Sunday, July 28, 2013

Amazon's Price War and Dust and Shadow by Lindsey Faye, Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole

First, a note on Amazon's latest drama:
Shelf Awareness  --
Amazon's 'Declaration of War'

Yesterday quietly began discounting many bestselling
hardcover titles between 50% and 65%, levels we've never seen in the
history of Amazon or in the bricks-and-mortar price wars of the past.
The books are from a range of major publishers and include, for example,
Inferno by Dan Brown, which has a list price of $29.95 but is available
on Amazon for $11.65, a 61% discount; And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled
Hosseini, listed for $28.95, offered at $12.04, a 58% discount; Lean In
by Sheryl Sandberg, listed at $24.95, available for $9.09, a 64%
discount; and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, listed at $17.99,
available for $6.55, 64% off. A notable exception is The Cuckoo's
Calling by J.K. Rowling, using the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, which is
discounted 42%.

The discounts are far below the usual 40%-50% range sometimes offered by
Amazon, warehouse clubs and other discounters and are more typical for
remainders than frontlist hardcovers. In some cases, the hardcovers are
priced below the Kindle editions.

"It's an open declaration of war against the industry," said Jack
McKeown, president of Books & Books Westhampton Beach, Westhampton
Beach, N.Y. Like several people familiar with Amazon's move, he
speculated that Amazon has been "emboldened" by the Justice Department's
victory against five major publishers in the e-book agency model case as
well as Wall Street's acceptance of continued losses by Amazon for now
in the expectation of retail domination--and major profits--eventually.
This last point was seen most recently on Thursday, when Amazon's
quarterly results included a net loss and were below Wall Street
expectations but did not provoke the usual rush to sell, as is the case
with most companies whose results are disappointing.

Another possible reason for Amazon's boldness is its apparently cozy
relationship with the Obama administration--whose Justice Department
pursued the agency model case, which mainly benefited Amazon. This
relationship will be highlighted this coming Tuesday, when the president
will give another major speech on the economy and aiding the middle
class at, of all places, the Amazon warehouse in Chattanooga, Tenn. This
is roughly equivalent of going to a Wal-Mart and calling for more of the
kinds of jobs it offers. --John Mutter
Though this is frightening news, I am of two minds about it. I know that Amazon has put a great many indie bookstores out of business, but it has also brought business into the Seattle area and other areas of the country. Plus, since I buy a lot of books each year, it is inevitable that I will have to buy some of them at places like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, because I can't afford to pay the higher prices at Indie bookstores for all the books that I want. That doesn't mean that I don't buy books at my favorite indies, because I do, but there are times when the only way to find a particular title or twelve is at Amazon for 50 percent off. I know that I should just do without the books, rather than put more money in Jeff Bezo's pocket, but I am tremendously selfish when it comes to having lots of reading materials, so I just try to get as many books as I can from places like Powells and Island Books, and pray that somehow, Amazon's rapid growth will eventually slow to a crawl and leave some of the indies still standing.

I just finished a book that I bought on a whim called Dust and Shadow by Lindsey Faye, which was a Sherlock Holmes meets Jack the Ripper story, set in 19th Century London. Though she's obviously young, Faye has Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's writing 'voice' and style down to a science. I forgot, at times, that I was reading a modern-day writer and believed I was reading one of Doyles detective stories. It was also clear that Faye has done her homework, and all the little details of the era, how people talked, what they ate, even how they spent their days and what their newspaper articles sounded like, were all impeccably drawn with what can only be termed loving care. Though I don't know what Holmes would have made of the Ripper killings, I find myself persuaded that Faye's belief in who dunnit, and why, to be more than plausible. Though the ending was a bit messy, I also found it logical and fascinating. I don't want to give away the ending, so I'll just say that if you're a fan of the greatest detective ever to live on the page and in TV and movies, you will love this mystery novel. A solid A, and I sincerely hope that Ms Faye continues to grace the public with more of her well tempered Holmes and stalwart Watson. Oh, and I have to mention that while other authors have done unspeakable things to Sherlock Holmes and his legend, among them marrying him off to a chit of a girl much younger than he, and not as smart, though twice as arrogant, Faye stays true to the Holmes and Watson that A Conan Doyle created and breathed life into for so many years. She doesn't try to update him, like the loathesome movies with Jude Law as a weak and watery Watson and sleazy Robert Downy Jr as Holmes, nor does she propose that Holmes was really Watson's beard, or that they were both just crazy. Faye's Holmes is brilliant, incisive and a thoroughly wonderful gentleman.

I also finished a marvelous book called "Letters From Skye" that was reminiscent of "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" in it's wit and charm and fine epistolary storytelling.  A young woman on a Scottish Island reaches out during WW1 to an American serviceman, and a delightful correspondence develops that leads to love. But of course, families and previous commitments get in the way, and the protagonist's daughter launches an investigation of her own during WW2 through letters to her own beloved soldier. There have been lots of books lately told in letters and emails and notes and twitter-bits, but this book doesn't fall into the trap of using the letters as an easy way out of telling the story. The prose in the letters is sublime, and reads exactly as letters of the time must have read, complete with idioms and slang and whatever fears and hopes and dreams people of the era harbored. I literally could not put it down. I loved the characters and the heartfelt letters. Beautifully done, and totally riveting, I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in historical romance, literary fiction or 'chick lit' with a bit of meat on its bones.  Another solid A, again with hope that the author will provide us with more of her work in the future.

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