Monday, June 10, 2013

Prairie Lights in Iowa, and a List of Books Read in May and June

 A tidbit about the future of the famed Prairie Lights Bookstore, one of the most visited destinations for bibliophiles in Iowa. I sincerely hope that they don't close down, as Iowa, like most states, needs every independent bookstore that they have!

Prairie Lights "represents the very best
of the increasingly rare independent,
brick-and-mortar bookstores," Fortune magazine noted in its profile of
the Iowa City bookseller, which "manages to thrive through the support
of its loyal customer base that cannot imagine life without it."

Jan Weissmiller, co-owner of the business with Jane Mead, said, "The
hardest part is how fast the business is changing. No one knows what
will happen with e-books. Thirty-five percent of people have e-readers.
Kids are being trained to read on them."

Asked about the future, he observed: "I'm 57 and I have to figure out
what the future of the store will be.  It feels like an unstable time in
bookselling but also an opportunity. Jane and I want to make changes
that both stabilize the business and create continuity."

Now, as to my list of books read in the past two months, realize that I've been having serious trouble with my Crohn's Disease during the past 6 months, because I've been without treatment for that long. I also have had a serious upper respiratory infection, and my entire family has been ill at one time or another in the past few months. This lead me to having some time to read in bed, which is normally a good thing, but it's hard to concentrate when you're hacking up a lung and you can't breathe through your nose. That said, I read more 'light' books than I usually do, including a romance novel that was supposed to be a paranormal romance, I think, but didn't really have enough "magic" in it to qualify.
Still, it was a distraction that I welcomed while I recovered.

Bronze Gods, Ann Aguirre and her husband
I've been a fan of Ann's since I read her first Sirantha Jax SF story, "Grimspace" and loved it. Now she and her husband are co-writing Steampunk novels, which is interesting, but makes me wonder how much of the actual writing Aguirre's husband did, and how much was his author wife, who is more experienced in this realm. Still, it was an interesting novel, if a bit too detailed and dry. It got bogged down with detail that slowed the plot to a crawl in spots, and there were times when I really didn't care about the character's thought processes or the lead male's headaches he seems to get whenever he uses his fae powers. The female protagonist is a bit better, and keeps things moving, though she, too, seems a bit dry and fussy. I hesitate to say boring, but that is what excessive detail and redundancy does in a novel, it turns a promising shiny storyline dull and flat.
But I have hopes that the Aguirres will get better as time goes on, and they work on more novels together.
Fairest, Gail Carson Levine
I love re-booted fairy tales, and this remake of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves had it all, intrigue, mystery, a funny and fascinating protagonist and an evil queen with a fairy enslaved in a mirror. Aza is no ordinary Snow White, however, as she's a foundling who turns out to be part dwarf, and is therefore bigger, broader and, in the opinion of the rabble, uglier than the regular humans around her. Yet she makes her own way and is happy with her adoptive family, all of whom love her just as she is, for her internal beauty and her gorgeous singing voice. Eventually, the prince, who has big ears and isn't all that handsome or charming, falls for Aza and though he doesn't awaken her with a kiss, the Heimlich manuver turns out to be just what is needed to save our heroine, who triumphs in the end, and learns to love herself, roundness and all.
Melting Stones, Tamora Pierce
I've read Pierce's "Circle of Magic" quartet, and though I loved them, I wasn't too motivated to read the second series, "The Circle Opens" because, though I do love her characters, I felt as if I'd spent enough time in their company for now, and I wanted to get on to other books in my TBR. Then I happened to see this book, Melting Stones, on sale at Barnes and Noble for a very low price, and I just had to have it, because it looks so intriguing, with the Asian girl on the cover, carrying a stone the size of a toddler. Evvy the stone mage is in training at the Winding Circle temple, where the characters from the Circle of Magic were also trained as they grew from children to adults. She is on a mission with dedicate Rosethorn, whom we've met in the other books, to a tropical island that has had a number of earthquakes and that is volcanic. Evvy sets out to learn more about the island's stones and ends up trying to avert a volcanic erruption that would wipe out the whole island. Evvy is quite a character, something of a stubborn and cranky person, but she does manage to grow through the book and learn more about herself and the limits of her power. She has a crystal heart of a mountain with her, named Luvo, who is a sentient, talking, walking stone. Though they're considered Young Adult books, I always enjoy Pierce's fine storytelling and lucid prose.  This book was no exception, though I found myself getting tired of the volcanic liquid rock characters, who were so hellbent on escaping that they didn't care who they harmed on the Island.
Someday, Someday, Maybe,  Lauren Graham
I watched Lauren Graham play Lorelai in the TV show Gilmore Girls for 7 seasons, and I loved her character and her acting, which seemed so natural and funny. Now Graham is playing a character on a TV show called Parenthood, which is not as much fun as Gilmore Girls, and her character isn't nearly as attractive or pleasant as Lorelai Gilmore. Still, Graham makes it work, and I picked up this book because I wanted to see if she could write as well as she can act. Truly, she writes like her character in Gilmore Girls, in a sort of fast-paced dialog and funny happenstance. Franny, the books protagonist, is clumsy, charming and witty, just like Lorelai, but Franny is desperate to become an actress with a real job before her self-imposed deadline of 3 years sails by. This book is the story of her last 6 months in New York, and the auditions, the agents, the skeevy boyfriends and the good friends that surround her. I did laugh a lot through the book, but found that at certain points it was hard to believe that a grown woman couldn't see through the manipulative jerk of a boyfriend and realize that the caring and kind room mate was a better choice. It is also hard to believe that a grown woman can't remember to pick up her purse instead of a filofax notebook, deal with her own hair, or know that she's beautiful in the eyes of the public and her family. Sometimes Franny just seemed stupid instead of ridiculously cute, and bumbling instead of charmingly clumsy. Still, you forgive her by the end, and find yourself hoping that Franny lives happily ever after, with a good agent and a good job on TV and a good boyfriend who truly loves her, klutz, ditz and all.
The JM Barrie Ladie's Swimming Society, Barbara J Zitwer
This book came recommended as the next best thing to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, so I pounced on a copy the moment that I had a few sheckels to spare.
Initially I was charmed by protagonist Joey Rubin, a successful junior architect in New York who gets the chance of a lifetime to plan the remodel and refurbish of an old English mansion called Stanway House, the place where JM Barrie wrote Peter Pan. Joey loves Peter Pan and loves great architecture, and seems like the perfect person to help preserve the glory and dignity of the old manse. However, once Joey meets up with an old college friend who has married, moved to England and had four children, the shine of her character quickly wore off. Joey took one look at a woman who was supposedly her best friend, and immediately judged her in the worst possible way, saying she was fat, that she'd let herself go, that her hair was a mess and that she was now somehow boring, matronly and less of a person just because she'd gained weight, which is inevitable when you have to carry 4 babies around inside of you for 9 months.  Joey comes off as b*tchy, catty and cruel, and I found myself losing interest in her because she seemed so shallow, interested only in how great her clothing was, how thin she looked, the horrific thought that she might have crow's feet at the side of her eyes (how horrifying!) and her obvious dislike of children. She finds them too loud and messy, but when her yippy little dog is loud and messy, that's okay, of course. Ugh. I really hate that kind of woman, and I don't imagine many readers would find her too sympathetic, either. She does come to accept four older women, seniors who have a kind of polar bear swimming club at a local lake, where she learns hard lessons about swimming in water that can give you hypothermia or frostbite. Though she falls for the caretaker and eventually comes around from being such a jerk to her friend, I still wanted to slap some sense into Joey, and I sincerely hope that the character grows out of her shallow behavior, eventually, especially if she marries and has to raise the caretaker's teenage daughter.
The Princesses Of Iowa, Molly Backes
This novel wasn't at all what I thought it would be. I hadn't assumed it was so teenage/YA focused, and I hadn't realized that snotty, wealthy high school girls can also be from Iowa, and can make the same mistakes as high school girls everywhere. Though I did see lots of cruelty and ruthlessness when I was at Ankeny High School, I was never popular or pretty enough to see inside the machinations of the cheerleaders and the jocks, or the wealthy kids who were popular because their parents bought them everything and allowed them to drink alcohol at parties they had at their fancy houses when their parents were away. There were always tragedies, of course, kids who got into car accidents, kids who cheated, stole money from their parents for drugs, ended up in jail, etc.  But in this novel, there is a teacher who happens to be wonderful at what he does, making the kids in his English class want to write and read, and yet when a boy calls him "Gay" and lies about the teacher coming on to him, the teacher loses his job and our protagonist Paige realizes that she is at fault for what went wrong. Things end up working for the best, though there are a lot of prejudices written about here that I don't think are quite as strong these days in schools (witness Iowa's allowing gay marriage to become legal years ago) and I think that a "pretty girl" crossing over to the "nerd" camp wouldn't be so remarkable, either today. But it was an interesting viewpoint to read about, and somehow made me feel better about not being one of the popular kids at Ankeny High School...they had more problems and more pressure to perform to parental standards than I did.
Tapestry of Fortune, Elizabeth Berg
Cecelia Ross is a wonderfully well-drawn main character in this, Berg's 24th novel (I've read 6 of her books). Ber's prose is always so clean and fresh, you feel as if it would smell like laundry hung out to dry in the sunshine if it could. Cece, as she's called, gets rid of most of her belongings and then moves into a house with 3 housemates, Lise, Joni and Renie, each with her own problems and her own story to tell. Cece eventually comes to love and understand each of her new friends, and together they help her grieve the loss of her best friend too soon. I identified with Cece, because I lost my best friend too soon, as well, and you find that the hole in your life can't be filled by anyone else, though it does help to make new friends and keep moving forward with your life. The ladies use various fortune telling devices throughout the book, which is a kind of fun conceit, though I wish they'd treated it a bit more seriously and had a few more sessions than they did. Still, Berg is not an author to leave you wanting, and her books always have good endings, told in a beautifully-paced plot that is brisk and powerful.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, Maria Semple
I believe I've already done a review of this novel, which is supposed to be comedic, but I didn't find it funny much at all. Unless you count funny as strange. For a book about Seattle and surrounding communities, the book is rife with vitriol for Seattle people, places, cuisine, fashion and schools. Bernadette, the mother in the title, is a nutjob from California who delights in looking down on all the people she sees as beneath her and her daughter and husband. Her husband Elgie is a wonderkind who sold his company to Microsoft and is now working with a team to bring his creation to fruition. Soo-Lin, a woman who is the admin assistant for Elgie and his team, falls for him and while she loathes his wife, along with all the other women in the neighborhood, she somehow feels that she deserves to sleep with him and become his second wife, though it would seem that Elgie is still in love with Bernadette, no matter how crazy she becomes. Of course, being a guy, Elgie sleeps with Soo-Lin, who gets pregnant and then is upset to find out that Elgie doesn't love her or want to divorce his wife. Elgie does, however, listen to the venom that Soo Lin and her friends spill into his ears, and he tries to stage an intervention to get his wife locked up in a mental institution "for her own good." It is then that Bernadette, with the help of an unexpected ally, disappears, only to have her daughter Bee go to great lengths to try and find her mother, though a cruise ship company claims she went overboard and died. Though we get a lot of background information on Bernadette from emails, letters, bills, etc that her daughter collects, I still didn't like Bernadette at all, and thought she was insane for abandoning her child and for doing so many crazy things to her neighbors out of spite. She seemed cruel to the point of sociopathy, and I don't know that the author wanted her to be such a misanthrope and so detestable. Still, Bee is a great kid, and I was able to like her best of all the characters. The prose was fine, the plot full of zest, but the characters were just too bitter, like a bad cuppa coffee.
Wizard's Daughter, Catherine Coulter
This was a novel that tried to be a paranormal romance, and came this close, but ultimately failed. The female protagonist, Rosalind, was just too silly and flighty to carry the weight of all the things that were happening to her and around her, and her man Nicholas, though brave and handsome and all that, seemed only interested in sex and not interested enough in solving the centuries-old mystery of a book written by a wizard that only Rosalind can read. Though there is too much sex in it for it to be a YA novel, the level of sophistication in the prose and the plot seems about right with 13 year old girls. The book reminded me of the Madeline Brent books I used to read (and the Harelquin romances) when I was 12 and 13, full of the bluster and burgeoning hormones of youth. I would only recommend this book for when you're looking for something very light and mindless, as a distraction.
Aunt Dimity and the Next of Kin, Nancy Atherton
I'd tried to read an Aunt Dimity book previously, but I just couldn't get into it. Perhaps because this was an older book about Aunt Dimity, I fell into the dashing prose and lost myself in the story right away. Lori Shepard is able to volunteer because she is independently wealthy, and she stumbles upon a mystery when one of the patients that she reads to and chats with dies unexpectedly, leaving her with an envelope, a set of keys and a note. It turns out that Ms Beecham, her friend who passed, has left bits of her fortune to a number of people who really need the money. Then there is the lawyer who tells Lori that she's to have any furniture that she wants from Ms Beechams apartment. Lori discovers a secret drawer and some photos, and realizes that Ms Beecham wanted her to find her brother and solve a long held mystery. Lori meets many interesting characters along the way, and eventually, though it is slow-going, everything turns out all right in the end. I went and bought 8 more Aunt Dimity novels from Finally Found books, and I plan on delving into them at my earliest opportunity.
I also read Dead Ever After, the last Sookie Stackhouse book by Charlaine Harris and I am more than halfway through Wife 22 by Melanie Gibson. So I'm finally making a dent in my TBR stack, though the rest of the month is going to be terribly busy, so I might not get the chance to read much more.

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