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, 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. 

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