Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Dark Materials TV Series, Thwarting Rude Bookstore Customers, The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson, Apex by Mercedes Lackey, Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra, and Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire

I have been struggling with Crohns disease and Sjogren's Syndrome for the past 8 days, so this post has been postponed for too long. My apologies to my readers, and my thanks for your patience. I will get right to it with two tidbits and four book reviews, coming right up!

This looks like an exciting program that I can hardly wait to watch, hopefully on BBC America (which is where I will soon be watching the latest season of Doctor Who with the new female Doctor!)

TV: His Dark Materials

The BBC has doubled the order for His Dark Materials
an adaptation of Philip Pullman's trilogy (Northern Lights, The Subtle
Knife, The Amber Spyglass), ahead of its debut. Deadline reported that
the Bad Wolf and New Line production "has already been handed a second,
eight-part season. Filming kicked off earlier this month in Cardiff at
Wolf Studios Wales for season one of the drama, which is thought to be
one of the most expensive British scripted series to date."

Written by Jack Thorne, and His Dark Materials stars James McAvoy, Dafne
Keen, Ruth Wilson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Clarke Peters, Ariyon Bakare,
Georgina Campbell, Anne-Marie Duff, Ian Gelder and Will Keen. Tom Hooper
will be lead director and helm the first two episodes, with Dawn
Shadforth directing an episode and Otto Bathurst directing two.


It seems that, in this age of grotesque behavior from the White House, that society in general is experiencing a time in which some people feel the need to act out in public, treating clerks and wait staff and public servants with rude, aggressive behavior. Miss Manners recommends walking away, but there are times when it is difficult or impossible to get away from these ill-mannered brutes. I recommend being as polite as possible in telling them to shove off. It saddens me that there are so few who ascribe to common courtesy or polite society anymore.

Miss Manners on 'Pushy' Bookstore Customers

In yesterday's "Miss Manners" column (courtesy
of the Washington Post), "the manager of a retail chain bookstore" asked
about how to deal with customers "who want to discuss their political or
religious beliefs with me or my employees" to the point of saying who to
vote for and what church to attend. "I cannot just pretend to agree with
them, even if I wanted to, because then I would risk offending other
customers in the store who disagree."

Miss Manners responded in part: "There is no need to address any
personal questions about your affiliations. Rather, Miss Manners advises
you to say, 'Let me think what books might interest you. Do you prefer
ones that agree with you, or are you interested in finding out what your
opponents are arguing?'

"Should they persist, rather than taking up your offer, you should add,
'Well, look around. You're bound to find something that will interest
you.' And then excuse yourself to tend to other customers."

The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson is a hardback tome that, by nature of its title and book cover (I am a sucker for a book cover of stacks of books or full bookshelves) attracted me like the proverbial moth to flame. I was expecting something similar to "How to Find Love in a Book Shop" or "Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Book Store" but this was much more mystery/ finding your roots/family kind of story than those books, and it was also much less lighthearted. The protagonist, Miranda (named for the sheltered girl in Shakespeare's The Tempest) inherits Prospero's Bookstore from her Uncle Billy, and embarks on a journey of discovery when he leaves scavenger-hunt-style clues for her in books and letters that he's sent to people in his life prior to his death. Here's the blurb: A woman inherits a beloved bookstore and sets forth on a journey of self-discovery in this poignant debut about family, forgiveness and a love of reading.

Miranda Brooks grew up in the stacks of her eccentric Uncle Billy’s bookstore, solving the inventive scavenger hunts he created just for her. But on Miranda’s twelfth birthday, Billy has a mysterious falling-out with her mother and suddenly disappears from Miranda’s life. She doesn’t hear from him again until sixteen years later when she receives unexpected news: Billy has died and left her Prospero Books, which is teetering on bankruptcy—and one final scavenger hunt.
When Miranda returns home to Los Angeles and to Prospero Books—now as its owner—she finds clues that Billy has hidden for her inside novels on the store’s shelves, in locked drawers of his apartment upstairs, in the name of the store itself. Miranda becomes determined to save Prospero Books and to solve Billy’s last scavenger hunt. She soon finds herself drawn into a journey where she meets people from Billy’s past, people whose stories reveal a history that Miranda’s mother has kept hidden—and the terrible secret that tore her family apart.
Bighearted and trenchantly observant, The Bookshop of Yesterdays is a love letter to reading and bookstores, and a testament to the healing power of community and how our histories shape who we become.

I figured out the "secret" of this book within the first twenty five pages, and I daresay other readers will, too, but oddly enough, that didn't diminish my enjoyment of the plot unfolding, as it normally would. Meyerson's prose is crystal clear, cool and hearty and propels the rollercoaster of a plot along at breathtaking speed. The characters are believable, if more than a bit stupid and way too secretive and insecure, but this only makes them seem all the more human, tragically. I really wanted to smack Amanda's mother up alongside the head, and I wanted to kick her Uncle Billy in his tiny gonads repeatedly. Despite that, I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to anyone who has had their life upended by family drama. 

Apex by Mercedes Lackey is the third book in her YA Hunter series, the finale that wraps everything up. Here's the blurb: Being a member of the Elite Hunter Command imperils Joy in more ways than one. In their latest clash with Othersiders, the army of monsters nearly wiped them out. Apex City is safe for now. But within the city barriers, Joy must wage a different kind of war.
The corrupt and powerful PsiCorps is determined to usurp the Hunters as chief defenders of Apex City and Joy is now squarely in their crosshairs. Unused to playing political games, she has very few people she can truly trust-not even Josh, her first friend in Apex City, who broke up with her when it became too dangerous for a Psimon to be dating a Hunter.
Then Josh comes to Joy for help. He fears that Abigail Drift, the head of PsiCorps, will soon use him in her twisted experiments designed to empower PsiCorps and render Hunters superfluous--a scheme that's already killed off dozens of Psimons. Joy manages to smuggle Josh to safety, but he cannot evade Drift forever?
As Joy faces ever more powerful Othersiders, she is helped by the most surprising ally imaginable---the same Folk Mage she once met in battle on the train to Apex City. But can Joy trust the most cunning and treacherous of all Othersiders?
In the thrilling finale to Mercedes Lackey's #1 New York Times bestselling trilogy, Joy must risk everything to end a brutal war?before she loses all she's ever loved.

 
As usual, Lackey's prose is golden, and her plots never flag as they zoom along to their thrilling conclusion. This series had a number of loose ends to tie up, and it seemed for awhile that Lackey wasn't going to be able to pull it off, but she did, and there was an HEA for just about everyone in the book. I enjoyed the action and death defying battles against the nasty "othersiders" who range from dragons to harpies and red caps and snake people, all the way to roving giant eyeballs of death, and I loved that Joy was able to take them all on with an aplomb that belied her age. This is a series that I think fans of Tamora Pierce would enjoy, and also fans of Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid and Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden might enjoy. It deserves an A and a sincere thanks to Lackey for writing yet another series that can propel readers out of their everyday doldrums into an exciting futuristic world.

Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra is another YA adventure series, this one set in Asiana, a place that combines India with the Middle East and Asian cultures. The prose was evocative but dense and full of cultural references that were fascinating, but not always fleshed out. the plot meandered a bit, but always got back on track, though the switching POV from chapter to chapter was slightly cumbersome. Here's the blurb:
An order of magical-knife wielding female assassins brings both peace and chaos to their post-apocalyptic world in this bewitching blend of science fiction and epic fantasy—the first entry in a debut duology that displays the inventiveness of the works of Sarah Beth Durst and Marie Lu.
Kyra is the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, one of a handful of sisterhoods of highly trained elite warriors. Armed with blades whose metal is imbued with magic and guided by a strict code of conduct, the Orders are sworn to keep the peace and protect the people of Asiana. Kyra has pledged to do so—yet she secretly harbors a fierce desire to avenge her murdered family.
When Tamsyn, the powerful and dangerous Mistress of Mental Arts, assumes control of the Order, Kyra is forced on the run. She is certain that Tamsyn committed murder in a twisted bid for power, but she has no proof.
Kyra escapes through one of the strange Transport Hubs that are the remnants of Asiana’s long-lost past and finds herself in the unforgiving wilderness of a desert that is home to the Order of Khur, the only Order composed of men. Among them is Rustan, a disillusioned Marksman whose skill with a blade is unmatched. He understands the desperation of Kyra’s quest to prove Tamsyn’s guilt, and as the two grow closer, training daily on the windswept dunes of Khur, both begin to question their commitment to their Orders. But what they don’t yet realize is that the line between justice and vengeance is thin . . . as thin as the blade of a knife. Publisher's Weekly:This enjoyably melodramatic science fiction and fantasy blend rings familiar sounds from slightly unusual bells. In a vastly depopulated Asia (here called Asiana) recovering from a long-past Great War that set civilization back to a medieval state, judicial executions are carried out by orders of trained, ascetic Marks-women who can read minds and are armed with psychically aware daggers. The blades, along with teleportation hubs, are gifts from mysterious visitors who “had come down from the stars.” Kyra, newly elevated to Markswoman status, makes her first kill, taking out a captured member of the outlaw gang that wiped out her village and left her to be raised by the Order of Kali. Fearing the order’s new headwoman, Kyra escapes and finds refuge with the shunned Order of Khur, the only all-male order. She plans to return and take command of the Order of Kali once she’s strong enough to duel the headwoman, a legendary fighter. One of the Khur members, Rustan, helps prepare Kyra for the duel despite his qualms over her moral stances. The setting is lightly sketched; though the Hindu goddess Kali is depicted with her typical attributes, the Order of Kali has few relevant rituals or observances, relegating a real-world religion to window dressing. Debut novelist Mehrotra ably paces her story, giving just enough hints and revealing just enough secrets, but the revelations won’t surprise any reader who’s familiar with fantasies with strong romance elements.
SPOILER ALERT. Once Kyra discovers that the head of the Tau clan (who slaughtered her family) is probably her father, and that the man she killed is her half brother, things get morally interesting as she tries to deal with her need for vengeance and her desire for justice within her order. Though I knew there was a romantic subplot woven throughout the novel, I got a bit tired of Rustan's being a sexist jerk and his attitude toward Kyra bordered on abusive. Still, I would give this book a B+ and recommend it to those who enjoy diverse epic fantasy.

Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire is the 12th October Daye fantasy novel in this series, and having read them all, I was interested to see how Toby's relationship would progress after the horrors of the last novel's abduction of her intended, Tybalt, the King of Cats. Things do not go well, as expected, and Tybalt feels too damaged to help his court of cats or his fiance, so, as usual, it's up to Toby to set things right by herself, though she has an apprentice (who seems to be fairly worthless in a fight, and she ends up expending a lot of energy keeping him from getting a scratch on him) and a "sister/fetch" who is more concerned with her own damaged lover than she is with helping Toby deal with the latest crisis. At this point I am unsure why McGuire even has these characters attached to Toby, unless its because they're an easy way for the bad Fae to "get" to her by kidnapping and/or trying to kill them. The same goes for her daughter Gillian, who elected to eschew her fae blood and lead a life as human and bland as possible. Inevitably, this leads Gillian to get the roommate from hell who helps to abduct her and deliver her to the Queen of bad Fae, where she's used as a pawn for said insane queen to try and wrest something impossible from Toby. This leads to Toby being typically covered in blood and gore and having to make hard choices that earn her nothing but contempt from the people she loves and calls family (though she's saved all their lives/kingdoms multiple times, but hey, don't let that give you a reason for even the slightest kindness or courtesy toward Toby). Here's the blurb:  
Things are not okay.
In the aftermath of Amandine's latest betrayal, October "Toby" Daye's fragile self-made family is on the verge of coming apart at the seams. Jazz can't sleep, Sylvester doesn't want to see her, and worst of all, Tybalt has withdrawn from her entirely, retreating into the Court of Cats as he tries to recover from his abduction. Toby is floundering, unable to help the people she loves most heal. She needs a distraction. She needs a quest.

What she doesn't need is the abduction of her estranged human daughter, Gillian. What she doesn't need is to be accused of kidnapping her own child by her ex-boyfriend and his new wife, who seems to be harboring secrets of her own. There's no question of whether she'll take the case. The only question is whether she's emotionally prepared to survive it.
Signs of Faerie's involvement are everywhere, and it's going to take all Toby's nerve and all her allies to get her through this web of old secrets, older hatreds, and new deceits. If she can't find Gillian before time runs out, her own child will pay the price.
Two questions remain: Who in Faerie remembered Gillian existed? And what do they stand to gain? No matter how this ends, Toby's life will never be the same. 

SPOILER ALERT The discovery that Gillian's "mom" is actually Toby's great, great grandmother, who has been bespelled by Maeve to have eternal life (she's the woman who saved Tam Lin and doomed Maeve to the wild hunt, so all the fae consider her a traitor and loathe her), puts yet another monkey wrench in the works of Toby's life, while her idiot ex has no idea, apparently, who he was married to originally or who he's married to now (I mean a 500 year difference in age is so far beyond a May/December romance it's ridiculous). There's a little novelette at the end of this book that delves into the shallow waters of Gillian's POV of her rescue at the hands of her real mother, and learning to deal with her new life as a fae. Fair warning it does nothing to endear readers to Gillian, who is a mean, petty, stupid and shallow person who is only interested in her own comfort. I found her repulsive and felt sorry for Toby that her child has grown up to be such a b*tch. Still, McGuire's sterling prose and page-turning plot kept me reading until the wee hours, though part of that time was spent rolling my eyes and grinding my teeth at her despicable 'family' who routinely fail her. Thank heaven for the Luidaeg (pronounced Lou-shak) who seems to be the only one in Toby's corner. I'd give this book an A-, and recommend it to anyone who has read the other books in the October Daye series. Though I have reservations about how Toby is treated in these books, I will doubtless purchase the next book in the series the moment it hits the shelves. 


Monday, September 10, 2018

Tacoma Bookstores, RIP Barbara Bailey of Bailey/Coy Books, Pasadena Game Show, Hazard by Devon Monk, Elite by Mercedes Lackey, Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton and Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall


Tacoma is undergoing something of a renaissance, and I am thrilled that they're supporting bookstores and literacy while they're renovating. 

'Dive into a New Read' at Tacoma Bookstores

"Calling all bookworms: if you live in Tacoma, you're in the right
place," SouthSound Talk reported, advising readers to "dive into a new
at some of the Washington city's bookshops. "No matter the season, it's
always the perfect time to get lost in a story, learn something new or
dive into history. Luckily, there is a bevy of bookstores located
throughout Grit City where you can get your fix. From small shops that
specialize in historical and hard to find tomes, to big stores packed
with genre fiction, kids books and nonfiction, to cozy shops overflowing
with titles, to a bookstore with a strong place in the community,
there's something for every kind of book lover."

I used to love shopping at Bailey/Coy books. RIP Ms Bailey
Obituary Note: Barbara Bailey  

Barbara Bailey, a former bookseller and community activist who ran
Bailey/Coy Books in Seattle, Wash.'s Capitol Hill neighborhood for
decades, died September 1 at the age of 74, the Seattle Times reported
The cause of death was a stroke.

Born and raised in Seattle, Bailey began her career in bookselling at a
small bookstore in Sun Valley, Idaho. After returning to Seattle in the
late 1970s, Bailey opened B. Bailey Books in Rainier Square, where she
was one of the "first leaseholders." In 1982, she opened another, bigger
store on Broadway called Bailey/Coy Books.

While both stores were general interest bookstores, they were, according
to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan
"safe and welcoming spaces for the LGBTQ+ community, particularly for
those just coming out and during the height of anti-LGBTQ+ actions."
Bailey/Coy Books was also known for its "carefully curated inventory"
and "friendly staff."

In 2003, Bailey retired from the book industry and sold the store to
Michael Wells. It closed in 2009 at the height of the financial crisis.

"She was such a connector, and had such a great head for business," her
brother Thatcher Bailey told the Seattle Times. "She read like a fiend.
She was part of the literary world in Seattle, but that was less
important to her than just welcoming the community into her store, and
making it a very comfortable place for everyone."


My best friend Jenny Z lives in Pasadena, CA, and not too far from this iconic bookstore, lucky her!

Image of the Day: 'Wait, Wait... Pasadena!'

More than 150 people attended the game-show event called "Wait, Wait...
Pasadena!" at Vroman's Bookstore http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz38230631,
Pasadena, Calif., last week to celebrate the publication of Hometown
Pasadena (Prospect Park Books). Hosted by novelist Lian Dolan
(standing), who was a contributor to the book, the raucous event saw
many Hometown Pasadena contributors playing for audience members. Seated
(r.-l.) are: Rafi Simon, aka children's book author Pseudonymous Bosch;
Los Angeles Times columnist and Daditude author Chris Erskine; Instagram
influencer Mr. Pasadena; and Hometown Pasadena contributor Mary Jane
Horton. The book has been the #1 bestseller at Vroman's since its
release a few weeks ago.

Hazard: West Hell Magic Book 1 by Devon Monk is something of a departure for me, because I have several genres of books that I usually avoid like the plague. Horror, political machinations, true crime, and sports are just some of the genres I loathe, mainly because they bore me to tears. However, I am a huge Monk fan, I've read everything she's written and have yet to be disappointed in her prose or stories. So I picked up a copy of Hazard, knowing it was about magical hockey players, and figured if it was really bad, I could always give it to a friend of mine who loves sports books. I need not have worried, however, as the splendid Devon Monk came through like a champ, and provided a gripping story that didn't get so involved in hockey that it lost readers like me who aren't into sports. Her prose is brilliant, as usual, and her plot is slick as ice in a rink. Here's the blurb: Random Hazard has a stupid name and a terrible secret: he's a wizard.
Wizards aren't allowed to play in the NHL, but Random Hazard will do anything for a chance to play pro hockey. When his teammate is about to get brained by a puck going fast enough to kill, Random has no choice but to use magic.
Yes, he saved the guy's life, but he destroyed his own.
Kicked out of the NHL, the only thing left for him is West Hell, a freak league of shifters and drifters more blood sport than hockey.
Being the first wizard in a league full of monsters might get him killed. Or it just might finally prove that magic and hockey do mix.
Though I loved reading this fast-paced fantasy, I have to say that Random Hazard and his adoptive brother Duncan, though they're both in their 20s, come off as very immature boys, not men. Random has a crush on the medical assistant in his doctor's office, he has low self esteem and a fragile ego, he's constantly crying and falling apart,(physically and mentally), the actual adults in his life are always reprimanding him for one thing or another, he's impulsive and acts like a stupid 13 year old 90 percent of the time, and he lives with his adoptive parents, whom he constantly looks to for reassurance and help with everything. They also treat him like a child, and his adoptive brother even sleeps with him to prevent Random from acting out his nightmares. I understand the lure of men who are like Peter Pan and refuse to grow up, because they're optimistic and charming, but honestly, it was almost laughable how childish Random is in his reactions to everything in his life. He pouts, he sulks, and he whines like a bitch. Even his magic is all rainbows and sweet flavors and pretty lights. It all sounded very Lisa Frank to me whenever Monk described Random's spell casting results. Still, the story is often funny and engrossing, and should be a hit with the YA audience. I'd give it a B+, and recommend it to teenage boys (and girls) who like hockey and Harry Potter.

Elite by Mercedes Lackey is the second book in the YA Hunter series, which I started reading years ago, and to be honest completely forgot about until I saw a copy of Elite at a local bookstore. My review of Hunter, the first novel, dates back to 2015. At any rate, Elite is a fast-paced YA novel set in a dystopian future where a few hunters must kill monsters to save regular citizens from being eaten. It's a fairly easy concept series that reads like a cross between Divergent and a monster-hunting videogame (with some Victoria Aveyard's Red Queen series thrown in for good measure). Here's the blurb:
Joy knows she'll be facing more dangerous Othersiders than ever before as a new member of the Elite Hunter unit, but if anyone is up to the challenge it's her. She's been Hunting these monsters since she was a child, and has a pack of eleven fiercely protective magical Hounds. Then the rules change. Monsters unlike any Joy's ever seen or even heard of are breaking through Apex City's barriers and the Hunters are scrambling to find new ways to fight them--all the while hiding the true danger Apex faces from the Cits, who are ignorant of the severity of the Othersiders' attacks.
The leaders of Apex must come together to protect the city, but tensions have never been higher between the Hunters and the powerful PsiCorps, with each group competing to be the primary protector of the city. The conflict escalates even further when Joy starts discovering bodies of Psimons while patrolling the city sewers--on a special assignment from her uncle, who commands the Hunters. Someone is killing Psimons and if Joy doesn't uncover the true culprit she might just take the fall for it.
Chaos erupts when Ace, the murderous Hunter who tried to kill Joy at her Elite trials, escapes from the Army's captivity and defects to the Othersiders. Joy has no idea what Ace might be capable of with the help of the cunning Folk, but she may be about to find out; Othersider forces are gaining strength and momentum just beyond the barriers. A storm is approaching Apex City, and unless Joy and her fellow Hunters put up the fight of their lives it might just sweep them all away?
I love Lackey's ongoing Elemental Mages series, and I know I can count on her to always have beautifully clean prose and plots that move along smartly. Once you start one of her books, you generally read it straight through til the end. My one qualm is that her heroine Joy is a tiny little thing, which of course makes her all the more attractive, because men can't get enough of petite women, right? Ugh. Why there are no different colors or shapes (or ages) of female protagonists I don't know, since Lackey herself is a middle aged woman who isn't at all petite, at least she wasn't when I met her years ago at the Covington Library. But other than that one snag on a trope that I think needs to die out, I enjoyed Elite and give it a B+ and recommend it to anyone who has read Hunter.

Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton is a YA Fantasy novel that is extraordinarily well written and plotted, and much to my surprise, not at all the 'girl saved by guy' romantic fantasy I thought it would be. Here's the blurb: Inventive and heart-racing, this fierce feminist teen fantasy from debut author Bree Barton explores a dark kingdom in which only women can possess magic—and every woman is suspected of having it.
Fans of Leigh Bardugo and Laini Taylor won’t want to miss this gorgeously written, bold novel, the first in the Heart of Thorns trilogy.
In the ancient river kingdom, where touch is a battlefield and bodies the instruments of war, Mia Rose has pledged her life to hunting Gwyrach: women who can manipulate flesh, bones, breath, and blood. The same women who killed her mother without a single scratch.
But when Mia's father announces an alliance with the royal family, she is forced to trade in her knives and trousers for a sumptuous silk gown. Determined to forge her own path forward, Mia plots a daring escape, but could never predict the greatest betrayal of all: her own body. Mia possesses the very magic she has sworn to destroy.
Now, as she untangles the secrets of her past, Mia must learn to trust her heart…even if it kills her. Publisher's Weekly:In debut author Barton’s evocative, epic ode to feminism, magic, and the wonder of fairy tales, 17-year-old Mia is a motherless young woman living under the oppressive regime of the river kingdom (one of four lands whose creation myths differ). Betrothed against her will to Prince Quin, science-minded Mia plots her escape. Her one wish is to be a Huntress, joining the small elite circle of those who hunt Gwyrach (the kingdom’s name for women who practice magic), particularly since her mother was killed by a Gwyrach. Mia’s perspective is shattered and reformed in the span of a very short time as she and Quin flee for their lives after an assassination attempt at the wedding. Aided by her mother’s journal, she and the prince make their way to a place only whispered about, Refúj, where the answers to all of Mia’s questions lie. A gripping, complex narrative balances emotion and logic in this trilogy opener, while vividly crafted characters and cinematic details create a world readers will want to get lost in.
I really didn't see Mia's turnabout in perspective coming, and when it did, I found her dealing with having what is essentially healing magic to be fascinating. Suddenly, Mia is everything she's been taught to hate, and yet she discovers that all the men in her life have been lying to her, and everyone else, for decades. There were a few moments that paid homage to Atwood's "Handmaid's Tale" and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "Herland" in Mia's awakening to female power that I really enjoyed. This was such a great novel that I was glad that I'd purchased a copy in hardback instead of waiting for it at the library. The prose is gorgeous, as advertised and the breakneck pace of the plot had me gasping. A solid A for this well told tale, with a recommendation to all teenage girls to read and heed the themes herein.

The Subway Girls by Susie Orman Schnall was a book that I won a copy of from the publisher just a couple of days after I bought a copy on Amazon. I took one copy to book group with me last month and gave it away, which I now regret because this book wasn't well written and had a staid and boring plot that left me unsatisfied at the end. Here's the blurb:
In 1949, dutiful and ambitious Charlotte's dream of a career in advertising is shattered when her father demands she help out with the family business. Meanwhile, Charlotte is swept into the glamorous world of the Miss Subways beauty contest, which promises irresistible opportunities with its Park Avenue luster and local fame status. But when her new friend—the intriguing and gorgeous fellow-participant Rose—does something unforgivable, Charlotte must make a heart-wrenching decision that will change the lives of those around her forever.
Nearly 70 years later, outspoken advertising executive Olivia is pitching the NYC subways account in a last ditch effort to save her job at an advertising agency. When the charismatic boss she’s secretly in love with pits her against her misogynistic nemesis, Olivia’s urgent search for the winning strategy leads her to the historic Miss Subways campaign. As the pitch date closes in on her, Olivia finds herself dealing with a broken heart, an unlikely new love interest, and an unexpected personal connection to Miss Subways that could save her job—and her future.
The Subway Girls is the charming story of two strong women, a generation apart, who find themselves up against the same eternal struggle to find an impossible balance between love, happiness, and ambition.
The prose in this novel reads like it was written by an amateur with a book on "how to write chick lit after doing historical research." The plot is slow and easily figured out, and the characters are all stereotypes and cliches. Of course the two main protagonists must end up with boyfriends/husbands, because women are nothing without a man in their lives, right? And there are plenty of excuses for the women in the 1949 era to put up with sexual harassment and sexism ("That's just the way it was, there was nothing you could do" seems to be the consensus) but when the modern day protagonist allows herself to be bamboozled by a sexist boss who lets a male coworker steal her ad campaign idea and then lets her go, after he's had inappropriate sexual relations with her and basically used her, I was seriously incensed. It takes the man who swiped her idea admitting that he's gay (and so ashamed, which is really sad) and her boss admitting he knew the guy was a rat for Olivia to finally smarten up and realize that she can do better in her life and career. But of course, she falls in love with a rich guy who sweeps her off to fancy restaurants and exotic locales before she leaves her sexist boss and his crappy agency. So she is "saved" like a damsel in distress by a guy when she should be more than capable of saving herself. There is a hastily put together HEA ending, but I was not convinced that the author understands the meaning of feminist fiction or feminism in general. Her book certain wouldn't pass the Bechdel test. And Charlotte's absolute slavery in her own household and adherence to whatever her father ordered her to do was downright disgusting. The fact that her mother had to go behind his back to help her daughter have the life and career she wanted, yet was still cowed by her ass of a husband made me sick and sad. While I realize things were different after WWII, my own mother grew up in that era, and her father never squelched her dreams, but her mother did try to force her into a career that she felt was 'proper' and didn't want my mom to become a nurse at all. My grandfather helped his daughter get back and forth to her job as a nurses aid so she could save enough to go to school and become an LPN on her own dime. At any rate, I'd give this book a C, mainly because of the poor quality of the prose and plot. I'd recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of women in advertising and beauty pageants.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Little Women Adaptation, Changeling by Molly Harper, Tiffany Blues by MJ Rose, Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi and Born A Crime by Trevor Noah


Though I've seen at least 4 adaptations of Little Women, this one sounds like a real delight. I will be watching for it when it debuts.

Little Women Adaptation: Emma Watson will join Greta Gerwig's remake of Little Women
"playing the part originally intended for Emma Stone, who was unable to
join the project because of promotional obligations for the Fox
Searchlight film and award season contender The Favourite. With
production expected to start next month, Sony moved quickly to approach
Watson," Variety reported.

Gerwig is writing and directing, with Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, Saoirse
Ronan, Timothee Chalamet and Florence Pugh in negotiations to star in
Sony's retelling of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel.

I have four books to review, three that I loved and one that I loathed, so lets get right to it.


Changeling by Molly Harper was a book I bought when I read a great review of it on Gail Carriger's Facebook page (she writes British supernatural steampunk books that are diverse and wonderful). The subhead on the book is "A novel of sorcery and society," which made it sound a bit too prim for my usual tastes, but I was pleasantly surprised, on opening it, that this novel is a real page-turner full of wit and warmth, a Cinderella story that will keep you reading until the wee hours. Here's the blurb: If 14-year-old Cassandra Reed makes it through her first day at Miss Castwell's Institute for the Magical Instruction of Young Ladies without anyone discovering her secret, maybe, just maybe, she'll let herself believe that she really does belong at Miss Castwell's.
Except Cassandra Reed's real name is Sarah Smith and up until now, she lived her whole life in the Warren, serving a magical family, the Winters, as all non-magical "Snipes" are bound by magical Guardian law to do. That is, until one day, Sarah accidentally levitates Mrs. Winter's favorite vase in the parlor...
But Snipes aren't supposed to have magical powers...and the existence of a magical Snipe threatens the world order dictated during the Guardians' Restoration years ago. If she wants to keep her family safe and protect her own skin, Sarah must figure out how to fit into posh Guardian society, master her newfound magical powers and discover the truth about how an ordinary girl can become magical.
"Molly Harper's Changeling is masterful fantasy--a spunky Cinderella story with a heroine who's equal parts compassion, determination, and pure magical delight." --Rachel Vincent
 
I agree with Ms Vincent that this book is masterful, from the smooth and silken prose to the swift and decisive plot. The characters are what really shine here, though, and Sarah is a tough girl with a big heart who grows and changes into a powerhouse by the end of the book. I sincerely hope that there are more books to come in this series, and sooner rather than later, as now I'm hooked on this stratified world and its denizens. I'm giving it a solid A, and recommending it to anyone who enjoys supernatural steampunk fantasy.

Tiffany Blues by M.J. Rose is her 18th fiction novel, (I've read at least 14 of them) and, as with her past fiction, it's a delicious feast of the senses to read, full of color and scent and passion and mystery. Here's the blurb: The New York Times bestselling author of The Library of Light and Shadow crafts a dazzling Jazz Age jewel—a novel of ambition, betrayal, and passion about a young painter whose traumatic past threatens to derail her career at a prestigious summer artists’ colony run by Louis Comfort Tiffany of Tiffany & Co. fame.
New York, 1924. Twenty‑four‑year‑old Jenny Bell is one of a dozen burgeoning artists invited to Louis Comfort Tiffany’s prestigious artists’ colony. Gifted and determined, Jenny vows to avoid distractions and romantic entanglements and take full advantage of the many wonders to be found at Laurelton Hall.
But Jenny’s past has followed her to Long Island. Images of her beloved mother, her hard-hearted stepfather, waterfalls, and murder, and the dank hallways of Canada’s notorious Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women overwhelm Jenny’s thoughts, even as she is inextricably drawn to Oliver, Tiffany’s charismatic grandson.
As the summer shimmers on, and the competition between the artists grows fierce as they vie for a spot at Tiffany’s New York gallery, a series of suspicious and disturbing occurrences suggest someone knows enough about Jenny’s childhood trauma to expose her.
Supported by her closest friend Minx Deering, a seemingly carefree socialite yet dedicated sculptor, and Oliver, Jenny pushes her demons aside. Between stolen kisses and stolen jewels, the champagne flows and the jazz plays on until one moonless night when Jenny’s past and present are thrown together in a desperate moment, that will threaten her promising future, her love, her friendships, and her very life.
The part about the stepfather should read "alcoholic rapist and abuser" instead of "hard hearted," which was the least of his crimes. Of course he's a Christian minister who is charismatic at first, and attracts Jenny's none too bright mother, who marries him and then discovers that he drinks and beats her into submission, and refuses to allow her to paint or ply her trade as an artist (she also paints Ouija boards) because he's jealous and controlling and evil. When Jenny's mother finally fights back, she kills him by accident, and because she's pregnant with his child, Jenny, who is only a teenager, decides to take the rap for her mother and gets sent to a heinous reformatory for two years, after being vilified in the press. Her mother dies giving birth to the evil reverend's baby, (the baby dies as well), so it's all for nothing, and Jenny bears the scars of her mother's abandonment and her years of pain in the reformatory. The story centers around her time at the Tiffany estate, where she's learning to paint in color again and opening her heart to Tiffany's grandson, while being stalked by someone who knows about her past and is trying to expose her. I really disliked Jenny's wealthy friend "Minx" who kept forcing Jenny into situations she wasn't prepared for without any consideration for Jenny's feelings,and I think Jenny was too kind to forgive Minx for all that she'd done. But the mystery is tantalizing and the lush prose and elegant plot kept me glued to the page throughout this fantastic novel. I'd give it an A, and recommend it to anyone who is fascinated with the beauty of Tiffany's glorious stained glass windows and jewelry. 

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi was the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon's pick for a summer reading book, and was thus rocketed to stardom by viewers of that program (though I gather it was already selling well before it got the TV book group boost). I had heard from friends that it was similar to Harry Potter, but set in a future dystopian Africa, so with that, I was all in. A surprisingly violent and war-torn atmosphere peppers the book, but the sparkling prose and brilliant plot keep the complex and fascinating characters moving constantly on their quest to bring back magic and stop the suppression/eradication of white-haired magicians from their land. Here's the blurb:
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut.
They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
Now we rise.
Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.
Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for an enemy.
There are so many twists and turns in this book, you have to pay close attention to what is happening or you'll miss an important plot point and get lost. Complex and riveting, this is a story that deserves a series as long as GRRM's Game of Thrones (and a TV series to match, please). Every time I thought I knew what was going to happen, the author threw a spanner into the works and something else happened, and I was left gasping as the plot thundered on and I worried that Zelie wasn't going to make it. I don't want to give too much away, but the growth of two of the female protagonists is breathtaking and brilliant, and I couldn't give the book anything less than an A, and recommend it to anyone who likes complex fantasy novels full of magic and legends and prophecies. 

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah is this month's book group book. A non fiction memoir, this book's subhead is "stories from a South African childhood," and because stand up comic Trevor Noah took over for John Stewart on the Daily Show, I assumed that there would be a lot of funny bits to this tragic story of growing up in during a heinous time in South African history. Unfortunately, there's very little that is funny about Noah's story, and a lot that is painful, ugly and depressing. Women are treated especially poorly in South Africa, and Noah doesn't seem too bothered by it, unless it's happening to his mother, and even then, he doesn't raise a hand to help get the ex-husband who tries to murder her put behind bars. There's also a lot of cruelty to animals, especially cats, that gets a pass from Noah, who develops into a cruel young thief and DJ without much of a conscience. Here's the blurb:
Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.
Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.
The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.
I didn't find any of the stories particularly hilarious, I just found them painful and ugly and uncomfortable. I also felt that Noah was truly conceited in the worst sense of the word, and his "wit" was nothing more than crude commentary, for the most part. Noah can string a sentence together, but I was bored halfway through the book. Yes, I am sure it was honest, from his POV, but that was the only honest thing about Noah, who delights in his underhandedness. I can only give this memoir a C, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who isn't a diehard fan of the Daily Show, and Noah's crude sense of humor.



Sunday, August 26, 2018

Quote of the Day, Hugos Swept by Women Authors, Malorie Blackman Joins Doctor Who, Phinney Books Expands, A Study in Honor by Claire O'Dell, Geekerella by Ashley Poston,Hull Metal Girls by Emily Skrutskie, and Another Side of Paradise by Sally Koslow


Quotation of the Day
"If we want to become a nation of readers, you need to have more
bookstores.... I always say the best way to die is to be just sitting in
a chair reading a book, and to suddenly just expire. But throughout my
life, I remember the individuals who've left a huge mark on me, whether
teachers, parents or friends. I think that's the most valuable thing. In
your toughest times, you look back and know that those individuals have
propped you up, put you on their shoulders so you can walk better.
Hopefully, I can be that support for others in my personal and business
life."
--Kenny Leck, owner of BooksActually
interview with Channel NewsAsia

Women authors swept the Hugo awards this year at Worldcon, and I couldn't be happier! I am particularly excited for NK Jemisin's third award for her Stone SF series, which I read and found fascinating, though I can't say it's the type of series you enjoy, per se. It's a groundbreaking work, but it's also political and dark and desperate in it's insights. Congratulations to all the winners.I only wish Ursula LeGuin was still around to see all her compatriots sweep the awards this year.

Awards: Hugos; John W. Campbell
The winners of the Hugo Awards and for the John W. Campbell Award for
Best New Writer were announced by Worldcon 76 yesterday in San Jose,
Calif., and can be seen here
Among the many winners:

Best Novel: The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
Best Novella: All Systems Red by Martha Wells (Tor)
Best Novelette: "The Secret Life of Bots" by Suzanne Palmer
(Clarkesworld, 9/17)
Best Short Story: "Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience™"
by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex, 8/17)
Best Related Work: No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by
Ursula K. Le Guin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Best Graphic Story: Monstress, Volume 2: The Blood by Marjorie Liu,
illustrated by Sana Takeda (Image)
Best Series: World of the Five Gods by Lois McMaster Bujold (Harper
Voyager; Spectrum Literary Agency)
John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Rebecca Roanhorse

I'm so excited for the new season of Doctor Who, which debuts on BBC America in October, with the 13th Doctor, played by Jodie Whittaker, a woman. That they've got a famous YA author on board just makes it that much more thrilling. 

TV: Malorie Blackman Joins Doctor Who Writing Team

Malorie Blackman, author of more than 60 books for kids and young adults
and a former U.K. Children's Laureate, is "one of the writers
working on the new television series of Doctor Who," the Bookseller
reported, noting that Blackman is "the first black writer to pen an
episode for the series." She joins Ed Hime, Vinay Patel, Pete McTighe
and Joy Wilkinson, all of whom were announced this week by the BBC as
writers for the series, which launches this fall with Jodie Whittaker as
the 13th Doctor.

"I've always loved Doctor Who. Getting the chance to write for this
series has definitely been a dream come true," said Blackman, whose
short story "The Ripple Effect" was published in 2013 to celebrate the
50th anniversary of the show.

"We have a team of writers who've been working quietly and secretly for a long time now, crafting characters, worlds and stories to excite and move you," said Doctor Who
showrunner Chris Chibnall. "A set of directors who stood those scripts
up on their feet, bringing those ideas, visuals and emotions into
existence with bravura and fun. Hailing from a range of backgrounds,
tastes and styles, here's what unites them: they are awesome people as
well as brilliant at their job. (It matters!) They love Doctor Who. And
they've all worked above and beyond the call of duty in an effort to
bring audiences something special, later this year."

I will admit that when this gentleman opened this fancy new bookshop in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood of Seattle, where Jim and I used to live when we first landed here in the PNW, I was unsure he'd be successful.  I'd watched the wonderful used bookstore down the street, The Couth Buzzard, be sold off to become a coffee shop with a bookstore attached (and moved far down the street towards Greenwood). However, Nissley has managed to pull it off, and now he's opening another branch in tony Madison Park. Best of luck to him and to the new store! 

Phinney Books Owner Opening New Seattle Store
Tom Nissley, owner of Phinney Books
to open Madison Books in the city's Madison Park neighborhood by
November, the Madison Park Times reported, adding that the store will be
"filling a void felt in the neighborhood for more than a decade."

"We just get that there's this hunger for having this store right in the
middle of everything," said Nissley, who has owned Phinney Books in
Phinney Ridge since 2014.

Madison Books wasn't his idea, "but that of longtime resident Susan
Moseley, who spent some time reaching out to potential partners before
tapping Nissley," the Park Times noted.

"I think she's been trying to get a store in the neighborhood ever since
Madison Park Books closed in 2005," he said. "I had not been looking to
expand. Susan got in touch with us, and just the more that we talked
about it, the more appealing it sounded."

A Study in Honor by Claire O'Dell is a fresh and intelligent take on the Sherlock Holmes/Dr Watson stories with an exciting plot and beautiful prose that transports you to the thoughts and feelings of the characters. Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly:This riveting mystery (fantasist Beth Bernobich’s first work under the O’Dell pseudonym), set in near-future Washington D.C., spotlights delightfully fresh adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous characters. After Dr. Janet Watson loses her arm in an attack by the New Confederacy, she is discharged from the Army and returns home. She meets the fascinating, if infuriating, Sara Holmes, and they become roommates in Georgetown, Va., where, as two black women, they are not entirely welcome. Watson observes troubling patterns in her new job at the VA, and these, along with prompts from Holmes’s top secret connections, send the women on a high-stakes search for answers. As the mystery unfolds, it departs from direct Doyle parallels and takes on an entertaining life of its own. Attention to detail about futuristic elements, such as Watson’s mixed feelings about her temperamental mechanical arm, helps construct a believable setting. Readers who pick this up for the novelty of Watson and Holmes as black women will be impressed by how well O’Dell realizes them as full, rich characters. This is a real treat for fans of Conan Doyle and SF mysteries.
I completely agree with the PW reviewer's assessment, that the characters are fully realized, and the book itself a treat to read. I couldn't put it down, and though I despise political novels, the politics herein were germane to the story and gave it an air of reality, as if you could visit Watson and Holmes in DC at any time. Their lives as black women of different social castes (Holmes is rich while Watson is poor) makes them all the more intriguing, yet it also provides readers with a view into the reality of being a woman of color in America, where you're bound to encounter prejudice and sexism no matter how much money you have. I'd give this ripping yarn an A, and recommend it to anyone who likes a good dystopian SF mystery.

Geekerella by Ashley Poston is a clever YA novel that takes the Cinderella story and fine tunes it for today's celebrity culture in Hollywood, California. While it has fun protagonists in Elle and the celebrity who hates being famous,Darien, (standing in for the handsome prince), the whole story comes off as a bit too glib and goofy, with moments of eye-rolling cliche residing right alongside poignant moments in which readers empathize with orphaned Elle trying to find her way around a cruel stepmother and ugly-on-the-inside stepsister (the stepsisters are twins, but one of them is actually a nice lesbian who apparently doesn't have the spine to stand up to her evil twin). Here's the blurb:
Cinderella goes to the con in this fandom-fueled twist on the classic fairy tale romance.
Part romance, part love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom. Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad’s old costume), Elle’s determined to win…unless her stepsisters get there first.
Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons—before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but the Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.
The prose is clean and zippy, but even though we all know how Cinderella ends up with the prince, Poston manages to seed the plot with enough twists that you don't mind waiting to get to the HEA. A beach read for those who like modern reworkings of fairy tales, I'd give this book a B, and recommend it to anyone looking for a fun read.

Hull Metal Girls by Emily Skrutskie wasn't really what I was expecting at all. This YA science fiction novel sounded like a fierce feminist take on Halo-like SF, but it became more of a social science fiction story with Doctor Who's Cybermen overtones. The prose is precise and the plot, while seemingly straightforward, gets mired in political messes way too often. Here's the blurb: Aisha Un-Haad would do anything for her family. When her brother contracts a plague, she knows her janitor's salary isn't enough to fund his treatment. So she volunteers to become a Scela, a mechanically enhanced soldier sworn to protect and serve the governing body of the Fleet, the collective of starships they call home. If Aisha can survive the harrowing modifications and earn an elite place in the Scela ranks, she may be able to save her brother.
Key Tanaka awakens in a Scela body with only hazy memories of her life before. She knows she's from the privileged end of the Fleet, but she has no recollection of why she chose to give up a life of luxury to become a hulking cyborg soldier. If she can make it through the training, she might have a shot at recovering her missing past.
In a unit of new recruits vying for top placement, Aisha's and Key's paths collide, and the two must learn to work together—a tall order for girls from opposite ends of the Fleet. But a rebellion is stirring, pitting those who yearn for independence from the Fleet against a government struggling to maintain unity.
With violence brewing and dark secrets surfacing, Aisha and Key find themselves questioning their loyalties. They will have to put aside their differences, though, if they want to keep humanity from tearing itself apart.
There was so much pain and suffering from the converted Scela soldiers that I found it difficult to get past that, and also difficult to get by the politics of adults who would sacrifice children for their own agenda (to remain in power). The bitterness and ugliness of these children and teenagers who are used as pawns is nearly overwhelming at times, and it detracts from the space opera plot. It's one of those books that you'd enjoy if you like reading dystopian robot stories with political subplots. Not really my thing, so I'd have to give it a C, and recommend it to those who don't mind brutality and politics (and abused children) in their SF.

Another Side of Paradise by Sally Koslow was something of an impulse buy, because I've always been a fan of F Scott Fitzgerald and his troubled wife Zelda. This book is based on the journals and letters of Fitzgerald's amour Sheilah Graham, a Hollywood gossip columnist whom he lived with and loved until his death. I have to say that I was drawn in to the whole world of Fitz and Sheilah during the late 30s, and while I was aware that he was an alcoholic, I was not aware that he had months of sobriety where he'd try to work and create and love the women in his life. I never thought of Fitzgerald as a weak man, but this novel paints him as immature, weak, cruel and self destructive. Sheilah, who suffered every kind of abuse from Fitzgerald, was a fool to continue to return to him after one of his benders, but she was seemingly unable to let him go, for some bizarre reason (I think they had a toxic codependent relationship). Here's the blurb:
In 1937 Hollywood, gossip columnist Sheilah Graham’s star is on the rise, while literary wonder boy F. Scott Fitzgerald’s career is slowly drowning in booze. But the once-famous author, desperate to make money penning scripts for the silver screen, is charismatic enough to attract the gorgeous Miss Graham, a woman who exposes the secrets of others while carefully guarding her own. Like Fitzgerald’s hero Jay Gatsby, Graham has meticulously constructed a life far removed from the poverty of her childhood in London’s slums. And like Gatsby, the onetime guttersnipe learned early how to use her charms to become a hardworking success; she is feted and feared by both the movie studios and their luminaries.
A notorious drunk famously married to the doomed Zelda, Fitzgerald fell hard for his “Shielah” (he never learned to spell her name), a shrewd yet softhearted woman—both a fool for love and nobody’s fool—who would stay with him and help revive his career until his tragic death three years later. Working from Sheilah’s memoirs, interviews, and letters, Sally Koslow revisits their scandalous love affair and Graham’s dramatic transformation in London, bringing Graham and Fitzgerald gloriously to life with the color, glitter, magic, and passion of 1930s Hollywood. Pulbisher's Weekly:Koslow takes on the tumultuous affair of ambitious Hollywood gossip columnist Sheilah Graham and literary lion F. Scott Fitzgerald in this dishy interpretation of Graham’s memoir, Beloved Infidel. Here, Koslow plays off the “weakness and self-deception” of British expat Graham, who reinvents herself in America to hide a poverty-stricken childhood in a London Jewish orphanage and a sexless first marriage to a salesman. Fitzgerald, who comes to Hollywood to reignite his writing career while battling alcoholism, is preoccupied with thoughts about his mentally ill wife, Zelda, and his own fading fame. Though generously peppered with the big names and gossip of the 1930s, the narrative is driven by the tortured relationship between Graham and Fitzgerald in which both succumb to the worst in each other. This version aims to excuse and soften Graham’s unrepentant opportunism—“telling lies” is “no harder than breathing,” she says. And it plays up a version of Fitzgerald as a diligent craftsman and mentor rather than as a mean and abusive drunk. Koslow may be rewriting a feel-good version of the Graham-Fitzgerald romance, but it’s an intoxicating one.
I didn't really feel this was an "intoxicating" romance, it was a sadly codependent one, with the self-hating Graham seemingly unable to leave Fitz, even after he beats her up. There's also not a whiff in this book of the scandal of Fitz consigning Zelda to a prison-like insane asylum, even when she was able to gain control over her alcoholism. There were also many who felt that Zelda wrote and edited several of his books, which was why he wasn't as successful writing anything in later years. I've been a fan of Fitzgerald's prose since I was a preteen, but after reading this book, I want to burn all of my copies of Fitzgerald's works because he was as much of a misogynistic asshat as Hemingway. Though the prose was strong, I felt the plot was slow, and I disliked reading about the domestic violence and abuse that Fitz rained down on Graham during their years together. I'd give this book a C, and a trigger warning for domestic abuse survivors.