Friday, October 18, 2013

Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare and Swimming in the Moon

 I find myself in complete agreement with Emily Wilson's blog excerpt, taken from Shelf Awareness:

'17 Things I Love About Independent Bookstores'

On her blog Books, the Universe and Everything
Emily Wilson paid tribute "to the things I love about independent

"There are many noble reasons to shop at independent bookstores.
Supporting local businesses, good for the economy, etc. etc. etc. But
the main reason I buy all of my books at indie bookstores is a very
selfish reason: I love being in bookstores. Indie bookstores are some of
my favorite places on the planet. I love walking into a bookstore and
wondering what new interest or author I'll discover. I love being able
to pop into BookCourt on my walk home from work and quickly grab a book
from a favorite author the very day it's released. I love browsing the
four floors of Strand for hours on a Saturday afternoon, emerging with a
giant stack of books. I love visiting local bookstores in the places I
travel. I love being surrounded by people who love books and reading as
much as I do. If I don't help support them, how can I expect them to
stay open for me to come in and wander around?

"I wrote this post as a celebration of the many things I love about
independent bookstores and to salute some of my favorites. So, here's a
list of 17 things I love about independent bookstores. There are many
more than 17 things to appreciate, but these are the things that matter
most to me."

I want to read the Rosie Project, but I have so many books in my TBR stacks that 
I can't  possibly buy more books until my birthday in December. Meanwhile, though, this book is on my wish list, as is "Mrs Poe", "Mastering the Art of French Eating" and "Clockwork Princess" the third book in the steampunk trilogy that I am currently reading.
Simon & Schuster celebrated the release of The Rosie Project by Graeme
Simsion by commandeering Luke's Lobster's NautiMobile during the lunch
rush in midtown Manhattan to give away free lobster rolls and a copy of
the book to the first 100 patrons. Simsion, just in from his native
Australia, signed each copy and chatted with readers (and eaters). His
novel stars a brilliant yet socially inept and lovelorn professor whose
life is a model of scientific efficiency that is so calibrated that he
eats the same meal, at the same place, on the same day every week.
Tuesday, fittingly, is lobster day.

Three books that I've just read are: Swimming in the Moon by Pamela Schoenwaldt,  Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare, who also wrote the Mortal Instruments series, which I've read and enjoyed, though it was supposedly a YA series meant for teenagers. Clare clearly writes for adult audiences as well, as far as I can tell, she makes her books so enticing and her storytelling so engaging that, like the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling, they are bound to be beloved of anyone who likes fairy tales, legends, myths and fantasy stories, not to mention paranormal romances.

Anyway, Swimming in the Moon, which was packaged like chick lit, is actually a fairly serious novel about a young Italian immigrant and her mentally deranged mother who travel to America and attempt to find their way in the new world. Lucia, who is clever with numbers, has little trouble finding accounting jobs, but because she is a woman she is not paid decently, and struggles to keep herself and her mother going, while her mother, who seems to be a manic depressive, bipolar and/or sociopathic runs off and joins a vaudeville troupe as the "Naples Nightengale." Though Teresa has an excellent singing voice, she's also nuts, so she tends to ruin most of her jobs by being mean, paranoid, greedy and spending money on frippery instead of sending money to her daughter to help her pay rent and allow Lucia to stay in school and graduate from high school, which was no small feat for a young woman in the early years of the 20th century. 
The author tries to get readers to sympathize with Teresa, by repeatedly flashing back to when she was raped by the master of the household in Italy (where she was a servant), which resulted in the birth of Lucia. Teresa tries to get a famous opera composer to recognize her singing talent, but he humiliates her in the street by saying that she is too old to be properly trained for the opera, and this sets Teresa off for a lifetime of seeing this composer in every audience, judging her and finding her unacceptable. Though rape and humiliation are horrible events, to be sure, I still found myself thinking that Teresa  would have become a madwoman even if these things had never happened to her...she was of fragile mind and huge ego, combined with a cruel narcissistic nature that seemed ripe for tipping her over into insanity. I also disliked the way that she treated her hardworking daughter, who is always left to clean up her mother's messes, and who eventually must take care of her mother, who has become a wretched crazy woman, unable to control her temper or to do anything but wreak havoc on the people who live in the household where her daughter rents a drafty apartment. 
Meanwhile, Lucia wants to have a life, is in love with a German Jewish greengrocer who has been told that he can't marry her because she is an Italian Catholic, and is trying to help organize unions to get better working conditions and better wages for women in the garment factories that are sprouting up all over America, or in her case, Cleveland Ohio.  Every time Lucia seems to be getting ahead enough to get her diploma, or have enough money for necessities, her mother pulls some nasty tantrum or other and ends up spoiling things for her daughter. It is only in the end, when certain things happen (I won't spoil the ending for readers) that we finally are able to see Lucia happy, doing what she loves. Though I understand that the author wants to point up the horrible hours, wages and working conditions of factories in turn of the century America, and the plight of immigrants, who had to learn English and pay exorbitant rates for housing and food and even for the sewing machines and thread they used to create clothing for the factories, I found that there was so much ranting and explaining of these things that it bogged down the plot, often bringing it to a standstill. Also, I felt that Lucia was nearly a martyred saint, taking care of such a cruel mother who never really treated her daughter fairly or kindly at all. I couldn't understand why Lucia wouldn't just send her back to Italy or put her in an institution, since she was obviously so crazy I don't think she would have noticed if her daughter was missing or that someone else was caring for her. I found myself not liking Lucia or Teresa very much, and I grew bored by the political/socialist stuff in the novel after the first few times it was mentioned.
I'd give this book a B-, but barely, because I only read it to the end because it wasn't too long and I wanted to see if the protagonist ever managed to have a life. I would recommend this to those who are interested in immigrant stories from early 20th century America.

Clockwork Angel, book one of the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare, is similar to the Mortal Instruments series by Clare, in that it is about a young woman being thrown into the Shadowhunters society rather abruptly, and learning to find where she fits in while also falling in love, of course, with a handsome shadowhunter who is, for some reason, unavailable to her. Though this series is set in the late 19th century in London England, Tessa Gray doesn't differ too much from Clary, who was destined to become a Shadowhunter because her mother and father were Nephilim, with the blood of angels in their veins.  Tessa discovers through torture by some nasty demonic creatures, that she is a shapeshifter, but though most shapeshifters are warlocks, she has none of the markings of demonic DNA, so she is something of an anomaly.  And where Clary had her Jace, who she thought was her brother (and therefore she couldn't allow herself to be in love with him), Tessa has Will, a shadowhunter who, unbeknownst to her, is under a curse that will kill anyone who loves him. Yet the demons in the Infernal Devices series are aided by clockwork automatons, creatures made of machine and flesh, who are created to kill the shadowhunters by an insane mundane bent on revenge. I am almost finished with Clockwork Prince, book two of the series, and I can hardly wait to get my hands on the third book, Clockwork Princess, so that I can find out more about Victorian-era shadowhunters and London before the turn of the century. Clare's young protagonists tend to obsess too much about boys that they can't have, and in that irritating Twilight manner of frustrated, besotted teenagers, I sometimes lose patience with Tessa and want to shake her shoulders and tell her to 'cowboy up' and get on with it, for heavens sake. To be fair, I felt the same several times about Clary, who was always having to be rescued or getting herself into seemingly impossible situations that she wasn't prepared to handle out of sheer stubborn stupidity. Still, both Tessa and Clary prevail under the most trying of circumstances, and they do grow up and become effective eventually, so there isn't the anti-feminist ending of either girl marrying and becoming pregnant by the final page of the book, which is what often happens in romance novels or paranormal romance novels.  I'd give this series at B+ and recommend it to all readers who enjoyed the Mortal Instruments series or who are looking for good paranormal YA romance and adventure, certainly far superior to the horrible Twilight series.

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.