Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Winter's Tale, Perdition by Ann Aguirre, Nora Ephron and Downton Abbey

 I read Winter's Tale awhile ago, and I believe Mark Helprin has a rich and beautiful style of writing that puts me in mind of Patricia McKillip and John Steinbeck. I am looking forward to seeing how Hollywood adapts his book to the screen.

The first trailer has been released for Winter's Tale
based on the novel by Mark Helprin and starring Colin Farrell, Russell
Crowe and Jennifer Connelly. Indiewire reported that the book, "long
considered unfilmable... has been kicking around Hollywood waiting for
someone to take it on. And that someone is Akiva Goldsman, [who] has
written the adaptation and is making his feature debut with the flick.
And full credit to him, with the first trailer arriving this evening, it
looks like he's poured all he's got into it." The film is scheduled for
a Valentine's Day 2014 release.

Robert Gray's wisdom is always welcome on Shelf Awareness:

Sometimes it's just an unexpected conversation that helps books find me.
A couple of years ago at the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association
trade show in St. Paul, Minn., I had a long conversation about the
challenges and rewards of small press publishing with Steve Semken of
Ice Cube Press, based in North Liberty,Iowa.

In an era when anyone can hang a shingle declaring themselves an
independent publisher, it's important to recognize and congratulate Ice
Cube Press, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Semken recalled that in the beginning the role of publisher "latched on,
I think, because deep down, I cared about writing." Two decades later,
despite the dizzying array of changes the book trade has experienced, he
still has faith in the traditional approach: "In this day and age of the
doom and gloom of the book industry, I feel pretty lucky to be around
and still doing well.... To me, publishing is a storytelling business,
and the human race will always be addicted to stories."

And where are those stories to be found? Often, in the world of indie
bookstores and publishers. "I consider my press a natural partner with
independent booksellers," Semken noted. "We're both in pursuit of
sharing unique writing with passionate readers."

It's nice to work in a world where books find me. --Robert Gray, contributing editor

These are fantastic, funny and fascinating:

The Love lives of literary greats! Interesting!
Writers Between the Covers by Shannon McKenna Schmidt
Ian Fleming was a sadomasochist. F. Scott Fitzgerald was worried about his measurement; Hemingway allayed his fears. Edith Wharton carried on, while married, a long-term affair with Morton Fullerton. Did Dickens have a thing for his sister-in-law?
Following their tribute to literary landmarks in Novel Destinations, in Writers Between the Covers Shannon McKenna Schmidt (a Shelf Awareness contributing writer) and Joni Rendon have compiled a very different compendium of information about authors--gossipy and surprising, filled with all kinds of salacious stories about the writers we know and love (or think we know, at any rate).
Among the intriguing stories is that of Agatha Christie, who married a dashing aviator when she was 21. A decade later, her husband blindsided her with the news he was leaving her for another woman. They argued, he left to keep an assignation with his lover and Agatha disappeared. All available means were deployed to find the missing author--who was enjoying herself at a spa in another part of England, using the name of her husband's mistress. When she finally surfaced 11 days later, doctors diagnosed amnesia, but she would never speak of the incident. She divorced her him and later married Sir Max Mallowan, with whom she spent 40 happy years.
Few of the stories end so tidily. Much of the drama recounted in these pages was fueled by alcohol, drugs, bad tempers, confused gender roles--all the things that drive people to wild behavior. Sexual adventurism is an equal opportunity pastime, and the authors have a deft hand at portraying both men and women at their moral nadir--and, oh, how much fun it is to read about. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.
Discover: Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon reveal the love lives of literary figures, sparing no detail--and no author.
Nora Ephron was one of a kind--a great author with a fabulous sense of humor. She was taken from the world last year, but I imagine this collection will be a great comfort to fans of her work, like myself.
The Most of Nora Ephron
The Most of Nora Ephron is an enormous compilation of the late writer's wit, perception and, most of all, her honesty about everything--even being flat-chested. The collection is divided into nine sections, each reflective of a part of her personal and professional life, from "The Journalist" and "The Screenwriter" to "The Advocate" and "The Blogger."
If you didn't make it to Broadway to see Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy, the entire script is included in the "Playwright" section. "The Foodie" shows Ephron trying out recipes, reading Gourmet, discovering the folly of an egg-white omelette, taking part in the Pillsbury Bake-Off and having guests for dinner. (Keep it easy, serve four things, make it fun.)
Everything was grist for Ephron's mill, and it's all here in this tremendous volume--including the complete screenplays of Heartburn and When Harry Met Sally. Her essays and journalism are filled with fascinating details, from the time that Las Vegas tycoon Steve Wynn put his elbow through a Picasso to the observation that the gap between Condoleezza Rice's front teeth is not as bad in person as it is on television.
Ephron was raised, she tells us, by an indifferent mother and a father who looked at everything as potential material. At the dinner table, he would say: "That's a good line; write it down." She took his advice--and we are all richer for it. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.
Discover: A diverse selection, from essays to screenplays, of the wit, wisdom and unfailing sense of humor of Nora Ephron (1941-2012).

Great list of indie bookstores, among them Powells and Elliott Bay:

Noting that independent bookstores "are surviving, and in some cases
thriving, in an Amazon-ruled, post-bookstore chain environment that
shouldn't necessarily be hospitable to shops that handsell books to
locals," Flavorwire showcased "45 great American indie bookstores
(in no particular order) that sell new or used novels, art books, zines,
coffee, that biography you really need to read, and/or delicious vegan
treats--all of which are as important to their community as any business
you can think of, and deserve your support."

The good news is that even when "making a list and checking it twice,"
dozens and even hundreds of indie bookstores could be added.

Oh how I miss Downton Abbey on PBS, but we are told that it will be back for American audiences in 2014, hurrah!
PBS has renewed Downton Abbey for a fifth season
and will again appear under the Masterpiece Classic banner, Buzzfeed

"As American audiences ready themselves for the January 5th premiere of
Season 4, our devoted Downton fans will rest easy knowing that a fifth
season is on the way," said Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca

The Guardian explored Downton Abbey's literary lineage
tracing it back to Isabel Colegate's 1980 novel The Shooting Party, an
acknowledged influence for Julian Fellowes's creation: "For those
starting to wonder if Downton is in danger of going on so long that it
catches up with the 21st century, there is one book that reveals
Fellowes's motivations, intentions and predilections: The Shooting Party
by Isabel Colegate." 

Perdition by Ann Aguirre
I've read and enjoyed Aguirre's Syrantha Jax series of science fiction adventures, and I have also read most of her Corrine Solomon urban fantasies. So when I found Perdition, I assumed it was another book in one of the aforementioned series. 
Though it takes place in the Sirantha Jax universe, it doesn't really have much to do with the woman we met in the ground-breaking "Grimspace."
This novel takes place on a prison ship called Perdition, which is full of the most vile criminals the galaxy can muster up. The protagonist is Dred, the Queen of Queensland, which is one of five areas that have been carved out by various factions and are run by strange warlords. When new "fish" or prisoners are left on Perdition, these warlords come to pick out the best warriors for their territory, leaving the weak to die. That's the mileau of Perdition, violence and death. It's survival of the cruelest and most clever, and fortunately, the Dred Queen is both clever and adept at killing. She is also enough of a leader to recognize a kind of clone super soldier when he lands on Perdition. She takes him for Queensland, and with all the battles they must wage to stay alive, he becomes her right-hand man and eventually, her lover. 
The book begins with bloody battles and death, and continues in this violent and horrific manner for the entire novel. I am not a fan of horror or military fiction, nor am I a fan of politics, so this book was a hard sell for me to finish. Yet I did finish it, and I was glad that I didn't give up, as it has a kind of HEA that screams for a sequel. I would give the book a B, and recommend it to those who love military science fiction or horror fiction that has a science fiction bent.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Big Stone Gap Movie, a Memoir and What I'm Reading

 Not only have I read every book that Adriana Trigiani has written, but so has my mother, and we've both loved every chapter of her Big Stone Gap series. Now I have been reading on Facebook about the movie version of the books that is being filmed right now in Big Stone Gap, with a stellar cast and crew. I can hardly wait for the movie to hit theaters, though they have their work cut out for them to try and better Trigiani's wonderful novels.

Jenna Elfman at Tales of the Lonesome Pine.

What do author Adriana Trigani and bookseller Wendy Welch have in
common? Their town. A movie is currently in production based on
Trigani's novel Big Stone Gap. It is set in the town that also happens
to be home to Tales of the Lonesome Pine Bookshop,
which did a star turn of its own in co-owner Wendy Welch's book, The
Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community,
and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book.

Star-gazing is well underway in the town
where recent sightings have included Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Whoopi
Goldberg and Jenna Elfman, the Roanoke Times reported, noting that "of
all the big names roaming around Big Stone Gap these days, none draws
forth more local appreciation than Trigiani, the hometown girl who moved
to New York and made it big but held off making her movie for more than
a decade until she found just the right deal to do what she really
wanted to do all along: make the movie about Big Stone Gap in Big Stone

Welch's bookstore and cafe have been "a destination for some of the
movie folk, including Elfman, who plays Iva Lou, the bookmobile
librarian, in the movie."

 An insider's view of famous publishing houses and famous literary magazines? Sign me up!

Review: My Mistake: A Memoir
A bout with cancer--now in remission--led Daniel Menaker (Good Talk) to
reflect on his past and his career in publishing. He tells that story in
My Mistake, with a breezy wit and fascinating insider portraits of
people with whom he has worked over the years.

Menaker's "demanding, deep, wide in scope" classes at Swarthmore
prepared him intellectually and emotionally for the work he would do
later and the losses (parents, brother) he would suffer. He reads a
piece by Tom Wolfe about the New Yorker, then edited by William Shawn,
and its "hermetic, self-involved, highly ritualized life." He applies
for and lands a job at this "brilliant crazy house."

He starts out as one of their legendary fact checkers, on the 19th floor
of an old office building in midtown. The typing pool works in a "kind
of glass cage," while Roger Angell's office is "magisterial." Menaker
becomes another cog in the magazine's elaborate editorial process, as
one person after another scrutinizes every page of copy. No word or
phrase is too trivial for careful inspection; we establish, for example,
that the tool used to tighten bolts on the space shuttle is a ratchet
wrench, not a monkey wrench. After publishing his first story in the
magazine, he moves up to copy editor, where he edits Pauline Kael's
movie reviews (she tells him the result "doesn't sound like me, really")
and attends film screenings with her ("Oh, that's just awful").
Eventually, he becomes the magazine's fiction editor.

After Tina Brown takes over, the amount of fiction is cut in half,
"shunted from the front of the magazine to the back." So, after 26
years, when an opportunity to join Random House comes along, Menaker
takes it. His first acquisition: George Saunders's CivilWarLand in Bad

He quickly learns the business. "150 more or less worthwhile books are
published every week in this country," he reports--all part of a "grand
cultural roulette" in which your chances of winning are very small. He
becomes Random's editor-in-chief, and works with some very fine writers:
David Foster Wallace, Salman Rushdie, Michael Cunningham, Elmore
Leonard, Billy Collins, Elizabeth Strout and Colum McCann, to name just
a few. "I have never seen better days. No mistake." --Tom Lavoie

I bought three delicious hardback books while at Island Books 40th Anniversary Celebration this past Sunday, "Mrs Poe" by Lynn Cullen,  "Longbourn" by Joe Baker and "The Spymistress" by Jennifer Chiaverini. I also just got copies of "Still Foolin Em" by Billy Crystal and the final book in the Ruby Red trilogy, "Emerald Green" by Kersten Gier. I am halfway through "Mrs Poe" and it is proving to be un-put-downable and thoroughly gothic, romantic and chilling. The latter because it is horrifying to consider how little power women had in society in the 19th century. Women were considered property and if their husbands left them, women of the middle or upper class had little recourse if their cheating husbands didn't send them money to help raise their children. Thus the woman who falls in love with Edgar Allan Poe is at the mercy of the male head of household in which she's living while waiting for her wastrel artist husband to return. Yet Poe himself is allowed much more leeway to meet her in secret, kiss and woo her, because he's a man, and his consumptive wife can be left at home with her mother while Poe runs all over town.
Still, an interesting study in the power of writing, both prose and poetry, which held sway over society in the 19th century, almost as much as classical music and musicians such as Franz Liszt were the rock stars of their day.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Island Books 40th Anniversary, Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen and An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff

 Wow, it's November already? October was a busy month for me, as I attended the 30th reunion of my undergrad college, Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa, my husband was hospitalized for a dangerous infection and I attended the NW Tea Festival. I also found two new doctors and had a host of medical tests to endure. But throughout the month, books were by my side, ready to serve, whether I was in the midst of a Crohn's flare or waiting for another medical test, or flying high above cities to the Midwest. Now as we gear up for another busy month in my household, with a visit from my sister-in-law and my husband and son's birthdays arriving before Thanksgiving, I am taking some time to take stock of what books I have, what books I need to get as they come out this month, and what books I've read.  So herein are some news and a review, just to get things started.

 Amazon, the online behemoth, purchased Goodreads, and things have been a bit rocky with the book review site ever since. Now it appears that Amazon is putting its massive foot down and not allowing bad reviews to be posted on Goodreads. Interesting, but not surprising that Amazon is viewing the site as more of a marketing tool for authors, rather than a place for readers to find honest reviews of books.

Goodreads: Reviewers vs. 'Book Cheerleaders?' offers an overview of the dissatisfaction
of "a small but growing faction of longtime, deeply involved Goodreads
members" who object to new guidelines about what members can say in book
reviews, with many of them blaming the Amazon purchase earlier this
year. "They've staged a protest of sorts, albeit one that's happening
mostly out of the public eye. Their charge is censorship and their
accusation is, in the words of one rebel, that Goodreads and Amazon want
'to kill the vibrant, creative community that was once here, and replace
it with a canned community of automaton book cheerleaders.' "

The tension about the content of book reviews on Goodreads goes back
several years, which led the company to delete reviews from the
community reviews section that were primarily about "author
behavior"--rather than about their books. The conflicts often stemmed
from negative reviews that authors objected to. Then, in September, the
company tightened the policy, entirely removing such reviews from
Goodreads, including from reviewers' pages. The company did so without
first announcing the change, leading to a range of skirmishes that have
played out over the last several weeks.

The key problem, as Salon put it: "While many Goodreads members tend to
see the site as existing 'for readers,' and the spokesperson for the
company reiterated to me its stated mission 'to help readers find good
books to read,' the site also markets itself to authors as a place to
promote their work. Goodreads founder and CEO Otis Chandler told an
interviewer earlier this year, "We're in the business of helping authors
and publishers market their books to readers. And that's where we make
our money. We sell book launch packages to authors and publishers and
really help accelerate, build that early buzz that a book needs to
succeed when it launches and accelerate that growth through ads on the

"As for disaffected Goodreads members, they're learning a hard lesson
often overlooked by the boosters of digital utopianism: Sooner or later
people need to get paid, and sooner or later you get what you pay for.
Goodreads' staff may be small, but they can't run the site for nothing,
and attempts to monetize it could not be postponed indefinitely."

This is an amazing idea, and I laud this young man for allowing books to go into the world free, to all who want to read, but I don't think this is a sustainable book publishing model. Still, it's kind of cool that I had a student dentist at the University of Washington Dental School with the same name!
When Stona Fitch published his novel Give + Take through the Concord
Free Press in 2008, he didn't take the usual approach to getting it into
readers' hands. Operating on what he calls a "generosity-based" model,
Fitch gave copies of the book to anyone who asked for one, charging them
nothing (and even covering the postage). All he asked in return was that
recipients donate the money they would've spent to a charity of their
choice, then, once they were done reading the novel, pass the book along
to another reader.

It worked well enough that Concord has been able to publish books by
several other authors  over the past five years, including Gregory
Maguire (The Next Queen of Heaven) and Lucius Shepard (A Handbook of
American Prayer). The authors retain the print rights, so if there's
enough interest from another publisher, there's no obstacle to a
commercial edition that can introduce the book to a larger audience.
(Fitch eventually placed Give + Take at St. Martin's, and Maguire sold
his novel to HarperCollins.)

With printers, publicists and other book professionals donating their
services, Fitch has been able to produce small print runs--roughly 2,500
copies for each title--and continue to simply give it all away. Books
are available through the website, and Concord sends copies to
independent bookstores across the U.S. and Canada. How do customers
react to discovering they can walk out of the store with a free book?
"They're gobsmacked, I think is the proper word," said Erik Barnum,
sales floor manager at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt.,
where Concord's books are displayed next to the cash register. "We get
questioned a lot, as if there was something hinky about getting
something for free." That initial suspicion is frequently overcome,
though, as customers take the Concord book home along with their

I've been a fan of Nicola Griffith's since reading "Stone River" years ago. She's a marvelous writer with a clever wit and an ear for dialog and setting. I hope to find a copy of Hild to read this month. Here's Shelf Awareness' review:
Review: Hild
With the historical epic Hild, Nicola Griffith creates an alternate
reality, strange in its particulars yet utterly recognizable as human.
Through the preternaturally observant eyes of Hild--a child when the
novel begins--Griffith unfurls a vivid tapestry of nature and craft,
belief and myth. Inspired by the life of St. Hilda of Whitby, Hild is an
immersive experience, its exquisite language serving as a portal to a
distant time and place.

In the seventh-century Northumbrian court of King Edwin, his niece Hild
rises to prominence as a seer through the machinations of her mother,
Breguswith. In truth, the girl's "prophecy" is shaped by her
extraordinary intelligence and powers of observation, which enable her
to see patterns in the intrigues and political machinations of those
around her. But danger is constant, and Hild must continuously prove her
usefulness to King Edwin--or die.

Complicating matters is Hild's knowledge that Cian, her foster brother,
is in fact her half-brother--a lineage that, if revealed, could make him
appear a threat to the throne. Hild's challenges increase in complexity
as her strong sense of duty, combined with love and compassion,
repeatedly come into conflict with the demands of survival in the court
of the king. Seeing everything, Hild is perpetually a guardian of secret
knowledge--others' secrets, and her own.

Griffith brings a remarkable sensuousness to the setting, beautifully
evoking the lush physicality of the joys, hardships and sheer work
involved in a life so intertwined with the vagaries of the natural
world. The language is strung with unexpected gemlike turns of phrase:
women ride in a wagon "like coddled eggs," their boots "the colour of
owl breasts."

As a woman of power and influence, Hild stands out in her time, yet the
women in this world possess strength and complexity. While everyone
orbits the king, Breguswith operates so cannily from the shadows that
her effects on the court may be the most profound of all. Perhaps most
intriguing about the portrayal of women in Hild is the lifelong bond
between pairs of women, called gemæcce, who spin and card together
from childhood until death, through marriage, sickness and childbearing.
The relationship between gemæcce is as significant in its own way
as marriage.

Though it is the richness of historical detail that may be most overtly
noticeable, Hild is above all a story of love and friendship--and how
the preservation of those things demands sacrifice. --Ilana Teitelbaum

I worked on Mercer Island For 8 years at the Mercer Island Reporter, and I spent a large portion of my lunch hours and my paychecks on books at Island Books, Roger and Nancy Page's perfectly wonderful bookstore at the edge of downtown Mercer Island.  This weekend I plan on attending their 40th anniversary celebration, where there will be pie, storytelling, memories, camaraderie and great books, of course!  I love you, Island Books!

Happy 40th Birthday, Island Books!
Congratulations to Island Books <>,
Mercer Island, Wash., which celebrates its 40th anniversary this coming
Sunday, November 3, starting at 3 p.m. As owner Roger Page wrote to
customers, "The party is not going to feature a long-winded blustery
speech by the owner. It's going to be a get-together. A pie social. A
gathering of like-minded and wondrous people who have played parts large
and small in the long life of the store. You all. Old friends. Maybe
champagne will loosen tongues and raise spirits. Perhaps pie will prompt
laughter and funny stories. We will give out some gifts for those who
attend, some prizes for the clever, some cheers for those who have a
story to share. Join us. It will be a fun afternoon of friends. We can't
thank you enough for your support all these years."

I just finished a wonderful non fiction book called  "An Invisible Thread" by Laura Schroff.
It's the story of how Schroff, a well-paid advertising executive in NYC, stopped one day when approached by a young boy panhandling for money for food. The 11-year-old African-American boy, Maurice, was thin and wary, but clearly cold and homeless. Schroff asked him if he'd like to go to McDonalds to get something to eat, and he eagerly agreed, wolfing down the first hot meal he'd had in days. Thus began a 30 year friendship between a hard-working but well-paid woman and a very poor kid from a family of criminals and drug addicts. Schroff brought Maurice into her life, had him come to family holiday celebrations, bought him food, clothing and most of all showed him that he could have a better life than that of his druggie mother and grandmother. By making a difference in one person's life, Schroff found that he made a difference in her life, and he also helped some of his siblings lead a better life. An amazing story told in clear, honest prose, An Invisible Thread reads like good fiction, in that you can't put it down. So many non fiction books claim to be inspirational, but this book delivers on that promise, and still manages to be a good read at the same time. I'd give it an A, and recommend it to people like my mother, who love "real" stories that happen in real places.

I also read Rhys Bowen's "Her Royal Spyness" which is the first book in a series of mysteries starring a minor royal named Georgianna, or "Georgie" a clumsy and somewhat daffy young lady who is 34th in line for the throne of England. I'd read Bowen's Molly Murphy Mysteries, which are based in London in the 19th century, so I was prepared for something similar in this series, which is based in London in the 1920s.
Unfortunately, Georgie isn't quite as bright as Molly Murphy, nor does she have as much steel in her spine as the Irish heroine, who always seemed to have her psychic abilities come to the fore just when she needed them most, to solve a case. Georgie is cash-poor and her brother Bertie is something of an idiot, blustery and hen-pecked by his horrible wife, whom they call Fig. Inevitably, the mystery is solved, but there is a lot of bumbling and bungling that goes on in an irritating fashion inbetween the important events of the novel. Georgie doesn't seem quite so much charming as stupid, and her clumsiness is funny the first couple of times she falls or is tripped up, but by the 6th or 7th time, it's become annoying and ridiculous. I am unsure if I can bear to read the other two paperbacks that I bought in this series, so I am taking a break from them to allow my annoyance meter to back down before I try again with the second novel in the series, "A Royal Pain." I would give this mystery a C+, in hopes that the character gets better as things go on, or at least that someone clever and British shows up to help Georgie become a crack detective.

I read "Girls in White Dresses" by Jennifer Close for my Tuesday night book group at the Maple Valley Library.
There was a great deal of good "buzz" about this book, and I am sorry to say that all of it was completely unwarranted. This book is about three college friends, Isabella, Mary and Lauren, and their trials and troubles as they drink, whine and b*tch their way through life in their 20s, 30s and early 40s.None of these young women are even remotely kind, decent or fun, and they come off as pathetic most of the time. I can't imagine wanting to read beyond page 25, and I wouldn't have if I didn't have to finish the book because I lead the discussion in my book group. I didn't find their bungling of relationships to crappy men at all amusing, nor did I find their petty meanness toward one another and everyone else at all interesting.The prose, while clean, is bland and the plot bogged down by endless descriptions of hangovers and ill health from parties that no one seems to enjoy. This is one of the few books I've read that has no redeeming features to recommend. I'd give it a D, only because I feel sorry for the author at having nothing to write about but such joyless characters.