Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Seattle's Not Only in the Superbowl, We're a City of Literature, too!

 So with the wonderful news that the Seattle Seahawks are playing in the Superbowl this Sunday, you would think that most Seattlites couldn't be happier or more proud of their city. You'd be wrong. The massive number of bibliophiles that this city holds have made a play for Seattle to be a City of Literature, and they've won, thank heavens! I couldn't be happier to be living in a place where books are so revered and the printed word so important to citizens of the Emerald City. From the fabulous Shelf Awareness comes this announcement:

Seattle City Council Approves City of Literature Bid,
Yesterday the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to support
Seattle's bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature. Seattle would be
only the second U.S. City of Literature, after Iowa City, Iowa. There
are six other Cities of Literature around the world: Edinburgh,
Scotland, Dublin, Ireland, Reykjavik, Iceland, Norwich, England, Krakow,
Poland, and Melbourne, Australia.

The Stranger reported that council member Nick Licata, who introduced
the resolution, praised local author Ryan Boudinot for accumulating a
long list of sponsors for the bid, including the American Booksellers
Association, the American Library Association, the Academy of American
Poets and Nancy Pearl. Licata said, in part, that the designation of
Seattle as a City of Literature would help "Seattle's readers and
writers to engage more deeply
in the world's literary traditions," and "for our city to contribute to
a community of creative cities around the globe."

Boudinot will soon travel to several Cities of Literature in Europe,
seeking their support. In March, he will submit the application, which
will include written and video testimony. The public will be allowed to
comment and participate in the process.

YAY! The Wizard of Oz would make a great TV drama! And I am not just saying that because Seattle is called the Emerald City!

NBC has given a 10-episode order to Emerald City
a Wizard of Oz-themed drama described as "a modern and dark reimagining
of the classic tale of Oz in the vein of Game Of Thrones, drawing upon
stories from [L. Frank] Baum's original 14 books that include lethal
warriors, competing kingdoms, and the infamous wizard as we've never
seen him before. A head-strong 20-year-old Dorothy Gale is unwittingly
sent on an eye-opening journey that thrusts her into the center of an
epic and bloody battle for the control of Oz," Deadline.com reported.

 The Winter Institute for the ABA was held in Seattle this past weekend, and some of my favorite Seattle 7 writers were on hand to talk to participants about literacy and writing.

WI9: The Seattle7, Reading and Writing Radicals
While the original Seattle Seven were charged in the early 1970s with
"conspiracy to incite riots," at yesterday's WI breakfast, six members
of the Seattle7Writers group demonstrated what might be called
"conspiracy to incite reading."

Now an incorporated nonprofit that has raised some $50,000 for literacy
and other causes at events that always include an indie bookstore or
library, the group got its start with monthly meetings dubbed "Wine and
Whine"--authors gathering to support each other as much as to gripe. But
soon, founders Garth Stein (way before indie booksellers made his The
Art of Racing in the Rain a huge bestseller) and Jennie Shortridge
(whose new book, Love, Water Memory, is just out in paper from Gallery)
realized they could pool their power toward the common goal of the
continued growth of writing and reading in the Northwest.

Even though the group now includes more than 60 authors, they kept the
name Seattle7 to both reflect their beginnings as a handful of writers
and as homage to the radical '70s group with ties to the Weather

"As authors, we tend to be cave dwellers," said Stein, "but we are all
part of the same ecosystem and we realize that we all have to take care
of each other and energize each other. It there are no readers, then it
doesn't matter how good our stores and our libraries are."

To promote writing and reading, the Seattle7 stages unusual and fun
events, such as its writing marathon in 2010, in which 36 authors joined
forces to write a single novel, through 65,000 live-streaming hours. The
result was The Novel Life, published as an e-book and paperback by Open

Participating author Carol Cassella, whose new novel, Gemini will be
published in March by S&S, called the live writing experience
"terrifying." Bestselling author Elizabeth George said she expected the
event to be surreal but it turned out to be fun. Of course, as Stein
pointed out, adding booze made it even more fun. Caffeine helps, too.

Fun with the purpose of connecting writing to readers is what Seattle7
is all about, and it is a concept Shortridge said she hoped would become
a national movement where authors team with their libraries and
booksellers in ways that suit their regions.

Casella credited indie booksellers with making the selling of books more
pleasurable than she expected. As a relative newcomer to the Seattle7
and to writing, former lawyer Deb Caletti (He's Gone, Bantam; The Story
of Us, S&S) said she was happy to discover that the reports of the
demise of independent bookselling were greatly exaggerated.

Tara Conklin (The House Girl, Morrow) said the human connection that
booksellers create between author and reader was especially vital to her
when she was starting out. "I could name names," she said of the
booksellers who handsold her books. "It's corny, but your love matters,"
she said.

There were lot of questions about the details of getting such groups
started in other communities during the q&a. Shortridge outlined the
Seattle7's criteria for author members: traditionally published by a
large or indie press (not self-published); having a means of outreach to
the world (i.e., willingness to get out of their caves); and a
generosity of spirit. Stein added that authors needed to get their
publishers to sign on to donating books for their fundraisers.

A bookseller suggested one more criterium: that members not link solely
to their Amazon page on their websites. Stein, who lists only IndieBound
on his site, promised it would be an item taken up at the next
Seattle7Writers board meeting. How's that for radical? --Bridget
 I am very excited about this adaptation of The Dovekeepers, which was a fascinating book by Alice Hoffman that I read last year. I just hope that they don't make it too much like a romance novel, because it is the story of the brave Jewish people of Massada.
Ann Peacock (The Chronicles of Narnia, Nights In Rodanthe) will adapt
Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers
for Mark Burnett and Roma Downey (The Bible). Deadline.com reported that
the four-hour miniseries about the Siege of Masada will air on CBS in

"We felt [the book] was best served if the screenplay came through the
heart of a strong woman and Peacock is such a woman," said Downey. "I
met her right before Christmas; she came to our house in Malibu and I
sat down with her and she clearly loved the book. Her book had Post-its
sticking out from a hundred different pages where she'd lovingly made
notes. She said whether she was brought on board or not, she was forever
changed from having read the book and I was elated, because I could not
put this book down when I first read it. I was like a woman who had
fallen in love--I was hungry, turning pages, staying up later than I
should have, in the absence of being able to pick it up the next day
missing the book. When I was finished I missed the characters, longed
for the characters--they got under my skin."

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Monuments Men, Winnie the Pooh and Three Book Reviews

I really want to see this movie, not because of the stellar cast, but because the men who went in to save the art and cultural history of the world from Nazis were the unsung heroes of WW11:

A clip and several featurettes for The Monuments Men,
based on Robert M. Edsel's book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi
Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History,
were showcased by
Indiewire. The film, directed by and starring George Clooney, features
an all-star cast that includes Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray,
John Goodman, Jean Dujardin and Bob Balaban. The Monuments Men hits
theaters February 7.

I am a huge fan of Winnie the Pooh, and, probably because I share traits with that silly old bear, (and my friends and family share traits with the rest of the gang in the 100 Acre Wood) I love hearing the story of the real Winnie, and how he grew up with the help of a kind man named Colebourn, who loved animals and named Winnie for Winnipeg, the town of his veterinary practice. Whenever I think of Veterinarians, I think of the JFK quote about Veterinarians being the greatest of doctors, because "They can't ask their patients what's wrong, they just have to know."

The True Story of Winnie(-the-Pooh)

Here's a fun teaser in anticipation of A.A. Milne's birthday this
Saturday: a picture book biography of the real Winnie, the bear that
inspired Winnie-the-Pooh.

Illustrator Sophie Blackall
recently at the London Zoo to research the beloved cub, spoke to us by
phone from the wilds of the Western Catskills. The project (tentatively
called Finding Winnie and slated for fall 2015) came from editor Susan
Rich at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. "The story is, as Susan
described it, one of those stories you're surprised you don't already
know," Blackall said. Author Lindsay Mattick is the great-granddaughter
of Lt. Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian and soldier with the Royal
Canadian Army Veterinary Corps. "It's the telling of the story of this
remarkable bear," said Blackall, "told in the author's voice to her

Sophie Blackall with author Lindsay Mattick and the original
Winnie-the-Pooh at the New York Public Library's "The ABC of It

Colebourn joined up during World War I to care for the horses, leaving
behind his veterinary practice in Winnipeg. He took the train with a lot
of other soldiers, and it stopped at White River Station. On the
platform was a trapper with a bear cub. "He was smitten with the bear
cub," Blackall said of Colebourn, who gave the trapper a $20 bill in
exchange for the bear. "It was a wild whim of a gesture. His colonel was
horrified and said, 'What are you doing with this dangerous creature?' "
Colebourn tamed the "dangerous creature," the cub won them over, and
they called him Winnie (short for Colebourn's Winnipeg). Winnie sailed
with them to England, and stayed with the soldiers as they trained in
Salisbury Plain, but Colebourn realized he couldn't take a Canadian
black bear into trench warfare in France. So he left her at the London
Zoo, and visited her after the war.

"She was an absolute favorite at the London Zoo," Blackall said, "and he
decided to leave her there." Christopher Robin, A.A. Milne's son,
befriended the bear. Milne was friendly with one of the zookeepers, and
they got to feed Winnie spoonfuls of condensed milk, according to
Blackall, who enjoyed "rummaging around" in the Zoo's archives. "The
librarian asked, 'Would you like to see the daily occurrences?' "
Blackall reported in a British accent (she is Australian herself). "He
brought out these massive leatherbound ledgers, handwritten by the
zookeepers in fountain pen." They recorded everything on that day, from
the weather to the number of visitors to the amount taken at the ticket
gate, and the arrivals and departures of the animals. "This list of
animals is so lyrical and beautiful," said Blackall. "I could look up
the day that Winnie was donated. It said, 'dank and foggy.' They were
repainting the carousel and fixing a saddle on the elephant."

She wandered around the zoo and saw where Christopher Robin would have
climbed the stairs. "They have a statue for Winnie, and for Harry, which
is very nice," she said, "and another statue of the bear and Christopher
Robin." Blackall is in the very early stages of the project now, but
predicts, "It's gonna be an absolute joy--this cub with all the soldiers
in uniform, the ships and horses." Blackall admits, "I was besotted with
A.A. Milne and Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin as a child, and
it's never diminished." --Jennifer M. Brown

I love a good review, but I also love a well-written nasty review, and those listed as finalists for this award have done an excellent job of eviscerating the books they are reviewing.

Eight finalists have been named for The Omnivore's Hatchet Job of the
established to honor "the writer of the angriest, funniest, most
trenchant book review of the past twelve months." The winner, who will
be announced February 11, takes home a year's supply of potted shrimp,
courtesy of the Fish Society.

I just finished three books that were oddly uplifting, which was a good thing, since I had a bout of the flu last week and could barely get out of bed. 

After Dead by Charlaine Harris is really just a little compendium, in alphabetical order, of snippets that tell what happened to the characters in the Sookie Stackhouse series after the end of "Dead Ever After," the last book in the series. It would take any serious reader about 25 minutes to read through this book, which for some odd reason is a hardback. It should have been a paperback, and I can only think that it was an effort by Harris to squeeze the last dime out of the Sookie series by cramming a few paragraphs between those ugly illustrations that 'graced' the cover of her series. Seriously, they're what is called, I believe, naive art, but what they look like to me is some kid in middle school with a slight talent for drawing created one-dimensional quaint figures and then tarted them up with glitter. Really, there's glitter on the cover of a novel that is not for children or young adult girls. Bad taste notwithstanding, I would not recommend that anyone waste their money on this tiny book which is more style than substance. Get it from the library, page through to the end to find out what happens to Sookie and Sam, and then return it. Shame on Harris for tarting up leftovers and then serving them in hardback form to gullible fans whose loyalty would go beyond the breaking point for this book.  

I'll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan is a wonderful epistolary novel of the correspondence between a wealthy woman on the East Coast and a blue-collar middle-aged woman living in Iowa City, Iowa during WW11.
Gloria "Glory" Whitehall gets Rita Vincenzo's name from a hat, and the newlywed writes to the 'garden witch' in Iowa right away, detailing her loneliness during her pregnancy as she waits to hear from her husband and Rita waits to hear from not only her husband, but her son, both of whom signed up for the War.
Like the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this is one of those novels whose heartfelt prose in letters leads us to learn of some of the greatest and most heartwarmingly unforgettable characters in modern literature. Engrossing and engaging as the letters are, they'd still be just letters if Hayes and Nyhan hadn't caught the sights, sounds, smells and most importantly, the people of the era so perfectly that the reader feels as if they're watching everything unfold first-hand. From the rigid German neighbor Mrs K, to the ragged Roylene, daughter of an abusive tavern-owner who is carrying Rita's first grandchild, every character is fully dimensional, fascinating and an integral part of the narrative. I couldn't get enough of this charming correspondence, and I wish the book had been longer, but by the very satisfying end, I felt as if Glory and Rita were now family, and I knew they'd be okay.
Masterfully written, I'd give this book an A and recommend it to anyone who enjoys learning about what life was like for 'regular' people during WW11, especially the women who waited at home. 

Union Street Bakery by Mary Ellen Taylor was a surprise, as I wasn't expecting it to be quite as unique as it turned out to be. Taylor blends some paranormal elements into this tale of loss and hope, and creates a historical mystery concerning slavery at the same time. 
Though that sounds like too many things going on at once, somehow Taylor, like the bakers in her book, makes it all come together in a savory and delicious confection of a novel.
Daisy McCrae was abandoned by her mother when she was only a toddler, told to wait and eat a cookie at the Union Street Bakery. When it becomes obvious that her mother isn't coming back, the McCrae family, mom, dad and two sisters, decide to adopt Daisy and raise her as one of their own.
Unfortunately, Daisy has a tsunami of bad luck when she's in her 30s, and, after losing her job in high finance, and losing her boyfriend, Daisy is called back to save her family's bakery, when it becomes clear that her sister Rachel, (great baker, lousy with numbers) and her sister Margaret (great with history, lousy at being on time or being nice) are running the bakery into bankruptcy under the noses of their retired parents. Daisy, believing that as a businesswoman she was meant for better things, is soon up to her elbows in receipts and bills and taxes, all while dealing with two ghosts, a woman whose voice she hears and an angry man who throws things around, and her ex-boyfriend who comes to town and opens a bike shop not too far from the bakery.
On top of that, the town's ancient curmudgeon tells Daisy that she saw her birth mother on the day Daisy was abandoned, and knows who she is, but won't tell Daisy. Instead, she leaves Daisy an old journal, written by a slave girl named Susie that just brings up more questions for Daisy, who has been searching for clues about her birth mother since the fateful day she was abandoned.
Other than the prose, which was so straightforward it almost seemed amateurish, and the cold and cruel birth mother who wants nothing to do with her daughter, there are no bitter or ugly notes in this pleasant symphony of a book. Even Susie the slave girl has a happy ending, and the books theme of family defined as the people who love you is nicely completed and tied up with a ribbon at the end. I'd recommend this book to foodies who love a good historical mystery or women who enjoy stories of adopted children finding their parents as adults. A B+ for this fun novel that defies categorization.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Magicians by Lev Grossman, Vanity Fare by Megan Caldwell and White Truffles in Winter by NM Kelby

"Man cannot stand a meaningless life." Iconic psychiatrist Carl Jung
Never has the above quote been more apparent than in Lev Grossman's YA fantasy novel (and I know those of you who have read the book will say it wasn't supposed to be YA, but it actually is YA fiction for the millenials) The Magicians, which I just finished reading today.
I was, in all fairness, going to drop this book on page 245, just from sheer whining fatigue, but I figured I'd better finish the darned thing to see if Grossman at least had the decency to make one of his Brakebill's characters worthy of the spare fantasy storyline in the end. I don't think it is too much of a spoiler to say that he does.
If you plan on reading this series, don't read this review, because I will reveal things that will spoil major plot points for you.

Anyway, The Magician was touted as a combination of Harry Potter and slacker-characters from bad 80s and 90s fiction, like Brett Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero, which I felt was a terrible book that didn't really need to be brought into the world in the first place, but many consider it a paen to the drug and alcohol-fueled kids of the 80s. I found it to be less Harry Potter and more "pathetic characters from "Clerks" discover that magic is real."
Here's the publisher's synopsis: "Like everyone else, precocious high school senior Quentin Coldwater assumes that magic isn't real, until he finds himself admitted to a very secretive and exclusive college of magic in upstate New York. There he indulges in joys of college-friendship, love, sex, and booze- and receives a rigorous education in modern sorcery. But magic doesn't bring the happiness and adventure Quentin thought it would. After graduation, he and his friends stumble upon a secret that sets them on a remarkable journey that may just fulfill Quentin's yearning. But their journey turns out to be darker and more dangerous than they'd imagined. Psychologically piercing and dazzlingly inventive, The Magicians, the prequel to the New York Times bestselling book The Magician King and the forthcoming The Magician's Land, is an enthralling coming-of-age tale about magic practiced in the real world-where good and evil aren't black and white, and power comes at a terrible price."
What happens throughout most of this book is that Quentin, the protagonist whom we're supposed to love, or at least empathize with, whines his way through high school, (poor little rich kid whose parents don't pay him enough attentiion! Oh the sadness! The lamentation!) then whines when he finds his way to Brakebills, the magic school that reads like a down-market Hogwarts without the charming instructors or the interesting magic. Though he discovers that magic is hard, he still manages to learn it despite spending an inordinate amount of time spent drinking like an alcoholic, trying to get into the pants of one or both girls in his group, and kvetching about hangovers or fighting over nothing. We are lead to believe that Quentin and Alice are scary-smart, and that many of their peers are as well, yet most of the group have the emotional intelligence of a toddler.

They find their way to a Narnia rip-off that Grossman implanted in the book as a series of books about a magical land called "Fillory." Quentin is a huge fan of the Fillory books, though they're meant for children. He's read them multiple times, and even re-reads them at Brakebills. Why, then, when he actually gets to Fillory does he seem so indecisive, or unsure of what to do? He acts fairly inept the whole time he's there.  Again, more whining ensues, and then we have more relationship blathering, most of it fairly sexist and stupid. We're meant to believe that Alice, for example, is "soiled" because she had an affair with Penny, mainly in retaliation for Quentin having an affair with both Janet and Eliot previously. But because he's a guy, Quentin assumes he should be forgiven for something he did while drunk (never mind that he's drinking throughout the book) and that Alice should somehow be above having sex with someone other than himself. Nauseating, crappy misogynist thinking. Quentin acts as if Alice, once bedded, "belongs" to him, and therefore she has no rights over her own body. I actually cheered when Alice smacks Quentin in the face, because he deserves that for being such an idiot, but really, I was hopping she'd hit him in the gonads and tell him to f-off forever. Because a man wrote this story, however, that kind of thing just was never going to happen. There were instead the inevitable constant descriptions of women's breasts, obsession with women's body size (the smaller and more fragile, the sexier of course) and the ridiculous double standard, where men can have sex with anyone, but women who do the same are sluts, and men can have power, but women who do the same are evil, or dead. If you find yourself wondering why you'd read this book, you're not alone. It got so dull, tedious and annoying that I just about gave up on it myself.

As one amazon reviewer put it:
"I saw through the eyes of a fairly apathetic protagonist, who messes things up and blames everyone else, who had chances to become a hero and fails each time. I read about a person who wanted something, got it, didn't like it, and became apathetic. I read about the antagonist being defeated, the protagonist winning in the end, and no one feeling ... well, happy for having accomplished anything." 

I will therefore not be reading any more of Mr Grossman's books, and I give this one a very tepid C-, only because it was the fair Alice who finally matured enough to give her life for the lives of her friends in the end. What happens to whiny, immature Quentin from here on doesn't interest me.

I was also not enamored of "Vanity Fare" by Megan Caldwell. This was a book about a woman who is writing for a bakery that is going to be set up like a bakery-bookstore and is supposed to have food alluding to characters in classic literature. Two of my passions, food and books usually lead to a novel that has me riveted to the page for hours of entertainment. Unfortunately, the novel's protagonist is a complete idiot, and following her painful path through trite romances was almost enough to give me diabetes. I would only recommend this to those who like their heroines simple and their plots full of clues you can spot a mile off.  This fare gets a D, and I'm being generous for a novel that left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

White Truffles in Winter (NM Kelby) wasn't at all what I expected it to be, but then my expectations were low after reading Vanity Fare. It's the story of Escoffier the world's first real "Chef" or at least the first celebrity chef.
The story runs thus:
"Auguste Escoffier (1846–1935) was the unparalleled French chef whose impact on restaurants and high cuisine is still with us.
The novel opens near the end of Escoffier’s life, as he writes his memoirs. He has witnessed a tumultuous sweep of history from a unique position, and he recounts his days as a cook in the Franco-Prussian War, a chef for the beau monde in Paris and at the London’s Savoy, and a confidant of royalty and world leaders.
The heart of Escoffier’s story, however, lies in his love for two very different women: the famously beautiful and reckless actress Sarah Bernhardt, one of the most adored women of her day, and his wife, the independent and sublime poet Delphine Daffis, whose hand in marriage Escoffier gambled for, only to live apart from her for much of his career.
Now Escoffier has retired and returned to Delphine. She requests just one thing: that he produce a dish in her name as he has done for so many, including Bernhardt and Queen Victoria. Yet how does one re-create the complexity of love in a single recipe? The great chef has no idea. Aided by a headstrong young cook who looks remarkably like Bernhardt, Escoffier must rediscover food’s emotional capacity, its ability to communicate passion, regret, grief, forgiveness, and love."
While the book was full of descriptions of the sensual delights created by Escoffier, it made the point that he profited very little from those delights, in a literal, nutritive or monetary fashion. His obsession with Bernhardt, while understandable, didn't make sense as to why he wouldn't just divorce his wife and marry Bernhardt and travel with her. Why keep getting his wife pregnant when he didn't plan on being home long enough to help raise his children or deal with his wife? He claims to love Delphine, yet waffles and whines about not being able to name a recipe after her.  She was dying, and would have been happy with anything simple that the two of them shared together. He also seemed to discount his children as being his legacy, when if he'd had the decency to stick around and teach them to cook, as he had so many others, they could have carried on in his tradition, instead of being parasites on their parents.  Described as a small and meticulous man, Escoffier seemed to suffer from that Napoleonic "short man" syndrome of having to be ferocious sexually and in the kitchen to prove his excellence to the world. The prose, which is as rich and filling as the recipes, is what makes this book worthwhile. The depressive finances, the decay, the injustice and the existential miasma that seems to permeate every French novel I've ever read would otherwise make this book too much to take, especially for an optimistic American. I'd recommend it to foodies and historical foodies and those who are interested in famous, doomed love affairs of the past. An A-, with the caveat: Do not read this book if you are sad, depressed or anxious.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Powell's City of Books Remodel, Amazon's Shameful Stunt, and more Book News

 Powell's City of Books is remodeling, and I can hardly wait to see how much better it looks this summer, when I make my annual pilgrimage to Powells with my husband and son.

The project to remodel parts of Powell's Books http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz19610219 flagship store in Portland, Ore.,
begins next Monday and will continue for about six months. Announced
last May, the project will remodel the building housing the Green and
Blue Rooms, making structural and cosmetic changes and additions that
include a new entrance, a new roof, energy-efficient windows, fresh
exterior paint, additional skylights and new lighting. The rooms will
have a new layout, as well as a look and feel that "both respects the
history and retains the spirit of Powell's."

During the project, the Green and Blue Rooms will be closed, and books
currently housed in those areas will be temporarily moved to other
locations in the building. The store will continue normal operations
throughout the project.

CEO Miriam Sontz commented: "After months of careful planning and
preparation for this upgrade, it's exciting to have the remodel project
underway. We have been very conscientious about maintaining the high
level of service and selection we normally offer our customers, and
we're confident that visitors will be able to enjoy the Powell's
experience as usual."

This really is pretty low of Amazon...the UW Bookstore is famous for bringing in authors from around the globe, for having the best Science Fiction/Fantasy section in King County (curated by Duane, who is an amazing guy) and for providing good deals on books with sales all the time.
Shame on Amazon for pulling this stunt.

New Amazon Low: Trying to Steal Customers Outside Indie Store
Yesterday during rush at the University of Washington, Seattle,
Amazon.com showed some amazing nerve: in front of the University
Bookstore's store in the Husky Union Building (HUB), Amazon employees
set up a display urging students to sign up for Amazon Student, a free
program for six months offering two-day shipping and special deals (and
then segues to Amazon Prime).

HUB store manager Jonathan Day described the scene: "As the day
progressed, I watched as very friendly college-age Amazon
representatives approached student after student, inquiring whether they
had already purchased their textbooks and informing them that they could
save hundreds by shopping through Amazon Student. Peak activity was at
12:30, when they held a raffle, giving away several Kindle Fires. The
crowd filled the hallway and stairwell, while the Amazon representatives
called out winning numbers over a bullhorn."

I would hate to think that perhaps Karma has made it's way to Amazon's CEO...

On New Year's Day, during a holiday visit to the Galapagos Islands,
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos suffered a sudden kidney stone attack
and was transported by an Ecuadoran Navy helicopter to a Galapagos
airport, where his private plane whisked him back to the U.S. An Amazon
spokesperson quoted Bezos as saying, "Galapagos: five stars. Kidney
stones: zero stars." (The Ecuadoran navy issued a release about the
evacuation, which was widely quoted by U.S. media; Amazon confirmed the

Bezos's own Washington Post had a straight take on the painful story. By
contrast, in an item headlined "Ecuadoran Navy Delivers for Amazon Chief
the New York Times had fun, writing: "The Ecuadorean Navy offered Jeff
Bezos same-day shipping on an Amazon Prime package: Mr. Bezos
himself.... Knowing Mr. Bezos' savvy use of promotional opportunities,
it's surprising he did not say he fetched help by using the new 'Mayday'
feature on Kindle tablets."

For its part, Gawker ended its account of the incident
this way: "There's been no word if Charlie Rose was waiting holding a
bedpan. If you can't immediately get a country's navy on the phone, it's
not recommended that you contract a kidney stone on a remote island."

In a more serious vein, several papers commented that, as the Wall
Street Journal put it, "Bezos's health mishap is a reminder
to Amazon stockholders of the CEO's value to the company. Like many
companies led by founder/CEOs (see: Google's Larry Page, Berkshire
Hathaway's Warren Buffett, Apple's Steve Jobs and Oracle's Larry
Ellison), Amazon is considered inseparable from Bezos."

The drama dept at my high school did a reader's theater of this book, so I still have most of it memorized. I am thrilled that Disney has decided to make a movie of it. It's a classic of children's lit, in my opinion.

Movies: Alexander & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

A first peek is now available of Disney's Alexander & the Terrible,
Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
the first live-action film adaptation of Judith Viorst's 1972
illustrated children's classic, Broadway World reported, noting that the
project, directed by Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl, Cedar Rapids, Youth
in Revolt) from a screenplay by Rob Lieber, hits theaters nationwide on
October 10. The cast includes Megan Mullally, Jennifer Coolidge, Steve
Carell, Jennifer Garner, Dylan Minnette, Kerris Dorsey and Ed Oxenbould.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Happy New Year of Books and Authors and Booksellers

Happy New Year to all bibliophiles, authors, book friends and bookstore owners! 2014 Should be an exciting year for readers, as a number of books by my favorite authors are coming out in January, plus Downton Abbey returns to TV in America on Sunday, January 5! Hurrah!

January's Costco book is one I've been longing to read, but just haven't had the chance to purchase a copy yet:

Pennie Clark Ianniciello, Costco's book buyer, has chosen Mrs. Lincoln's
Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini (Plume, $16, 9780142180358) as her
pick of the month for January. In Costco Connection, which goes to many
of the warehouse club's members, she wrote:

"Over the years, I've been so blinded by the importance of our 16th
president that, until I read Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer
Chiaverini, I gave little thought to Mary Lincoln. And I certainly gave
no thought to her dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley.

"But theirs is a relationship worth reading about. For example, Keckley
spent many years as a slave before buying freedom for her son and
herself. After meeting Mary Lincoln, Keckley became not only the first
lady's dressmaker, but also her confidante. And Mary Lincoln, who
outlived her husband and three of their sons, is a fascinating woman who
battled depression for the last several years of her life. Together,
they make for a reading experience that won't soon be forgotten."

Neil Gaiman is garnering even more awards, and is, according to his blog, going on an internet fast, and not using Twitter or Facebook, while still posting to his blog inbetween speaking engagements and writing (I gather he's writing some more Doctor Who episodes, which should be wonderful)

Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane was named Specsavers Book
of the Year
after a public vote among winners of this year's 10 National Book Awards
categories. Gaiman's adult novel had won the audiobook category and been
shortlisted for Waterstones U.K. Author of the Year. His Fortunately the
Milk was also a finalist in the National Book Tokens Children's Book of
the Year category.

"I've never written a book before that was so close to my own heart: a
story about memory and magic and the fear and danger of being a child,"
Gaiman said. "I wasn't sure that anyone else would like it. I'm amazed
and thrilled that so many other people have read it, loved it, and made
their friends read it too. Winning a National Book Award was thrilling;
discovering that the public have made The Ocean at the End of the Lane
their Book of the Year is somewhere out beyond wonderful. Thank you to
everyone who voted."

Stephen Colbert is a hilarious comedian who has a very funny television show that I watch only occaisionally, because I dislike politics, and politicians even when they're being made fun of in a very snarky fashion. I think it is great that he's in the latest Hobbit movie, though, and even more fun that he brought the family.

"Did you miss satirical news pundit Stephen Colbert's brief appearance
in the new Hobbit movie?" On David Letterman's late night show, the
Comedy Central star and obsessive Tolkien fan revealed he and his family
have a cameo
in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, where he flashes across the
screen as a Lake-town spy, io9 reported. Buzzfeed has more details

 This is a dialog that I think many booksellers can relate to, and are probably continually frustrated by.

Customer in a Bookstore: 'I'm Looking for a Book'

"How can I help you?"
"I'm looking for a book."
"Would you happen to have the title?"
"It's a long shot, but I was in my car about a month ago and heard an
author on the radio. Sounded really interesting."
"Fiction? Nonfiction?"
"I don't remember."
"Anything about it you can remember?"
"It was raining."

Susan Coll, who works at Politics & Prose Bookstore
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz19557185, Washington, D.C., shared a few all-too-familiar bookseller-customer conversations
in a Washington Post op-ed column.

This is fascinating, as I had no idea that Yertl was Hitler in disguise!
The Secret Daughter of the Tsar and the Songs Of Willow Frost by Jennifer Laam and Jamie Ford, respectively) are two books that I finished this past week, during the time between December 26 and New Years Day. 
My problem with the Secret Daughter of the Tsar is that the main character was something of a wimp, in terms of her freaking out at every turn, and not knowing her own mind/heart at any point during the novel. I knew what the plot twist was going to be by a third of the way into the book, and I felt like there were numerous stereotypes that were used instead of fleshing out the characters to make them more real. Still, it was a decently-written book, and it kept my interest for the whole book, so I'd give it a B- and recommend it to those who are interested in Russian history and the romance of the Romanovs.
Songs of Willow Frost is Jamie Ford's second novel, after his award-winning Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which was a Seattle perspective on the Japanese internment camps of WWII. Songs of Willow Frost takes place earlier in Seattle's history, during the roaring 20s and into the stock market crash and the Great Depression. The protagonist is a boy named William who is in a grimy orphanage in Seattle, along with a group of handicapped, ethnic or abandoned children. William is Chinese, and was abandoned at age 7 by his mother, but he refuses to believe that she is dead or not coming back for him. He doesn't know why he was left at the orphanage, but he befriends a blind white girl (whose sexual predator father is in jail and whose mother is dead) and the two set off to try and find his mother, after he hears a Chinese movie star sing and sees her photo and realizes that "Willow" Song is actually his mother, Liu Song. 
The action in this novel, which is moved along by a very strict plot, takes place in many Seattle institutions, businesses and movie houses that are long gone. Yet Ford takes us back with such vivid and succulent prose that we can see, hear and smell what it must have been like to travel the streets of what is now Belltown or the International District during the 1920s and 1930s. Though there is a great deal of poverty, cruelty and horrible abuse of women and children during that era, Ford never gratuitously draws those scenes out, or makes us linger in misery for no reason. Though a pall of desperation and depression hangs over Willow Song's story, it still fascinates as a slice of life in an era that most of us can only imagine or read about in history books. Particularly the fate of women, and immigrant women are shown in the harshest possible light, which is difficult, at times, for the modern female reader to understand. I found myself asking "why" Willow allowed herself to be abused, raped, beaten and enslaved, but then I'd catch myself and realize that in that era, and within that culture, women didn't have the power that they do now, or the options for escape from a life of virtual enslavement. 
Fortunately, that doesn't make it any harder to love William, whose story has a happy ending that is somewhat modified by the death of his friend. I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in Seattle history, immigrant history, women's history or the fate of orphans during the depression. A solid A-, with the caveat that this isn't the kind of story you will want to read if you are depressed or if you avoid triggers like rape scenes.