Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Duff Movie, Photos of Great Bookstores, Utopia, Iowa by Brian Yansky, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey and Atlantia by Ally Condie

Though I find the mere concept of this movie degrading, sexist and size-ist, what I find most laughable about it is that Mae Whitman is a tiny, petite woman who always plays the part of a teenager or 20-something, though she's likely a lot older than she looks. She's also lovely, clear of skin and eye, with beautiful features, gorgeous hair and a perfectly trim figure without an ounce of fat on it. So for the movie industry to have her play the title role in a movie about the "Designated Ugly Fat Friend" (or DUFF) is ridiculous and just plain WRONG. The guy in the movie who is supposed to transform her into a glamorous woman makes the point that she only has friends because they want her as contrast so they will look better by comparison. Again, how shallow and horrible is that?! Ugh. This reminds me of this terrible movie with Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow called Shallow Hal, where Jack was hypnotized into believing Paltrow in a fat suit was actually thin and gorgeous, and the whole movie is full of fat jokes and prat falls where Paltrow breaks chairs and buys ugly underwear and is considered to be hilariously hideous while fooling in real life ugly and judgmental Jack Black into falling for her (because if he saw her as she is, of course he would never fall in love with a fat woman! Heresy to even think such a thing!) This just points up once again the hypocrisy in Hollywood where it's okay for a man to be fat and unkempt, as long as he's funny and clever, but women, with the exception of Ms McCarthy, are not allowed to be larger women and still be considered attractive or intelligent or worthwhile at all. So please, do NOT go see this terrible movie. Shame on Mae Whitman for starring in it.

A new teaser trailer
have been released from CBS Films' The Duff
based on the novel by Kody Keplinger. The movie, which stars Mae
Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Bianca Santos and Skyler Samuels,
opens in February.

There are some wonderful photos in this collection, and they are well worth the time to peruse.
Seattle's Elliott Bay Books by Bryan David Griffith
Photographer Bryan David Griffith
"yearlong project covering more than 20 independent bookstores around
the country was photographed with a large-format film camera; he travels
to each location from his home in Arizona via a makeshift camper in
which he sleeps, loads film, and stores his equipment," Slate reported
in a piece headlined "Why Independent Bookstores Are More Than Just
Places to Buy Books

Griffith views bookstores "as a lot more than simply a place to buy
books--they're a meeting place away from the often segregated,
homogenous world of social media," Slate noted.

"You're going to encounter other people who work there or who will be
there by chance who might have different experiences than you do," he
said. "I think that's a healthy thing for our society to interact with
and make friends with people who have different ideas than what we do." 

Utopia, Iowa by Brian Yansky was sent to me by the author via a Shelf Awareness drawing, I believe (either that or from Goodreads randon drawing) and Yansky was kind enough to include a note explaining that he was raised in Iowa City, Iowa, and was glad that this uncorrected proof of his work was going to a fellow Iowan. Because the cover looks rather amateurish, I assume that the book itself is self-pubbed or POD via a  company called Candlewick Press. As my experience with self published books has been 90 percent bad, I started this book with a great deal of trepidation. 
I was pleasantly surprised, however, at how engaging the prose was and how deftly the characters became the engine of the clean and swiftly- flowing plot. There are very few typos, which is refreshing, and there are only a couple of redundancies that annoy, but other than that, the book itself is a delightful modern fairytale/legend/myth. Here's the blurb:
Jack Bell has an unusual gift—or curse, depending on your point of view. And he’s not the only one. In Utopia, Iowa, anything can happen.
For the most part, aspiring screenwriter Jack Bell is just your typical Midwestern kid. He’s got a crush on his hot best friend, Ash. He’s coping with a sudden frostiness between his once crazy-in-love parents. He’s debating where to go to college next year—or whether to go at all. But then there’s his gift (or curse): Jack can see dead people, just like the kid in The Sixth Sense. Lately, the ghosts are more distracting than usual, demanding that Jack get to the bottom of their mysterious deaths—all while avoiding the straitlaced Detective Bloodsmith, who doesn’t believe in gifts or curses and can’t help wondering why Jack keeps turning up at crime scenes. Is there a happily-ever-after in Jack’s future, or is that only the stuff of movies?
That first line, about "gift--or curse, depending on your point of view" is repeated over and over throughout the text, and after the first couple of times, it fails to be even amusing anymore, and just grates on the nerves. Fortunately, the rest of the book is so charming it is worth overlooking this, and any other small mistakes that appear in the manuscript.
Jack reminded me of my own teenage son, (though my son is younger and not as girl-obsessed, yet, thank heavens) and the way that he interacts with his deeply strange family and friends is warm and delightful. Having grown up in Iowa myself, and attending college in Dubuque, which is near the fictional town of Utopia in NE Iowa, I recognized the cast of characters that populate many small Iowa towns, and have for generations. I also recognized the frustration of the character of detective Bloodsmith, who was desperate to leave the strange people and weird happenings of Utopia for someplace saner and easier to navigate for us regular folks without gifts. His inevitable bittersweet return also resonated with me, as I know how he felt in coming back to his hometown and finding that, though it had changed, many of the essentially frustrating things about the town remained the same. Still, Jack manages, with the help of his family, to save his grandmother, and the day, from the wicked witch, while developing a relationship with his best friend Ashley that is not platonic. Throughout the book Yansky makes the impossible and magical seem plausible and commonplace, while still creating a thrilling atmosphere for the characters. I'd give the book a well-deserved B+, and recommend it to anyone who likes modern takes on fables and fairy tales.

Atlantia by Ally Condie is yet another YA dystopia novel, but this time the setting is underwater. Rather more Divergent (with a bit of Frozen mixed in) than Hunger Games, the book tells the story of a young woman who was born a "siren" but has had to hide her gift of vocal persuasion because her mother knew she would be removed from their household and raised to be a political weapon by the Atlantia Council. So Rio, the protagonist, and her sister Bey are close at the start of the novel, and brought even closer by the death of their mother, Oceana, who was the Prime Minister of Atlantia, and so beloved she achieved near-sainthood status upon her death, which, it turns out, was planned by the Council. Here's the blurb:
Can you hear Atlantia breathing?
For as long as she can remember, Rio has dreamed of the sand and sky Above—of life beyond her underwater city of Atlantia. But in a single moment, all Rio’s hopes for the future are shattered when her twin sister, Bay, makes an unexpected choice, stranding Rio Below. Alone, ripped away from the last person who knew Rio’s true self—and the powerful siren voice she has long silenced—she has nothing left to lose.
Guided by a dangerous and unlikely mentor, Rio formulates a plan that leads to increasingly treacherous questions about her mother’s death, her own destiny, and the corrupted system constructed to govern the Divide between land and sea. Her life and her city depend on Rio to listen to the voices of the past and to speak long-hidden truths.
So unsurprisingly, Rio has to battle the new, evil Prime Minister and work with her hated aunt, who is also a siren, to try to escape to the world Above and find her sister Bey. Meanwhile, Rio falls in love with a mechanical genius named True, and uncovers many secrets and the real history of Above and Below relations, both before and after the divide, and she also manages to find herself and her voice in the process. The prose of this novel is clean and clear, and the plot swims along gracefully at a nice pace. though its a bit simplistic in parts, and readers will doubtless figure things out long before Rio does, the book is still worth a read for its wonderful depiction of the underwater world of Atlantia. I'd give this book a B, and recommend it to those who love dystopian YA literature, which has now become it's own genre.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is the December book for my Tuesday night book group at the Maple Valley Library. I chose it mainly for the fact that there was "Snow" in the title and because it had gotten several rave reviews, but I was still unsure what to expect of a book that was a take on a classic Norwegian fairy tale. Here's the blurb:
Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart—he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone—but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.
This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.
Finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Though it's a book with a huge streak of melancholy running through it, I found the prose to be starlight-bright and the plot, though somewhat twisty, to be sure-footed. Mabel is an especially heart-rending character, from a "civilized" family "back East" who decided to move out to the frozen wasteland of Alaska to farm with her husband Jack after they lose a child (as so many couples did in those days), she's struggling to keep herself from falling into despair as she moves toward middle age. Jack, meanwhile, is struggling physically at age 50, to try and keep up with all the backbreaking labor of hardscrabble farming. 
Into this somber yet beautiful wilderness landscape comes Faina, who will only stay with Mabel and Jack in the winter for short periods of time, and then she runs back out to live off the land. Though she wears the clothes and coat that Mabel sews for her, she seems to be able to survive in sub zero temps without shoes or parka, and she seems to be able to trap, kill and preserve her own food. Mabel and Jack have wonderful neighbors in Esther and her husband and sons, and they loan the couple their son Gareth, who is a trapper and a loner, and who inevitably falls in love with Faina. While I recognize that readers are supposed to empathize with Mabel, I found that I fell in love with the character of Esther, who was a true pioneer and medicine woman, and who helped Mabel and Jack in every way possible to survive their crisis and problems on the homestead. Though Mabel gets a bit snobbish about Esther not wearing dresses or being that great of a housekeeper, Esther is the only reason she and Jack were able to keep their farm and homestead going, along with Faina's help in getting game and Gareths in helping them sew and harvest crops. I was surprised at the ending, and though I won't spoil it, I do understand why the author ended the book that way, because it was more romantic somehow. I'd give this valentine to the wilderness an A, and recommend it to fans of Ivan Doig and Wallace Stegner.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

PNW Book Awards, Defending Libraries with Neil Gaiman and Among Others by Jo Walton, Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers and Waistcoats and Weaponry by Gail Carriger

I've read most of these books, or they are currently on my TBR, and so far, they are wonderful titles. So trust your library staff and swoop in on one of these titles ASAP!

Top Library Recommended Titles for 2014

LibraryReads, the nationwide library staff-picks list, has released its inaugural annual "Favorite of
Favorites" list--the top 10 titles that public library staff most
enjoyed recommending in 2014, in order of voting.

Stephanie Anderson, head of reader services at the Darien Library
(Conn.), commented on behalf of the LibraryReads Steering Committee: "A
wide range of library staff has signed on with LibraryReads, from all
over the country, and from public libraries of all sizes. Library staff
are tastemakers in their communities, and this list showcases the broad
and brio-filled scope of their reading enthusiasm."

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (Algonquin Books)
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (Simon & Schuster)
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Scribner)
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin's Griffin)
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown)
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, (Delacorte Press)
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf)
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes (Pamela Dorman Books)
Landline by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin's Press)
Longbourn by Jo Baker (Knopf)

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am a huge fan of Benedict Cumberbatch, and his latest movie about Alan Turing comes out in a couple of days. I plan on seeing it this weekend, if possible.

A trailer, clip, TV spot and 15-minute Google Talk are out for The
based on the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, Indiewire
noted. The project, which is directed by Morten Tyldum and stars
Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, opens in the U.S. November 21.

Neil Gaiman is such a wonderful author, and, like myself, a fan of libraries far and wide. So when he defends libraries from closing prematurely, he's singing my own favorite tune!

Gaiman: 'Closing Libraries Is Endangering the Future'
 "I think it's short-sighted. For me, closing libraries is the equivalent
of eating your seed corn to save a little money. They recently did a
survey that showed that among poor white boys in England, 45% have
reading difficulties and cannot read for pleasure. Which is a monstrous
statistic, especially when you start thinking about it as a statistic
that measures not just literacy but also as a measure of imagination and
empathy, because a book is a little empathy machine. It puts you inside
somebody else's head. You see out of the world through somebody else's
eyes. It's very hard to hate people of a certain kind when you've just
read a book by one of those people. So in that context, as far as I'm
concerned, closing libraries is endangering the future. You know, at
least with the libraries there, you're in with a chance."

--Neil Gaiman
in the Guardian's edited extract from an interview in Create
which will be published by the Arts Council today

I am thrilled to see that so many authors on this list have books that are best sellers and well-known outside the Pacific Northwest. I'm also rooting for the Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, because I read it earlier this year and LOVED it.

The 15 finalists of the 2015 Pacific Northwest Book Awards
the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, have been chosen by a
committee of independent booksellers; the six winners will be announced
in early January. The shortlist:

Loitering: New and Collected Essays by Charles D'Ambrosio (Tin House
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Scribner)
A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories by Renee Erickson
(Sasquatch Books)
Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an
American Midwest Family by Kathleen Flinn (Viking)
Sex Criminals Volume One by Matt Fraction (Image Comics)
If Not for This by Pete Fromm (Red Hen Press)
Falling from Horses by Molly Gloss (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
My Fluorescent God: A Psychotherapist Confronts His Most Challenging
Case--His Own by Joe Guppy (Booktrope Editions)
A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain by Adrianne Harun (Penguin
The Sound of Letting Go by Stasia Ward Kehoe (Viking Children's Books)
Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade
by Walter Kirn (Liveright)
Jackaby by William Ritter (Algonquin Young Readers)
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer (Mulholland Books)
The Free by Willy Vlautin (Harper Perennial)
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
(Candlewick Press)

I just finished "Among Others" by Jo Walton, a book that won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, in addition to a ton of good ink about it's brilliance from no less a source than the fantastic folks at Shelf Awareness. I was surprised to find that the book is in diary form, so almost epistolary, but not quite, and that it takes place in 1979-1980 in Wales and England. Here's the blurb:
Winner of the 2011 Nebula Award for Best Novel
Winner of the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novel
Startling, unusual, and yet irresistably readable, Among Others is at once the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.
Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled—and her twin sister dead.
Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England–a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off…
Combining elements of autobiography with flights of imagination in the manner of novels like Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude, this is potentially a breakout book for an author whose genius has already been hailed by peers like Kelly Link, Sarah Weinman, and Ursula K. Le Guin.
  Though the girl in this book is 3 years younger than I am, (so she would be my younger brother's age) she still is something of a contemporary, as I was 18 when she was 15 and I experienced many of the same things she did in terms of being bullied because I couldn't participate in sports or go outdoors (in my case due to severe asthma and allergies, while she has a crippled hip and leg) and spending an inordinate amount of time in libraries and bookstores, while also trying to find my people, bookish SF nerds who wouldn't treat me like a child, but would listen to what I had to say. I also struggled to understand my parents, my crazy older brother and things about boys and my changing body. In fact, I felt throughout this novel that I could have written something very similar about my teen years, and I could have taken notes from the journals/diaries that I wrote from the time I was 12 years old on through to today, when I'm nearly 54. Of course things are somewhat different in terms of environment, as we didn't have boarding schools in Iowa, nor did we have tea shops and the same class system that they have in England and Wales, where kids are often relegated to groups based on the wealth and titles of their parents. Because I grew up in the vast white middle class protestant households that were very common in Iowa, I don't think I felt looked down upon, as Mori does, for being Welsh and having a father who lives off the income of his wealthy sisters now that he's divorced from her crazy witch mother. Though there isn't a whole lot of magical action until the final 10 pages, there are salted into the text some interesting facts about fairies and their world, and how humans interact with them, and, surprisingly, how piercing your ears apparently shuts down your ability to see the Fae. The prose reads like diary entries of a smart 15 year old who considers magic to be somewhat mundane, and the plot chugs along like a steam engine on clear tracks. Though the ending was somewhat anticlimactic and slightly rushed, I'd still give this book an A, and recommend it to all my fellow science fiction/fantasy geeks who know what it is like, especially the girls, to grow up smart and different.

Mortal Heart is the third book in the My Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers. This book is Annith's story, and while I wasn't surprised to discover who Annith's mother is, I was surprised by her father, and by who the author decided to pair her with as her one true love. At heart, all three books in this series are paranormal/historical romances, and that is why  each of the trio of friends, Ismae and Sybella and Annith are paired with extraordinary men who compliment their skills and help them through their various problems and plot devices. Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly:
This final volume in LaFevers’s much-praised His Fair Assassin trilogy centers on Annith, the most brilliant of the young women brought up in the convent of St. Mortain, an ancient Celtic god still very much present in the tale’s 15th- century Brittany. Despite being unequalled with knives and bow, Annith has been refused assignment as an assassin by the Abbess even though her close friends, Sybella and Ismae, have already made their first kills. When a much younger and underprepared girl is sent out in her stead, probably to her death, Annith rebels, fleeing the convent. She hopes to aid the endangered Duchess of Brittany whose meager forces must protect their country from a French invasion. On her way, however, Annith meets Balthazaar—a Hellequin, one of the damned souls charged with bringing the recently dead to Mortain, but also “breathtakingly handsome in a dark, almost broken way”—and her life is changed forever. Both a powerful tale of political intrigue and a heady supernatural romance, this memorable adventure will entirely satisfy devotees of this series. Ages 14–up. Agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Nov.)

LaFever's prose is elegant and smooth, keeping the plot flowing along at the perfect pace. As with her previous two books in this series, the characters are brilliant and vivid, full of passion and determined to find their own way in life, even though they're all struck by cupid's arrow. While I found the first two gals, Ismae and Sybella's beaux to be believable, the only fly in the ointment in this book was the love of Annith's life being (SPOILER ALERT) a god, more specifically, the god of death, Mortain. The author doesn't let you really know how Mortain will continue with his duties, or if he will, when he falls in love and renounces his divinity to be with Annith. So will it be like "Death Takes a Holiday" and nobody dies? How horrific, if so. You have only to watch Torchwood: Miracle Day to see how hideous that could become. So despite loving the book, reading it in one day from cover to cover, I am giving the book a B+, and recommending it to anyone who read the previous two books. 
Waistcoats and Weaponry is the third book in Gail Carriger's steampunk YA series, with protagonist Sophronia going to a finishing school in a dirrigible that is actually training young female assassins and spies. Here's the blurb:Class is back in session...
Sophronia continues her second year at finishing school in style--with a steel-bladed fan secreted in the folds of her ball gown, of course. Such a fashionable choice of weapon comes in handy when Sophronia, her best friend Dimity, sweet sootie Soap, and the charming Lord Felix Mersey stowaway on a train to return their classmate Sidheag to her werewolf pack in Scotland. No one suspected what--or who--they would find aboard that suspiciously empty train. Sophronia uncovers a plot that threatens to throw all of London into chaos and she must decide where her loyalties lie, once and for all.
Gather your poison, steel tipped quill, and the rest of your school supplies and join Mademoiselle Geraldine's proper young killing machines in the third rousing installment in the New York Times bestselling Finishing School Series by steampunk author, Gail Carriger.
Carriger is quite the witty writer, being half British, and half curmudgeon. So it's always a pleasure to watch Sophronia scheme and plot and get herself and her friends into dangerous scrapes and then back out again. My only problem with this book is that there are two young men vying for Soph's attentions, and she honestly seems to not be all that interested in either one, mainly because she wants to get out there and work as a spy and establish herself in a career before becoming involved in marriage and children. On the one side she has Soap, her beloved friend and "sootie" who is black and of the lower classes who keep the dirigible running with coal, and on the other is Lord Felix Mersey, who is gorgeous and white and of the proper class, but his father is a "pickleman" a group of men dedicated to eradicating all supernatural elements from society. While Soap has to know that Soph is out of his league, he follows her around the entire book, "protecting" her from the advances of Mersey, who behaves like a real twit much of the time, and whom I couldn't see Soph actually ending up with anyway. Fortunately, now that Soap has changed his circumnstances and Soph has made her deal with a well-placed supernatural, there might actually be a chance for these two to make a go of it. All in all, fun and fascinating, I'm giving this book an A, and I recommend it to all those who love her Parasol Protectorate series and the other two books of this series. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

National Readathon, Giving Books, Most Beautiful Bookshops and Sherri Tepper's Waters Rising

Well, I know what I will be doing on January 24! You should join me!

National Readathon Day Debuts January 24

The National Book Foundation, GoodReads, Mashable and Penguin Random
House are creating National Readathon Day
on Saturday, January 24, 12-4 p.m. (in each respective time zone). Under
the program, readers are asked to read a book for four straight hours
and to raise funds to support the National Book Foundation, which brings books to needy communities and promotes a lifelong love of reading.

Bookstores and libraries are being invited to host "reading parties" on
January 24, so that readers can gather, connect and read silently
together. Bookstores and libraries can enroll to host the parties
through the end of the year.

Readers can raise money individually or as organized teams (bookstores
and libraries, can organize teams under their names). National Readathon
Day is partnering with for this effort (more information
money goes directly to the National Book Foundation. National Readathon
Day is asking participants to share their experiences using the hashtag

This is a great idea and a wonderful campaign to get people to give books as gifts this year during the holidays. I know that I always ask for a bookstore gift certificate for my birthday and Christmas, and I always delight in going to the bookstore and just browsing for a couple of hours before I bring my stack of lovely reading material to the counter. I always buy more than the amount ion the gift certificate, and yet I really enjoy supporting local businesses and bookstores just when they need customers the most. 

B&N, Foyles Holiday Ad Campaigns: Give Books
Barnes & Noble is launching a national
holiday ad campaign with the theme "A Book Is a Gift Like No Other."
Created by Roberts + Langer DDB and featuring a voiceover by actress
Sigourney Weaver, the campaign aims to highlight that "books are like no
other gift because they provide inspiration, thrills, laughs, journeys
and so much more," the company said. "Books are beautiful, expressive,
lasting and impactful, and when given as a present, they can be as
meaningful to the giver as to the recipient."

The 30-second spot calls B&N "like no other bookstore in the world" and mentions the new Nook tablet from

Glenn Kaplan, B&N v-p & creative director, commented: "This campaign is
about going back to our roots to highlight books as meaningful and
inspirational gifts that can stay with the recipient forever. Books are
an expression of personal interests and passions in a way that other
gifts just can't match, and we look forward to welcoming customers to
our stores this holiday season to help them discover the perfect gifts."

"Welcome, book giver, you are among friends" British bookstore chain Foyles unveiled its Christmas campaign
which targets "book givers" and "celebrating thoughtfulness." The
Bookseller reported that the "adverts draw on last year's message, 'it's
the thought that counts,' but with 'the' crossed out, stressing that
books require more cognitive investment than other presents. It also
celebrates 'the true value of books as presents.' "

Foyles CEO Sam Husain said, "Books are, by their nature, very thoughtful
gifts. This campaign reflects how, when you give someone a book, you're
giving them something to enjoy over time."

"One night, in a phosphorescent sea, he marveled at the sight of some
whales spouting luminous water; and later, lying on the deck of his
boat, gazing at the immense, starry sky, the tiny mouse Amos, a little
speck of a living thing in the vast living universe, felt thoroughly
akin to it all." --William Steig, Amos & Boris

They missed Island Books on Mercer Island, and Elliot Bay Bookstore on Cap Hill in Seattle, but they did list Powells in Portland, Oregon, and several other drool-worthy bookshops I would love to visit on this list, so please enjoy the virtual thrill of a beautiful bookstore.
Showcasing its choices for the "USA's 10 most beautiful bookshops
Culture Trip noted these "stalwarts demonstrate that a bookstore is not
only a place to find books--new, used, rare or otherwise--but also an
important community gathering where you can hear great author lectures,
get recommendations from a knowledgeable employee or simply talk
literature with friends over a good cup of coffee." 

Waters Rising is a recent novel in a series by Sherri S Tepper, whose work I've been reading since the early 80s, when I was in college. I remember reading "Grass" and being fascinated with her world building and characters, and then reading "Beauty" and A Plague of Angels, The Gate to Women's Country, After Long Silence, The Awakeners, Gibbons Decline and Fall, Shadow's End or Sideshow (I don't recall which one) and then the Family Tree, which so offended me that I stopped reading Tepper altogether. What I remember of the Family Tree was that it was a novel about animals becoming intelligent and learning to talk and use their genetically modified "hands" of one kind or another to take over the world and enslave humans as a food source and as transportation, using them like horses. This was posited as appropriate revenge for all the years humanity enslaved and ate animals. Bizarre and sickening in its misanthropy, I just felt so outraged at Tepper's debasement of humanity, of which she is a member (and therefore complicit in "using" animals every day) that I couldn't find it within myself to read any more of her novels. Until last month, when her novel "Waters Rising" got a great review on a website that I love, and I decided to see how far she's come in the ensuing years. Here's the blurb for the book:
A dreadful, awesome killing power is resurrected from the past . . .
Powers are invoked and curses are being laid . . .
Great waters are rising and changing the world . . .
Long ago was the “Big Kill,” horrible, apocalyptic events that destroyed nearly every living thing on earth. Since then the last of humankind has scattered into widespread small kingdoms separated by superstition, war, and fear. And now, while facing a natural catastrophe that threatens to drown a world, an ancient evil resurfaces and may prevent any chance of survival.
With the future of humankind at stake, a small band of disparate charac­ters—a lonely child, a loyal servant, a mysterious wanderer, and a most unusual horse—sets out on a journey fraught with peril and wonder . . . a sacred mission that leaves no room for failure. . . .
Deeply original in scope and vision, The Waters Rising is a daring and remarkable work of speculative fiction—a tour de force from one of the most revered writers of our time.
While I've always been impressed with Tepper's world building skills and her creation of characters who are fully dimensional, I had forgotten that most all of her fiction is post-apocalyptic and that she tends to be very preachy about the state of the world. I felt the prose, though full of exclamation points in places appropriate and not, flowed nicely into the  almost fairy-tale style plot, everything comes to a screeching halt every time Tepper decided to lecture and preach and pontificate about those selfish, horrible people in the "before time" (meaning now) who used terrible "ease machines" ie computers, cell phones and everything else, from weaponry to washing machines, and destroyed the world with military violence and viral epidemics wrought for chemical warfare. The hypocrisy of Tepper herself living in this time and creating the manuscripts for her books on computers, and driving a car and using those 'ease machines' herself is supposed to be completely overlooked by gullible readers, I assume. So in Waters Rising, the big bad wolf is really an immortal super soldier who is able to clone women to do his dirty work of trying to take over various kingdoms while he plots to kill all the natives of a place called Tingawa, which we can assume is a place like Hawaii that is settled by various Asian races who have made the place into a utopia, and who are the descendants of scientists who are able to thwart the super soldiers and blow up their stockpiles of evil machines. The fact that they, too, use "before time" machines to aid in their quest is seen as somehow better, because they're not evil soldiers from the before time. The Tingawan geneticists have figured out, however, that the world is going to be completely underwater in about 200 years, so they have a plan for Xulai, who has taken an "egg" and swallowed it in order to become mother (with husband Abasio) to a race of mutant children who can breathe (with gills on their sides) and swim (with webbed feet)and live underwater while also creating another generation of children and grandchildren who can adapt in the same way. Xulai has the ability to mutate into an octopus, as does Abasio after he swallows an egg, and Xulai seems to be able to "lay eggs" like a chicken, which she then hands out to likely couples as the two of them travel around their shrinking world. Again, I found myself being offended that most of the men in the book were horrible people, or if they weren't evil and craven, they were cowardly and stupid. Of course, several of the women were also evil and horrible, but I believe we were meant to see them more sympathetically, because they were twisted into becoming evil by the old super soldier who created them. I also found myself wanting to defend humanity once again as not completely corrupted and evil. We have art, music, dance, drama and many other things to prove that we are not an entirely evil race whose time on the planet has wrought nothing but destruction. So I had reservations about reading the next book in this series, "Fish Tales" because I have a feeling that I'm in for more preaching about horrible humanity and the destruction of the world's environment. But I am going to give it 100 pages, and if the story doesn't grab me, I will send it back to the library and put Tepper back on my "Do Not Read" list.  Meanwhile, I will give Waters Rising a B-, with the caveat that the last 1/4 of the book is all environmental preachy stuff that will bore you to tears and insult you if you have a modicum of intelligence.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Shout Out To Wilson's Book World, Wolf Hall movie, The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss, Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci and The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss

I lived in Florida for nearly 5 years back in the 80s, and the bookstore that I visited most often was Wilson's Book World, which is in St Petersburg, where I lived for a couple of years. I have to mention that the store owner was quite the hottie, and that talking books with him was part of the lure. Still, I remember going into a library in Largo, Florida and weeping at the empty shelves and the careless attitude of the librarian, who didn't seem to mind that they had so few books. So if you were going to be a bibliophile in the Tampa Bay area, you had to buy your books as cheaply as possible. Wilson's had plenty of used books at a reasonable price, and there was always the added bonus of chatting with Jeff the owner post-purchase (he works on illuminated manuscripts in his spare time, and is a photographer as well).

 More than 40 independent and used bookstores throughout the state are
participating in the first Florida Bookstore Day
Saturday, November 15, and will celebrate the stores as well as authors
and small presses. The brainchild of Tiffany Razzano
Wordier Than Thou, which supports creative writers through open mic events, a literary magazine and a radio show,
the new event was inspired by Record Store Day. In her research, Razzano
discovered California Bookstore Day, which was held for the first time last May 3.

Participating bookstores include Books & Books, Miami Beach and Coral
Gables; Vero Beach Book Center; Inkwood Books, Tampa; Oxford Exchange,
Tampa; Haslam's Book Store, St. Petersburg; Wild Iris Books,
Gainesville; and Murder on the Beach, Delray Beach. For a complete list
of participating bookstores, click here

Each store will organize its own programming for the day, which may
include readings by local authors, book signings, panels, special sales
and more. Regular updates about Florida Bookstore Day can be found on
earlier, a limited-edition poster series based on famous Florida novels
will be sold at some of the stores.

  This is a great quote, very true about the best bookstores being an integral part of the community.
"In my experience, a store's character is a direct reflection of the
wider community that it serves, which in turn influences the kind of
people who look to that store for a job.... The best booksellers will be
ones who really understand and identify with their customers, who read
similar books and book reviews, who consume similar culture, and who are
genuinely interested in the same topics that their customers are
interested in. The best thing a bookstore can do to build that
community, on both sides of the counter, is to empower its staff to
embrace their interests and to share them with one another and their
customers. In an increasingly digital world, it's a feeling of community
and mutual interest that will keep both customers and booksellers coming
back from day to day and year to year."

--Rachel Cass, head buyer at Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, Mass., quoted in Liz Gillett's piece for Booksellers New Zealand headlined "Why booksellers do it: the

This book has been on my TBR pile for a long time, and though I still plan on reading it, I am excited that it's been made into a PBS mini series. 
Wolf Hall
the "highly anticipated miniseries" based on Hilary Mantel's Booker
Prize-winning novel, will premiere on PBS Masterpiece April 5, 2015, reported. The six-part series, which stars Mark Rylance as
Thomas Cromwell and Damian Lewis as King Henry VIII, is a Company
Pictures and Playground co-production for BBC Two and Masterpiece. 

The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss was a book recommended to my Tuesday Night Book Group at the Maple Valley Library by Jenna Z, the Adult Services Librarian for the cluster of libraries in and around Maple Valley. 
She told us that it was a new kind of Western novel that combined the best of the old style Zane Grey with a new YA sensibility, because the main character is a young woman who "breaks" horses for riding in a gentle way, like the famed "horse whisperer."
After reading the novel, I agree to a point, but after you wade through the horse and animal talk, this is something of a coming of age story with a strong romantic through-line. Here's the blurb: 
In the winter of 1917, nineteen-year-old Martha Lessen saddles her horses and heads for a remote county in eastern Oregon, looking for work “gentling” wild horses. She chances on a rancher, George Bliss, who is willing to hire her on. Many of his regular hands are off fighting the war, and he glimpses, beneath her showy rodeo garb, a shy but strong-willed girl with a serious knowledge of horses. So begins the irresistible tale of a young but determined woman trying to make a go of it in a man’s world. Over the course of several long, hard winter months, many of the townsfolk witness Martha talking in low, sweet tones to horses believed beyond repair—getting miraculous, almost immediate results. It's with this gift that she earns their respect, and a chance to make herself a home
Librarian Jenna made the case for this to be a real page-turner, full of excitement and adventure, and while again, I almost see her point, the book drags like a stubborn mule in nearly every chapter because Gloss insists on detailing how Martha breaks horses, how she treats them in general, and all her blushing and fumbling around people, which gets tedious pretty quickly. Unless you are totally into horses and horse culture and Western history during the WW1 era, you will be bored spitless for about half of each chapter. Then there's all the death and hardship to report, so while I realize that there wasn't what you'd call decent healthcare in Oregon at that time, I found the constant updates and discussions of people dying of cancer, or accident, or being kicked by a horse, or contracting the Spanish flu to be way too gruesome and redundant for what was supposed to be an "irresistible tale."
In other words, I found this tale all too resistible. I'd give it a C, and recommend it to only those hard-core horse fans and Western history buffs who might find all the endless discussions of those topics interesting.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss has caused something of a stir in his fan base, mainly because it is not the next book in the Kvothe series, but instead it's more of a poetic novella about a character who appears in Name of the Wind and Wise Man's Fear, Auri, the young, half-starved magic girl who lives in the "Underthing" beneath the University that Kvothe attends. Kvothe befriends and feeds her, and she brings him magical gifts and falls in love with him, or at least becomes obsessed with his weekly visits. 
Here's the blurb:
Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place. Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a brief, bittersweet glimpse of Auri’s life, a small adventure all her own. At once joyous and haunting, this story offers a chance to see the world through Auri’s eyes. And it gives the reader a chance to learn things that only Auri knows....
In this book, Patrick Rothfuss brings us into the world of one of The Kingkiller Chronicle’s most enigmatic characters. Full of secrets and mysteries, The Slow Regard of Silent Things is the story of a broken girl trying to live in a broken world
Rothfuss himself admits that this was a story that came to him that he didn't exactly know what to do with when it was done. But after showing it to his agent and his publisher, both of whom loved it, it was decided that he should publish it as a stand-alone, though it was bound to cause some controversy with fans who are waiting with baited breath for the next book in the Kingkiller Chronicles. Still, I believe that most real fans of Rothfuss's first two books will fall in love with this dreamy little tome, so lush in imagery and so tender toward its strange protagonist. Auri comes off as a girl who would have been diagnosed with some form of Autism, had she lived in our world. Instead, she's become kind of fae with OCD overtones as she slips through the various strange rooms and passages of her underworld, finding broken or lost objects and then putting them where they are "supposed" to be, where they are "happy" and in balance with whatever harmonies Auri feels and intuits in her world. Since the story is told from Auri's POV, and she sees the world differently, there's a dream-like quality to the prose that is simply mesmerizing. It's the kind of book you will want to read in one sitting, so you can go through Auri's week with her, exploring the rooms and tunnels, looking for places for her lost items and preparing for her visit to Kvothe. I believe, too, that if anyone can convince readers that inanimate objects have a soul and are alive, it's Rothfuss and his Auri. Something about this book reminded me of Robert Frost's poems and Ursula LeGuin's Wizard of Earthsea. Perhaps it's the clean beauty of the prose, or the strength and untouchable nature of the protagonist, but either way, I highly recommend this short novel to those who loved Rothfuss's first two books and those who are fans of unusual fantasy characters. I'd give it an A, and hope that Rothfuss shares all of his short, unusual tales with us in the future.

Boy Proof was recommended to me after I read some other YA fiction, as being exemplary and well written. Though it is a short volume, it is told in the first person POV of "Egg" a 16 year old girl whose parents are a famed actress and a special effects/makeup legend. She's developed a persona for herself based on a character named Egg from a science fiction movie, and because she's a bright gal she also feels alienated from most of her fellow students, and pushes people away with sarcasm and a mean-spirited attitude. Egg has isolated herself from most everyone but her father, whom she spends time with creating creatures and fantastical makeup for movies in his shop. Though Egg also belongs to the science fiction club and the school newspaper (as a photographer) she deliberately pushes anyone away who tries to befriend her. Until Max moves into her school and her life, and she discovers that there is someone else who is not only as smart as she is, but who is also a fan of all the same things she's a fan of, and whose father is a documentary film maker (so he understands the whole famous-parent embarrassment she feels). Max, who is an extrovert and a nice guy, eventually manages to worm his way into Egg's life, though she continues to treat him like crap and push him away, all the while hoping that he won't do it, and will instead somehow break through her angry shell and fall for her. When he takes up with a pretty normal looking girl who actually wants to be his girlfriend, Egg doesn't seem to understand why he didn't pick her instead. 
While I remember what it was like to be an outcast, angry, smart and nerdy teenage girl who finds her parents extremely embarrassing, I think Egg is a terrible person, a real bitch for treating everyone with such disrespect and cruelty, even when they have done nothing but be kind and friendly to her. When she discovers that the actress who played Egg in the movie is even bitchier than she is, and is also having a lesbian affair with a director, she starts to realize that being herself is better than pretending to be someone else. Eventually, the chickens come home to roost and everyone turns their backs on Egg, and her grades start to spiral downwards, so she begins to try and make amends for her terrible behavior, and realizes, in the process, that she is finding herself and that she wants to be a special effects/makeup artist like her father. The prose in this book reads like a teenage girl's diary, so it is by turns frustrating, angry and funny. It's a book that can easily be read in a couple of hours, and I believe a lot of teenage geek girls and nerdy gals will find many things in the book to identify with. Even though I didn't like Egg until the end, I found myself understanding her feelings of loneliness and her desperate desire to have someone love her for who she is inside. It's for that reason that I'd give this book at B+, and recommend it to teenage geekgirls everywhere.
Finally, yesterday I watched the final movie in a series of movies I picked up at the library because some group on Facebook posted a list of 10 Great Movies About Writers. Fool that I am, I put 6 of them on hold because I'd already seen the other 3. I assumed that they'd be good viewing because I am a writer myself, albeit a career journalist and blogger.  Turns out the previous 5 movies were awful, full of tortured, terrible people who all came to bad ends and made everyone around them miserable. So I was hoping that The Door in the Floor, which was based on the book A Widow For One Year by John Irving, was going to be different. I could have sworn I'd read this novel, yet the movie didn't remind me of the characters in the book until later in the film. It stars Jeff Bridges and Kim Bassinger, with a nude Mimi Rodgers adding titillation and degradation to the whole sordid mess. Basically, the story is that Jeff is a successful but bizarre children's book author (he runs around in the nude all the time and is a serial adulterer who draws women in the nude and eventually humiliates them and then leaves them for someone younger) who is married to Kim, who is a fragile kind of woman, and they have two sons together, when tragedy strikes and the boys are killed in a bizarre car accident (this is par for the course in almost all of Irvings novels. People, especially children, always have to die in some weird way that usually involves a car), and though the couple survive and have a 5 year old daughter together, they never manage to put their grief about the boys death behind them. Jeff hires a young man to be his assistant who falls in love with Kim, and after several excruciatingly awkward scenes of him masturbating to her underwear or a photo of her, he starts an affair with Kim, who deflowers him and is therefore accorded some sort of mythic status as the most beautiful and aloof woman on the planet, whom no one can really own. Jeff gets chased around with a knife-wielding Mimi later in the film, and his graphic sketches of her genitals end up on the windshield of a car he's fleeing in, which is hilarious, but sad. Jeff's character is a totally arrogant asshat throughout the film, and when Kim leaves him and the young guy at the end, its something of a relief. Still the final shot is a rather pathetic visual metaphor, and I could only give this movie a C, and that is mostly for the performance of Mimi Rodgers and Elle Fanning as the little girl.