Wednesday, December 15, 2010

So Many Books, So Little Free Time

I hereby notify my vast (ha) readership that for the next two weeks, I will be managing the Mercer Island Patch site along with my husband, and I will not have any time to post to any of my blogs.
I have a stack of great fiction that I got for my 50th birthday this past Sunday, but I will doubtless have scant few moments to pick them up and read them. I got Paul Darrow's (Avon on the 70s British SF series Blakes 7) autobiography, called "You're Him, Aren't You?" and I got a copy of Patricia McKillips "The Bards of Bone Plain" and Alan Dean Fosters "The Human Blend" as well as Sharon Lee and Steve Millers "Mouse and Dragon" and Jennifer Cruisie and Bob Mayer's "Don't Look Down."
Anyway, here's a few items that I thought would be of interest from Shelf Awareness:
"I am not a Luddite (she said, somewhat defensively), and I do not
oppose all change simply because it is change.... Here's my bottom line:
There's no way to avoid using energy either to print books or
manufacture e-readers, to transport books or to transport e-readers, and
disposal issues crop up in both cases, as well, so why would I elect to
read in a format that requires additional inputs of energy? Why not just
take my book out under a tree or to the beach or read it on the front
porch or under the lamp that's turned on in the winter evening, anyway,
so I won't be tripping over my dog when I get up from my chair to go to

"It will be a while before all the dust from the new e-reader revolution
settles, and the final settling may not come in my lifetime. Meanwhile,
I'm watching the dust storm with interest and sticking with my
old-fashioned books. As the Water Rat said of his old riverbank: 'It's
my world, and I don't want any other.' "

--Pamela Grath, owner of Dog Ears Books,
Northport, Mich., on her Books in Northport blog

This is so true, I love the smell of books!
Number 16 among New York magazine's Reasons to Love New York "Because
We're Home to Not Only the Publishing Industry But Also to a Woman Who
Spends Her Days Smelling Books"

Six months ago, artist Rachael Morrison, who works at the Museum of
Modern Art's library, began wondering about the unscented future of
e-books and "decided to spend her lunch breaks chronicling the unique
scent of each book in the MoMA stacks." Morrison said that "smelling
books is really nostalgic for me--I am often reminded of my
grandparents' homes, or libraries where I used to go when I was a

I loved Douglas Adam's books, so I would really like to see these series:
BBC Four released a trailer for
the upcoming series Dirk Gently, based on two novels by the late Douglas
Adams--Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark
Tea-Time of the Soul. Blastr observed that
BBC Four "bills the show as a 'drama,' but if it uses any of its source
material, it should contain plenty of light British wit, ghosts and the
poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It may even involve the creation of
all life on Earth."

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Holiday Treat/An Irish Country Girl

Happy Holidays, to all my fellow Bibliophiles! As a special treat, as a list of Nancy Pearl, Seattles doyenne of books and book lore, picks her favorite memoirs:

Then, a quote that I know that I can relate to, as an book lover who still feels the thrill of anticipation every single time I delve into a new book:
(From Shelf Awareness)
"I learned to read at the age of five, in Brother Justiniano's class at
the De la Salle Academy in Cochabamba, Bolivia. It is the most important
thing that has ever happened to me. Almost seventy years later I
remember clearly how the magic of translating the words in books into
images enriched my life, breaking the barriers of time and space and
allowing me to travel with Captain Nemo twenty thousand leagues under
the sea, fight with d'Artagnan, Athos, Portos, and Aramis against the
intrigues threatening the Queen in the days of the secretive Richelieu,
or stumble through the sewers of Paris, transformed into Jean Valjean
carrying Marius's inert body on my back.

"Reading changed dreams into life and life into dreams and placed the
universe of literature within reach of the boy I once was. My mother
told me the first things I wrote were continuations of the stories I
read because it made me sad when they concluded or because I wanted to
change their endings. And perhaps this is what I have spent my life
doing without realizing it: prolonging in time, as I grew, matured, and
aged, the stories that filled my childhood with exaltation and

--Mario Vargas Llosa in his Nobel Lecture,
"In Praise of Reading and Fiction," which he delivered yesterday in

I just finished reading "An Irish Country Girl" the 4th book in the series by Patrick Taylor, a physician from Northern Ireland. This delicious volume was even more appropriate, as it is set during the Christmas season in the tiny town of Ballybucklbo in Ireland. The Irish are, as everyone knows, talented storytellers to a man and woman, and in this case, we hear the story of Maureen "Kinky" Kincaid; her family life, her development of the 'second sight' and her marriage to the love of her life, who died at sea after only a year of marriage. The story begins with Kinky telling the 'fairy tale' of her elder sisters love, who didn't believe in the wee folk and was taken by those selfsame fae when he cuts down their favored tree on a cold night in November that is dedicated to the 'good folk.' As Kinky tells the tale to a group of young carolers, you can almost hear the brogue and feel the chill winds and snow set out by the fox and the raven, harbingers of the faeries, or Bean Sidhe, pronounced Ban Shee. The only problem with this, and the whole book, is that Taylor draws the story out longer than need be, padding what would make a nice short story into many chapters, and then adding on what seems like a whole different story in the middle and trying to cap it with the same ghost story at the end. Though it ties up well, the ending seems rushed, and we don't learn more about things that the author could have embellished, like Kinky and Paudeen's first year of marriage, or their wedding, or the storm that took Paudeens life. Still, I'd give this book a solid B+, and recommend it to all who have read Patrick Taylor's Irish Country Doctor series and often wondered about his miraculous housekeeper and cook.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold

From Anu Garg's "Word A Day" files: In heaven, the police are British, the chefs are French, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian, and everything is organized by the Swiss.
In hell, the police are German, the chefs are British, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, and everything is organized by the Italians.

Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor, is reported to have said, "I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse."

Cryoburn is Lois McMaster Bujolds first Miles Vorkosigan novel in around 10 years, I believe, and those of us who are big fans of one of the few handicapped space heroes in existence are all a-twitter with glee.
Publisher's Weekly summarized the plot thus: "Only five days after arriving on Kibou-daini for a cryonics conference, interplanetary diplomat Miles Vorkosigan narrowly escapes kidnapping. Drugged, dazed, and alone, he is taken in by Jin Sato, whose mother was the leader of a cryonics reform movement until being declared mentally ill and involuntarily frozen. Now Jin lives in a building full of squatters running an illegal cryonics clinic. Under imperial orders to investigate the shady dealings of the cryo cartels, Miles connects the far-flung pieces and exposes a sneaky plot. Bujold introduces appealing characters to join familiar ones in exploring the ramifications of a planet-wide culture of postponing death, and her deft and absorbing writing easily corrals the complex plot and softens the blow of a tear-jerking conclusion."
Copyright © PWxyz, LLC

Though there were a lot more politics in this novel than I like, Bujold never let the plot lag with rants about any particular faction. She maintained the integrity of the characters throughout their trials and troubles, and Miles, as usual, comes out of this mess smelling like a rose. One of the things I admire most about Miles is his ability to think his way out of trouble, and view life like a situational chess match, where he's usually two moves ahead of his opponent. We get to see his clone-brother Mark in all his deal-making glory, too, though Miles comments that he wishes his brother would differentiate himself in some other way than being overweight. Personally, I found that remark a bit offensive, and I wanted to smack Miles in the head and say "Listen, Pookie, your clone brother has been through Hades and back, so at least allow him to be whatever size he chooses...let him make his life and his body his own." Yes, I know that calling someone of Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan "Pookie" would doubtless get me thrown in a Barrayar dungeon, but it would be worth it to see the look on his face. That's another thing I enjoy about Bujolds characters--they seem so real, you find yourself wanting to meet them.
Jin Sato was an interesting young character, though I enjoyed his spunky little sister more toward the end of the book. I found the whole "cryogenic suspension" business, with the buying and selling of contracts to keep people frozen, fascinating, and it was interesting to learn that those who'd be revived didn't often acclimate well in their new world/time. I would wish to be able to be frozen and return to life at at time when they'd found cures for many diseases and had some kind of rejuvenation process for old age so you could enjoy the new time you'd revived into. The whole idea of giving votes to the dead/frozen, however, was creepy,and I was happy to see that Miles thwarted the evil cryogenics company plan to take over his home world via cryo-corpse votes. The ending was nice and tidy, and it left the reader hopeful that Jin and his sister and mother had found a new father and a new home in the Barrayar consulate with a diplomat living there. Though Bujold mentions Miles wife and his children, we see little of them in this novel, which was one of my few disappointments with it, as I'd love to know about his home life and how he deals with his kids on a day to day basis. Still, it was a fast and satisfying read, and I sincerely hope that there's another Miles book on the horizon. A solid A for this science fiction novel that I'd recommend to anyone who has read the other Miles novels and who loves them as dearly as I do for not just their characters, but also the smart, witty prose and lightspeed plots that Bujold wields with ease.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Beautiful Libraries

It's not when you have access to them that you appreciate libraries fully, it's when, like this week, they close due to a huge snowstorm, and you find yourself staring longingly through the windows, hoping to catch a glimpse of your favorite librarians and fellow bibliophiles that you truly appreciate the impact that libraries have on your life. Not that I would do any of that, of course. The Maple Valley Library should definitely be on the list of lovely libraries. I have been thankful for libraries my entire life.

Here's a tidbit on beautiful libraries from Shelf Awareness:
showcased the "Most Beautiful Public Libraries in the U.S.," observing
that "most roundups of beautiful libraries focus on what's inside. And
while we love vaulted ceilings and overflowing bookshelves as much as
the next guy, we'd argue that the facades are just as important. From
futuristic steel-and-glass structures to early American structures
steeped in design history, here are ten public libraries that prove that
free books and Internet access don't need to be the only reason you
visit these architectural gems."

Also, my favorite actress, the marvelous Emma Thompson, weighs in on books with this oh-so-true quote:

Books 'Turn Up in Your Life When You Most Need Them'

"I think books are like people, in the sense that they'll turn up in
your life when you most need them. After my father died, the book that
sort of saved my life was Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel
One Hundred Years of Solitude. Because of that experience, I firmly
believe there are books whose greatness actually enables you to live, to
do something. And sometimes, human beings need story and narrative more
than they need nourishment and food."

--Actress Emma Thompson on choosing seven "books that made a difference"
for O magazine

Finally, I bought myself a copy of "Remarkable Creatures" by Tracy Chevalier for Thanksgiving, and I intend to stuff myself full of good food and good prose today, all day!
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Killbox by Ann Aguirre/The Gentleman Poet by Kathryn Johnson

First, another great quote from Shelf Awareness:
"Even with all of the so-called new media out there, books still have
the potential to be the most powerful medium of them all. Complex ideas
are explored over hundreds of pages and over several days, giving the
ideas time to sink in and take root, changing a person. Being exposed to
an idea or concept through social media or an article just doesn't have
the same impact. Meeting authors who yield this power wisely is still a

--Don Allen, publications director, Busboys and Poets, Washington, D.C.

Killbox is the 4th book in Ann Aguirre's Sirantha Jax science fiction series, and though it contains her usual roller-coaster ride action and space adventure, it also ties up a lot of loose ends in Jax's life, readying us for what I can only assume is the final novel in the series.

Jax has the genetic mutation to navigate grimspace and get ships from place to place across the galaxy, and because she was concieved in grimspace, she is also able to heal herself of the side effects that damage most "jumpers" and make them eventually unable to jump anymore.
Killbox has Jax quitting her ambassadorial role and mentoring a young jumper, as well as spending time with her beloved March and creating a militia to keep ships and colonies from being attacked by pirates or the cannibalistic Morgut, creatures who see humanity as a tasty food source.
I found the pace of this novel measured and deliberate, yet still exciting. The characters are, as always, full-bodied and fascinating, and the love scenes enthralling...few people can write a modern bedroom scene as well as Ann Aguirre. I was glad to see Jax take control of her destiny in this novel, though I was a bit freaked out by the ending of the book, which leaves us not knowing if Jax will survive her attempt to reset the beacons of grimspace to thwart the Morgut. It was interesting to watch her use her new implants and scientific advances to actually hear what the Morgut say, and realize that they are sentient, though confused by the idea that their 'meat' doesn't want to be slaughtered due to our own sentience. Jax's support systems and friends all fall away at once, and Jax realizes that it all comes down to her and her special skills to save the universe. I was gratified to note that Jax's evil mafioso mother died a heroic death, and that she and March are on stable ground in their relationship. I will be awaiting the next installment eagerly, as now I have to know if Jax's plan works, and if she and Hit make it back alive. I'd give Killbox a solid A, and recommend it to all who've read the other Sirantha Jax novels.

The Gentleman Poet by Kathryn Johnson is an interesting fictional take on the life of a servant in Shakespeares time, and on the origins of Shakespeare's "The Tempest."
The protagonist, Elizabeth Miranda Persons, a young girl who has been forced into indentured servitude by the plague and persecution of Catholics by Queen Elizabeth I, her namesake, is working for a mean and cruel old woman of the gentry when she takes a voyage from England to the Virginia colonies in the "new world" on a ship called the Sea Venture. Unfortunately, the 150 passenger vessel is wreaked off the coast of Bermuda, and Miranda is forced to cook and clean not only for the Mistress Horton, but also for the Admiral and the other sailors and shipwreaked folk, including William Strachey, who is actually William Shakespeare. Miranda and William strike up a friendship, and William uses their story to write The Tempest, while also nudging Miranda towards Thomas, the ships cook, who at first horrifies her because she's seen women raped and has nearly been raped herself. Miranda's recipes are added into each couple of chapters, which is fascinating, as she was working with fresh seafood and game animals, as well as tubers and herbs found in Bermuda. She's a good enough cook that she's able to teach Thomas the use of herbs and spices to add flavor to the food, and soon the two are in love and wed, with Miranda pregnant as they make their way to the colonies via a slapped together ship. Unfortunately, Thomas is killed by Native Americans, and Miranda is left with a choice of either marrying a man she doesn't love or moving back to England with William and starting up her own Inn and restaurant in one of Shakespeare's homes. She chooses the latter, and the author leaves us with a decent HEA to wrap things up. I found the history fascinating and the recipes authentic in this book, and though the plot dragged a bit in spots, overall it was a well done novel. I'd give it a B+, and recommend The Gentleman Poet to those interested in Shakespeare, history and historical food.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Namaah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey

First, a bit of business, I found this link to a lovely story on a local school librarian who is making a difference, and the article makes a good case for the importance of librarians in schools, at a time when librarians are being phased out of schools and our King County Library System.

Also, a bit from Kevin Bacon, who appears to be a smart guy (who knew?) as reported in the wonderful Shelf Awareness:

Noting actor Kevin Bacon's philosophy of reading--"You can sit around
and complain that Hollywood doesn't make any good movies. But you can
generate your own material. So I read books."--Word & Film
recommended a checklist of Bacon's movies "to find great reading

Now, about Namaah's Curse, the latest novel from the incredible imagination of Jacqueline Carey. I've read all of Carey's "Kushiel's" series, which were like some richly-scented chocolate dessert--they're impossible to resist and once you start reading them, no amount of will power can get you to stop. Also like chocolate, they're decadent and not to everyone's taste--they have lots of sexuality in them, and there's pain-as-pleasure attached to some of it, yet it's never gratuitous or slimy. Carey writes her sex scenes with true reverence and can feel the sincere passion, the glorying in the beauty of the human form, the sensuality and erotic joy of sexuality and orgasm pouring forth from each chapter. Yet Carey doesn't overindulge in sex scenes to the detriment of her stories. Her plots never lag, there's no lame dialogue or cliche'd euphemisms to make you cringe and wish she'd get back to the subject at hand. And her characters SHINE, brightly and beautifully, fully created and seeming to breathe right off the page. First and foremost, Carey is a resplendent storyteller of the Sheherazad school, the kind of author whose prose draws you in, engrosses you and doesn't let you go until the last word is spent.
I was so enthralled by the Kushiel's books that I was sad to see them end. However, Carey decided to start a new series with Moirin, a descendant of some of the characters from the Kushiels books, and place her 100 years later in time. Moirin has some of the powers of the Bear clan but is also a child of Namaah, so she's a sexual adept as well, though not a courtesan, as was Phaedra, the protagonist from the first series. We were introduced to Moirin in Namaah's Kiss, where she met up with a Chinese sage and his assistant Bao, and fell in love with Bao, reviving him with her spirit in the last part of the book. Namaah's Curse takes place in China and Mongolia, where Moirin must go to find Bao, her soul mate, and her adventures along the way take several interesting twists and turns. One of those turns is meeting fanatical Christians, and, as Moirin's people of Terre D'Ange view sex as a sacrament, you can imagine how ugly things get when a Christian cult leader tries to torture confessions out of Moirin, and force her to submit to patriarchal Christian dogma. Fortunately, she's rescued by a half D'Angeline boy, whom she gifts with his first sexual experience, helping him to gain Namaah's blessing. I daresay no one describes oral sex with as much heat as Carey, and if there is any through-line or theme to her books, it is that nothing is as healthy, healing and good for body and soul as a long roll in the hay with someone you love. But Carey also manages to add in chunks of history, in this case Asian history that fascinating and add to the stew of the story, making it more robust.
At any rate, I enjoyed this second book in the Namaah's series, and look forward to the third. I'd give it a solid A, and recommend Namaah's Curse to fantasy-loving adults with open minds and hearts who find Asian culture and history fascinating.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Glass Trilogy by Maria V Snyder and Sidejobs

Maria V Snyder is the author of the "Poison Study" series that I bought initially for the cover of the first book, but read with great enjoyment once I discovered the finely-wrought prose and fascinating characters inside it.
She did a spin off from that series with a character named Opal Cowan, a magician glassblower who could make glass animals that served as a kind of cell phone, and who could also drain the power from other magicians and encase it in diamonds.
In Storm Glass, we learned about Opal's family and her glass-making powers, as well as her frailty as a person. While she managed to help contain some seriously bad Daviian warpers in glass and save the day, she constantly whined and allowed others to tell her what to do and run roughshod over her own feelings. Even when her boyfriend changes souls with the warper who hurt her, she allows herself to be lulled into sleeping with the guy, though she knows something is 'wrong' with him. I found Opal a bit hard to take in the first novel, because she was so flawed, ignorant and immature, she made me want to slap her more than root for her. Yet I read the next book in the series, "Sea Glass" anyway, and was surprised at how determined and tenacious Opal had become. She spends a great deal of time in this book trying to find Ulrick, the man who exchanged bodies with Develn, the warper who tortured her twice and tried to kill her, and is now supposedly in love with her (that part strained my credulity). Meanwhile, Opals rather fickle affections have been bestowed on a "stormdancer" named Kade, who can magically suck the energy from violent weather and encase it in glass orbs created specially by Opal, until she teaches others to make the unbreakable orbs.Unfortunately, no one believes Opals story that her boyfriend has switched bodies, so she has to find both men and prove it, which she manages to do in the end. Spy Glass, the final book in the series, finds Opal at a loss because, in order to keep some hostiles from causing trouble, Opal had to drain their magic and her own into an orb. These nasty fellows managed to get Opals blood when they captured and tortured her (again), so now Opal, ever dogged in her pursuits, goes after the blood thieves to see if she can regain her messenger-glass making powers. While she's also more mature in this book, Opal is still somewhat niave and takes ridiculous risks without thinking it through. She does learn to defend herself from the marvelous Valek, a uber-spy character from the Poison Study series, but she still manages to get herself into horrible trouble with a cult on the coast who are enslaving people and using black diamonds and pearls to further their magical goals. Fortunately, Opal doesn't take things lying down, as she used to, so with her new backbone and training, she is able to help rout the bad guys (she even kills the man who enslaved her) and find her true love in the former Daviian Warper who tortured and nearly killed her. I know, it still strains credulity that she would throw over the stormdancer Kade for a scumbag who repeatedly hurt her, but he is now supposedly not addicted to blood magic anymore, has done time in a prison and reformed himself by doing everything he can to help Opal. I really don't think any amount of assistance and 'reform' would make me want to forgive someone who had tortured me physically and emotionally twice. But Opal seems to fall into bed with him rather quickly, and seems to believe he's now a good guy on the slightest evidence. Personally, I would have killed him at the first opportunity, but that's just me. I don't forgive that kind of suffering.
However, Opal marries Develn, and adopts two orphans, and things get wrapped up with a nice HEA bow at the end, which is satisfying to me as a reader. It's one of the things I appreciate about Maria V Snyder, her ability to bring her tales to a beautifully-finessed ending. Snyder's prose is, as always, sterling, and her plots have not an ounce of fat on them as they swim along like that Olympic swimmer Phelps--swiftly, cleanly and gracefully. But what I like best about Snyders stories is her ability to craft characters that fascinate and engage the reader because they seem so real and alive. I gather another "Study" book is going to be out soon, and I can hardly wait to pick it up and read of the further adventures of my favorite Snyder characters, Yelena and Valek. Meanwhile, I'd give the "Glass" series a B+ overall and an A- for the final book in the series, "Spy Glass." I'd recommend this series to any artistic teenager or adult who finds glass making and magic fascinating.
I've also just read Jim Butcher's "Side Jobs" a compendium of short stories about the wonderful wizard of Chicago, Harry Dresden. Let me be honest, I've had a tremendous crush on Harry since I first read about him years ago. I love that he's such a hero, but in such a smart-assed, fumbling and often messed up way. He's flawed, but his heart is in the right place, and he's smart enough to be able to use his faults to his advantage to capture or kill the bad guys. He's also a big softie when it comes to dealing with women, children and animals, like his huge Fu-dog Mouse, or his cat Mister. The thing that bothers me about the Dresden Files is that Harry gets beaten to a pulp and nearly killed in every single installment. And in the last full-length novel, Changes, Jim Butcher leaves us hanging as to whether Harry will live or die by shooting him on the last page of the book, which is just a low-down dirty trick, if you ask me. I was told that "Side Jobs" had a short story in it that takes place right after Harry is shot on his boat, so I assumed there would be some hint or answer in that text that would keep me going until the next Dresden Files book is published next year. But nooooo, Butcher gives us a whole story with the marvelous Karrin Murphy, beloved cop friend of Harrys, who can't believe he's dead, but doesn't try to find him during the run of the story, either. Dresden fans are left with a vague feeling that he 'might' still be alive because there has been no corpse recovered and buried, but other than Murphy's hope that he's still alive, we've got precious little to go on. This makes me want to smack Jim Butcher's fanny for teasing Dresden fans this way--its cruel, and I don't like it. Either tell us he's alive or tell us he's dead, but don't insinuate things in such a wimpy way that we don't know squat by the end of the tale. I believe even Harry Dresden himself would be pissed off at his fans being treated this way. That said, I really enjoyed the rest of the short stories in this tome, though I'd already read three of them in other anthologies. Even the first story which Butcher claims is his first attempt and therefore awful, is really a delight. It seems obvious to me, and I am sure to other Dresden File fans that Butcher has a great deal of writing talent, and it shines through no matter where it is deployed. I'd give this book an A, mainly because it's indispensable to those who know and love Harry Dresden. But I reserve the right to give the final story in the book a C for "nice try, but you didn't tell us what we want/need to know." I'd recommend "Side Jobs" to anyone who loves wizards and magic with an urban, gritty feel and a large dose of mystery.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The End of the Novel Live!

From Shelf Awareness, because they do a better wrap up of this event that I could:

As we reported last week
over the course of six days, live and online, 36 Northwest authors wrote
a novel. It was completed Saturday evening and will be published as an
e-book by Open Road Integrated Media. Fans watched the novel being
written--and, in one case, drawn--added their comments in person and via
live chat, and had a grand time bidding during various auctions. Over
72,000 words were typed (the goal was 50,000), and thousands of online
viewers spent 165,000 minutes watching The Novel! Live! unfold. While most viewers were from the
U.S., there were also hundreds from Australia, Canada, the U.K., India,
the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Austria, New Zealand and Spain. And even
better, nearly $10,000 was raised for literacy (hint: you can still
donate and
push that number over $10K).

We checked with one of the instigators of this project, author Jennie
Shortridge, and asked her for statistics of the kind we are really
interested in:

* Most words typed: Mary Guterson: 4,560
* Least swearing in text: Suzanne Selfors: 0 curse words
* Most breaks from writing: Erik Larson: 2; he also wins for most coffee
consumed, 4 cups
* Most freakish and horrifying incident for an author: a stuck "delete"
key during Jarret Middleton's turn at bat--it cost him five paragraphs
of text (which he replaced overnight, so he gets the best-natured author
award as well)
* Most remote author contribution: Kit Bakke from Shanghai
* Most valiant effort by an author: Maria Dahvana Headley, who typed via
Gmail chat from her sickbed with a 102-degree fever
* Best channeling of a non-human character: Stephanie Kallos, who wrote
from a crow's point of view
* Highest bid for an auction item: $450 for the name of the
protagonist's long-lost father, online from Isabella in New York
* Mostly unlikely auction item: a replica of Habib the crow, who dangled
above the stage on the last day, went for $100. (We sent a volunteer out
into the streets of Capitol Hill Saturday morning to find a crow, and
after no luck at various stores, actually encountered a man with a fake
crow on Pine Street, and haggled him down from $60 to $30). Runners-up:
plastic skulls named for dead authors, which brought in as much as $40
each in online auctions, and many signed (and re-signed) books
* Longest distances traveled by authors to participate: Jamie Ford from
Montana and Mary Guterson from Los Angeles
* Longest distance traveled by a volunteer to participate: aspiring
19-year-old author Rachel Kelly from Gresham, Ore.

Erik Larson and auctioneer John Roderick, lead singer and guitarist in
the band The Long Winters.

Most costume changes by an author: 4 by Susan Wiggs, who morphed from
Viking princess to pajama-ed author to sequined goddess to queen of
hearts during her two-hour stint
* Most catch-up sleep required by organizing Seattle7Writers' members: a
tie between Garth Stein and Jennie Shortridge

Check out The Novel! Live! and
watch the book being created. Congratulations to everyone who made this
happen with such enthusiasm and panache, from the writers to the
volunteers to the food suppliers to the fans, and to Hugo House for
providing a cozy venue (and a bar).--Marilyn Dahl

Monday, October 18, 2010

So True!

This is from Shelf Awareness today:

NBA Judge: Books Are 'Joyful Things to Behold'

"I am holding books in my hands, in my lap, all day long--joyful things
to behold, to hold onto--hefty and crisp. Even the uncorrected galleys
have weight--the smell of paper and words.... One day I look at the pile
and imagine they are all electronic books. Electronic books are
eligible; it's possible I could be reading on a Kindle or a Nook or the
poetically named Sony PRS-700. All this reading could be on a gray
screen; I could be clicking buttons instead of turning pages. In the
bookless future a few of these books predict, there would be no boxes,
no piles....

"I would, of course, have gone mad, thrown the little plastic thing out
the window long ago. The real glory of all these books is simply that
they exist. They will endure in the world as solid things. I love the
piles--the teetering, heavy, uneven piles, the cumbersome crowding of
books thick and thin. These are piles of piled-up things, sculptured
objects taking up room. No gray screen can honor the way font shape and
space are designed to convey thought. Books inhabit the world in a way
not unlike the way you and I do."

--Sallie Tisdale in her Oregonian
article,"Duty as a judge for the National Book Awards requires a bit of

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Novel Live!

My Facebook friend Jennie Shortridge is one of the instigators of this very cool art project--I wish I could support the Novel Live crew financially, but I can promote their drive to obtain money for literacy. Go Seattle7!
The following is from Shelf Awareness:
The Novel! Live!

Starting yesterday morning, October 11, in a "stunning,
never-before-attempted marathon of literary wonder," 36 Northwest
authors began writing a novel that will be completed in just six days.
The story will take on 36 different lives during the week, reflecting
each author's unique sensibilities. David Lasky will draw his section.
During his slot, Kevin O'Brien will be killing off a character, whose
name Nancy Pearl auctioned off at the Sunday kick-off party at Elliott
Bay Books. Susan Wiggs is writing the ending, so someone will fall in
love (or at least get laid).

Fans can watch and cheer on favorite authors like Garth Stein, Jamie
Ford, Elizabeth George, Erica Bauermeister, Jennie Shortridge, Erik
Larson (and others) as they take their turns at the keyboard at
Seattle's Hugo House (complete with happy hours and drink specials).
Yesterday kicked off with Jennie Shortridge (When She Flew
) on a stage,
screen to her left, ample coffee and water to her right, and an
audience. The authors have a story map and an individual goal, but it
was up to Jennie to set it all in motion. And while she typed, the
audience called out suggestions. Early on, she asked the audience for
help with teenage Alexis's skin tone.



She decided on "latte creamy."

The she wanted to set the tone for a mortuary visit:

"If it's any time except August or September, it's pretty much rain."

"Yeah, we must have rain."

At 10:40, she wondered why she ever threw in a pirate named Ursula.

"If Alexis is wearing a black wool sweater, does she go to a Catholic

"She might."

"St. Joe's!"

Later, in an on-line chat, someone mentioned that Jennie had awesome
command of the backspace key.

"Fig Newtons?"

"In Seattle it should be Fig Newmans."

A bit after 11, Jennie needed a lifeline, so she called author Marisa de
los Santos for help: "I introduced a crow--do I keep it?" Yes. "I need a
name for the mother." Edith.

Authors Denise Banker and Joyce Yarrow synopsized Jennie's story for the
next writer, Teri Hein, who took over at noon. Go to The Novel! Live!
for more information and to
watch the novel progress as it streams live with an author cam, chat and
words flowing (and backing up) across a page. If you've ever wondered
how an author actually writes, here it is in all its flow and pause,
inspiration and staring at the screen. Watch this space for more
coverage of the event as it unfolds, with happy hour updates and more.

Net proceeds (including the character names auction and very nice
T-shirts) from The Novel! Live!
go to Seattle Arts & Lectures' Writers in the
Schools program, which places professional local writers in public
classrooms to spark interest and develop skills in reading and writing,
and to 826 Seattle, a nonprofit writing and
tutoring center dedicated to helping kids ages six to 18 improve their
writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to

Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Mapping of Love and Death/An Irish Country Village

My husband has complained that I haven't thanked him on my blog yet for bringing me some lovely ARCs from work, including this copy of Jacqueline Winspear's "The Mapping of Love and Death" her latest Maisie Dobbs mystery.
So, thank you, my beloved, for keeping me supplied with my favorite addiction, books. And happy 13th anniversary of our wedding on October 5, 1997 at the Museum of Flight in Seattle!
The Mapping of Love and Death is the 7th Maisie Dobbs mystery, set in post WW1 England, and following the progress of a young woman who worked as a maid for a member of the gentry, and when she was discovered reading in the mansion library, was sent to college by these wealthy folk (to Girton), then tutored by a retired gentleman spy (or whatever they call the members of the British version of the CIA) and then turned loose to found her own private detective agency.
But Maisie is not Sherlock Holmes, she's been shell-shocked during her turn as a nurse on the battlefields of Europe, and she has watched the man she loved die from injuries sustained during the war. Maisie's got the advantage of having a gypsy grandmother who endowed her with something of a 'sixth sense' about feelings and things that might happen, but she mainly relies on her intellect and her friend and colleague Billy, who was a sapper during the war, to solve her cases.
The Mapping of Love and Death finds Maisie out to solve the mystery of what happened to a young American cartographer/surveyor whose bones were discovered 15 years after the war, along with letters he wrote to a mysterious nurse with whom he fell in love. Add to this the wealthy parents, one of whom is an English ex-patriot, and the illness and death of Maurice, the aforementioned gentleman spy and Maisie's mentor, and you have a book filled with emotional, poignant moments.
One of the things I like best about Maisie Dobbs mysteries is that Maisie always ends up better off than she started out at the beginning of the novel. Unlike Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden or Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse, both of whom get beat up and nearly killed in every single novel, Winspear seems to have a heart when it comes to Maisie and her life, and the reader can always exult at the end of the book, knowing that Maisie will go on and help others and become happier as each day passes. Winspear's prose is always clean and straightforward, and her plots march briskly along, never lagging in sentimentality or excessive narration. Her characters are rock solid and riveting, and I always find myself wishing I'd lived back in the 20s and 30s in England so I could meet someone like Maisie and sit down to tea with her and Billy, of course. I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys smart heroines and zippy mysteries grounded in historical fact. A solid A!
An Irish Country Village by Patrick Taylor is the sequel to An Irish Country Doctor, a book that takes place in the village of Ballybucklebo in Northern Ireland.
These are feel-good novels along the lines of Gervaise Phinn's books or James Herriott's series, All Creatures Great and Small. This series follows young Dr Barry Laverty as he works through his residency under a small country general practitioner, Dr Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly, who is quite a character.The village is also full of characters, from the puffed up, rude mayor to the doctors housekeeper/cook, who is called "Kinky" Kincaid and who makes tremendous dinners and prescient pronouncements for the doctors. In this installment of the series, Dr Barry is under a cloud of suspicion as a hypochondriac patient of his dies, and the locals all wonder whether he's a good physician or not. Dr Barry is also falling in love with a local gal who wants to become an engineer, and will have to go away to school in England for three years if she wins a scholarship. There are also the two elderly oddball residents who finally tie the knot after years of yearning for one another, but being unable to fulfill their love because the gentlemans home had no roof. Now the town has pitched in and fixed his home, and the couple can marry and live happily ever after.
Taylor's Irish Country books take place in the 60s, so times are simpler and the mores and values are more straightforward, however, the under current of sexism and anti-choice nonsense can get a bit irritating for the modern female reader. Still, the prose is sweet and comfortable, the characters charming and the situations fascinating, so it's well worth the occaisional irritant to read the books. I look forward to the next book in the series, An Irish Country Christmas. I just have to bring more books into Baker Street Books in Black Diamond (he doesn't accept hardbacks and is very choosy about which paperbacks he will accept) so I can build up enough credit to afford a copy. I'd recommend this book to anyone who appreciates Ireland and its history, and to those who liked Phinns and Herriotts series. A solid B+ to this engaging series of novels.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Five Books

I've been on a tear these past two weeks, reading some books that have reeled me in and not let me go until the last page was read.
They are:
True Colors by Kristin Hannah
Maybe This Time by Jennifer Cruisie
Magic on the Storm by Devon Monk
An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor
Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas

I've read a couple of other books by Kristin Hannah, and she always puts me in mind of Jennie Shortridge, without as scrupulous an editor (Hannah's books usually have higher page counts than Shortridge). True Colors brought to mind another book I'd read about a horse-ranching family with a wayward daughter, but I can't for the life of me remember the title or the author. At any rate, True Colors is the story of the three Grey sisters, Winona the fat one with brains, Aurora the middle child, earth mama and peacemaker and Vivi Ann, the spoiled and selfish youngest child who is, of course, blonde, petite and pretty and gets all the fathers attention (as usual, the mother is long dead). Though I suspect we are meant to admire and connect with Vivi Ann, I found myself wishing that she'd get thrown off the family horse and die early on. She was willfully stupid and niave, a narcissist and a bratty little tramp who always gets whatever she wants, while the daughter who actually does the most for the family, Winona, gets consistently treated like crap by the father, who is a real horse's arse, right from the first chapter. Of course there are two men involved, the handsome jock who wants Vivi Ann but is beloved of Winona, and the hottie Native American Dallas, who fills Vivi Ann with lust but who is rejected by her father and everyone else in their small town, because most everyone is prejudiced, of course. In a move that you could see coming right from the moment Vivi Ann goes to bed with Dallas, the Native American is framed for murder and sent to prison, where he loses all his appeals and sends his selfish wife into a drug-induced tailspin, enough so that she can hardly care for their son (I really think they should have taken the kid away from her, she was a lousy parent). Fortunately, the smart sister finally decides to forgive her sister and goes to bat for Dallas, eventually winning his freedom at the end of the book. Everyone gets what they want/need/desire in the HEA ending, yet it seemed to come a bit too late for my tastes. Still, the book was engrossing and interesting, and worth a read on the beach or if you're stuck on layover at an airport. I'd give it a C+.

Maybe This Time was also the third of Cruisie's books that I've read. Having loved her "Bet Me" and "Crazy for You" (or was it "Tell me Lies"?) I was prepared to enjoy this paranormal romance (in all but name...I don't think Cruisie's books are filed under that genre). I devoured it, enjoying the heat between Andie the free-spirit and her ex-husband North the businessman who was too busy to pay attention to her, and North's brother "Southie" who is, of course, the wild child, ne'er do well to his brothers button-down perfectionist. But North has a problem, he has a young niece and nephew (Alice and Carter) who have been living in an old mansion with a series of nannies since their one nanny died a mysterious death, as did their parents. Andie's mother is a spiritualist and astrologer, while Norths mother is all power-banker-woman, exact opposites. Add to this mix three menacing ghosts and an evil housekeeper who can't cook, and you've got a recipe for gothic disaster and mayhem. I don't want to spoil the fun for those who haven't read this book yet,(I believe it doesn't come out for another month, I had an ARC) but Andie's struggle to give the children a stable home life and love is perfectly poignant. Her interactions with the ghosts seemed realistic and the pace of the novel was swift and sure. My only problem with the novel was that Cruisie didn't leave it alone at the HEA ending...she tacked on a couple of creepy pages after that were worthy of a Stephen King novel. Pardon me while I shudder and leave the light on in the hallway tonight at bedtime. Perhaps it was her intent to give readers the willies, and while I understand that some people enjoy being scared, I don't. So I left the novel with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. However, I'd still recommend it to anyone who enjoys paranormal romance or chick lit or even a good Bronte novel. Cruisie gets a solid B+ for this one.

Magic on the Storm is the 4th Allie Beckstrom novel in a series by Devon Monk, a Portland, Ore novelist. I recall reading the first novel in one sitting, and thoroughly enjoying it's combination of a Jim Butcher/Harry Dresden universe with an Anita Blake/Laurel Hamilton-Linnea Sinclair-esque style heroine who is comfortable in her own skin and knows how to kick ass and use her powers for good, despite the cost to her mental and physical health. I gather that Patricia Briggs has a series with a strong female magic-wielder, but I've not read those, so I can't compare them with Monks novels. Ann Agguire's Jax character also springs to mind whenever I read an Allie Beckstrom novel, because Jax is one tough cookie who has magical abilities that are often bad for her health. Anyway, in this fourth novel, Allie is once again thrust into some life and death situations in which she and her lover (the screamin' hot Zayvion) are called upon to try and find out why the magic wells under Portland are being depleted while also tracking a wild magic storm and trying to hunt down some bad guys who failed to die in the last installment. So there's an aspect of "tying up loose ends" in this novel that is satisfying on the surface, but frightening when it leads to a cliffhanger at the end. Though I loved the action, and the love scenes between Allie and Zayvion, (and I love Stone, the gargoyle dog! I want one of those because I am allergic to dander, not rock dust) I was disturbed by the fact that Allie's father was still able to exert so much influence over her and possess her body, and that he seems to show so little concern for her actual health and well-being. It seems amazing to me that Allie could have turned out so well with such a lousy parent, one who is so greedy, evil and conceited/narcissistic. Still, Monk did what Jim Butcher did to Harry Dresden in his last novel and we don't know if Allie will come out of this latest happenstance alive and with Zayvion. Stay tuned...and I'd recommend this novel to Jim Butcher fans who like Buffy the Vampire slayer and Anita Blake and other SF/F women who kick tushie. I'd give it an A-

An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor has been heralded as the new "James Herriot" with the main character being a doctor in Northern Ireland rather than a veterinarian in Northern England. Actually, this first book in the series reminded me of Gervaise Phinn's books on being an educational inspector in Northern England much more than Herriotts works, which were much more humorous and written in a rolicking fashion.
Still, I found the book easy to get into and enjoy, and the good Dr Barry Laverty, who is working with Dr Fingal O'Reilly and will one day take over his country practice, is quite an earnest and interesting fellow who has all the innocence and niavete we've come to expect in our UK heroes. Of course, the townspeople are delightfully eccentric, there's plenty of good folks with good intentions who get into trouble and a lot of ignorant people who have to be lied to for their own sake, and there's the evil town mayor who gets his comuppance, and the beautiful woman who captures Dr Barry's heart. Whether it's Herriot, Phinn or Taylor, these books seem to follow a well-trod path/pattern, and while that might bother some, I find it comforting to know that the bad characters will get what they deserve while the good guys will fall in love and have their dreams come true. There's plenty of local color and even recipes (at the back of the book) for foods discussed in the novel. We get a real feel for the 60s in rural Northern Ireland, and for the limitations of medicine at the time. I've already started the sequel, "An Irish Country Village," and I'd imagine there are one or two more books in the series, keeping us apprised of the progress of the young doctor in winning the minds and hearts of the local villagers in Ballybucklebo. If you're looking for a light read, something heartwarming, relaxing and easy, this is your book. I'd give it a B+

Last but not least is the book that is on tap for the Tuesday night book group at the library, Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas, an author I've never heard of, but will now be seeking out. Prayers for Sale is the story of widow Hennie Comfort, who has lived in the high mountains of Middle Swan, Colorado since before it declared statehood. She meets a young miner's wife, Nit Spindle, and because Nit is grieving the loss of her stillborn child (and Hennie has lost a child as well as having miscarriages) Hennie takes Nit under her wing as a quilter and tells her the story of her life in chapter-long flashbacks that fascinate and engross the reader. Since the story takes place during the great Depression, we are privy to the inner workings of miners lives during a time when people starved to death or were killed by cave-ins and faulty equipment. Hennie, who remarried and lost that husband as well, raised a foundling child and through it all felt she had so many blessings she could give out prayers for others (she never charged for them, that was her husbands joke sign that he hung in front of their log cabin). Hennies quilt-making, cooking and homespun wisdom is rich and rings true for all women of that era who learned to make do and deal with good times and bad with love and humor and common sense. This book is such a gem, so filled with generous prose, full-bodied characters and a plot that is strong and sure, I can't imagine anyone disliking it. Hennie reminded me of my grandmother, Gayle Semler, who was also a quilter, a fine cook and a strong, sturdy woman who knew how to tell a story and who was always making sure her neighbors and friends were taken care of--it was an unwritten code, I believe among women in small communities, that you took care of your own, and you didn't let even the weakest among you fall prey to bad times. I recall my grandmother trading fabric with the Amish and Mennonite women nearby, and making glorious quilts with the scraps she had leftover. I used to sit beneath her quilt frame when I was just a toddler and gnaw on some home-made beef jerky or a homemade ginger cookie while grandma got all the latest community news from her fellow quilters. Anyway, Nit and her husband manage to have a healthy baby and Hennie finds love again after all these years, so all's well that ends well in this terrific, emotional and powerful novel. I loved it so much I plan on buying a copy at the earliest opportunity. A solid A for this novel that I'd recommend to anyone who enjoys some good storytelling about a time long past.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

This is a gorgeous blog post on the rapture of reading:

Next, I read The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss over the holiday weekend, and was pleasantly surprised and delighted by the marvelous storytelling found within this hefty tome.

I was not expecting to like this book, having recently been burned by Justin Cronin's The Passage, another hefty SF/F tome that has gotten some serious buzz. Fortunately, Mr. Rothfuss can actually write, and has an intense prose style that is modern and crisp/concise without the stink of too much testosterone and sexist twaddle, like Hemingway or the aforementioned Cronin. (The guy who wrote "Fight Club" and the guy who wrote "Little Children" both have written fiction that reeks of testosterone poisoning).

The Name of the Wind is the tale of Kvothe, a legendary figure who was part scholar, wizard, warrior and troubador. Having gone into hiding by working as a pub owner in a small village, Kvothe (called Kote) and his student Bast, who is a disguised satyr, are trying to fade into obscurity when some monsters from his past make an appearance and a scribe, called Chronicaller shows up to ask Kvothe for the real story of his past. Only after his identity is in danger of being revealed does Kvothe sit back and regale his student and the scribe with the story of how he came to be a legend.

The book alternates between short and long chapters, in which we learn through the excellent storytelling abilities of Kvothe (and Rothfuss, of course) about his childhood with a traveling acting/singing troupe, his parents death at the hands of the Chandrian, a mythical group of beings who are actually quite real, and his admission to the University at a young age, where he soon makes a name for himself and cuts a swathe through the academic's BS like a hot knife through butter. Fascinating side characters are revealed, and the reader gets a clear view of the realities of Kvothes struggles and triumphs, which are both more and less than the legends that spring from them.

This was the kind of novel that I end up staying up until 2 am to finish, because I just HAVE to find out what happens to the protagonist, or I won't be able to sleep. Though it is obvious that the story of Kvothe is far from over, I was happy to note that Rothfuss didn't leave his readers hanging at the end, but instead brought the story to a natural conclusion, one that will seque nicely into the next phase of the story.

I'd recommend this wonderful book to those who love Jim Butchers Harry Dresden (The Dresden Files) series, or those who like Tolkien-style fantasy that isn't quite as fussy and full of endless details. The Name of the Wind gets a solid A.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Time Weaver by Shana Abe

First, a lovely quote from Shelf Awareness--I agree 100 percent!

The Perfect Bookstore Offers a 'Transformative Experience'

"What is the dream of book lovers everywhere? To visit the perfect book
store, one that stocks only the best of books, where 'best' is defined
by the guarantee of a transformative experience via the magical linking
of words into sentences into paragraphs into chapters into BOOKS. A
place where tables display not the latest products of publishers and
marketers but instead the trustworthy choices of other book lovers. A
place with couches to sit on, a place with long opening hours and a
welcoming staff, a place where customers spend as much time as they want
browsing or reading. A place where only good books are sold and no bad
choices can be made.... The function of a bookstore is to match lover
and loved to ensure the perfect date. The purpose of the bookseller is
to provide what we addicts need, and a good bookseller recommends the
best stuff to satisfy our love for books."

--Nina Sankovitch, in her Huffington Post review
of A Novel Bookstore

I started reading Shana Abe's "Drakon" books when I caught all the buzz about "The Smoke Thief" several years ago. I'd heard it was beautifully written fantasy/romance set in the 18th century, and had an original take on dragon mythology.

I was not disappointed. Not only was the cover gorgeous, the prose was elegant, beautiful and engrossing. The plot was swift and sure, and the characters fascinating, so riveting, in fact, that I recall staying up all night, unable to stop reading because I felt so close to the characters and their plight.
I was so delighted by The Smoke Thief, that I devoured The Dream Thief, Queen of Dragons and the Treasure Keeper, in rapid succession. I even delved into one of her non-dragon books, The Last Mermaid.

So when I was pinged by that Ms Abe's latest book, "The Time Weaver" was out, I was nearly beside myself with anticipation, yearning to immerse myself in Ms Abe's glittering, lush world of dragon/human hybrids once more.

Though The Time Weaver is a darker book than the previous four novels, it still shines with Abe's luminous prose and graceful characters, gliding from chapter to chapter in scales or smoke or skin. Her prose is so evocative you can smell them, taste the air they breathe and feel the grass they trod on nearly every page.

Each member of the Drakon, be they male or female tends to have a special talent, and in this novel, Honor Carlisle hasn't got the talent to turn to smoke or dragon form, yet she can bring herself in and out of time, from the distant past to the future, and can find herself looking at her soul mate, prince Alexandru of Zaharen Yce in the Carpathians, at different times in his life and in hers. There are problems and risks in time travel, however, and Honor doesn't realize them until it is nearly too late.
Fortunately, we have Amalia (Lia) and Zane the thief from a previous novel to intervene and fix the problems that arise.

I'd recommend this novel to anyone who has read "The Time Travelers Wife" hoping that it was more fantasy than it ended up being, and to those who have a fascination with dragons, Patricia McKillip-esque fantasy worlds and superb, original storytelling rife with unforgettable characters.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Some Interesting Tidbits

Some interesting tidbits from Shelf Awareness about a new web site for PNBA, and Elliott Bay's new location, plus a dating site for bibliophiles...where was that when I was young and free?

The Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association has launched NW Book
Lovers , a blog for the general public
featuring PNBA member stores, libraries, Northwest books and authors and
everything literary in the Northwest, aiming for "a behind-the-scenes
indie store kind of vibe," as PNBA put it.

The site, which the association hopes stores will promote to customers,
features daily headlines, a store directory, a place to comment on what
participants are reading, news about stores and local authors and links
to store blogs and websites.

Random Acts of Reading
turned its spotlight on the Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash.: "I was skeptical when
I first heard that Elliott Bay had decided to move.... I was absolutely
floored the first time I walked into the new location. Though they were
unloading boxes of books, you could feel how fantastic this new store
was. Somehow they had managed to bring Elliott Bay's smell of cedar and
sense of space to a completely new space that's better laid out, lighter
and airier. It's truly unbelievable how the new store captures the
essence of the old."

Will "Who's the author?" replace "What's your sign?" as an irresistible
opening line? hopes so.
The social networking site is "looking to connect people free of charge based on
their favorite reads.... Alikewise users can search and be searched by
the books and book opinions they put up next to their profile
pictures.... Other users can leave comments about your books, and the
site sends notifications when somebody adds the same title or books in
the same general interest area," the Associated Press reported.

"There are plenty of niche dating sites, but they struck me as a bit too
niche," said co-founder Matt Sherman. "They seem to orient themselves
over one particular interest or type of person--athletics, religion. Our
attitude is that books can be about anything. They're a means to an end
to get the conversation going."

Friday, August 13, 2010

Artists Creating Art from Books

This was another brilliant article link from Shelf Awareness on an artist who uses people's bookshelves in her art!

Jane Mount’s Ideal Bookshelf

Mark Medley August 9, 2010 – 2:10 pm

The books on someone’s shelf will often tell you more about a person than the clothes they wear, the music they listen to, or the friends they keep. Jane Mount, a visual artist hailing from New York City, taps into this emotional connection with her project Ideal Bookshelf, a series of paintings which capture the spines of peoples favourite books.
“We show off our books on shelves like merit badges, because we’re proud of the ideas we’ve ingested to make us who we are, and we hope to connect with others based on that. I think this is endearing and charming,” she says. “When I paint someone else’s favorites and they have the same book I have in mine, I feel closer to them, like we must understand each other in some meaningful way.
Before books, Mount used to draw large paintings of people, but she lost her studio space and was forced to work out of her small apartment in Manhattan, “at one end of the dining room table.” One day in early 2007, as a sort of exercise, she painted some of the books on her own bookshelf.
“A friend happened to see me working on them, and loved them so much he bought all three of them right then,” she says. “I had never created any work before that had caused such a visceral and immediate response in someone. I realized there was something special about books, both visually and conceptually. Art rarely moves people as instantly as a piece of music, or a plate of food, but these do that, in some small way. When someone enters a room where one of the paintings is hanging, they immediately point out which ones they also have and love. It’s an acceptable form of bookshelf voyeurism.”
Soon, she began taking custom orders: just send in a photograph of your favourite books, in a row or in a pile, and Mount will lovingly render them in gouache and ink on paper. As of Monday, she’s posted 80 paintings on her website, Ideal Bookshelf.

Read more:

Friday, August 06, 2010

Ray Bradbury Turns 90 this week

It's no secret that I adore science fiction/fantasy/screenplay and non fiction author Ray Bradbury, who also happens to be the master of the short story.
Happy Birthday, master of the universe Ray Bradbury, and thank you for all the wonderful stories you've entertained us with these past 90 years!

Here's a quote from the master himself:

"We must move into the universe. Mankind must save itself. We must escape the danger of war and politics. We must become astronauts and go out into the universe and discover the God in ourselves."


Friday, July 30, 2010

HA! I knew it was just to sell books!

Several years ago, when Anne Rice declared that she'd found God and become a Christian after the death of her husband Stan, I recall crying foul, saying that Rice had made her fortune and her literary mark on the world with books that celebrated every kind of sin and perversion you could think of, from a whole series of S&M books to a lauded series of vampire novels and witch novels that discussed rape and incest as desirable things--there was no vile or disgusting action she wasn't willing to explore for publicity and to sell her books, which were, in later years, often poorly written. This saddened me because Interview With A Vampire was a wonderful gothic novel, full of atmospheric prose and memorable characters. So I knew the woman was capable of great writing, but it became apparent to me that she was running out of ideas and had started to believe a bit too much of her fan mail, and was coasting on her previous reputation.

And I noticed that when she became a Christian, Rice didn't repudiate her former works that celebrated Satan and evil and all that is dark and undead. She still seemed more than willing to cash in on the royalties from her pornographic novels while claiming to be free of evil. This whole conversion smelled of a writer desperate to plumb the Christian right market for her books, since she'd already sucked the left wing new age markets dry. She wrote several books about the life of Christ, and a memoir about her conversion, and, as I suspected, when the market didn't prove to be quite as fertile as the non-believers and new age liberals, she sent out declarations that she is no longer a Christian. How convenient. Here's the scoop from Media Bistro, below.

Anne Rice: 'I Quit Christianity'
By Jason Boog on Jul 29, 2010 04:03 PM

In a dramatic series of Facebook posts, novelist Anne Rice declared that she is no longer a Christian.

Check it out: "I quit being a Christian. I'm out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of ... Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen."

Rice wrote Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession, a memoir about her own conversion to Christianity--making the post a bit more surprising. UPDATE: Our readers respond to Rice's post.

In another post, Rice also admitted, "I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity." So far, her posts have drawn nearly 2,000 comments and well over 3,000 "likes." (Via Gawker)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bookworm Baby and Most Literate Cities

Here's a link to an adorable photo of a baby dressed up as a bookworm--I wish I had thought of this when Nick was a baby!

Also notice that Iowa City is mentioned in the UN's picks of Cities of Literature...GO IOWA!

Dublin, Ireland, has become the fourth city to be designated "a city of
literature" by the cultural arm of the United Nations, UNESCO. The Irish

reported that Mary Hanafin, Minister for Culture and Tourism, said
Dublin was chosen "because of the rich historical literary past of the
city, the vibrant contemporary literature, the variety of festivals and
attractions available and because it is the birthplace and home of
literary greats." The other three cities of literature are Edinburgh,
Melbourne and Iowa City.

"Literature has the unique power to distinguish us as a culture and as a
people. It helps us understand what it means to be human. In Dublin, the
city has been defined by its writers, and continues to be remade and
discovered through their words," said Arts Council director Mary Cloake.

I maintain that e books and regular books can coexist peacefully, so I am posting the information below, also from Shelf Awareness...and I had the joy of doing what Walter did in her anecdote, of having my son, 10 years ago, fall asleep on my chest while I read...of course, then I would eventually fall asleep, too.

It is the question of our times (or at least our industry): "Are e-books
killing 'real' books?" KXLY-4 asked a writer and a
bookseller in Spokane, Wash.

"You've known it was coming and the technology is catching up with that
pretty quickly," observed author Jess Walter. "The delivery system is
less important than the ideas themselves. I know people who bought
e-readers and read twice as much as they used to, so I don't necessarily
think its an awful thing."

Mary Jo King, general manager at Auntie's Bookstore, which is selling e-books on the shop's
website, said, "It's probably going to pan out to, wisdom is, 10% to 15%
of market penetration for e-books. We couldn't afford to give up another
10% or 15% of our business, so we joined." King added, however, that "we
think it's a certain majority of book readers that will always want to
hold a book in their hand. Try cuddling up with an iPad at night in bed,
you know, it's just not the same effect."

And Walter offered a confirming anecdote: "I remember when my daughter
was a newborn when I was very young and I was reading 100 Years of
Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And, I had just a small break in my
college classes and I would go home and be with my daughter and she
would stretch out on my chest. She was a baby and her arms would only go
to there. I would lie down and read and she would nap on my chest and
that book is as connected to that moment and the feel of the pages and
the look of the cover."


In a recent Web Faceoff poll, Mashable
readers cast a decisive vote in favor of traditional books, with 41.9%
(898 votes) for the printed book and 23.24% (498 votes) for e-books.
"Interesting enough, a lot of you voted that you like both formats for
reading your favorite novel; 34.86% of you (747 votes) said that it was
a tie between the e-book and the print book," Mashable wrote.

I would LOVE to go to this workshop on opening a bookstore...unfortunately, I haven't won the lottery yet so I can start my own business...but a girl can dream, right?
"Opening a Bookstore: The Business Essentials," an intensive workshop
retreat for prospective booksellers conducted by the Bookstore Training
Group of Paz & Associates, is scheduled for September 13-17 on Amelia
Island (near Jacksonville, Fla.). The workshop, which is co-sponsored by
the American Booksellers Association, is facilitated by Mark and Donna
Paz Kaufman and held every spring and fall. For more information, go to or call 800-260-8605.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Passage by Justin Cronin

I really wanted to like this book. I read several reviews, lengthy interviews with the author in Book Pages, and heard other writers exclaiming over the quality of this hefty tome of post-apocalyptic science fiction. Everyone, it seems, was determined to add to the 'good buzz' of this novel. I ended up thinking it was the worst thing I've read this year, and a complete waste of time.
The author was quoted as saying he wrote it for and with his daughter, because she wanted a book with a young female heroine who would save the world.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but his daughter must have been disappointed, at the very least, because the girl from nowhere doesn't save the world, all she does is whine and cower for most of the book, and then she murmurs about how sad things are for the evil vampires, and oh, gee, she manages to push them back a couple of times, but does she eradicate them and save the world? No, she does not.
And herein lies my first disgruntlement with this book: the ending SUCKS, and not in a good way. There really isn't an ending to speak of, just a page from some report that says there was a massacre at Roswell, not mentioning WHO was massacred, the vampires or the walkers/uninfected people.
Then there's the writing, which I was told, by the enthusiastic blurbers and reviewers, was stellar and not to be missed! Honestly, the prose wasn't at all stellar, it was pedestrian and dull, for the most part, and at times it veered into the dead zone of BORING, slowing the plot to a crawl. The plot had major holes, and crept along in no discernible pattern, leaving the reader confused when he or she wasn't being bored to immobility.
Oh, and then there were the cliches and tropes that are the hallmark of lazy writers everywhere, the "military is evil, military scientists are the apex of evil, and anyone with money is automatically so evil they're bound to die in some horrible fashion that will be described in detail." Inevitably, the government is fully to blame, along with the military, of course, for the downfall of humanity, and religion is only for brain-dead schmucks who can't think for themselves any more than a cow can understand that they're destined to be dinner. Ugh. How ridiculous and stupid to go over these same cliches and not even attempt to break new ground--where is Mr Cronin's imagination, or originality? I can't imagine him telling his students at Rice University that they should always stick to the stereotype of the evil government military industrial complex! And those evil rich people! They're all doomed! Then there is the shine that the author adds to the 'simple' way of life of the folks who haven't been killed by the viral vampires let loose on America by the evil military scientists and the stupid prisoners who were brainwashed by the vamps.
That they have to scrounge for food and shoot their friends and relatives if they get bitten, or that they can barely keep the lights going because they are running out of batteries and energy to keep them on, that is only a small matter compared to the joy of farming and making babies at the earliest opportunity, so that they, too, can 'stand watch' and learn to kill vampires and their closest friends and relatives. But again, that is what most of the women are only good for--making babies and caring for the men in traditional roles, like nursing. The one woman who breaks out of that role only does so when she is given a mutated form of the virus so she can become a super soldier, and then it is made clear that one of the male protagonists thinks this is a horrible waste of a womb that he had designs on. Yes sexism and misogyny live in this book that was supposedly written for a young girl. I feel so sorry for this girl, if her father thinks portraying women in this light is a healthy thing for his daughter to read.
Amy, the immortal psychic girl who is given the virus when she's only 6 years old, seems fairly pathetic most of the time, and when she does do something, it is unclear whether she really gives a rats rump about her human companions at all...she seems too busy destroying the mutated virus (so none of the other humans can become super soldiers, so they don't stand a chance against the viral vampires) and whining about how sad the hideous, destructive vampires are because they can't remember who they were before they were infected. Boo hoo. I am supposed to have sympathy for rapists and murderers who are now killing all of humanity in a gruesome fashion?
Even when Amy actually tells them that they were death row inmates previously, that hardly slows them down, though they eventually destroy one group of vamps lead by a particularly noxious prisoner named Babcock who was sending everyone his 'dream' memory of murdering his abusive mother who is, of course, fat....because we couldn't have a novel without the stereotype of the evil fat woman, now could we? Because we all know that there are no evil thin people, right? Ugh. Again, sloppy, lazy writing, using a stereotype because you don't have the talent to do any better.
I kept waiting for Amy, or even the nun who saved her, (who is also immortal, because the evil scientist married her, turning her into a proper woman and slave so she could, eventually, 'help' Amy deal with those noxious vampires by blowing herself up)to come up with a plan to rid the world of these viral vampires that had killed off 90 percent of humanity and were no longer going to have anyone or anything to feed on because, apparently, their brains become dead when they become undead. But no, the author doesn't seem to think we need to know what happened, or whether humanity has survived, he just lets us down with a thunk at the end of the book. This novel was something like 800 pages long, and at least 300 of those pages could have easily been edited out without hurting the ridiculous story one iota.
As it was, there was a great deal of time wasted on nothing, on characters who didn't go anywhere or blathering on about the tensions of societies that are surrounded by the fear of death everyday. The thing is, Lord of the Flies covered that ground sufficiently a long time ago, and Cronin brings nothing new to the 'social experiment' theme at all, allowing for all the lynch mobs, the freaked out people who hang themselves and the children who lose their parents to cancer or viral vampires, but not really telling us anything new about the people left behind to deal with the aftermath of those horrors.
And speaking of horror, I was lead to believe that this was a science fiction thriller, when in reality, it is a poorly written horror novel. It reeks of doom, despair and depression. There isn't more than one or two bright spots to be had in the entire novel, and those are fleeting. If you aren't depressed by the end of The Passage, you must be on some very strong Prozac.
I can't recommend this novel to anyone, so I will just end by saying that unless you find horror, death, mayhem and bloodbaths fun, don't bother to pick up this overly large book. I just wish I were immortal enough to be able to get the hours I wasted reading it back.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Riling Readers

As a bibliophile of 45 years, I've read a lot of books, both good/great and awful.
I've also developed a list of pet peeves that make my blood pressure go up and rouse my ire, as I am certain they do other readers and bibliophiles.
These are in no particular order of irritation, they just all annoy me.

1) Cliches and stereotypes: DO NOT USE THEM--EVER. Yes, I know there is a reason they exist, and that there are often kernels of truth buried within them, but I still think you don't need them if you've got any kind of imagination or talent as a writer. Really, folks, bosoms do not heave, "manliness" doesn't throb, and all fat people don't eat junk food all day and never exercise because they had bad parents or a traumatic incident with a relative. There is no reason why paranormal romance authors, or urban fantasy authors or science fiction/romance hybrid authors can't use the word "penis" or the word "vagina" for that matter. Also, if you're not going to write horrible racist stereotypes, such as all African Americans liking to eat fried chicken, collard greens and watermelon, then why would you need to stereotype the 62 percent of the population that is overweight, particularly the women? There are as many reasons why people are overweight and/or obese as there are people. My situation is different than my friends who are obese, because we have lead different lives, have different diseases and are working on our health in different ways. I exercise 6 days a week, for 7-8 hours a week, and I am still obese, yet I can't really eat junk food, because it usually makes me ill (I have Crohn's Disease). I have friends who are obese who eat fruits and vegetables and whole grains and wouldn't touch sugar or processed foods. And I know a number of women who are overweight who had wonderful childhoods, great parents and are mentally healthy. Authors, don't take the easy route with cliches and stereotypes--be original and realistic in creating your characters.

2) Plagiarizing other authors/"updating" classic works or themes in literature.
Ray Bradbury wrote a wonderful short story about a group of vampires who had banded together as a family and who lived out in the wilderness of a part of the US that didn't get much sun. A "teenage" vampire in this family falls for a mortal girl, and problems ensue. Sound familiar, Twilight fans? It should, as I believe Stephanie Meyer took Bradbury's short fiction and added her own horrible prose and vile protagonist (the whining, idiotic and personality-free Bella) and created a syrupy romance phenomenon. Now there are a whole slew of Young Adult fiction authors who are writing vampire romance novels because they want to hop on the Twilight bandwagon and make money, shudder. How terribly trite and boring and what a waste of ink and paper! Unless you have some extremely unique and imaginative take on Bram Stoker's Vlad Tepes/Dracula story, don't bother. Granted, there are some authors who, previous to Meyer's drivel, actually did just that, and created vampire characters that we can read with fascination. Robin McKinley springs to mind, or Jim Butchers vampires in the Dresden File books. Ann Rice brought back Gothic fiction from the grave with her "Interview with a Vampire" series. Even Chelsea Quinn Yarboro's St Germain series has a unique take on the vampire legend.
But did we really need vampires that are "pretty" and don't go out in the sun because they "sparkle"? The short answer is HELL NO.
Hollywood has been especially pathetic in 'updating' classic novels and films lately, as if the dearth of creativity and original ideas has become a void. Sadly, most of the "updates" stink, and there are young people watching them who probably haven't seen the originals, and don't realize that this was once a great tale well told.

3)Complex technical jargon/languages other than English that remain untranslated. Seriously, if it doesn't move the plot along or illuminate something important about our hero or heroine, leave it out, please. I don't care about the fictional math equation needed to get the hovercraft or alien airplane off the ground, or make if maneuver around the planets, or fold space, or whatever other gee-whiz things it can do. All that tech stuff is BORING to regular readers, who make up the bulk of people purchasing/reading your novels. It doesn't make you appear smarter as an author, it just makes you seem like more of a snobbish geek who is unwilling to allow the rest of us to read and enjoy your work of fiction, which is supposed to be entertaining. If I wanted to learn quantum physics, I'd go back to college. Don't torture your readers.
I don't think I will ever forgive Umberto Eco for putting an entire page of Latin in "The Name of The Rose" that remained untranslated. How rude at best, and cruel at worst. There just are not that many people who had Latin classes in high school or college anymore, and a majority of readers had no way to translate that page. Don't make me want to smack you when I meet you at a book signing. Leave off the technical stuff and translate any language but English, please.

4)Introducing characters that disappear without a trace
I just finished another Richard Russo novel (for my library book group) and once again, I was astonished that the man continues to be published and lionized as a man who creates great 'literature.' His 'comedy' novel "Straight Man" wasn't even slightly amusing, his novel "Empire Falls" needed a good editor, and "Bridge of Sighs" was full of characters I despised, including one gal, Nan Beverly, who is given short shrift in the book as the 'prettiest girl' in the local high school who gets busy with the local Lothario and then we never hear what happened to her. She just disappears amidst a cloud of speculation on whether or not she was pregnant and shipped off to Europe. There have been numerous novels coming out in the past 10 years, written by authors who seem to think that it's just fine to do this, create a character and then make them disappear when they're no longer needed. This will only hack off your readers, trust me.

5) Long narrations that do nothing but stall the plot/details that don't enlighten or inform
I reviewed a paranormal romance awhile back that had a whole page devoted to a scene in which the male protagonist drank a soda and then meticulously searched for a place to throw the can or bottle away, because he didn't want to litter, he likes to recycle his soda cans/bottles. Whoo-hoo...wake me when it's over, will you? Why the author chose to bore the reader with these details that have no reason for existing, I don't know. There was no reference to this character recycling, or his love of soda, or anything else later in the novel. It was just 'padding,' I suspect, to make sure the novel was the appropriate length for publication, and the author didn't have the creative mojo to do any better. I've also read an SF novel recently that had long-winded narrations about political situations and academics that were so boring, they were great antidotes to insomnia. I think authors forget that "show, don't tell" admonition, and they also forget that action is preferable to narration. Keep that plot moving and those characters flowing along, please, lest your readers give up on your novel and use it as a doorstop.

6) Bad endings or none at all
Modern fiction, I've discovered, is rife with authors who haven't a clue how to end a novel. So they don't, they just leave the reader hanging, filled with that unsatisfied feeling of having had your plate removed from the table before you were finished with your dinner. Though I am a fan of HEA, or Happily Ever After endings, I don't insist on them because I know that genre writers who create long series of novels often don't have the luxury of having a complete HEA, unless they've decided to kill off their main character and move on to another series. But if you are not writing a series, please, I beg you, tie up the loose ends, tell you readers what happened to old Aunt Maude, or at least kill her off so we have some closure. I'm still a tad miffed that I have to wait a year to find out if Harry Dresden, Chicago's finest wizard, is dead, because Jim Butcher chose to have Harry get shot at the end of the last novel and fall into the water. Nice cliffhanger, Jim...not.

7) Mistaken genres
I read a lot of authors who are crossing genres, and while that's fine, it's annoying that publishing companies don't have more of a handle on the main genre or category to place them in so the readers can find their works. Linnea Sinclair's novels, for example, are SF/Romance hybrids, but are not always shelved in the Science Fiction section of the bookstore or library. Often, she's relegated to the 'pink ghetto' of Romance fiction or even 'chick lit,' which is certainly far afield from what she's writing about.

8) Novels without humor/wit
There are way too many authors who assume that funny equates with making fun of people in a cruel way, or using stereotypes in an ugly fashion. That's not funny, and having witty dialog between characters seems a thing of the past. A novel without humor, or at least an amusing insight or two, is like a fish left too long in the sun, it stinks.
Master of Comedy Stephen Fry could remedy this situation by creating classes on wit and how to use it. He could literally save the publishing industry single-handed.

9) Vile, evil and stupid characters
I realize every novel needs a black hat to compete with the white hat of the hero, and I'm fine with that. But why oh why so many authors feel the need to fill their novels with stupid, evil, vile characters with no redeemable qualities, I do not know. I think I speak for the vast majority of readers when I say that we need someone to root for, someone we can identify with and understand enough to want to take the journey through the novel with them. Most readers don't see themselves as vile and evil people, and want to see themselves, or parts of themselves, reflected in the characters of the novel. If all you have are people not worth writing about, doing awful things and not paying the price for those transgressions, why bother writing a novel at all? You will only bore and disgust your readers. I don't care about people who are a waste of oxygen, I care about characters who learn, grow, do great things or try to do great things and who care about morals, values, character. I read to be enlightened, entertained, informed, uplifted by good storytelling, not depressed by sordid characters doing unspeakable things to each other.

10) Novels that are in dire need of an editor and a proofreader.
This would include at least half of the novels I've read in the past 10 years. Even the wonderful JK Rowling and her delightful Harry Potter series got seriously bogged down in the last book, so much so that I was with a group of bibliovores one day and every one of us complained about the same part of book 7, "The Deathly Hallows" because we all felt like the scenes with Harry hiding in the woods were too long and could have been cut without harming the book at all--in fact, taking 200 pages out of the book would have made it a better work of fiction.
I know that I'm not the only person to notice that in the last 25 years, as publishers go out of business, newspapers and magazines fail, that the quality of prose being produced has taken a significant nose dive. There are now typos and grammatical errors in almost every book you read. Some of these errors are so blatant, I find it hard to believe that the author didn't catch them. Still, it is the publisher who needs to hire more proofreaders/copy editors and set them to the task of cleaning up manuscripts that are riddled with errors. Don't make your more literate readers want to gouge their eyes out by the end of the novel, please.
One last thing, there is no real need to use curse words or filthy language in every paragraph of a novel. My late friend Rosemarie Larson used to say that only ignorant people with no imagination swore and cursed, because they couldn't think of better words to use. Will Smith said his grandmother raised him to believe that as well. Be clean, be creative in your use of the English language.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Brilliant Writing and Flavia DeLuce

"Our tears, like rain, water the ground too little and nothing grows, too much and the best of what we are is washed away. My rains have come and gone--yours are just beginning." G'Kar from the TV series Babylon 5, brilliantly written by J. Michael Straczynski

I was watching the 5th season of Babylon 5 this weekend, and marveling at the wonderful characters and their incredible, insightful and riveting dialogue, written by JMS, who, in my opinion, rivals Joss Whedon in creating characters and a TV mileau that fascinates and engrosses viewers.

I also read "The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag" by Alan Bradley, the second Flavia DeLuce mystery, following "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie."
I was hoping that the author wouldn't fall prey to the infamous sophomore curse, in which the first book becomes famous and lauded, and the sequel is often a complete dud.
Fortunately, my fears were unfounded, and Mr Bradley has created another mystery novel that is just as charming and delightful as the first.

Once again, the reader is thrust into post war 1950s England, where Flavia and her two tormenting sisters, Ophelia and Daphne live in genteel poverty with their stamp-collecting father in a crumbling manor house. They have a gossip-mongering cook whose food is nearly poisonous, a 'shell-shocked' gardener/maintenance man and, in this installment, a snotty Aunt who decides to pay a visit and make cutting remarks to all and sundry.
The brilliant Flavia comes across a ragtag pair of puppeteers whose van has broken down, and gets them, along with the Vicar, to stay and do a show for the townsfolk. Unfortunately, the main puppeteer is killed during the evening show, and it's up to our young stalwart sleuth to figure out whodunit, and why. Add to this mix a German POW who decided to stay in England after the war because he's a fan of British classic literature, a singing crazy old lady duo, a madwoman who lives in the woods and found a local child hanged there, and a local marajuana farmer and his insane wife who lost their son and are shocked to see his face on one of the puppets in the puppet show.

Though it sounds like a lot of loose threads and people to keep straight, Bradley weaves them together with a deft touch and keeps the reader in suspense right up until the final chapter. There are plot twists and some red herrings just to keep the reader on his or her toes, and, as in the previous book, lots of chemical and biological experiments by Flavia, whose Sherlockian deductions bring the killer to roost, eventually. Bradley's prose sparkles just as brightly as his characters, and I actually enjoyed this installment of the mystery series more than I did the first one, which is saying something, since I loved the first book, and felt it achieved well-deserved fame.
What is even more of a mystery to me, however, is how Alan Bradley, a middle aged man, can so accurately describe the mind of an 11 year old girl. I'm assuming Flavia is based on someone Bradley knows and loves, and is an homage to that person and her indominable spirit.
At any rate, I'd recommend this book to all the teenagers I know and the women and men who enjoy a first-rate mystery, particularly those who are anglophiles.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

A lovely Quote

I loved the Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo which Nick and I read together a couple of years ago. I totally agree with her about the power of a bookseller.

This is from Shelf Awareness:

"Who was that bookseller who thought, 'Here is an almost-eight-year-old
girl who loves Abraham Lincoln. What other book will she love? Oh, yes.
This book about a cricket.'? There was nothing logical about that
decision. It was a leap of faith. Those two books changed me. Together,
they cemented an idea in my eight-year-old heart. That idea was this: It
doesn't matter how small, how lonely, how broken or sad or poor you are.
There is a way to make yourself heard. There is a way to sing. A
bookseller put those books into my mother's hands, and my mother put
them into mine. Sometimes we forget that this simple, physical gesture
can change lives. I want to remind you that it does. I want to thank you
because it did."

--Kate DiCamillo, winner of the 2010 Indies Choice Award for Most
Engaging Author, at ABA's Celebration of Bookselling Luncheon during
Bookselling this Week

noted that DiCamillo's acceptance speech, "Booksellers Make the
Difference," is available as a downloadable two-page PDF.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Lucia, Lucia, The Rossetti Letter and Dead in the Family

I just finished three more books that I found interesting, each in their own way.
Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani is another of her stand-alone books that tells the story of an Italian American woman in New York, in this case, in the 1950s. Lucia Sartori tells her story via flashback to a young Italian-American girl, Kit Zanetti, who lives in her apartment building in Greenwich Village.
Lucia is the youngest child of a successful Italian grocer in New York, who she is also gorgeous, niave and ambitious. As an apprentice tailor to a designer named Delmarr at B Altman's Department store on Fifth Avenue, Lucia loves putting together beautiful dresses and suits for the wealthy and celebrated women of New York, yet her Italian heritage/culture dictates that she get married, stop working and start a family of her own. Lucia is engaged to a childhood sweetheart, Dante, whom she loves in a somewhat childish fashion. Although she knows she is supposed to marry, move into his house and take care of his parents, Lucia loves her job and tells Dantes harridan mother that she isn't ready to become a subserviant housewife and broodmare, which breaks up the engagement and sends the local Italian community into a tailspin. Lucia meets a handsome rogue named John Talbot, and is swept off her feet by his charm, flashy car, nice clothing and movie star looks. Determined to marry John, despite her father's misgivings, Lucia is left at the altar by this con man who destroys her confidence in men. Her four brothers marry and have children, her father dies and her mother sickens, and Lucia's department at B Altmans is scuttled in the wake of 'retail modernization' that allows women to choose clothes 'off the rack' instead of having them custom made. Throughout the novel, Lucia maintains a niavete that is often seen as the hallmark of women of the post-war era, and while it is refreshing at first, it quickly becomes annoying when the character is so blind to reality that she hands over her life savings to a handsome con man, against the advice of her family and friends. Trigiani never allows Lucia to wallow in self pity or become a cliche, however, and when Kit takes Lucia to the state pen to give her closure with the man who ruined her life, it's a poignant, rather than maudlin moment. The prose is clean and snappy, the plot, like life, has a few twists and turns, but never fails or plods, and the characters are, like all Trigiani's works, full of life and color.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a peek back into recent history with a dash of romance.
The Rossetti Letter was an interesting tale of romance and intrigue surrounding the Spanish plot to overthrow the government of Venice, Italy in 1618. A PhD candidate, Claire Donovan and her rival, historian and celebrity author Andrew Kent are thrust together in Italy to try and unravel the clues to the Spanish Conspiracy via the diary and letters of a courtesan, Alessandra Rossetti, who supposedly wrote a letter naming the Spanish conspirators to the Powers that Be in Venice and managed to save the day.
All sorts of evidence is uncovered that proves that things were not as they seem, and every other chapter tells the tale from the viewpoint of Rossetti herself, who had things a lot harder than it first appears. There's an HEA and lots of surprises to keep the reader interested, and the prose is dense and engrossing, as is the forceful plot. While I enjoyed the Italian history and the background on courtesans of the 17th century, I have to say that the modern day scholar Claire seemed weak and wimpy by comparison, often coming off as immature and idiotic in her actions/reactions. Still, I found myself becoming immersed in the lives of the characters and hoping that Alessandra would find a way to stay alive and thrive through all the political intrigue.
I'd recommend this book to historical romance readers and those who are fascinated by Italian history.
The final book I finished was the 12th Sookie Stackhouse book (if you count a short story collection), called "Dead in the Family" by Charlaine Harris. The "Southern Vampire mystery" series has been adapted for television in a series called "TrueBlood" named for the elixr that was created by the Japanese to sate vampires so they don't have to prey on humans for sustenance. I watched 3 episodes of TrueBlood and was horrified to discover that they'd taken a layered and interesting mystery series and turned them into soft core pornography, where the main reason for the characters is the sexual interactions they get into with humans and supernaturals. The storylines were totally overwhelmed with the sexuality, and as a fan of Sookie, I was disgusted that Harris had allowed television to bastardize her works and turn Sookie from a sympathetic telepathic bombshell waitress into a pale and pathetic Anna Paquin wearing short-shorts and acting stupid with a fake drawl. Sookie's a larger-than-life, tough Southern Belle who has managed to survive through supernatural wars and death threats and all manner of crazy religious fanatics who want her dead. Yet in this latest novel, Harris seems to have dumbed Sookie down, making her seem silly, full of self-pity and horny as a short, she seems to be matching the TV version of Sookie to the book Sookie, which is a terrible mistake. Prior to the TV show, Sookie was maturing and becoming a smart, savvy woman who cared about supernaturals and the ignorance surrounding them, who wanted to irradicate that prejudice and help others see that the vampires and were-people had good and bad folks in their groups, just as humans do. This is also the only book that hasn't had Sookie get beaten to a pulp, or beaten and tortured, as she was in the last book. There was also more information and background on the Faery side of Sookie's family, and her brother Jason seems to have become a decent human being all of a sudden, ready to marry his sweetheart and actually help his sister instead of asking her to risk her life to bail him out, as usual.
Yet the handsome Viking vampire Eric Northman is also brought low in this book, by his sire, a Roman who chose to 'turn' the last Romanoff heir, who becomes insane and tries to gut half the characters in the book. Fortunately, Vampire Bill Compton has a short part in the book, helping an older character pass away after revealing their shared heritage, which is sweet. His long lost 'sister' vampire is discovered, and he is healed of his wounds caused by the silver-tipped fangs of a Fairy.
Though we discover who is behind the attempts to get Sookie into trouble, and everything is wrapped up neatly at the end of the book, I left dissatisfied with Sookie and her slide back into childish dependancy on anyone who can get her out of a jam. But I won't stop reading this series, in hopes that Harris gets Sookie back on track and back to her independent self soon. I'd recommend this book to those who have read the other Sookie Stackhouse novels, with the caveat that they overlook some of the more salacious scenes as an homage Harris is paying to the TV people.
I just hope that the TV show doesn't ruin the books any further.