Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Canadian Bookstores, Beer Writer of the Year, Margaret Atwood's Peace Prize, Greywalker by Kat Richardson, Death Among Rubies by R. J. Koreto, The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman and The Cracked Spine by Paige Shelton


In the latest book news from Shelf Awareness, here are three interesting tidbits, first 11 great Canadian bookstores from an article in Chatelaine (a magazine that I used to read that I now believe is online), New Zealand's Beer Writer of the Year, which is a book my husband would love, because he drinks and loves beer, and the German Book Trade Peace Prize goes to the wonderful Margaret Atwood, whose work I've been reading since I was a teenager. She has the dubious privilege of watching her book, The Handmaid's Tale become a mini-series that is in the process of becoming reality in the United States. 

"From the shop founded by Alice Munro in Victoria to a Nova Scotia
bookstore that specializes in rare titles," Chatelaine showcased "11 of
the dreamiest bookstores to get lost in across Canada

The Brewers Guild of New Zealand named Alice Galletly the 2017 Beer
Writer of the Year
Booksellers NZ reported, noting that the winner attributed the honor to
her columns in Air New Zealand magazine Kia Ora and her book, How to
Have a Beer. "It's a very non-serious, personal guide to enjoying beer,
full of silly anecdotes and jokes," she said. Guild representative
Martin Bennett praised "the sheer force of personality in the writing."

"My approach with beer writing is always to write for non-geeks first
and foremost, and to make it as fun and accessible as possible," she
said. "The mission of course, is to convert unsuspecting lager drinkers
to our cult."
In another event that was particularly political, the Peace Prize of the
German Book Trade was given to Margaret Atwood, who was cited by
organizers this way: "By closely observing human contradictions, she
shows how easily supposed normality can turn into inhumanity. Humanity,
justice and tolerance shape Margaret Atwood's approach to the world."

At the prize ceremony on Sunday, Atwood expressed dismay over the
political situation in the United States, which she said once was a
symbol of freedom and democracy--but "no longer." Things have gotten so
bad, she continued, that her 30-year-old novel The Handmaid's Tale
suddenly is topical. "Parliaments controlled by men want to set the
clock back--preferably into the 19th century."

She said the world is in "strange historical times.... We don't know
exactly where we are. We also don't know exactly who we are."

Frankfurt mayor Peter Feldmann said the choice of Atwood was a reminder
of the political dimension of art, adding, "The world needs less
division, less Trump, less hate--and more tolerance and solidarity."

The other major book prize given at the fair was the German Book Prize,
won by Robert Menasse for Die Haupstadt (The Capital), published by
Suhrkamp, set in Brussels, the unofficial European Union capital. The
prize is sponsored by the Boumlrsenverein, the German book industry
association, and honors the best German-language novel of the year.
Greywalker by Kat Richardson is an urban fantasy novel set in Seattle that has been recommended to me so many times I've lost count. Now that I finally bought at copy and read it, I was disappointed in the clumsy prose and awkward characters who stumble through a ramshackle plot that does, at least, have a decent conclusion.  Here's the blurb:
Harper Blaine was your average small-time P.I. until a two-bit perp's savage assault left her dead for two minutes. When she comes to in the hospital, she sees things that can only be described as weird-shapes emerging from a foggy grey mist, snarling teeth, creatures roaring.
But Harper's not crazy. Her "death" has made her a Greywalker- able to move between the human world and the mysterious cross-over zone where things that go bump in the night exist. And her new gift is about to drag her into that strange new realm-whether she likes it or not.
The best thing about this supernatural thriller, as they're calling it, is that Richardson is a competent storyteller, so she knows how to keep readers turning pages to find out what happens. I got the feeling that if Richardson only had a bit more time to develop in the craft of writing, her book would have been easier to read and her characters less difficult to understand or relate to. At any rate, I'd give it a B-, and recommend it to those who like the hard-boiled supernatural detective who didn't ask for any of this genre of urban fantasy.

Death Among Rubies by R.J. Koreto is the second Lady Frances Ffolkes mystery, and like the debut novel, is a ripping good yarn, though somewhat predictable. Like Lara Croft and other gentry who like to solve mysteries, Lady Franny is smart and tough, but also like women of the early 20th century (1907, to be exact), she's hampered by the sexism and misogyny of English society, which sneered at suffragists while insisting that educating women was a waste of time, because they belonged to men as wives and brood mares alone. Not to be deterred by this ridiculous state of affairs, Franny goes on the hunt for a killer at a huge estate, and manages to uncover some political maneuvering at the same time. 
Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly: Koreto’s appealing sequel to Death on the Sapphire takes Edwardian suffragette Lady Frances Ffolkes and her maid, June Mallow, to Kestrel’s Eyrie outside Morchester, England. Gwendolyn Kestrel has invited her extremely close friend, Thomasina Calvin, and Franny to visit the country manor while her father is hosting several diplomatic guests. Soon after the ladies arrive, Mallow finds Gwen’s father, Sir Calleford, stabbed to death with a ruby-inlaid Turkish dagger. Franny sets out to get to the bottom of things with Mallow’s help, but the local police aren’t interested in their assistance. When Inspector Eastley arrives from Scotland Yard, he reluctantly accepts Franny as a translator for the French guests, having learned from a previous case that Lady Frances is not to be denied. The delightful Franny and Mallow soon discover familial as well as political motives behind the crime. Koreto nicely blends international intrigue and affairs of the heart. 
I found it interesting that Gwen, who is portrayed as being somewhat simple, almost a Down Syndrome person, has a close and intimate relationship with Thomasina, or Tommie, as she's called, and most assume that they are lesbians, but no one actually comes out and says so unless they're writing threatening notes to harass Gwen into marrying the estate manager/housekeeper's son, so that the housekeeper could continue to rule the roost at the estate. Readers are left to surmise that Gwen isn't mentally strong enough to have a heterosexual relationship, so her relationship with Tommie must be maintained at all costs. Lots of twists and turns of the plot later, everyone who isn't dead gets what they want, and justice is served, and Lady Franny becomes engaged to a (GASP!) working man whom she loves. A fast and fun read, I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who likes British mysteries solved by smart women.

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman was a paperback that I found at the library sale shelf this summer that looked irresistible. What I wasn't prepared for was 560 pages of one woman's tale of heartbreak and tragedy in New York and surrounding communities. Our protagonist, Malka, a Russian Jewish child, arrives in New York in 1913, and is soon embroiled in a fight for survival with her sisters and a mother who is going insane (their dirtbag father took whatever money they had and abandoned his family). After being run over by an Italian gelato horse and cart, Malka's mother wants nothing to do with her disabled daughter, so Malka is taken in by the Italian ice cream man's family, and from there she learns to make ice cream/gelato and how to run a business. Here's the blurb:
In 1913, little Malka Treynovsky flees Russia with her family. Bedazzled by tales of gold and movie stardom, she tricks them into buying tickets for America. Yet no sooner do they land on the squalid Lower East Side of Manhattan, than Malka is crippled and abandoned in the street.
Taken in by a tough-loving Italian ices peddler, she manages to survive through cunning and inventiveness. As she learns the secrets of his trade, she begins to shape her own destiny. She falls in love with a gorgeous, illiterate radical named Albert, and they set off across America in an ice cream truck. Slowly, she transforms herself into Lillian Dunkle, "The Ice Cream Queen" — doyenne of an empire of ice cream franchises and a celebrated television personality.
Lillian's rise to fame and fortune spans seventy years and is inextricably linked to the course of American history itself, from Prohibition to the disco days of Studio 54. Yet Lillian Dunkle is nothing like the whimsical motherly persona she crafts for herself in the media. Conniving, profane, and irreverent, she is a supremely complex woman who prefers a good stiff drink to an ice cream cone. And when her past begins to catch up with her, everything she has spent her life building is at stake. Publisher's Weekly: Nonfiction writer Gilman (Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven) parlays her craft into an outstanding fiction debut, which follows an abrasive, unscrupulous protagonist from the 1910s to the early 1980s. In 1913, within months of arriving in New York City from her native Russia, young Malka Bialystoker is injured by a horse belonging to street vendor Salvatore Dinello. Deserted by her unstable mother and shiftless father, Malka is taken in by the Dinello clan out of a sense of guilt. Coping with a now-deformed right leg, she sheds her Jewish heritage in favor of her adoptive family’s Italian ethnic identity, complete with a new name: Lillian Maria Dinello. The Dinellos never fully accept her, however, and after she has reached early adulthood, they pointedly exclude her from their fledgling ice cream business. In retaliation she, along with her new husband, Albert Dunkle, begins a rival company. Lillian, a ruthless, hard-drinking businesswoman behind closed doors, in public provides a friendly, wholesome face for the increasingly successful Dunkle’s Famous Ice Cream. Gilman’s numerous strengths are showcased, such as character-driven narrative, a ready sense of wit, and a rich historical canvas, in this case based on the unlikely subject of the 20th-century American ice cream industry.
I agree with the "conniving, profane and irreverent" part of the blurb above, because Lillian (formerly Malka) is something of an anti-heroine. She's got a sailor's mouth, she likes to drink and smoke pot with her grandson and she's crude, rude and downright mean most of the time. She only appreciates her simple and loving husband Albert once he's dead, and even then she sneers at him, when it is obvious he's the only sane and moral one in the family. She doesn't even like her son, who really never gets the chance to know her whole story, and her grandson seems to want to hang out with her because she is lax about substance abuse and music, plus he obviously wants her money when she dies. We are left with Lillian going to prison, like Capone, for tax evasion, in the end, and though I appreciated her toughness, I didn't understand why someone so savvy and smart about business allowed her evil con-man father to repeatedly steal from her, lie to her and treat her like dirt. She finally cuts him off, but only when he's already stolen so much from her and made is clear, time and again, that he doesn't care a thing for her as a person. Still, Lillian is quite a character, and I'd give this book a B, and recommend it to those who like immigrant sagas and stories of transformation.

The Cracked Spine by Paige Shelton sounded like a book that was right up my alley. It's marketed as a Scottish Bookshop Mystery, and it is about a young woman, Delaney Nichols, who moves to Edinburgh, Scotland where she's hoping to make a fresh start at a rare manuscript and esoterica store, full of characters who could fill a book in their own right. Here's the blurb:
Delaney Nichols is on the literary adventure of a lifetime when she leaves the States for Edinburgh, Scotland, to take a job at The Cracked Spine. A legendary bookshop filled with special editions and rare manuscripts, it’s a house of biblio delights—one as eclectic as those who work there: the spirited and ever-curious Rosie, along with her tiny dog, Hector; a nineteen-year-old thespian named Hamlet (of course); and Edwin, the big boss, who Delaney likes but just can’t get a read on. Then there’s Tom, the bartender from across the street, whose gentle brogue pulls at Delaney’s heart strings—and who can rock a kilt like none other.
But before she can settle into her new life, a precious artifact from the shop goes missing—and Delaney is terrified to find out that Edwin’s sister is brutally murdered. Never did Delaney think that her dream job would turn into a living nightmare. Can she, along with Tom and her coworkers, help close the book on this killer mystery…before it’s too late? Publisher's Weekly: This appealing first in a new cozy series from Shelton (Merry Market Murder and four other Farmer’s Market mysteries) introduces Delaney Nichols, who answers an employment ad after losing her museum job in Wichita, Kans., and ends up working at the Cracked Spine, a bookstore in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Cracked Spine’s owner, Edwin MacAlister, belongs to a secretive little group of wealthy collectors and sellers known as the Fleshmarket Batch, named for the meat market that once existed near the bookstore. Soon after Delaney meets the shop’s two other employees, Hamlet and Rosie, Edwin’s drug addict sister is found murdered, and Edwin admits to leaving a near-priceless and now-missing item in her possession. Delaney’s desire to help almost gets her killed, but that doesn’t prevent her from making some fast friends and meeting Tom, the attractive bartender across the street. This spotlessly clean, fun-filled read takes plenty of twists and turns on the way to the satisfying ending.
I agree that the prose is spotlessly clean, and the plot moves along at a nice, even pace, however, my main problem with this book was that Delaney is consistently something of a wimp. She quails at so many things, that I was surprised she was able to run the murderer to ground in the end. I was also surprised that the store owner, who is supposedly so savvy as a businessman, played the complete idiot in giving his junkie sister a precious and very valuable copy of Shakespeare's First Folio for safekeeping. Anyone with half a brain knows that drug addicts are never to be trusted, because they will sell anything to get their next high. Still, this is a fast and fun read, and I'd give it an A, with the recommendation that those who read it overlook the stupidity of some of the characters.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Sasquatch Books Acquired by Penguin Random House, Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and The Last Chance Matinee by Mariah Stewart


I once had a job interview at Sasquatch Books, and though I didn't get the job (I think they were looking for someone younger and with more experience in book editing and publishing), I was tremendously impressed with their offices and their line of cookbooks and children's stories. Now that they are merging with PRH, I wonder if they will be adding different genres of books to their publishing roster? Heaven knows there are plenty of authors who live in or around the Seattle/Puget Sound area whom they could tap for locally sourced novels and non fiction.

Penguin Random House (PRH) Acquires Sasquatch Books
  
Penguin Random House has acquired Sasquatch Books, the Seattle, Wash.,
publisher that has been a distribution client of Penguin Random House
Publisher Services since 2012. Sasquatch will retain its editorial and
operational independence, with no changes planned for its Seattle
location, management or staff. In an unusual approach, Sasquatch will
report to PRHPS president Jeff Abraham.

Founded in 1986, Sasquatch Books http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz34402374 focuses on nature, travel, gardening, lifestyle, children's publishing, food, and wine titles. Bestsellers include The Encyclopedia of Country Living;
the Larry Gets Lost series; The 52 Lists Project; A Boat, a Whale, & a
Walrus; and Dead Feminists. Its children's imprint is Little Bigfoot.
Sasquatch's mission is "to seek out and work with the most gifted
writers, chefs, naturalists, artists, and thought leaders in the Pacific
Northwest and bring their talents to a national audience."

Sarah Hanson, president of Sasquatch Books, said, "For more than five
years we have leveraged tremendous value from the PRHPS partnership and
the Penguin Random House sales and supply-chain infrastructure. We have
always appreciated their great respect for our publishing program and we
are thrilled to continue our successful teamwork with our distributor
into this new phase, where there will be even greater opportunities for
collaboration."

Abraham added: "When it became known that the company was looking for
new ownership to take Sasquatch to the next level, the prospect of PRHPS
acquiring the company, while maintaining its independence in Seattle,
was enormously appealing to both sides. We've accomplished so much with
the incredible team at Sasquatch over the last few years. Now, our
expanded commitment will allow for even more opportunities for growth."

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson was recommended to me by a book website that tends to list books by genre and as the "10 best books of the Summer" or the "25 most underrated books of the year" and all the hyperbole that follows such headlines. Sometimes they're right on the money, and sometimes they're a waste of time, but this particular time, I found several books that sounded right up my alley, so I put them on hold at the library. Midnight at the Electric turned out to be a hidden gem, with a page-turner of a plot and lots of fascinating epistolary stories told via generations of women. Anderson's prose is poetic without being pedantic, and her plot never drags. Here is the blurb:
New York Times bestselling author Jodi Lynn Anderson's epic tale—told through three unforgettable points of view—is a masterful exploration of how love, determination, and hope can change a person's fate.
Kansas, 2065: Adri has been handpicked to live on Mars. But weeks before launch, she discovers the journal of a girl who lived in her house more than a hundred years ago and is immediately drawn into the mystery surrounding her fate.
Oklahoma, 1934: Amid the fear and uncertainty of the Dust Bowl, Catherine’s family’s situation is growing dire. She must find the courage to sacrifice everything she loves in order to save the one person she loves most.
England, 1919: In the recovery following World War I, Lenore tries to come to terms with her grief for her brother, a fallen British soldier, and plans to sail to America. But can she make it that far?
While their stories span thousands of miles and multiple generations, Lenore, Catherine, and Adri’s fates are entwined in ways both heartbreaking and hopeful. In Jodi Lynn Anderson’s signature haunting, lyrical prose, human connections spark spellbindingly to life, and a bright light shines on the small but crucial moments that determine one’s fate.
You could say that human history features two types of people: those who stay and those who leave. Anderson's…moody, mesmerizing novel, an unusual hybrid of science fiction and historical fiction, is devoted to the restless souls who want to get the heck out…It's hard to forget Catherine's parched Dust Bowl farm, where even the morning toast and eggs are coated with grit, and fans of futuristic fiction will be drawn to Anderson's vision of flooded cities, space travel and inventions like the KitchenLite, used to print edible eggs and bacon.

The New York Times Book Review - Catherine Hong
I was drawn to Adri, the character who is the least like me as a person, as she's distant, closed off and, as she puts it, not a nice person, a loner by choice. Yet once she develops a relationship with 107 year old Lily, who is losing her memories to dementia, you can almost feel her heart start to expand. Once she begins reading Catherine and Lenore's letters, her world opens even more, and peeking into these intimate moments in history is like watching Downton Abbey, you know you will never actually meet people like this, but their stories and their lives are riveting nonetheless. The science fiction/historical fiction hybrid is surprisingly suspenseful and rich with detail. Anderson is obviously an accomplished writer. This novel deserves an A, and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes generational stories and science fiction with heart.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly is the book that we're reading for October for the library book group that I lead. This novel has been made into a popular movie and many of my friends and fellow book lovers have already seen it, though I have not. I loved that the book was about a group of amazing, successful black women during the WWII years up through the 1970s and the space race era of the 60s who served as human computers for aeronautics and for rockets, but were given little or no recognition due to the racism and sexism of the time. To read stories of real women who battled both and came out on top is a rare treat. Here's the blurb:
Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program—and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now.
Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as “Human Computers,” calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts by Jim Crow laws, these “colored computers,” as they were known, used slide rules, adding machines, and pencil and paper to support America’s fledgling aeronautics industry, and helped write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.
Drawing on the oral histories of scores of these “computers,” personal recollections, interviews with NASA executives and engineers, archival documents, correspondence, and reporting from the era, Hidden Figures recalls America’s greatest adventure and NASA’s groundbreaking successes through the experiences of five spunky, courageous, intelligent, determined, and patriotic women: Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, and Gloria Champine.
Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the women’s rights movement, Hidden Figures interweaves a rich history of scientific achievement and technological innovation with the intimate stories of five women whose work forever changed the world—and whose lives show how out of one of America’s most painful histories came one of its proudest moments.
…Margot Lee Shetterly does not play the austere historian in Hidden Figures. She is right there at the beginning with evocative memories of her childhood, visiting her father—an engineer turned climate scientist—at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia…Hidden Figures…is clearly fueled by pride and admiration, a tender account of genuine transcendence and camaraderie. The story warmly conveys the dignity and refinements of these women. They defied barriers for the privilege of offering their desperately needed technical abilities.

The New York Times Book Review - Janna Levin
What I loved most about this book, the stories of these incredibly hard-working women who balanced long work days with raising children and developing integrated community organizations, (like the Girl Scouts) was also what I liked least about the book, because Shetterly, as the NYTB notes above, adds in a lot of civil rights history and regular history/historical incidents that, while they inform the era, are not directly about these women's lives. I think most children who went through any decent school system from the 60s on had already read about the civil rights movement, Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Brown VS the Board of Education. What I wanted more of, as a reader, was more insights into these women's lives. I wanted to hear about their struggles to raise children through inferior segregated schools, and then their push to get them into integrated schools and colleges, dealing with women's organizations of the time, dealing with husbands who expected them to do it all, and be it all, and getting around sexism and racism in the work place. The author certainly raised these issues and spoke about them, but it wasn't in depth enough for me. I wanted more. That said, there was certainly a great deal to think about when I finished reading the book, because I felt like a huge slacker in the face of all that these women accomplished under the stresses and prejudices of the time. A solid A book, with the recommendation for anyone who is interested in Aviation and Space history and the hidden history of black women in this country.

The Last Chance Matinee by Mariah Stewart was a book that I won from Shelf Awareness and the author's giveaway section of their e-newsletter. Ms Stewart graciously sent me a copy of the book autographed, and with her personal author business card enclosed. This is a story about a trio of sisters who do not get along, yet they are thrown together when their father dies and two of the sisters discover that their father had another family that he never told them (or their mother) about on the other coast. Having actually known someone that this happened to, I was immediately riveted by the story arc, and interested as to how the characters were going to grow together, while renovating an old theater in the small town where their father grew up. The sisters are told that they won't get their substantial inheritance money unless they renovate and open this theater, on budget and on time. Here's the blurb:
From New York Times bestselling author Mariah Stewart comes the first novel in her all-new series, The Hudson Sisters, following a trio of reluctant sisters as they set out to fulfill their father’s dying wish. In the process, they find not only themselves, but the father they only thought they knew.
When celebrated and respected agent Fritz Hudson passes away, he leaves a trail of Hollywood glory in his wake—and two separate families who never knew the other existed. Allie and Des Hudson are products of Fritz’s first marriage to Honora, a beautiful but troubled starlet whose life ended in a tragic overdose. Meanwhile, Fritz was falling in love on the Delaware Bay with New Age hippie Susa Pratt—they had a daughter together, Cara, and while Fritz loved Susa with everything he had, he never quite managed to tell her or Cara about his West Coast family.
Now Fritz is gone, and the three sisters are brought together under strange circumstances: there’s a large inheritance to be had that could save Allie from her ever-deepening debt following a disastrous divorce, allow Des to open a rescue shelter for abused and wounded animals, and give Cara a fresh start after her husband left her for her best friend—but only if the sisters upend their lives and work together to restore an old, decrepit theater that was Fritz’s obsession growing up in his small hometown in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. Guided by Fritz’s closest friend and longtime attorney, Pete Wheeler, the sisters come together—whether they like it or not—to turn their father’s dream into a reality, and might just come away with far more than they bargained for. 
Library Journal: Allie and Des Hudson, raised in California and born to an alcoholic starlet, Honora, and her manager, Fritz, are summoned to their Uncle Pete's law office for the reading of Fritz's will after he dies suddenly. They're surprised when Cara, a half sister they never knew, shows up. Pete reveals Fritz's double life, and another surprise: all three daughters will not receive their inheritance unless they move to his hometown in rural Pennsylvania and restore the old theater where he spent his summers. Upon arrival, the women meet their Aunt Barney, yet another hidden relation Fritz never revealed, and they begin to learn a little more about their father and family. As they set to work repairing the theater, they begin to form a new family unit, although some are more willing than others. Barney lets them in on who their father was as a young man, but the mysteries around him keep growing. VERDICT This series opener by the author of the "Chesapeake Diaries" books is a bit disappointing, as almost nothing is resolved. That said, it's a good read, with a nice blend of mystery, family drama, and romance. Readers will look forward to the next installment.--Brooke Bolton
Though I know readers are supposed to identify with gentle yoga instructor Cara or animal-rescuer Des (everyone is supposed to dislike prickly helicopter parent and sneering snob Allie), I found myself liking Aunt Barney, who, though she's in her 60s or 70s, is lively, smart and fun, and well loved within the Hidden Falls community. She seems to be the only female character who has it together, and who isn't either looking for love, mourning a lost love or angry about love. The prose is sterling, and the characters well drawn enough to make readers care about them and their plights. The plot meanders and dawdles a bit, however, and reviewer Brooke Bolton is right in that nothing is resolved by the end of the book, so you're left at a very unsatisfying place, where renovations have hardly begun, and all of the sisters have revealed their weaknesses and have been neatly paired with a local guy who is frustratingly distant for one reason or another.  Even our sour and bitter Allie has a fan in the local sheriff, who lost his entire family to a drunk driver and who recognizes that Allie has an alcohol problem, even when she refuses to admit it to herself or anyone else. Still, being a theater major and a fan of romantic story lines interwoven with family dramas, I enjoyed reading The Last Chance Matinee, and I'd give it a B+ and recommend it to anyone who likes Gilmore Girls, Dynasty or Kristin Hannah's well told family sagas. 




Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Parnassus Books on Sunday Morning, Hidden Figures Wins Award, What NOT to Read, Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti and A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn


I watch CBS Sunday Morning every single week, it's one of my Sunday rituals. Sunday Morning is a gentle, lifestyle-story laden show that gives you the good news often ignored by regular television news shows that air in the morning and evenings. When I started watching Sunday Morning, Charles Kuralt was the affable host, but once he passed, Charles Osgood did a wonderful job as his replacement. Now that Osgood has retired, Jane Pauley has taken the reins, and with the newly refurbished set, she is doing a fabulous job as host of my favorite news magazine, as it used to be called. I was thrilled to see this piece appear this past Sunday, and though I am not a fan of Patchett's books, I love that she's taken over the bookstore and is making a success of it.

Patchett, Parnassus Featured on CBS Sunday Morning
"Ann Patchett doesn't just write books, like her latest bestseller,
Commonwealth; she sells them," CBS Sunday Morning
observed on yesterday's program, which featured Patchett giving 60
Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl a tour of Parnassus Books
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz34298708 in Nashville, Tenn., the store that Patchett co-owns. "As you might expect from a novelist, there's a good
story behind Parnassus Books, and it's one that's bigger than just one
brick-and-mortar retailer," CBS Sunday Morning noted.

The story had its roots at Winter Institute 2017, when Patchett
conducted an interview of Stahl
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz34298709 on the
occasion of the publication of her book Becoming Grandma. At one point,
Patchett pitched Stahl on a 60 Minutes story about independent
bookstores and "about this industry and how surprisingly successful it
is."

Hidden Figures is my library book group's book for October, so I was thrilled to read that it had garnered yet another award. 

Hidden Figures Wins GABP
Margot Lee Shetterly has won the $13,000 2017 Grateful American Book
The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women
Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race (HarperCollins), which was
the basis for the Oscar-nominated film of the same name. 
David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the prize, commented about the book's
subject: "They were called 'computers' where they worked and were
largely dismissed until the authorities at the space agency's Langley
Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Virginia realized that their help
was indispensable if the U.S. was to prevail over the Soviet Union in
the conquest of space. Despite the rampant racism of the times, four
mathematicians, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and
Christine Darden, showed they had the right stuff. Using primitive tools
by today's standards--pencils and adding machines--they calculated the
trajectories that would successfully launch America's first astronauts
into outer space."

What NOT to read: I don't normally write about books that I can't finish, due to the book being truly awful. I'm making an exception for two books that I just tried to read in the past few days, because one was so bad it was unbelievable, and the other was a major disappointment. 
First up is The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neil. This was quite possibly the worst book I've ever read in the past 53 years, and that is saying something, considering I've read thousands of books. LHH had the trifecta of things I do not want to read about, namely pedophilia and pedophiles, child abuse by evil people masquerading as religious figures (ie nuns, priests), and pornography/overt bizarre sexuality, with the added horror of drug addicts and mob bosses running crime syndicates and brothels. This book takes place in the 1920s-30s, and while I know that the USA was a mess during that period, I was unaware that things were just as bad in Canada, where this book takes place. The story revolves around two orphans, abandoned at birth at a Catholic orphanage in Montreal. Rose and Pierrot are both innocents who develop amazing talents, Pierrot for the piano and music, and Rose for dance and singing.Unfortunately, one of the nuns begins sexually abusing Pierrot when he's around 7 years old, and due to his relationship with Rose (they perform together) she jealously beats Rose up, or has her beaten and punished by locking her in a cupboard without food or water or light for weeks to keep her from Pierrot, whom she believes will love and marry her so she can continue to sodomize him. One time, Rose is nearly beaten to death before the Mother Superior, who considers all the orphans expendable, but likes the fact that Rose and Pierrot bring in extra cash to the orphanage, stops the pedophile nun by explaining that Rose is worth more alive than dead, but still doesn't reprimand the nun for almost killing her. 
Eventually, Rose and P leave the orphanage, P is adopted as a teenager by a wealthy old man confined to a wheelchair who loves to hear him play the piano. The old guy tries to leave some of his money to P, only to have his horrible greedy adult children burn the codicil to the will, leaving him with nothing. He tries to find Rose, but the evil nun tells him that she's married with children and has forgotten about him. Rose hasn't forgotten about him, but after being the governess of a mob boss's children, she has sex with the mob boss who sets her up as his mistress and wants to possess her completely, which in his mind means that he must abuse and degrade and humiliate her until her spirit is crushed and she is his slave. P finds himself in an affair with a prostitute who has a heroin addiction, so she gets P into heroin, and that sets him on a life of crime, robbing rich people's homes of expensive paintings and items that he doesn't know the value of, but will sell for any amount of money so that he can continue being a junkie. Rose leaves the mob boss, but of course his ego can't have that, so he sets out to find and kill her. She ends up being a model for pornographic books and postcards, and eventually does pornographic movies. Rose and P come within spitting distance of each other several times, but they always manage to miss one another by a few moments. At this point, 204 pages into the book, I couldn't take this horrific and dreary and depressing tale anymore. Rose and Pierrot start as dreaming children, but eventually they seem just plain stupid, making every wrong choice in a disgusting underworld populated by vile people. I would give this book an F, and I can't imagine anyone enjoying such a disgusting, horrific story, written in painfully 'pretty' prose.

Cruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard is a compilation of two novellas that take place in the Red Queen universe. I've read all the Red Queen books, and while I enjoyed them, these two novellas were a big disappointment. The first, Queen Song, is only 54 pages long, and tells the story of how Queen Coriane was driven mad by Elara, a psychic vampire of sorts from another royal house who covets Coriane's crown and power. So this is why Queen Elara is such a horrible person, because she was possessed by a psychopath. After that depressing little appetizer, there follows Steel Scars, which is the story of some battles and troop movements and so forth with the Red Guard, run by the mean Colonel and the much beloved and trusted Captain Farley. Interspersed throughout are missives between the two, in which orders given by the Colonel are ignored by Captain Farley, as she runs her own war the way she sees fit. Unfortunately, the story gets bogged down in political/military details, and becomes terribly boring after the first 30 pages. The author didn't make me care about the characters as she had in the full length novels, and there really isn't anyone here to root for, as Farley is bitter and paranoid, and not really enough of a character to hold the readers interest for more than a few pages. So I'd give this small book a D, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone but the most die-hard fans of the Red Queen books, or someone who needs a cure for insomnia.

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti is a short volume that reads like a journalist's long form article from a newspaper, that has been padded out with photos and cartoons to make it into a saleable book.   Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly: In this thoroughly researched biography, Bartoletti (They Called Themselves the KKK) seeks to illuminate the backstory of “Typhoid Mary,” who allegedly infected nearly 50 individuals with the disease. Mary Mallon cooked for wealthy families in turn-of-the-20th-century New York City until she became the first documented “healthy carrier” of typhoid in the U.S. and was imprisoned in hospitals for most of her remaining life. Little is known about Mallon outside of one six-page letter she wrote, official documents, newspaper reports, journal articles, and other firsthand accounts of her. Though Bartoletti forms an objective portrait of Mallon’s case, she often has to rely on conjecture (“Mary probably didn’t understand that she could be a healthy carrier”), filling in gaps using deductive reasoning based on facts from that era. In the end, this study of Mallon’s ill-fated life is as much an examination of the period in which she lived, including the public’s ignorance about the spread and treatment of disease, the extreme measures health officials took to advance science, and how yellow journalism’s sensationalized stories could ruin someone’s reputation. 
I was surprised at how readable this book was, and how fascinating Mary Mallon's real story has become, when examined in the light of history and how women were treated differently in a highly sexist society. Mary, under the most horrible circumstances (she was imprisoned and forced into quarantine, though they couldn't prove that she was actually spreading typhoid all the time) still managed to maintain her dignity, to have friends and a life and some agency over her career.  She wrote letters of protest and she always denied that she had given so many people typhoid. When health officials found men who were healthy carriers of typhoid, ie those who had the bacteria in their system but didn't display any symptoms themselves, they were not treated to the same stringent measures and quarantines as Mary, and were, in fact, let go so that they could get on with their lives. Meanwhile, Mary, once she was released, was hounded by health officials and the press, who sought to demonize her in order to sell papers, or, in the case of health officials, make a name for themselves. Due to the journalistic style of the prose, I enjoyed reading this book, and the plot, or story arc, was smooth and went off without a hitch. I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to anyone who is interested in plagues of the 20th century.

A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn is the second Veronica Speedwell mystery that I've read. The first, A Curious Beginning, held my interest and introduced Veronica, who is the bastard child of royalty, and Stoker, her aristocratic friend and possible love interest. This time the duo, who work mounting butterflies and taxidermy specimens of animals for a small museum, find themselves being asked to save a man from hanging by one of Queen Victoria's married daughters, Princess Louise (who calls herself Lady Sundridge). The man about to hang has an alibi, he was sleeping with Louise at the time of the murder, but he can't use it as the scandal would wreak havoc on the monarchy. So Veronica and Stoker go haring off into danger to unmask the killer, whom I knew from the start (SPOILER) would be female. Here's the blurb:
London, 1887. At the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task—saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Ramsforth, accused of the brutal murder of his mistress, Artemisia, will face the hangman’s noose in a week’s time if the real killer is not found.
But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems, and unmasking her true identity is only the first of many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural-historian colleague, Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer. From a Bohemian artists’ colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed....Publisher's Weekly: Raybourn’s effervescent sequel to 2015’s A Curious Beginning combines witty suspense with a playful look at the secrets proper Victorians hid. When Veronica, an adventurous lepidopterist, meets a woman calling herself Lady Sundridge, she easily deduces her exalted true identity. Lady Sundridge wants Veronica to reinvestigate the murder of an artist known as Artemisia. Though she wants her late friend’s death avenged, the woman insists that Artemisia’s lover, Miles Ramsforth, soon to be hanged for the crime, is not guilty. Veronica and her associate, aristocratic natural historian Revelstoke “Stoker” Templeton-Vane, wend their way through opium dens, artists’ studios, the headquarters of Scotland Yard, and the Elysian Grotto, an underground cave lavishly fitted out for sexual pleasure on the Ramsforth estate. The sleuths’ lives are threatened as their investigation uncovers peccadilloes at the highest levels of society. Revelations about Stoker’s painful past add nuance to the pair’s spirited and sexually charged banter in this playful historical mystery.
So it turns out (SPOILER) that Stoker is also a bastard, and if anyone can understand Veronica's desire to show up the snobbish relatives who shun her because of her birth, it's Stoker. Yet he uses his aristocracy to help unwind the layers of lies and half-truths surrounding the murder of Artemisia, instead of trying to prove something to them. The frisson of sexual tension between Veronica and Stoker is lovely, and the banter between the two delightful. I liked Raybourn's sparkling prose and her zingy plot in this novel, and I felt that the relationship between the protagonist blossomed in a natural fashion. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys Steampunk, historical mysteries and spirited British heroines.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Handmaid's Tale Wins Emmy, A Twist of the Knife by Becky Masterman, Fireborn by Keri Arthur, Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi, and Red Sister by Mark Lawrence


It is no secret that I've been a fan of Margaret Atwood's chilling tale of a dystopian future run by old white Christian men, The Handmaid's Tale, since it debuted. This most recent adaptation is supposedly wonderful, but since I don't have access to Hulu, I've not been able to see it, yet. Still, I am thrilled that the show cleaned up at the Emmy Awards this past week. 

Primetime Emmy Winner, The Handmaid's Tale
 
Margaret Atwood with the cast of The Handmaid's Tale. photo: Inwood/AP
Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, based on Margaret Atwood's novel, and HBO's
Big Little Lies, adapted from the novel by Liane Moriarty, were big
winners at last night's Primetime Emmy Awards http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz34229569.
The book-to-TV adaptations dominated the festivities, garnering wins in
several major categories, including:

The Handmaid's Tale: outstanding drama series, Elisabeth Moss (lead
actress, drama series), Ann Dowd (supporting actress, drama series),
Alexis Bledel (guest actress, drama series), Reed Morano (director,
drama series), and Bruce Miller (writing, drama series for the pilot
episode "Offred"). In her acceptance speech, Moss expressed her
gratitude to Atwood: "Thank you for what you did in 1985 and thank you
for what you continue to do." A short time later, the author
received a standing ovation as she took the stage
outstanding drama series Emmy was announced.

A Twist of the Knife by Becky Masterman is a taut mystery/thriller that I picked up because the protagonist is a 60 year old woman who, despite being middle aged and retired, still manages to unravel this mystery and find the perpetrators of a heinous crime. Few books (really we're rare in any medium, from books to TV to movies) have any women over 50 in them playing anything but a side role as someone's mother or grandmother. It's even rarer to find a fat/overweight female in books, TV or movies, and when they do, it's always about losing weight, because a woman can't possibly be happy with herself unless she looks like a barbie doll or a starving model (insert eye rolling here). Fortunately, this book's protagonist, Brigid, has it handled, and doesn't let anyone elses opinions about her keep her from doing what she does best--solving mysteries/cold cases. Brigid is part of a big Irish Catholic family, of course, and intertwined with the mystery is her need to be by her father's side as he dies from pneumonia and emphysema. Here's the blurb:
Ex-FBI agent Brigid Quinn, now happily settled in Tucson, doesn’t visit her family in Florida much. But her former partner on the force, Laura Coleman—a woman whose life she has saved and who has saved her life in turn—is living there now. So when Laura calls about a case that is not going well, Brigid doesn’t hesitate to get on a plane.
On leave from the Bureau, Laura has been volunteering for a legal group trying to prove the innocence of a man who is on death row for killing his family. Laura is firmly convinced that he didn’t do it, while Brigid isn’t so sure—but the date for his execution is coming up so quickly that they’ll have to act fast to find any evidence that may absolve him before it’s too late…Publisher's Weekly: Edgar-finalist Masterman presents a compassionate, clear-eyed depiction of the painful foibles of human nature in her chilling, twist-filled third thriller featuring retired FBI agent Brigid Quinn. Brigid flies from Phoenix to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to be with her mother after her 83-year-old father is hospitalized. While there, Brigid is contacted by former colleague Laura Coleman, an Innocence Project investigator, who asks Brigid to help her exonerate death row inmate Marcus Creighton. Fifteen years earlier, Creighton was convicted of killing his wife; his three children have been missing since the night of the murder. The execution date is set, and time is running out. The problem is that Brigid believes that Creighton is probably guilty. Still, Brigid wants to help Laura, and the distraction of an investigation is just the thing to take her mind off her complicated family relationships. A compelling, complex lead, Brigid has no problem skirting the straight and narrow in her quest for justice.
Though this book defines the 'dark and gritty' mystery genre that is supposedly more realistic than the cozy mysteries I usually enjoy reading, I found it to be a real page-turner, with prose that was zesty and highly readable. The plot was more straightforward than the title would have you think, though there was a bit of twist at the end, which I won't spoil for you. While I'd give it a B+, I don't think I will read anymore of these books, because this one was compelling but way too depressing for my tastes. 

I had somewhat the same problem, only in the other direction (too much erotic fantasy) with Fireborn by Keri Arthur. Emberly isn't your standard Phoenix; she can become a bird, a column of fire or be wrapped in a human-looking exterior. But don't let that fool you, she's a "creature of spirit" who can't be harmed by the same things that can harm vampires or werewolves. She also can't live without a Phoenix mate, one who will renew her fires and have sex with her, but who cannot love her according to some ancient curse of her people. What this means is that Emberly, who dies and is reborn every 100 years, can have love if she hooks up with someone outside of her relationship with Rory, her mate, but that person has to be okay with her having sex with (and renewing her fires with) Rory whenever the mood strikes either of them. She also seems to be polyamorous, in that she claims to have been in love with a cop turned special agent (who rejected her and her kind when he found out about Rory) but during this book she's always flirting with nearly every male she meets, and she ends up having sex and dates with a fire Fae, who is, of course, gorgeous and slightly dangerous. This basically gives Arthur a way for the protagonist to have explicit sex in every chapter. While I don't mind some romance and a bit of sex in my science fiction or fantasy novels, it has to be woven into the plot so that things don't slow to a crawl every time the main characters get hot for one another. Sadly, the plot all but stops in Fireborn every time Emberly has "sizzling" sex with someone. Here's the blurb:
Emberly Pearson—a phoenix capable of taking on human form and cursed with the ability to foresee death....
Emberly has spent a good number of her many lives trying to save humans. So when her prophetic dreams reveal the death of Sam, a man she once loved, she does everything in her power to prevent it from happening. But in saving his life, she gets more than she bargained for
.
Sam is working undercover for the Paranormal Investigations Team, and those who are trying to murder him are actually humans infected by a plaguelike virus, the Crimson Death—a by-product of a failed government experiment intended to identify the enzymes that make vampires immortal. Now all those infected must be eliminated.
But when Emberly’s boss is murdered and his irreplaceable research stolen, she needs to find the guilty party before she goes down in flames....Publisher's Weekly:Arthur's riveting Souls of Fire series launch introduces Emberly Pearson, a phoenix reluctantly investigating her boss's murder and assigned to find his missing research for curing the red plague, a disease that creates the vampire-like Red Cloaks. Emberly, who dies and is reborn every 100 years, lives in Melbourne, Australia, with Rory, a phoenix she doesn't love but is physiologically required to have sex with. Her love in this particular life cycle is Sam, but he thinks she's unfaithful, misunderstanding her existential need for pyrotechnic physical intimacy with Rory. Sam works undercover for the Paranormal Investigations Team and fears that Emberly's investigation will interfere with his efforts to end the plague outbreak. Their conflicts heighten after Emberly joins forces with Jackson, a fire fae PI, and becomes a target for the sindicati, the vampire mafia.

The prose here was melodramatic and simplistic, while the plot had more stops and starts than a city bus. The characters were stereotypes and cliches,which made them silly instead of endearing. Emberly still carries a torch (ha, ha) for Sam, though he acts like a real douchebag throughout the book, and not only abuses her physically, but drugs her enough that she's left unable to defend herself. For someone hundreds of years old, Emberly seems fairly stupid and makes a number of childish mistakes that nearly cost her her life. I'm not really a fan of the "perfect petite blond" female protagonist who is irresistible to all men at all times, so I don't think I will be reading any more of this series. I'd give it a generous B, and only recommend it to someone looking for some soft porn with their fantasy story.

Agent to The Stars by John Scalzi is his nod to the pulp science fiction of the 1950s, 60s and early 70s. As with all of Scalzi's science fiction novels, there's plenty of humor and insightful satirizing of Hollywood and America, along with aliens who, as outsiders, often see things about humanity more clearly than humans do. Here's the blurb via Publisher's Weekly: In this slick, lightweight SF yarn from Scalzi (Old Man's War), Thomas Stein, a hot young Hollywood agent, has just negotiated a multimillion-dollar deal for his friend, starlet Michelle Beck, when his boss, Carl Lupo, foists a space alien called Joshua on him. Joshua and his people, the Yherajk, are intelligent, gelatinous, shape-shifting blobs that communicate telepathically and by sharing odors. They've been monitoring Earth's TV broadcasts and realize that before they can make first contact, they'll have to deal with their image problem. Tom takes on the job of making the friendly, odiferous creatures palatable to humanity, while keeping Michelle and the rest of his other acting clients happy. Several entertaining trips to the aliens' spaceship enliven the predictable plot.
The space-faring Yherajk have come to Earth to meet us and to begin humanity's first interstellar friendship. There's just one problem: They're hideously ugly and they smell like rotting fish.
So getting humanity's trust is a challenge. The Yherajk need someone who can help them close the deal.
Enter Thomas Stein, who knows something about closing deals. He's one of Hollywood's hottest young agents. But although Stein may have just concluded the biggest deal of his career, it's quite another thing to negotiate for an entire alien race. To earn his percentage this time, he's going to need all the smarts, skills, and wits he can muster.
Scalzi states in the foreword to this novel that he really didn't think it would ever be published, but that for some reason it has been published and republished several times, and it is often a fan favorite, which he finds mystifying. I know why, because it's laugh out loud funny, with moments of tenderness and insight into human nature, and it is also a ripping yarn told in Scalzi's pitch-perfect prose. You'd be hard pressed to find anything wrong with this page-turning romp. I didn't find the plot predictable at all, and I loved the HEA, which isn't a given in Scalzi's other works. A well deserved A, with a recommendation to anyone who loves stories of old Hollywood, classic science fiction and hilarious aliens. 

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence sounded like my kind of book. It had girls trained as assassins in an abbey, strong female teachers and character growth, and a fantasy/SF universe that was supposedly diverse and well written. I was expecting something similar to the Hunger Games, or Divergent, or the Mortal Instruments series or even Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth (also the Red Crown series). What I got, instead, was a horrific tale that was unrelentingly grim and depressing about a world in which children are sold like cattle (only they're not seen as valuable as feed animals) to either pit fighting rings, brothels or abbeys full of nuns who teach those with 'talents' or 'gifts' to fight and kill for survival. I can't believe I wasted money on buying a hardback copy at Powells City of Books this summer. Here's the blurb: 
At the Convent of Sweet Mercy, young girls are raised to be killers. In some few children the old bloods show, gifting rare talents that can be honed to deadly or mystic effect. But even the mistresses of sword and shadow don’t truly understand what they have purchased when Nona Grey is brought to their halls.
A bloodstained child of nine falsely accused of murder, guilty of worse, Nona is stolen from the shadow of the noose. It takes ten years to educate a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist, but under Abbess Glass’s care there is much more to learn than the arts of death. Among her class Nona finds a new family—and new enemies. Despite the security and isolation of the convent, Nona’s secret and violent past finds her out, drawing with it the tangled politics of a crumbling empire. Her arrival sparks old feuds to life, igniting vicious struggles within the church and even drawing the eye of the emperor himself.
Beneath a dying sun, Nona Grey must master her inner demons, then loose them on those who stand in her way. Library Journal:
Nine-year-old Nona Grey, accused of murder, is headed for the gallows when she is purchased by the abbess of Sweet Mercy and taken into a convent that raises young women to become trained killers. For ten years, girls are taught the ways of sword and shadow, and for many, the old blood of the ancestors eventually rises to the surface in the form of magical gifts that enhance their fighting skills. When Nona arrives, she finds a new future, a new family, and some new enemies. But her brief previous history in the world attracts the attention of powerful families, dangerous foes, and even the emperor himself. As external politics and internal conflicts within the church seep into the convent's isolated world, Nona will be forced to confront and embrace the darkness inside her, and no one will ever be the same. VERDICT In this stunning, action-filled series launch, Lawrence ("Broken Empire" trilogy) establishes a fantastic world in which religion and politics are dark and sharp as swords, with magic and might held in the hands of wonderful and dangerous women. Impatient George R.R. Martin's fans will find this a pleasing alternative until the next installment in his "A Song of Ice and Fire" saga arrives.
Nona is a very bitter and determined student because her best friend, who was just a little girl, was hanged just before Nona was slated to be killed. Think about that. This is a world where children are hanged for no reason, other than their existence is inconvenient. Add to that disgusting scenario the redundant plot, where we are told Nona's background story over and over, but each time we're told that this is the true version, readers are surprised all over again to learn that the version they just heard is a lie, and the new version the real story, until the next time Nona tells her tale. This becomes tedious quickly, and it slows an already overburdened plot that stumbles like a drunkard to a deeply unsatisfying conclusion. SPOILER ALERT. Lawrence has his heroic female lead, after killing nearly everyone else who stands in her path, decline to kill the classmate who sold out the entire class, for money, not caring whether or not they all died by her treachery. Somehow, we're supposed to think this is in character, or okay? Really? Also, the pedophilic overtones that slither through the prose in this novel are nauseating. This is horror fantasy at its worst, and I can't give it any higher grade than a C. I don't know that GRRM fans would enjoy this gore-fest, full of sloppy prose that needs to be trimmed by at least 67 pages. I can't really recommend it, but if killing and killer children are your jam, there you go.  Don't say I didn't warn you.