Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Six Books Reviewed, Colbert Vs Amazon and Beautiful Bookstores

Mr Colbert is not only a wonderful comedian, he's a truly smart guy who has taken on Amazon and proven that you can mobilize people to shop at independent bookstores for a specific recommended title. 

On Stephen Colbert: Bestseller Lepucki Recommends Sweetness #9

 Edan Lepucki thanks the Colbert Nation.
Last night Stephen Colbert celebrated
the debut of California by Edan Lepucki at #3 on this Sunday's New York
Times bestseller list with an appearance by the author, who thanked
Colbert and the Colbert Nation for preordering her book and then paid it
forward by recommending another debut novel from Little, Brown:
Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark, which is being published August 19
(see our review below).

Colbert reveled in his demonstration of the "Colbert bump," which has
made California, as Colbert put it, "the third goodest book in America
right now." He noted, "For the last six weeks, we at the Colbert Nation
have been at war with online shopping giant Amazon." Then, displaying an
Amazon shipping box with the arrow running from A to Z, he said, "Oh,
we're going to wipe the smirk right off that box's face."

During the segment, called "Colbert Nation vs. Amazon
the show ran a fast-frame video
preordered copies of California at Powell's.
Lepucki signing at Powell's
Lepucki said, "They called me the robot... I was their fastest signer
ever." This caused Colbert to comment: "I assume [your] followup novel
is about a young woman battling to overcome a crippling case of carpal
tunnel syndrome."

Lepucki also described her reaction when she heard that her book would
be recommended on the Colbert Report: "It was bonkers. It was a
beautiful moment. Sherman Alexie called me on the telephone and said he
was going to talk about my book on the Colbert Report. I pretty much
fainted out in the backyard."

 I would love to visit all of these bookstores, and they've all made it onto my literary bucket list!

Road Trip: Beautiful Bookstores 'Worth Traveling For'
"Bookstores aren't just literary gathering spots--they're often
beautiful, fascinating destinations in their own right," Condé
Nast Traveler wrote in featuring "12 beautiful bookstores that are worth
Included are U.S. destinations City Lights Books, San Francisco, Calif.;
Powell's Books, Portland, Ore.; Strand Book Store, New York, N.Y.;
Parnassus Books, Nashville, Tenn., and Prairie Lights Bookstore, Iowa
City, Iowa.

I love that these are a strange kind of poem, and that an Iowan has decided to revive them:
The Lost Clerihews of Paul Ingram
illustrated by Julia Anderson-Miller (Ice Cube Press), from the
legendary longtime bookseller at Prairie Lights
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz21851659, Iowa City, Iowa.

I'm tearing through my Powells TBR at a brisk pace, and I find that I need to catch up with reviews before I become overwhelmed.
I read The Midnight Witch by Paula Brackston because I had just read the final book in Deborah Harkness' "Discovery of Witches" trilogy, The Book of Life, and I was in the mood for more historical paranormal romance and tales of magic.  
 Unfortunately, Brackston is no Harkness, and her book reads more like a regular historical romance with magic thrown in than a true paranormal that focuses on the magic. Here's the blurb:
Lady Lilith Montgomery is the daughter of the sixth Duke of Radnor. She is one of the most beautiful young women in London and engaged to the city’s most eligible bachelor. She is also a witch.
When her father dies, her hapless brother Freddie takes on his title. But it is Lilith, instructed in the art of necromancy, who inherits their father’s role as Head Witch of the Lazarus Coven. And it is Lilith who must face the threat of the Sentinels, a powerful group of sorcerers intent on reclaiming the Elixir from the coven’s guardianship for their own dark purposes. Lilith knows the Lazarus creed: secrecy and silence. To abandon either would put both the coven and all she holds dear in grave danger. She has spent her life honoring it, right down to her engagement to her childhood friend and fellow witch, Viscount Louis Harcourt.
Until the day she meets Bram, a talented artist who is neither a witch nor a member of her class. With him, she must not be secret and silent. Despite her loyalty to the coven and duty to her family, Lilith cannot keep her life as a witch hidden from the man she loves.
To tell him will risk everything.
 I found it difficult to like the heroine, Lilith, because she, like so many romance novel protagonists, becomes a complete idiot when it comes to love, and rapidly proves herself too stupid to live. Her idiotic brother is just one example of a male that she's willing to sacrifice everything in her life for, even though he's an asshat and doesn't deserve a bit of love or trust. She talks about pulling his unworthy arse out of the fire from childhood on, and even begins the book by dragging him out of an opium den. I feel no sympathy for a character who throws his life away and is petulant and stupid, and allowed to never grow up because someone will always clean up his messes for him. Therefore I was glad that he died, and horrified that his sister wanted to bring him back to life. Fortunately, he's dragged down to a watery grave, but there are still more men in this novel who are ridiculous and irresponsible and are allowed to remain so by dint of the women around them sacrificing all for their sakes. Even her 'soul mate' Bram seems petulant and not too bright, and his mentor Mangan is a wastrel who publically flaunts that he lives with both his wife and his German mistress, and a passel of children that he can't feed or care for. But because Lilith is young and beautiful, she somehow manages to transcend the class lines and common sense and saves the day while also ending up with her penniless artist Bram. I found this overly sentimental, sweet and sexist novel tiring and I wouldn't want to read any of her other books, if this is how she writes all of her characters. Still, the prose was decent, clean and the plot managed to plow through the murky bits, so I'd give the book a C+, and recommend it to those who like somewhat syrupy romances.
The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder (she insists that's her real name), reminded me of one of my favorite YA reads this year, "The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green. I would imagine Ms Wunder gets pretty tired of that comparison, too, especially since her novel's heroine, Cam, is much more Holden Caufield than Hazel Grace. Still, any book about a teenage girl with cancer is bound to be compared to Green's blockbuster hit book that became a popular movie. Here's the blurb:
Campbell Cooper has never been in love. And if the doctors are right, she'll never have the chance. So when she's told she needs a miracle, her family moves 1,500 miles north to Promise, Maine--a place where amazing, unexplainable events are said to occur--like it or not. And when a mysterious envelope arrives, containing a list of things for Cam to do before she dies, she finally learns to believe--in love, in herself, and maybe even in miracles, as improbable as they may seem.
I found Campbell to be a delight, and more realistic than most teen girls are depicted, because she's by turns bitchy and smart, kind and cynical and often fearful of what is ahead for her family and for herself. Her 'bucket list' becomes a "Flamingo List" because of her friendship with another cancer teen who also lives in Florida.  Though the two have a falling out, Cam decides to finish not only her own list, but that of her friend who dies before the two can reconcile in person. One of the things about Florida that was it's pride as well as its curse, Disney World, is laid bare here in some behind the scenes looks at what it is like to grow up with a family who works for "the Mouse." And since there are so many quirky towns in Florida, like Casadega, an entire town of psychics, I wasn't surprised by Cam's superstitious mother driving her to a town in Maine that promises miracles, as a kind of hail Mary for Cam, whose doctors tell her that chemo hasn't worked, and she has very little time left before she dies. Having lived in both Florida and Maine, I can say that I loved the accurate depictions of the people and the atmosphere of these towns. I loved all the bizarreness of Promise, Maine, and I hoped, as will most readers, that the book would have a happy ending. While it doesn't, the author still manages to make the romance and Cams journey totally worth it. I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to those who loved The Fault in Our Stars.
I've read two more mysteries by Charles Todd, the mother and son team who write the Bess Crawford mystery novels that feature a World War 1 nurse. I've already read "A Bitter Truth" and just last week I finished "A Question of Honor" and "A Duty to the Dead." I have purchased "An Impartial Witness" and will be reading that one as soon as it comes in the mail. The Todds write of the British Empire during a time when the Lion roared and the world was a much different place for the English. I find that I particularly enjoy Bess Crawford's unflappable ability to be kind and nurturing even during harrowing circumstances, and I like that she adores her parents, because most books that I read that are written by British authors point to terrible parenting by cold, aloof and abusive people as the reason the books villain ends up killing people in some gruesome way. Though the surrogate parents in "A Question of Honor" are those horrible people who abuse children and neglect them for money, there is always the contrast of Bess' parents, who are supportive and helpful to her whenever she needs them. Bess is also always helped by her father's assistant, Simon, who drives her wherever she needs to go and is, I believe, somewhat sweet on her, though he's probably too old for her as well. These mysteries remind me of Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear, and they're engrossing and full of lovely descriptions of towns in England as they used to be, and as they changed following the Great War, which wiped out a generation of men and boys. Though they're a bit more "talky" than the Maisie Dobbs mysteries, I find that their cozy, historical mysteries are soothing to read after something that is more jarring or upsetting. I'd give them an A-, and recommend them to Winspear fans, or just those who like British historical mysteries.
The Memory Book by Penelope Stokes wasn't at all the "paranormal romance" that I thought it was going to be. Unfortunately, there's a strain of the Christian religion that is woven into the novel that is somewhat jarring for those expecting an easy ghost story with epistolary elements. Still, the prose was good and the story itself flowed nicely along the plot rails. Here's the blurb:Phoebe Lange has it all – a Master's Degree, an adoring fiancĂ©, and a future with unlimited possibilities – but something is missing. Orphaned at age five and raised by her grandmother, Phoebe longs for a past and a sense of connectedness, but it is not until she stumbles upon a scrapbook dating back to the 1920's that she discovers a terrible secret about her family's history which triggers an identity crisis. Phoebe becomes obsessed with the mysterious ancestor, also named Phoebe Lange, whom she is convinced is the key to answering the questions that have plagued her. But the answers may not be what she has in mind.
The abuse and crimes that the protagonist uncovers and then tries to find forgiveness for is a bit too neat and tidy, I found, but though I found Phoebe to be a bit wimpy and not as bright as I had hoped, I did like the book and found the story to be engrossing and well told. I could have done without the religion, because no one likes to be preached to, but despite that I wished the main characters well and I appreciated the diaries and memory books and their look back into the past. I'd give this novel a B-, and recommend it to those who like Christianity and religion woven through their romance novels.

Finally, Tina Fey's "Bossypants" was a fun and funny memoir, full of great stories, photos and graphs from the authors life and work on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock television shows. Fans of her delicious wit and fabulous portrayal of Sarah Palin, former governor of a town in Alaska, will find much to love here, as Fey writes arch vignettes of what life as a funny feminist is all about. I found the prose elegant and the chapters so fascinating, that I read the whole book in 4 hours in one sitting. Fans of funny women like Lucille Ball, Whoopie Goldberg and Elayne Boosler will adore the laugh-out-loud moments as well as the more subtle humor and sarcasm. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who needs a laugh, and don't we all need one in this day and age? 

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