Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ghost of a Chance: An Easy, Frothy Paranormal Romance

Just so my readers know, I have been complaining about how terrible the past two years have been for journalists, like myself, and apparently someone finally did a study and confirmed it:
It's Official: 2009 Was Worst Year for the Newspaper Business in Decades (NYT/Media Decoder)
It's no surprise that 2009 was the worst year the newspaper business has had in decades, but the scale of the damage is stunning. Advertising revenue fell 27.2 percent, or more than $10 billion, from 2008 -- which was, at the time, the industry's worst year since the Depression.
I wasn't just freaking out for no reason, folks, it really was a horrible year for real journalists. That said, business seems to be picking up for this journalist who has had two assignments already this year, and is hoping for another next month. Notice that great, gusty sigh of relief you're hearing? That's me, breathing again now that the drought is easing.

On to the book.
Have you ever spent money/time on a book that you KNEW, like you knew the sun would rise in the morning, was going to be a complete lark?
I happened upon a copy of Yasmine Galenorn's "Ghost of a Chance" at Baker Street Books in Black Diamond (BSB is currently under siege as they fix the whole street and make an unholy racket while doing so...I feel for Mr Charles, the stores owner, having to listen to those big earth-movers every day) a few days ago, and I just couldn't resist the cute cat, roses and teacups on the cover, with the back cover blurb, "Emerald O'Brien, single mother of two, is the owner of the Chintz N China Tea Room, where guests are served the perfect blend of tea and tarot readings. She never set out to be a detective, but once word gets out that she can communicate with the dead, there's no turning back..." which made me smile, as it sounds a lot like a trailer for the TV series, "Ghost Whisperer." There was also a nice little note on the back of the book saying "Charm recipe included!" which also made me smile, as I have a neighbor who has 99 percent of the ingredients required to make the "Mystic Moon Protection Charm" yet I am fairly certain she'd laugh at the idea of lavender, rose petals and herbs wrapped in silk being anything but a nice smelling pomander for one's closet.
Still, after finishing yet another WWII book for my KCLS book group ("The Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet," which was an account of Seattle during the days of the Japanese internment), I confess I was more than ready for some 'light' reading, something that wouldn't tax my brain, yet wouldn't offend me with horrible romance-novel cliches and poor quality prose.
"Ghost of a Chance" was perfect in that regard, as the author has a feel for engaging characters and a well-paced plot. Her prose, though decent, read a bit young, meaning it sounds like the work of a precocious teenager or an adult who needs to work on their style and at adding layers and believable subplots to their work.
That said, I had a jolly good time reading "Ghost," and though the main character isn't really that much like me, I empathized with her and her need to keep her children safe while solving a mystery. I could see what was going to happen, as clearly as Emerald sees spirits, by about the third chapter, but it didn't matter, because the journey held my interest and the descriptions of local landmarks were a delight.
Though I am a fan of "Ghost Whisperer" (and the lovely Jennifer Love Hewitt), I am not a true believer in Wicca and the pagan religions. I figure live and let live, though, and I don't think that modern witches should be discriminated against, any more than any other religion. Yet I found myself fascinated by the descriptions of ceremonies, talismans and other 'magic' performed by Emerald, her son and friends. I must say I was disappointed in Emerald's very kind dealings with her son, after he brought forth a huge demonic presence, just to show off to a friend, (I would have done a lot more than ground the child), but every parent deals with childrens misbehavior in a different way, and, as a parent, I try to respect that until real harm comes from the children's actions that impacts my family.
So, all told, this is a book that is to reading what a cookie is to your daily food intake...its sweet, light and tasty and probably not that good for you, but what is life without cookies?
I'd give it a solid B, and recommend it to older teens and adults who like easy-reading paranormal romance/mysteries.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Libyrinth by Pearl North

First, a great quote from Shelf Awareness:

"It is actually the last few lines from the novel The Cunning Man by
Robertson Davies: "This is the Great Theatre of Life. Admission is free
but the taxation is mortal. You come when you can, and leave when you
must. The show is continuous." Those were the last lines of the last
novel Davies published before his death. What a great exit speech for a

Next, Libyrinth is a marvelous YA Science Fiction/Fantasy novel, fashioned along the lines of "The City of Ember" and "Logan's Run" with some "Harry Potter" and "Lathe of Heaven" thrown in for good measure (plus a pinch of Ray Bradbury's wonderful early short stories, like "The Veldt").
The novel takes place in a post apocalyptic future, where one entire city has become a library maze whose depth has yet to be plumbed or cataloged. There is another city that is filled with religious illiterate zealots called "Eradicants" who insist on a tribute burning of books once a year at the libyrinth. There are two other cities, one run by a corrupt empress, and the other run by eradicants, but both end up playing a part in the denoument of the story.
Haly is libyrinth-born, though an orphan, who works as a clerk for the Libyrarian Selene. Haly has the ability to 'hear' the words of a book or letter or any printed material without opening it, and yet she has found that there is only one person she can trust who actually believes in her talent, and that is her friend the kitchen pot-scrubber, Claudia.
Haly hears a letter that tells the Eradicants where the coveted "Book of the Night" is hidden, and realizes that if the Eradicants get the ability to make 'energy eggs' and learn other secrets the book has to offer, they will destroy the Libyrinth and all her friends with their fanatical belief that to burn a book is to 'liberate' the words inside, and that reading will make you blind and is wrong. Haly and Selene and Claudia head out on a quest to reach the book before the Eradicants, and gain the help of Selene's mother, the empress of another city. On their way, Haly and Claudia are captured by the Eradicants, and though Claudia escapes, Haly is tortured into telling the Eradicants of her gift, and is then hailed as the prophet who will bring the Book of Night alive for the Eradicants and help them destroy the Libyrinth. Meanwhile, Claudia discovers that she is gay, and that she can run ancient technology. Haly discovers that an acolyte of the Eradicants is actually a good guy who is her age, and once she teaches him to read, their romance blossoms. The Eradicants believe that their Redemption will come at Haly's reading of the Book of Night, and after they destroy the libyrinth and 'free the words' inside.
What ends up happening is much more than either girl bargained for...the Redemption brings with it a melding of people and literacy that leaves the reader grateful for the gift of understanding words printed on paper.
North has written a solid book here, with strong, clean and clear prose that keeps the plot flowing in a stately fashion until the rapids at the end. I would recommend it to young bibilophiles everywhere, especially young people who are members of a strict religion, because this book makes you think about who is making the rules, how they are enforcing them, and why. There's no sex or bad language to worry about, either, other than a few kisses and the Claudia's realization that she likes girls instead of boys. I'd give the book a B plus or an A minus, mainly because the ending was a bit of a muddle, and so much new information is thrown at the reader when it is hard to discern what is really going on. Still, it is well worth the time to take a stroll through this fascinating libyrinth.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cybele's Secret by Juliet Marillier

I will admit that what drew me to this book, initially, was the cover. It's a beautiful, evocative painting of a woman with an artifact floating above her outstretched hands, and it looks very similar to the covers of Patricia McKillip's fantasy novels, which I adore.
Fortunately, Juliet Marillier has written a book that lives up to its cover, allowing readers to become as entranced with the story as they may have been with the lady on the front of the book.
Cybele's Secret is actually a book that teen fantasy fans would enjoy,because the protagonist, Paula, is a 17 year old girl from Transylvania traveling with her merchant father as an assistant, to trading missions all over the world. Their latest trading mission is to Istanbul, to purchase an ancient 'artefact' called "Cybele's Gift" which is rumored to have the power to bring lifelong good fortune to the owners. Paula and her sisters have had experience with magical artefacts and beings while young, when they discovered a door to the "Other Kingdom," a kind of fairy world where one sister, Tati, finds a mate and is doomed never to return to the real world to see her family.
Paula and her father discover, much to their dismay, that there is a great deal of competition for Cybele's Gift, not the least of which comes from a Pirate who has taken a fancy to Paula. Due to the dangers they face, Paula is allowed to hire a bodyguard, and she chooses an enormous young man named Stoyan to be her protector. A romantic sub plot ensues between the pirate, Stoyan and Paula that adds zing to the story, and there are enough mysteries, cryptic messages, riddles and a host of shady characters to make the plot move at a brisk pace.
Paula is a brave and intelligent young woman whose ambition to be a trader in books and manuscripts does her credit, but her naivete nearly gets her, and her father, killed by the head of a cult of Cybele who will stop at nothing to posses the magical statue. The journey through the Ottoman empire city of Istanbul/Constantinople was rich with historical detail, and yet was not so heavy-handed that it stalled the plot.
I also found the characters full-bodied and fascinating, particularly Paula and Stoyan, who were obviously meant for each other. Paula was so serious and yet so willing to trust the people she met, and care for them that my heart ached for her, because I knew that at least one 'friend' would eventually betray her. The peek into the world of trading during the Ottoman Empire was also interesting, and seeing how people lived, loved, made deals and tried to gain the upper hand in negotiations kept me turning pages into the wee hours.
I'd heartily recommend "Cybele's Secret" to older teens, about age 15 and up. If nothing else, it will make modern young women appreciate the freedoms that they enjoy, such as being able to read and write, go to college and marry whomever they choose.
This novel gets a solid A.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Poem for Journalists in Despair

by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Also, this from the New Yorker: book psychoanalysis
The book doctor will see you now. Send a photo of your bookshelf to the
New Yorker, then "Lie back, relax, let the good doctors at the Book
Bench analyze the contents of your bookshelf."