Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fly Away, Baker Street Letters and The Ocean at the End of the Lane

First, as usual, a couple of bits of book news:

Shelf Awareness hosts book giveaways twice a month as a fun way to
promote new books, and our current giveaway--10 signed copies of Neil
Gaiman's new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane--is breaking
records. More than 10,000 people have entered already, which is a
testament to how much people adore Gaiman's work.

Take a look at the contest here
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz17469549 and watch for future
giveaways from DC Comics, Charlaine Harris and other writers.
Bookstores, bloggers and others can join in by posting the contest
button on their websites--the instructions are here http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz17469550.

Sadly, great writers seem to be passing away in great numbers recently:

Richard Matheson http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz17469573,
American author (I am Legend, The Shrinking Man, What Dreams May Come,
Hell House) and screenwriter (Twilight Zone, Steven Spielberg's film
Duel), died Sunday, Tor.com reported. He was 87. Matheson received a
World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime
Achievement and in 2010 was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of
Fame. Ray Bradbury called him "one of the most important writers
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz17469574
of the 20th century," io9 noted, adding that Stephen King credited
Matheson as "the author who influenced me most as a writer."

City Lights Bookstore is celebrating their 60th anniversary this week, too. It's great, and at the same time sad, that Elliott Bay Bookstore is one of the last independent bookstores left in Seattle. They had to move from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill, which may have limited them a bit.

Seattle Times book editor Mary Ann Gwinn explored the "evolution of
Elliott Bay Book Co. http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz17469584," which
celebrates its 40th anniversary later this week.

"It was 1973, and Walter Carr had a dream," Gwinn wrote. "He wanted his
own enterprise. He wanted to own a bookstore. He had grown up in San
Francisco, and knew City Lights Bookstore in North Beach, a beacon of
books and literature in a picturesque old neighborhood close to a bay.

"He considered Seattle, and like others eyeing opportunity here found
that Seattle's population was just as educated as San Francisco's,
similarly prosperous, but living in a less crowded and more accessible
town. He had lunch at Ivar's with a friend, walked around the historic
old Pioneer Square neighborhood, sat down in the Grand Central Bakery
and looked across the street at the old Globe Building. He called the
landlord. That is how the Elliott Bay Book Co. http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz17469585, one of the country's most loved and
revered bookstores, was born."

Among the amusing anecdotes was one from current owner Peter Aaron, who
recalled the "watershed moment" when Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay's
longtime head buyer and events coordinator, "turned up, holding onto a
garbage can from the nearby restaurant where he worked. He had just
finished high school, and he poked his head in and said, 'Oh, this is
great, I love books.' "

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman is a rare stand-alone adult novel in Gaiman's stable of works, which include his famed Sandman graphic novels and his equally famous children's books, like Stardust and Coraline. But not since American Gods and Anansi Boys has Gaiman lead us into the world of revamped mythology catered to the 21st century's media-drenched palate. Since he's British, there are in his previous works that satiric nod to all the things that the British find reprehensible and incomprensible about the "American colonies." What's odd about The Ocean at the End of the Lane is that it's a very British novel with no hints of Gaiman's usual keen stripping of American glamor and culture down to it's skivvies.
No, this novel is what happens, apparently, when Gaiman is left alone, separated by continents from Amanda Palmer, his new, young wife.
The story starts with a middle aged man returning home to Sussex, England for a funeral.  We never learn the man's name, nor do we discover who died, exactly, but all that is immaterial as the book plunges the protagonist into memories of a pivotal time in his childhood. Boy protagonist, it seems, was a precocious lad who gets involved with the three Hempstock ladies who live at the end of the lane near his home. There's granny Hempstock, mum Hempstock and the enigmatic Lettie Hempstock, who claims the pond by her house is actually the ocean, and who befriends Boy P. Unfortunately, Boy P witnesses the dead body of a lodger and learns that Lettie and her mother and grandmother have an uncanny kind of magic which they use to try and set things right with the universe, which has somehow been torn asunder by the entrance of a being that is bent on 'giving people what they want' while also trying to ruin Boy P's life. Bizarre events culminate in Lettie paying the ultimate price to save her friend Boy P, whose memory is wiped clean every time he leaves the Hempstock's farm.
The aching loneliness and sadness of children and the selfish cruelty of adults toward children are strong themes woven throughout the dreamy prose of the book.
But what really struck me about this slender volume was the pagan "Maiden, Mother, Crone" characters of the Hempstock women, who were such large Deus Ex Machina compared to the small, curious, lonely boy protagonist that the reader finds herself wanting to launch a campaign to get Neil Gaiman a puppy, so he won't be so sad in remembering his childhood, which is what readers will assume this novel to be, a cleverly-disguised autobiography of Gaiman's youth, with magic thrown in for good measure. Gaiman is such a brilliant prose stylist that he can't actually write a bad book, yet I still felt somewhat emotionally manipulated by the end, and I found myself wondering, yet again, why all English writers seem to have had such awful parents. Are there no warm and loving human beings left in England who know how to parent? Still, the novel itself rates an A, with the caveat that no one who is depressed or who has lost someone recently should read it, lest they fall even farther down the rabbit hole of black thoughts/moods.
Fly Away by Kristin Hannah is the sequel to Firefly Lane, wherein we find out just what happened to Tully Hart and Kate Ryan, best friends whose lives intertwined and then broke apart after Kate's death from breast cancer. Tully's career is crashing and burning, and Kate's family is being torn apart by grief. But Tully strives to help, only to be rebuffed by Kate's husband (who comes off as a real asshat) Johnny, whose inability to parent his children borders on the ridiculous. Meanwhile, we also learn why Tully's mother "Cloud," was unable to parent Tully and why she became an alcoholic drug addict living with a series of abusive men (Tully's mother suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her father while her mother swept the whole thing under the rug by forcing her daughter into mental institutions in the 1950s, where they used lobotomies, electroshock therapy and over medication to force young women into submission.) Though Cloud/Dorothy's story reads like a stereotype for addicts, homeless people and the mentally ill, I found her path of redemption, by going to AA and tending to her comatose daughter, to be so kind and lovely that it didn't matter that it was a heavily-trodden trope, it just mattered that mother and daughter forgave each other and reconnected. Tully herself was, at times, almost insufferably selfish, to the point where I wanted to smack her myself. Still, though she gave journalism a bad name, I found myself rooting for her recovery. That's a testament to the power of Kristin Hannah's writing ability, that she can take a sorrowful subject or two, like grief and addiction and turn them into riveting reading that will keep you turning pages long after midnight. The teenager Marah, Kate's daughter, has a rocky storyline that became annoying because of her blindness and naivete to being used by some goth creep. Fortunately, Marah wakes up just in time for an HEA ending, and again, I found myself wondering how I'd not looked up from the pages of Fly Away until 3 AM.  Deserving of an A, though it has a few B+ moments, I'd recommend this book to those who have addiction in their families.
Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson was a discounted book that I found at Barnes and Nobel, and I was surprised that it was better than I expected it to be. The novel is the story of two British lawyer brothers, Reggie and Nigel, who have taken over offices at the famed Sherlock Holmes address, 221B Baker Street in London. Though a fictional character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, people have been writing letters to Holme's address for decades, and the lease on the offices comes with a codicil that requires the lease holders to answer every letter that arrives with a form note, explaining, one assumes, that Sherlock Holmes is fictional, and even if he were not, he'd be long dead by now, having been written in the late 19th century. While brother Reggie is a successful barrister, his brother Nigel is the quintessential black sheep, always doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, and getting into trouble that only his brother can get him out of all the time. While going through the letters, Nigel finds a note that is 20 years old and decides to fly to America and investigate himself. Meanwhile, brother Reggie discovers a dead compatriot in Nigel's office and a note about his flight to America. So Reggie sets off to Los Angeles to find his brother, only to become embroiled in the mystery himself. Though both brothers seem somewhat clueless and hapless, they do eventually solve the mystery and neither gets the actress girlfriend in the end. I found myself being annoyed with the snobbish, shallow attitude of Reggie, the successful brother and the stupidity and culpability/gullibility of Nigel, the screw up brother. Having two unlikable protagonists usually sends me out of a book, never to return, but I felt compelled by the mystery to see this one to the end. I am not certain I'd want to read another volume of the Hapless Brothers of Baker Street mysteries, but I can say with certainty that there are a number of Sherlock Holmes fans who would find the series an amusing distraction, especially for a summer 'beach' read. A C+ rating with a B for British ingenuity.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wife 22 by Melaine Gibson and The Algonquin Hotel's Book Suites

Simon And Schuster are creating a literary hotel legend in New York, which gives bibliophiles like myself yet another reason to want to visit the Big Apple!

From Shelf Awareness:
Simon & Schuster and New York City's legendary Algonquin Hotel http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz17419613 have announced a partnership that will  offer guests and New Yorkers an "enhanced visit," beginning with the new
Simon & Schuster suite and a series of author events.

The Algonquin already has themed suites named after prominent Round
Table http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz17419614 legends, and guests
who book the Simon & Schuster package will stay in a suite on the
seventh floor with a living room, private bedroom and S&S memorabilia. A
bookcase will house a permanent collection of literary classics and
modern bestsellers. As part of the turndown service, guests will find on
the first night of their stay an ARC from one of S&S's imprints.

"We are constantly looking  for non-traditional  venues that can expand
the range of attendees at author events, as well as partnerships that
can bring further visibility to our  current publishing and company
history," said Liz Perl, senior v-p, marketing, for S&S. "The Algonquin,
with its longstanding and illustrious literary tradition, and its appeal
to author, reader and traveler alike, is the perfect partner to further
that ongoing effort."

A speaker series is also part of the partnership, with the publisher and
the Algonquin planning to host ongoing author readings at the property.
Chuck Klosterman, whose new book is I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with
Villains (Real and Imagined), launches the series July 8.

Gary Budge, general manager of the hotel, said the partnership with
Simon & Schuster "is not only 'on brand' for us, but brings our guests a
wonderful experience to enhance their time spent here."

I spent a summer in Kittery Maine and Portsmouth New Hampshire as a research assistant on a genealogy project. During that too-short summer I fell in love with the area, its people and marvelous cuisine (what is not to love about fresh lobster right off the boat?) So I was delighted to read that another bookstore is opening in Kittery.


RiverRun to Open Second Store, in Kittery, Maine


In September, RiverRun Bookstore <http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz17382902>,
Portsmouth, N.H., will open a small store in nearby Kittery, Maine, that
will carry new and used books. Owner Tom Holbrook wrote in the store's
e-mail: "It will be like RiverRun Portsmouth, except it will be about
the size of your living room."

The Kittery location will be in the Foreside area "right across the
street from AJ's. Our neighbors will include a coffee shop and a juice
bar!"

Holbrook said Riverrun is opening the store "because we care about our
Maine customers and don't want to lose them. We loooovvve Portsmouth,
but we understand that between bridge repair, parking, and general
hubub, it can be hard to shop here sometimes. As downtown Kittery grows
and becomes and exciting place to visit, we are excited to be a part of
that."

The news marks a nice turnaround for RiverRun, which just two years ago
nearly closed because of high rent and long-term debt
moved early last year and is now owned by a group of 15 community
members.
I have been a fan of Lillian Hellman and Dash Hammett since reading "Little Foxes" ages ago in high school. I also loved Pentimento, by Hellman, and I enjoyed the movie version of these works. Now another book has come out focusing on the relationship between the two, and I plan on grabbing a copy when I visit Powells City of Books in Portland next week (it's like my annual pilgrimage to bibliophile mecca)
Review: Lillian & Dash

Sam Toperoff (Jimmy Dean Prepares; Queen of Desire) brings Lillian
Hellman and Dashiell Hammett back to life in Lillian & Dash. Much has
been written about these two writers, playwrights, political activists,
drunks and lovers, but nothing better than this novel. Toperoff does not
pretend to be an earwitness to every private conversation, bit of pillow
talk or fight; instead, he weaves a great story out of the public
evidence that swirled around both parties.

They met in 1930, when Lilly was 24 and Dash 36, at a party given by
Darryl F. Zanuck at Hollywood's Brown Derby. They were both married, but
went to his place that night and were together, more or less, until
Dash's death in 1961. "Lillian believed him to be the most beautiful man
she had ever seen," Toperoff writes. "Hammett could not get over her
sexual force and presence." They both had other affairs but always got
back together again. Their attraction could not be denied for long.

Dash had been a Pinkerton man for several years, until the company's
union-busting activities turned him off. He was not formally educated,
having left school at 13, but he had a canny knack for reproducing the
seamy side of life and seeing through hypocrisy. His first novel, Red
Harvest, is a classic treatment of corruption and violence in America,
and was followed by even better-known works like The Maltese Falcon and
The Thin Man--both the basis for classic Hollywood pictures. Lillian
took on controversial themes as a playwright--a teacher accused of a
lesbian attachment in The Children's Hour, anti-fascism in Watch on the
Rhine and the family dispute of The Little Foxes--and made a success of
them. She also wrote memoirs and screenplays, making her living with her
pen all of her life. (Dash was not as successful over the years; booze
often got in the way.)

They were both political activists on the left; Lillian testified before
the HUAC, where she famously said, "I cannot and will not cut my
conscience to fit this year's fashions." Dash was imprisoned for five
months for "advocating the overthrow of the United States government."

Toperoff has interwoven the lives of these two larger-than-life people
and brought us an understanding of their wit, humor, intelligence,
talent and care for each other. --Valerie Ryan


I finished Melanie Gideon's "Wife 22" in short order this month, mainly because it was yet another epistolary book, one of many that seem to be flooding the market.
Though I enjoy a good peek into other people's correspondence just as much as the next nosy parker, I still think that authors of stories that are told through letters and emails and text messages are somehow being lazy by not actually creating a normal story with plot, characters and fine prose. After all, it is easy to write first person letters, or shoot off a quick email, or a semi-garbled text to someone, people in 21 century society do that constantly. I suppose the theory is why not just put them together and try to make a cohesive story out of it, so you don't have to do the heavy lifting of fiction? Hrrumph.
Despite my irritation at its mode of expression, I found Wife 22 to be a predictable, but fun read. I don't think it will spoil anything to say that I knew the identity of "researcher 101" after the second chapter...it was so obvious, that it made me wonder if Alice the wife was really as much of an oblivious dunderhead as she seemed. Her husband William was no better, keeping his secret from her and not opening up to her until he was forced to. Still, her answers to the questions and her ruminations were fascinating, and her sense of humor refreshing. I found her desperate clawing need for security/money to be quite a downer, and the fact that she ignored all her friends wise advice to also be rather stupid of her. But it was a nice 'beach' read for summer, and as such I give it a B-, barely edging out a C+, for the idiotic behavior of the protagonist. I'd recommend this book to women who have enjoyed Bridget Jones Diary.

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
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz17305769 "represents the very best
of the increasingly rare independent http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz17305770,
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.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

OMG! Island Books Has Been Stalked by Amazon!

I just read this in today's edition of "Shelf Awareness" and I was dumbfounded!
What could Amazon be thinking, trying to get great bookstores like Island Books to pimp Kindles and Kobo electronic readers for them? I really wish I'd been a fly on the wall when Nancy Page gave them a piece of her mind! Go Nancy!

Amazon's Wild Pitch to Indies: 'Wanna Sell Kindles?'

Last week, Skylight Books , Los Angeles,
Calif., posted an intriguing blog entry about a phone call the shop had
received from a supposed representative of Amazon http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz17254172,  who apparently "was given the task of reaching out to independent
bookstores in order to 'build' a 'relationship' with the indies in order
to 'partner' with us in a program to sell Kindles in our store... yeah,
really."

Was the call genuine? Immediate online reaction leaned toward the
skeptical side http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz17254173,
including a post at the Stranger noting "they have no proof that the
caller was actually calling from Amazon."

But we now know for sure that Amazon has approached at least one other
independent bookseller about selling Kindles. Roger Page, co-owner of
Island Books http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz17254174, 

Mercer Island, Wash.,
was standing near his wife, Nancy, when she fielded a call like the one
made to Skylight Books. "I believe they mentioned the word Kobo and said
they could offer competitive prices," he said, adding that he suspected
the caller was "somebody low down on the totem pole" and describing
Nancy's response as "very firm."

Because Island Books is located near Seattle and many Amazon employees
live in the area, he also noted that it is not unusual for the company
to sound him out occasionally regarding various issues, so the recent
call was not surprising. "I think this is how they test out ideas," he
said. "A lot of these guys know me." When he heard about Amazon's
telemarketers possibly contacting Skylight and other indies nationwide
to discuss the Kindle option, however, he said, "That is a little
different."

Yesterday, the Stranger returned with an update http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz17254175.
Although, as expected, the online retailer had not responded to a
request for more information, other booksellers checked in to say they
had also been contacted and one provided an e-mail address they were
given over the phone.

Writing to the address generated an auto-reply, which resembled "a
number of Kindle-centric 'Field Sales Representative http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz17254176'
job listings on their site to promote local retail sales of Kindles. If
this really is a new initiative of Amazon's, and it increasingly looks
like it is a real thing, I don't expect it to go very well. I've never
met an independent bookseller who has even ambivalent feelings about
Amazon. They all hate Amazon, with a passion that they never could
manage to muster for Barnes & Noble. I almost feel sorry for these
Kindle telemarketers," the Stranger wrote.

I have a history with Island Books because the store itself is right in front of the offices of the Mercer Island Reporter, where I worked on staff for 8 years. I used to take nearly every check across the parking lot to Island Books and buy books, pens, reading glasses, toys for Nick and even chocolate from Cindy, Nancy, Roger and the rest of the great booksellers at that store. I grew to know and love the place as if it were my second home. I can't imagine they'd ever sell electronic readers for Amazon, that gulper of book buyers, because they have been such a detriment to the community book store, which is holy ground for those of us who love physical books and read them religiously. I hope that Island Books stands firm against online retailers and their electronic devices for many years to come!

Monday, June 03, 2013

Books on Bikes, Pushcarts and Joss Whedon's Speech

These folks had a great idea for getting books to people on the street!


The Penguin Book Truck and Pushcart
stocked with books from all of Penguin Group's imprints, are hitting the
road this summer, heading for book-related events, festivals and more.
Inspired by the design of the classic New York City hot dog cart, the
Penguin pushcart will be transported by the truck to various locations,
including bookstores, parks, beaches, sidewalks in shopping districts,
summer theaters and green markets. The truck is making its debut at BEA
this week.
Biking for Seattle's Readers: 'Full Service Library on Wheels'

The Seattle Public Library has launched its Books on Bikes
initiative, which features a full-service library on wheels,
Book Patrol reported. The pilot program will bring library services to
popular community events via bike this summer. A total of 11 library
staff members make up the Books on Bikes team.

Joss Whedon, creator/writer/director of such great shows as "Firefly," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Dollhouse" gave the graduates at Wesleyan College a fascinating commencement speech to chew on as they go off to make their way in the world.
What I’d like to say to all of you is that you are all going to die. ... You have, in fact, already begun to die. You look great. Don’t get me wrong. And you are youth and beauty. You are at the physical peak. Your bodies have just gotten off the ski slope on the peak of growth, potential, and now comes the black diamond mogul run to the grave. And the weird thing is your body wants to die. On a cellular level, that’s what it wants. And that’s probably not what you want.
I’m confronted by a great deal of grand and worthy ambition from this student body. You want to be a politician, a social worker. You want to be an artist. Your body’s ambition: Mulch. Your body wants to make some babies and then go in the ground and fertilize things. That’s it. And that seems like a bit of a contradiction. It doesn’t seem fair. For one thing, we’re telling you, “Go out into the world!” exactly when your body is saying, “Hey, let’s bring it down a notch. Let’s take it down.”
And that’s actually what I’d like to talk to you about. The contradiction between your body and your mind, between your mind and itself. I believe these contradictions and these tensions are the greatest gift that we have.
You have, which is a rare thing, that ability and the responsibility to listen to the dissent in yourself, to at least give it the floor, because it is the key – not only to consciousness, but to real growth. To accept duality is to earn identity. And identity is something that you are constantly earning. It is not just who you are. It is a process that you must be active in.
This contradiction, and this tension … it never goes away. And if you think that achieving something, if you think that solving something, if you think a career or a relationship will quiet that voice, it will not. If you think that happiness means total peace, you will never be happy. Peace comes from the acceptance of the part of you that can never be at peace. It will always be in conflict. If you accept that, everything gets a lot better.
Because you are establishing your identities and your beliefs, you need to argue yourself down, because somebody else will. Somebody’s going to come at you, and whatever your belief, your idea, your ambition, somebody’s going to question it. And unless you have first, you won’t be able to answer back, you won’t be able to hold your ground. You don’t believe me, try taking a stand on just one leg. You need to see both sides.
[Our culture] is not long on contradiction or ambiguity. … It likes things to be simple, it likes things to be pigeonholed—good or bad, black or white, blue or red. And we’re not that. We’re more interesting than that. And the way that we go into the world understanding is to have these contradictions in ourselves and see them in other people and not judge them for it. To know that, in a world where debate has kind of fallen away and given way to shouting and bullying, that the best thing is not just the idea of honest debate, the best thing is losing the debate, because it means that you learn something and you changed your position. The only way really to understand your position and its worth is to understand the opposite.
That doesn’t mean the crazy guy on the radio who is spewing hate, it means the decent human truths of all the people who feel the need to listen to that guy. You are connected to those people. They’re connected to him. You can’t get away from it. This connection is part of contradiction. It is the tension I was talking about. This tension isn’t about two opposite points, it’s about the line in between them, and it’s being stretched by them. We need to acknowledge and honor that tension, and the connection that that tension is a part of. Our connection not just to the people we love, but to everybody, including people we can’t stand and wish weren’t around. The connection we have is part of what defines us on such a basic level.
So here’s the thing about changing the world. It turns out that’s not even the question, because you don’t have a choice. You are going to change the world, because that is actually what the world is. You do not pass through this life, it passes through you. You experience it, you interpret it, you act, and then it is different. That happens constantly. You are changing the world. You always have been, and now, it becomes real on a level that it hasn’t been before. And that’s why I’ve been talking only about you and the tension within you, because you are – not in a clich├ęd sense, but in a weirdly literal sense – the future.
After you walk up here and walk back down, you’re going to be the present. You will be the broken world and the act of changing it, in a way that you haven’t been before. You will be so many things, and the one thing that I wish I’d known and want to say is, don’t just be yourself. Be all of yourselves. Don’t just live. Be that other thing connected to death. Be life. Live all of your life. Understand it, see it, appreciate it. And have fun.
Joss Whedon’ graduation address at Wesleyan