Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Steinbeck Anniversary and Autumn Bones by Jacqueline Carey

As you all probably know by now, I am a huge fan of John Steinbeck's works, and I didn't realize that so much time has gone by since the publication of the Grapes of Wrath. Still, I think it is marvelous that the National Steinbeck Center is sponsoring this tour. I wish I could attend.

75th Anniversary: Grapes of Wrath

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Grapes of
Wrath by John Steinbeck, the National Steinbeck Center, Salinas, Calif., is sponsoring a tour that
will retrace the route of the Joad family from Oklahoma to California,
beginning tomorrow and ending October 14.

On the tour, a team of artists, including playwright Octavio Solis,
visual artist Patricia Wakida and filmmaker P.J. Palmer, will collect
oral histories and aims to answer "three critical questions inspired by
The Grapes of Wrath: What keeps you going? What do you turn to in hard
times? What brings you joy when times are tough?"

At each stop along the route, the Center will also host or participate
in public programs, panel discussions and creative workshops about The
Grapes of Wrath. At each stop, the Penguin Group will use the Penguin
Book Truck and Penguin Pushcart to sell Steinbeck titles.

Among the stops: the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City, the
Albuquerque Museum of Art and History and the Coconino Center for the
Arts in Flagstaff, Ariz.

The official Journey blog is live at

I would like to think that this is one reason I have decent social skills, but I believe being a theater major plays a role in that as well.

Study: Read Chekhov for Better Social Skills
Can reading Chekhov or Alice Munro improve your social skills
According to a study published yesterday in the journal Science,
researchers "found that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to
popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests
measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence--skills
that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone's body
language or gauge what they might be thinking," the New York Times

The researchers, social psychologists at the New School for Social
Research in New York City, suggested the reason for this is that
literary fiction "often leaves more to the imagination, encouraging
readers to make inferences about characters and be sensitive to
emotional nuance and complexity," the Times wrote.

"This is why I love science," said author Louise Erdrich, whose novel
The Round House was used in one of the experiments, adding that the
researchers "found a way to prove true the intangible benefits of
literary fiction. Thank God the research didn't find that novels
increased tooth decay or blocked up your arteries.... Writers are often
lonely obsessives, especially the literary ones. It's nice to be told
what we write is of social value. However, I would still write even if
novels were useless."

I find it interesting that so many people have adapted to new ways to read, by adopting technology. Though I have a Nook reader myself, I still prefer paper books, or dead tree additions, as they say.
Some 40% of adults, including 46% of those between 18 and 39, own an
e-reader or tablet, double the percentages of two years ago, and 60% of
college graduates own an e-reader, a USA Today and poll
has found. Respondents consisted of 1,000 adults; a supplemental poll
resulted in a total of 819 e-reader and tablet owners.

Among other findings:

* 27% of readers polled have used Facebook, Twitter or book websites to
comment on a book, and 50% of those under 40 who own a reading device
have used social media to comment on a book.

* 62% of households with annual income of at least $75,000 own at least
one reading device.
* 35% of those with reading devices are reading more than before.
* 51% of respondents say a lack of time keeps them from reading more
books, while 16% say they don't read more books due to lack of interest,
and 14% because of a lack of quality books.
* Among those who read more because of their reading devices, 23% said
they read more science fiction or fantasy, 16% more mystery and crime,
14% more romance and 14% more nonfiction.

And perhaps most important:

* 3% of respondents say books often play a role in making new friends or
finding a romantic partner, while 7% say this happens sometimes.

 Autumn Bones by Jacqueline Carey is the second book in her "Agent of Hel" series, and, as usual, it doesn't disappoint. Here's the blurb from the jacket:
"New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline Carey returns to the curious Midwest tourist community where normal and paranormal worlds co-exist—however tenuously—under the watchful eye of a female hellspawn…
Fathered by an incubus, raised by a mortal mother, and liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, Daisy Johanssen pulled the community together after a summer tragedy befell the resort town she calls home. Things are back to normal—as normal as it gets for a town famous for its supernatural tourism, and presided over by the reclusive Norse goddess Hel.
Not only has Daisy now gained respect as Hel’s enforcer, she’s dating Sinclair Palmer, a nice, seemingly normal human guy. Not too shabby for the daughter of a demon. Unfortunately, Sinclair has a secret. And it’s a big one.
He’s descended from Obeah sorcerers and they want him back. If he doesn’t return to Jamaica to take up his rightful role in the family, they’ll unleash spirit magic that could have dire consequences for the town. It’s Daisy’s job to stop it, and she’s going to need a lot of help. But time is running out, the dead are growing restless, and one mistake could cost Daisy everything…"

Daisy and her protector/godmother the Lamia are  two of the most fantastic characters in the history of urban fantasy novels. Add in a werewolf cop (whom Daisy has a crush on) and some family squabbles with a New Orleans witchcraft bent and you have a book full of funny and fast-paced adventure. We find out that Daisy's best friend's sister becomes a vengeful vampire in this sequel, and we also learn of the limits of Hel's (the goddess, not the place) patience, as Daisy needs a computer genius/geek to set up her paranormal database, and finds that the price for so doing is to meet her employer, so the aforementioned geek can put Hel into one of his videogames. 
Personally, though I understand Daisy is young, I find her naivete to be somewhat trying when she's dealing with her love life, and her attraction to Cody the werewolf seems ridiculous when she knows that he is not allowed to marry anyone but another werewolf. Sinclair didn't seem to be a great option, either, as he forgot to mention that his mother and sister are witches who will do anything to get him to abandon the life that he's chosen to come back to his home state and practice witchcraft with them. Though I get why she's intent on having as normal a life was possible, I still wonder why she slept with "officer down-low" when she knows that relationship is a dead end. I understand why she slept with Sinclair, because she was juiced from the hormones of the satyr-inspired orgy she had to break up (with the help of her Lamia godmother), but I fear that she's getting herself in deeper with the cop and that way leads to heartbreak. 
However, the book itself was beautifully written, with muscular prose and Carey's usual zingy plot, which when combined with her fantastic characters and excellent storytelling creates a book that you can't put down. A well-deserved A for this installment of the Agent of Hel series, which leaves readers hungry for more. I'd recommend it to all those who love smart urban fantasy.

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