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.

No comments: