Friday, January 22, 2021

Quotes of the Day, COVID 19 Memorial, Melinda Gates Donates to Carol Shields Prize, Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman, RIP Mira Furlan, South of the Buttonwood Tree by Heather Weber, My Sister's Song by Gail Carriger, Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L Armentrout, and Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

Good Day to you all, on this third week of January, not long after the POTUS Biden/Vice President Harris Inauguration. What a relief and a joy it is to have sane leadership in the White House. I was also delighted by the young poet who read her poem, The Hill We Climb, on the 20th and showed us that a bright future is ahead of us.

Meanwhile, I have a lot of Quotes of the Day and 5 reviews, as well as a touching tribute by JMS to one of the stars of Babylon 5, Mira Furlan, who died on January 20 of an undisclosed ailment. Rest among the stars beyond the rim, dear lady, and thank you. 

Quotation of the Day

'Indies Keeping Their Bright Light Shining'

"Despite all the loss, uncertainty, and fear, there's still good news. During challenging times, we rise up together and collectively reaffirm our values. Many bookstores have had a successful year, and many more are reporting they had the best holiday in history....

"Whether or not sales were up, down, or flat, independent bookstores worked tirelessly to keep their bright light shining at a time when it feels like we need them more than ever--and I don't say that lightly. We always need bookstores, but in a year when we were confined to our homes, disinformation flared, Amazon deprioritized books, and our country desperately needed to read about antiracism, bookstores were there for us as an unwavering refuge in the storm.

"I'd like to say thank you to booksellers and everyone in the industry who reinvented their work again and again. Each book we bought felt like one more brick laid on the path to a better world."

--Carrie Obry, executive director of the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, in a letter to members

 Right now it's very difficult to get a vaccination, because so many people are vying for appointments. And meanwhile, more people die of COVID 19 because selfish people don't want to wear a mask in public. I am glad that the new administration paused in their celebration to honor those we've lost to this heinous virus.

Covid-19 Memorial: Inkwood Books

As President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris honored the 400,000 people in the U.S. who have lost their lives to the pandemic with a national Covid-19 memorial last night, Inkwood Books, Haddonfield, N.J., posted on Facebook: "Our lights are on tonight to remember and honor the six customers we lost to Covid-19, our Inkwood friends who lost loved ones, and all those around the world who are mourning."

 This is an awesome use of a quarter of a million dollars, especially for women of color whose voices need to be heard.

Melinda Gates Donates $250,000 to the Carol Shields Prize for Fiction

Melinda Gates is donating $250,000 to help underwrite the Carol Shields Prize for Fiction, which was launched last February and named in honor of the late, renowned Canadian author, O, The Oprah Magazine reported. The C$150,000 (about US$118,300) award celebrates excellence in fiction by women writers in the U.S. or Canada. The first winner and four nominees will be announced in 2023. Gates made the donation through her investment and incubation company, Pivotal Ventures.

"Throughout history, women have been writing profound groundbreaking books," Gates said. "Yet often they earn less, are reviewed less frequently, and are overlooked for awards. The Carol Shields Prize is an exciting step toward a future where books by women get the attention and prestige they deserve."

Susan Swan, co-founder of the Carol Shields Prize, noted: "We are creating an activist foundation where women writers empower other women writers. Our mentorship programs for emerging women writers from all backgrounds and gender identities are critical to shifting cultural attitudes. Emerging women writers are the young trees in the forest and older writers like myself are here in part to help them grow."

Gates added: "Through all my travels around the world, whether in a Northern Indian village or a remote part of Tanzania, women tell me, 'Nobody's ever asked me my story before, they've never asked me about my life.' By listening to their stories, and saying their names we were telling them: your lives are important. That's why what the Carol Shields Prize will be doing is essential."

The Paris Library is on my wishlist for books to buy in February. I totally agree that bookstores are essential, and I hope that there will be many indie bookstores left when the pandemic is over.

Quotation of the Day

'I Need These Bookstores Like I Need Air'

"Here in Paris, independent bookstores like Shakespeare & Co. and the Red Wheelbarrow are community centers that bring people together to celebrate life and the written word. I need these bookstores like I need air. For several years, I led a writing workshop in the upstairs library of Shakespeare & Co. It was an incredible experience to begin class as the bells of Notre Dame chimed. Recently, I became an investor in the Red Wheelbarrow. It is my favorite bookshop. The owner, Penelope Fletcher, tells the best stories and recommends just the right book at just the right time. Walking into her bookshop feels like coming home.

"I wrote this novel as a love letter to libraries, to bookstores, and to book people. In these difficult days, we need the sanctuaries of bookshops and libraries more than ever."--Janet Skeslien Charles, whose novel The Paris Library (Atria Books) is the #1 Indie Next List pick for February, in a q&a with Bookselling This Week

 This young millennial speaks for not just her generation, but for the generations to come. I loved her poem and her spirit. Lovely.

Media and Movies

Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman on the Late Late Show

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman shared "some behind-the-scenes moments and her own political plans with a clearly enchanted James Corden" when she appeared on the Late Late Show virtually Wednesday night, Deadline reported. After reciting her poem during the Inauguration ceremony, Gorman "was widely celebrated for both the poem's profound message and her graceful recitation. When she tells Corden she was happy to be 'a small part' of the moment, the host disagrees: 'For me, you were the pivotal moment.' "

Gorman talked about how she was selected for the honor: "Dr. Biden, now first lady, saw a poem I recited at the Library of Congress. Turns out I ended up being her first choice for inaugural poet; I'm 22 and I've overcome a speech impediment--like, who would want me onstage? Then they called me and offered me the opportunity, and I danced around in my socks like a crazy person."

Recalling what she was thinking and feeling during the event, she said, "I'm cold. I know Biden is right behind me, so how does my hair look? My nose is sniffling, don't trip, don't mess up. And you kind of just have to let all that go and be a vessel for the poem; Barack Obama is standing next to me being like, 'You made us proud, you did a great job' in his characteristic voice. I didn't want to leave, and then Secret Service was like, 'No, really, you've got to go.' "

 This was heartbreaking news for me, as a long time Babylon 5 fan, to see Mira Furlan gone beyond the rim so soon. May she rest among the stars. Here's a tribute to her from the show's creator, JMS.

RIP Mira Furlan, Actress from Babylon 5 passed-away/?fbclid=IwAR3uTwQO5pamiXnGjf8-qTQA1ac7FnIJnp8Ru4Axz9QgOJ3UOU9o3NoXrYg

“When Mira Furlan came to audition for Babylon 5, her home country of Yugoslavia was in turmoil and shattering into two separate countries. During our first meeting, we spoke about her work and her life, and I learned that she had been part of a touring theater group that continued to cross borders of the disintegrating country despite receiving death threats from both sides in the civil war.

I expressed my admiration for her courage, but she shrugged and waved it off. “What’s the worst that could have happened? Yes, they could have killed me. So what? Art should have no borders.”

Very few people knew that side of Mira: the fiery, fearless side that fought ceaselessly for her art. She brought all of those traits to Delenn, and in turn I tried to write speeches for her that would allow her to comment on what was happening to her homeland without calling it out by name. I guess I must have done it correctly because one day during the Minbari Civil War arc, she appeared in my office door, a cup of tea in one hand, in full makeup but wearing a pull-over robe from wardrobe, and said, “So, how long did you live in Yugoslavia?”

Her husband, Goran, has always been the rock of her life. He was and is a gentleman, quick to laughter, an accomplished director and as much an artist as Mira, which made them the ideal couple. I’ve rarely seen two people so utterly meant for each other.

I remember the first time Mira appeared at a convention with me and some of the other cast. She didn’t quite understand what it was all about, but gamely did her part. When the audience question period came along, a fan held up his hand and said to Mira, whose Yugoslavian accent was much stronger in the beginning than it became with time, “Say ‘moose and squirrel.’”

She had no idea what this meant, but she said “Moose and Squirrel” and the room erupted in one of the longest sustained laughs I’ve ever seen at a convention. We explained it later, but really, all that mattered to her was that the audience had been happy.

We’ve known for some time now that Mira’s health was failing…I’m not sure that this is the right time or place to discuss the sheer randomness of what happened…and have all been dreading this day. We kept hoping that she would improve. In a group email sent to the cast a while back, I heard that she might be improving.

Then came the call from Peter Jurasik. “I wanted you to know that Goran’s bringing Mira home,” he said. “Do you mean, he’s bringing her home as in she’s better now, or is he bringing her home as in he’s bringing her home?”

“He’s bringing her home, Joe,” Peter said, and I could hear the catch in his voice as he said it.

And as a family, we held our counsel, and began the long wait, which has now ended.

Mira was a good and kind woman, a stunningly talented performer, and a friend to everyone in the cast and crew of Babylon 5, and we are all devastated by the news. The cast members with whom she was especially close since the show’s end will need room to process this moment, so please be gentle if they are unresponsive for a time. We have been down this road too often, and it only gets harder.

If you are a fan of Mira’s work, fire up those special moments when she shook the heavens, and relive the art she brought to her work. For any actor, that is the best tribute possible: for the work to endure. As much as this is a time to grieve, it is also a time to celebrate her life and her courage.

All of our thoughts tonight will be on the memories she left behind, the dazzling light of her performances, the breadth of her talent, and the heart and love she shared with Goran, and with all of you.”
Joe Straczynski, creator, Babylon 5


South of the Buttonwood Tree by Heather Weber is a delightful novel reminiscent of MJ Rose's work or Sarah Addison Allen's lovely magical books. Though it got off to a slow start, it picked up speed after the first 20 pages and from then on I couldn't put it down. Here's the blurb: Heather Webber's South of the Buttonwood Tree is a captivating blend of magical realism, heartwarming romance, and small-town Southern charm.

Blue Bishop has a knack for finding lost things. While growing up in charming small-town Buttonwood, Alabama, she’s happened across lost wallets, jewelry, pets, her wandering neighbor, and sometimes, trouble. No one is more surprised than Blue, however, when she comes across an abandoned newborn baby in the woods, just south of a very special buttonwood tree.

Sarah Grace Landreneau Fulton is at a crossroads. She has always tried so hard to do the right thing, but her own mother would disown her if she ever learned half of Sarah Grace’s secrets.

The unexpected discovery of the newborn baby girl will alter Blue’s and Sarah Grace’s lives forever. Both women must fight for what they truly want in life and for who they love. In doing so, they uncover long-held secrets that reveal exactly who they really are—and what they’re willing to sacrifice in the name of family.

I was not surprised that (SPOILER) Sarah Grace and Blue ended up being sisters, but I was surprised at how bitter and cruel some of the older generation of women were to the protagonists, and how difficult it was for them to stop being so mean and controlling. Seriously, where are all the therapists when you need them? At any rate, the prose was intricate and the plot gained momentum and then careened along like a child on a new bicycle to a satisfying HEA ending. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who likes MJ Rose, Alice Hoffman or Sarah Addison Allen's works.

My Sister's Song by Gail Carriger is a short story that only connects slightly to her parasolverse novels, but it's a delight just the same, as a standalone work. Here's the blurb: The warrior Mithra must repel a Roman legion alone and armed only with one very tasty weapon.

New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger presents a funny historical fantasy short story about a woman warrior set in ancient Roman times.

The Romans are marching! To protect her lands and her tribe, Mithra comes up with a sticky solution to an impossible problem. 
This charming short story is full of archaeological research, historical tips, and how one woman can face up against insurmountable odds, ideal for fans of Jane Yolen or Mercedes Lackey. If you want more strong women fighting hard for their family in a historical setting try Gail’s Custard Protocol series.

This is a quick read at 4000 words (about 9 printed pages) available in print form in Sword & Sorceress XVII (1998 edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley) and was Carriger’s first professional sale. 

Though it is a SPOILER, I have to say that the historical solution to getting rid of unwanted incursions of soldiers by poisoning them with honey gotten from poisoned plant pollen is sheer genius. The prose is on point and the story itself moves along rapidly, leaving the reader wanting more. I'd give it an A, and recommend it for GC fans who want a bit of something fun and distracting outside of her Soulless and Finishing School series.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata is a bizarre and somehow compelling look into the life of an autistic young woman who finds her place in society, only to be constantly harried by her family and society to conform to what they believe to be a better life. Here's the blurb: The English-language debut of one of Japan’s most talented contemporary writers, selling over 650,000 copies there, Convenience Store Woman is the heartwarming and surprising story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura. Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart,” she finds peace and purpose in her life. In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction—many are laid out line by line in the store’s manual—and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a “normal” person excellently, more or less. Managers come and go, but Keiko stays at the store for eighteen years. It’s almost hard to tell where the store ends and she begins. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her, from her family to her coworkers, increasingly pressure her to find a husband, and to start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action…A brilliant depiction of an unusual psyche and a world hidden from view, Convenience Store Woman is an ironic and sharp-eyed look at contemporary work culture and the pressures to conform, as well as a charming and completely fresh portrait of an unforgettable heroine.

I don't know that I would call Keiko unforgettable or a great protagonist, since she caves to pressure and brings a disgusting and manipulative, lazy homeless man into her own apartment so that it will look like she is having a relationship, when in reality he treats her poorly and is only there to use her for his own benefit. Why she doesn't get rid of this creep I don't know, he's horrible. She finally realizes that she is only going to be happy working in the convenience store anyway, so the story comes full circle, and I would hope she tells everyone in her family and friend circle to go jump off a bridge and keep their noses out of her business. It's particularly frustrating to read about a character who obviously is a high functioning autistic person (probably has Aspergers) but, due to Japans loathing of anyone with a disability, the author never says why Keiko is so different from everyone else. Wake up, Japan! There is no shame in being disabled! I'd give this book a B, and recommend it to anyone who is looking for a unique protagonist story.

From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L Armentrout is a fantasy novel that I read as an ebook. The prose was rich and riveting and the plot sturdy and swift. This book reminded me a lot of the works of Sarah Maas and Veronica Roth. Here's the blurb:

Captivating and action-packed, From Blood and Ash is a sexy, addictive, and unexpected fantasy perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas

A Maiden…

Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.

A Duty…

The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.

A Kingdom…

Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel.

Poppy is a kick butt heroine who survives so many setbacks that it's amazing she is not insane by the end of this first book of the series. I liked that she never gave up or gave in, and was full of fire even when things were at their darkest. I also like that Poppy doesn't let Hawke's betrayal and revelations turn her away from wanting to help people and find the truth. I have to give this astonishing work an A, and recommend it to those who like female-lead epic fantasy. 

Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han was the third book in her YA series, made into Netflix movies that are actually as good as, if not better than the books. I found the prose in this book to be simplified enough that it read as a middle grade novel for young tweens and early teenagers, rather than the full YA book treatment for older teens and young adults in their 20s. I felt the plot was simplistic as well, and became full of boring tropes by the third chapter. Here's the blurb: Lara Jean’s letter-writing days aren’t over in this surprise follow-up to the bestselling To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You.

Lara Jean is having the best senior year a girl could ever hope for. She is head over heels in love with her boyfriend, Peter; her dad’s finally getting remarried to their next door neighbor, Ms. Rothschild; and Margot’s coming home for the summer just in time for the wedding.

But change is looming on the horizon. And while Lara Jean is having fun and keeping busy helping plan her father’s wedding, she can’t ignore the big life decisions she has to make. Most pressingly, where she wants to go to college and what that means for her relationship with Peter. She watched her sister Margot go through these growing pains. Now Lara Jean’s the one who’ll be graduating high school and leaving for college and leaving her family—and possibly the boy she loves—behind.

When your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

Honestly, this was like reading the vapid journal of a popular cheerleader from high school, whose main concerns are clothes, going out with boyfriends and giggling with friends/sisters. Stuff that most young women can't relate to, because many teenagers weren't popular or conformative during high school, and its those characters, with their differences and quirks and far from perfect home lives that are interesting to read about. The nerds grow up to create great things, while the pretty popular people tend to stay home and marry and have babies in their hometowns...boring! The protagonist is a controlling b*tch who has a huge meltdown when she doesn't get into the college of her choice, so then she has to go to one of the colleges that do admit her, and you'd think the world was going to end! Ridiculous! Lara Jean was just so superficial, selfish and vapid that I couldn't stand her, and I had trouble getting through this book. I'd give it a C, and only recommend it to those who want to know what the pretty and perfect girls from high school live like. Warning, it's not very exciting, it's actually a dull, stereotypical existence. 


Friday, January 15, 2021

The Sorcerer's Apprentice Musical, S&S Cancels A Senator's Book, The Sparrow Comes to TV, Review of Made in China, The Library Book by Susan Orlean, Space Junk by Sara L Hudson, The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith, and Proceed with Caution by Sandra Alex

Hi Bibliophiles! This marks the 750th post in my book blog, and after 16 years, I could not be prouder of it and of myself for sticking with it this long, sharing reviews with anyone who stops by. 

Meanwhile, I've been reading more ebooks than ever, probably because I've been offered low cost or free ebooks each week through book publisher's email newsletters. Unfortunately, about half of them turn out to be so poorly written that they're unreadable, and I have to abandon them after the first 20-40 pages. Still, the ones I'm able to continue to read generally make it worthwhile to download ebooks at all. So, onward with the tidbits for the second week of January.

I love musicals, and I am really looking forward to streaming this one online, though I don't know if I will be able to afford it.

On Stage Online: The Sorcerer's Apprentice Musical

The world premiere of The Sorcerer's Apprentice musical, a "gender-swapped twist on the Johann Wolfgang von Goethe poem" that had been scheduled for in-person performances at London's Southwark Playhouse beginning January 9, "will now be streamed due to the pandemic and continued lockdown," Playbill reported. The pay-per-view stream will be available January 26 to February 14.

Directed by Charlotte Westenra, the production features Olivier nominee Nicola Blackman (Destry Rides Again), Dawn Hope (Follies), Mary Moore, Marc Pickering (Seussical), Yazdan Qafouri (The Band), and Olivier winner David Thaxton (Passion) with Tom Bales, Ryan Pidgen, Vicki Lee Taylor, and Kayleigh Thadani.

"The latest national lockdown leaves us with a show ready to perform which we are unable to share with live audiences," producer James Seabright said. "I have been inspired by the determination and resolve of our cast, creative team to make this possible whilst maintaining the highest safety standards for everyone on and off stage."

I laud Simon and Schuster for their efforts in crushing the debut of a book by this fascist, white supremicist Senator, who should be thrown out of his government role and into jail, in my opinion. Hawley's a scumbag.


Simon & Schuster Cancels Senator Josh Hawley's Upcoming Book


Simon & Schuster has canceled Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley's upcoming book, The Tyranny of Big Tech, which was scheduled to be released in June. A leader in the Senate of efforts to overturn the results of the presidential election despite no evidence of  fraud--continuing even after the insurrection--Hawley has also been accused of helping to incite the mob that stormed the Capitol building Wednesday. Among other things, before the attack, he waved, gave thumbs up signals and raised his fist in solidarity with the crowd that was gathering.


In a statement, Simon & Schuster said the company had made its decision "after witnessing the disturbing, deadly insurrection that took place on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.... We did not come to this decision lightly. As a publisher it will always be our mission to amplify a variety of voices and viewpoints: at the same time we take seriously our larger public responsibility as citizens, and cannot support Senator

Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy

and freedom."


I can't believe it has been over 20 years since I read The Sparrow (and was blown away by it...such a brilliant premise and so well written!) and that now it has finally been made into a TV show. I can hardly wait to see it on the small screen. 

TV: The Sparrow

Scott Frank, co-creator, writer and director of Netflix's hit The Queen's Gambit, is developing an adaptation of Mary Doria Russell's 1996 novel The Sparrow for FX, with Johan Renck (Chernobyl) directing, Deadline reported.

Frank will write all of the episodes of the limited series and exec produce with Renck, Better Call Saul executive producer Mark Johnson and AMC Studios. The Sparrow is being produced by FX Productions. Deadline noted that the novel "was previously in development at AMC back in 2014 with Michael Perry (The River) writing. Brad Pitt was also previously attached to a feature film adaptation with Plan B and Warner Bros."

 This is just heartbreaking, to know that some poor soul had to smuggle an SOS letter into some cheap Walmart decorations to get someone to notice the enslavement of political prisoners in China. Their human rights violations are heinous and ongoing. I plan on finding a copy of this book and reading it ASAP.

Book Review

Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America's Cheap Goods

Oregonian Julie Keith was decorating for Halloween in 2012 when she came across an SOS letter, written in careful English with a mix of Chinese characters, stuck inside a package of cheap decorations she'd purchased at Kmart years earlier. The letter, from Chinese political prisoner Sun Yi, sparked a series of news stories and interest in Chinese forced labor camps. Despite the international attention turned toward the "open secret" of the Chinese manufacturing world, little changed in the long run--in large part, argues journalist Amelia Pang in Made in China, because of Americans' demand for trendy products at impossibly low prices.

Pang, a journalist with ties to the religious activist group of which Sun Yi also was a member, spent three years peeling back the layers of this stranger-than-fiction story, including interviews with Sun Yi, undercover trips to China to pose as a buyer, and covertly following trucks in and out of various Chinese factories to track suppliers and producers. Made in China is a careful account of all she learned, from the establishment of the first Chinese labor camps in the 1930s to the persistence of the present-day laogai ("reform through labor") industry--which "remains the largest forced-labor system in operation today... a vast network of prisons, camps, and various extralegal detention centers." (As recently as 2016, the Laogai Research Foundation, a human rights organization focusing on these Chinese gulags, estimated that more than 1,400 of these camps and prisons existed.)

Pang's investigative journalism is global in scope, drawing on interviews with human rights activists, government watchdog groups, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and laogai prisoners, as well as extensive research in news archives and analysis of various corporate purchase orders and supply chain records. Made in China is not cumbersome, however, despite these many threads; each is necessary to understand the laogai system as a whole, and what drives it. Pang draws clear lines between each seemingly disparate piece to reveal the "darker side to China's rags-to-riches transformation--and our [Americans'] own pleasure in the cheap products we consume daily." With clarity and sensitivity, she exposes the human cost of the global demand for cut-rate products, and provides clear calls to action for individuals, corporations and governments to stem these abuses. Any reader with half a heart will be hard-pressed not to re-examine their own buying habits after reading this incredible, moving account. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

The Library Book by Susan Orlean was the January book for my library book group. While I usually enjoy Orlean's fiction-like writing style of her non fiction books, This particular book had too many falls down the rabbit hole of research findings that made parts of it as dry and boring as a textbook. Still, Orlean's writing style managed to get back on track, so that by the ending I felt well informed and yearned for a visit to the LA Central Library just to see the odd building murals and architecture. Here's the blurb: “Everybody who loves books should check out The Library Book” (The Washington Post).

On the morning of April 28, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. The fire was disastrous: it reached two thousand degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a “delightful…reflection on the past, present, and future of libraries in America” (New York magazine) that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In the “exquisitely written, consistently entertaining” (The New York Times) The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries; brings each department of the library to vivid life; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.
Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country.

I agree with the reviewers blurbs that this is an elegantly written book that is, for the most part, entertaining, though it doesn't satisfy readers need for a tidy ending, as we never do find out if the library fire was started by Harry Peak or if it started accidently due to bad storage conditions. Still, I did like learning about library fires, library book reclamation and other odd tidbits. I'd give this book a B, and recommend it to anyone who is a bibliophile and who grew up in the sacred space that is the local library. 

Space Junk (Houston, We Have a Hottie) by Sara L Hudson was an ebook that I was able to download for free, and I did so on a whim because the title and cover were hilarious send ups of the modern romance genre, and I thought that even if this book is a stinker, it will be full of ironic use of romance cliches and tropes, and I will get a good laugh out of it. (Just to illuminate further, the cover shot is of a naked male torso with six pack abs and a picture of the phallic space shuttle held in front of the male torso's jeans fly, so the rocket is an obvious reference to his penis, as is the title 'space JUNK' with the junk referring to his genitals as well). Imagine my surprise when I discovered that despite the humorous use of cover shot and title, the writing was witty, clean and intelligent, while the plot whooshed along at Mach 3. Here's the blurb: Houston, we have a problem: Five Stars just ain’t gonna cut it for this book!!!

NASA engineer Dr. Jackie Darling Lee is a genius about many things... the male species is not one of them (despite the many cowboy romances she reads).
Then a little friendly blackmail from a co-worker has Jackie walking into a Texas saloon ready to initiate Operation Social Life.
After making friends with her waitress and helping a drunk country beauty get home safely, she thinks she’s off to a good start.

Flynn West left his family’s rich ranching life behind after discovering his girlfriend’s gold digging ways. Now he specializes in vintage muscle car restorations in his own shop in Houston.
He’s taken women off his radar, until a wild-haired blonde drags his drunk little sister through his front door.
The moment he sees those thick, black-framed glasses on that slender nose, Flynn’s captivated. Ignitions ignite, and not just from Flynn’s skills at hot-wiring cars.

But in the midst of the International Space Station being threatened and old flames reappearing, can Jackie and Flynn let go of old hang-ups long enough to reach the end of their Happily Ever After countdown? Or will it be a failure to launch?

I honestly loved Jackie and Flynn, not just because they had a payload of chemistry, but because they seemed like real people with real jobs and problems. I also enjoyed reading about a man who wasn't intimidated by a woman's doctorate and rocket scientist level genius, but instead found her brain power sexy. Such men have always seemed to be very few and far between, in my experience. My only problem with Flynn was his focus on having a lot of children. Whether he realizes it or not, having babies takes a huge toll on most women, and men wanting children as their legacy is selfish when they're not the ones whose bodies have to bear the brunt of carrying babies to term and going through the harrowing process of labor and delivery, which can be life-threatening. The fact that Jackie somehow abandons her brainpower (she should know the stats on having a number of children and surviving are not in her favor) to agree with Flynn that having a basketball team's worth of children is a great idea, doesn't really fit with the savvy character that the author has set up in the rest of the book. It's also horribly sexist to say that a woman isn't somehow complete or a real woman/wife until she pops out some heirs for her husband. Seriously, that kind of misogyny went out with hoop skirts. Still, I enjoyed most of the rest of the book, and it was a fast read. I'd give it a B+ and recommend it to romance fans who like a mostly-modern take on relationships, or those who have a thing for space and planes and astronauts.

The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith is the February pick for my library book group. I read it as an ebook because I discovered that there were a number of holds on physical copies of the book, and I had heard that it wasn't a very long text to begin with. I was right, in that this short but well written entry of Smith's into the Swedish Noire Mystery genre was a fast and fascinating read. Here's the blurb: In the Swedish criminal justice system, certain cases are considered especially strange and difficult, in Malmö, the dedicated detectives who investigate these crimes are members of an elite squad known as the Sensitive Crimes Division.

These are their stories.

The first case: the small matter of a man stabbed in the back of the knee. Who would perpetrate such a crime and why? Next: a young woman's imaginary boyfriend goes missing. But how on earth do you search for someone who doesn't exist? And in the final investigation: eerie secrets that are revealed under a full moon may not seem so supernatural in the light of day. No case is too unusual, too complicated, or too, well insignificant for this squad to solve.

The team: Ulf “the Wolf” Varg, the top dog, thoughtful and diligent; Anna Bengsdotter, who's in love with Varg's car (and possibly Varg too); Carl Holgersson, who likes nothing more than filling out paperwork; and Erik Nykvist, who is deeply committed to fly fishing.

With the help of a rather verbose local police officer, this crack team gets to the bottom of cases other detectives can't or won't bother to handle. Equal parts hilarious and heartening, The Department of Sensitive Crimes is a tour de farce from a true master. 

Where do I start to describe the funny, sad and wonderful characters that inhabit this book? Smith is a master of efficient prose that marches along a smart plot, but here he takes on the pessimistic yet kind and gentle Swedish zeitgeist with deft hands, making clear the hilarious situations without making fun of the people involved in a mean is done as more of an homage. Every oddball and weirdo is given a hearing and often a shoulder to cry on. You get the feeling that this is a country that could use some antidepressants slipped into the water supply. That said, the laughter balances out the sad and often bizarre cases in a way that makes the book memorable. I'd give it an A-, and recommend it to anyone who reads dark mysteries.

Proceed With Caution by Sandra Alex was another ebook that I got for free, and I'm glad that I didn't pay anything for this amateurishly written romance. Here's the blurb: A heartbroken heartthrob. A fugitive fiance. Sparks fly when Julia flees...right into Colton.

He had me at hello. Months later, I’m fleeing the state with an engagement ring on my finger. John isn’t the one. What looks good on paper is ugly behind closed doors. My sister Liz doesn’t know about John, but she takes me in, with problems of her own. The night I help tend bar with Liz is when I meet Colton. Liz warns me about him. Says that he’s a hardened man. And he looks it, too. With his smouldering eyes and square shoulders, he’s a force to be reckoned with. But he notices me looking over my shoulder and teaches me a thing or two about men like John, and not in a way that I would expect.
Afghanistan changes a man in a way that nothing else can. Betrayal does the same. Mix the two and you get me. It’s like I wear a badge, marking my military background, and then they find out that I’m a Ford boy and suddenly I’m a piece of meat with dollar signs. But they can all drop dead, because a woman is the last thing that I want. I bounce at a bar strictly to protect my little brother. He plays in a band in this seedy joint, and I’m here to keep his nose clean in more ways than one. But then Liz brings her little sister Julia in one night to cover, and I realize that I’m not the only one with a sibling looking over their shoulder.

The main problem with this book is that it covers all the cliches and tropes of romance novels and doesn't really stray far enough from them to fully reach it's story potential. There's the tatted up hottie who is a wounded vet, and the evil psychotic ex-fiance who plans to harm the damsel in distress because he can't fathom that the woman he wants to possess doesn't want to be his slave and possession. Then there's the sweet young gal who, despite being 'tough' enough to run away from the ex, still needs protection by the tattooed hottie. And said hottie also protects his irresponsible stupid brother who makes bad life choices every chance he gets, and expects his brother to clean up after him. Sigh.

The sex scenes are graphic and focus on some weird sounds and such, but I enjoyed the swiftness of the plot and the HEA ending. Still, I would give this e-book a C+, and only recommend it to those looking for something that doesn't tax their brain much. 



Thursday, January 07, 2021

RIP Barry Lopez, Pretend It's a City Movie, The Mystery of Mrs Christie, Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop by Roselle Lim, The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke, Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce and The Irish Cottage: Finding Elizabeth by Juliet Gauvin

Hello 2021! A whole new year of reading and reviewing is upon us, fellow book lovers. I'm looking forward to so many things this year, the COVID 19 vaccine being chief among them, as well as a return to sanity in our nation's capital, Washington DC. I'm also looking forward to more great books and not-so-great books, read for pleasure or for the Tuesday Night Book Group that I head up at the local library (currently via Zoom online). But first, here are some tidbits and an obit from Shelf Awareness. 

RIP to yet another author whose work in the natural world was wonderful. 

Obituary Note: Barry Lopez

Barry Lopez, "a lyrical writer who steeped himself in Arctic wildernesses, the habitats of wolves and exotic landscapes around the world for award-winning books that explored the kinship of nature and human culture," died December 25, the New York Times reported. He was 75. Lopez, who won the 1987 National Book Award (nonfiction) for Arctic Dreams (1986), "embraced landscapes and literature with humanitarian, environmental and spiritual sensibilities that some critics likened to those of Thoreau and John Muir."

Last September, Oregon's wildfires destroyed much of his property. Lopez's wife, Debra Gwartney, told NPR that he lost an archive storing most of his books, awards, notes and correspondence from the past 50 years, as well as much of the forest around the home. "He talked a lot about climate change and how it's so easy to think that it's going to happen to other people and not to you," she said. "But it happened to us, it happened to him personally. The fire was a blow he never could recover from."

In his Guardian piece, McFarlane had noted: "Perhaps the best way to think of Lopez is as a postmodern devout. His prose--priestly, intense, grace-noted--carries the hushed urgency of the sermon. Irony and ambiguity are not in his repertoire. His is an unshadowed style, 'transparent as a polished windowpane.' "

I've been a fan of Lebowitz since the 70s, when I found her wonderful essays and sense of humor riveting reading, especially about a city I've long dreamed of visiting, New York.

Movies: Pretend It's a City

Netflix released a trailer for Pretend It's a City, the Martin Scorsese-directed limited documentary series that will premiere January 8. Indiewire reported that the project marks the second major collaboration between Scorsese and critic/essayist Fran Lebowitz (after the 2010 HBO documentary film Public Speaking), a "longtime friend of Scorsese and American social critic who published bestselling books such as Metropolitan Life and Social Studies."

Netflix noted that Lebowitz "knows what she likes--and what she doesn't like. And she won't wait for an invitation to tell you.... Shaping Lebowitz's thoughts into the furiously funny guidebook every New Yorker has at one point wished for, Pretend It's a City checks in with a classic urban voice on subjects ranging from tourists, money, subways, and the arts to the not-so-simple act of walking in Times Square. (There is a right way to do it.) Along the way, Lebowitz's own past comes into focus: a life marked by constant curiosity and invigorating independence."

 This is yet another book on my list of books that I want to read this year, and since I've read a number of Marie Benedict's other books, I know that this one is going to have quality prose and a slick plot that will keep me turning pages into the wee hours.

Pennie Picks:  The Mystery of Mrs. Christie


Pennie Clark Ianniciello, Costco's book buyer, has selected The Mystery

of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict (Sourcebooks Landmark, $26.99,

9781492682721) as her pick for January. In Costco Connection, which goes

to many of the warehouse club's members, she writes:

"On Friday, December 3, 1926, a young up-and-coming writer by the name of Agatha Christie vanished. Eleven days later, Christie reappeared with no memory of what had happened. While there were theories and rumors about the disappearance, the truth never emerged, not even in her autobiography. In this month's book buyer's pick, The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, Marie Benedict has concocted a riveting scenario that could easily have been an early Hitchcock film. The book will leave you spellbound."

Vanessa Yu's Magical Paris Tea Shop by Roselle Lim is yet another book whose title is something of a misnomer. This book isn't about a magical tea shop at all, it's about a young woman who believes she is cursed with powers of divination and clarvoyance that she cannot control and doesn't want, because the prophecies she spews are largely negative and seem to ruin not only the life of the person she's talking to, but fill her with shame and guilt for knowing something so private about strangers. That Vanessa is sent to her maiden aunties fledgling tea shop to learn to control her powers from said auntie, who has similar powers that she can control, is only part of the plot. Much of the book also revolves around Vanessa's family and the bossy aunties who control everyone's life and apparently have the ability to force marriage on the younger generation, who don't protest this, but dully accept it, like the spineless creatures that they are. Here's the blurb: Vanessa Yu never wanted to see people's fortunes—or misfortunes—in tea leaves.
Ever since she can remember, Vanessa has been able to see people's fortunes at the bottom of their teacups. To avoid blurting out their fortunes, she converts to coffee, but somehow fortunes escape and find a way to complicate her life and the ones of those around her. To add to this plight, her romance life is so nonexistent that her parents enlist the services of a matchmaking expert from Shanghai.
After her matchmaking appointment, Vanessa sees death for the first time. She decides that she can't truly live until she can find a way to get rid of her uncanny abilities. When her eccentric Aunt Evelyn shows up with a tempting offer to whisk her away, Vanessa says au revoir to California and bonjour to Paris. There, Vanessa learns more about herself and the root of her gifts and realizes one thing to be true: knowing one's destiny isn't a curse, but being unable to change it is.

Lim's prose was stilted and conformed to a number of tropes and cliches, while her plot stalled several times due to redundancy and a amateur writing style. I found the female characters lack of spine to stand up for herself and what she wanted, disturbing at best and misogynistic at worst. I could tell that the author put this down to cultural norms, but since the protagonist is 4th generation American, I didn't buy that excuse. So I'd give this lackluster YA novel a C, and only recommend it to those who like romances that are obvious and plots that are laid out right from the first chapter and hold no surprises for the reader.

The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke is another YA novel that really isn't a YA novel, but rather a thinly disguised morbid romance. The book is about a concert pianist who dies in a horrible airplane accident and leaves her fiance (and her mother) to grieve at the loss of her beauty and brilliance, as if there are no other talented and accomplished women in the music world. This paragon of musical virtue, Diana, (who sounded, in the first chapters before her death like a spoiled and snobbish narcissist) was writing a song for her man before she died, but she left the notebook with the music score in the hotel she was staying in and didn't bring it on the airplane, so it didn't die with her. Fortunately, a man finds the notebook and brings it home, only to have the music played by several people who find the notebook, steal it or hear the music played, and it changes their lives in significant ways. Meanwhile, between these miraculous stories, Diana's erstwhile fiance Arie spends years grieving her loss and dealing with her fragile mother, who was destroyed by the loss of her daughter. So every other chapter is about Arie's horrible grief (he knew nothing about the song, BTW), followed by a chapter about people whose lives are touched by the song, including a young woman who miraculously rents the Air B&B right next door to Arie and who falls in love with him while playing the song that his dead fiance wrote (what are the chances?!?). Readers will know that Arie and Evie are meant to be together after their first meeting, and the only thing keeping them apart is his guilt and grief over Diana. Here's the blurb:
Concert pianist Diana is finally ready to marry her longtime fiance, Arie; she’s even composing a beautiful love song for him, and finishes it while on tour. Before she can play it for him, though, tragedy strikes—and Diana is lost to Arie forever.

But her song might not be.

In Australia, the world has gone quiet for Arie and he lives his life accordingly, struggling to cope with his loss. In Scotland, a woman named Evie is taking stock of her life after the end of another lackluster almost-relationship. Years of wandering the globe and failing to publish her poetry have taken their toll, and she might finally be ready to find what her travels have never been able to give her: a real home. And through a quirk of fate or circumstance, Diana’s song is passed from musician to musician. By winding its way around the world, it just might bring these two lost souls together.

With heart-wrenching emotion, The Last Love Song explores what it means to be lost, what it means to be found, and the power of music to bring people together.

Though the prose in this novel was clean and sturdy, the plot had several wobbles and I felt that way too much time was spent on Arie wallowing in grief, which is pretty boring to read about. Especially since it seemed obvious to me that Diana wasn't really worth all that whining. Still, I'd give this novel a B- and recommend it to those who believe in the power of music to bring people together.

Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce is the 4th book of hers that I've read.  While I liked The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, the other two novels of Joyces that I've read, The Music Shop and the Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy were not as good as her debut novel, not as engrossing or filled with characters that I wanted to read about. Unfortunately, Miss Benson's Beetle continued this trend into infamy, and I nearly stopped reading the book altogether after reaching page 151 and realizing that I loathed both main characters and wasn't interested in their journey at all. But, after reading several other books, I finally girded my reading loins and picked the book back up and read it through to the bitter and unfinished end. Here's the blurb: From the bestselling author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry comes an uplifting, irresistible novel about two women on a life-changing adventure, where they must risk everything, break all the rules, and discover their best selves—together.

She’s going too far to go it alone.
It is 1950. London is still reeling from World War II, and Margery Benson, a schoolteacher and spinster, is trying to get through life, surviving on scraps. One day, she reaches her breaking point, abandoning her job and small existence to set out on an expedition to the other side of the world in search of her childhood obsession: an insect that may or may not exist—the golden beetle of New Caledonia. When she advertises for an assistant to accompany her, the woman she ends up with is the last person she had in mind. Fun-loving Enid Pretty in her tight-fitting pink suit and pom-pom sandals seems to attract trouble wherever she goes. But together these two British women find themselves drawn into a cross-ocean adventure that exceeds all expectations and delivers something neither of them expected to find: the transformative power of friendship. 

Neither Marge nor Enid are good people, Margery is a fragile frump who loses her mind after a student draws an unflattering picture of her in class, and she realizes, out of the blue, that she's an object of ridicule among her snotty teenage students. Having been bullied by teenagers myself for at least 5 years, I know how it feels to be made fun of, but even as a teenager, I had more gumption and spine than the middle aged Marge Benson, who somehow can't live with being laughed at by a bunch of snotty spotty idiot children. How ridiculous of her, and how immature! So she decides to take this ill fated trip to the tropics when she knows nothing of travel by sea and doesn't know any languages other than English. Instead of hiring someone capable, she almost hires a POW who was so abused he's become a psychopath with PTSD, (he ends up stalking and almost killing her) and does hire a wanted criminal who is not only a former prostitute but a suspected murderer, and she's crazy and pregnant and stupid as well. Enid also knows nothing of actual travel or of harvesting insects, and SPOILER, dies anyway after giving birth, leaving Marge with a child she has no idea how to care for. We never learn the fate of the child, we only learn that Marge sends insects to the National Museum without her name, and that she doesn't tell anyone for 30 years that she actually found the golden beetle, but decided, after all the death and mayhem it caused, to not collect and send it into the museum! Stupid! I really regret wasting the hours of my life that I did reading this vastly unsatisfying book. I'd give it a D, and not recommend it to anyone. 

The Irish Cottage: Finding Elizabeth by Juliet Gauvin was a free ebook that I downloaded through an Amazon prime program that allows me a few free ebooks a month. While it was billed as a romance, I found the beauty of Ireland and its people to be nearly as compelling as the romance between the protagonist and her Irish prince. Here's the blurb: Elizabeth Lara built a perfect life as San Francisco’s top divorce attorney, but when she loses her great-aunt Mags, the woman who raised her, she boards a plane and leaves it all behind.

The Irish shores welcome her as she learns a shocking truth, kept secret for thirty-five years. Devastated and now alone in the world, Beth tries to find peace in a beautiful cottage by Lough Rhiannon, but peace isn’t what fate had in mind. Almost as soon as she arrives, Beth’s solitary retreat into the magic wilds of Ireland is interrupted by Connor Bannon. A man with light brown hair, ice blue eyes and a secret of his own. He’s gorgeous, grieving, and completely unexpected.
With the help of Mags’ letters, the colorful townspeople of Dingle, and Connor, Elizabeth might just find a way back to the girl she lost long ago and become the woman she always wanted to be.

A Note From Jules:
Be forewarned you might not want to start this book late at night—several readers have reported “gobbling it up” and going on to the next book immediately. This book is literary women’s fiction, it is not a traditional romance, per se.

I totally agree with the note from the author, above. I did gobble it up in short order, and it wasn't really a traditional romance where the surroundings of the couple don't matter, but the sex scenes are all important and described in excruciating detail. The author was judicious in her use of sex scenes, and I loved her descriptions of Dingle and surrounding areas of Ireland, because I visited Ireland back in 2000, and though I never made it to Dingle or the Cliffs of Moher, I loved the people that I met, the music and dancing and the great food that I ate. This is one of those sweet books that is a reprieve from the daily grind, and provides a fun and breezy escape. The prose is lush and green and the plot sweeping and swift. I'd give it a B+, and recommend it to anyone who likes UK romances and stories of life changes and renewals.


Thursday, December 31, 2020

Happy 2021 to My Fellow Bibliophiles, The Lending Library by Aliza Fogelson, The Dark Archive by Genevieve Cogman and Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Welcome, friends and fellow book lovers! The last post of 2020, the most heinous year on record, is finally here! I am looking forward to a better 2021, with more books read, more posts, and, after vaccination for COVID 19, the joys of actually walking into the local library and bookstore and talking to my fellow bibliophiles, face to face!  

As an extrovert, the quarantine has been particularly stressful for me, because I couldn't go outside my home to mix and mingle with my fellow human beings. Now that the end of isolation is in sight, I am anticipating going out and doing so many things that I took for granted in the years before the pandemic. Like having tea at Ristrettos cafe, or checking out my holds at the MV Library while picking up a copy of Book Page magazine and perusing the reviews of upcoming fiction titles. Even having a sandwich at a restaurant with my son seems like the height of extravagance after a year spent indoors. I think we're all looking forward to rebuilding the economy and our lives, brick by brick, in the coming year.

So, with all that in mind, here are three reviews and a hearty HAPPY NEW YEAR to all my fellow bibliophiles! A healthy 2021 to us all! 

The Lending Library by Aliza Fogelson is a wonderful novel that held some surprises for me and was a bit deeper than I was expecting it to be as well. Here's the blurb:

For fans of Jane Green and Loretta Nyhan, a heartwarming debut novel about a daydreamer who gives her town, and herself, an amazing gift: a lending library in her sunroom while confronting an even higher stakes, life-changing, decision.

When the Chatsworth library closes indefinitely, Dodie Fairisle loses her sanctuary. How is a small-town art teacher supposed to cope without the never-ending life advice and enjoyment that books give her? Well, when she’s as resourceful and generous as Dodie, she turns her sunroom into her very own little lending library.

At first just a hobby, this lit lovers’ haven opens up her world in incredible ways. She knows books are powerful, and soon enough they help her forge friendships between her zany neighbors—and attract an exciting new romance.

But when the chance to adopt an orphaned child brings Dodie’s secret dream of motherhood within reach, everything else suddenly seems less important. Finding herself at a crossroads, Dodie must figure out what it means to live a full, happy life. If only there were a book that could tell her what to do…

I was expecting this book to be more about books and the love of books than about a woman's longing (actually, several women's longings) for babies and long term love relationships. And while Dodie does love and nurture her little library that brings in people from all over her small town, it becomes obvious that her relationship with Shep and her desire to be a mother are running roughshod over her ability to keep the library open and operational, especially since she's loathe to ask for help, though plenty of people are willing to volunteer to help her with the lending library. Apparently, confronting her crappy biological father (with her sisters in tow) about his abandonment of them as children, coupled with her realization that she must put the needs of an orphaned child above her own selfish and desperate desires, leads Dodie to start a life of adventure with Shep, which one hopes will lead Dodie to further personal growth. Having never had this "desperate" need to have a child (I was certain that I was sterile and was totally okay with that...I was shocked when I became pregnant, and I loved being a parent, but I never had that clawing need that some women seem to have to reproduce or to adopt a baby) I found it hard to identify with Dodie's selfishness, while also finding it easy to understand her love of books and reading and community. Fogelson's prose is sterling, and her plot flows nicely along, with few bumps or potholes along the way. I'd give it a B+ and recommend it to those who love books and babies in equal measure, as well as romance readers who like quirky protagonists.

The Dark Archive by Genevieve Cogman is the 7th novel in the Invisible Library series. I've read and enjoyed all of the books, which combine steampunk adventures, time traveling romance and fantasy mystery altogether in one sensational plot that will keep you turning pages into the wee hours. Here's the blurb: A professional spy for a mysterious Library which harvests fiction from different realities, Irene faces a series of assassination attempts that threaten to destroy her and everything she has worked for.

Irene is teaching her new assistant the fundamentals of a Librarian's job, and finding that training a young Fae is more difficult than she expected. But when they're the targets of kidnapping and assassination attempts, she decides that learning by doing is the only option they have left ... 

In order to protect themselves, Irene and her friends must do what they do best: search for information to defeat the overwhelming threat they face and identify their unseen enemy. To do that, Irene will have to delve deeper into her own history than she ever has before, face an ancient foe, and uncover secrets that will change her life and the course of the Library forever.

Cogman's prose is deliciously rich and full, and the plot has so many twists and turns you could get mental whiplash if you're not paying attention. Irene is such a smart and stalwart protagonist, I have to remind myself as a reader that she's actually human, and not one of the fae or dragon factions that she deals with all the time. Still, I am certain that the big surprise was actually no surprise at all for those of us who have read the other 6 books in the series (I will not spoil it for you, but it was very Star Wars-esque). I also have to say that I don't like the sexism and classism evident in the main male protagonists, especially the dragons, who seem like a really awful group of beings, almost xenophobic, despite their supposed commitment to the peace treaty. Not that the fae faction is a lot better, but they're at least overt in their treachery and trickery. I still enjoyed the book, though, despite its problematic male characters. I'd give it an A-, and recommend it to anyone who has read the previous books, which I highly recommend.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert is a fantastic YA romance novel about a young black woman from a wealthy family with fibromyalgia and mental health issues who develops feelings for the superintendent of her apartment building, a red-headed Irish guy from the poorer section of town. Because this book takes place in England, there's a great deal of witty and sarcastic dialog and struggles with classism. Here's the blurb:

A witty, hilarious romantic comedy about a woman who’s tired of being “boring” and recruits her mysterious, sexy neighbor to help her experience new things

Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. The next items?

  • Enjoy a drunken night out.
  • Ride a motorcycle.
  • Go camping.
  • Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
  • Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
  • And... do something bad.

But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.

Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…

I really loved the characters of this book, and I adored the funny and witty dialog, and the relationship that develops between Red and Chloe, fraught as it is with emotional baggage and stereotypes (such as the spoiled little rich girl with gossipy, nosy and interfering sisters and family members, and the poor young man whose heart was broken by a rich gal who used him and discarded him like yesterday's news), but enriched by a love that will not be easily capsized. Having a chronic ailment myself, I was also thrilled to see that Chloe's disability and her work-arounds were a big part of the storyline. The sex scenes sizzled and the well wrought prose brought the swift plot to a beautiful HEA. I haven't read anything by this author previously, but after this wonderful reading experience, I plan on seeking out all of her novels posthaste! I'd give this book a solid A, and recommend it to anyone 18 or over who enjoys "opposite sides of the track" romances that are inclusive of  POC and disabled folks.


Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Magical Reality of Nadia comes to TV, How To Fail at Flirting, Confessions of a Curious Bookseller by Elizabeth Green, Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer, and the Midnight Library by Matt Haig

The second to last post of the year is here! I've got a whole raft of new books to read, which I will talk about in my final post of the year 4 days from now. Meanwhile, here's what I've read so far, along with some interesting tidbits.

This sounds like a fascinating show that I'd really like to see on a streaming service like Netflix.

TV: The Magical Reality of Nadia

Political satirist/comedian Bassem Youssef is teaming with Powerhouse Animation Studios to adapt his forthcoming book, The Magical Reality of Nadia, as a television series. Deadline reported that the book, written by Youssef and Catherine R. Daly with illustrations by Douglas Holgate (The Last Kids on Earth), "is inspired by Bassem's own experience and his hopes and dreams for his children." Scholastic will publish the first book in the series in February 2021. Youssef will serve as executive producer and voice the character of Titi in the series. Brad Graeber and Daniel Dominguez will also exec produce the project, which will initially be shopped to streaming services.

 This is a book that is on a list of my reading choices for 2021. I am always interested in stories with a strong female protagonist who doesn't turn into an idiot the moment that a man arrives on the scene.

How to Fail at Flirting: A Novel by Denise Williams (Berkley, $16, 9780593101902). "A sweet romance about a professor who decides to take a chance when she finds herself out at a bar by herself seated next to an attractive man in town on business. Naya never would have imagined that their one-night stand would turn into a week-long fling with the potential for even more. And because of her toxic past relationships, she is hesitant to trust Jake. I loved reading about a professor as a romance leading lady!" --Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks, Winston-Salem, N.C.

Confessions of a Curious Bookseller by Elizabeth Green is an ebook that I managed to get for free from Amazon due to a low-price to free ebook newsletter that I signed up for in 2018, and haven't used nearly often enough. Anyway, this book, with a funny cat loving proprietor of a bookstore owner, sounded right up my alley, so I grabbed the free copy for my old Kindle ASAP. I was surprised to discover that most of the book is read through blog posts, emails, twitter feeds and letters, rather than actual prose-filled chapters. This makes the book easy to read and its plot flies along so fast that you might have to go back to a previous post if you missed an important piece of information. The fact that the middle aged proprietor of the store is portrayed as a nutty liar who creates a completely different life in her head and tells her family and the public these fantasies is all the more reason to pay close attention to what is being said, lest you get fantasy and reality mixed up, as the protagonist does. Here's the blurb:

A heartening and uproariously funny novel of high hopes, bad choices, book love, and one woman’s best—and worst—intentions.

Without question, Fawn Birchill knows that her used bookstore is the heart of West Philadelphia, a cornerstone of culture for a community that, for the past twenty years, has found the quirkiness absolutely charming. When an amicable young indie bookseller invades her block, Fawn is convinced that his cushy couches, impressive selection, coffee bar, and knowledgeable staff are a neighborhood blight. Misguided yet blindly resilient, Fawn readies for battle.

But as she wages her war, Fawn is forced to reflect on a few unavoidable truths: the tribulations of online dating, a strained relationship with her family, and a devoted if not always law-abiding intern—not to mention what to do about a pen pal with whom she hasn’t been entirely honest and the litany of repairs her aging store requires.

Through emails, journal entries, combative online reviews, texts, and tweets, Fawn plans her next move. Now it’s time for her to dig deep and use every trick at her disposal if she’s to reclaim her beloved business—and her life.

While I realize that we're supposed to love goofy Fawn and her cooked up lies and backstabbing and drunken texting, I didn't find her charming at all. She  has no idea how to manage money, she constantly claims to be dating or enamored with men she encounters who are married or want nothing to do with her (and rightly so, she's a train wreak and flatters herself that she looks like Kiera Knightly, when it's obvious that she doesn't) she is delusional about her aged cat and the condition of her smelly, run down and flooded bookstore that contains few undamaged books, and she constantly sends her poor staff members to do things to the neighboring bookstore that are illegal if not immoral, all while claiming it to be the other bookstore manager's fault, when he does nothing to warrant her ire, constantly trying to be professional and nice in the face of her absurd attacks. Fawn even sells all of her dementia-addled renter's furnishings and household plants and other items to keep her bookstore afloat, all without actually getting "Janes" consent. She loathes her family, especially the father who treated her badly during her childhood, and she refuses to let go of her animosity toward him or her mother and sister, even after her mother apologizes. Honestly, I found Fawn to be a weak and cruel person who turned out much like her horrible father in the end. So I'd give this supposedly funny book (I didn't really find it amusing at all) a C-, and only recommend it to people who enjoy petty immature protagonists who need therapy and a trip to AA. 

Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer is a YA romance that is fairly well written and has some odd magical powers thrown in that are never really acknowledged to be real. Anyway, here's the blurb: In New York Times bestselling author Marissa Meyer's young adult contemporary romance, a girl is suddenly gifted with the ability to cast instant karma on those around her – both good and bad.

Chronic overachiever Prudence Barnett is always quick to cast judgment on the lazy, rude, and arrogant residents of her coastal town. Her dreams of karmic justice are fulfilled when, after a night out with her friends, she wakes up with the sudden ability to cast instant karma on those around her.

Pru giddily makes use of the power, punishing everyone from public vandals to mean gossips, but there is one person on whom her powers consistently backfire: Quint Erickson, her slacker of a lab partner. Quint is annoyingly cute and impressively noble, especially when it comes to his work with the rescue center for local sea animals.

When Pru resigns herself to working at the rescue center for extra credit, she begins to uncover truths about baby otters, environmental upheaval, and romantic crossed signals―not necessarily in that order. Her newfound karmic insights reveal how thin the line is between virtue and vanity, generosity and greed . . . love and hate… and fate.

The prose in this novel was clean and crisp, and moved along the nicely paced plot quite well. My problem with the book was the trope that pervades many YA romances, that the young woman, no matter how competent, isn't complete as a person until she meets and falls in love with the male protagonist, no matter how much of a slacker or a creep or cretin he may be. Somehow, the authors seem to say, without a guy to acknowledge you as being beautiful and smart, you just don't exist in the world, and there is no place for you as female without a male. Quint is a jerk to Pru, and treats her terribly, but because she's smart and talented and has her sh*t together when it comes to management and business, she is seen as "uptight" and unlovable and unattractive. Those same attributes are all seen as huge positives when associated with men or boys. Even her teacher downgrades her for not being able to "get along" with Quint, though he doesn't have half her acumen or focus when it comes to a school project. Meyer could easily have routed the sexism in this book and made Quint own up to being such a slacker, but he gets a free pass in the end, as do most all young men in YA romances (or adult romances, for that matter). Ugh.  Anyway, though I enjoyed much of the book because I liked Pru and her use of her instant karma powers, I was disappointed by the sexism that pervaded the novel, and I'd give it a B-.  I would recommend it to those who are interested in an opposites attract kind of YA romance.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig is a rather philosophical novel about what makes a life worth living. Here's the blurb: "Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices . . . Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?" 

A dazzling novel about all the choices that go into a life well lived, from the internationally bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive and How To Stop Time.

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig's enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

I enjoyed Nora's journey in this semi-paranormal novel, and I could understand her despair at how her life had turned out, and her need to find out what life would have been like if she'd made different or 'better' choices along the way. I think everyone wonders what their life would be like if they had become rich and famous, for example. Or if they'd have become a star athlete, or married their first love and had a family. Nora gets the chance we all crave to be able to go back and live those lives, and for a short time, wonder if she wants to remain in that life and eschew all her other selves. Nora gets stuck, however, when she discovers in each life that someone close to her, albeit her father, her mother, her brother or a friend are either non existent or dead in that life, so no one life is "perfect." There's always a sacrifice. You cannot escape the pain of loss, nor the price that one pays for fame and fortune, or a career as an Olympic athlete, or even being a successful wife and mother. There are always trade offs. When Nora finally realizes this, she goes back to her original life to try and work within it to make it a better life, realizing at last that the power is in her own hands to make her life worth living. This novel is well written, with strong prose and a beautifully-paced plot that doesn't suffer when the reader wants to stop and contemplate their own life choices. I'd give it an A, and recommend it to anyone who feels like their life  is not worth living. This book will give you something to think about, not the least of which being that suicide is a poor solution to problems that can be worked out, with a bit of help and imagination. Don't give never know what may be right around the corner.