Monday, December 29, 2014

Emerald House Rising by Peg Kerr, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Dark Monk by Oliver Potzsch,and Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

I'm going to end 2014 with four reviews and no literary/bookish tidbits from Shelf Awareness.

First up is Emerald House Rising, an old paperback written by Peg Kerr and published in 1997. This book was recommended on a website and in a listserve that I am on, so I went out of my way to get a used copy from the only place that I could find one, Amazon.
It was worth the expense and effort to try and track it down, however, as I was gripped by the story from the first page through to the last. Here's the PW blurb: Jena Gemcutter's life as an apprentice jeweler in the city of Piyar is dramatically altered when the mysterious Lord Morgan commissions a new ring from her father, Collas. Jena and Morgan, both magical adepts, instantly partners as usual for wizards. When Morgan mysteriously disappears, it is up to Jena, Lady Kestrienne, Morgan's aunt, and the magician Arikan to not only find Lord Morgan but to protect the proper succession of the Diadem Throne. Another wizard, who wants to alter the succession by ways of magic, must be stopped if the future of the land is to be kept safe and secure. The plot is standard fantasy fare, but Kerr is a good writer and manages both to create a fully detailed new world and to integrate fantasy and romance without tangling the narrative. I found the book to be a bit of a thriller, historical romance, fantasy with a zing of science fiction added in for spice. The characters are fully formed and the protagonist Jena, though a bit wimpy at first, becomes much more of a force as the book progresses, and the other women who mentor her help stiffen her spine and help her to understand her magic. Though I wasn't quite as thrilled with her fiance, who seemed like a sexist jerk, he did come around in the end, and it would appear that Jena got her HEA. The prose gleams and glides along the adventurous plot, and though there are a couple of times where the discussion of gems and jewelry creation get to be a bit boring, the author is smart enough to curtail those moments and readers can move right along to the end. Unfortunately, there is no sequel to this novel that I can find, and Kerr apparently only wrote one other book that doesn't sound even half as charming as this one. A solid A, and I'd recommend it to those who enjoy romantic fantasy with an adventurous bent.
Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch is a debut YA fantasy that combines the mythos of Divergent and Twilight and Carrie Jone's pixies with a dash of Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments and the Winter/Summer fae from Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. Here's the blurb:
Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now the Winterians' only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter's magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.
Orphaned as an infant during Winter's defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians' general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend and future king, Mather—she would do anything to help Winter rise to power again.
So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore their magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she's scaling towers and fighting enemy soldiers just as she's always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn't go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics—and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.
Sara Raasch's debut fantasy is a lightning-fast tale of loyalty, love, and finding one's destiny. 
I really enjoyed Meira as a protagonist, though I found the love triangle between her, Mather and Prince Theron to be cliched and somewhat predictable. I don't know why it has become a trope in every YA fantasy that has a female protagonist for there to be two guys always vying for the hand and heart of our heroine. And of course, she's always conflicted as to which one to choose, until, inevitably, the choice is made for her when either one of them dies, or is handicapped somehow or imprisoned or shown to be not the person that everyone thought they were, as it was in this novel.  This makes the female protagonist seem self centered, flighty, stupid and dull. Male protagonists are not required to  have a love interest or be part of a love triangle, and are allowed to have adventures and go on quests and do good deeds by themselves or with people who are just companions, not love interests.  They are not distracted, as Meira was, by wondering about the fate of the men in her life.That said, I did enjoy Meira's rise, fall and subsequent salvation of her people, and I loved that she was willing to get her hands dirty and use her battle skills to kill off bad guys. I also loved that Winter was a downtrodden group and a place that was perfect for the peaceful and good people who lived there, whereas Spring was ruled by an aggressive psychopathic maniac, who had to use his magic to enslave others and keep his kingdom docile. I've never been a fan of Spring the season myself, due to pollen and bugs and other things, but I do love Autumn and Winter, (Summer is too hot for me, and I don't tan) so it was nice to see those seasons represented as good places to be, while Spring and Summer were aggressive and not at all fun. That said, the Autumn ruler was a bit of a jerk, while his son was not. I sincerely hope that the Autumn king has realized the error of his ways by book two, which I assume will be out this upcoming year. I look forward to reading the further adventures of Meira in Primora. Another solid A, and I'd recommend it to high school age girls on up who enjoy fantasy and romance novels.
The Dark Monk was recommended to me, again, by several different listserves and by Shelf Awareness and other websites. It is the second book in a series that began with the Hangman's Daughter, and focuses on a 17th Century German hangman who also serves as something of a herbalist and detective for the town of Schongau in Bavaria. Here's the blurb:
1660: Winter has settled thick over a sleepy village in the Bavarian Alps, ensuring every farmer and servant is indoors the night a parish priest discovers he's been poisoned. As numbness creeps up his body, he summons the last of his strength to scratch a cryptic sign in the frost.
Following a trail of riddles, hangman Jakob Kuisl; his headstrong daughter Magdalena; and the town physician’s son team up with the priest’s aristocratic sister to investigate. What they uncover will lead them back to the Crusades, unlocking a troubled history of internal church politics and sending them on a chase for a treasure of the Knights Templar.
But they’re not the only ones after the legendary fortune. A team of dangerous and mysterious monks is always close behind, tracking their every move, speaking Latin in the shadows, giving off a strange, intoxicating scent. And to throw the hangman off their trail, they have ensured he is tasked with capturing a band of thieves roving the countryside attacking solitary travelers and spreading panic.
Delivering on the promise of the international bestseller The Hangman’s Daughter, once again based on prodigious historical research into Pötzsch’s  family tree, The Dark Monk takes us on a whirlwind tour through the occult hiding places of Bavaria’s ancient monasteries, bringing to life an unforgettable compassionate hangman and his tenacious daughter, painting a robust tableau of a seventeenth-century Bavaria still negotiating the lasting impacts of war, and quickening our pulses with a gripping, mesmerizing mystery. 
I read so much hype about the Hangman's Daughter and then this book that I was expecting to be grabbed from the first page on and not let go of until the final chapter. Such was not the case, however, as I found the dour Germanic people, the meanness, the murderous treatment of women, the dirt and filth and ignorance to be very off-putting. I am not a fan of all that is crude and German to begin with, having had German relatives and ancestors whom I've never found to be decent people. The prose of the novel is dull and lackluster, and the plot slow and meandering.The characters are something of a stereotype, with the b*tchy hausfrau married to the poor henpecked hangman, the HUGE and brutal hangman who is weary of death and killing, and the small but finicky medical man whose father is a harries him and is a charletan. The hangman's daughter is smart enough to get herself out of the terrible situations that she gets herself into by being snoopy, but she's a jealous shrew when it comes to any other women who encounter Simon, the medical man. I found her to be annoying and in fact all of the women in the book come off as being thieves, liars, stupid and mean, or all of the above. I do not feel this book lived up to it's hype at all, and I struggled for days to get through its more boring passages. I'd give it  C, and recommend it only to those who love Germanic history and mysteries.
Wicked Lovely by  Melissa Marr is another YA fantasy that was recommended to me because I've read and enjoyed books by Maria V Snyder and Devon Monk and many others. Here's the blurb:
Rule #3: Don't stare at invisible faeries.
Aislinn has always seen faeries. Powerful and dangerous, they walk hidden in mortal world. Aislinn fears their cruelty—especially if they learn of her Sight—and wishes she were as blind to their presence as other teens.
Rule #2: Don't speak to invisible faeries.
Now faeries are stalking her. One of them, Keenan, who is equal parts terrifying and alluring, is trying to talk to her, asking questions Aislinn is afraid to answer.
Rule #1: Don't ever attract their attention.
But it's too late. Keenan is the Summer King who has sought his queen for nine centuries. Without her, summer itself will perish. He is determined that Aislinn will become the Summer Queen at any cost—regardless of her plans or desires.
Suddenly none of the rules that have kept Aislinn safe are working anymore, and everything is on the line: her freedom; her best friend, Seth; her life; everything.
Faerie intrigue, mortal love, and the clash of ancient rules and modern expectations swirl together in Melissa Marr's stunning 21st century faery tale. All teenagers have problems, but few of them can match those of Aislinn, who has the power to see faeries. Quite understandably, she wishes that she could share her friends' obliviousness and tries hard to avoid these invisible intruders. But one faery in particular refuses to leave her alone. Keenan the Summer King is convinced beyond all reasoning that Aislinn is the queen he has been seeking for nine centuries. What's a 21st-century girl to do when she's stalked by a suitor nobody else can see? A debut fantasy romance for the ages; superlative summer read. Though I felt for Ash, as Aislinn is called, I found her waffling between the two guys who are after her (AGAIN with the love triangle! UGH!) boring because it has been done to death in most all YA novels with female protagonists. And the fact that Keenan, the Summer King, is pushy and whiny and bullied by the Winter Queen is just more reasons to wish him dead or off the playing field. But wait! There's a former Summer Queen candidate who is in love with Keenan, and she is also bullied by the evil Winter Queen, and therefore wants Ash to stand up to the Winter Queen and become the Summer Queen that she couldn't be and destroy WQ, releasing her beloved and allowing summer back into the world. It was gratifying that Ash finally does get her power going, but does so on her own terms, and manages to keep her tattooed and pierced boyfriend Seth in the process. That alone elevated the book beyond the confines of the wimpy heroines of Twilight and similar novels. For that reason, I'd give this novel a B, and recommend it to high school age gals and beyond who enjoy fantasy novels with darker fae and goth teenagers.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Tragedy at my Alma Mater, The Martian Goes into Space, My Christmas Book Wish List, and The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

 This seems somewhat counter to what Christmas is about, but I couldn't help but gasp in dismay when I saw this posted on Shelf Awareness this week. Clarke College, now Clarke University, is my Alma Mater, and I love her dearly. It sickens me that this jerk James Spaulding took advantage of a bunch of nuns and kind Iowans to line his pockets, especially when Clarke is not a wealthy university with money to spare. I hope that he spends a lot of time in jail, where I hope that his fellow inmates open up a can of whup-arse on him every day.

James Spaulding, former manager of the Clarke University bookstore in
Dubuque, Iowa, pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $300,000
from the school by creating a fake book wholesaling. The Des Moines
Register reported that, as part of a deal with prosecutors, Spaulding
"agreed to waive a formal indictment and plead guilty to the charges in
front of a United States magistrate judge."

In July 2011, Spaulding and a friend created a company called RVP
Wholesale Books in New Hampshire, listing the apartment where
Spaulding's friend lived as the company's corporate office. In April
2013, the university reported the $302,177 theft to Dubuque police,
telling "reporters that the suspect in the theft was a former employee
who'd been fired in the summer of 2012," the Register wrote.

My son Nick and I read the Martian, and we both loved it, so we were excited to see that the script has already been in space!

When NASA's Orion spacecraft, which was designed to shuttle astronauts
to Mars eventually, made its first successful test flight December 5
from Cape Canaveral, the capsule completed "two orbits of Earth while
carrying the front page of the script for The Martian
Ridley Scott's film adaptation of Andy Weir's novel, Entertainment
Weekly reported.

"NASA has been really involved and incredibly generous in the process of
making this movie," said producer Simon Kinberg. EW also noted that the
doodles and commentary on the title page "are the handiwork of Scott
(who's currently shooting the movie in Hungary)."

So this year's Christmas Book Wish List is pretty pared down (only 19 books on it!) due to the fact that the other 15 books on my wish list do not debut until 2015, most in either January, February or March. Fortunately, I have ordered 10 books from the list already with Barnes and Nobel gift cards given to me as birthday and Christmas gifts. Without further ado, here's the list:

Lock In
The Tygrine Cat
Fish Tales
The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells
Under the Wide and Starry Sky
A Thousand Pieces of You
The Royal Harlot
The Paris Winter
A Burnable Book
Frances and Bernard
The Observations
The Luminaries
All the Light We Cannot See
The Paying Guests
I'll Give You the Sun

I would list the 15 books that I want next year, but that would only upset me because I have to wait to read them, and I am an impatient bibliophile! 

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare was a book recommended to me because it was supposed to be for fans of Harry Potter and the Mortal Instruments series. Yet, though I adored both series, I was still skeptical when I picked up this book, because I was afraid it was going to be another cheap YA knockoff.
Boy, was I wrong, (and happily so!) This series hits the ground running and never looks back. Callum Hunt, called Call by his family and friends, is a boy who just wants to be normal and stay at home with his dad. When he is forced to go to the magical tryouts, he is instructed by his father on how to fail, and he tries hard to do so, but his magical talent keeps backfiring and getting in the way of complete failure. When the most prestigious instructor chooses Call, his father freaks out and throws a dagger at his son, and has to be dragged away screaming. Fortunately, all the terrible things his father has been telling him about the magic school, or Magisterium, were not really accurate, and Call soon finds himself enjoying his school, though trouble seems to find him at every turn. Here's the blurb, and please stop by the Barnes and Noble page for this book, because there's a video of Cassandra Clare and Holly Black talking about their excellent story:
From NEW YORK TIMES bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare comes a riveting new series that defies what you think you know about the world of magic.
Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial.
Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail.
All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him.
So he tries his best to do his worst - and fails at failing.
Now the Magisterium awaits him. It's a place that's both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.
The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come . . .
From the remarkable imaginations of bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare comes a heart-stopping, mind-blowing, pulse-pounding plunge into the magical unknown.
This book lives up to its hype, and is truly a page-turner full of plot twists, adventure and magic. I thoroughly enjoyed the three teenagers and their learning experiences and their personalities. Of course, the book ends in such a way that I am dying to know what happens next! Still, I won't spoil it for you, I will just recommend that anyone who enjoys good storytelling and beautifully written YA fantasy fiction should run right out and buy a copy of this excellent book, which of course gets an A from me, along with a prayer that Clare and Black do a book tour that lands in Seattle next year!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Review of Murder at the Book Group, The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits, and Teardrop by Lauren Kate

This review is from Shelf Awareness, and is about a book that I think my own Tuesday  Night Book Group would enjoy. 

Review: Murder at the Book Group

You can't judge a book by its cover any more than you can judge a book
club by its members. Maggie King entertainingly darkens the common
perception of book clubs (a benign assembly of readers who've come
together to discuss books) in her quirky debut, Murder at the Book
Group. The story begins when normally even-keeled, vain Carlene
Arness--a 50-year-old member of a small Richmond, Va., book group--hurls
the cozy mystery under discussion into a fireplace. "This book sucks,"
she exclaims. "There should be a law protecting the reading public from
such trash!" The shocked members try to placate irate Carlene, who is
also a mystery novelist, then rationally discuss and analyze the plot,
which has to do with cyanide slipped into the teacup of an unsuspecting

When the group breaks for refreshments, Carlene suddenly drops dead.
Remarkably, her death is deemed the result of cyanide poisoning. When a
note is discovered, Carlene's death appears to be a suicide. Many in the
group, however, suspect someone killed her and forged the note--or is
this kind of thinking the result of having read too many mystery novels?
The quest for both who done it and why unearths a host of insidious
rivalries and romantic entanglements.

The narrator, Hazel Rose, is a computer programmer turned aspiring
romance novelist who cofounded the book club with Carlene. Four times
married and financially secure, Hazel is a commitment-phobic transplant
from Los Angeles who lives a quiet, unassuming life with her cat and her
widowed cousin, Lucy--and has an on-again, off-again relationship with a
retired homicide detective who writes true-crime stories. Carlene's
death gives Hazel's banal existence a much-needed jolt. Her amateur,
high-minded sleuthing is driven by a thirst for justice and is also
inspired--and similarly complicated--by the fact that Carlene was
married to Hazel's first ex-husband.

Hazel's search for a would-be killer is riddled with snags when
Carlene's friends, family and acquaintances offer compelling details of
Carlene's multiple identities, surprising secrets and sordid love
affairs. Coupled with the deceased's recent estrangement from her
husband, this evidence points to a host of possible motives for her
demise. "The shock and drama of Carlene's death explained our tears, not
any real affection for her," Hazel admits.

The amateur sleuth's pseudo-investigative skills and her interactions
with a cast of well-drawn, small-town characters reveal a deception that
ultimately coalesces into a study of human nature and the limits of
perception. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at

The Vanishers by Hiedi Julavits was another of the "page turners" that was recommended 
by one of the book websites that I frequent on Facebook. 

It's a bizarre and disjointed tale of a woman named Julia who believes that she is under psychic attack from a mentor in college who is envious of her rising psychic powers, while the mentors are on the wane. Here's the blurb: 
Is the bond between mother and daughter unbreakable, even by death?

Julia Severn is a student at an elite institute for psychics. Her mentor, the legendary Madame Ackermann, afflicted by jealousy, refuses to pass the torch to her young disciple. Instead, she subjects Julia to the humiliation of reliving her mother's suicide when Julia was an infant. As the two lock horns, and Julia gains power, Madame Ackermann launches a desperate psychic attack that leaves Julia the victim of a crippling ailment.

Julia retreats to a faceless job in Manhattan. But others have noted Julia's emerging gifts, and soon she's recruited to track down an elusive missing person—a controversial artist who might have a connection to her mother. As Julia sifts through ghosts and astral clues, everything she thought she knew of her mother is called into question, and she discovers that her ability to know the minds of others—including her own—goes far deeper than she ever imagined.

As powerful and gripping as all of Julavits's acclaimed novels, The Vanishers is a stunning meditation on grief, female rivalry, and the furious power of a daughter's love.
I didn't find this to be as powerful and gripping as I did pathetic and grueling. Julia never seems to know where she is in her investigation, and she has these visions at random, while also trying to find legends of her mother, who worked for the artist she's trying to track down in sick and twisted porn films. She doubts herself at every turn, she hates every environment she's in, and she eventually comes to terms with herself only by accepting her cruelty and by giving up on caring about her mother. I was also underwhelmed by the prose, which was as foggy and dense as the protagonist's mind. The plot jumped around and had many false trails, until by the end, I had been so confused by false conclusions that I didn't really care if Julia found out about her mother and the artist at all. I'd give this book a C-, and I am being generous, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who wants a page-turning, fascinating read, because this novel isn't one. 

Teardrop by Lauren Kate is a YA fantasy that was supposedly similar to Carrie Jones and Maria Snyder's "Glass" series. Unfortunately, it was a very watered-down version of YA fantasy that hit all the tropes popular in horribly mangled works like Twilight. There's the girl who is "aloof" and different from her classmates, but is still beautiful.There's the hot "otherworld" guy who mysteriously appears to rescue her, yet can't seem to tell her what the heck is going on until she's in deep trouble toward the end of the book, (and of course he has otherworldly powers, and she's instantly drawn to him) and there is the best guy friend who becomes embroiled in the whole thing because he's secretly carried a torch for the protagonist since they were children, but of course has never acted on it until strange things start to happen to her. Add in the obligatory best girlfriend who is wild and crazy and funny and all the things a sidekick must be, and you have this tedious novel. Here's the blurb:
An epic saga of heart-stopping romance, devastating secrets, and dark magic . . . a world where everything you love can be washed away. The first book in the new series from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fallen series

Everywhere Eureka goes he is there: Ander, a mysterious blond boy who tells her she’s in danger. Ander knows things about Eureka she doesn’t yet know herself, but not her darkest secret: ever since her mother drowned in a freak accident, Eureka wishes she were dead, too. She has little left that she cares about, just her friend, Brooks, and some heirlooms—a locket, a letter, a mysterious stone, and an ancient book about a girl who got her heart broken and cried an entire continent into the sea.
The haunting tale is more than a story. It’s real.
And Eureka’s life has far more evil undercurrents than she ever could have imagined.
Seriously, if you have read Twilight and Jone's Pixies series, you will know exactly where this novel is going. There is no "heart-stopping" romance, and even the "dark magic" is pretty lame until we reach the end of the book, where Eureka finally uses her mother's gifts to her to save her family (with the exception of the mean stepmother, whom you know is going to die after the first chapter). There's even a girl at Eureka's high school whose hair "smells like strawberries" just like Bella in Twilight (a series I found to be loathsome). Of course, like Bella, Eureka isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, and she spends an inordinate amount of time acting like someone who has never seen a fantasy movie or read a fantasy novel, or even encountered someone who has read the myths and legends that most of us have heard of by the time we leave grade school. I mean really, who hasn't heard of the legend of Atlantis? And just because she's a teenager, does that automatically mean that our heroine has to be a complete b*tch to her parents? Especially her father, who has done nothing but remarry and try to rebuild his life. But of course our love's young dream girl finds all that to be a betrayal, and even though she claims to love her little stepbrother and stepsister, she's more than willing to hate on their mother and watch her die because the stepmother insisted on Eureka getting counseling/therapy after she tried to kill herself in the wake of her mother's death in a car accident.  How horrible of the stepmother to care. And who didn't see Brooks, the best friend, becoming a possessed and possessive nightmare by the third chapter? It was all too obvious, as if the author was following a "How to write a YA novel similar to Twilight" pamphlet. I'd give this novel a C-, and again I feel that is a generous grade, due to the low quality of the work, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone seeking surprising or page-turning YA fiction. I certainly won't be reading the next book in the series.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

3rd Third Place Books, Bookshop Pledge, RIP Normal Bridwell, Books as Gifts and I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

I love it that there is good news on the horizon for one Seattle area book store, in the wake of so many others closing (RIP Old Renton Bookstore)

Third Third Place Store to Open Next Year in Seattle

Third Place Books, which has stores in Lake Forest Park, Wash., and in the Ravenna neighborhood of Seattle, is
opening a third store, in the Seward Park neighborhood of Seattle, in
late 2015. The new store will be in a 7,200-square-foot building that
currently houses PCC Natural Markets, the natural foods retail
cooperative that is moving next year to much larger space in the nearby
Columbia City neighborhood.

Third Place owner Ron Sher is purchasing the building, which will be
used for the store, a restaurant and possibly a pub. Managing partner
Robert Sindelar said about 3,500 square feet of the building would be
devoted to the bookstore but the layout plans are still tentative
because Third Place is looking for a restaurant partner. Third Place
doesn't intend to make additions to the building, but will raise the
basement ceiling, i.e., the main floor, to make public access to the
basement legal--enabling the restaurant to operate on two levels.

The project will be similar to the Ravenna store, which is about 10
miles north. (The Lake Forest Park store is 17 miles away.) "We hope to
have the restaurant elements and bookstore coexist on some level, but
our experience with our Ravenna store has shown us that each business
needs to be really good at what it does without sacrificing its service
or identity to the other businesses," Sindelar said. "They are there to
enhance and complement one another."

Eric McDaniel, an assistant manager in the Lake Forest Park store who
has worked for Third Place more than eight years and who lives in Seward
Park, will manage the new store.

Many in the community have welcomed the news. Shelf Awareness publisher
Jenn Risko, who lives in the neighborhood, said she's "thrilled,"
adding, "This vital, growing area has been immeasurably underserved in
books and a 'third place,' and I know it will embrace the store with
open arms."
I don't know if I will go to see this yet, but I might since I read the whole series.

The first full trailer has been released for Insurgent
the second movie in the Divergent Series, based on Veronica Roth's YA
novels. reported that "Shailene Woodley returns as Tris,
and this time she and Four (Theo James) are fugitives hunted by Erudite
leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet)." The cast also includes Ansel Elgort,
Miles Teller, Naomi Watts, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë
Kravitz, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer, Daniel Dae Kim and Octavia Spencer. The
film, directed by Robert Schwentke, opens March 20.

This is a great idea, but I don't know if I can do it financially. I have a lot (meaning a ton) of medical bills and we live on one income, so I will still probably have to buy books second-hand from garage sales, used bookstores and thrift shops.

"I claim to love books; and, more than that, to love bookshops. Yet for
eight years I have poured money into a company that many booksellers
regard as the greatest threat to their survival.... It is the time of
year to make resolutions. You could resolve to eat less, or jog more. Or
you could join me in making a simple pledge: to buy every book you read
next year from a bookshop. I don't know about you, but Amazon has had
quite enough of my money already."

--Laura Freeman in a piece for the Daily Mail headlined "Why I'm

Yes, indeed! There are, in my opinion, a million reasons to give and receive books this holiday season!
"Gluten, nut, dairy, calorie and fat free." That's just one of the "top
15 reasons why books make the best gifts"offered by the helpful crew at BookBar,
Denver, Colo.

RIP to Clifford the Big Red Dog creator, Norman Bridwell. I used to read my son Clifford books and he watched the TV show all the time, too, though Emily Elizabeth kind of set my teeth on edge.

Illustrator and children's author Norman Bridwell
Clifford the Big Red Dog series of children's books delighted children
for decades, died last Friday. He was 86. Bridwell created Clifford in
1963 and went on to write and illustrate more than 150 titles. His first
Clifford manuscript was turned down by nine publishers before landing at
Scholastic, which has published Bridwell's work for more than 50 years.
There are now 129 million books in print in 13 languages. In 2000,
Clifford made his TV debut on PBS Kids, and the animated series quickly
became a hit.

Scholastic CEO Dick Robinson said Bridwell's books about Clifford,
"childhood's most loveable dog, could only have been written by a gentle
man with a great sense of humor. Norman personified the values that we
as parents and educators hope to communicate to our children--kindness,
compassion, helpfulness, gratitude--through the Clifford stories which
have been loved for more than fifty years.

"The magic of the character and stories Norman created with Clifford is
that children can see themselves in this big dog who tries very hard to
be good, but is somewhat clumsy and always bumping into things and
making mistakes. What comforts the reader is that Clifford is always
forgiven by Emily Elizabeth, who loves him unconditionally. At
Scholastic, we are deeply saddened by the loss of our loyal and talented
friend whose drawings and stories have inspired all of us and
generations of children and their parents."

Before his death, Bridwell had completed two more Clifford books, which
will be released in 2015: Clifford Goes to Kindergarten, in May, and
Clifford Celebrates Hanukkah, in October.

This is a great little bookstore right next to the famed 74th St Alehouse (bring back the roasted filberts!) I enjoyed shopping there, though their prices were high. 

Phinney Books Has 'Captured the Mission Statement'
 Facing his first holiday season
as co-owner of a bookstore, author and Jeopardy! champion Tom Nissley
told the Stranger that when he opened Phinney Books, Seattle, Wash., "earlier this year, he knew he would be operating on a steep learning curve."

"The most overwhelming thing is the receiving," he said. "Every day,
we're selling tons of books and that means every day I have to bring
books back in.... We have eight square feet that's not on the showroom
floor, [so the unboxing of books] all happens behind the counter in a
noticeable and not quite tidy way."

Another challenge with owning a small bookshop is finding a variety of
people to make recommendations. At Phinney, many of the shelf talkers
are contributed by customers. "We're just a small place compared to
Elliott Bay, where there's this great staff of readers who can fill up
all the shelves with shelf talkers," he said. "I'm very happy to give
the store over to other voices than mine, and to not just make it an
echo chamber for the books that I love."

During the Christmas season, Nissley asked local authors to contribute
lists of a book they want to receive for Christmas and a book they are
giving. He has also launched a new subscription program, Phinney by Post
make it as eclectic as possible," Nissley said. "The biggest coup as a
bookseller is when you have a customer who you know has read a ton of
stuff and has interesting taste and you can find something they love."
He noted that many people are buying subscriptions as gifts. When
choosing titles, he looks for "that sweet spot of both awesomeness and
obscurity so we can both please and surprise our subscribers."

Nissley "may be new at the bookselling business, but he's captured the
mission statement in a nutshell," the Stranger observed.

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak is a YA book that my son said he wanted me to read, as a swap for him reading "Stargirl" by Jerry Spinelli.
The book is set in Australia, and while I gather that Australia/New Zealand can be a bit backward in terms of societal  progress for women and minorities, I was startled that the author of the Book Thief, which was a very sensitive book with a young female protagonist, would have his main character in Messenger, Ed Kennedy, feel that he is "owed" sex with his best friend Audrey, though she has made it plain that she doesn't return his feelings of love/lust. Not that Ed is anything but a kind of screw up from the get-go, but even his mother doesn't like him (apparently because he looks/acts like his father, who is lionized as some kind of hero, while his mother, who is admittedly mean, still managed to raise him, if not praise him). I find it abhorent that women/girls are viewed by many young men as prizes to be won with qualifying behavior, as in doing good deeds or being good at sports or the stock market or whatever. Never mind what the female wants, she's just a possession, a thing to be bought, sold, bartered or won. This attitude is so wrong, so very misogynistic at its core that it makes me physically ill. It leads to a rape culture that sees women/girls as worthless, or only as toys for men/boys, to be used and disposed of once they are no longer sexually viable. Here's the blurb:
Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He's pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.

That's when the first ace arrives in the mail. That's when Ed becomes the messenger. Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who's behind Ed's mission?

This book is a 2005 Michael L. Printz Honor Book and recipient of five starred reviews.
After capturing a bank robber, nineteen-year-old cab driver Ed Kennedy begins receiving mysterious messages that direct him to addresses where people need help, and he begins getting over his lifelong feeling of worthlessness.
So yes, Ed does a number of great things and helps people along the way. He also gets the crap kicked out of him more than once. He seems like not the brightest guy, and his friends are worse, as is his stinking dog. But 2/3 of the way through his journey, just as I believed he was becoming somewhat enlightened as a person, he begins to whine about "What's in it for me?" and laments that his friend Audrey isn't in love with him and won't have sex with him, as he's fantasized about having sex with her hundreds of time. So he lunges in and kisses her while his lip is still bloody from a fight, and then is all bummed out when she seems surprised and leaves. Personally, I think the more realistic reaction would have been for Audrey to haul off and slap his face. She's not a prize to be given for good behavior, Ed! But of course, since a young man wrote this book, he does get Audrey as a prize at the end. Why, we are never sure(her change of heart seems sudden and based on a few moments of dancing, which is again unrealistic) But I believe this idea of women as things to be given is something that young men in particular need to learn is actually wrong, abusive and contributes to rape culture and violence against women and girls. Though the general theme of the book, finding yourself by helping others, is a good one, I'd still give this book a C, and feel generous in so doing. I don't know that I'd recommend it to any teenagers, again because I don't believe that the misogyny is something to recommend. The prose is decent and the plot not too full of holes, though. My son loved this book, and felt that the good of it far outweighed the bad. So he would give it a B.