In the latest book news from Shelf Awareness, here are three interesting tidbits, first 11 great Canadian bookstores from an article in Chatelaine (a magazine that I used to read that I now believe is online), New Zealand's Beer Writer of the Year, which is a book my husband would love, because he drinks and loves beer, and the German Book Trade Peace Prize goes to the wonderful Margaret Atwood, whose work I've been reading since I was a teenager. She has the dubious privilege of watching her book, The Handmaid's Tale become a mini-series that is in the process of becoming reality in the United States.
"From the shop founded by Alice Munro in Victoria to a Nova Scotia
bookstore that specializes in rare titles," Chatelaine showcased "11 of
the dreamiest bookstores to get lost in across Canada
The Brewers Guild of New Zealand named Alice Galletly the 2017 Beer
Writer of the Year
Booksellers NZ reported, noting that the winner attributed the honor to
her columns in Air New Zealand magazine Kia Ora and her book, How to
Have a Beer. "It's a very non-serious, personal guide to enjoying beer,
full of silly anecdotes and jokes," she said. Guild representative
Martin Bennett praised "the sheer force of personality in the writing."
"My approach with beer writing is always to write for non-geeks first
and foremost, and to make it as fun and accessible as possible," she
said. "The mission of course, is to convert unsuspecting lager drinkers
to our cult."
In another event that was particularly political, the Peace Prize of the
German Book Trade was given to Margaret Atwood, who was cited by
organizers this way: "By closely observing human contradictions, she
shows how easily supposed normality can turn into inhumanity. Humanity,
justice and tolerance shape Margaret Atwood's approach to the world."
At the prize ceremony on Sunday, Atwood expressed dismay over the
political situation in the United States, which she said once was a
symbol of freedom and democracy--but "no longer." Things have gotten so
bad, she continued, that her 30-year-old novel The Handmaid's Tale
suddenly is topical. "Parliaments controlled by men want to set the
clock back--preferably into the 19th century."
She said the world is in "strange historical times.... We don't know
exactly where we are. We also don't know exactly who we are."
Frankfurt mayor Peter Feldmann said the choice of Atwood was a reminder
of the political dimension of art, adding, "The world needs less
division, less Trump, less hate--and more tolerance and solidarity."
The other major book prize given at the fair was the German Book Prize,
won by Robert Menasse for Die Haupstadt (The Capital), published by
Suhrkamp, set in Brussels, the unofficial European Union capital. The
prize is sponsored by the Boumlrsenverein, the German book industry
association, and honors the best German-language novel of the year.
Greywalker by Kat Richardson is an urban fantasy novel set in Seattle that has been recommended to me so many times I've lost count. Now that I finally bought at copy and read it, I was disappointed in the clumsy prose and awkward characters who stumble through a ramshackle plot that does, at least, have a decent conclusion. Here's the blurb:Harper Blaine was your average small-time P.I. until a two-bit perp's savage assault left her dead for two minutes. When she comes to in the hospital, she sees things that can only be described as weird-shapes emerging from a foggy grey mist, snarling teeth, creatures roaring.
But Harper's not crazy. Her "death" has made her a Greywalker- able to move between the human world and the mysterious cross-over zone where things that go bump in the night exist. And her new gift is about to drag her into that strange new realm-whether she likes it or not.
The best thing about this supernatural thriller, as they're calling it, is that Richardson is a competent storyteller, so she knows how to keep readers turning pages to find out what happens. I got the feeling that if Richardson only had a bit more time to develop in the craft of writing, her book would have been easier to read and her characters less difficult to understand or relate to. At any rate, I'd give it a B-, and recommend it to those who like the hard-boiled supernatural detective who didn't ask for any of this genre of urban fantasy.
Death Among Rubies by R.J. Koreto is the second Lady Frances Ffolkes mystery, and like the debut novel, is a ripping good yarn, though somewhat predictable. Like Lara Croft and other gentry who like to solve mysteries, Lady Franny is smart and tough, but also like women of the early 20th century (1907, to be exact), she's hampered by the sexism and misogyny of English society, which sneered at suffragists while insisting that educating women was a waste of time, because they belonged to men as wives and brood mares alone. Not to be deterred by this ridiculous state of affairs, Franny goes on the hunt for a killer at a huge estate, and manages to uncover some political maneuvering at the same time.
Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly: Koreto’s appealing sequel to Death on the Sapphire takes Edwardian suffragette Lady Frances Ffolkes and her maid, June Mallow, to Kestrel’s Eyrie outside Morchester, England. Gwendolyn Kestrel has invited her extremely close friend, Thomasina Calvin, and Franny to visit the country manor while her father is hosting several diplomatic guests. Soon after the ladies arrive, Mallow finds Gwen’s father, Sir Calleford, stabbed to death with a ruby-inlaid Turkish dagger. Franny sets out to get to the bottom of things with Mallow’s help, but the local police aren’t interested in their assistance. When Inspector Eastley arrives from Scotland Yard, he reluctantly accepts Franny as a translator for the French guests, having learned from a previous case that Lady Frances is not to be denied. The delightful Franny and Mallow soon discover familial as well as political motives behind the crime. Koreto nicely blends international intrigue and affairs of the heart.
I found it interesting that Gwen, who is portrayed as being somewhat simple, almost a Down Syndrome person, has a close and intimate relationship with Thomasina, or Tommie, as she's called, and most assume that they are lesbians, but no one actually comes out and says so unless they're writing threatening notes to harass Gwen into marrying the estate manager/housekeeper's son, so that the housekeeper could continue to rule the roost at the estate. Readers are left to surmise that Gwen isn't mentally strong enough to have a heterosexual relationship, so her relationship with Tommie must be maintained at all costs. Lots of twists and turns of the plot later, everyone who isn't dead gets what they want, and justice is served, and Lady Franny becomes engaged to a (GASP!) working man whom she loves. A fast and fun read, I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who likes British mysteries solved by smart women.
The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman was a paperback that I found at the library sale shelf this summer that looked irresistible. What I wasn't prepared for was 560 pages of one woman's tale of heartbreak and tragedy in New York and surrounding communities. Our protagonist, Malka, a Russian Jewish child, arrives in New York in 1913, and is soon embroiled in a fight for survival with her sisters and a mother who is going insane (their dirtbag father took whatever money they had and abandoned his family). After being run over by an Italian gelato horse and cart, Malka's mother wants nothing to do with her disabled daughter, so Malka is taken in by the Italian ice cream man's family, and from there she learns to make ice cream/gelato and how to run a business. Here's the blurb:In 1913, little Malka Treynovsky flees Russia with her family. Bedazzled by tales of gold and movie stardom, she tricks them into buying tickets for America. Yet no sooner do they land on the squalid Lower East Side of Manhattan, than Malka is crippled and abandoned in the street.
Taken in by a tough-loving Italian ices peddler, she manages to survive through cunning and inventiveness. As she learns the secrets of his trade, she begins to shape her own destiny. She falls in love with a gorgeous, illiterate radical named Albert, and they set off across America in an ice cream truck. Slowly, she transforms herself into Lillian Dunkle, "The Ice Cream Queen" — doyenne of an empire of ice cream franchises and a celebrated television personality.
Lillian's rise to fame and fortune spans seventy years and is inextricably linked to the course of American history itself, from Prohibition to the disco days of Studio 54. Yet Lillian Dunkle is nothing like the whimsical motherly persona she crafts for herself in the media. Conniving, profane, and irreverent, she is a supremely complex woman who prefers a good stiff drink to an ice cream cone. And when her past begins to catch up with her, everything she has spent her life building is at stake. Publisher's Weekly: Nonfiction writer Gilman (Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven) parlays her craft into an outstanding fiction debut, which follows an abrasive, unscrupulous protagonist from the 1910s to the early 1980s. In 1913, within months of arriving in New York City from her native Russia, young Malka Bialystoker is injured by a horse belonging to street vendor Salvatore Dinello. Deserted by her unstable mother and shiftless father, Malka is taken in by the Dinello clan out of a sense of guilt. Coping with a now-deformed right leg, she sheds her Jewish heritage in favor of her adoptive family’s Italian ethnic identity, complete with a new name: Lillian Maria Dinello. The Dinellos never fully accept her, however, and after she has reached early adulthood, they pointedly exclude her from their fledgling ice cream business. In retaliation she, along with her new husband, Albert Dunkle, begins a rival company. Lillian, a ruthless, hard-drinking businesswoman behind closed doors, in public provides a friendly, wholesome face for the increasingly successful Dunkle’s Famous Ice Cream. Gilman’s numerous strengths are showcased, such as character-driven narrative, a ready sense of wit, and a rich historical canvas, in this case based on the unlikely subject of the 20th-century American ice cream industry.
I agree with the "conniving, profane and irreverent" part of the blurb above, because Lillian (formerly Malka) is something of an anti-heroine. She's got a sailor's mouth, she likes to drink and smoke pot with her grandson and she's crude, rude and downright mean most of the time. She only appreciates her simple and loving husband Albert once he's dead, and even then she sneers at him, when it is obvious he's the only sane and moral one in the family. She doesn't even like her son, who really never gets the chance to know her whole story, and her grandson seems to want to hang out with her because she is lax about substance abuse and music, plus he obviously wants her money when she dies. We are left with Lillian going to prison, like Capone, for tax evasion, in the end, and though I appreciated her toughness, I didn't understand why someone so savvy and smart about business allowed her evil con-man father to repeatedly steal from her, lie to her and treat her like dirt. She finally cuts him off, but only when he's already stolen so much from her and made is clear, time and again, that he doesn't care a thing for her as a person. Still, Lillian is quite a character, and I'd give this book a B, and recommend it to those who like immigrant sagas and stories of transformation.
The Cracked Spine by Paige Shelton sounded like a book that was right up my alley. It's marketed as a Scottish Bookshop Mystery, and it is about a young woman, Delaney Nichols, who moves to Edinburgh, Scotland where she's hoping to make a fresh start at a rare manuscript and esoterica store, full of characters who could fill a book in their own right. Here's the blurb:Delaney Nichols is on the literary adventure of a lifetime when she leaves the States for Edinburgh, Scotland, to take a job at The Cracked Spine. A legendary bookshop filled with special editions and rare manuscripts, it’s a house of biblio delights—one as eclectic as those who work there: the spirited and ever-curious Rosie, along with her tiny dog, Hector; a nineteen-year-old thespian named Hamlet (of course); and Edwin, the big boss, who Delaney likes but just can’t get a read on. Then there’s Tom, the bartender from across the street, whose gentle brogue pulls at Delaney’s heart strings—and who can rock a kilt like none other.
But before she can settle into her new life, a precious artifact from the shop goes missing—and Delaney is terrified to find out that Edwin’s sister is brutally murdered. Never did Delaney think that her dream job would turn into a living nightmare. Can she, along with Tom and her coworkers, help close the book on this killer mystery…before it’s too late? Publisher's Weekly: This appealing first in a new cozy series from Shelton (Merry Market Murder and four other Farmer’s Market mysteries) introduces Delaney Nichols, who answers an employment ad after losing her museum job in Wichita, Kans., and ends up working at the Cracked Spine, a bookstore in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Cracked Spine’s owner, Edwin MacAlister, belongs to a secretive little group of wealthy collectors and sellers known as the Fleshmarket Batch, named for the meat market that once existed near the bookstore. Soon after Delaney meets the shop’s two other employees, Hamlet and Rosie, Edwin’s drug addict sister is found murdered, and Edwin admits to leaving a near-priceless and now-missing item in her possession. Delaney’s desire to help almost gets her killed, but that doesn’t prevent her from making some fast friends and meeting Tom, the attractive bartender across the street. This spotlessly clean, fun-filled read takes plenty of twists and turns on the way to the satisfying ending.
I agree that the prose is spotlessly clean, and the plot moves along at a nice, even pace, however, my main problem with this book was that Delaney is consistently something of a wimp. She quails at so many things, that I was surprised she was able to run the murderer to ground in the end. I was also surprised that the store owner, who is supposedly so savvy as a businessman, played the complete idiot in giving his junkie sister a precious and very valuable copy of Shakespeare's First Folio for safekeeping. Anyone with half a brain knows that drug addicts are never to be trusted, because they will sell anything to get their next high. Still, this is a fast and fun read, and I'd give it an A, with the recommendation that those who read it overlook the stupidity of some of the characters.