Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Bookstore, The Danger Box, the Suicide Shop, Seduction and Finally Found's New Home

I was very fortunate to get a ride with a fellow book lover Charlotte Cormier to the opening of Finally Found Books in Auburn last month. It was a hotter-than-hades day and we had trouble finding parking, but we had a great time anyway, and Char bought several used books, while I bought one new book and two used books, one of which was for Susan Whalen, who handfasted with my father this summer in a pagan ceremony in Iowa.
Todd and his staff were sweating mightily and hard at work when everyone arrived, yet they managed to put on a nice spread of finger foods and cold drinks while we listened to the authors read from their books and talk about why they became writers. The store seems much bigger than the former Baker Street Books space in Black Diamond, but I am still going to miss having a bookstore within a 5-10 mile radius of my home in Maple Valley, Washington.  Still, I wish Todd and company nothing but success in Auburn on that busy street corner. I know that I will be visiting again soon!

Finally Found Books Finds Happy New Home
After little more than a year in Black Diamond, Wash., last month
Finally Found Books moved 15 minutes
away to a new location in Auburn. As Todd Hulbert, owner of Finally
Found Books, explained in an e-mail to customers sent out earlier this
summer, the move was one of necessity. Sales were simply too low to make
staying in Black Diamond feasible; the store would have to move or

"We were out in a very small, historic mining town," explained Hulbert.
"We just couldn't get the traffic necessary to justify leaving the store

The store opened on schedule on August 20, after a "mad rush" of putting
in new floors, installing more than two miles of shelves and
transporting more than 100,000 books to the new location. The Auburn
store is around 4,400 square feet--an increase of 800 square feet over
the previous location--and Hulbert has already expanded the inventory by
about 30%.

The store's opening-night "wine and cheese" celebration drew a crowd of
more than 100 people, and featured local writers Jeanne Matthews, author
of the Dinah Pelerin mystery series; Susan Schreyer, author of the Thea
Campbell mystery series; Tom Blaschko, author of Calculating Soul
Connections: A Deeper Understanding of Human Relationships; Lisa Stowe,
author of the Mountain Mystery series; and Waverly Curtis, author of the
Barking Detective series. Each of the authors talked about and read from
their respective books, and two copies of each book were raffled.

By not moving too far away, Hulbert has been able to retain many
existing customers while attracting many new ones. "We're a lot more
accessible to a lot of people. About 25,000 cars go by per day." In the
first two weeks in Auburn, the store's revenues are up more than 50%,
Hulbert said.

In Black Diamond, the inventory of Finally Found Books was roughly 95%
used books and 5% new. Hulbert has increased the number of new books
substantially, and plans to keep increasing as far as revenues allow. He
also hopes to expand the store's offerings of author events, ideally
hosting events several nights per week. Now that the store is settled in
Auburn, there's more work to do: lining up authors and drawing in book
clubs. --Alex Mutter of Shelf Awareness

There's a new documentary coming out about the infamous JD Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye and Franney and Zoey.  Though this documentary already has a very critical review running against it, I feel compelled to watch it when I can find it playing locally. Anyone who has ever read Catcher in the Rye has to wonder about the man who wrote such a ground-breaking book that has become a controversial classic.

Even the Weinstein Company, charged with marketing Shane Salerno's
nine-years-in-the-making documentary Salinger, wasn't able to suppress
before release the film's biggest secret--that legendary author J.D.
Salinger had five unreleased novels finished before his death, novels
that his estate to are planning to release before 2020," Indiewire

The movie, a last-minute Toronto International Film Festival screening,
"purports to be much more than a series of twists, although it does
adopt the aesthetic of a thriller. Five new clips and a last-minute
have just debuted, showing that Salinger was a symbol that of which we
only witnessed a fraction."

And for this of a more cynical bent, Buzzfeed helpfully offered "9
reasons Salinger might be too annoying to see
even if you really love J.D. Salinger."

This is a fascinating list that had me adding bookstores to my Bucket List! I was especially enamored of the Venice, Italy bookstore that has a sign saying that they will rent you a cat, probably for lap sitting/purring while you read.
To buy or to borrow... that is the question. Messy Nessy highlighted "10
inspiring bookshops around the world
calling them "just some shops that sell books that I think are worth
crossing oceans for."

These are GORGEOUS libraries...would that I could lead a world library tour! 

In showcasing "16 libraries you have to see before you die
Buzzfeed found "amazing libraries [that] are full of beautiful
interiors--and books--to check out."

Four books I've just finished are "The Bookstore" by Deborah Meyler, The Danger Box by Blue Balliett, The Suicide Shop by Jean Teule and Seduction by MJ Rose.
The Suicide Shop is a French book, therefore the 'gallows humor' is tinged with the Gallic penchant for an existential outlook on life. You can almost hear Jean-Paul Sarte reading this book aloud and laughing a bone-dry laugh at the end. In a dystopian future, when all hope is lost for a decent quality of life, the Tuvache family owns a popular business that sells a variety of creative ways of committing suicide. They have everything from strong ropes with a pre-knotted hangman's noose to poisoned potions and a 'produce section' that includes toxic frogs and other comestibles that kill. Everyone in the Tuvache family is appropriately grim, including an anorexic son who has a perpetual headache and invents creative ways to off yourself, a daughter who believes herself ugly and unlovable, and a mother who has a "Russian roulette" candy dish at the front of the store for children that allows one out of three candies to be deadly. Unfortunately, while trying out condoms that have pinprick holes in them, the Tuvache mere and pere concieve a child named Alan, who is born with a sunny, optimistic outlook on life. He listens to happy songs, he smiles constantly and wishes the customers of the suicide shop "good morning" instead of the requisite "farewell."  Throughout the book and his parents deepening despair, Alan loves everyone he meets, talks people out of suicide and transforms a number of the potions and suicide kits into innocuous items that give people hope for a better life. Alan gets his brother to taste good food and to eat, which improves his outlook on life and prevents him from creating more death traps, he consistently tells his sister how beautiful she is, and gives her a silk scarf that starts her on a journey of self discovery and love, and he shows his mother how to make great cafe food that can feed people cheaply and well, creating in her a love of helping others live instead of helping them die. Everyone is on board with the shop becoming a community cafe full of life and love except Mishima, the father of the family, who keeps trying to find ways to kill Alan and get his grim shop, which has been in his family for generations, back up and running. Fortunately, Alan wins over his father in the final moment, just before the surprise ending to a cunningly plotted book. Though you can read this book in an afternoon, it holds some wonderfully profound ideas on reasons for living a good life in service of others and not turning to despair and suicide as an answer to problems.

The Bookstore is the second book I've read recently that was written by an English/British female author. Therefore I was less surprised that the protagonist, Esme Garland, was something of a whiny wimp when it comes to love, as it seems that once an English gal gets ahold of her man, she can't imagine letting him go, even if he's a complete psychopathic asshat. Esme, who is supposedly a brilliant Cambridge grad working on her PhD at Colombia University in NYC on scholarship, meets a rich "blue blood" New York native Mitchell van Leuven, and seems to fall rapidly under his spell, despite it being obvious to the reader that this guy is one of those charming "players" who puts notches on his bedpost regularly. Mitchell breaks up with Esme three times, gives her clamidiya and she becomes pregnant within a short period of time, yet she still pines after this slimebag, whom she consistently describes as physically beautiful, but mentally unstable (He runs hot and cold with her, one minute being extremely loving and attentive and the next totally rejecting her and being cold and cruel. He sounds like a bi-polar manic depressive narcissist). After their initial breakup, Esme starts work at The Owl bookshop on the West Side of NYC. The store, run by a latter-day hippy named George, boasts a whole raft of crazy characters both on staff and as customers. Several of those characters are "street people" or homeless bums who are filthy physically and also not quite in their right minds, yet they are treated with respect and kindness in the store, given money and allowed to steal from the store for their own gain, which I found rather hard to believe in a cynical place like NYC. Luke, the night shift manager, is a sensitive young guy who teaches Esme about good music, how to be a bookseller and he also tries to help her see that she's better off without snobbish Mitchell. Though her prose was strong and her plot evenly paced, I feel that Meyler failed her protagonist by not giving her more grit and self awareness as a person, and by letting the ending just happen. I'd give this book a C+, and hope that Meyler comes up with someone a little tougher and smarter in her next novel.
The Danger Box is Balliett's 4th YA novel, and as with the previous three (which I read and enjoyed), there's a mystery involving a young man and a historical celebrity, in this case, Charles Darwin.
Zoomy is a bright 12 year old who, though he's legally blind, can see through the aid of heavy glasses and proximity. He was dropped off on his grandparent's doorstep (in a small town) in a cat carrier when he was a baby by his crazy alcoholic father, whom he hasn't seen since. Gam and Gumps, as he calls them, have raised Zoomy, who is somewhat autistic as well, because he has to make lists of everything he does to make sense of the world. When he's afraid or anxious, he has "worry crumbs" and when he ventures outside his comfort zone, he calls the unknown terrors "the deeps." When Zoomy's father steals a truck with a box inside that he drops off with his parents for safekeeping, Zoomy discovers an aged notebook inside with old-fashioned writing and drawing in it that turns out to be one of Charles Darwin's field journals from his trips to the Galapagos Islands where he formed his theory of evolution. Zoomy and his new friend Lorrol do research on Darwin, discover his nickname was "Gas" and form a partnership while they publish a series of newsletters called "The Gas Gazette" that reveal all sorts of information about Darwin in his voice without revealing his identity, and always ending with the line "Who am I?" Unfortunately, there is a man who belongs to a shadowy society of thieves who is looking to get the box with the stolen journal in it back at any cost.
Balliett runs a tight novel, and her prose is strong and graceful. Though her plots sometimes take side-routes and can stall a bit on rare occaisions, readers can rely on Balliett to get them to a satisfying ending that is usually educational, emotional and delightful. I loved Zoomy, and I eagerly await the next amateur sleuth that Balliett dreams up. This novel gets a B+, and I'd recommend it to preteens and early teens who like historical mysteries.
Seduction by MJ Rose is the sequel to her fascinating Book of Lost Fragrances, which takes place in the Channel Island of Jersey, while the Book of Lost Fragrances took place in France and other places in Europe. Jac L'Etoile, the mythologist who was raised to be a perfumer (and has the perfumer's nose) is back, grieving the loss of her love and searching for Celtic myths and for the lost journals of famed author Victor Hugo, who stayed on the Island and conducted seances using Ouiji boards and mediums to try and contact the spirit of his dead daughter. As reader's switch POVs in this novel from the present day with Jac to the past with Hugo and ancient times with a Celtic druid family, the mysterious connections come fast and furious, and the mystery of what really happened to Hugo deepens. The "Shadow of the Sepulcher," a nasty spirit who tries to seduce every generation it encounters, is a thematic thread that connects all three time periods as well. Rose writes with sumptuous prose that weaves its way through an intricate, elegant plot with characters who seem so real, readers will believe they've had tea with them by the time the book is finished. I also enjoy her judicious use of foreshadowing and her evocative use of smells, sights and sounds to bring the mileau of Jersey to life for the reader. The novel starts with the quote "Every story begins with a tremble of anticipation. At the start we may have an idea of our point of arrival, but what lies before us and makes us shudder is the journey, for that is all discovery." By the time the reader reaches the end of the book, the same quote has taken on a new, richer meaning, and we have the satisfaction of a tale well-told. Seduction deserves an A, and is a marvelous read for anyone who enjoys historical mysteries, famous author's lives and beautiful, transformative scents.

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