men seem to feel emasculated by women who are more powerful/wealthy/titled than they are). This story picks up when he and Nesryn Faliq (his guard and erstwhile lover) set off to the far eastern lands ruled by the great Kahn to try and drum up an army to fight the demon valg in their homeland and to find healers to help Chaol win back the use of his legs after he suffered a spinal injury from the valg. I knew at the outset that he would fall in love with his healer, Yrene Towers, but I was surprised that Nesryn fell in love with flying Ruks with one of the heirs to the Kahn's throne. Maas' prose is rich and fine, and her plot here moves along at a metered pace but without any plotholes, which is some feat, considering the length and breadth of the other novels in the series. Here's the blurb:
Chaol Westfall has always defined himself by his unwavering loyalty, his strength, and his position as the Captain of the Guard. But all of that has changed since the glass castle shattered, since his men were slaughtered, since the King of Adarlan spared him from a killing blow, but left his body broken.
His only shot at recovery lies with the legendary healers of the Torre Cesme in Antica--the stronghold of the southern continent's mighty empire. And with war looming over Dorian and Aelin back home, their survival might lie with Chaol and Nesryn convincing its rulers to ally with them.
But what they discover in Antica will change them both--and be more vital to saving Erilea than they could have imagined.
Reading about Chaol's physical and mental recovery was not unlike reading stories of soldiers recovering from PTSD and physical injuries in Afghanistan during our latest war in the Middle East. The fact that it comes down to dealing with your mental demons as well as your physical demons rings true in this fantasy world and in the real world. Still, there was a lot of melodrama around the budding relationships that seemed to get a bit too swoon-worthy for my tastes. But I enjoyed the ending and the set up for the next book,when we will see who wins when the fae queen battles Aelin. A well deserved A, and a recommendation to anyone who has read the preceding books in the series.

Star Wars Leia, Princess of Alderaan, and Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray. Though these two novels were written by the same author, you wouldn't know it if you took the book jackets off of both and asked several people to read them in tandem. Both do have strong female protagonists, and both have strong prose and excellent storytelling. However, the book about Leia is light years apart from Defy the Stars in terms of creative characters and plot. This is probably due to the fact that we all know Princess Leia's story from watching the Star Wars movies, so when we learn of her rebelliousness as a teenager, it doesn't seem unusual or out of character. But I was delighted to know more about her adoptive parents, Bail and Breha Organa, and their involvement in the nascent rebel alliance, along with Mon Mothma, a character I'd overlooked in nearly all the Star Wars movies. Since there isn't a blurb for this novel, I will just say that I felt it was like reading a well written script for a Star Wars prequel. While I enjoyed it, it was lightweight  reading, and only appropriate for those who enjoy detailed backgrounds on the characters they've come to know and love in the Star Wars universe. I'd give it a B, and recommend it to Star Wars geeks and fangirls everywhere.
Defy the Stars, however, was a much meatier read, full of wonderful characters, lush prose and a succulent plot that moved along beautifully and kept me turning pages long into the night. Here's the blurb:
She's a soldier -- Noemi Vidal is willing to risk anything to protect her planet, Genesis, including her own life. To their enemies on Earth, she's a rebel.
He's a machine -- Abandoned in space for years, utterly alone, Abel's advanced programming has begun to evolve. He wants only to protect his creator, and to be free. To the people of Genesis, he's an abomination.
Noemi and Abel are enemies in an interstellar war, forced by chance to work together as they embark on a daring journey through the stars. Their efforts would end the fighting for good, but they're not without sacrifice. The stakes are even higher than either of them first realized, and the more time they spend together, the more they're forced to question everything they'd been taught was true.
An epic and romantic adventure, perfect for fans of The Lunar Chronicle. Publisher's Weekly:In this poignant and profound SF novel from Gray (the Firebird trilogy), resources are scarce, humans populate multiple planets, and a colony world called Genesis is battling Earth for independence. Noemi Vidal, a 17-year-old fighter pilot from Genesis, is on a training run when an Earth army of humanoid robots known as mechs attacks her squadron. Noemi gets separated from the group and seeks refuge on a broken-down research vessel. On board is Abel, the first mech ever created. A showdown ensues before a quirk in Abel’s code dictates that he submit to Noemi’s command. Using information gleaned from Abel, Noemi hatches a plan to liberate Genesis that necessitates the mech’s destruction. It’s not long, though, until Noemi is forced to wonder whether Abel has transcended his programming. Noemi and Abel share the narrative, and together they weave a tale that examines the ethics of war and tackles questions of consciousness, love, and free will. Gray’s characters are nuanced, her worldbuilding is intelligent, and the book’s conclusion thrills and satisfies while defying expectations.
I completely agree with PW's estimation of the book, in the nuanced characters and intelligent world building. I felt as if I were reading something that was a combination of ST Next Generation, (especially the episodes where Data questions his humanity), The Expanse, a TV show that questions sentience of a created lifeform, and Blade Runner, the stylized futuristic movie where you can see the vast difference between the haves and the have nots, while being amazed at the lack of value placed on artificial life, especially when that life is obviously sentient enough to want to live longer than it was programmed to live.  Watching Noemi broaden her worldview and realize that all mechs are not the same, is a wonder to behold. Being a fan of science fiction romance hybrids and of YA, I thought I'd enjoy this book, but I expected it to be less literary and somewhat dumbed down. Thankfully, it was not dumbed down in the slightest, and should be shelved in with regular science fiction books, in my opinion. It is only nominally YA, and should be read by adults who are looking for a great story about AI. I'd give it an A, and recommend it to anyone who likes science fiction/romance and stories about artificial intelligence. 

I would like to make brief mention of a book that I enjoyed but am not going to finish called "I'll Have What She's Having: How Nora Ephron's Three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy" by Erin Carlson. I picked up this book because I adore Nora Ephron, and I've loved her spicy memoirs just as much as I loved her iconic movies, like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle. Unfortunately, Carlson rambles along about stars and celebs that are barely connected to the films, and thus the whole book devolves into a gossip rag, which is not why I wanted to read it. I loved the behind the scenes stories, but I really didn't like how the book comes to a complete halt for the ruinous gossip. It felt skeevy and I lost interest about 100 pages in. Still, if you are a fan of classic romantic comedies, and of the brilliant Nora Ephron, may she rest in peace, I would recommend you give this book a glance.