Tuesday, May 22, 2018

David Copperfield and How to Build a Girl Movies, Wodehouse Prize Withheld in 2018, Worlds of Ursula K. LeGuin, How to Marry a Werewolf by Gail Carriger, Tracking the Tempest by Nicole Peeler, The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin and This Is Me by Chrissy Metz

I am so excited for these movies to debut! They have great books and fascinating authors behind them, so I imagine they will be big hits!

Movies: The Personal History of David Copperfield

Armando Iannucci (Veep, In the Loop, The Death of Stalin) "is bulking up
the cast" for his upcoming film, The Personal History of David
with the addition of Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who, The Thick of It), the
Hollywood Reporter wrote.

Capaldi, who joins a cast that includes Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, Hugh
Laurie and Ben Wishaw, will play Mr. Micawber "in the fresh take on
Charles Dickens' autobiographical masterpiece," THR noted. Written by
Iannucci and Simon Blackwell, the project begins production in June in
the U.K.

Movies: How to Build a Girl
Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising) will star in
the film adaptation of Caitlin Moran's novel How to Build a Girl
which was recently chosen for Emma Watson's feminist book club, Our
Shared Shelf. Deadline reported that the "comedic coming-of-age story
from U.K. producer Monumental Pictures will start shooting on location
in the U.K. from July. Director Coky Giedroyc, whose TV credits include
episodes of The Killing and BBC drama The Hour, will helm the feature
from the screenplay by U.K. broadcaster and author Moran." The producers
describe the lead character as "one of the great female literary icons
on a par with Elizabeth Bennet and Bridget Jones."

"We could not be more excited for Johanna Morrigan to burst onto the big
screen," said Alison Owen (Suffragette), who is producing with Debra
Hayward (Les Miserables). "We searched high and low for a girl who could
match the boundless wit, sparkle and big heart of Caitlin's
super-heroine and feel incredibly lucky to have found her in the
effervescent Beanie Feldstein."

"How to Build a Girl will be outrageously funny and utterly affecting,
even heart-breaking," added Hayward. "With Coky Giedroyc at the helm of
Caitlin's swashbuckling script, we are blessed to have a director who
can deliver all this in spades."
I was surprised that this Prize wasn't given out this year, but I am gladto know that tehre will be an even bigger bottle of bubbly and a bigger pig that will go to the lucky author, LOL.

No Laughing Matter: 2018 Wodehouse Prize Withheld 

For the first time in its history, the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse
which has been awarded annually since 2000 to a novel "deemed to best
capture the comic spirit of the late P.G. Wodehouse," will not name a
winner. The Guardian reported that the prize judges had "not found a
book they felt worthy 'to join the heady comedic ranks of P.G.
Wodehouse' or of previous winners such as Marina Lewycka or Alexander
McCall Smith."

"My fellow judges and I have decided to withhold the prize this year to
maintain the extremely high standards of comic fiction that the... prize
represents," according to judge David Campbell, publisher of Everyman's
Library. "Despite the submitted books producing many a wry smile amongst
the panel during the judging process, we did not feel than any of the
books we read this year incited the level of unanimous laughter we have
come to expect. We look forward to awarding a larger rollover prize next
year to a hilariously funny book."

The winner usually receives a case of champagne and a rare breed pig
named after the winning novel at the annual Hay literary festival. "Next

year's bumper prize will include a Methuselah of bubbly and a

particularly large pig," the Guardian wrote.

Campbell conceded that writing a genuinely funny novel is a difficult
task: "Wodehouse is so incredibly great, he really does make you laugh
out loud. But that's not an easy thing to do at all. There were lots of
very good novels, but nothing outstandingly funny.... There were a lot
of witty submissions, bloody good novels, but they weren't comic novels.
The alchemy was not there."
I am looknig forward to this documentary, as well

Movies: Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin
A trailer has been released for Arwen Curry's documentary, Worlds of
Curry kickstarted the film in 2016 "and has been working on the project
ever since. Earlier this week, she released a trailer for the
documentary, which will use archival footage and recent interviews with
Le Guin to examine her life and the impact of her career," The Verge
reported. Le Guin died in January.

Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin also features interviews with other writers,
including Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman, as well as Theodora Goss,
author of a forthcoming critical volume on Le Guin, who says in the
trailer: "She's being recognized not just as one of our great science
fiction and fantasy writers, but as one of our great American writers."

Science fiction podcast Imaginary Worlds
interviewed Curry about her work on the documentary, which will appear
at film festivals later this fall and debut on PBS American Masters in
How to Marry a Werewolf by Gail Carriger is a "claw and courtship novella" that will hook you in from the first page and keep you reading right to the end. Delicious steampunk paranormal fantasy/romance hybrid that it is, this book has something for nearly everyone, including Carriger's trademark wit and strong female protagonist, in this case, an American sent by her horrible family to seek alliance with a werewolf of London. Here's the blurb:
WEREWOLVES: The monsters left Faith ruined in the eyes of society, so now they’re her only option. Rejected by her family, Faith crosses the Atlantic, looking for a marriage of convenience and revenge.
But things are done differently in London. Werewolves are civilized. At least they pretend to be.
AMERICANS: Backward heathens with no culture, Major Channing has never had time for any of them. But there’s something special about Faith. Channing finds himself fighting to prove himself and defend his species. But this werewolf has good reason not to trust human women.
Even if they learn to love, can either of them forgive?
From the New York Times bestselling author of the Parasol Protectorate series comes a stand alone romance set in the same universe. Look out for appearances from favorite characters and the serious consequences of unwarranted geology.
A Note On Chronology
The Claw & Courtship novellas can be read in any order. This book can be enjoyed without having read any of Gail’s other works.
Set in the spring of 1895 this story occurs after events chronicled in Romancing the Werewolf and Competence. Channing is first introduced to readers in Changeless. He appears throughout the Parasol Protectorate series and briefly in Romancing the Inventor.
While they note that you don't have to read any of Carriger's other works to read this saucy novella, I've read 98 percent of her books, and I can honestly say that it makes reading this particular installment that much richer an experience if you read the Parasol Protectorate series and her other books, which are excellent, BTW. "How To Marry.." was written in Carriger's strong and beautifully British prose, which glides along the stalwart plot like couples at a waltz. Faith and Channing were both well written characters and I was glad to see Channing finally being vulnerable and giving in to his softer side. A resounding A for this charming novella, with a recommendation to anyone who enjoys Victorian-era steampunk romance.

Tracking the Tempest by Nicole Peeler is the second book in this paranormal mystery/romance series. Normally this kind of book, female protagonist who is a "halfling" or part magical creature dates a vampire and has to solve a mystery with the help of other magical creatures, would be right up my alley. Seanan McGuire's Toby Daye books are similar in scope, but her protagonist has the opposite problem of Peeler's Jane True, in that Toby is constantly sacrificing her own life in battling for others, (none of whom seem to be able to help her or protect her, as they all claim to want to do) while Jane can't seem to do anything right and has to be rescued from the bad guys in every other chapter. Her weakness and general idiocy is my main problem with this series, because I find main female characters who are obsessed with sex, but can' t really function well as anything but a bed mate terribly cliched and frustrating,not to mention a sexist stereotype.  Oh, and of course she's a caretaker for her bewildered elderly father, because isn't that the second thing women are good for? (that was said with a great deal of eye rolling and sarcasm). Here's the blurb:
Valentine's Day is fast approaching, and Ryu - Jane's bloodsucking boyfriend - can't let a major holiday go by without getting all gratuitous. An overwhelming dose of boyfriend interference and a last-minute ticket to Boston later, and Jane's life is thrown off course.
Ryu's well-intentioned plans create mayhem, and Jane winds up embroiled in an investigation involving a spree of gruesome killings. All the evidence points towards another Halfling, much to Jane's surprise...Publisher's Weekly: Snarky selkie halfling Jane True, introduced in 2009's Tempest Rising, plays hooky from learning how to control her paranormal abilities and heads to Boston for a scorching Valentine's weekend with her lover, Ryu, a vampire-like baobhan sith who spends most of his time solving supernatural mysteries. Before their sensual action can heat past simmer, they're attacked by another powerful halfling, this one an ifrit. Soon Jane's dodging fireballs and summoning sea power with her lover and friends. New to the supernatural scene, flighty Jane must grow into her powers to save them all. Peeler's chick lit tone adds sparkle to the most spine-tingling scenes with a style that never strikes a false note, and the seamless plot weaves together Jane's paranormal and personal growth while linking both to the swelling suspense.
Publisher's Weekly neglects to mention how many times Jane has to be rescued by the guys in her life because she can't seem to control her powers long enough to save anyone, least of all herself. She's weak, and a big crybaby, and her boyfriend is a controlling asshat who really only seems to want to use her as a ready source of blood and sex. Then there's the "dog" Anyan, who has helped raise Jane and who should see her as one does an adoptive daughter, not the least of which because he's centuries older than she is. Now, however, he somehow sees her as a potential bedmate/girl friend, which is just incestuous and nasty. Jane eventually starts seeing him the same way, and at that point I got way too grossed out to want to ever read another of Peelers books. I can't tolerate pedophiles, no matter how they're couched in fantasy as otherworldly creatures, and if I didn't know better, I would think that Nicole Peeler is actually a male author trying to normalize creepy illegal sexual relations between children and their parent-figures. Blech. I'd give this novel a D, and I can't actually recommend something I find so repugnant. 

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin is a very popular novel that I'd heard was a good read, so I got a copy from the library and set to. Initially this book reminded me of The Nest, another bestseller that everyone was talking about, and one that we tackled in my library book group. Unfortunately, most of my fellow book groupers really hated the NY siblings who were the focus of the book, because they were all greedy and stupid and weak, and there was no one to really root for or take an interest in, while the most evil sibling gets away with stealing the family fortune. This book wasn't quite so awful, fortunately, but the NY born siblings were still a fairly weak-minded lot who took the words of a "gypsy" Rom woman, as to the date of their deaths, to heart and dropped like flies exactly when they were supposed to. Though they're Jewish by birth, all the siblings seem to be very superstitious, and their points of view make their religion little more than a restrictive collection of old world folklore. Here's the blurb:
If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?
It's 1969 in New York City's Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children--four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness--sneak out to hear their fortunes.
The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in '80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.
A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds. 
Only one of the four Golds doesn't die young, and of course, is the only sibling wracked by survivor's guilt. Though the prose is clean and strong, and the plot moves swiftly along, I found each sibling's story to be depressing and pathetic. None of them seemed to be able to move on from their prophecy, and really live, and their weaknesses seemed to keep them from enjoying their time on earth or connecting with their family in any significant way. I'd give this book a C, and only recommend it to people who don't let books depress them, and who find NY stories set in the 60s through today, to be exciting and fulfilling. 

This is Me: Loving The Person You Are Today by Chrissy Metz is a kind of hybrid mix of autobiography and self help book with a little tell-all celebrity behind the scenes stuff thrown in for good measure. I must note right away that I am a HUGE fan of the television show "This Is Us" which has won several Emmys and is a big hit for the old school broadcast stations that have been losing audience numbers to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu for the past few years. The show is about a family, the Pearsons, and their three children, siblings Kate, Kevin and Randall, who is black, and was adopted as a baby when one of the triplets died at birth. Extremely well written, the show's actors manage to nail every emotional up and down of being part of a close-knit family who lose their beloved Patriarch before his time. Metz plays Kate Pearson, who is a very large woman, with sensitivity and wit and beauty, making her that rarest of character actors, a female going against type (blonde and skinny and flawless) in Hollywood. Here's the blurb:
An inspirational book about life and its lessons from the Golden Globe and Emmy nominated star of NBC’s This Is Us.
When This Is Us debuted in fall 2016, a divided America embraced a show that celebrates human connection. The critically acclaimed series became America’s most watched—and most talked about—network show, even building on its fan base in the drama’s second season. As Kate Pearson, Chrissy Metz presents a character that has never been seen on television, yet viewers see themselves in her, no matter what they look like or where they come from. Considered a role model just for being her authentic self, Chrissy found herself on magazine covers and talk shows, walking red carpets, and as the subject of endless conversations on social media “I don’t know what you’ve been through to play her,” she is often told by fans, “but it was something.”
In This is Me, Chrissy Metz shares her story with a raw honesty that will leave readers both surprised but also inspired. Infused with the same authenticity she brings to her starring role, Chrissy’s This is Me is so much more than your standard Hollywood memoir or collection of personal essays. She embraces the spirit of Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes, and shares how she has applied the lessons she learned from both setbacks and successes. A born entertainer, Chrissy finds light in even her darkest moments, and leaves the reader feeling they are spending time with a friend who gets it.
Chrissy Metz grew up in a large family, one that always seemed to be moving, and growing. Her father disappeared one day, leaving her mother to work a series of menial jobs and his children to learn to live with the threat of hunger and the electricity being cut off. When her mother remarried, Chrissy hoped for “normal” but instead experienced a form of mental pain that seemed crafted just for her. The boys who showed her attention did so with strings attached as well, and Chrissy accepted it, because for her, love always came with conditions.
When she set out for Los Angeles, it was the first time she had been away from her family and from Florida. And for years, she got barely an audition. So how does a woman with the deck stacked against her radiate such love, beauty and joy? This too is at the heart of This is Me.  
With chapters that alternate from autobiographical to instructional, Chrissy offers practical applications of her hard-won insights in a series of “Bee Mindful” interstitials. There she invites you to embrace gratitude in “Say Thank You” or to be honest with your partner and yourself in “The Shrouded Supreme.” Blending love and experience, Chrissy encourages us all to claim our rightful place in a world that may be trying to knock us down, find our own unique gifts, and pursue our dreams. 
Much of the advice in the book seems to have been cribbed from the "think positive" books of the 70s and the "gratitude" admonitions of Oprah Winfrey from the 90s until today (which I've always found a bit irritating, to be honest. I think it is easy for someone as extremely wealthy and successful as Oprah to be grateful that she's worked her way out of poverty, but it comes off as more than a bit "survivors guilt" to ask those of us who will never reach those heights of wealth or success or health to be grateful for being one step away from homelessness. Seriously, it's just not going to happen for most of us, no matter how many times we say we are 'grateful.') So if you've not been living under a rock for the past 30-40 years, you will have heard all of this 'think positive' stuff before, ad nausea um. However, when Metz talks about her horrible childhood and her terrible parents (I don't know how she can forgive her abusive horses ass of a stepfather, Trigger, for all that he did to her, let alone her weak and worthless mother who enables Trigger to abuse her and then throws Chrissy under the bus for the sake of having a home for her other children) she gets real, and shows by example how important it is for fat girls and women to learn to love themselves and be persistent,despite the prejudice, when it comes to your career.
Metz makes many good points about living on next to nothing when you're just starting out, and on learning from your mistakes. She also has a wonderful sense of humor and she really does make you laugh several times in the book.
The prose is light and clean, with the occaisional stumble when Metz adds hip hop slang that makes it sound like she's trying too hard to be hip. But otherwise the book moves along at a brisk pace, and makes the reader feel as if you're getting to know Metz as a person and an artist. While I love that she fights cruelty and trolls and harassment and prejudice with kindness, I know from my own life as a fat girl that kindness rarely works with bullies and trolls who are generally misogynists bent on your destruction. Most aren't sensitive enough to listen to reason. And while I realize that, as Metz says, "hurt people hurt others," that is no excuse for wounding or even killing other people whose size or skin color offends you.
Still, I'd give this non fiction book an A,and recommend it to all my fellow larger women and girls, because if you dig deeper and overlook the self help cliches, there really is some good advice here, and some great behind the scenes stories from the set of the hit TV show, This Is Us, long may it reign. 


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

RIP Tom Wolfe, The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw, Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher, How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran, Puddin' by Julie Murphy and How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

Tom Wolfe was that rarest of beings, a writer's writer who could write non fiction that read like the greatest fiction, and fiction that was snappy, smart and a wonderful read. If you didn't love his amazing prose, you were losing out. I read my first Wolfe book in high school, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, and I was transformed, transported by his glorious prose....I didn't know that non fiction could be so engaging. I immediately sought out everything he'd written, and read Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers and Bonfire of the Vanities. I loved his non fiction, which was brilliant, more than his fiction over the years, but I always admired his wit and sense of style. He was our 20th century Oscar Wilde, and the world will never see his like again. RIP Tom Wolfe,and thank you from a journalist whose career you inspired.

Tom Wolfe Dies: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/15/obituaries/tom-wolfe-pyrotechnic-nonfiction-writer-and-novelist-dies-at-88.html
Via Shelf Awareness:
Tom Wolfe
a legendary journalist and novelist "whose technicolor, wildly
punctuated prose brought to life the worlds of California surfers, car
customizers, astronauts and Manhattan's moneyed status-seekers in works
like The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, The Right Stuff
and Bonfire of the Vanities," died May 14, the New York Times reported.
He was 88. Beginning in the 1960s, Wolfe's "use of novelistic techniques
in his nonfiction... helped create the enormously influential hybrid
known as the New Journalism."

Describing him as an "unabashed contrarian," the Times wrote that Wolfe
"was almost as well known for his attire as his satire. He was instantly
recognizable as he strolled down Madison Avenue--a tall, slender,
blue-eyed, still boyish-looking man in his spotless three-piece vanilla
bespoke suit, pinstriped silk shirt with a starched white high collar,
bright handkerchief peeking from his breast pocket, watch on a fob, faux
spats and white shoes. Once asked to describe his get-up, Mr. Wolfe
replied brightly, 'Neo-pretentious.' "

From 1965 to 1981, Wolfe produced nine nonfiction books, including The
Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak
Catchers, while continuing "to turn out a stream of essays and magazine
pieces for New York, Harper's and Esquire. His theory of literature,
which he preached in print and in person and to anyone who would listen
was that journalism and nonfiction had 'wiped out the novel as American
literature's main event,' " the Times noted.

Bonfire of the Vanities, his first novel, was a runaway bestseller, but
"divided critics into two camps: those who praised its author as a
worthy heir of his fictional idols Balzac, Zola, Dickens and Dreiser,
and those who dismissed the book as clever journalism, a charge that
would dog him throughout his fictional career," the Times wrote. Wolfe
published three more novels: A Man in Full, I Am Charlotte Simmons and
Back to Blood.

"What I hope people know about him is that he was a sweet and generous
man http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz37042328'New-Journalist,'-dead-at-88"Michael Lewis told the Associated Press. "Not just a great writer but a
great soul. He didn't just help me to become a writer. He did it with
Gay Talese noted: "He was an incredible writer. And you couldn't imitate
him. When people tried it was a disaster. They should have gotten a job
at a butcher's shop."
I've been procrastinating on my reviews, so I have 5 books to get through in a short space.

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw is a surprisingly sophisticated YA paranormal romance. The book takes place in a small coastal town in Oregon, where, 200 years ago, three young women were drowned by the townspeople for being witches, mainly because they were beautiful and seduced many of the local men, married or not. They vowed vengeance, of course, and cursed the town, so that every year on June 1, the three sister's spirits would inhabit three young women in the town on June 1, and then the possessed young women would drown at least three boys from the town before releasing the girls bodies two weeks later and going back to their watery grave for another year. No one seems able to find out which women are possessed and stop them from killing innocent boys, so oddly enough, the town seems to have embraced this horrific event and turned it into a local festival called "Swan Season" after the Swan sisters. Tourism is brisk for this morbid fortnight, and the local young people hold a bonfire on the beach and dare all the young women into the water to see who will become inhabited by the sisters spirit. Utterly bizarre, but having visited Oregon more than once, not actually out of the realm of possibility.  Here's the blurb:
Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic meets the Salem Witch trials in this haunting story about three sisters on a quest for revenge—and how love may be the only thing powerful enough to stop them.
Welcome to the cursed town of Sparrow...
Where, two centuries ago, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Stones were tied to their ankles and they were drowned in the deep waters surrounding the town.
Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls so that they may seek their revenge, luring boys into the harbor and pulling them under.
Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the fate of the town. But this year, on the eve of the sisters’ return, a boy named Bo Carter arrives; unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into.
Mistrust and lies spread quickly through the salty, rain-soaked streets. The townspeople turn against one another. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters.
But only Penny sees what others cannot. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself.
This book should have been titled "Swan Season," because the Wicked Deep doesn't really give you an idea of the weirdness of the story or the depth of the excellent prose and the engrossing plot. I literally couldn't put this book down, and read it all in one day. That said, anyone who couldn't see the "plot twist" about Penny a mile away is an idiot. The love conquers all and ending the curse requires a sacrifice were also inevitable, though well-wrought here so as not to make the reader squirm with embarrassment. I'd give this YA novel that reads like a juicy folktale reboot an A, and recommend it to anyone with an interest in witches and curses and romantic ghost stories.

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher is another one of her slender, hilarious autobiographical books, this one detailing just a small segment of her very troubled, yet privileged life as an actress and daughter of Hollywood royalty, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. I picked it up at the library because Carrie Fisher recently passed away, just days after her mother's death, and after seeing her latest and last Star Wars movie, I was missing her zingy wit and "unsinkable" style. Here's the blurb:
Finally, after four hit novels, Carrie Fisher comes clean (well, sort of ) with the crazy truth that is her life in her first-ever memoir.
In Wishful Drinking, adapted from her one-woman stage show, Fisher reveals what it was really like to grow up a product of "Hollywood in-breeding," come of age on the set of a little movie called Star Wars, and become a cultural icon and bestselling action figure at the age of nineteen.
Intimate, hilarious, and sobering, Wishful Drinking is Fisher, looking at her life as she best remembers it (what do you expect after electroshock therapy?). It's an incredible tale: the child of Hollywood royalty — Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher — homewrecked by Elizabeth Taylor, marrying (then divorcing, then dating) Paul Simon, having her likeness merchandized on everything from Princess Leia shampoo to PEZ dispensers, learning the father of her daughter forgot to tell her he was gay, and ultimately waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed.
Wishful Drinking, the show, has been a runaway success. Entertainment Weekly declared it "drolly hysterical" and the Los Angeles Times called it a "Beverly Hills yard sale of juicy anecdotes." This is Carrie Fisher at her best — revealing her worst. She tells her true and outrageous story of her bizarre reality with her inimitable wit, unabashed self-deprecation, and buoyant, infectious humor. There are more juicy confessions and outrageously funny observations packed in these honest pages than most celebrity bios twice the length...With acerbic precisions and brash humor, she writes of struggling with and enjoying aspects of her alcoholism, drug addiction and mental breakdowns. Her razor-sharp observations about celebrity, addiction and sexuality demand to be read aloud to friends." — Publishers Weekly
I've read a couple of her other books, like the famous Postcards from the Edge, which was made into a movie with Meryl Streep, and even her fiction was really thinly disguised autobiography, which is sometimes a good thing and sometimes seems almost pathetic, as if she has a pathological need to complain about her lonely childhood and her narcissistic parents. It made me wonder if Carrie Fisher had been born into a "regular" family, if she still would have become an alcoholic and drug addict, and if she would have become the iconic Princess Leia in the famous Star Wars film franchise. Yet underneath the wit and humor is an ocean of pathos and depression, sadness and yearning for something real, something that isn't all glitter and make-believe. I don't know if she ever found it, but I wish her peace in her final soul's rest. This slender volume deserves an A, and a recommendation to anyone who thinks being famous will bring them happiness. 

I've tried to read Caitlin Moran's  How To Be A Woman a couple of times in the past, and I just couldn't get into it. That's surprising because witty feminist memoirs are something I usually enjoy. But for some reason, the Welsh Moran and her grubby childhood and struggles to become a music journalist didn't engage me the first two times I tried to read it. I gave away my first copy and sent the second back to the library unread. However, third time's the charm, and last week I read through the book in two days. Moran's prose is darkly amusing, sort of old-school Goth, and I found that you have to be willing to wade into the grimy bits to get to the good stuff when you read this autobiographical treatise. Here's the blurb, via Publisher's Weekly: Part memoir, part postmodern feminist rant, this award-winning British TV critic and celebrity writer brings her ingeniously funny views to the States. Moran’s journey into womanhood begins on her 13th birthday when boys throw rocks at her 182-pound body, and her only friend, her sister Caz, hands her a homemade card reminding her to please turn 18 or die soon so Caz can inherit her bedroom. Always resourceful—as the eldest of eight children from Wolverhampton—the author embarrasses herself often enough to become an authority on how to masturbate; name one’s breasts; and forgo a Brazilian bikini wax. She doesn’t politicize feminism; she humanizes it. Everyone, she writes, is automatically an F-word if they own a vagina and want “to be in charge of it.” Empowering women is as easy as saying—without reservation—the word “fat” and filling our handbags with necessities like a safety pin, biscuit, and “something that can absorb huge amounts of liquid.” Beneath the laugh-out-loud humor is genuine insight about the blessings of having—or not having—children. With brutal honesty, she explains why she chose to have an abortion after birthing two healthy daughters with her longtime husband, Pete. Her story is as touching as it is timely. In her brilliant, original voice, Moran successfully entertains and enlightens her audience with hard-won wisdom and wit.
Moran's prose is funny, but in an acidic and gritty way, as if she can't keep herself from attempting to shock the reader with coarse language and dirty references. That said, once you get past the rough childhood bits, the book moves at a swift pace. While I agreed with most of what Moran says about fighting misogyny and sexism, her account of how she handled sexual harassment in the workplace was disappointing at best. She seemed to think it was inevitable but allowable because all men are stupid and can't help themselves. The Me,Too movement has put paid to a lot of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace for women, and while that is taking place now, long after this book was written, from all her other ballsy moves in the book, I expected more boundary setting and whistleblowing from Moran, to pave the way for the women who came after her, so their struggles wouldn't be as difficult. Still, I'd give the book a solid B, and recommend it to anyone who wonders what feminism "across the pond" looks like. 

Puddin' by Julie Murphy is the sequel to her famed novel Dumplin' which is being made into a movie. I read and loved Dumplin' which was about a fat teenager in Texas named Willowdean who entered a beauty contest with her band of misfit friends and changed the rules for the entire pageant. I reviewed it, so if you want more, you can do a search under the title on my blog. At any rate, this novel takes on the story of the runner up in the pageant, Millie, who is a fat girl with style and a very optimistic, naive nature. Here's the blurb:
The irresistible companion to the #1 New York Times bestseller Dumplin’, soon to be a major motion picture starring Danielle Macdonald and Jennifer Aniston!
Millie Michalchuk has gone to fat camp every year since she was a little girl. Not this year. This year she has new plans to chase her secret dream of being a newscaster—and to kiss the boy she’s crushing on.
Callie Reyes is the pretty girl who is next in line for dance team captain and has the popular boyfriend. But when it comes to other girls, she’s more frenemy than friend.
When circumstances bring the girls together over the course of a semester, they surprise everyone (especially themselves) by realizing that they might have more in common than they ever imagined. Publisher's Weekly:Clover City High School in Texas has a clear social hierarchy: football on top, dance team members next, then everyone else. Junior Millie Michalchuk, who also appeared in Murphy’s Dumplin’, may be a lifer at fat camp, but that doesn’t mean she buys into how the world sees her. Callie Reyes dates a football player and is on course to become dance team captain. The girls’ paths rarely cross. Then the dance team loses its funder, a gym owned by Millie’s uncle, and its members break in and trash the business. When a sulky Callie starts working at the gym, Millie models not just friendship and forgiveness, but also tough-love examples of how to treat people. Through the girls’ alternating perspectives, Murphy develops their aspirations and struggles: Millie isn’t sure how to pursue her dream of being a TV anchor; Mexican-American Callie experiences stereotyping and yearns for friends, not frenemies. Murphy convincingly and satisfyingly portrays how their one-step-forward-two-steps-back bonding process helps them go for what they want rather than what others think is possible.
Though we do get to hang out with Willowdean and the others from Dumplin, the book revolves around Millie and her relationship with Callie and her budding romance with Malik. Millie is almost a cliche of the "happy go lucky," sweet and optimistic fat girl who seems oblivious to the sexism, racism and cruelty all around her. (Callie is also a cliche of the cheerleader/drill team pretty popular girl who is cruel and sexually manipulates her wealthy popular boyfriend). Having experienced constant bullying and harassment in junior high and high school, I know what it feels like to be the preyed upon for being fat and different. That said, I don't believe for one moment, even 40 years after my high school years, that it's possible to stop a bully from making "oinking" noises and hurling insults and jokes about weight at you by simply turning toward him, as Millie does, and saying "Good Morning! How are you? Have a great day!" Any bully (or group of bullies, as I was usually subjected to in high school) worth his salt would have relished the opportunity to throw spitballs (or just spit) at me, continue to make fat jokes or hurl insults and invective, and, in my day, shoving or tossing apple cores or gum into my hair, kicking or hitting me were ways to get roars of approval and laughter from the crowd that were not to be missed. Merely attempting to be nice and polite would not have 'thrown' them at all, nor would it have stopped them from harassing me. I can't believe things are any better in today's school environment, especially now that there are computers and cell phones so that bullies can cyber-stalk and humiliate their victims for days on end. But here,Millie manages to make kindness and courtesy prevail, as she shows callous Callie how to be a friend, (and how not to be a shallow b*tch), Malik how to be a boyfriend and her mother how to be accepting of who you are and who your daughter has become, a confident fat girl who wants to be a TV anchor/journalist,despite the prejudice inherent in a business that hires it's talking heads for looks, not for journalistic chops. Millie shames the dean of students into letting her into a broadcast journalism summer camp, and while I laud her for being persistent, having had a husband who worked as a behind the camera journalist at a local TV station, I can tell you that the General Manager of said station told me outright that there are beauty clauses in every anchor/weather person/on air reporter's contract. These contracts force them to remain a certain size, and pays for them to have dental work, plastic surgery, wardrobes, hair color/cuts, etc, so that they will look good enough to present the news or weather on air.The contracts are specifically more draconian for the women at the station, as they're not supposed to show signs of aging at all. Many are fired or put in positions behind the camera once they hit middle age, while the male anchors are allowed to show some gray hair and even gain a little weight. They still have to look "good" though, and they can't have any handicaps that come with aging, so if they develop a hearing problem, it's bye-bye anchor job. But I appreciate Murphy's hopeful attitude about changing the television news environment to be more representative of real women, who come in all shapes and sizes. That hopeful attitude, plus the bright prose and zippy plot make me want to give this book an A, with the recommendation that any teenage girl who is fat or different take a gander at this novel. It will fill you with hope and inspiration.

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig (the illustrated edition) took over a month to get to my mailbox, for some odd reason, but after picking it up, I found it was well worth the wait. I'd assumed it was going to be a kind of "Benjamin Button" novel (which I read and watched the movie with Brad Pitt), but this book actually went deep, and moved beyond the physical aging/not aging problems into the questions of what makes life, any life, worth living? the prose is stalwart and strong, and the plot veers left when you think it will go right. The illustrations are beautiful and creepy, and keep the atmosphere of the book timeless. Here's the blurb: 
 “She smiled a soft, troubled smile and I felt the whole world slipping away, and I wanted to slip with it, to go wherever she was going… I had existed whole years without her, but that was all it had been. An existence. A book with no words.”
Tom Hazard has just moved back his to London, his old home, to settle down and become a high school history teacher. And on his first day at school, he meets a captivating French teacher at his school who seems fascinated by him. But Tom has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he's been alive for centuries. Tom has lived history--performing with Shakespeare, exploring the high seas with Captain Cook, and sharing cocktails with Fitzgerald. Now, he just wants an ordinary life.
Unfortunately for Tom, the Albatross Society, the secretive group which protects people like Tom, has one rule: Never fall in love. As painful memories of his past and the erratic behavior of the Society's watchful leader threaten to derail his new life and romance, the one thing he can't have just happens to be the one thing that might save him. Tom will have to decide once and for all whether to remain stuck in the past, or finally begin living in the present.
How to Stop Time tells a love story across the ages - and for the ages - about a man lost in time, the woman who could save him, and the lifetimes it can take to learn how to live. It is a bighearted, wildly original novel about losing and finding yourself, the inevitability of change, and how with enough time to learn, we just might find happiness. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Benedict Cumberbatch.
What the blurb doesn't mention is that the Albatross Society CEO (who is older than anyone and obviously insane) demands that Tom get all immortals to join the society, and if they do not, he's required to kill them so that the world will not find out about the immortals and those willing to experiment on them to uncover their secrets. What is interesting about the immortals in the book is that they really aren't immortal, just very long lived. They can get to be around a thousand years old, before they expire naturally from old age and a body that is worn out. They can also be killed by accidents or guns or fire or anything that isn't bacterial or viral, which they're immune to. So while regular humans, called "Mayflies" by the Albas, age each year, the Albas age only every 15-25 years, and then only slightly. What this book boils down to, in the end, is love is the only thing worth living, or dying for. The rest is all noise. I can't say I disagree with that, either. I'd give this book an A,and recommend it to fans of Neil Gaiman and Alice Hoffman. Also, fans of history will enjoy the flashbacks to what history was really like for those who lived it.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Indie Bookstores Celebration, 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature Postponed, Reading with John Scalzi, Eruption, the Untold Story of Mount St Helens by Steve Olson, Stone Mad by Elizabeth Bear and An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

A couple of weeks ago, it was Independent Bookstore Day, and I was thrilled to read on Shelf Awareness of all the participating bookstores around the US. I have my favorite indies, of course, most notably Powells City of Books in Portland, Oregon, and closer to home The Sequel in Enumclaw and Island Books on Mercer Island.

Across the country on Saturday, book lovers celebrated their local
independent bookstores, who put on a range of creative, thoughtful and
fun events.

Some of the Shelf Awareness crew at Eagle Harbor Book Company
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz36854899, Bainbridge Island, Wash., one of the early stops on their impressive Seattle Bookstore Day
19 bookstores! (Or, as Marilyn put it: "125 miles, 19 stores, 2 ferry
rides, rain, 3 croissants, 3 molasses ginger cookies, 3 bananas, too
much coffee, 15 books, 3 shots of tequila.") 

There has been, this year, a huge outcry by women against powerful older men in the movie, TV and book industries who use their power to sexually harass and abuse women (and girls) who work for them or with them. Actor and comedian Bill Cosby was just convicted of drugging and raping several women (some when they were teenagers) this past week, and authors Sherman Alexie and Junot Diaz have both been accused by many women of sexual harassment and public humiliation, often leading to the suppression of these women's work. It seems like nearly every day, some scumbag like Harvey Weinstein is accused of heinous acts against women over decades that the women are only now able to reveal, because they wouldn't have been believed before this, and were rightfully afraid of reprisals from men in power. So it was unsurprising that the Nobel Prize for Literature has had to be cancelled this year in the wake of a sexual assault scandal by a photographer. The whole "MeToo" movement has become a tsunami that I hope will change how men perceive and treat women who work with them (preferably with more respect) or even just live in the same area as they do. It is also my hope that more women will become directors, actors, authors, movie moguls, etc., and be paid the same wage as men for the same work. 

2018 Nobel Literature Prize May Be Skipped (Update, NLP Will Not be Awarded Until 2019)

The crisis at the Swedish Academy has become so serious that the head of
the panel that awards the literature prize--the most prestigious book
award in the world--has said the prize may not be awarded this year
the Bookseller reported.

At the core of the crisis are accusations of assault by 18 women
"against French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, who is married to an
Academy member, Katarina Frostenson. Arnault has denied the allegations.
The photographer is also accused of being part of a breach of the
Academy's secrecy rules by leaking the names of past Nobel prize-winners
in advance, which again he has denied."

In addition, the Swedish Academy last week released a statement
confirming that "unacceptable behavior in the form of unwanted intimacy"
had taken place at its functions and that the literature prize's
reputation had "suffered greatly" from publicity surrounding recent

Nobel Prize in Literature Postponed Until 2019
The Swedish Academy has decided to postpone the 2018 Nobel Prize in
Literature, with the intention of awarding it in 2019. In a statement
Carl-Henrik Heldin, the Nobel Foundation's chairman of the board, said
that according to the Swedish Foundations Act, the Nobel Foundation "is
ultimately responsible for fulfilling the intentions in the will of
Alfred Nobel. During the past several weeks, we have pursued a
continuous dialogue with the Swedish Academy, and we support Thursday's
I have long been a fan of John Scalzi, who was nice enough to allow me to interview him about 10 years ago. He's smart, funny and an amazing wordsmith. I just finished reading the second book in his Lock In series, Head On, and it was a delight, very much a page-turner, filled with wit and brilliant storytelling. BTW, I loved "Zoe's Tale," as I loved all the books in his Old Man's War series.

Reading with... John Scalzi

John Scalzi's debut, Old Man's War, won
him science fiction's John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. His
other books include Lock In, The Last Colony, Fuzzy Nation and
Redshirts, which won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel. He has two new
books in 2018: the near-future thriller Head On (Tor, April 17, 2018)
and The Consuming Fire (Tor, October 16, 2018).

On your nightstand now:

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal. (I'm reading a galley
copy. It's very good.)

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper

Your top five authors:

Mark Helprin, Dorothy Parker, Gregory Mcdonald, N.K. Jemisin, Douglas

Book you've faked reading:

None. If I haven't read a book, I'll tell you.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Grass by Sheri Tepper. It has all the worldbuilding chops of Dune, with
a fantastic (and complicated) woman protagonist.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (the text was pretty good, too).

Book you hid from your parents:

None. The rule was "if you can reach it, you can read it." My wife and I
used the same rule for our daughter.

Book that changed your life:

Cosmos by Carl Sagan. So much excitement to explore the universe in it.
Sagan is one of my heroes.

Favorite line from a book:

"This indiscriminate liquidation of cops must stop." --from Stranger in
a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

Five books you'll never part with:

Only five? Ha!

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Book of yours you're the happiest to hear people say they liked:

Zoe's Tale. It was difficult to write for the point of view of a
16-year-old girl. I'm happy when women tell me I did a good job of it.
Eruption, the Untold Story of Mount St Helens by Steve Olson is the book that we are reading for my Tuesday Night Book Group at the local library. This is, obviously, a non fiction book about the springtime eruption of the volcanic mountain in 1980. While I didn't live in Washington state until 11 years later, I recall reading about the ash that covered everything in that part of the state, and how there were more than a few people who had died while camping on or near the mountain (which seemed rather foolish to me, at the time, but then, I have never been a fan of camping). Olson's prose style is engaging, and while he adds too many charts and maps for my taste, I felt that he did try to make a case for conservation of forest land and for the protected acres surrounding Mt St Helens today, which stands as a monument to those who perished and as a place of scientific study into the whys and wherefores of eruptions. Here's the blurb: 
 A riveting history of the Mount St. Helens eruption that will "long stand as a classic of descriptive narrative" (Simon Winchester).For months in early 1980, scientists, journalists, and nearby residents listened anxiously to rumblings from Mount St. Helens in southwestern Washington State. Still, no one was prepared when a cataclysmic eruption blew the top off of the mountain, laying waste to hundreds of square miles of land and killing fifty-seven people. Steve Olson interweaves vivid personal stories with the history, science, and economic forces that influenced the fates and futures of those around the volcano. Eruption delivers a spellbinding narrative of an event that changed the course of volcanic science, and an epic tale of our fraught relationship with the natural world.
That said, I found this book a real slog to read, as they didn't even get to the eruption of the mountain until page 142. Prior to that readers are treated to the history of logging in the US, most notably the history of the Weyerhaeuser family, and of George Weyerhaeuser in particular. It was like reading a textbook, very dry and boring, and I really don't think it was necessary to know all of that about George Weyerhaeuser and his booming timber business to understand the eruption and devastation of the mountain. Olson even cautions readers (in a very condescending way) against "fatalism" when talking about those who perished on the mountain and down around the sides and nearby, yet at the end, he tells readers that no one in North America is 'safe' from the wrath of Mother Nature, as there are hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and volcanoes everywhere. So we're all going to die horrible deaths by an enraged Mother Earth, anyway. If that isn't fatalism, I don't know what is. So I'd give this dry, boring and depressing book a C-, and only recommend it to those who are fascinated by natural disasters.

Stone Mad by Elizabeth Bear is the second book in her Karen Memery series, which follows the adventures of Karen, a former prostitute in 19th century Washington, and Priya, her lesbian lover who is also an ace mechanical engineer and former enslaved prostitute as well. The prose is colloquial and amusing, but still dances along the swift and lean plot like a spider on an oil spill. I love the steampunk inventions that the characters come up with, and the situations that call for the women to be heroic are a true delight. Here's the blurb:
Now Karen is back with Stone Mad, a new story about spiritualists, magicians, con-men, and an angry lost tommy-knocker—a magical creature who generally lives in the deep gold mines of Alaska, but has been kidnapped and brought to Rapid City.
Karen and Priya are out for a night on the town, celebrating the purchase of their own little ranch and Karen’s retirement from the Hotel Ma Cherie, when they meet the Arcadia Sisters, spiritualists who unexpectedly stir up the tommy-knocker in the basement. The ensuing show could bring down the house, if Karen didn’t rush in to rescue everyone she can.
Though I believe it is meant to be a wild adventure story, this slim novel contains many interesting ruminations on love, the reality of living with another person who loves you and wants you safe, and each individual's need to keep their own counsel, especially when it comes to living out their own morality and need for justice and balance. All in all, a nicely done tale that deserves no less than an A-, with a recommendation for anyone who likes steampunk lesbian stories. 

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson is a YA fantasy novel that I'd heard many good things about, so I picked up a copy at the library. I was surprised by the complexity of the plot and the well-woven prose that was almost an enchantment in and of itself. Isobel is an amazing artist, and Rook, her fae inamorata is just as complex, beautiful and frightening as one would expect a fairy prince to be. Here's the blurb:
Isobel is an artistic prodigy with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes—a weakness that could cost him his life.
Furious, Rook spirits her away to his kingdom to stand trial for her crime. But something is seriously wrong in his world, and they are attacked from every side. With Isobel and Rook depending on each other for survival, their alliance blossoms into trust, then love—and that love violates the fair folks’ ruthless laws. Now both of their lives are forfeit, unless Isobel can use her skill as an artist to fight the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel. Publisher's Weekly: Seventeen-year-old Isobel is a master of her “Craft”—painting portraits—in the town of Whimsy, where it is always summer and which borders the forest where the “fair folk” have their kingdoms. When the fairies’ autumn prince, Rook, requests a portrait, Isobel’s world is upended. Petulant and beautiful Rook, whose eyes hold “sorrow, as raw as an open wound,” frightens and beguiles Isobel; when he is upset by what his portrait reveals to his kingdom, he abducts her so that she might stand trial for the affront. Rogerson’s moody debut novel is suffused with an intoxicating and palpable romantic longing. As Isobel and Rook break the “Good Law” by falling for each other, Rogerson turns forbidden love into fresh adventure with danger, chases, a glorious ball, and unexpected narrative turns. Readers will delight in her interpretation of classic fairy themes and lore, and in the humor laced into the story (Isobel’s rowdy younger sisters began life as goats, before being ensorcelled by a drunk fairy).
Though I am not a huge fan of straight romance novels, the romantic longing and love that Rook and Isobel display for each other is remarkably realistic and beautiful, in its way.  I found that I desperately wanted to see the two together as a couple, and though the HEA isn't industry standard, it's still well done and heartfelt. I'd give this novel an A, and recommend it to those who like artistic fantasy with strong romantic elements.