Friday, September 06, 2013

Butterfly Sister, The Girl You Left Behind, Deepest Night and Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman

This is pretty funny, and I am sure similar things have happened to many a bookseller.

Every bookseller can tell you one of those stories you would only
experience working in a bookstore. On Saturday, Nick Berg of Boswell
Book Company, Milwaukee, Wis., had a "chance encounter" on the sales floor with an "enormous Harley-Davidson
rider" who "looked like one of the Vikings from the Capitol One Venture
Card television commercials and towered over me like a grizzly bear on
its hind legs."
Lifting his mirrored sunglasses, the biker said, "I'm looking for The
Song of the Lark." What happened next? Read Berg's entertaining post at
the Boswellians blog

 I adore Downton Abbey, and though I have to wait, like everyone else, for the nest season to air on PBS in January, I can, at least, salivate over these lovely trailers.
for the next season of Downton Abbey
according to, "hugs and kisses, dancing and brawling, smile
and scowls, lots and lots of meaningful glances, even advice on a
life-or-death decision." The series lands in the U.S. January 5 on PBS.

John Scalzi, a favorite SF author of mine, won a Hugo award last week for his novel "Redshirts" which is a parody of the red-shirted guys in Star Trek who are the first to die in every episode of the Original Series. Scalzi has a magnificent blog called "Whatever" and another series of books that I read called "The Old Man's War" series, and he's a former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He's also a decent gentleman who has granted me an interview in the past, and I am thrilled that he's finally been recognized for his work.
The Hugo Award and John W. Campbell Award winners were announced over
the weekend at LoneStarCon 3, the 71st World Science Fiction Convention.= 
The John W. Campbell Award for the best new professional science fiction
or fantasy writer of 2011 or 2012, sponsored by Dell Magazines, went to
Mur Lafferty.

The Hugo winners:

Best Novel: Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi (Tor)
Best Novella: "The Emperor's Soul" by Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon
Best Novelette: "The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi" by Pat Cadigan
(Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
Best Short Story: "Mono no aware" by Ken Liu (The Future Is Japanese,
VIZ Media)
Best Related Work: Writing Excuses, Season 7
Best Graphic Story: Saga, Volume 1 written by Brian K. Vaughn,
illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): The Avengers screenplay and
directed by Joss Whedon (Marvel Studios, Disney, Paramount)
Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): Game of Thrones: "Blackwater"
written by George R.R. Martin, directed by Neil Marshall (HBO)
Best Editor (Short Form): Stanley Schmidt
Best Editor (Long Form): Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Best Professional Artist: John Picacio
Best Semiprozine: Clarkesworld edited by Neil Clarke, Jason Heller, Sean
Wallace, and Kate Baker
Best Fanzine: SF Signal edited by John DeNardo, JP Frantz, and Patrick
Best Fancast: SF Squeecast
Best Fan Writer: Tansy Rayner Roberts
Best Fan Artist: Galen Dara

Prairie Lights is one of the most famous bookstores in America, and it happens to be in Iowa City, very near Wellman and Mt Pleasant and Cedar Rapids, all towns where my parents, grandparents and my brothers and I were born and raised. My father got his master's degree at the University of Iowa, which also happens to be the location of the famous Iowa Writer's Workshop, which has churned out a whole host of famous novelists and poets. All that goes to say is that I totally agree with the quote below.
"Like all great bookstores, Prairie Lights feels secure and comforting. There are many sections I never browse---it's healthy to feel limited; and, given
the store's 40,000 titles, inevitable. A staircase rises to the natural
light of the second floor, where a café buzzes, and the bookcases
roll away for the almost-nightly readings. On a recent Sunday afternoon,
it was overflowing with a crowd of young and old who had turned out for
a reading by the most recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction;
at the end of an hour, it seemed as if absolutely everyone were standing
in the lines for an autographed copy.

"It is at such moments, and not only during a bad day at work, that I
wonder why I didn't, fifteen years ago when I arrived in Iowa City,
apply for a job. I wouldn't mind unpacking and labeling and
section-coding and alphabetizing new arrivals, or learning the art of
buying from a publisher's backlist. When I walk past a case, my hand, of
itself, aligns a spine reshelved too deeply. And I've come to notice
that these opportunities to surreptitiously straighten are rare, because
the shelves tend to be immaculate, resonating with the loving attention
paid to them. And then I can't help suspecting that there are more hands
at work than just the staff's--that many, if not most, of the customers
are, like me, always working there in spirit; and that this is why
Prairie Lights feels like everyone's store."

--Hugh Ferrer in the Buenos Aires Review

This is the coolest little library, made from a bicycle!

Checking in at Little Free
Facebook page is always fun, but a post
yesterday was so mesmerizing that even the LFL folks couldn't resist
exclaiming: "Is this the most amazing, stupendously clever
excellent (?!) and stunningly cool Little Free Library ever? It's a
kinetic sculpture! A neighborhood art piece! Destined for the Museum of
Modern Art? The Walker? The Guggenheim? Have you ever seen anything this

I've just finished, this past week or so, "Revenge of The Middle-Aged Woman" by Elizabeth Buchan, "The Girl You Left Behind" by Jojo Moyes, "The Butterfly Sister" by Amy Gail Hansen and "The Deepest Night" by Shana Abe
The Deepest Night is the 7th book in Abe's rich and luscious "Drakon" series, and I must state at the outset that I am glad that she's seen fit to continue to illuminate the fantasy landscape with her beautiful Drakon stories. 
Abe's prose is flawless, and, like Patricia McKillip's, almost poetic with it's fluid grace and gorgeous images. Once begun, readers become mesmerized and can't put the book down as they become enchanted with Abe's world and her fascinating characters. Earlier books in the series have taken place in the 18th and 19th centuries, while the Sweetest Dark and Deepest Night take place in the early years of the 20th century, the latter taking place at the dawning of the First World War. This story is the continuation of Sweetest Dark, with Lora going out with Armand and helping rescue his brother from a German prison camp. As usual, I was riveted during the entire story, and saddened when it came to an end. However, inbetween the story continued to recount Lora's growing powers as a Drakon and her sorrow at missing her 'star' who seems to speak only to Armand and his father, who is stuck in an insane asylum. I'd be spoiling the book to give away much more, suffice to say that this book gets a well deserved A, with a recommendation to any who love dragon stories and beautifully-wrought prose.
The Girl You Left Behind is the second book of Moyes that I've read, the first being the wonderful "Me Before You" which told the story of a handicapped young man and his caretaker in a lovely, bittersweet tale that I will never forget. The Girl You Left Behind takes place in Nazi-occupied France and in current times, with flashbacks back and forth. The story concerns a painting of  Sophie Lefevre, created by her husband, a famous student of Millais. The painting gets lost and is eventually purchased by Liv Halston's husband for her as a wedding gift, and cherished after he dies unexpectedly. When the descendants of the Lefevre family attempt to recover the painting, claiming it was stolen from their family by the Germans during WW2, Liv (and her American lover who works for a recovery company) both research the past and struggle to find out what exactly happened to the painting and why it ended up being sold off a rubbish bin for $300, when it is now worth millions. I must confess that I found Sophie's story much more engaging than that of Liv's, who seemed a bit wimpy and whiny to me, and whose refusal to deal with her husbands death and debts just seemed ridiculously childish and weak. Especially in light of Sophie's struggles for survival. I would give this book an A-, and recommend it to those who enjoy stories of how people lived and died in WW2 France, and those who find stories of stolen art interesting.
Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman was at first a rather harrowing story of Rose Lloyd, whose husband decides to leave her for her editorial assistant, Minty, at the same time her boss decides to give her job to the scheming Minty as well. Rose is close to 50 years old, so the husband straying for a younger woman due to his own mid-life crisis is a well-worn cliche. However, Buchan manages to make her characters, including Rose's idiot husband Nathan, seem more than their awkward circumstances, allowing them to grow and change in ways that are unexpected enough to make them real. Although Rose spends way too much time mourning the loss of Nathan, and way too much energy attempting to get him to come back to her, I was glad that 2/3 of the way through the book, Rose realizes that she's going to be okay, and starts to move on with her life, getting work, having her children around and helping them with their lives, as well as hooking up with an old flame. By the time we've reached the end of the book, things have come full circle and Nathan the rat has gotten his comeuppance, as well as Minty getting hers. The best part is that Rose realizes the best revenge is living a better life after divorce than you had before. I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to those who have gone through a mid-life divorce and are wondering if they can survive the devastation. Hint: You can. 
The Butterfly Sisters wasn't at all what I thought it would be. Ruby Rosseau's alma mater is an all-women's college in the Midwest (similar to my alma mater, Clarke) where she had an affair with her literature prof, and only discovered later that he was a slimebag who used her thesis as his own and put his name on it. But when a suitcase belonging to a former classmate shows up on her doorstep, Ruby ends up going back to Tarble, her college, for homecoming, where she discovers that Beth is missing and presumed dead, and, as the story unfolds, she realizes that she wasn't the only one the slimebag professor took advantage of. Just when you think you know what is going to happen in this mystery/thriller disguised as a 'chick lit' novel, Hansen throws in a twist at the end that will surprise the reader into disbelief. Though I understand why Hansen decided to provide the bizarre twisty ending, I was taken aback by how no one seemed to suspect this character of being a crazed psychopathic killer. Still, the clean, workmanlike prose and the precise plot that never wavers until the end kept me reading to find out what happens to our protagonist Rose. Well worthy of a B+ for its unusual blend of good women and really, really bad ones, I'd recommend this to those who love mystery/thrillers in a collegiate environment.

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