Monday, December 01, 2014

Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton, Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly and The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson

 I LOVE that the President of the United States, or POTUS, goes to bookstores with his family and buys books! As a bibliophile, I am impressed and thrilled by a truly smart politician in the White House.
President Obama and Daughters Go Book Shopping
 For the second year in a row, President Obama and family visited
Politics & Prose, Washington, D.C., on Indies First/Small Business Saturday. Accompanied by his daughters,
Malia and Sasha, the president talked with staff, customers and author
David Baldacci, who was an Indies First volunteer bookseller. The Obamas
bought 17 books.

Indies First is a great idea, where authors go to selected bookstores and hand sell books to customers for a day, and also sign their works for fans.

'This year, Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer led the call
participate in Indies First. The pair appeared at three stores in New
York, including Oblong Books & Music, Rhinebeck and Millerton, N.Y. (See photos below.)

Oblong co-owner Suzanna Hermans reported having "an incredible day with
Neil and Amanda at our Rhinebeck store. More than 150 fans turned out to
meet them and everyone loved it." The pair also did a storytime reading
of Sparky by Jenny Offill (see the video here

Robert Sindelar and Sherman Alexie at Third Place Books
Sherman Alexie, who came up with the idea for Indies First last year,
appeared on Saturday morning at Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, Wash., where the store did a "spend $50 and get a $10 gift card" promotion, which drew
many people, according to managing partner Robert Sindelar. He noted,
too, that many people were using American Express cards. (As part of
Small Business Saturday, customers using AMEX cards at participating
stores receive credits totally as much as $30.)

Despite snow on Friday night, a large crowd showed up for Alexie, who
promoted Kyle Minor's Praying Drunk and Lauren Beukes's Broken Monsters,
as well as signed copies of his own books. One young woman who didn't
know him asked, "Are you a famous author? Did you write all those
books?" She wound up buying several copies of his books and had a
picture taken with him.

As Alexie was leaving for his stints at University Book Store
and Elliott Bay Book Company, a windstorm caused the power at Third Place Books to go out. But there was
a silver lining: "We were selling books by flashlight for two hours
while we waited for the power to come back," Sindelar said. "The great
thing about not having your computer system up and running is that every
time a customer asks you for a book and you know what they are talking
about and where it is without having to look it up, you are a super
Rest in peace to another of our poet laureates. The poem the excerpt is sad, but haunting.

Former U.S. poet laureate Mark Strand
"whose spare, deceptively simple investigations of rootlessness,
alienation and the ineffable strangeness of life made him one of
America's most hauntingly meditative poets," died Saturday, the New York
Times reported. He was 80. Strand was named poet laureate in 1990 and
won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1999 for Blizzard of One.  

Noting that "absence, negation and death were abiding themes for Mr.
Strand," the Times observed that "in a sense, he wrote his epitaph many
times over, most poignantly perhaps in 'The Remains,' from his 1970
collection Darker":

I empty myself of the names of others. I empty my pockets.
I empty my shoes and leave them beside the road.
At night I turn back the clocks;
I open the family album and look at myself as a boy.
What good does it do? The hours have done their job.
I say my own name. I say goodbye.
The words follow each other downwind.
I love my wife but send her away.
My parents rise out of their thrones
into the milky rooms of clouds.
How can I sing? Time tells me what I am.
I change and I am the same.
I empty myself of my life and my life remains.

I got a copy of Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton from the library, along with 14 other books from a list of "page-turners" that I found on BookPage and Facebook. Many of them turned out to be not so interesting, and I weeded those out, but Lupton's book grabbed me from the first page and would not let go of my attention until the final page. Here's the blurb:
 When her children's school is set ablaze, Grace runs into the burning building to rescue her teenage daughter, Jenny. In the aftermath, badly injured, Grace learns the police have identified the arsonist, but they have blamed the wrong person. Only Detective Sarah McBride, the sister-in-law Grace has never liked, is searching for the real arsonist—a hunt that becomes urgent when it's clear Jenny is still the perpetrator's target.
   Page-turning suspense combines with a beautiful portrayal of deep family bonds to make this a stunning and riveting read.
I agree that this is a riveting book, and while I found Grace, the mother, to be an interesting protagonist, I found many of the other characters to be reprehensible, and most were not held accountable for their actions. There's a teacher who is having an affair with a teaching assistant who is still a teenager, and though he flirts with all the girls, his wife flips out on the one girl who actually turns him down, Jenny, and the wife stalks her and harrasses her in really egregious ways, and is never held accountable until the end. Then, when we find out who actually set the blaze, we never learn if she's going to be held accountable for her actions at all. What we do learn is how far a mother will go to save her child, which is unsurprising. Grace's husband is something of a dick, and throws his temper tantrums around instead of actually trying to help find the arsonist. There's altogether too much talking in this book, and which could have used more action, but I have noticed that British authors tend to be very talky in their novels and movies, so I gather it's a thing.
I'd give this gripping tale an A, and recommend it to anyone who loves a fast-paced mystery.

Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly was another page-turner and it also proved to be a tightly-woven mystery and fantasy novel. Here's the blurb:
At the turn of the twentieth century, a former spy is called into service to hunt down a vampire killer
Once a spy for Queen Victoria, James Asher has fought for Britain on every continent, using his quick wits to protect the Empire at all costs. After years of grueling service, he marries and retires to a simple academic’s life at Oxford. But his peace is shattered one night with the arrival of a Spanish vampire named Don Simon. Don Simon can disappear into fog, move faster than the eye can see, and immobilize Asher—and his young bride—with a wave of his hand. Asher is at his mercy, and has no choice but to give his help. Because someone is killing the vampires of London, and James Asher must find out who—before he becomes a victim himself. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Barbara Hambly, including rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the author’s personal collection.
Someone is killing the vampires of London and Professor James Asher has to find the killer. With his wife a hostage, what would happen if he actually found the killer? Would his fate be doomed by knowing the locations and identities of the vampires? This is a mystery, a history, a fantasy, and a fantastic vampire novel for readers to sink their teeth into. Reissue.
I found that though there was a great deal of sexism and classist nonsense because of the era of the story (and because it was set in England) Hambly managed to make Asher's wife, Lydia, (who is a research doctor, kind of similar to an ME) a brave and intelligent counterpart to all the ridiculous mores of the time. The information on the lives (or deaths, as it may be) of the London vampires is fascinating, and the race to find the vampire killer is full of twistsw and turns, enough so that I did not know who it was until the final chapters. Don Simon is a fascinating character with old-world manners and sharp intellect. Asher himself was a bit too stiff upper lip for me, though he got the job done, for the most part. The prose of this novel is action-packed and melds nicely with the brisk plot. I'd give the novel a B+ and recommend it to fans of vampires and British history.
The Secret of Platform 13 was recommended by a website as being a book that is important for young girls to read before they become women. Another apparently British or UK book, this is a children's tale that reminded me of Roald Dahl's lesser works. The book was published in 1999, so it's 15 years old, but because it is essentially a fairy tale, it has weathered the years pretty well. Here's the blurb:
A forgotten door on an abandoned railway platform is the entrance to a magical kingdom--an island where humans live happily with mermaids, ogres, and other wonderful creatures. Carefully hidden from the world, the Island is only accessible when the door opens for nine days every nine years. When the beastly Mrs. Trottle kidnaps the Island's young prince, it's up to a strange band of rescuers to save him. But can the rescuers--an ogre, a hag, a wizard, and a fey--sneak around London unnoticed? Fans of Roald Dahl, Lewis Carroll, and E. Nesbit will delight in this comic fantasy. Odge Gribble, a young hag, joins an old wizard, a gentle fey, and a giant ogre on a journey from their magical island kingdom to London through a tunnel which opens every nine years for nine days, to try and rescue the young prince who had been stolen as an infant nine years before.  
The problem that I had with this book right from the start is that the evil characters, Mrs Trottle and Raymond, are both fat characters, and their size is constantly discussed as a sure sign of their reprehensible behavior. In other words, they are fat-shamed, and there is the idea put forth that there is no such thing as a good fat person, or a good rich person. Cruel, spoiled and lazy, Raymond is supposedly the baby who was stolen from his fairy-tale island kingdom years ago, and the king and queen send a rag-tag group of ineffectual magical creatures to retrieve him and bring him home. The problem being, of course, that he's so spoiled in London that he really isn't all that interested in leaving until the group promises him gold. Meanwhile, the scullery boy Ben is the opposite of Raymond, and any reader can see that he's the real prince, its just going to take them a whole book to realize it. I found Odge the hag to be a fascinating character, and of course Ben's kindness was a nice contrast to all the nastiness of Mrs Trottle. I'd give this children's tale a B-, and recommend it to those who are die-hard fairy tale fans, who won't be insulted by all the stereotypical and cliched behavior on the part of all the fat characters. Ms Ibbotson needs a course in sensitivity and non judgmental behavior toward people of size.

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