Sunday, October 26, 2014

RIP Ben Bradlee, The Red Tent Series, Destined, by Aprilynne Pike, Buster Midnight's Cafe by Sandra Dallas, the End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe and The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato.

I am deeply envious of the people who live in London, England and have a change to win a sleepover at this iconic bookstore. I can only imagine the joys of spending the night with treats and reading and browsing and sipping tea and reading and talking about books and reading...

Fancy a Bookstore Sleepover at Waterstones?
 That was fast. After an American tourist was accidently locked in
Waterstones branch in Trafalgar Square in London last week--he was
rescued after several hours, many tweets and much publicity--the
Piccadilly Waterstones is offering an overnight stay
for up to 20 people this Friday.

Waterstones was struck by the many people who tweeted that being locked
in a store after hours would be a dream, according to the Evening

Interested book lovers can apply via an Airbnb listing
bring a friend). The listing reads, in part:

"With Waterstones Piccadilly all to yourself, saunter up and down our
beautiful central staircase, from our Ground Floor Bestsellers to our
Fourth Floor's Russian Bookshop, and let your imagination loose. Settle
down on the comfy airbeds and sleeping bags provided and drift off
surrounded by the fantastical tales, incredible true stories and
beautiful books of all shapes and sizes that are packed into the more
than eight and a half miles of book shelves.

"That's not all though--there's plenty of treats and surprises in store.
Food (Grazebox and Weetabix to name a few), entertainment, bedding--we
got you covered! The only thing you need to worry about is what to read
next. And if someone will let you out in the morning... But that
wouldn't be a problem would it?

"House Rules: Only serious book lovers need apply. Be considerate--other
guests may be trying to read. And why wouldn't they, they're in a
bookshop after all?"

A Waterstones bookseller will give a tour of the store at 9 p.m.

Bookstore overnights seem to be the new international trend. On November
1, Japanese bookstore chain Junkudo will host six people overnight
company's store in the Chiyoda section of Tokyo--with the proviso that
they buy at least one book by the time they leave. Depending on the
experience, Junkudo may hold more bookstore overnight events.

I'm reading Ben Bradlee's autobio, A Good Life, and I was stunned to read that he died last week, as he was one of the last "great" reporters and editors. My friend Alex Johnson also worked at the Washington Post, and knew Bradlee, and said that the portrayal of him in All the President's Men movie was spot on.

Ben Bradlee
"who presided over the Washington Post's exposure of the Watergate
scandal that led to the fall of President Richard M. Nixon and that
stamped him in American culture as the quintessential newspaper editor
of his era--gruff, charming and tenacious," died Tuesday, the New York
Times reported. He was 93. His books included A Good Life: Newspapering
and Other Adventures, A Life's Work: Fathers and Sons (written with son
Quinn Bradlee) and Conversations with Kennedy.

I totally agree with Buzzfeed, that if you are in Portland, you HAVE to stop at Powell's City of Books. It is my favorite mecca in Portland, and I get happily lost there twice a year.

Find a book and get lost in the maze that is Powell's Books," Buzzfeed advised in featuring "21 awesome things to do when you go to Oregon

"Powell's Books is truly a destination bookstore, and the perfect place
to get lost (mentally and physically) on a rainy Northwest day,"
Buzzfeed noted, adding: "Don't miss the Rare Books Section at Powell's.
Exploring the hundreds of tattered old volumes, you can easily pretend
you're sneaking around the Restricted Section of the Hogwarts Library. I
was pretty sure Harry Potter himself was there, hiding under his
invisibility cloak, the whole time."

This was a ground-breaking book when it came out almost twenty years ago. I loved it, and I hope that the mini series will do it justice. I plan on tuning in to find out!
Lifetime has released a trailer for The Red Tent
adapted from the 1997 bestselling novel by Anita Diamant, that offers
"glimpses of a bloody Dinah (Rebecca Ferguson, The White Queen), Minnie
Driver as Leah, Morena Baccarin as Rachel and Game of Thrones star Iain
Glen as Jacob," Yahoo TV reported. The Red Tent airs December 7 and 8.

I've finally finished four books on my TBR, one that I've been trying to finish for the past 16 months, and one the end of a YA series. Destined, by Aprilynne Pike, Buster Midnight's Cafe by Sandra Dallas, the End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe and The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato.
Destined is Pike's final novel in the YA series that began with Wings. Though I enjoyed each of the four books of the series, this last one was quite a roller coaster ride, right up until the end. Here's the blurb: Laurel used to think she was an ordinary girl from Crescent City, California. She never would have believed she was truly a faerie from a realm called Avalon.

Now Laurel must risk her life to save Avalon from destruction by Yuki—a rare and powerful Winter faerie—and troll-hunter Klea. But Laurel won’t have to fight alone; David and Tamani, two boys she loves in different ways, will be by her side, along with her best friend, Chelsea.

Readers of the Need and Graceling series will want to follow Laurel’s story from its beginning in Wings to its heart-stopping end in

I thought that all the twists and turns that Pike added to Destined were intense and powerful, but some of them seemed like they were just "piling on" to an already dire situation. For example, Klea, the outcast fall fae, had already sent in hundreds of trolls to do her dirty work, but then she also burned down the Academy and then sent in poisonous smoke to kill off even more fairies. Then she uses a poison dagger on Tam and gets cut herself, refusing to give Laurel the antidote until her ridiculous ransom demands are met. All this while Laurel's mentor is struck down, she's afraid her beloved is going to die, and she thinks her best fairy friend is already dead. Oh, and she has to find the formula for the antidote or the whole realm will perish. Then, at the end, the author has a final coda to the story that she tells the reader not to read if they want an HEA. Seriously? Kind of a bum thing to do to your readers, if you ask me. Plus, the author states that she feels the stories have always been about David's journey, so as Laurel's human boyfriend, he gets the final say. Again, really? The protagonist was always clearly Laurel the fairy raised in the human world, and her reactions to coming into her fae heritage and falling in love with Tam and David, two guys from different worlds. While I realize that this quote from Fredrick Engels bio is true, "Behind every great person there is someone who enabled his or her ascension. These friends, relatives, partners, muses, colleagues, coaches, assistants, lovers, teachers, and caretakers deserve some credit..."  And that Laurel had a lot of help from everyone, parents and David and Chelsea included, I still think hers was the emphasized journey. I also find it hard to believe that David didn't make a go of it with Chelsea, and that he doesn't want to retain his memories of Avalon. That seems somewhat cowardly for a young man who wielded Excaliber. Despite these problems with the ending and the character's choices, I'd still give the whole series a B+, and recommend it to those who enjoyed Carrie Jone's Pixie series or Graceling series.
I've now read three of Sandra Dallas' books, Prayers for Sale, which I read with my Tuesday Book Group at the library (and I adored it), the Persian Pickle Club, and now Buster Midnight's Cafe. I have the fourth book on my TBR, Alice's Tulips, so that one is next up. Dallas has an almost uncanny sense of dialog and place, leading her characters to seem so authentic and real that they almost leap from the page. Buster Midnight is no exception. It's the story of a group of friends who grow up in Butte, Montana during the depression when it was a mining town. Whippy Bird, Effa Commander and May Anna are friends who are called "the Unholy Trio" and who have adventures with four guys, Buster, Pink, Chick and Toney, who is Buster's brother and fight manager. Here's the blurb:
May Anna Kovacks was discovered on the dusty streets of Butte, Montana and went on to become a Hollywood star. War, fame, marriage, love, and heartbreak came and went. What never changed was the bond she shared with her two best friends, Effa Commander and Whippy Bird. When scandal, murder, and betrayal made a legend of May Anna, only Effa and Whippy Bird could set the record straight.
 The rise of May Anna from dirt poor child of a prostitute to a prostitute and then a Hollywood star sounds suspiciously like the story of many stars of the 40s and 50s, like Marilyn Monroe. Still, I doubt that Marilyn actually had two friends as down to earth and funny as Whippy Bird and Effa Commander. Their loves and lives are just as entertaining and fascinating as Buster's rise as a boxer and May Anna's as a star.The language of the book, as Effa and Whippy tell the story of what really happened, is earthy and wonderful fun, and it moves the story and plot along at a clipped pace. The ending is just a bit convenient, but still nicely done, especially the final graph. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to those who enjoy stories of the Greatest Generation and how they actually lived and loved. 
The Clockwork Dagger is a steampunk fantasy, set in the 19th century and yet somewhat of an alternate universe where certain events of history didn't happen or happened differently. Octavia Leander is a magically-gifted healer who, after graduating from Miss Percival's Academy is taking an 'airship' which I assume is actually a zepplin, to another part of her war-torn country to help heal the people there. Unfortunately, while on her journey, she meets up with an elderly matron who turns out to be a lost princess, and an assasin-spy called a "Clockwork Dagger" who works for the current monarchy, but appears to be more interested in helping Octavia survive her journey. Here's the blurb:
Orphaned as a child, Octavia Leander was doomed to grow up on the streets until Miss Percival saved her. Gifted with incredible powers, the young healer is about to embark on her first mission, visiting suffering cities in the far reaches of the war-scarred realm. But the airship on which she is traveling is plagued by a series of strange and disturbing occurrences, including murder, and Octavia herself is threatened.
Suddenly, she is caught up in a flurry of intrigue: the dashingly attractive steward may be one of the infamous Clockwork Daggers—the Queen's spies and assassins—and her cabinmate harbors disturbing secrets. But the danger is only beginning, for Octavia discovers that the deadly conspiracy may reach the crown itself.
 I enjoyed the relationship of Alonzo Garrett and Mrs Stout with Octavia, because the three of them relied on each other, but I felt that often Octavia was a bit of a damsel in distress, and I wasn't terribly fond of how terrified and wimpy that Mrs Stout/the princess became in the face of adversity. Still, the revelations of who was behind all the killing and who had sold them out was a surprise and the events that occurred afterwards were swift and sure in the telling. I will look forward to the next book in this series, and I'd give this one a B, and recommend it to those who enjoy steampunk fantasy and adventure.
I tried to read The End of Your Life Book Club last year, and I had trouble getting past the first 50 pages. The author of this non fiction book, Will, is the son of a woman who is burnished to sainthood on nearly every page, and though I imagine she was quite forceful and altruistic and smart, I can't imagine that she didn't have faults enough to be a real human being. Also, the author himself seems quite whiny and smug, and overly attached to his mother, which gets kind of creepy and cliched for a gay man. Though I appreciate that pancreatic cancer is horrible, painful and an awful way to die, I would imagine that Will's mother Mary Anne had just as many side effects and just as much pain as anyone else, but I am sure she hid a lot of pain from her children, not wanting them to fuss over her. So I tried the book early last year, and then I put it down. I tried it again and then I sold my copy for credit at Powells, certain I'd never try again. Yet when my book group all got their copies, and I explained to one of the librarians that I just couldn't get into it, she asked me to try again and keep going past the first 100 pages. So this time I persevered, and I am glad that I did, though Will's narration was still annoying and irritating. Here's the blurb:
During her treatment for cancer, Mary Anne Schwalbe and her son Will spent many hours sitting in waiting rooms together. To pass the time, they would talk about the books they were reading. Once, by chance, they read the same book at the same time—and an informal book club of two was born. Through their wide-ranging reading, Will and Mary Anne—and we, their fellow readers—are reminded how books can be comforting, astonishing, and illuminating, changing the way that we feel about and interact with the world around us. A profoundly moving memoir of caregiving, mourning, and love—The End of Your Life Book Club is also about the joy of reading, and the ways that joy is multiplied when we share it with others.
I do not agree with the Schwalbes that the only books worth reading are the ones full of pain and suffering and depression. The two of them wanted to focus on books that told tales of suffering from the Middle East, and other places, and they seemed to enjoy books by authors from third world countries, and war novels, plus mysteries and books that deal with all sorts of bad behavior and ugliness. I prefer to read books that have a hopeful, uplifting message, and books that have characters who are heroic, intelligent and charming. Good storytelling is paramount, plus I dislike books about immigrants who whine on and on about how they don't fit in here in America, but of course they don't fit into the culture in their country of origin, either, so all they can do is suffer and complain and make continually negative comments on American people and society. Seriously, if you don't like it here, LEAVE. Go somewhere else and find happiness, for heaven's sake, but don't continually complain on paper. It's boring. Also, Will makes a statement that he is not really religious, and yet he reads a lot of the spiritual books (and quotes them) that his mother gives him in an effort to get him to somehow become a believer. Will says that the more detailed a book is, the better he likes it, even sacrificing story for clunky paragraphs full of trivial historical points or other things that bog down a plot to a standstill. I am the opposite, and details that do nothing but show off the author's research capabilities leaves me cold. So Will and I look at books in a very different way, and there are a number of books that he lists that I have tried to read but found stultifying and dull, or dry as dust. There were, however, a few that I agreed with, from Tolkien's fantasy to PG Wodehouse's comedy, so in the end I was able to finish the book with less difficulty than I'd thought. Though this book has won awards and is very popular, I can only give it a B, and I imagine that there are more than a few nit-picky types and those who enjoy depressing fiction who would recommend this book to family and friends, something that I can't do, as most of my family and friends would be as bored with Will's voice and choices as I was. I am glad that I finished it, though, and I appreciate that Will wrote this book as a tribute to his selfless mother.

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