Sunday, December 30, 2012

Scent of Magic by Maria V Snyder and A Weird Musical

As this is the end of the year, I thought I'd review a couple of things, and then leave the slate clean for 2013.
I should note that this is my 341st post on this blog, and that 2012 was a pretty good year for blogging and books.
I've read two series by Maria V Snyder, the "Poison Study" series, which was my introduction to her fine prose and marvelous characters, and her "Glass" series, which included an interesting take on weather from the author, who was once a meteorologist.
The "Healer" series, which began with "Touch of Power" takes a completely different direction than her previous works, which were so inventive and exciting that I was certain that the author would run out of fascinating female protagonists to develop for her readers.
Happily, I was wrong.
Avry is the last healer in a world where plague has ravaged the population. Healers discovered early on that if they attempted to heal plague victims, they'd sicken and die themselves, but once they revealed that they were helpless to heal victims, they became targets of an angry, grieving population of survivors who blamed the plague on them. She is called upon to heal the leader of one of the realms in her world, but as he has the plague, she's not going to heal him willingly, until she meets Kerrick, the prince of one of the other kingdoms. At first, he is so intent on hunting her down and forcing her to heal King Ryne that Kerrick fails to notice how special Avry really is, as a person, not just a healer.  Kerrick travels with a band of misfits who work their way into Avry's heart, and eventually, she works her way into Kerrick's heart as well. She realizes that King Tohon, who is basically a psychopath and a meglomaniac, will only be stopped on his quest to dominate the fifteen kingdoms if King Ryne is restored to health. So she heals him, only to discover that the Peace and Death Lilys that dot the landscape of the kingdoms can restore her to health from the brink of death, as long as she gets the magic touch from Kerrick's forest magic.
In the second book in the series, "Scent of Magic" Avry has escaped Tohon and his grisly army of dead men and creatures, and now that everyone thinks she is dead, she needs to find a way to infiltrate the armies preparing for war and repair the estrangement with her sister Noelle, who is her last living relative. Kerrick has to help Ryne and his army prepare for Tohon's onslaught, and Avry has to figure out how to use the toxins of the Death Lilys to stop the army of zombies.
As usual, Snyder's prose is clean, clear and beautifully wrought, aiding a refreshingly zippy plot that moves the characters to the finale at an exhilarating, breathless pace. I literally couldn't put the book down because I had to know what happened next, and after that, and then again after that. Each time I told myself "Just one more page" and I'd end up 50 pages later still not able to put the book down for any length of time. My only qualm with the book is that we didn't get much "face time" with Kerrick and Avry, whose love is like a silky ribbon running through the warp and weft of the book's pages. Fortunately, we do get closer to the end of some of the "bad" characters, though for spoilers sake I will not mention who they are.
I can hardly wait until the next installment arrives, and in the meantime, I highly recommend that fantasy/romance and readers who love a smart, fierce female protagonist and a hottie male protagonist hike down to their local bookstore and grab a copy of "Touch of Power" and "Scent of Magic" and get their read on!
I also watched a movie tonight called "Score: A Hockey Musical" starring Olivia Newton John and a host of Canadian actors whom I've seen in other films and TV shows.
Though it sounds like a total cheese-fest, there was actually some merit to this musical, though the testosterone level and gross-out factor was higher for this musical than any I've seen since "Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street."
There are certain requirements for a musical to be up to standard, IMHO, as there has to be some comedy at least somewhere in the musical to lighten the mood a bit, there has to be great songs, or a few that are hum-able, and there has to be actors who can sing/dance/act and generally seem sincere in making the material of the play come to life. They have to be good enough that you'd be willing to spend 2 hours in their company, listening to whatever message they have to impart, in song and dance. The theme of the musical can be completely absurd, as it was in this one, but if the cast can't get you to suspend your disbelief and buy what they're selling, they, and their producers, are screwed.
The "Score" cast were sincere, they could, for the most part, sing, they had some very comedic moments/songs that made me laugh out loud, and they had songs that were hum-able and the dance numbers were cheesy enough to be fun, but not so cheesy as to be repugnant. It actually made the idea of a pacifist playing hockey against the wishes of his politically correct, ultra-green nerd parents seem like a legitimate, believable plot. Olivia Newton John, who hasn't aged well, still manages to belt out a few tunes with her seemingly tone-deaf grubby-professor husband. The young boy who plays the protagonist is amazing, and adapts to each new situation with enthusiasm and verve. Since it's a strange subject matter and there is a teenage love triangle involved, I wouldn't let kids under the age of 13 watch it, but still, it makes for a fun distraction from whatever ails you during the winter doldrums, before celebrating the new year.
See you in 2013!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Bookstores Help With Grief and Tragedy

Just this past weekend, an autistic man walked into an elementary school in Connecticut and shot/killed over 20 children and 7 teachers. I had a very vivid dream the night before of trying to tell people that I know and love not to board a certain airplane that I knew was going to have a mechanical failure, and telling parents not to send their kids to Cedar River Middle School, because I had seen the boots of a man with an assault weapon going into the school and I knew those boots would get bloody soon enough. The frustration of the dream was that, like Cassandra from mythology, though I knew something terrible was going to happen, no one believed me, and in fact felt that I was crazy and/or trying to admit that I was going to do something terrible myself, so why would these people listen to me? When I heard the news on Friday, I was not at all surprised, then, and my husband was flabbergasted that I seemed so calm in the face of such a huge waste of life and cruel truncating of the lives of these innocent kids and teachers.
He didn't realize that I had already mourned for these kids in my dream.
Here's a response from an author about how one town's bookstore helped people deal with this senseless violence.

Bookstore: 'A Bank of the Human Condition'

After learning about the horrible tragedy in Newtown, Conn., Friday,
author Tiffany Baker (The Gilly Salt Sisters) resisted her initial
reaction ("to drive straight to my children's school, bring them home,
line them up on the couch, and then throw my body over them. For the
rest of time.") and instead went to her local bookstore, Book Passage, Corte Madera, Calif.

In a moving post on her blog,
Baker wrote: "Book Passage is more than just a store. It's a
longstanding community hub, a place to grab coffee and talk, a locus for
lectures, classes, and clubs.... When I walked in, I was met by my good
friend, Calvin, who manages events for the shop. He knows I have kids,
and he, too, had heard about the shooting. He hugged me, and then we
talked books, recipes, family, and discussed the merits and drawbacks of

"I ran into Luisa, the daughter of a famous local writer and a family
friend, who also works at the store, and who, like me, has young
children. We shook our heads, our faces long and worried, and wondered
what would happen if book people ran the world.

"Since I couldn't go snatch my kids out of school, I began snatching
books off the shelves for them. That novel my oldest daughter's been
asking for? In the basket. A book about trolls for my middle daughter?
Yes. The Lego book of ideas? Why not? Books for my husband, a paperback
for me, more books for the kids.

"Maybe it seems silly. Maybe it seems like I'm trying to buy my kids'
affection, and, to be honest, I worried about that, but then I realized
what was behind my book binge. When my kids got home from school, I knew
I was going to have to tell them about the shooting. I just wanted to
make sure that when faced with an unthinkable and awful story, they know
there are a million other voices in this world, and that not all of them
are evil.

"A bookstore--a good one, at least--is far more than just a retail
establishment. It's a bank of the human condition. The shelves of Book
Passage offer succor to the grieving, wonder to the jaded, advice to the
confused. You can go in alone, and come out with an armful of company.
If you are a regular, chances are you can walk in and someone there will
be able to prescribe exactly what your spirit needs."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Happy 12/12/12 Birthday!

Today is a rare birthday for me, as it is on 12/12/12, something that will only happen once in my lifetime. The fact that I turn 52 seems of little consequence in light of that, and of the fact that the Mayans are saying the world will end on 12/21/12, so I've only got a week to enjoy being 52 before it's curtains!
Anyroad, it has been a great birthday so far, with a Dr Who theme to my day starting with all the presents from my husband Jim and my son Nick.
I got a TARDIS cookie jar (it is bigger on the inside!) that makes the whooshing sound when you open it, a TARDIS hat to keep my head warm this winter, a Dr Who calendar and 50th anniversary Dr Who planner featuring all the Doctors, which is really exciting, a Dr Who safe for all the things I need to keep hidden, and some Jelly babies/jelly beans made by Jelly Belly, of course! YUM!
I also got a new android phone, a hot water bottle (which I will use for keeping Crohn's cramps at bay) and some delicious Market Spice tea! All around, an exciting birthday.

Here's some quotes and info from Shelf Awareness this week:

"An Italian reader wrote to describe how he met his wife. She was on a
bus, reading one of my books, one that he himself had just finished.
They started talking, they started meeting. They now have three
children. I wonder how many people owe their existence to their parents'
love of books."

--Author Ian McEwan
in the New York Times about the best fan letter he had ever received.

I am proud to say that same-sex marriage was approved for Washington state during the election last month, so now I can be proud of where I live now and where I was born and raised, as Iowa approved same-sex marriage many years ago!

Elliott Bay Book Company,
Seattle, Wash., posted this charming photo on Facebook this weekend,
explaining: "We were honored this morning to have our first same-sex
marriage in the store! Congratulations Amy and Jeri!!"

I totally agree with Jennifer on this, the last part of her book brahmin interview:
Book that changed your life:

To Kill A Mockingbird. I remember finishing it at our dining room table
and closing the cover. I looked around my house, which seemed strangely
flat and unfamiliar. I knew right then and there that I wanted to be
able to do this--to become a storyteller who could create such an
intensely magical world that when the reader put the book down, the real
world would feel bland.

Favorite line from a book:

"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions
of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to
dream." --from The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

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

John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany. Irving is such an incredible
writer and this book blew me away--making me think about faith and fate
in whole new ways.
Jennifer McMahon is the author of six novels, including Promise Not to Tell and Island of Lost Girls.

Here's my Holiday Book List of books I am looking for, or waiting for in the new year:

The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister
Scent of Magic by Maria V Snyder
Elemental Magic by Mercedes Lackey
A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String by Joanne Harris
Finding Camlan by Sean Pidgeon
A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper
Hello Goodbye Hello by Craig Brown
Sutton by JR Moeringer
I Love Cinnamon Rolls by Judith Fretig
Necessity's Child by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Goose Girl by Shannon Hale and Goodreads Winners

 I have a hard time keeping up with my membership in Goodreads, however, they have a strong awards program and they keep on top of the latest fiction and non fiction coming out each month:

Among the winners in the 20 categories of the Goodreads Choice Awards, chosen by

* Fiction: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
* Nonfiction: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop
Talking by Susan Cain
* Poetry: A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver
* Memoir: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl
* History & Biography: Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch
by Sally Bedell-Smith
* YA Fantasy and Science Fiction: Insurgent by Veronica Roth (who also
won best author)

In addition, in a pilot program, this year more than 30 Northern
California Independent Booksellers Association stores will display six
Goodreads Choice Awards winners and Goodreads will promote the stores to
its members.

I've made no secret of how much I despised "Three Cups of Tea" and its author, Greg Mortensen, who embezzeled money from his charity and didn't build all the schools that he said he would. I maintain that even building schools for mainly girls in the middle east is a waste of time, as girls and women are so oppressed in those countries, they will have no opportunity to use their education, due to the fanatical religious laws imposed on them by the men who rule their countries. Therefore, this news came as no surprise to me when I read it on Shelf Awareness:

David Oliver Relin, co-author of Three Cups of Tea, died November 15,
in Oregon, a suicide, the New York Times reported. He was 49. Speaking
through his agent, his family said that Relin suffered from depression
and had been hurt "emotionally and financially" when many of the basic
facts in Three Cups of Tea turned out not to be true.
Greg Mortenson and David Relin 
Relin had "established himself as a journalist with an interest in
telling 'humanitarian' stories about people in need," the Times said,
when he was hired by Viking to help Greg Mortenson write about building
schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Published in 2006, Three Cups of
Tea became a heartwarming bestseller, selling more than four million
copies. But last year, after a 60 Minutes investigation, it became
apparent that the many elements of Mortenson's story were false and that
Mortenson's charity was spending large amounts of money on Mortenson's
personal expenses and to promote the book.

After the 60 Minutes report, Relin did not speak out publicly but hired
a lawyer to defend himself in a federal suit that was dismissed this
year. In a Montana state settlement, Mortenson agreed to repay more than
$1 million to his charity.

I started reading Goose Girl by Shannon Hale in my the library of my son's school, while I was waiting for him to finish his classes. I became riveted by this beautifully-written fairy tale, and I wanted to check it out and finish reading it, but the 'mean' librarian at my son's school wouldn't let me check the book out unless it was for Nick. So I ended up getting a copy from the library, and then realizing that I wanted to own my own copy, which came in the mail yesterday.
Though it is meant to be a young adult novel, it is, like the Harry Potter novels, the kind of fiction that is so well written, plotted and filled with engaging characters that it should be read by adults as well. Goose Girl is the story of Ani, the firstborn princess of Kildenree, who learned to speak to animals and birds from her aunt, only to be dragged away from that learning process by her mother, who doesn't appreciate the 'old magic' and wants her to be a regular princess. Ani does her best to comply, while still enjoying rides on her white horse with her father the king. Once her father is killed in an accident, though, her evil mother the queen decides to marry her off to the prince in the next kingdom of Bayern, so as to keep land-hungry Bayern from a war with Kildenree, which has no way to protect itself.
Unfortunately, Ani's official lady in waiting and supposed friend Selia, covets her crown and her title and position, and ends up subverting most of her guard to the task of killing Ani (and her guards) and taking her place on the way to Bayern. Ani barely escapes and is nursed back to health by a widow woman in the woods, after which she sets out to Bayern to try to make things right by an audience with the King. It becomes apparent that the subverted soldiers are still out to get flaxen-haired Ani, though, so she must hide her hair and pretend to be a goose-herder until she can make enough money to go home and have her mother help her regain her title.
Of course, along the way, Ani learns that she likes being a goose girl, because she ends up learning some of their language, and she makes friends within the ranks of other servants, to whom she tells stories at the end of the day around the fireplace. One of those friends, Enna, learns her secret, and tries to help her roust the evil Selia and her warrior boyfriend. Good triumphs over evil, finally, and Ani learns many valuable lessons about love, how to treat people who help you and who are mere servants, and that there is a price for freedom and for being a royal, when your life is not your own.
I thoroughly enjoyed Hale's prose and her swiftly gliding plot. I thought the characters were amazingly real, and the book cover is just gorgeous. I plan on reading the next in the series ASAP. Meanwhile, a solid A to Ms Hale for this not-too-sweet fairy tale with an HEA that made sense.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Cold Days by Jim Butcher and Other News of Interest

 Who knew Pete Townshend was in the book business before he was a rock star? Certainly not me!
I think it is fascinating that the man is obviously into literary pursuits, as well as music.

"Are you kidding? That was the best job I ever had. I had lunch with the
old chairman, Matthew Evans, this week, and we both went dewy-eyed about
the old days. He's in the House of Lords trying to stay awake, and I'm
pounding stages like an aging clown. I loved the way the Faber editorial
committee was driven as much by gossip and rumor as ideas. It was fun.
Not what you expect in such an esteemed publishing house."

--The Who's Pete Townshend,
author of Who I Am: A Memoir, in a New York Times interview where he
recalled working as an acquisitions editor at Faber & Faber.

My birthday is coming up this year on 12/12/12, and I LOVE Star Trek in all it's incarnations, so uhm, hint, hint to hubby:

"Federation: The First 150 Years" aims to impress Star Trek fans from the
moment they take it out of the box: the book comes with its own
pedestal, which contains a recorded message from Admiral Hikaru Sulu
(George Takei) welcoming readers to this chronicle of the early years of
the United Federation of Planets.

David A. Goodman synthesizes plotlines from multiple Trek series and
films, covering the period between Earth's first open encounter with the
Vulcans (as seen in Star Trek: First Contact) and the negotiation of
peace between the Federation and the Klingons (Star Trek VI: The
Undiscovered Country). The resulting chronology is frontloaded with the
final Trek series, Enterprise, and the original series, along with its
movie spinoffs. But Goodman also draws upon other parts of the canon to
fill in some of the story; fans of the 1970s animated series will be
delighted to see a section on Robert April, the first captain of the
NCC-1701, James T. Kirk's Enterprise.

The attention to detail is thorough. When Goodman invokes a fictional
historian to describe the mid-21st-century "World War III," he picks a
character from an episode of the original series. He's also willing to
embrace the franchise's sillier moments: one sidebar provides an
epilogue to the episode where Kirk visits a planet that bases its
society on 1920s Chicago gang wars, while another works in the "Great
Tribble Hunt" of Deep Space Nine. There's even a reference to the
"Temporal Cold War" storyline of Enterprise (although it's treated with
some skepticism).

The sidebars also present elaborate versions of alien calligraphy, and
there are additional illustrations to flesh out our view of the
universe. (These are almost entirely drawings and paintings, although
some of them use recognizable promotional photographs as their sources.)
An envelope attached to the inside back cover includes some additional
"primary documents," including a handwritten letter from Kirk--all very
smartly done.

Although Federation is framed as basic history--Goodman writes
in-character from a 24th-century perspective--it is not, strictly
speaking, an introductory text for non-fans. People who've never seen
any of the shows could certainly pick up the fundamentals of the
mythology from this book, but the detached perspective results in a lack
of dramatic tension. If you're already a Trekker, though, it can be both
a handy reference and a fun challenge: How many references can you spot?
--Ron Hogan

My mom and 94-year-old stepfather live in Prescott Valley, Arizona, and I've been trying to get them to visit this new store that is only 10 miles or so away from them. So far, no luck, but it does sound like a fun place!

Congratulations to the Peregrine Book Company, Prescott, Ariz., which this past
weekend held its grand opening celebration, including a welcome
reception, several author talks and signings, a writing workshop and a
poetry open mic event.

My husband is a huge fan of beer, and I think he's going to have to try this next time we're in Portland on a Powell's run:
Powell's Books, Portland, Ore., has partnered with Rogue Ales and Spirits to create White Whale Ale, "a beverage for anyone who has a thirst for books and artisan craft beer"

Powell's described the creation process this way: "This brand-new ale
was truly inspired by a love of literature. At an auction in Chicago,
Michael Powell landed a first edition of Herman Melville's The Whale
(renamed Moby-Dick in subsequent editions), and the book has occupied a
special place in his heart ever since. In part, this special-edition
beer is a tribute to Michael and his family, as well as to the legacy of

"The concept behind the project was to go where beer has never gone
before--by adding actual pages from a copy of Moby-Dick to the brew.
Michael and Emily Powell took sheets from the book and, along with Rogue
Brewmaster John Maier, placed them into the brew kettle."

White Whale Ale, which was brewed in honor of the bookstore's 41st
anniversary, is available at Rogue Hall on Portland State University
campus and the Rogue Distillery and Public House, located near Powell's
flagship store. Commemorative bottles may also be purchased online at

I spent the last two days reading "Cold Days" the 13th Dresden Files novel featuring Chicago's favorite wizard, Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. I have to admit that I was none too happy with author Jim Butcher two books ago when he shot and killed Harry on the last freakin' page of the book, leaving readers who are wild about Harry all up in arms over Butcher killing the best magical detective/hero ever to walk the pages of a book. It was all reminiscent of the furor over the death of Sherlock Holmes over the Reichenback Falls, with A. Conan Doyle getting lots of angry letters from people who loved Sherlock just as much as modern-day urban fantasy fans love Harry.
Butcher responded by claiming that the ending wasn't a cliffhanger (yeah, right) and wrote an entire book where our hero was a ghost, floating around trying to help people but being clearly limited by his non corporeal form.
I must admit I was as frustrated as Harry was, because part of his charm is the sheer brute physicality he brings to magic and to saving others from harm. Harry's not averse to pounding the crap out of the bad guys, or blowing them to smithereens, or burning them up with his trademark "Forzare!" (I am not sure I'm spelling that right). And if you love Harry (and any woman reading the Dresden Files can't help but fall in love with Harry), you also find his wit, his self-effacing humor and his long, lean tall, dark and handsome body all a very drool-worthy part of the fantasy.
So I was really looking forward to this book, because at the end of "Ghost Story" Harry returned to his body on Demonreach Island, brought there by Mab, Queen of the Winter Fae whom Harry'd made a deal with in order to save his daughter two books ago. He agreed to be the Winter Knight, but in dying had hoped to thwart Mab's plans for turning him into a slave/assassin.
Fortunately, after some harrowing weeks of "rehab" that Harry barely manages to survive, readers are treated again to the full court press that is Dresden at his best; witty banter, terribly short deadlines to save the world, and interactions with all the great characters surrounding Harry that we've come to know and count on to have his back, including Karrin Murphy, the ex-cop, Molly Carpenter, Harry's apprentice who has a mammoth crush on him, Waldo Butters, the ME with a heart of gold. Thomas, his brother, the white court vampire (White court vampires are all succubus...succubi?) and even Mac the bar owner who is somehow linked to the Fae but considers his bar neutral ground and brews the best beer in Chicago, according to Harry. Mouse  the Foo dog also makes a reappearance, thank heaven, and we learn that Santa Claus is not just a jolly old elf, but an ancient fae who goes on the Wild Hunt and has some connection to Odin one-eye, the Norse god. There are some parts of the book that are so funny, they're priceless, especially the "Santa smackdown" and the brief moments when Harry sets to pondering his messy lot in life. "But you can't go around changing your definition of right and wrong just because doing the wrong thing happens to be really convenient. Sometimes it isn't easy to be sane, smart and responsible. Sometimes it sucks. Sucks wang. Camel wang. But that doesn't turn wrong into right or stupid into smart." Harry Dresden, from Cold Days.
 I also believe I found an error in the book, which is rare because Butcher is such a master storyteller and so meticulous about his prose that typos are unheard of in his works. But on page 301, Titania says "I have not exchanged words with my sister since before Hastings" and Dresden calls that the "Next-best thing to a millennium's worth of estrangement." However, if Titania means the Battle of Hastings, which was in 1066, isn't that a lot more than a millennium? I could have misinterpreted her remark, of course, and she could be talking about something I've forgotten from one of the other books. At any rate, the book's fine prose sails along with speed and grace to a somewhat satisfying, if surprising conclusion. Now all we need do is wait for the next "coming storm" on the horizon to see if Harry and company will survive yet another supernatural onslaught.
I was a bit bummed that Harry and Karrin still haven't managed to be lovers, when both obviously love and respect one another, but it seems that it is never the right time for them to be in love, which makes me terribly sad for our hero Harry. It also makes me sad that he's afraid to seek out his daughter and build a relationship with her, when the man faces down demons and dragons and things that go bump in the night all the time. Sigh. Seems that Jim Butcher wants to save Harry finally getting happy for another day. Okay, Butcher, haven't we fans waited long enough? C'mon man, pony up some lovin' for Harry, before he becomes too old and bitter to enjoy it! Anyway, this novel deserves an A+, and I'd recommend it to all Dresden File fans, like myself, who just can't get enough of that wise-crackin' wizard.