Monday, December 30, 2013

An Article by A Friend, About Two Friends

I hate to brag, but I knew Tiffany Guerzon before she was a fantastic, well-known freelance journalist. Though I tried to dissuade her from joining the ranks of hardscrabble freelancers, she was, and is, tough enough to keep at it until she's mastered it, and now she's got this sweet gig with Parent Map, a local magazine/newspaper hybrid that once had Linda, the lifestyle editor of the Mercer Island Reporter in the 90s, as their editor. Anyway, My dear friends Melain and Cory have this wonderful dance fitness routine called Rizzmic that I've been shouting about for the past year or two, and I was just thrilled to see my friend Tiffany writing about the gorgeous gals for Parent Map. Here's the article, enjoy!
Someone You Should Know

Someone You Should Know: Melain Blue and Cory Crawford, Creators of Rizzmic

Rizzmic ladiesMeet Melain Blue and Cory Crawford, the creators of Rizzmic, a new and different fitness program that pairs familiar American music with authentic dance styles. The two women formed their company, Blucor Productions, one year ago in Maple Valley. Their dance fitness format quickly caught on, and there are now 26 certified Rizzmic instructors. Twelve of those instructors are teaching classes here in Washington state, and others are spreading the style as far away as Boston and Minnesota. The mission of Rizzmic is to create a fitness-focused community that is free of judgment, competition and self-criticism.

What are your backgrounds?

Melain: I was a professional singer throughout my 20s. I started singing in front of large audiences when I was about 8 years old. I did private vocal training and got into instrumentation. I shifted from that into more of a family mode. When I got pregnant, I decided to do something that would keep me home with my kids.
Cory: I was a gymnast growing up, and then I was a jazz dancer and did ballet when I was really young. When I got out of gymnastics, I decided to become a mime and took mime training for 10 years. I also got to do some hip-hop dancing. I loved combining the arts and bringing music to life, and the way that you feel music.

Why did you decide to become fitness instructors?

Melain: I really missed music and performing, so I started dabbling in belly dancing, and then I discovered Zumba. My mind is always working on taking things to the next level, so I couldn’t help but become a Zumba instructor.
Cory: I saw a lot of women our age were going through life changes. They were having children, some were getting divorced. Some of them weren’t as happy as they once were. I really just wanted to help women realize that it’s OK to give yourself an hour a day to work out. That’s why I got into the fitness industry, to help women take care of themselves.

How is Rizzmic different from Zumba, Jazzercise or other dance aerobics?

Melain: Zumba is all Latin and world rhythms, with four movements per rhythm. So there is a lot of repetition. All of the songs have very similar choreography. We don’t repeat. Rizzmic is athletic. We pull straight from professional dancers and history for authentic movements.
Cory: Yes, you’re getting a workout, but this is dance. Because we use a variety of dance styles, there’s something for everyone. You could go from an intense rock song to a cute jazzy song.

What are the different dance styles in Rizzmic?

Cory: Charleston, disco, hip-hop, ’60s go-go, country, rock, Lindy Hop, modern jazz and many more. There are several substyles within the decades and especially in hip-hop. We have a total of about 20 different dance styles represented in Rizzmic. There is something for everyone; this has never been done before, not this way, not in fitness.
Why dance instead of another type of fitness?
Melain: There’s something very uniting and uplifting about music and movement. It pulls your mind, your heart and your body all into one act.

How did Rizzmic start and spread?

Melain: I’ve always had trouble fitting into women’s circles, but in these spaces, with the music on and all of us moving together, all of that goes away and there’s this community of wide-open hearts and smiles, and I love that. As I was attending Zumba class, I would find those moments, and I started looking for what was consistent about them. Almost every time, it was when people said, “Hey, I know this song!” or “Look what we’re doing. I saw that on Footloose!” That’s where I branched off of Zumba. I thought, what can I do with songs we all know, and fill a whole class with that experience? I wanted to create that judgment-free, childlike environment.
Cory: The roots of Rizzmic are in Dance Fusion, a series of American dance routines created by Melain. When Rizzmic was born between the two of us, we both were teaching classes at gyms and community centers, as well as a free class at her church. As dancers and other fitness instructors saw what we were doing, they wanted to be a part of it and signed up for trainings.

You choreograph all the routines together, yet you each have very different dance styles.

Melain: Choreography isn’t easy. You have to mathematically tear apart the music and rebuild it. And you can tell when it doesn’t work, because people are tripping over their feet. Cory’s movements tend to be very sharp and strong. I like to float and flutter.

How do you make the dance moves authentic?

Cory: We pull from a variety of tutorials, professional dancers and dance teams that are well known for their choreography. We also pull directly from the artists themselves. For instance, a Michael Jackson song will always have moves from the corresponding video.

Why are the lights dimmed during your classes?

Melain: People can feel self-conscious. When the lights go up, the eyes wander. You start looking at the person behind you, start looking in the mirror and comparing yourself to this and that. When the lights go down and the spotlight is on the instructor, everything kind of recedes. It eliminates comparisons. It helps open people up.

You each have three kids — how do you balance it all?

Cory: Working from home is great, but it can be challenging because you can never shut it off. We both agreed when we got into this that family comes first. So when our children have games or things, work is off the table. We respect that in each other.

Tell us about your kids’ program.

Cory: It’s called Da Crew, and it launched this fall for ages 6–12. It is everything you would find in an adult Rizzmic class, but in 40 minutes. Parents like that their children are being exposed to all these different dance styles.

Where is the strangest place you’ve been caught dancing?

Melain: In the grocery store. Once a stock person came down from his ladder and joined me in dancing a jive. And he was good!
Watch Melain and Cory's video.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Amazon protest and the Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Seattle Rally Supports German Amazon Workers

 Amazon protests from German and US Workers happened this month, which is interesting, in that once they unionize, I would imagine that Amazon will find a way to get rid of them and bring in non-unionized workers, who are cheaper and work longer hours under worse conditions and have no real voice in their treatment.

Nancy Becker, an Amazon warehouse worker from Germany, speaks at a
protest at the company's Seattle headquarters Monday. (photo: Geekwire

While some Amazon employees in Germany vowed to continue strikes at the
company's Bad Hersfeld and Leipzig facilities, supporters in the U.S.
staged a protest at the company's headquarters in Seattle
yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Mechthild Middeke, a representative of the services union Verdi, said
this "is the first time the union has taken a German wage dispute
outside the country to a corporation's doorstep" and described the U.S.
action as symbolic. "What's happening in Seattle is not a strike but an
act of solidarity with workers in Germany," she said.

The protest included several U.S. unions, among them the Teamsters and
the Service Employees International Union. "About 10 different labor
unions were present in solidarity with Ver.di," said Kathy Cummings of
the Washington state AFL-CIO.

 Christmas reading from Neil Gaiman in NYC

Author Neil Gaiman
"managed to make the crowd at the New York Public Library fall silent
for over an hour on Sunday to hear him read A Christmas Carol, from a
special copy that Charles Dickens had edited himself for live
performances. (He wore a fake Dickensian beard throughout to help get
into character.) Which, considering how many children were in the
audience, was a miracle on par with Scrooge's change of heart," the New
York Observer reported.

"It's a wonderful time to tell stories about the dead," Gaiman said.
"You've got winter. You got the depths of winter. You have the whole
peddling around a fireside thing. You have long nights.... What Dickens
did that was so interesting was that he took the ghost story, Christmas
ghost stories, as a genre, and he wrote a couple really good ones for
his magazine."  
The Signature of All Things is Elizabeth Gilbert's latest foray into fiction, after her fame for her non-fiction memoir "Eat, Pray, Love" which was made into a movie with Julia Roberts. Gilbert has become something of a guru to a generation of women who feel disillusioned and disconnected, and are trying to find a balance between being wives/mothers and being career women. Not that this is a new thing, but Gilbert's saucy prose and yearning to dig deeper to find answers resonates with many 20 and 30 and even 40 somethings looking for a way to have it all, or at least to have most of it all without losing their minds or spirits.
At any rate, The Signature of All Things is the story of Alma Whittaker, the daughter of self-made millionaire Henry Whittaker, who grew up poor in England and learned about botany and plants from his father, who was an orchardist at the famed Kew Gardens in London. Henry made a fortune selling quinine and other botanical remedies in the new world, and after finding a sensible and smart Dutch wife, settled in Pennsylvania. Alma grew up in the 19th century, a very privileged child who was educated in languages, botany, mathematics, logic, history, astronomy and chemistry. Her only "problem" is that she is described as being "ugly" and large, with irregular features, reddish hair and a blunt, questioning nature. Yet somehow, she is never sought out by young men seeking their fortunes, which seems a bit odd. 
When her parents adopt the daughter of a harlot and a madman, both of whom are killed right in front of her, the thing that bothers Alma the most is that the girl is very pretty, and she feels the weight of the contrast between them acutely. Prudence, as she is called once she's adopted by the Whittakers, is educated alongside Alma, but has little hope of catching up to her brilliance. When they encounter a wild and socially adept friend, Retta Snow, it seems as if the two will actually have a friend to work as a bridge between the two of them. 

George Hawkes, a publisher, comes to White Acre, the family estate, initially to work with Alma on her botany articles (women were not allowed to publish anything serious in that era, or if they did, they used an alias) but it becomes clear that Alma has developed feelings for George, though she never declares them because  she is afraid of being humiliated and scorned due to her ugliness. It's around this time that Alma finds some erotic literature, and on reading it, discovers that masturbation helps relieve her feelings of tension and passion that have no other outlet.  Sadly, due to the era, and her strict protestant upbringing, Alma is certain that masturbation is evil and unclean, and she feels ashamed of her sexual longings.
 Unfortunately, George marries Retta (after being turned down by Prudence, whom he loves, but who doesn't feel that she can marry him knowing how Alma feels about him...yet readers know none of this until near the end of the book), which crushes Alma, and Prudence marries an abolitionist tutor who insists that she live a life of poverty until all slaves are free men and living as as equals with whites. Retta has miscarriage after miscarriage, and being a flighty social butterfly type, ends up going mad, and is put in a "nice" insane asylum by her husband when it becomes clear that she's a danger to herself and others. Of course they drug her until she doesn't know who she is, and she dies alone, which is sad for such an interesting character. It is made clear in the book that 19th century women didn't usually have long lifespans, especially if they had, or attempted to have, children, or if they were at all fun or interesting. Dour, logical, stoic and virginal seems to be the only way a woman can survive. George dies too soon as well, and yet Henry, who lived a rough life until he was middle aged, survives until he's in his 90s. 
Alma meets a flora/fauna painter, Ambrose, who is also fascinated by the natural world, and of course she falls in love with him, seeing as he's only the second man to ever approach her, and it turns out that he's something of a nutball, too, believing in all sorts of metaphysical stuff, like angels and telepathy, and he marries Alma after believing that she had agreed to a celebate marriage via telepathy. Alma, furious and frustrated sexually, sends him off to Tahiti, (to her fathers vanilla plantation) where he dies after 11 years in a christian mission. At this point the old dragon Hanneke, the chatelaine of White Acre, and Alma's nursemaid, rips Alma a new one, and tells her that upon inheriting her fathers entire estate, that she should give some money to Prudence, who gave up the love of her life, George, for Alma, and that she's been selfish and lived a life of privilege too long, and has made everyone around her miserable. This is simply not true, and it is at this point that I became a bit frustrated with Alma. She gives her entire estate to Prudence to turn it into a school for freed slave children, and she gives money to Retta's asylum and to George, and then she takes off for Tahiti when she gets her husbands effects delivered to her, and discovers his nude drawings of a young, beautiful native boy with a large penis. Suddenly she realizes that Ambrose, the flaky artist that she banned to Tahiti, was gay. For some odd reason, she feels compelled to travel to Tahiti to find out more about the boy he drew who was obviously his lover, and to find out more about Ambrose himself. WHY she does this is still unclear to me. Ambrose is dead, he was no good to her sexually, or as a partner, really, and she's given away all of her money because her nursemaid guilted her into it, and she's not really even a good Christian, as she doesn't believe in anything but reason and logic, so she will be no good at trying to convert the Tahitian heathens. WHY take a rigorous journey by boat to a tropical island of a people who do not have any understanding of privacy or personal property (they steal everything from her soon after she arrives) just to find a gay man who loved the husband she erased from her life makes NO SENSE. She's supposed to be this brilliant and logical, no-nonsense woman and after one talk with her turncoat nursemaid, she's suddenly a mousey altruist who feels she needs to find her husbands gay lover and live in poverty as some kind of penance? I can't imagine her sainted mother or her nasty illiterate father being at all happy with that decision, had they been alive. She was the last "real" Whittaker, and she should be the one running White Acre, not her sniveling adopted sister, who seems a dupe to me.

Inevitably, Alma finds the Tahitian boy, who has now grown into a man nicknamed Tomorrow Morning and who is a leader/missionary himself. He is beautiful and charismatic, and he takes her to a cave full of moss (she has made a decades-long study of moss) where Alma is finally able to perform oral sex on Tomorrow Morning, though she doesn't allow him to have sexual intercourse with her, for some reason that readers are never privy to. Again, this is something that makes no sense at all in this book. After thirsting, hungering and yearning for sex with a man for over 30 years, WHY wouldn't Alma take advantage of the handsome Tahitian god and lose her virginity, for heavens sake? She is 50 years old, for crying out loud, it's now or never! But no, she just gets off the guy, and then ships back to Europe, where she has to find work because she gave her whole bleeping fortune away! So she goes to her uncle in Holland who has a botanical garden that has been in the family for generations, and she goes to work for him, while also writing her theory of evolution. She refuses to publish it, however, because she can't answer the question of why people do altruistic or unselfish things, which rarely help them win the evolutionary battle. (She claims not to understand altruism or unselfishness, yet what did she do by giving her entire estate away?) Darwin publishes his Origin of the Species and another scientist, Albert Russel Wallace, also published a paper on evolutionary theory. After Darwin's death, Alma invites Wallace to Holland for a visit, and shows him her theory, and is thrilled when he pronounces that there are "three of us" who had the same ideas about evolution. Thus the book ends, with old Alma satisfied that her place in history is secure, at least to herself. The book was well written, if a bit over researched, and a bit boring in spots where it goes on and on about plants, especially moss. Seriously, how many people are going to find every detail of moss evolution interesting?  Also, I don't see how Ms Gilbert can, with any authority, write about what it is like to be large and ugly, when she is willowy, blonde and beautiful.
Still, I would recommend The Signature of All Things to those who find 19th century women fascinating, and women in science and history interesting.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trade Secret by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, The Downton Tea Truck and More

 This is an awesome response to Amazon's proposed "delivery by drone" system! I try to shop indie bookstores whenever I can, though Inklings is on the other side of the state.

Inklings Bookshop <>, Yakima, Wash., had this reaction to Jeff Bezos's prediction that Amazon will eventually deliver
packages via drone: staffers hung a genuine drone over the store's
registers to act, as Susan Richmond put it, "as a conversation starter
for our smart, independent employees who are far from drones. We have 12
employees on our payroll who live in the community, support the economy
and pay taxes and are excellent at helping customers face to face."
She added that the store is also using the drone "to highlight the fact
that 95% of the books we order every day are in the store the next day
around noon and the whole experience for our customer is bracketed by
delightful exchanges with real human beings every step of the way."

 As many of you know, I lived in Florida for 4.5 years, and I often shopped at the local bookstores, Haslams and Wilsons, which are right in St Petersburg. I even moved to St Pete at one point, and was within walking distance of Wilsons Book World. Anyway, congrats to Haslams, which has survived the ups and downs of the economy to become the oldest bookstore in Tampa Bay, I am sure.

              **    **
Happy 80th Birthday, Haslam's Book Store!
Congratulations to Haslam's Book Store, St.
Petersburg, Fla., which celebrated its 80th birthday
yesterday, with several speakers discussing their experiences with the
store and the Haslam family as well as the store's contribution to the
community--accompanied by complimentary cake.

Noting that the 30,000-square-foot new and used bookstore has undergone
only one expansion since moving 50 years ago, co-owner Ray Hinst told
Creative Loafing Tampa, "We just keep doing what we're doing. People
like continuity… We've always wanted to provide a place where
someone who likes books can come and find something for them--regardless
of taste, age and your economic status. There is truly something for
everybody, and that's something we'd like to continue for another 80

Asked about the place of printed books in the modern world, he added,
"This is the media we have used to communicate our history, our morals,
our ethics, our philosophy, our lessons, our science and our technology
for five centuries. That's a big deal. There's something about the way
the media works. You can carry it with you. You can read it in low
light, and it doesn't run out of batteries."

Haslam's was founded by John and Mary Haslam, who were succeeded by
their son, Charles, and his wife, Elizabeth. (Charles, aka the Bookman,
was an ABA president, and he and Elizabeth were regular teachers at ABA
Bookseller Schools.) The store is now owned by Hinst and his wife,
Suzanne--Charles and Elizabeth's daughter--and the fourth generation of
the family are involved, too.

I am so peeved that this Downton Abbey Tea Truck didn't stop by anywhere in Seattle, Washington, so I could have my photo taken with the tea and biscuits maids dressed in Downton finery! But I think this was a great idea, and I bet that lots of people took advantage of the photo op with Highclere Castle as a backdrop. I can hardly wait for the premier on January 5, 2014, of Season 4!
PBS is launching a tea food truck
"bringing a wee taste of the U.K." to New York City's streets to promote
Season 4 of the series, which premieres January 5 in the U.S. Gothamist
reported that the truck "offers gratis tea and biscuits, doled out by
servers dressed in period garb; sadly, we don't think that means Mr.
Carson. They're also offering photos ops with a picture of Highclere
Castle, which serves as the setting for the show's noble family drama.
It won't make you a member of the Crawley clan, but it could make for a
fun holiday card!"

In the "mild spoiler alert" category, featured a teaser
with "a glimpse of Shirley MacLaine in her return as Cora's mother
Martha Levinson, and of Paul Giamatti as Cora's brother Harold. While
not terribly spoilerish, those who've seen nothing of the fourth season
may want to think twice before clicking play."

Trade Secret by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller is the sequel to Balance of Trade, a Liaden Universe science fiction novel. I've read all of the duo's Liaden books, and I've really enjoyed their complex world building and solid characters. 
The only problem that I have ever had with the books is the technical jargon and engineering/math/spaceship discussions that go untranslated for those of us who aren't technically inclined. I tend to skim over those pages, because I really do not understand what they are talking about, and all that technical detail only slows down the plot and halts the story in its tracks, at least for me. Fortunately, those pages never adversely impact the wonderful story for long, and the characters still shine forth like the beacons of brilliance that they are. Trade Secret is the story of what happens to Jethri, a young Terran spacer lad who is kicked out of his clan's spaceship and ends up being taken in by a Liaden clan (Ixin) who teach him to become a space trader and pilot. Be warned that if you haven't read Balance of Trade, I don't think that Trade Secret will make much sense to you. Still, it is best to read all Liaden books in order, so you get the maximum enjoyment possible of their fascinating Liaden characters with their ultra-polite society of bows, hand gestures and melant'i. Lee and Miller have the unique capacity to make every detail of the lives of Liadens seem so real, so normal and natural that by the time you're finished with their books, you believe that it is possible to have tea with Nova or Shan, or ship out to parts unknown with Jethri or Daav. I highly recommend all the Liaden Universe novels and omnibus editions to anyone who enjoys epic storytelling, brilliant science fiction and heartwarming space opera. A solid A all around.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Why We Need Books, Book Thief on the Screen, and Alice Hoffman's Dovekeepers

Why We Still Need Books by Maria Popova, from Brain Pickings
"Some people might tell you that books are no longer necessary now that we have the internet. Don’t believe them. Books help us know other people, know how the world works, and, in the process, know ourselves more deeply in a way that has nothing to with what you read them on and everything to do with the curiosity, integrity and creative restlessness you bring to them.
Books build bridges to the lives of others, both the characters in them and your countless fellow readers across other lands and other eras, and in doing so elevate you and anchor you more solidly into your own life. They give you a telescope into the minds of others, through which you begin to see with ever greater clarity the starscape of your own mind.
And though the body and form of the book will continue to evolve, its heart and soul never will. Though the telescope might change, the cosmic truths it invites you to peer into remain eternal like the Universe.
In many ways, books are the original internet — each fact, each story, each new bit of information can be a hyperlink to another book, another idea, another gateway into the endlessly whimsical rabbit hole of the written word. Just like the web pages you visit most regularly, your physical bookmarks take you back to those book pages you want to return to again and again, to reabsorb and relive, finding new meaning on each visit — because the landscape of your life is different, new, “reloaded” by the very act of living."
We read The Book Thief in my KCLS Book Group in Maple Valley, and everyone loved it, which is pretty rare for my group. Now a movie has been made from this popular novel, and Shelf Awareness' Jennifer Brown breaks it down for those who loved the book, giving a clear perspective on the film so readers can decide if they want to go and see it or wait until it comes out on DVD.

Bringing The Book Thief to the Big Screen
 by Jennifer Brown

The Book Thief is a story of children swept up in war. Death, who
narrates, takes an interest in the vibrantly alive Liesel. In the novel,
we see her through Death's eyes. In the film, the voice of Death opens
and closes the story, and breaks into the film perhaps half a dozen
times. But we see the atrocities of World War II
firsthand--Kristallnacht, the carting off of neighbors, Jewish prisoners
marched through the streets. Readers can put down the book, take a
break. But moviegoers cannot escape the images of cruelty.

In the book, Death enables our relationship with Leisel. In the movie,
Death must move out of the way. Director Brian Percival reminds
viewers--through aerial shots--that we are seeing events through a wider
lens; we see what Death sees. Yet there is beauty in the film, too. The
laughter of children playing, the pleasures of a snowball fight. The
secret kindnesses bestowed onto Liesel by Hans (played with such nuance
by Geoffrey Rush), the slow thaw of icy Rosa (portrayed brilliantly by
Emily Watson).

Earlier this month, Markus Zusak and Brian Percival spoke with Thelma
Adams of Yahoo Movies at New York City's School of Visual Arts Theater
in Chelsea. Zusak recalled that he and his wife went on one of their
twice-yearly outings to the movies (they have a two-year-old and a
seven-year-old) to see Monsieur Lazhar, with  Sophie Nélisse as
Alice L'Écuyer. "She'd make a great Leisel," Zusak told his wife.
"You should tell them," his wife replied. Brian Percival said that he
and his team saw 1,000 girls, between self-tapes and casting directors.
"Leisel had to be both feisty and vulnerable," he said. They flew
Nélisse and three other girls for a test in Berlin.
Nélisse is 13 years old, yet her emotional range, conveyed just
by the curling of her lip or a twinkle in her eye, is mesmerizing.

The Book Thief author Markus Zusak (center) with director Brian Percival
(r.) on the Berlin movie set.

Zusak is pleased with the film. If he misses one moment, it's the scene
in the book when Liesel sees Max wearing a Star of David and being
marched through the streets by the Nazis and she recites to him "The
Standover Man"--the story Max wrote and left for her in the painted-over
pages of Mein Kampf. But Zusak feels he also gained a scene that he had
not written in the book: when Max tells Leisel that everything that
lives knows "the secret word for life."

Zusak feels as though he was "a different version" of himself when he
wrote The Book Thief. "There are things I'd change, but that could take
away the spirit of the book," Zusak said. He's had 10 years of being
with the book, writing it, publishing it, bringing it to film. "I
thought this would be my least successful book,"

Zusak said. "This book's given me everything. I wrote four books before,
but I'm the writer of The Book Thief." He's been writing for the past
six to seven years, but hasn't finished another book. "I didn't want to
be a dad who goes away," he said. "But I need to block the world out; I
have to become the author of something else now."

Zusak's parents couldn't speak English when they moved to Australia. His
mother cleans houses; his father is a housepainter. And they told their
four children stories.

"To have one great storyteller in your life, you're lucky," said Zusak.
"But to have two is amazing. They taught me how to write, how to tell a
story, because of their love of stories. I had a huge appetite for those
stories, just as Leisel does." Zusak believes his mother and father
would not have told their children those stories if they still lived in

"There's one story that didn't make it into the book," Zusak said.
"After the war, Mom's town was occupied by Americans, Dad's by the
Russians. My father and his friends were stealing things from the
Russian camp, then they'd run. One day, a Russian truck stopped, and a
man got out. He stopped, looked at my father, walked up to him, touched
his face and said, 'Kind'--child. It suggests what he'd seen and left
behind. He got back in his truck and drove off." Zusak paused. "A book
is built on what didn't make it in. That's also what holds it up."

This reader missed Death's voice in the film. But Percival explained
that he had to show, not tell. "You can't keep inserting Death's voice.
That would interfere with our relationship with Leisel," he said. He's
right. He added, "You have to see it from Death's point of view, rather
than hear it."

Maybe a film is also built on what doesn't make it in. Because the movie
ends the way all who loved the book need it to end, and the sparing use
of Death's voice makes its appearance at the conclusion that much
stronger.  --Jennifer M. Brown

I am finished Alice Hoffman's "The Dovekeepers" and I must say that I am surprised at my fascination with the early Christian era and the plight of the Jewish people during Masada. Books about battles and war usually leave me cold, as do books about religion, fantatics, zealots and other forms of craziness. Fortunately, these subjects turn to gold in the deft hands of Hoffman, who tells us the story of four women and their trials of the heart as an outline to the wars that take place, and the women's ability to survive famine, war, rape and death makes for page-turning reading. In other words, I was already past page 325 before I looked at the clock and realized that hours had passed.
Hoffman has two other books, Green Angel and Green Witch that I've read recently that were equally mesmerizing,  though those slim volumes were YA books about a dystopian world where a young woman finds her powers of growth and healing are her ticket to adult society. The prose in those books are glorious and poetic, and while Dovekeepers prose is beautiful, it has to be a bit more straightforward because of the historical subject matter.
Nevertheless, I highly recommend all three books, and I've renewed my love of Hoffman's work because of them. An A all around, and well deserved at that, for these modern classics.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Winter's Tale, Perdition by Ann Aguirre, Nora Ephron and Downton Abbey

 I read Winter's Tale awhile ago, and I believe Mark Helprin has a rich and beautiful style of writing that puts me in mind of Patricia McKillip and John Steinbeck. I am looking forward to seeing how Hollywood adapts his book to the screen.

The first trailer has been released for Winter's Tale
based on the novel by Mark Helprin and starring Colin Farrell, Russell
Crowe and Jennifer Connelly. Indiewire reported that the book, "long
considered unfilmable... has been kicking around Hollywood waiting for
someone to take it on. And that someone is Akiva Goldsman, [who] has
written the adaptation and is making his feature debut with the flick.
And full credit to him, with the first trailer arriving this evening, it
looks like he's poured all he's got into it." The film is scheduled for
a Valentine's Day 2014 release.

Robert Gray's wisdom is always welcome on Shelf Awareness:

Sometimes it's just an unexpected conversation that helps books find me.
A couple of years ago at the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association
trade show in St. Paul, Minn., I had a long conversation about the
challenges and rewards of small press publishing with Steve Semken of
Ice Cube Press, based in North Liberty,Iowa.

In an era when anyone can hang a shingle declaring themselves an
independent publisher, it's important to recognize and congratulate Ice
Cube Press, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Semken recalled that in the beginning the role of publisher "latched on,
I think, because deep down, I cared about writing." Two decades later,
despite the dizzying array of changes the book trade has experienced, he
still has faith in the traditional approach: "In this day and age of the
doom and gloom of the book industry, I feel pretty lucky to be around
and still doing well.... To me, publishing is a storytelling business,
and the human race will always be addicted to stories."

And where are those stories to be found? Often, in the world of indie
bookstores and publishers. "I consider my press a natural partner with
independent booksellers," Semken noted. "We're both in pursuit of
sharing unique writing with passionate readers."

It's nice to work in a world where books find me. --Robert Gray, contributing editor

These are fantastic, funny and fascinating:

The Love lives of literary greats! Interesting!
Writers Between the Covers by Shannon McKenna Schmidt
Ian Fleming was a sadomasochist. F. Scott Fitzgerald was worried about his measurement; Hemingway allayed his fears. Edith Wharton carried on, while married, a long-term affair with Morton Fullerton. Did Dickens have a thing for his sister-in-law?
Following their tribute to literary landmarks in Novel Destinations, in Writers Between the Covers Shannon McKenna Schmidt (a Shelf Awareness contributing writer) and Joni Rendon have compiled a very different compendium of information about authors--gossipy and surprising, filled with all kinds of salacious stories about the writers we know and love (or think we know, at any rate).
Among the intriguing stories is that of Agatha Christie, who married a dashing aviator when she was 21. A decade later, her husband blindsided her with the news he was leaving her for another woman. They argued, he left to keep an assignation with his lover and Agatha disappeared. All available means were deployed to find the missing author--who was enjoying herself at a spa in another part of England, using the name of her husband's mistress. When she finally surfaced 11 days later, doctors diagnosed amnesia, but she would never speak of the incident. She divorced her him and later married Sir Max Mallowan, with whom she spent 40 happy years.
Few of the stories end so tidily. Much of the drama recounted in these pages was fueled by alcohol, drugs, bad tempers, confused gender roles--all the things that drive people to wild behavior. Sexual adventurism is an equal opportunity pastime, and the authors have a deft hand at portraying both men and women at their moral nadir--and, oh, how much fun it is to read about. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.
Discover: Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon reveal the love lives of literary figures, sparing no detail--and no author.
Nora Ephron was one of a kind--a great author with a fabulous sense of humor. She was taken from the world last year, but I imagine this collection will be a great comfort to fans of her work, like myself.
The Most of Nora Ephron
The Most of Nora Ephron is an enormous compilation of the late writer's wit, perception and, most of all, her honesty about everything--even being flat-chested. The collection is divided into nine sections, each reflective of a part of her personal and professional life, from "The Journalist" and "The Screenwriter" to "The Advocate" and "The Blogger."
If you didn't make it to Broadway to see Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy, the entire script is included in the "Playwright" section. "The Foodie" shows Ephron trying out recipes, reading Gourmet, discovering the folly of an egg-white omelette, taking part in the Pillsbury Bake-Off and having guests for dinner. (Keep it easy, serve four things, make it fun.)
Everything was grist for Ephron's mill, and it's all here in this tremendous volume--including the complete screenplays of Heartburn and When Harry Met Sally. Her essays and journalism are filled with fascinating details, from the time that Las Vegas tycoon Steve Wynn put his elbow through a Picasso to the observation that the gap between Condoleezza Rice's front teeth is not as bad in person as it is on television.
Ephron was raised, she tells us, by an indifferent mother and a father who looked at everything as potential material. At the dinner table, he would say: "That's a good line; write it down." She took his advice--and we are all richer for it. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.
Discover: A diverse selection, from essays to screenplays, of the wit, wisdom and unfailing sense of humor of Nora Ephron (1941-2012).

Great list of indie bookstores, among them Powells and Elliott Bay:

Noting that independent bookstores "are surviving, and in some cases
thriving, in an Amazon-ruled, post-bookstore chain environment that
shouldn't necessarily be hospitable to shops that handsell books to
locals," Flavorwire showcased "45 great American indie bookstores
(in no particular order) that sell new or used novels, art books, zines,
coffee, that biography you really need to read, and/or delicious vegan
treats--all of which are as important to their community as any business
you can think of, and deserve your support."

The good news is that even when "making a list and checking it twice,"
dozens and even hundreds of indie bookstores could be added.

Oh how I miss Downton Abbey on PBS, but we are told that it will be back for American audiences in 2014, hurrah!
PBS has renewed Downton Abbey for a fifth season
and will again appear under the Masterpiece Classic banner, Buzzfeed

"As American audiences ready themselves for the January 5th premiere of
Season 4, our devoted Downton fans will rest easy knowing that a fifth
season is on the way," said Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca

The Guardian explored Downton Abbey's literary lineage
tracing it back to Isabel Colegate's 1980 novel The Shooting Party, an
acknowledged influence for Julian Fellowes's creation: "For those
starting to wonder if Downton is in danger of going on so long that it
catches up with the 21st century, there is one book that reveals
Fellowes's motivations, intentions and predilections: The Shooting Party
by Isabel Colegate." 

Perdition by Ann Aguirre
I've read and enjoyed Aguirre's Syrantha Jax series of science fiction adventures, and I have also read most of her Corrine Solomon urban fantasies. So when I found Perdition, I assumed it was another book in one of the aforementioned series. 
Though it takes place in the Sirantha Jax universe, it doesn't really have much to do with the woman we met in the ground-breaking "Grimspace."
This novel takes place on a prison ship called Perdition, which is full of the most vile criminals the galaxy can muster up. The protagonist is Dred, the Queen of Queensland, which is one of five areas that have been carved out by various factions and are run by strange warlords. When new "fish" or prisoners are left on Perdition, these warlords come to pick out the best warriors for their territory, leaving the weak to die. That's the mileau of Perdition, violence and death. It's survival of the cruelest and most clever, and fortunately, the Dred Queen is both clever and adept at killing. She is also enough of a leader to recognize a kind of clone super soldier when he lands on Perdition. She takes him for Queensland, and with all the battles they must wage to stay alive, he becomes her right-hand man and eventually, her lover. 
The book begins with bloody battles and death, and continues in this violent and horrific manner for the entire novel. I am not a fan of horror or military fiction, nor am I a fan of politics, so this book was a hard sell for me to finish. Yet I did finish it, and I was glad that I didn't give up, as it has a kind of HEA that screams for a sequel. I would give the book a B, and recommend it to those who love military science fiction or horror fiction that has a science fiction bent.