Monday, March 10, 2014

The Ivy Tree, by Mary Stewart and Netherworld by Lisa Morton, and other Bookish News

As an Iowa native, I want to give a shout out (Yay) to our democratic Iowa senator who has a sense of humor and loves books!

Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) celebrated the release of journalist Myra
MacPherson's latest book, The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage & Scandal
in the Gilded Age (Twelve), by wearing a scarlet boa to her event at the
Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. Books were provided by Politics & Prose.
Also fascinating is the work that Ms Adler has done to uncover WHY vampires have been so popular in our culture and in films since the 1930s. "We get the vampire that we need for our era" she says in this delightful video:
Vampires Are Us: Understanding our Love Affair with the Immortal Dark
Side by Margot Adler
(Weiser Books).

Of course I signed up for this, because what is not to love about knowing what books have come out in new formats and which books have been unfairly overlooked.

Simon & Schuster has launched Off the Shelf, a website and daily e-mail that focuses on backlist books--fiction and
nonfiction and titles for adults and young adults--from a range of
publishers. Every day, the site will spotlight an original review or
essay about a book published at least a year earlier and available in
some format, including e-book. Reviews will be written by S&S employees.

Off the Shelf will also feature occasional guest reviews, interviews,
articles and reading lists from authors and editors, videos from S&S's
"What I am reading now" series and author videos from other publishers.
Suzanne Donahue, associate publisher of the Simon & Schuster Publishing
Group, is responsible for the day-to-day operations of Off the Shelf, in
conjunction with Simon & Schuster Digital.

S&S president and CEO Carolyn Reidy commented: "While it is very easy to
learn about the latest, hot new must-have books, we know from experience
that many readers are more interested in what's relevant to them
regardless of its moment in the publishing cycle. With Off the Shelf, we
aim to bring attention to books that were bestsellers you might have
read or wanted to, books that you may have missed in the often
overwhelming number of titles that get published every year, or simply
books that have touched us as readers, left an indelible mark on us, and
become friends that we revisit often. These are books that are often
spine out in stores, buried on a home bookshelf, or deep within library
stacks. We hope that shining a new light on them will help others
discover a passion for them as well."

A month ago, S&S introduced another consumer-oriented website, which focuses on business titles from a range of

 Interesting that this is coming up again. Goodreads has had quite a kerfuffle in the past with trolls taking out their ire on authors and on those who write good reviews for their books, and now Amazon is having the same issue, and Anne Rice is standing up to Amazon by calling for them to patrol their reviews and force reviewers to use their real names. Bullies like to hide under anonymity on the internet, and I don't think they should have the right to run riot over authors with slurs and often death threats and threats of violence against the authors personally. 

Anne Rice Signs Petition Against 'Gangster Bullies' on Amazon
Anne Rice has joined nearly 3,000 people who have signed a petition
asking to "protect users and indie publishing authors
from bullying and harassment by removing anonymity and requiring
identity verification for reviewing and forum participation."

The petition, launched by Todd Barselow,
seeks to bring attention to "the lack of oversight and or control in the
Amazon system regarding product reviewing--in particular book
reviewing--and in the participation of the many forums on Amazon." He
plans to deliver the petition to Amazon.

Rice told the Guardian
that the anonymous "anti-author gangsters" who attack and threaten
writers online have "worked their way into the Amazon system as
parasites, posting largely under pseudonyms, lecturing, bullying,
seeking to discipline authors whom they see as their special prey.
They're all about power. They clearly organize, use multiple identities
and brag about their ability to down vote an author's works if the
author doesn't 'behave' as they dictate."

Good E-Reader noted that "what is more interesting than the same battle
that has been circulating since groups on Goodreads and a grassroots
effort called Stop The Goodreads Bullies first began waging organized warfare
on authors or reviewers is that Rice is no casual observer of the issue.
Apart from lending her famous name to the petition by signing, Rice has
posted a fair amount of commentary on the issue on her Facebook page
people who are taking the argument--and their derision of the issue--to
the comments section of her page."

 Though I am thrilled that Elliott Bay books made the list, I am saddened that Island Books on Mercer Island, my favorite indie bookstore in the Seattle area, didn't. And then there's Prairie Lights bookstore, which is in my native state of Iowa, so I don't know who to root for here, my old home or my new-ish home, here in Seattle (I've been here for 23 years).
Bookstore of the Year Finalists Named
Five finalists have been announced for the Bookstore of the Year Award
Publishers Weekly. They "were chosen from among storefront retail
bookstores in the U.S. that excel in buying, vendor relations,
marketing, handselling, customer care, community involvement,
management-employee relations, merchandising, and business operations,"
Bookselling This Week reported. This year's shortlist:

The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle,Wash.
San Francisco, Calif.
McLean & Eakin Booksellers  Petoskey,Mich.
Iowa City,Iowa

The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart and Netherworld by Lisa Morton were two finely-tuned suspenseful novels that I just finished over the weekend. Oh, and I also read "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane" by Kate DeCamillo in about two hours, and now plan on adding it to my pantheon of "Books that Every Child on Earth Needs to Read." It is such a beautifully-crafted tale that it deserves a spot alongside "The Velveteen Rabbit" and "Watership Down." I plan on sending my copy to Frank and Janell Shier's daughter Sara. I can't imagine that she won't adore it, and want a porcelain rabbit of her own soon.
Meanwhile, I wanted to read some of Mary Stewart's gothic thriller/suspense novels that I'd somehow missed when I was on my Stewart reading kick back in the 1970s, when I was a teenager. I had no idea, until I read about the Ivy Tree and Wildfire at Midnight that she is a British citizen who married some faintly royal guy and moved to Scotland. I also had no idea that she is 97 years old, but still alive! Imagine my joy in hoping that we might yet squeeze one more voluptuous tale out of the elegant imagination of Mary Stewart.
The Ivy Tree reads like an old noir film, with a young woman who visits a beautiful estate, only to be confronted by an extremely handsome Irishman who threatens her as if he knows her, and then calms down when he realizes that she's not the woman he thought she was, ie his cousin Anabel.  Protagonist Mary Grey looks like the identical twin of Anabel, however, and Connor the Irishman who is running the estate soon hatches a plan to use Mary to impersonate Anabel and wrest the estate from Anabel's grandfather, who is on his last legs. Skulduggery ensues, and the inevitable plot twists happen twice, and thankfully, all is set right at the end in an almost Jane Eyre fashion. Though I loved the crisp and proper British prose and the nicely regimented plot, I felt that at some points the characters were almost too much of a cliche/stereotype, with their gruff grandfather, the violent Irishman and the heroic gentlemen. Still, it is a Mary Stewart novel, and chances are that she wrote these books before these cliches were a thing. So I feel Ivy Tree would best be read by Jane Austen or Bronte sisters fans, and I'd give it an A for being so classy, if nothing else.
Netherworld by Lisa Morton was a deliciously fun Steampunk mystery/thriller featuring Lady Diana Furneval, a 19th century educated woman who, with her husband, learned to close 'gateways' into the netherworld, so that the ghosts, vampires. demons and other creatures can't get out and harm everyday folks.
But when Diana's husband is abducted by an important and powerful demon, Diana must find a way to bring him back from the netherworld and save him from losing his soul. While she uses her cat Mina to help close the gateways, Diana soon finds that she is now a target and so she develops a friendship with a Chinese man named Yi-Kan who just happens to be proficient in the martial arts, and with the help of a mysterious angelic librarian named Stephen, the two journey from London to the US and back again to save Diana's husband. The novel's clean and bouncy prose works well with the swiftly-flowing plot to make this book hard to put down. The characters are old fashioned, as is to be expected from characters living in 1880, but they're never precious or overly fluffy. I whipped through Netherworld in one day, but I can still imagine those who adore Steampunk wanting to take their time with this book, which is fine. I'd recommend it to Steampunk fans, fantasy fans and those who like Lara Croft, Tomb Raider movies. A solid A, with the sincere hope of more of these novels to come in the future.

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