Saturday, June 14, 2014

Cool Shoes, Saving CeeCee HoneyCutt by Beth Hoffman, The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny and Gemini by Carol Cassella

I would love a pair of these shoes, and though they're colorful, I think that New Balance could have put quotes from the authors or excerpts of their books on the shoes to make them even better. 
New Balance will introduce its "Authors Collection"
this summer. The line "is inspired by American novels and their
creators," Sneaker News reported. "The result is an earthy set that
channels a library-like aesthetic of leather bound books and the sort of
tweed clad folks behind them."

"Our muse for the New Balance Made in USA collections has always been
the storied history of the United States," Ben Cuthbert, associate
product manager for New Balance's lifestyle department, told Boston
magazine. "No one captures the essence, spirit and the American
experience better than American authors
and the stories they have told throughout history. For the Made in USA
Authors Collections, we pay homage to great American authors by building
a collection inspired by their stories and moments."

Women's Wear Daily reported that Bespoke, "the most premium
of the three packs, will include two 998 colorways in Horween leather
with waxed laces. Only 300 limited-edition styles will be created. The
Distinct collection references iconic figures from classic Wild West
novels--the prosecutor, the outlaw and the conductor--while the
Connoisseur series recasts pivotal points in American history in earthy
neutrals with graphic insoles."

David Sedaris is one smart, funny guy. I actually met him once, and started reading his books soon after because he was not only funny, but sharp, kind and fascinating. Now of course he's famous and much sought-after, but I recall him with great fondness when I met him outside of Elliott Bay Bookstore, when they were still in Pioneer Square in Seattle.

"Maybe I'm out of touch, but I'd rather go to an actual shop--preferably
a small one--than to a harshly lit superstore, or, worse still, a
website. I don't want to buy my books and my toilet paper and my
clothing all under the same roof. I want beauty in my life. I want
charm. I want contact with actual people. It is, for me, a large part of
what makes life worth living."

--David Sedaris in an interview with Mary Laura Philpott, editor of the
Musing blog at Parnassus Books
Nashville, Tenn.
 This is just grand, that they are experiencing a boom in bookstores in England. Thank heaven that Amazon hasn't swallowed up all the bookstores in the UK and put them out of business.
"A mini U.K. bookshop boom
appears to be under way as a fifth new store opening is announced in a
week," the Bookseller observed in reporting that Winstone's plans to
open a second location. This follows the recent, highly publicized
launch of a new flagship Foyles branch on London's Charing Cross Road;
announcements of new branches for Waterstones in Lewes and Hatchards in
St. Pancras Station; as well as news that "former Borders boss Philip
Downer has also revealed he is to open a second branch of Calliope Gifts
in Alton, Hampshire."

"If the location is right, the demographic suits your offer, and your
customer base is affluent and values its high street, then there is an
opportunity to open a bookshop in this climate," said Wayne Winstone.

Booksellers Association CEO Tim Godfray said, "No one can doubt that
booksellers, through their creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial
skills are absolutely adding value to the bookshop experience for
consumers. It is very heartening too to see increased support for
bookshops from publishers and authors. There seems to be an increased
recognition of the importance of booksellers in bringing books to life
and, indeed, authors to the market."
This is just an amazing video of the birth of a star. So poetic and brilliant, I would like to think it is a glimpse of God at work.
I thought I'd already read "Saving CeeCee Honeycutt" by Beth Hoffman, but after reading her wonderful "Looking For Me" with my book group for this month's discussion, I found myself reaching for my copy of "CeeCee" out of sheer desperation for a good uplifting read with characters that I'd want to get to know, love and spend time with. Fortunately, I was wrong about having read Saving CeeCee before, and I was soon enthralled with another brilliant work by Beth Hoffman.
The book starts with CeeCee in her youth, trying desperately to survive in a home where her cowardly father is absent most of the time, leaving her with a mother who is deteriorating into profound mental illness. CeeCee does her best to try and keep her mother from making embarrassing public displays (Her mother was once a beauty queen, and buys old prom dresses from the thrift store and wanders around with her old tiara on and makeup smeared on her face, believing herself to be the young woman who was attractive to everyone when she won her crown) but often failing, as when her mother tries to get into the local beauty queen parade float and falls down half naked in the street in front of the entire town. 
Poor CeeCee is only able to get decent food and help from her elderly neighbor, Mrs Odell, who comes to care for CeeCee as if she were her own child. After CeeCee's mother is killed by being hit by a truck after another trip to Goodwill, CeeCee's father sends her off to live with her great-aunt Tootie, who lives in a fancy house in Savannah, Georgia.
Though at first she feels enraged at her father for not being able to raise her himself, and lonely, CeeCee soon finds that her new opulent home and her aunt Tootie's maid, Oletta and her neighbor Thelma Goodpepper become family to CeeCee, making her world full of adventure, laughter, love and kindness in late 60s, early 70s. Ceee is also a kindred spirit to me, in that she's a book lover who, when things get bad, does what I did as a child (and still do, to some extent) and immerses herself in a good book. She not only has access to the library in Georgia, CeeCee gets access to her rich neighbor's private library, which sounds fine enough to make even the most stoic bibliophile swoon with book lust.
I loved the nearly all-female environment of this book, and I adored how Oletta and Aunt Tootie's love and caring for CeeCee brought her into her own as a person, and helped her learn that she was worthy of being loved, and not just some unwanted kid who feared falling prey to mental illness like her poor mother, whom I gathered was driven to insanity by her boring, unfaithful husband. I also had to laugh at the horrid Violene Hobbs, the next door neighbor with a poisonous personality and vicious nature. The final throw-down between Thema and Violene was better than any movie, though I'd be thrilled to actually watch it play out between actresses on the screen. Written in heartfelt prose that gleams it's so clean and tidy, with a plot that zings and zips along, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt deserves every accolade that it's gotten. I'd give it an A and recommend it to those who like their Southern fiction funny, spicy and full of love.
Gemini by Carol Cassella is the second book that I've read by this author, having read Oxygen a couple of years ago.I had mixed feelings about Oxygen, which was well written but I found the characters ambiguous and often too unpleasant to empathize with. 
Gemini's prose is much smoother than the previous novel, and it has stronger characters with a more stalwart plot. The story takes place half in the past, with two kids in a small Washington town named Raney and Bo growing up on opposite sides of the track, as it were. The rest of the story takes place in the present, where Dr Charlotte Reese works feverishly to save a Jane Doe who was hit by a car and left for dead. Readers twig right away to the fact that the Jane Doe is Raney, of course, but it won't occur to many readers until late in the book that Dr Reese's boyfriend is Raney's childhood love, Bo, who goes by his given name of Eric as an adult.
I realize that Raney as a character is supposed to be sympathetic, but there seemed to be so much cruelty and anger in her, as both a child and an adult that I was surprised that she actually married twice, though I couldn't fathom why she married such a horrible old man the second time. She seemed to lose her ability to discern good men from bad ones as she grew older, and she also seemed to lose her courage to leave him when he became abusive to herself and her son. But though I didn't actually like Raney, I certainly wouldn't wish her the fate she was given, nor would I wish her son to be left to her horrible second husband, who didn't even want medical care for the boy, who was obviously disabled.
So what is the take-home from this novel? That if you are poor, you'll live a difficult life and then die at the hands of some scumbag that you married for the sake of convenience? We never really learn what happens to poor brain-dead Raney in the end, nor do we learn if her son gets the help and medical care he needs. We assume that he will, because he is being adopted/fostered by the Doc and Eric. But still, why leave poor Raney in the lurch? I'd give this book a B, with the caveat that if you don't like medical and scientific detail, you will find this book way too full of that for comfort. I'd recommend the book to people like my mother, who love non fiction medical books, and prefer "realistic" fiction to genres like science fiction and fantasy.
The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny is the first of her "Chief Inspector Gamache" mysteries that I have ever read. Since it takes place in a monastery in Quebec, Canada and has a mystery about the first documented music being plainsong or Gregorian chants, I felt that it would be a good place to start to see if this particular series would be of interest.
Here's the short skinny on the plot: "No outsiders are ever admitted to the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, hidden deep in the wilderness of Quebec, where two dozen cloistered monks live in peace and prayer. They grow vegetables, they tend chickens, they make chocolate. And they sing. Ironically, for a community that has taken a vow of silence, the monks have become world-famous for their glorious voices, raised in ancient chants whose effect on both singer and listener is so profound it is known as “the beautiful mystery.”

But when the renowned choir director is murdered, the lock on the monastery’s massive wooden door is drawn back to admit Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir of the Sûreté du Québec. There they discover disquiet beneath the silence, discord in the apparent harmony. One of the brothers, in this life of  prayer and contemplation, has been contemplating murder. As the peace of the monastery crumbles, Gamache is forced to confront some of his own demons, as well as those roaming the remote corridors. Before finding the killer, before restoring peace, the Chief must first consider the divine, the human, and the cracks in between.

The Beautiful Mystery is the winner of the 2012 Agatha Award for best novel, the 2013 Anthony Award for best novel and the 2013 Macavity Award for best novel."
I wasn't surprised to find that Gamache is a stubborn, crusty old guy whose only softness comes when he thinks or speaks of his wife, whom he deeply loves. Gamache reminds me of  Inspector Morse, with a bit of Hercule Poirot thrown in for good measure. He's a smart curmudgeon, though, and he tells the monks right out that the murder investigation will change them all. His second in command, Beauvoir,is recently rehabilitated from having a pain killer addiction, and he's also in love with Gamache's daughter. Unfortunately, Gamache has recently been through something of a trial by fire, where corruption in the police dept was uprooted, but at the cost of lives under his command. Beauvoir was injured and wasn't going to make it during this fight, but when he did, he became a loyal friend to Gamache. However, when the head of the police force shows up and is determined to thwart Gamache in any way possible (he was obviously friends with the corrupt cops who are now jailed), he manages to get to Beauvoir by getting him back on the painkillers and telling him that Gamache and his daughter don't really care about him. 
Meanwhile, of course there is the mystery of who killed the choir director, and why. Readers learn a great deal about early Christian music and musical notations, and about the vagaries of monastic life. Having gone to a Catholic college and been fascinated by religious history, I wasn't at all put off by all the discussion of faith and the simple life and the love of music, and the fear of the Inquisition. Other readers might be, however, and might also be put off by the pessimistic tone of the book. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, I'd give this book a B+, and I would recommend it to readers of classic mysteries by Agatha Christie and her generation. 

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