Friday, October 21, 2016

Fantastic Beasts Five Film Deal, Bookseller Wisdom, The Violets of March by Sarah Jio, The Black Key by Amy Ewing, Glee, the Beginning by Sophia Lowell and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

As a big fan of the Harry Potter books and movies, I'm thrilled that there are more to come, at least in movies. After viewing the trailer for Fantastic Beasts, I can hardly wait for next month so I can drive to the Chalet movie theater in Enumclaw and dive back into the magical world created by the brilliant JK Rowling!

Movies: Fantastic Beasts to Be Five-Film Franchise

Last week, J.K. Rowling confirmed "that the magic will continue for
several more years," Indiewire reported. During a special fan event in
London featuring the author, director David Yates, producer David Heyman
and the cast of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Rowling said, "I'm pretty sure that there are going to be five movies,
now that I've been able to properly plot them out. We always knew that
there would be more than one."

Yates, who directed the first two Fantastic Beasts films and the last
four Harry Potter movies, said that the upcoming picture "will include a
cameo by a young Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grendelwald. He also
revealed that the sequel will not take place in New York, but rather in
another global capital city," Indiewire wrote.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will be released in theaters
November 18, with the sequel set for November 16, 2018.
'11 Things Booksellers Would Like You To Know'

This is an awesome list, and one that I have read versions of before.

Sharing "11 things booksellers would like you to know
with Bustle readers, Maddy Foley of Volumes Bookcafe in Chicago offered "a PSA from your local peddler of the written word. Was that an annoying phrase? I'm sure it
was. Moving on.... Sure, it can get draining. Last week I had someone
very condescendingly ask if I'd ever heard of Dostoevsky (yes, duh), I
field plenty of comments from people shocked that a millennial knows how
to read, and re-shelving children's books post-storytime is a true
nightmare. But there is no other job like bookselling. Here's why we
love it (and, TBH, why we don't)."

The Violets of March by Sarah Jio is one of the most annoying kinds of book I find in the world of literature, genre fiction that isn't labeled as genre fiction for sales reasons. Violets of March is a straight-up romance novel packaged like general fiction or historical/literary fiction. I don't see why publishers and authors are so shy of being labeled genre authors, as especially with the romance genre, they've got the majority of readers firmly in the palms of their hands. Statistics from bookstores around the country will back me up on this. A majority of readers are women, and of those women, most of them read and buy romance fiction. While I am not a fan of bodice rippers or the like, I've read some romance fiction that I've enjoyed over the years, particularly by authors who have a firm grasp of good storytelling principles and fine prose without using the genre as an excuse to write porn or soft porn. That said, I wasn't really in the mood to read a romance novel when I picked up this book, because I was mislead by the cover blurbs about it being a novel about generations of family secrets on Bainbridge Island, Washington, the state where I currently reside. Emily the protagonist is described as being so gorgeous it hurts, and yet she's never able to be without a man in her life, not that she has to worry, with two guys chasing her around and trying to get into her pants within moments of her return to Bainbridge Island from NYC after her painful divorce. The cliches of romance continue to pile up from there, with everyone being ultra handsome or ultra beautiful, and yet Emily's impulsive grandmother throws away her happiness with the "only man she will ever love" by being a jealous, immature drama queen. I found the women's lack of independence exhausting, and their determination to keep secrets that would behoove no one, equally trying. Here's the blurb:
A heartbroken woman stumbled upon a diary and steps into the life of its anonymous author.
In her twenties, Emily Wilson was on top of the world: she had a bestselling novel, a husband plucked from the pages of GQ, and a one-way ticket to happily ever after.
Ten years later, the tide has turned on Emily's good fortune. So when her great-aunt Bee invites her to spend the month of March on Bainbridge Island in Washington State, Emily accepts, longing to be healed by the sea. Researching her next book, Emily discovers a red velvet diary, dated 1943, whose contents reveal startling connections to her own life.
A mesmerizing debut with an idyllic setting and intriguing dual story line, The Violets of March announces Sarah Jio as a writer to watch.
Sure, Jio's prose is decent, and her plot, though measured and easily plumbed (there's not much depth to plumb, really) doesn't drag. However, the characters are stereotypes and it's easy to figure out what actually happened to Emily's grandmother Esther by the time you're midway through the book. I'd give this novel a C+, and only recommend it to those who want to read an overwrought romance. 

The Black Key by Amy Ewing is the final book in the Lone City trilogy that began with The Jewel, and its sequel the White Rose. I was too anxious to find out what happened to wait through the 75 holds on this book at the library, so I begged my husband for a copy, which he bought, I think, just to keep me from imploding with impatience. Fortunately, The Black Key was worth the wait, and worth the price of buying a copy. Violet and Ash each take hold of their destinies in this book, and the revolution is on! Here's the blurb:
The thrilling conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Lone City trilogy, which began with The Jewel, a book BCCB said "will have fans of Oliver's Delirium, Cass's The Selection, and DeStefano's Wither breathless."
For too long, Violet and the people of the outer circles of the Lone City have lived in service of the royalty of the Jewel. But now, the secret society known as the Black Key is preparing to seize power.
While Violet knows she is at the center of this rebellion, she has a more personal stake in it—for her sister, Hazel, has been taken by the Duchess of the Lake. Now, after fighting so hard to escape the Jewel, Violet must do everything in her power to return not only to save Hazel, but the future of the Lone City.
Violet takes control of her powers in book two, and in this book she's helping other surrogates take control of their powers so that they can help stage the revolution against the wealthy and evil royalty. As readers we've come to understand that the powers of the girls are encoded into them as descendants of the original natives of the Island, who were enslaved by people who drove ships in from elsewhere and set themselves up as the ruling class/royalty.  I had hoped that all the main characters would survive, but unfortunately, (SPOILERS) Lucien, the wonderful lady in waiting who started working on the revolution years before, is beheaded, which only fuels the fires of revolution further. I was saddened that a number of the surrogates died, but at least Violet and her sister Hazel made it out alive. Everything is tied up nicely at the end, so I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who likes well written and inventive YA dystopian novels.

Glee, the Beginning by Sophia Lowell, was a book I found at the Dollar Store and was thrilled to read, due to my adoration of that wonderful, musical show that I still miss watching on my TV every week. It's a prequel to the show, so it has new material in it that delivers a solid story. Here's the blurb:
Calling all Gleeks! Get more of your favorite characters in this official Glee prequel!All great performances deserve a warm-up! Enroll early at McKinley High--before New Directions was even a glimmer in Mr. Schuester's eye. When did Rachel first decide Finn was more than just a jock? When did Puck and Quinn start their secret romance? And how did the fledgling Glee Club function without a fearless leader? Hint: It wasn't exactly a perfect melody. Break out the gold stars and refill the slushies: It's time to find out what happened to all your favorite characters before the show-mance began.
This is one of those books that is something of a palate-cleanser, when you've read a big, complicated novel and just need something light to occupy your brain for awhile. That said, it was surprisingly well written, and the characters were perfectly outlined for the first episode of the TV show. Obviously this book was written before the untimely death of Cory Monteith, who played Finn Hudson, the handsome and kindly quarterback of fabled McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio. This makes the seeds of his romance with Rachel Berry and his involvement in the Glee Club all the more bittersweet. Though I didn't pay much for it, this book was worth more than most of the hardbacks I've paid full price for of late. I'd give it an A, and recommend it to all the heavy-hearted Gleeks out there who miss Cory and the show itself, and who, like me, were singing in choir and doing drama and being harassed as an outcast in their high school. 

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo is the final book in the Six of Crows duology. Though I'd been looking forward to the sequel to Six of Crows, especially after reading Bardugo's Grisha books, I was surprised that Crooked Kingdom starts out very slowly, almost arthritically, so that those of us who were looking for answers to the questions from the first book can get frustrated by wading through the first few chapters. Fortunately, things pick up after the first 100 pages, and from then on, it's the usual intricate and wild ride as the Barrel gang gets their groove on and gets justice for the good guys while decimating the bad guys. Here's the blurb:  
Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn't think they'd survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz's cunning and test the team's fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city's dark and twisting streets—a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world. 
Kirkus Reviews: This hefty sequel to Six of Crows (2015) brings high-tension conclusions to the many intertwined intrigues of Ketterdam.It's time for revenge—has been ever since old-before-his-time crook Kaz and his friends were double-crossed by the merchant princes of Ketterdam, an early-industrial Amsterdam-like fantasy city filled to the brim with crime and corruption. Disabled, infuriated, and perpetually scheming Kaz, the light-skinned teen mastermind, coordinates the efforts to rescue Inej. Though Kaz is loath to admit weakness, Inej is his, for he can't bear any harm come to the knife-wielding, brown-skinned Suli acrobat. Their team is rounded out by Wylan, a light-skinned chemist and musician whose merchant father tried to have him murdered and who can't read due to a print disability; Wylan's brown-skinned biracial boyfriend, Jesper, a flirtatious gambler with ADHD; Nina, the pale brunette Grisha witch and recovering addict from Russia-like Ravka; Matthias, Nina's national enemy and great love, a big, white, blond drüskelle warrior from the cold northern lands; and Kuwei, the rescued Shu boy everyone wants to kidnap. Can these kids rescue everyone who needs rescuing in Ketterdam's vile political swamp? This is dark and violent—one notable scene features a parade of teens armed with revolvers, rifles, pistols, explosives, and flash bombs—but gut-wrenchingly genuine. Astonishingly, Bardugo keeps all these balls in the air over the 500-plus pages of narrative. 
Spoiler alert, I was so sad that Matthias died and left Nina grieving, yet somehow, it seemed fitting that one of them must fall in this all out battle for the grungy part of town. Kaz obviously loved Inej, and though I expected the two of them to finally hook up, I was surprised by their ending, and gratified that Inej wants Kaz to help her rid their world of slavery, sexual and otherwise. Other than the slow beginning, my one quibble with this book was the open-ended vow of Pekka Rollins to make a comeback and get the underworld back from Kaz and company. I wanted to see a definitive end to him and his creepy flashy cruelty. At any rate, this tome deserves an A, and I'd recommend it to anyone who has read Six of Crows and all of the previous Grisha books.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Unshelved Comic Strip Hangs it Up, Indie Bookstores in Seattle, The Jewel and The White Rose by Amy Ewing and Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

This is a great quote, and true of how I also feel in bookstores and libraries.

Bookshops: 'Like Entering Aladdin's Cave'

"Walking into a bookshop is like entering Aladdin's Cave. No, it is
better than that. Thoughts, words, ideas, truths are almost tangible. I
go in with a very good idea of what I want, but am very soon seduced by
other books. Where to start, what to choose? Sometimes it takes my
breath away. You see, we live so far from town, an opportunity like this
must be seized and savored, yet I must choose before closing time."

Jenny Nimmo, author of the Charlie Bone series, in a q&a with Books

I've been reading Unshelved , the comic strip about libraries, for years now, and I am so sorry to hear that they're retiring the strip.

Unshelved Library Comic Strip Winding Down
After almost 15 years, Unshelved, the daily online comic strip set in a library, is winding down. As of November 11,Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes will stop making new Unshelved comic strips and will publish "classic" strips.

In an announcement about the change, they remembered: "When we published
2002, the iPhone was just a glint in Steve Jobs' eye, Facebook was years
away from reuniting anyone with their high school sweetheart, and
tweeting was still exclusively for the birds."

This is one of the many reasons why I love living in the Seattle area. So many great bookstores and a highly literate population, combined with a vital and well-used library system makes for one happy bibliophile!

Why Indie Bookstores in Seattle Are Thriving

Independent bookstores in Seattle are thriving
almost 30 locations currently in business. "Compare that to cities
similar to Seattle in population, such as Boston (with approximately 25,
including used-book stores and many college-affiliated ones) and
Baltimore (with about a dozen), and you understand how vibrant our
offerings are. Compare Seattle to cities with massive populations and we
still stack up. San Francisco has 34 ABA-member bookstores and Chicago,
38," Seattle magazine reported.

The reasons for this success story are as numerous and varied as the
stores themselves. The Seattle Times wrote that "despite some
trepidation expressed by area booksellers leading up to Amazon's store
opening last year, the indie scene here is undergoing a quiet
renaissance, as evidenced by the spring opening of Third Place Books in Seward Park, bookstore buyouts and
one of the most successful Independent Bookstore Days
the city has experienced."

Shelf Awareness publisher and co-founder Jenn Risko observed that one of
the ingredients is the city's increasing devotion to shopping local:
"The Seattle community understands what it means to vote with your

David Glenn of Penguin Random House cited a growing educated population,
as well as a higher median income ("about $65,000, compared to the
national average of $50,000"). Personal service, local organizations,
and ambitious event schedules also play a significant role.

"Anytime a bookstore comes up for sale in Seattle, someone buys it,"
said Glenn. "This is not an indication of a beleaguered industry." He
also noted that indies "are places where you can incubate new authors.
is a perfect example. They
have several events a day, and [feature] authors that might not find a
willing forum or audience."

Janis Segress, former head buyer for Eagle Harbor Book Co. and co-owner
of the Queen Anne Book Company, agreed:
"Publishers are continuing to spend big dollars on events with authors.
And they come to Seattle and court us because they are aware that the
indie bookstores drive trends."

Segress pointed out the value of knowing your community: "I chose to
open with just one-third of our current inventory. The first year was
really about filling the store with what the community wanted while
balancing national and Pacific Northwest trends."

I picked up a copy of The Jewel by Amy Ewing at the Maple Valley library last week on the recommendation of a friend who knows I like well written YA paranormal series, even if they're dystopian, which is an area of YA fiction that has been too well-trodden of late. the book's cover didn't do it any favors, unfortunately, making it look like another sickly sweet and stupid YA romance without much substance. I'm glad that I didn't stop at the cover, however, because once I started reading The Jewel, I could not put it down. This page-turner has a plot that moves so fast it makes other YA fiction look like it's standing still. the prose is emotional and crisp without being saccharine, and the characters are fully realized and fascinating. Here's the blurb:

The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Selection in this darkly riveting tale that BCCB said “Will have fans of Oliver’s Delirium, Cass’s The Selection, and DeStefano’s Wither breathless.”
The Jewel means wealth, the Jewel means beauty—but for Violet, the Jewel means servitude. Born and raised in the Marsh, Violet is destined for the Jewel. She is trained as a surrogate for the royalty and is bought by the Duchess of the Lake at auction. And she quickly learns the brutal truths that lie beneath the Jewel’s glittering facade: the cruelty, backstabbing, and hidden violence that have become the royal way of life.
Violet must accept the ugly realities of her life . . . all while trying to stay alive. But before she can accept her fate, Violet meets a handsome boy who is also under the Duchess’s control, and a forbidden love erupts. But their illicit affair has consequences, which will cost them both more than they bargained for. And toeing the line between being calculating and rebellious, Violet must decide what, and who, she is willing to risk for her own freedom.
I honestly didn't find it too dark, and I am not a fan of most horror fiction. Still, Violet's struggle to stay alive, while uncovering the truth, that all surrogates are seen as expendible and they die after childbirth, is only the beginning of the ugly reality underneath the pretty, polished facade that the royalty show to the public. Once Violet meets Ash, who is basically a male prostitute raised to be a companion to young royals and their mothers, she realizes that she will have to try to break down the system and overthrow the royals in order to save herself and her friends and boyfriend I devoured this book so quickly that I had to run back to the library for the sequel, The White Rose, the next day. Even though The Jewel ends on a cliffhanger, I'd still give it an A, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys well written YA fantasy fiction. 
The White Rose by Amy Ewing picks up moments after The Jewel ends, and the Duchess has discovered that Violet has been carrying on a forbidden romance with Ash. Ash is beaten and slated for execution, while Violet is smacked around by the Duchess and then her beloved mute maid is executed by the Duchess before her eyes. Though Violet gave away the potion that would make it appear that she was dead so one of the ladies in waiting could awaken her in the morgue, she still hears from a member of the rebellion that they will rescue her ASAP. She insists, of course, on rescuing Ash as well, and once they're smuggled away from the royals, Violet learns more about her powers and the origins of the Island that has been walled into sections by the royals, who use and abuse everyone outside of their inner circle. Here's the blurb:
Violet is on the run—away from the Jewel, away from a lifetime of servitude, away from the Duchess of the Lake, who bought her at auction. With Ash and Raven traveling with her, Violet will need all of her powers to get her friends, and herself, out of the Jewel alive.
But no matter how far Violet runs, she can’t escape the rebellion brewing just beneath the Jewel’s glittering surface, and her role in it. Violet must decide if she is strong enough to rise against the Jewel and everything she has ever known.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Two Movies and a TV Show Produced from Books, Bilgewater by Jane Gardam, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley and The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood

I've read the books that these two movies are based on, (and 7 of the Lemony Snicket series) so I am thrilled to see that some good things are coming on the big and small screens. The Alchemist was written a long time ago, and I read it awhile back, but it stays in my memory as being an excellent novel. The Professor and the Madman was also pretty good, but I think it will translate even better to the movie screen.

Movies: The Alchemist; The Professor and the Madman 

Sony's TriStar Pictures "has stepped up to make a worldwide rights deal
to turn the Paulo Coelho novel The Alchemist
into a feature film," Deadline reported, noting that the book "has been
guided creatively for years by Cinema Gypsy's Laurence Fishburne, who
will take it the rest of the way in partnership with fellow producer,
PalmStar Media's Kevin Frakes, and TriStar president Hannah Minghella."

"I'm thrilled to be moving this project forward after all these years,"
Fishburne said.

"The Alchemist changed my life when I first read it almost 20 years
ago," Frakes added. "It helped give me the courage to take chances and
the confidence to chase my dream. In my first conversation with Hanna
about The Alchemist, I realized she understood the impact this novel has
and I knew I wanted to make this film with TriStar. I could not be more
excited that we are starting the journey together."

Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd will join Mel Gibson and Sean Penn in The

Professor and the Madman
based on Simon Winchester's bestselling novel The Professor and the
Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English
Dictionary. Deadline reported that this is "a passion project for
Gibson, who's been working to adapt the book for nearly two decades."
Farhad Safinia is directing a script he wrote with John Boorman (Hope
and Glory) and Todd Komarnicki (Sully).

TV: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
 A teaser clip has been released for Netflix's upcoming adaptation of
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
that is "so unnerving that it's caused jolly cut-up Patrick Warburton to
become super-serious," Yahoo News wrote. "In this new clip teasing the
eight-episode series, which premieres on January 13, 2017, the former
Tick steps assumes the role of the narrator for these Unfortunate
Events, Lemony Snicket, who chronicled the sad case of the Baudelaire
orphans over the course of 13 books.... In the middle of his stone-faced
soliloquy, the actor is interrupted from off-screen by a maniacally
happy singer who sounds an awful lot like Neil Patrick Harris, who plays
the orphans' sinister guardian and constant nemesis, Count Olaf."

Bilgewater by Jane  Gardam is the second book of hers I've read, and, while the Man With the Wooden Hat was obscure and odd, I was expecting this novel to be more relatable, because it was about a young woman who is a bibliophile, and something of an outcast because she believes herself to be ugly. Unfortunately, this protagonist doesn't actually confer warmth or understanding on the reader, and instead seems to be just plain weird and creepy. Here's the blurb:
Originally published in 1977, Jane Gardam's Bilgewater is an affectionate and complex rendering-in-miniature of the discomforts of growing up and first love seen through the eyes of inimitable Marigold Green, an awkward, eccentric, highly intelligent girl. The Evening Standard described Bilgewater as "one of the funniest, most entertaining, most unusual stories about young love."
Motherless and 16, Marigold is the headmaster's daughter at a private backwater all-boys school. To make matters worse, Marigold pines for head boy Jack Rose, reckons with the beautiful and domineering Grace, and yanks herself headlong out of her interior world and into the seething cauldron of adolescence. With everything happening all at once, Marigold faces the greatest of teenage crucibles. 
A smart and painterly romp in the rich tradition of The Hollow Land and A Long Way From Verona, Gardam's elegant, evocative prose, possessed of sharp irony and easy surrealism makes Bilgewater a book for readers of all ages.
Marigold is never actually called Marigold, instead she gets a nickname, which appears to be a thing in British schools, where no one goes by their actual names. I found little to like in any of the main characters, with Jack Rose being a complete jerk who runs away with his girlfriend's mother (how bizarre and unsavory) and her supposed friend Grace runs away with her new-found love, Terrapin,who supposedly had a crush on her for years. Things tend to happen to Bilgewater, instead of her acting and doing something for herself. I found very little humor in all of the "seething cauldron of adolescence" taking place in the book. I found instead a lot of navel-gazing and shallowness, along with a great deal of awkward decisions made by the protagonists, leading to unsatisfactory conclusions for them all. Tense and sexist and uncomfortable are the only words I can think to describe the prose. I wanted to like this book, but I was, in the end, just bored with it. A novel worthy of a C at best, and I'd only recommend it to those who don't mind overly "talky" books that have plots that seem to go nowhere.
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley is the 8th of his Flavia de Luce mystery novels, all of which I've bought and devoured the moment they were available.  Bradley's prose is sterling, and his plots move with the swiftness of Gladys the bicycle being ridden at speed (or "given her head" as Flavia says in the book) by Flavia during her pursuit of justice.Here's the blurbs: 
In spite of being ejected from Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada, twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce is excited to be sailing home to England. But instead of a joyous homecoming, she is greeted on the docks with unfortunate news: Her father has fallen ill, and a hospital visit will have to wait while he rests. But with Flavia’s blasted sisters and insufferable cousin underfoot, Buckshaw now seems both too empty—and not empty enough. Only too eager to run an errand for the vicar’s wife, Flavia hops on her trusty bicycle, Gladys, to deliver a message to a reclusive wood-carver. Finding the front door ajar, Flavia enters and stumbles upon the poor man’s body hanging upside down on the back of his bedroom door. The only living creature in the house is a feline that shows little interest in the disturbing scene. Curiosity may not kill this cat, but Flavia is energized at the prospect of a new investigation. It’s amazing what the discovery of a corpse can do for one’s spirits. But what awaits Flavia will shake her to the very core. 
Publisher's Weekly:
Bestseller Bradley’s lively eighth Flavia de Luce novel (after 2015’s As Chimney Sweeps Come to Dust) finds the pre-adolescent chemist and detective back at Buckshaw, her crumbling family estate in England, after being dishonorably discharged from Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada. Her beloved father’s sickness taints homecoming, leaving moody Flavia to ward off a flock of pesky sisters. Welcome distraction comes when Flavia stumbles on the body of a local wood-carver strapped upside-down to a wooden contraption, flanked by a stack of children’s books by famed nonsense-versifier Oliver Inchbald. Flavia, who’s delighted to investigate under the eye of her old friend Inspector Hewitt, uncovers a backstory to the murder involving a man devoured by seagulls and a madcap Auntie Loo who dies scuba diving. Only the somewhat arbitrary final reveal disappoints. Child detectives can irritate, but Flavia’s a winner, a mix of sparky irreverence and wrathful propriety who evades the preciousness endemic to the species.
The thing I love about Flavia is that she's unsentimental and she's very smart and persistent. Though her father is ill with pneumonia, no one will allow her to see him while he's in the hospital, but Flavia uses this time to investigate the mystery of how the woodcarver who is actually an incognito children's book author, died on a wooden rack on his bedroom door (They never seem to explain why he was in the wooden rack to begin with). That the insane Carla, who couldn't abide anyone critical of her singing, was the culprit, seemed just a bit too tidy. The ending of the book, in which a bomb is dropped, was much worse, though, and I expect that the next book, which will see Flavia into her teens, finally, will have to address all the changes to Buckshaw. Though I still don't like how awful and cruel her sisters are to Flavia, I am hopeful that, as each approaches relationships with men that will determine their future, they will relent and realize that their little sister is the future of Buckshaw, their family seat. A well deserved A for this page-turner, with the recommendation to anyone who likes cozy English mysteries with a female sleuth.
The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood was a novel that I paid full price for, on the strength of the stellar reviews that it has received, and because it was supposedly about readers and a book group, and being both, I thought I would relate to the characters therein. I was wrong, and it makes me ache to say so. I was so disappointed in this novel that I wanted to cry. Everything was done in an obvious, cliched way. In the words of reviewer Helen McAlpin: "Even before the pat, schmaltzy ending, everything is spelled out. The group's literary discussions are often painful to read — stilted, simplistic, and didactic. Typical is the cancer patient's defense of her choice of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn: "The novel shows us that strong values help us triumph over adversity." As I write this, there's a part of me that asks how I, who love books and reading so much, can beef about a novel that makes a case for how much books matter. The answer is that I wish Hood had made a less cloying case."
This is exactly it. The chapters were supposed to go from Ava, the main character, to Maggie, her disgustingly stupid, junkie daughter, but instead Hood throws in other background characters randomly, so that their short POV makes you disoriented, wondering why this character is important enough to warrant a chapter of their own thoughts and feelings. I had trouble getting past Maggie's idiocy and inability to know her own mind enough (or have enough self preservation) to get away from an older French lover who was enslaving her to heroin so that he could use her for sex, abuse her physically, and control her life. Though she sees friends dying of drug overdoses, she continues a downward spiral of lies (to herself and her mother) and drug abuse that leaves her near death twice! Her mother, because her husband of many years is leaving her for some flaky younger yarn-bomber, seems to have lost all her brain cells as well, and doesn't question the fact that her daughter only sends her stock photos from Italy and doesn't check in regularly, though she's been known to have drug problems in the past. What kind of dim bulb just lets their druggie daughter go off to Italy without supervision, but with enough money to buy drugs?  Ava's mother had left her after Ava's sister Lily fell out of a tree and died, leaving Ava with a guilt-riddled childhood and a book that it was obvious that her mother wrote, though Ava doesn't connect the dots until the end of the novel (again, I wondered how anyone could be so clueless.) 
Here's the brief blurb: Ava’s twenty-five-year marriage has fallen apart, and her two grown children are pursuing their own lives outside of the country. Ava joins a book group, not only for her love of reading but also out of sheer desperation for companionship. The group’s goal throughout the year is for each member to present the book that matters most to them. Ava rediscovers a mysterious book from her childhood—one that helped her through the traumas of the untimely deaths of her sister and mother. Alternating with Ava’s story is that of her troubled daughter Maggie, who, living in Paris, descends into a destructive relationship with an older man. Ava’s mission to find that book and its enigmatic author takes her on a quest that unravels the secrets of her past and offers her and Maggie the chance to remake their lives.
There's nothing even remotely subtle or satisfying about this book. The book group seems like a classroom of disaffected dolts, one of whom Ava sleeps with, though he's much younger than she is, and she thinks of him with a kind of contempt because he is a bit too hipster for her tastes. But everyone in the book group falls into a stereotype or archetype, and while we're supposed to have sympathy for each of them in some way, I found that they weren't well drawn enough for me to come to like them or enjoy them as fully realized beings. The inherent sexism of the female protagonists not being able to navigate life successfully without a man to depend on also rankled. Because of course, women are incomplete without men, right? Ugh. So wrong. So very, very wrong. I wish that I were able to get a refund for this waste of a tree, but unfortunately, my husband bought it for me on Amazon. So I am stuck with it. I really didn't like Ava, who couldn't get her sh*t together and who has a deep need for a man to take care of her, as well as for the book group to "accept" her, when she only seems to have negative thoughts about nearly all of the people in the group. She's a sour, stupid, shallow person who doesn't even bother to read the first two books for the group she's been so anxious to join, instead, she watches the movies, something a real bibliophile would find horrifying. More pathetic than uplifting, I'd have to give this book a C, and only recommend it to those who like easy books with obvious answers and stock characters.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Somewhere from West Side Story, Maya Angelou Movie, Root, Petal, Thorn by Ella Joy Olsen and The Affinity Bridge by George Mann

I recently saw a video of Jackie Evanchco singing this tune from West Side Story along with a pre-recorded video of Barbra Streisand singing the same song. It was so lyrical and lovely, I felt compelled to share it.  This past week was difficult, fraught with health problems, car trouble and insurance companies stalling. When there's trouble at every turn, I always look for positive and uplifting songs and books to help get me through the rough patches. On Friday I reconnected with a friend from the Clarke College Theater Dept, and had a great time chatting with Mary Rose and others about the good old days. That helped to lift my heart from the doldrums as well. I miss my days learning and growing at Clarke, and I miss the friends I made there and those who are no longer with us, including my Clarke Tuckpointer and my room mate, both wonderful gals gone too soon from this life.
Somewhere from West Side Story 
(lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, music by Leonard Bernstein.)
There's a place for us,
Somewhere a place for us.
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us

There's a time for us,
Some day a time for us,
Time together with time to spare,
Time to learn, time to care,
Some day!

We'll find a new way of living,
We'll find a way of forgiving
Somewhere . . .

There's a place for us,
A time and place for us.
Hold my hand and we're halfway there.
Hold my hand and I'll take you there
Some day,
I've been a big fan of Maya Angelou's for a long time. A wise and wonderful woman, there is a documentary about her that is coming out soon, which I will rush to see once it's available in my area.

A trailer has been released for the documentary film Maya Angelou: 
And Still I Rise
Directed by Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack, the the film "celebrates
Dr. Maya Angelou by weaving her words in her voice with rare and
intimate archival photographs, home movies and videos, which paint
hidden moments of her exuberant life during some of America's most
defining civil rights moments. From her upbringing in the Depression-era
South to her swinging soirees with Malcolm X in Ghana to her inaugural
speech for President Bill Clinton, we are given special access to
interviews with Dr. Angelou whose indelible charm and quick wit make it
easy to love her," Deadline wrote.

The film, which features interviews with prominent figures including
Oprah Winfrey, Alfre Woodard, Cicely Tyson, Bill Clinton and Hilary
Clinton, hits theaters October 14.

Root, Petal, Thorn by Ella Joy Olsen was a book that I read about on Shelf Awareness, and it sounded interesting, so I put my name in to win a copy. The author wrote to tell me that I didn't win one, but she hoped that I'd read it anyway, as it was about finding out about the history of a home through clues left behind over the years, ie photos or old diaries. After purchasing a copy online, I was dismayed to learn that the book is about a series of Mormon families who lived and grew up in the house, so there was a religious aspect to the novel that I wasn't expecting and that was an unwelcome intrusion to the story line. Here's the blurb from the publisher:
In this beautifully written and powerful debut novel, Ella Joy Olsen traces the stories of five fascinating women who inhabit the same  historic home over the course of a century—braided stories of love, heartbreak and courage connect the women, even across generations.
Ivy Baygren has two great loves in her life: her husband, Adam, and the bungalow they buy together in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Salt Lake City, Utah. From the moment she and Adam lay eyes on the  home, Ivy is captivated by its quaint details—the old porch swing, ornate tiles, and especially  an heirloom rose bush bursting with snowy white blossoms.  Called the Emmeline Rose for the home’s original owner, it seems yet another sign that this place will be Ivy’s happily-ever-after…Until her dreams are shattered by Adam’s unexpected death.
Striving to be strong for her two children, Ivy decides to tackle the home-improvement projects she and Adam once planned. Day by day, as she attempts to rebuild her house and her resolve, she uncovers clues about previous inhabitants, from a half-embroidered sampler to buried wine bottles. And as Ivy learns about the women who came before her—the young Mormon torn between her heart and anti-polygamist beliefs, the Greek immigrant during World War II, a troubled single mother in the 1960s—she begins to uncover the lessons of her own journey. For every story has its sadness, but there is also the possibility of blooming again, even stronger and more resilient than before…

While I have heard that Salt Lake City, Utah is the center or headquarters of the LDS/Mormon faith, I had assumed that there were books written about the town that didn't focus on that religion as part of the plot. Just when I thought I had gotten away from religious discussion between characters in the text, inevitably it was brought up as an important plot point. This might be a SPOILER, but I was disgusted and distressed that Emmeline entered into a polygamist relationship, agreeing to share her husband with a German woman that he married after WW1 to defend her and her son against prejudice from the American people, when it was against her own beliefs to do so. And the Greek family seem to be overly dramatic and the mother ridiculously preferential to her son Adonis, insisting that he not join the military for WW2, because she believes he will die in the war (though he does, it was his choice to enter into the war). She attempts to sabotage him at every step, but he manages to escape her iron clutches and join the war effort, which, as an adult, was his decision. She seems perpetually angry and mean, and she neglects her daughter as a result, which made her seem like a bad person and a crappy mother all at once. There was no real resolution to the story set in the 60s and 70s, of the mother diagnosed with bi polar disorder, when what she really had was schizophrenia. She was as pathetic a character as Ivy, who also couldn't seem to function without her husband, who died unexpectedly. Again, a mother is represented who becomes mentally ill over a man, and can't care for herself or her children. None of these women seemed to have control over themselves or their emotions, and only the Greek mother seemed to have any backbone, and she was mean and cruel. In other words, I didn't like any of the protagonists in this novel, nor did I feel much sympathy for them and their bad choices. None of them could function properly without a man or men in their lives, which seems ridiculous to me, as I know its possible to be single and live and take care of oneself and ones children. It's called maturity, and none of these women seemed to have developed it. The prose was fluid and sometimes lyrical, but the plot felt disjointed and the characters, as I've said, seemed weak and drawn in a sexist fashion. Still, I'd give this novel a B, and recommend it to anyone of the Mormon faith who is fascinated with historic homes.

The Affinity Bridge by George Mann was a steampunk genre novel that was recommended to me by my fellow "friends of Gail Carriger" group on Facebook. Carriger writes steampunk that is deliciously witty and wonderful, but as I've read all of her work, I'm always seeking new steampunk novels to tide me over until she comes out with a new one. While the Affinity Bridge was certainly similar to Carriger's work, in that there were plenty of devices in an alternate Victorian England, Mann's female protagonist kow-tows to the male protagonist and pretends to be his inferior mentally and physically in order to cement her place at his side as his apprentice. Here's the blurb:
Welcome to the bizarre and dangerous world of Victorian London, a city teetering on the edge of revolution. Its people are ushering in a new era of technology, dazzled each day by unfamiliar inventions. Airships soar in the skies over the city, while ground trains rumble through the streets and clockwork automatons are programmed to carry out menial tasks in the offices of lawyers, policemen, and journalists.
But beneath this shiny veneer of progress lurks a sinister side.
Queen Victoria is kept alive by a primitive life-support system, while her agents, Sir Maurice Newbury and his delectable assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes, do battle with enemies of the crown, physical and supernatural. This time Newbury and Hobbes are called to investigate the wreckage of a crashed airship and its missing automaton pilot, while attempting to solve a string of strangulations attributed to a mysterious glowing policeman, and dealing with a zombie plague that is ravaging the slums of the capital.
Get ready to follow dazzling young writer George Mann to a London unlike any you've ever seen and into an adventure you will never forget, in The Affinity Bridge.
Newbury is, of course, a Sherlock Holmes-like character, who tends to overdo the laudinum on benders when he's bored or out of sorts. Hobbes is, of course, like Watson, in that she tries to get him to give up drugs and take care of himself, though he seems to have a death  wish and goes through repeated beatings and an evisceration. Because she's a woman, she is thought to be morally superior, and the men try to shield and protect her from things that they feel are too dangerous or noxious for her delicate sensibilities. Fortunately, Hobbes does manage to get out from under this layer of suffocating sexism and do some investigating, but most of the adventure and physical derring-do falls to Newbury. The prose was straightforward and the plot swift as a zeppelin, but the overt sexism tainted the characters for me. However, I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys steampunk and legendary characters, good and bad, of British literature.