Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bookstore Cat Contest, Theater, Children's Book Facts and Delicious! By Ruth Reichl, The Madwoman in the Volvo by Sandra Loh and The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers

I've always thought that cats went with bookstores naturally, like peanut butter goes with jelly, so when I saw this in Shelf Awareness, I had to look at all the bookish cat photos and smile, of course. I miss having cats of my own, but now that I'm allergic, the only kind of cats I can appreciate are those seen online. 
After much "delipurration," Quirk Books has chosen Amelia of the Spiral
Bookcase, Philadelphia, Pa., as the winner of its Contest for Bookstore Cats
The winning photo will be featured on, and the bookstore receives a $100 cash prize (to be spent on cat treats, we assume).

For the contest, Quirk invited feline booksellers from around the world
to compete for a chance to jumpstart their Internet celebrity campaign.
Competitor cats were asked to command someone with opposable thumbs to
take a picture of them "reading" the Quirk title, How to Make Your Cat
an Internet Celebrity by Patricia Carlin, with photos by Dustin
Oh how wonderful that they're taking this fascinating book and turning it into a Broadway play! We have a theater here in Seattle, BookIt Rep Theater, that does this with all kinds of books every year. Founded by the great John Billingsley about 25 years ago, it's been going strong here in this literate city.  But I'd still love to go see how this adaptation turns out.
On Stage: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The cast has been announced for this fall's Broadway premiere of The
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
a stage adaptation of Mark Haddon's bestselling novel that won an
Olivier Award for best new play during its run at the U.K.'s National

The Simon Stephens drama, staged by Marianne Elliott (with movement by
Steven Hoggett), will star Alexander Sharp, "a soon-to-be Juilliard
grad, in his Broadway debut," reported. The cast includes
Ian Barford (August: Osage County), Helen Carey (London Assurance),
Francesca Faridany (The 39 Steps) and Enid Graham (The Constant Wife).

The Curious Incident is scheduled to begin performances at the Barrymore
Theatre September 10, with an official opening October 5. Producers
announced that more than 50 tickets at each performance will sell for
$27--a curious incident of the affordable Broadway ticket.

Here are two videos that captured my imagination this past week. The first is the marvelous John Green, whom I will love forever for writing "The Fault in Our Stars," talking about little known facts about children's lit. The second is a drool-worthy bibliophiles tour of bespoke libraries from my favorite TV news program, the elegant Sunday Morning. John Green shared "47 charming facts about children's books" at Mental Floss.
I think that this is a book whose time has come, (and I need to buy a copy) and none too soon. I read reports every single day about all the things that are bad for us in our food, our environment and our everyday lives. It is disheartening and often confusing. But here is some clarity in book that takes a look at all the junk and regular science and separates fact from fiction. Halleluiah!
Is That a Fact?: Frauds, Quacks, and the Real Science of Everyday Life
by Joe Schwarcz
 Are genetically modified foods bad for the environment? Do organic foods provide any health benefits? Does the recently reviled plastic ingredient Bisphenol-A (BPA) cause birth defects? Joe Schwarcz (An Apple a Day), director of McGill University's Office for Science and Society, explores these questions and many others in Is That a Fact?

Schwarcz offers three color-coded sections: black for complete quackery, gray for mixed opinions, white for confirmed facts. Each section has about two dozen short essays that can be read in any order. Readers can binge on an entire section or select bite-sized morsels about topics such as diet hype or homeopathy (the latter, as far as Schwarcz is concerned, boils down to magic placebo water). Schwarcz is particularly adept at uncovering the ultimate financial beneficiaries of unsound science and the cultural factors that occasionally perpetuate fraudulent claims. The recent crusade against "pink slime" (an additive used in ground beef products) was an unscientific affair, but Schwarcz does credit chef Jamie Oliver for his general efforts to improve nutrition. Dr. Oz is another mixed bag: Schwarcz believes he has good intentions, but his promotion of diet "miracles" is driven by ratings, not science.

The final section (confirmed facts) is less focused than the other two. Schwarcz wanders between topics as disparate as dry ice and airport security. The diminished momentum and scathing charm are the only casualties, though; he loses none of the layman-friendly clarity and wit that makes Is That a Fact? accessible to any reader. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Delicious! by Ruth Reichl is the NYT food critic and Gourmet editor's first foray into fiction.Though I'd read all her wonderful non fiction works, including Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples, I was unsure if her fiction would be able to stand up against her popular previous works. I shouldn't have worried, as Reichl, is a born storyteller, whose fictional characters bound full-bodied off the page and into the reader's heart. Publisher's Weekly sums up the plot thus: "A young California woman named Billie Breslin (a barely disguised Reichl) lands a job at a food magazine called Delicious! in New York City just before it is shuttered by budget-minded bigwigs. As part of an interim position fielding calls and correspondence from subscribers, Billie stays on as the lone employee in the old mansion from which the magazine was published for years. A character named Sammy, the fey former travel editor for the mag, leads her to a beautiful library on an upstairs floor, where they uncover letters written to the famous James Beard from a girl named Lulu during the Second World War—letters that have been hidden in a secret chamber by a long-gone librarian named Bertie. Billie embarks upon a scavenger hunt for the remaining the letters, and, in the end, on a journey to find their aging author." PW found the book bland and the prose too sweet, but I heartily disagree. Delicious reminded me of my own days at a Florida lifestyle magazine, first as a writer and then as the senior editor. Though I was doing my stint during the stone age of the 80s, and Billie is at her magazine on during the years leading up to the Great Recession of 2008 and beyond, the same cast of characters, evil publishers, deadlines and discoveries apply.Though I never found a treasure-trove of letters from WW2, I still loved, as does Billie, exploring relationships with the vendors of food and drink that one encounters at a magazine, meeting with celebrities, discovering new places and meeting readers and learning their stories. I also met my husband while working at the magazine, and I learned a lot about love and life while employed there. So Billie's story resonated with me, but it was also a funny, warm, witty mystery that I could not put down. The prose was sterling and the plot glided along beautifully. All in all, a book that I would recommend to anyone who loves food and food magazines, and those who enjoy epistolary mysteries. A well-deserved A.
The Madwoman in the Volvo by Sandra Tsing Loh was a timely book for me to pick up because I'm currently in the throes of menopause myself, and, as the author wisely surmises, it's much easier to get through the "change of life" with some sage advice, some alcohol. chocolate and friends.
 Though it's non-fiction, Loh's book reads like a hilarious novel of fictional characters, from her first husband, Mr X, to her crazy 88-year-old Chinese father who is so cheap he dumpster dives for food. Again, from Publisher's Weekly (who approved of this memoir much more than they approved of Reichls):
"Southern California author Loh has amply demonstrated her stand-up comic skills in her syndicated radio show and previous autobiographical works (Mother on Fire) and here faces down her life at sudden impasse in her late 40s. Having left her longtime husband and father of her two preteen girls, Mr. X, as she calls him, two years before, she took up with Mr. Y, a theater colleague and friend of 10 years whom she regarded as the Ethel to her Lucy, “the sunny island my shipwreck had landed on.” After a reckless affair that she compares to a prison break (“We dug ourselves out of our cells with spoons, and we ran for it”), the two left their spouses and cohabited. Tsing Loh, half-Chinese, half-German, recognized that her abrupt fits of weeping, “gothic moods,” worry, and manic energy were no doubt the first symptoms of menopause"
Though Loh is obviously not going to take the insanity lying down, she often veers into wacky territory with the lengths she is willing to go to in order to ameliorate the symptoms of menopause. From crazy diets and therapy to personal trainers and books like "The Happiness Project" Loh careens off of the corners of sanity and at times I was shocked by admissions like the one in which she felt she no longer wanted to parent her children. I understand being a parent at a late age, as I had my son when I was 40, so how he's a teenager (a bit older than Loh's two preteen girls) and yes, he's demanding and difficult at times and certainly not as cuddly as he was when he was a baby. However, I still love him so much that I couldn't imagine life without him, and I certainly would never abandon my son in a fit of selfish depression. Fortunately, Loh doesn't leave her children, and her life does get better as she finally comes to grips with the truth that the real problem is hers, and how she reacts to the world, and not everyone elses. While I can understand that her rescue from symptoms came from certain hormones, plus reading The Wisdom of Menopause by Dr Christiane Northrup and getting a housekeeper, plus having her second husband and her children agree to help around the house and cook, I know that for me, such things are not going to be practical in navigating my menopause journey. Regardless, I've given this book an A, and I'd recommend it to any woman going through perimenopause or menopause who feels like they're going crazy and doesn't know where to turn.
The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers was not at all what I expected of this author, whose book Miss Garnet's Angels was so delightful and such a great read. This novel, about a foundling orphan named Agnes Morel is so sad and full of characters eager to do damage to a mentally-challenged young woman that I nearly abandoned the novel halfway through. As it is, the book paints the people of France as being none too bright, and mostly cruel and viscious gossips. The final few pages actually turn things around for Agnes, but they don't dim the horror of all she was exposed to and all that she did while under the influence and aegis of religious people (nuns and priests) and doctors who were supposed to take care of her. Though there is a brief rape scene in the book, the rapist is never identified, nor brought to justice. Still, I would give this novel a C, and recommend it to people who like innocent developmentally challenged protagonists.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

More Praise for Indies, EB White's Letter and Looking For Me by Beth Hoffman

 It's easy, as a reporter, to get cynical and despair of the levels the human race can sink to, when you're faced with news each day of horror and stupidity and cruelty. I have always tried hard to fight against despair by being optimistic and believing in the goodness that is within each of us, if we only look for it. I'm not alone in my belief, as this letter from EB White to a reader shows.
Dear Mr. Nadeau,
As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society – things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.
Sincerely, E. B. White

 A brave testament to the importance of independent bookstores. They bring a community together. 

"This is what a local bookstore is, and each local business in the
community has its own version of this story. We cherish our customers
not because they shop with us, but because they are us. Perhaps you
learned to read in our children's section, and maybe someday we'll be
selling your novel among the bestsellers. Or we met you when you were a
baby, hired you in high school and we hope to be here for your children
one day.

"This is the story of community. This is why we have always urged people
to shop locally whenever possible. With your help, there will always be
an Iconoclast Books, along with other local businesses, to serve you. In
our book, this is how we all will remain strong, no matter what man or
nature throws at us, in the cruelest month or the kindest. And that is
worth far more than a bargain."

--Sarah Hedrick, owner of Iconoclast Books, Ketchum, Idaho, reflecting upon "20 Years of Iconoclastic Bookselling
a post at the Los Angeles Review of Books' Naked Bookseller blog.

I have a copy of this book in my immediate TBR pile, but I've just not been able to get into it yet. There are books that demand that you read them when in a particular frame of mind, or at a particular time and place, and Wolf Hall is one of those books. 

Damian Lewis (Homeland, Life, Parade's End) will play Henry VIII in the
BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel's novels Wolf Hall
and Bring Up the Bodies, directed Peter Kosminsky. He joins a stellar
cast that includes Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, Mark Gatiss (Stephen
Gardiner), Anton Lesser (Thomas More) and Jonathan Pryce (Cardinal
Wolsey). BBC News reported that the "much anticipated six-part
miniseries, to be aired on BBC2 next year, has begun filming in both
Bristol and the Wiltshire National Trust properties of Great Chalfield
Manor and Lacock Abbey."

"I love it when an author, such as Hilary Mantel, does her research and
discovers an original understanding of a very familiar piece of
history," said Rylance. "Even during our rehearsals her detailed
imagination of the world of Thomas Cromwell is alive in Peter
Straughan's ingenious and faithful adaptation."

Another quote about independent bookstores that I could not resist posting.
"So what, then, makes independent bookstores matter? They represent the
essential belief that humanity matters--each person matters.... We are
bibliophiles passionate about the power of books, but also the power of
community and humanity.... We understand the structure of a busy life
and, with that, the allure of convenience, but we want you to know, if
you need to stop, breathe deep, and explore for awhile, we're here,
seven days a week.

"We thank you for being an integral part of what we love and what we
do--none of this magic could happen without you. We curate this space
for you. We matter. You matter. This is why independent bookstores
 Julie Glover
a bookseller at Chop Suey Books <,
Richmond, Va., in a piece for the shop's e-newsletter. 

I must see this movie, it looks wonderful from the trailer. It reminds me of the adaptation of Under the Tuscan Sun, which was such a beautiful book and gorgeous movie.
DreamWorks has released the first trailer for The Hundred-Foot Journey
based on Richard Morais's bestselling novel, reported. The
film stars Helen Mirren and is directed by Lasse Hallström, with
Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey and Juliet Blake producing. It hits
theaters August 8.
Looking For Me by Beth Hoffman is a book that I'm reading for my Tuesday evening book group at the Maple Valley Library.
Though I've got a copy of Hoffman's previous work, "Saving Cece Honeycutt" I haven't read it yet because I have the feeling I'd read it before, and have just forgotten the plot (this is becoming more of a problem the older I get, but as a veteran bibliophile, I refuse to let that stop me from buying more books!). Still, after discussing the last book we'd read in my group (Never Let Me Go) and all of us agreeing that it was a terribly depressing novel, I was afraid that this book wasn't going to be any better.
My fears were unfounded, however, when I became so engrossed in this story that I read it straight through in one day, from morning til night. A novel in the same style as Fanny Flagg's wonderful Southern fiction, Looking For Me is the story of a Kentucky farm girl whose brother disappears and is presumed dead. 
Here's the blurb :
Teddi Overman found her life’s passion in turning other people’s castoffs into beautifully restored antiques. Leaving her hardscrabble Kentucky childhood behind, Teddi opens her own store in Charleston. She builds a life as unexpected and quirky as her many customers, but nothing alleviates the haunting uncertainty she’s felt since her brother Josh mysteriously disappeared. When signs emerge that Josh might still be alive, Teddi returns to Kentucky, embarking on a journey that could help her come to terms with her shattered family—and find herself.
Teddi and her friends and family are quirky and eccentric and utterly fascinating. Teddi's passion for reclaiming furniture and for caring deeply about her grandmother and her long lost brother, as well as the crazy people that inhabit her orbit in Charleston, SC, brings tears to the eyes of readers and tugs at the heartstrings.
I identified with Teddi's difficulties with her mother, and her unrelenting belief that her brother was still alive and living in the forest. Her late in life love affair and her persistence also rang a bell or two in my heart, and I found that by the end of the book, I felt as if I could hop a plane to Charleston and have a glass of iced tea with Teddi at the local cafe.
Hoffman's prose was just poetic enough to be emotive of the place and time of the novel, and her plot ran along greased rails, so smooth that it never missed a beat. A definite A, with a recommendation to all those who love family stories and Southern quirky characters.I enjoyed it so much I plan on buying a copy and sending it to my mother in Arizona. As a fan of Laura Child's  Tea Shoppe mysteries and Fannie Flagg's novels, I know that she'll love it.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Mother's Day with Robert Gray and Dawn of Steam: First Light

A special thanks to my mom, Roma Shalin, who read to me from the time I was just a baby until I learned to read at age 4.  For Mother's Day this year, I sent her some cat mystery books, and a card.
I have learned that she loves getting books in the mail as much as I do, and that she likes to sit down with a nice cup of tea and read whenever she can. I guess I am a chip off the old book block, because I do the same, and plan on reading and drinking tea this Sunday on Mother's Day.

Robert Gray: Mother's Day Is 'A Very Booky Holiday'
Do you know what the first rule of Mother's Day is at Hallmark? "Don't make fun of your mom."

Dad? It's always open season on him. Even Mother's Day isn't a safe
paternal harbor (please refer to Exhibit A--this great card featured by
Hudson, Wis.). Tina Neidlein, a Hallmark greeting card writer, told
Bloomberg Businessweek: "On Father's Day, you can say, 'Dad, all you
want is a sandwich!' or 'Dad, you nap a lot.' But if you make fun of
your mother, she's going to cry. And you can't even make fun of that."
Just to be safe, we'll opt
for the "be grateful" strategy, as in "Thanks Mom for Being My First
Storyteller" The new
video from HarperCollins features several authors--Veronica Roth, Soman
Chainani, Lauren Oliver, Ann Patchett, Dan Gutman, Rita Williams-Garcia,
Adriana Trigiani and more--expressing their bookish Mother's Day

Books. That's the ticket. While the don't-make-fun-of-mom edict is
probably based more on Hallmark's penchant for sentimental typecasting
than scientific research, it did remind me that indie booksellers have
long made a point of breaking away from traditional (i.e.,
cliché) merchandising options in their Mother's Day displays. For
example, this year the Book Nook,
Ludlow, Vt., showcases Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In: Women, Work, & the
Will to Lead and Elizabeth Warren's A Fighting Chance on its Mother's
Day table. And then there are the delightfully entomological sentiments
expressed on the cover of a greeting card featured by Greenlight
Brooklyn, N.Y. ("Eating her young meant fewer Mother's Day cards to

Harvard Book Store,
Cambridge, Mass., created a video of personal staff picks for their
mothers, with a nice range of choices: A Fighting Chance, Sibley Birds,
A Platter of Figs, Journey, Ethics for the New Millennium, Beatrix
Potter's Gardening Life, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart and Flour,
Too: Indispensable Recipes for the Cafe's Most Loved Sweets & Savories.

"Mother's Day is a very booky holiday,"
the New York Times observed. "A book isn't too much, it doesn't have to
be prominently displayed, it doesn't demand a conversation about how
calories-don't-count-because-whatever and it doesn't wilt--or it goes
nicely with more traditional gifts, which do do some of those things.
Mother's Day is a fun time to give a book she will love to a friend,
too: maybe a friend whose spouse and children don't 'get it' quite as
well as you do."
Last year, Kobo released a Mother's Day video featuring moms from many countries reading with their children, ending with: "She gave you the gift of reading. On
Mother's Day, give it back."

Once upon a time (let's call it the early 1950s), when I was three or
four years old, a fierce thunderstorm hit our town. Through the haze of
memory, I can still feel the intensity of that storm, but I mostly
remember the shelter my younger brother and I found on my mother's lap
while she read us a story to take our minds off what she called "God
bowling in the sky."

I was reminded of that moment when I recently encountered a lovely and
very bookish e-newsletter column by Nancy Page, owner of Island
Books, Mercer Island, Wash.: "With our youngest, Lewis, leaving home in
the fall to attend college in the Midwest, this Mother's Day takes on a
special meaning and gives me pause to reflect. The school-age years have
been full, as I watched our children forge their own friendships and
become the young adults that they are, but it was the early years when
we hunkered down on the couch and read piles of books for hours at a
time, completely absorbed in stories, that hold the fondest memories. I
liked to read aloud and my kids loved to listen--a match made in

Page then chronicles a title-rich reading life with her children before
concluding: "So maybe I could have done this mothering thing differently
and my children would be practical scientists or mathematicians in the
making, but instead they are exactly as they always have been and really
in my opinion, should be, the sorts who love stories, bookseller's
children. I am forever grateful for those years spent reading to them.
So if you are at home with little ones, I suggest you make time to read.
Read a lot to them. Punctuate your days with books, piles of books on
the couch. You will never regret it. Happy Mother's Day." --Robert Gray
Dawn of Steam: First Light by Jeffrey Cook and Sarah Symonds is an epistolary steampunk novel that takes place in an alternative-history universe in which England is the most powerful country and America has yet to break away from the British Empire, and is thus still uncharted and wild anywhere west of the Mississippi. A young man sets out to find his fortune and adventure by following the fantastic journals of Dr Bowe, who is a Jules Verne-like figure.
The novel's protagonist is Gregory Conan Watts, who writes to his soon to be wife, Dr Cordelia Bentham-Watts, to Lord Donovan and in his travel journal of the adventures that he and his team face in trying to find a passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Pacific Northwest.
While the book is written in Victorian and Regency style, it isn't the writing that makes the first 100 pages slow going. The  unnecessary footnotes by Cordelia and the long chapters detailing too much about the difficulties of assembling the "team" that Watts needs to get him through this adventure make the stop-start reading frustrating. There are also numerous redundancies, paragraphs that could have communicated their idea in one sentence instead of ten (page 79 is rife with examples.)
The gathering of crew members for the dirigible that Watts and company will venture forth in is reminiscent of "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" with a few ladies, (who in the end are the real heroines of the tale.)
There's not a great deal to like about Gregory Conan Watts, who does little but chronicle the adventures and take photographs of the people and places that the team encounters. He hasn't the courage to try and save anyone but himself when the going gets rough, and he spends an inordinate amount of time passing judgement on anyone who isn't British and male, or British and a "proper lady" who practices perfect manners, is fragile, pretty and basically useless. He continually makes arrogant and sexist observations particularly about "poor Harriet Wright" a woman who has come along with the perfect Miss Coltrane to learn to  "present herself as a fine lady of society and eventually to marry well." Every time she fumbles, even slightly, Watts makes note of it in a sneering fashion that becomes nauseating and hypocritical all too soon (his fiance, after all, is a woman doctor who obviously had ambitions well beyond her 'station' as a female). Once he discovers that she has great mechanical aptitude, however, he grudgingly admits that she might be useful to the team to help repair some of the devices the team take with them. Yet again, he says "...for perhaps if she truly had such a gift for the manly pursuit of artifice, certainly well beyond my own understanding, then perhaps some part of her mind is entirely unsuited for womanly pursuits." Though one could argue that women were subjected to a rigorous moral and societal code of conduct in the 19th century, I would respond that if you are rewriting history for the background of the book, why not give women greater freedom and respect than they had in the actual 19th century?
Miss Sam Bowe, daughter of the famed writer who inspired the trip that these people are taking, originally presents herself as a man, because she has tremendous knife-fighting and survival skills learned from Native American Indians, whose language she also speaks. Of course, Watts has little to say about her that is positive, calling her crazy several times, yet it is Miss Bowe who saves several crew members numerous times and is one of the few people with the courage to kill off the rival gangs sent to pursue Watts group in another dirigible.  Bowe and Eddy, and occaisionally James Coltrane were the only characters who were at all interesting throughout the novel as they displayed bravery, intelligence and grit that was never a part of the make up of the protagonist, though his wife writes in the introduction that he was hailed as a hero.
Though Dawn of Steam is written in a fashion that doesn't lend itself to light reading, after the first 100 pages, the plot starts to steam right along, and the story becomes more engrossing. I'd give this novel a B- with the hope that, as it is part of a trilogy, that the author trims his redundancies and removes some of the rampant sexism/nationalism from future novels. I'd recommend it to those who enjoy the works of Jules Verne and HG Wells.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Indies for Kiddies, Foyles, Tom Robbins and Three Fantastic Reads

Red Tricycle, which is an awesome name for an e-zine, in my opinion, just published a list of 8 great bookstores for kids in the Seattle area, and number 8 is my favorite Seattle-area bookstore, Island Books on Mercer Island. Owners Roger and Nancy Page are just the best, and their store is a joy to shop in for both kids and adults. I remember my son Nick playing in the little Hobbit-house that they have in the kids area and having to have Roger tell him that they needed to clean out the pixies and goblins, which allowed me to finally get him out of the thing and get home. That's not to say that I don't love the other bookstores listed, because I do, but I will always have a special place in my heart for Island Books.

Great Seattle Indies for 'Pint-Sized Bookworms'

"Bookaholics abound" in the Seattle region, a trend that "has resulted
in a superb selection of independent bookstores," Red Tricycle noted in
highlighting "8 Great Indie Bookstores for Pint-Sized Bookworms."

Featured booksellers included Mockingbird Books ("warm and cozy spot...
serves up the best in kids' books to a community that has been
supporting them since 2008"), Secret Garden Books ("knowledgeable booksellers are
committed to getting the right book into the right little hands"),
Alphabet Soup ("just
what the book doctor ordered when your little ones need a literary pick
me up"), Queen Anne Book Company ("perfect place for kidlets and their parents to find something to quench their book-lust"),
Third Place Books ("with two
kid-friendly locations to meet all your book-lovin' needs"), University
Bookstore ("flagship
location's kids section is half a floor of fun for your kiddos"),
Elliott Bay Book Company ("houses a great kids' section, complete with a custom castle for your favorite fairy
bookworm"), and Island Books ("their
kids' section--you have to see it to believe it").

Though I am late to the party, I have just started reading Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" which won the Man Booker Prize a year or so ago.  But I think it is wonderful that Foyles has so many famed authors opening each department. What a great idea to get people interested in a particular genre of novels.

Hilary Mantel Will Officially Open New Foyles

Foyles has added more authors and has more information about the three-week grand opening festival
be held June 11-July 5 for its new flagship store on Charing Cross Road
in London. The 37,000-square-foot "bookshop for the 21st century" is
located steps from Foyles's longtime flagship store.

Hilary Mantel, twice winner of the Man Booker Prize, will officially
open the store on June 13. Thereafter, each department will be opened
formally by an author: Simon Armitage will open poetry; Mary Beard,
history and politics; Malorie Blackman, children's and YA; Jarvis
Cocker, music; P.D. James, crime fiction; Mark Kermode, film and
theatre; Henry Marsh, medical; Yotam Ottolenghi, cookery; Michael Palin,
travel; Grayson Perry, art; Biz Stone, business; and Sarah Waters,
fiction. In many cases, the authors will unveil a table of their own top
10 picks for the department.

The festival will feature events with these and other authors, as well
as concerts, storytelling sessions, film screenings, workshops and more.

I have been a Tom Robbins fan for years, starting with his magnificent "Jitterbug Perfume" and moving on to each novel, all the way to "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas." Now it appears that he's got his memoirs, or a series of "autobiographical essays" coming out, so I am going to have to add this one to my already huge wish list. I don't know if Robbins still lives in Seattle, but I know he did live here for years, and wrote some wonderful essays about how cool it was, and is, to live in the Pacific Northwest.

Review: Tibetan Peach Pie

Tom Robbins, best known for writing flamboyantly imaginative novels
(Even Cowgirls Get the Blues; Jitterbug Perfume) with half-hilarious,
half-metaphysical leanings, dishes out a juicy-parts version of his full
and unusual life in this collection of autobiographical essays. In the
preface, Robbins remarks, "My editor claims some of this stuff is so
nuts even I couldn't have made it up," and readers will agree as they
join Robbins for a stroll down a version of Memory Lane populated by
circus performers, bohemians, the occasional celebrity and a variety of
interesting women.

Robbins begins with his childhood in Appalachian North Carolina during
the Great Depression. As he engaged in exploits such as the attempted
abduction of his cousin Martha when he was two and she was one--"hardly
the last time I was to leave a town with a pretty young thing in
tow"--his precocious knack for trouble earned him the nickname Tommy
Rotten. The name stuck and seemed to guide his formative years, and some
of his earliest recollections are also his most colorful, including the
time he briefly ran away to join the circus--with parental consent.

As an adult, Robbins has maintained his habit of telling convention to
go do rude things to itself. Readers who hop on board solely to hear
about the evolution of a writing career might be surprised at Robbins's
unconventional path to selling his first novel. While his stints in
journalism seem a logical step on the path, his adventures abroad,
involvement with the developing modern-art scene in the U.S. and love
affair with psychedelic drugs delineate a winding and entertaining route
to publication--perhaps no surprise from an author who spent a day as
king of a cannibal tribe and was at one time investigated by the FBI in
connection with the Unabomber case.

Robbins defies tradition yet again by throwing the usual linear
autobiography format out the window, jumping instead from story to story
in a manner that often seems disjointed but repeatedly becomes part of a
greater train of thought. Perhaps the only aspect more impressive than
Robbins's ability to imbue a lifetime of interesting anecdotes with an
additional layer of introspection is his trademark style, as much in
evidence here as in any of his fiction, earthy and conversational yet
simultaneously intellectual. Fans and newcomers alike will guffaw and
marvel at this most extraordinary life. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Three Fantastic Reads
I've just finished, in the last month, three magnificent novels, MJ Rose's "The Collector of Dying Breaths," Gabrielle Zevin's "The Storied Life of AJ Fikry," and Leslye Walton's "The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender."
Starting with the latter first, I have to say that "Ava Lavender" was a rarity for me, a book that reads like a combination of "Like Water for Chocolate" (Laura Esquevel) and "Chocolat" (Joanne Harris), two of my favorite "Magic Realism" novels, by two authors famed for creating strong and fantastic female protagonists.
Ava Lavender is, like the protagonists of the aforementioned novels, a lovely, strange child, born with black wings on her back to a woman reared in a family of tres unique Frenchmen and women, whom we learn about throughout the book's first half. Ava is also a twin, and her brother Henry is described as mute, but he sounds like an autistic savant, who has foreknowledge of what will happen, but is unable to fully express himself to warn others of what is going on.
Ava's grandmother runs a bakery in the Phinney Ridge/Greenlake neighborhood of Seattle, where my husband and I lived for 10 years before we moved to Maple Valley, which is 30 miles Southeast of Seattle. However, the story takes place mainly during the 1950s, a much more innocent time in that neighborhood. Ava's mother fell in love with a young man whose father, having had an unhealthy lustful contempt for Ava's grandmother, (whom he considers a witch) verbally and emotionally abuses his son for having a relationship with Ava's mother,Viviane. Said son runs away to make his fortune, leaving a pregnant Viviane behind, and eventually returns having married for money and prestige, mostly to gain his father's approval.
Meanwhile, Ava tries to fit in, and becomes friends with the robust Irish kids next door, a sister and brother who love and care for her as a person, not as an oddity. Unfortunately, there is a local pastor who develops a lustful obsession with Ava, whom he believes to be an angel, and though he nearly kills her, he gets his just desserts in a somewhat deus ex machina fashion.
I loved this book even more dearly than Water for Chocolate and Chocolat, because it takes place in a mileau familiar to me, and the prose is mesmerizing and lush, which made me devour the novel in one sitting. With sterling prose, excellent characters and a lightening-fast plot, "Ava Lavender" deserves a solid A+, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys well-written fantasy stories that will haunt you long after you're finished reading.

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry takes place in a bookstore called "Island Books" which is the name of my favorite bookstore in the Seattle area, Island Books on Mercer Island. Run by the fabulous Roger Page, I gather that Gabrielle Zevin stopped by to sign and read from her book there, which is only fitting, though her book takes place on an island somewhere near Bainbridge, Lopez and other islands only a ferry ride away from Seattle.
Fikry is a widowed, cynical crumudgeon when we meet him, running a bookstore that won't carry most popular kinds of fiction, or have a kids section, because the owner just really wants to be left alone to drink himself to death.
Then one day a woman drops a toddler (somewhere around 2 years old) off on his doorstep and drowns herself, leaving Fikry to raise a little girl that he knows very little about. Maya ends up doing what children do best; changing the lives of those who love and parent them for the better.
Soon Fikry is having a book club in the store, and allowing in some children's books, and even starting a romance with one of the publisher's reps.  Before each chapter, Fikry writes a short review of books that he feels are important in the canon of literature, ones that he wants Maya to read. We learn later that he writes these as a legacy to his daughter, and that Fikry really isn't such a bad guy after all.
This was yet another novel that I fell in love with, as I laughed, cried, laughed and cried again throughout the novel. Zevin is a brilliant storyteller with a keen ear for realistic character dialog and prose that is nearly liquid it's so smooth. Another novel that deserves a hearty A, with recommendations to any and all bibliophiles and book groups across the country.

The Collector of Dying Breaths is the final book in a trilogy by MJ Rose that started with the marvelous Book of Lost Fragrances and went on to the brilliant Seduction. All three books tell the story of Jac, a perfumer with the ability to see through the eyes of the people her soul inhabited in her past lives. Here's an overview of the novel from the publisher:
Florence, Italy—1533:
An orphan named René le Florentin is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici’s perfumer. Traveling with the young duchessina from Italy to France, René brings with him a cache of secret documents from the monastery where he was trained: recipes for exotic fra­grances and potent medicines—and a formula for an alchemic process said to have the poten­tial to reanimate the dead.

In France, René becomes not only the greatest perfumer in the country, but also the most dangerous, creating deadly poisons for his Queen to use against her rivals. But while mixing herbs and essences under the light of flickering candles, René doesn’t begin to imag­ine the tragic and personal consequences for which his lethal potions will be responsible.
Paris, France—The Present:
A renowned mythologist, Jac L’Etoile—trying to recover from personal heartache by throw­ing herself into her work—learns of the sixteenth-century perfumer who may have been working on an elixir that would unlock the secret to immortality. She becomes obsessed with René le Florentin’s work—particularly when she discovers the dying breaths he had collected during his lifetime.

Jac’s efforts put her in the path of her estranged lover, Griffin North, a linguist who has already begun translating René le Flo­rentin’s mysterious formula. Together they confront an eccentric heiress in possession of a world-class art collection, a woman who has her own dark purpose for the elixir . . . for which she believes the ends will justify her deadly means.
This lush Gothic thriller is pretty irresistible, especially to women who enjoy the gorgeous scents of Paris and the fascinating history of perfumers to royalty. As a fan of the show "Reign" on the CW channel, I find this era of history and the de Medici family machinations to be engrossing and riveting. An interesting side benefit of reading this final book is that you learn how to properly apply perfume to specific areas of your body. Rose also manages to make scent very sexy, by sprinkling hot erotic scenes throughout the novel. I loved this novel, but didn't want it to end, so I tried to slow my reading down so as to not finish it in one or two days. I managed to keep going for over 3 days, but finally finished with a flourish. This novel also deserves an A, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical romantic thrillers and beautiful French perfume.