Wednesday, June 04, 2014

RIP Maya Angelou, The Falconer By Elizabeth May, Skin Game by Jim Butcher, Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge and The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier

God bless Maya Angelou, poet, author and wise woman to a generation of feminists. Her loss will be felt for many years to come, but so will her legacy of beautiful prose and poetry, which will no doubt be read by my children's children. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a literary classic that will be read a hundred years from now.

Memoirist and poet Maya Angelou
"whose landmark book of 1969, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings--a
lyrical, unsparing account of her childhood in the Jim Crow South--was
among the first autobiographies by a 20th-century black woman to reach a
wide general readership," died yesterday, the New York Times reported.
She was 86.

In a statement, President Obama said, "Today, Michelle and I join
millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of
our time--a brilliant writer, a fierce friend and a truly phenomenal
woman.... She inspired my own mother to name my sister Maya."

The Los Angeles Times noted that before she wrote her first book
Angelou "had already pulled off several stunning acts of personal
reinvention. The St. Louis-born daughter of an Arkansas sharecropper
family, Angelou had been a streetcar conductor, teen mom, a fry cook, a
professional dancer, an actress, a journalist and a playwright (more or
less in that order)--all before she turned 40." By the time I Know Why
the Caged Bird Sings was published, she "had transformed herself into
the consummate cultural networker, bridging the worlds of art and
political activism."

Nathan Hatch, president of Wake Forest University, where she had been
the Reynolds Professor of American Studies since 1982, said, "Maya
Angelou has been a towering figure
Wake Forest and in American culture. She had a profound influence in
civil rights and racial reconciliation. We will miss profoundly her
lyrical voice and always keen insights."

This is a famous bookstore in Iowa City, not too far from my birthplace of Mt Pleasant and the birthplace of my parents in Hopkinton and Wellman, Iowa. 

Paul Ingram, the
"well-read, longtime book buyer at revered bookstore" Prairie Lights
by the Des Moines Register about his bookselling life as well as his new
book, The Lost Clerihews of Paul Ingram (Ice Cube Press). On Facebook last week, the bookstore posted a photo of him signing the first copies
 Ingram has worked at Prairie Lights for 25 years and owner Jan
Weissmiller said, "I'm not exaggerating when I say he is one of the top
four or five booksellers in the country." The Register noted that people
"travel to Prairie Lights just so he can guide them to a good book. A
father and son fly from the opposite coasts to meet at Prairie Lights
once a year and load up on Ingram's recommendations."

"Not just a book that's pretty good and you toss aside," Ingram said of
his handselling picks. "A book that will change your life!... I have
that love and passion for books. It's something you might remember the
rest of your life." The Register also featured a list of 50 books Ingram
"would rather be reading."

This week has seen more horrors in the war Amazon has going with Hachette, a publisher, that really only impacts and causes problems for authors and readers. 

In a blog post called "Amazon Is Destroying My Favorite Things
author Peter Brown wrote in part: "Amazon does not love books. To
Amazon, books are just a Loss Leader. Amazon loses money on books, but
uses them to lure customers toward more profitable things. 'Check out
our mysteriously cheap books,' whispers Amazon. 'And since you're here,
why not reorder some regularly priced batteries and soap?'

"To sell things like batteries and soap Amazon has driven down the price
of books, which has convinced people that books aren't worth much. But
books have value. Books change lives, and they're beautiful objects, and
they have a special place in our history and culture. Books are worth a

"Bookstores that can't compete with Amazon's artificially low prices die
off. When bookstores disappear, so do booksellers and book culture.

"And now Amazon is taking aim at publishers. Now Amazon is holding my
books hostage."

I adore JK Rowling, not just for her magnificent storytelling in her famed Harry Potter books, but also because she's smart, beautiful and honest.
"If it's a good book, anyone will read it. I'm totally unashamed about still reading things I loved in my childhood." This is just one of "20 wise and witty J.K. Rowling quotes" collected by Mental Floss.
 This is a funny article that is, unfortunately, all too true about book nerds like myself:

 Though it seems like a terrible time to be an independent bookseller, I think that it's a great time because they are providing their communities with more than books:

"The independent booksellers that survived the past decade realized that
to make it, they must be tirelessly innovating, constantly engaging
their communities and building their clientele, and offering an
experience and expertise that cannot be found anywhere else. They've
passed this knowledge down to the newest generations of booksellers,
which has made the current independent bookselling community more
engaged and vibrant than ever before....

"What a time to be a bookseller! But best of all, what a very wonderful
time to be a book buyer."

--Lizzy Boden
I've just finished the fourth book from a bunch of books I ordered in late May, and I'm totally chuffed about finding a new series and about the latest Harry Dresden book, and it's happy for now ending!
Skin Game by Jim Butcher is the 15th book in his Dresden Files series, and, having read them all and raged at his ability to make me love his characters, even though I know he's going to nearly kill them (or actually kill them), I plunged headlong into this one with all due fervor. This is the blurb about the plot:
"Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful.
Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town, so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever. 
It's a smash and grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he's dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.
Dresden's always been tricky, but he's going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance…."

 So I was expecting the usual amount of mayhem as Dresden and his buddies the Carpenter family (and his love, whether he admits it or not, Karrin Murphy), the little Doc Waldo Butters (who has hold of Bob the skull spirit) and Harry's dog, Mouse (who is now acting as protector to his daughter Maggie) all head into Hades to retrieve the Holy Grail and enough diamonds to keep them all going for years. Unfortunately, Nicodemus has a crew of supernatural bad guys, all driven by the Blackened Dinarious coins that fill the holders with evil fallen angels. What I was not expecting was the amount of romance and sexuality that Butcher slipped into the plot, since I'd assumed that Murphy and Dresden would have gotten it on by now. The fact that Harry is shy about proclaiming his feelings for Murphy is so darned adorable that I can hardly believe that a guy actually wrote it, even a sensitive guy like Butcher. I was also not expecting Harry to have so many encounters with his daughter, nor was I expecting him to agree to take care of her, though what that actually means, we never really find out. I somehow can't see Harry taking Maggie out of the Carpenter's home, the only home she's really ever known, and away from her adoptive siblings, for a life with an itinerant wizard who doesn't seem to have anyplace other than a sentient haunted Island to live. Still, the scenes between Harry and Maggie are just so beautiful and poignient that they made me fall in love with Harry all over again. 
I loved seeing Butters kick butt, and I also enjoyed the Archangel Uriel's entrance into the fray, and his wise words about faith and hope and love. I was also glad to see Michael get back into the swing of things, though I was bummed that we didn't get more of what is going on with Molly, and I was incensed that she didn't have the gumption to tell her parents what is really going on with her life, so they wouldn't blame Harry for the danger that she has taken on herself of her own free will.
But the sweetest part of this great book was the tender and loving ending, with Harry not banged up almost beyond repair, or dead, or writhing in pain, but instead holding his little girl and his dog, and dreaming of better times ahead. Thank you, Jim Butcher, for finally giving readers an ending that doesn't make us all want to collectively jump off a bridge. I can only hope that 5 books from now, when you are ending the series, that readers will still be able to breathe a sigh of relief that Harry and all whom he loves are safe and sound in the Windy City.
The Falconer by Elizabeth May read something like a steampunk YA version of the Dresden Files, except the protagonist is a teenage girl who, like Lara Croft, is a member of the 19th century Scottish nobility who has been trained, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to kill evil Fairies, or Fae.
She's got the whole red-headed Scottish ferocity thing going on, of course, (just like Merrida from Disney's "Brave"!) and Aileana Kameron, or "Kam" as she's called, is also a whiz at figuring out how to make new steampunkish weapons to kill the fae, including a 'lightening' gun, a flame thrower and several types of bombs. She's also built an orinthopter, which is a kind of flying machine, and a small steam engine that serves as an automobile. Kam also has a pet pixie who loves clothes and honey, named Derrick. The gorgeous fae who serves as her mentor and martial arts teacher, Kiaran is rather stereotypically cool and Mr Spock-like, but he aids Kam in her quest to get revenge for her mother's death at the hand of an evil fae woman and helps Kam realize her powers as a Falconer, or supernatural huntress.
Unfortunately, like Harry Dresden, Kam seems to have a death wish and consistently runs off without backup to slay fae twice her size. Though she survives, her reputation as a lady doesn't, and after a particularly nasty dust up, she's seen half naked in the arms of a friend, and is soon scheduled to marry him because to do otherwise would bring shame on her household and her family name. She's told by her dreadful father that her own wishes and desires do not matter, and we gather that, though he knows nothing of her powers as Falconer, that her father still blames her for her mothers untimely demise.The fact that she looks like her mother doesn't help endear her to him, either, and Kam wastes a lot of time wondering why she can't garner her fathers affection and regard. All this guilt and shame and sorrow doesn't slow the plot at all, fortunately, and the novel's prose is like fresh baked bread; warm, crusty on the outside and fragrant, soft and delicious on the inside. Of course, Kam is also in love with Kiaran, which sets up something of an impossible romance, as Kiaran is not only immortal and ages older than Kam, but he's not human, and seems to be under some kind of enchantment that will not allow him to kill humans and yet allows him to be destroyed only if the evil fae woman who killed Kams mother is killed. Though he kisses her several times, the author never makes it clear whether or not it's even possible for Kiaran to love Kam and have a relationship with her, as he's mourning another human that he once loved, and he won't tell Kam anything about his past or his love life. This well told tale ends on a cliffhanger, so readers have no idea if their heroine is even going to survive to the next book, but because of the charm and pluck of the main character, and the luxurious steampunk backdrop outlined in lush prose, I will be back at the bookstore next year waiting eagerly for the next installment of this series. An A, with the recommendation that those who are fans of steampunk and of well-told tales of heroism need to hop on the nearest conveyance and buy this book now.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Here's the blurb:
Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom—all because of a reckless bargain her father struck. And since birth, she has been training to kill him.
Betrayed by her family yet bound to obey, Nyx rails against her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, she abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, disarm him, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.
But Ignifex is not what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle—a shifting maze of magical rooms—enthralls her. As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. But even if she can bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him?
Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.
What I enjoyed about this book was that there were few likable people in it, and that with the family she has, Nyx is really better off with the beast Ignifex. But she soon learns that only by letting go of her jealousy and hatred can she manage to make a life for herself and her town. There's a lot of psychological drama going on in this novel, and whole chapters of Nyx grousing about her fate. The themes of growing up, being mature and responsible yet following your heart and your dreams make for some mesmerizing passages, and though there are a couple of spots where I found things dragging a little, overall the plot sails along nicely with clean and muscular prose.
I'd give the book a B+, and recommend it to those who enjoy re-imagined fairy tales, and those who watch "Once Upon a Time" on TV.
The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier is an amazing tale of women in ancient history and somewhat reminiscent of MJ Rose's "Perfumer" novels or Kate Mosses Labyrinth.  
From the author of the New York Times bestseller Juliet comes a mesmerizing novel about a young scholar who risks her reputation—and her life—on a thrilling journey to prove that the legendary warrior women known as the Amazons actually existed.

Oxford lecturer Diana Morgan is an expert on Greek mythology. Her obsession with the Amazons started in childhood when her eccentric grandmother claimed to be one herself—before vanishing without a trace. Diana’s colleagues shake their heads at her Amazon fixation. But then a mysterious, well-financed foundation makes Diana an offer she cannot refuse.

Traveling to North Africa, Diana teams up with Nick Barran, an enigmatic Middle Eastern guide, and begins deciphering an unusual inscription on the wall of a recently unearthed temple. There she discovers the name of the first Amazon queen, Myrina, who crossed the Mediterranean in a heroic attempt to liberate her kidnapped sisters from Greek pirates, only to become embroiled in the most famous conflict of the ancient world—the Trojan War. Taking their cue from the inscription, Diana and Nick set out to find the fabled treasure that Myrina and her Amazon sisters salvaged from the embattled city of Troy so long ago. Diana doesn’t know the nature of the treasure, but she does know that someone is shadowing her, and that Nick has a sinister agenda of his own. With danger lurking at every turn, and unsure of whom to trust, Diana finds herself on a daring and dangerous quest for truth that will forever change her world.

Sweeping from England to North Africa to Greece and the ruins of ancient Troy, and navigating between present and past, The Lost Sisterhood is a breathtaking, passionate adventure of two women on parallel journeys, separated by time, who must fight to keep the lives and legacy of the Amazons from being lost forever. From the author of the New York Times bestseller Juliet comes a mesmerizing novel about a young scholar who risks her reputation—and her life—on a thrilling journey to prove that the legendary warrior women known as the Amazons actually existed.

Though Diana was a professor and supposedly a grown woman, I found her to be somewhat weak and immature as a character, and it bothered me that she needed rescuing so often, when she should have been able to protect herself. I was much more enamored of Myrina, the "amazon" warrior who kicks butt repeatedly and is heroic and smart. Still, the historical mystery of what happened to the amazons, where they were from, where they traveled to, what their secrets and treasures were was all captivating and kept me glued to the novel for hours. I disliked the lying, cheating, stealing Nick, the Iranian that Diana falls in love with, but the English lord that she had a childhood crush on was such a manipulative, evil jerk that if Diana wanted romance she didn't have a lot of choices. But, as I said, the history of the amazons makes it all worthwhile. A solid B+, and I'd recommend this novel to those who enjoyed Mosses "Labyrinth" and MJ Roses Reincarnationist novels.

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