Sunday, January 25, 2015

An Interview With Jeffrey Cook, First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen, Carousel Seas by Sharon Lee, The Observations by Jane Harris and After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson

I have been on a reading jag lately, and I've read some wonderful books that I want to review here, but first, I want to put in a link to a wonderful interview with local (Maple Valley) author Jeffrey Cook, who is, as they used to say, a gentleman and a scholar. He has two fine steampunk books out, and they, unlike most self published books, are well worth the time it takes to read them.
Here's the link:

Yesterday was National Reading Day, and I took full advantage, digging into Mary Roach's Gulp and Sarah Addison Allen's First Frost (more about the latter, later)
Here's more from Shelf Awareness:
National Readathon Day Makes Debut This Saturday
To promote National Readathon Day, which makes its debut this Saturday, January 24, and is sponsored by the National Book
Foundation, Penguin Random House, GoodReads and Mashable, 15 authors
appear in a video discussing why reading is
important and what they like to read. Among our favorite comments:

Delia Ephron: "If you don't make time to
read, your brain will rot."

Norman Lear: "I read when I should be looking at television."

Annabelle Gurwitch: "I like to pick up a book at my local neighborhood
bookstore because I like a random encounter."

David Milgrim: "Everything we hold dear is in books, and all you gotta
do is pick them up. It's all there."

As part of National Readathon Day--when book lovers are asked to pledge
to read for four hours starting at noon in their respective time
zones--nearly 200 bookstores, libraries, schools, universities and other
organizations are hosting events. For example, at WORD
bookstore in Brooklyn, N.Y., participants
are invited to "grab a seat in the basement and a donut and get in some
quality reading time" while at WORD's Jersey City, N.J., store, "the
cafe will be reserved for readers from noon to 4 p.m. (no laptops
allowed!)." BookPeople , Austin, Tex., is
reserving "our quiet, peaceful third floor space... for anyone who wants
to sit down and read from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m." At the Bookshelf Thomaston, Ga., volunteers will
read aloud Wonder by R.J. Palacio in the children's section, and the
store will donate 10% of all sales between noon and 4 p.m. to the
National Book Foundation. And at Watermark Books and Café, Wichita, Kans., the store will "keep
things quiet" between noon and 4 p.m. so readers can "curl up with your
favorite book" and "enjoy reading in a community of readers."

An important component of National Readathon Day is fundraising
to support the
National Book Foundation's efforts to create, promote and sustain a
lifelong love of reading in the U.S. Proceeds will go to Foundation
education programs like BookUp, the after-school reading program that
has given away more than 25,000 books to middle schoolers since 2007. So
far, teams and individuals have raised more than $25,000.

The National Book Foundation is providing some prizes for fundraisers:
for $100 raised, an I Love Reading tote bag; for $250 raised, a copy of
a 2014 National Book Award-winning book; $1,000, an I Love Reading tote
bag and all four 2014 National Book Award-winning books; $2,500, two
tickets to the 2015 National Book Awards ceremony, dinner and
after-party; and for $7,500 raised, two tickets to the 2015 National
Book Awards ceremony, dinner and after-party as well as hotel and

First Frost is the third book that I've read by Sarah Addison Allen, having read her first Waverly sisters novel, Garden Spells and then Lost Lake. Since I was mesmerized by those first two books, I was not surprised that First Frost enchanted me so swiftly, too. Here's the blurb:
It's October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly.  As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree... and all the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store.
Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies.  Though her handcrafted confections—rose to recall lost love, lavender to promote happiness and lemon verbena to soothe throats and minds—are singularly effective, the business of selling them is costing her the everyday joys of her family, and her belief in her own precious gifts.

Sydney Waverley, too, is losing her balance. With each passing day she longs more for a baby— a namesake for her wonderful Henry. Yet the longer she tries, the more her desire becomes an unquenchable thirst, stealing the pleasure out of the life she already has.
Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to…if only he could see it, too. But how can he, when he is so far outside her grasp that he appears to her as little more than a puff of smoke?
When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before.  And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost.
Lose yourself in Sarah Addison Allen's enchanting world and fall for her charmed characters in this captivating story that proves that a happily-ever-after is never the real ending to a story. It’s where the real story begins.
What the blurb neglects to mention, is that Allen has that knack of all good storytellers, to weave words in such a magical fashion that the reader finds herself lost to everything around her as she turns page after page, and puts life on hold to find out what happens to these so-real-seeming characters. I fell in love with Sydney, Claire and Bay, and was anxious for them to solve their problems by the magical first frost, so they could get on with their lives.  Bay is an especially self-possessed character, considering she's the same age as my son, 15. I see way too many young women without much self esteem wandering the halls of the school, looking for validation from everyone but themselves. It was refreshing to see a young woman who knows what she wants, what fits in her life, and is patient enough to wait for it to manifest. I was also delighted that the sinister con man from, naturally, Florida, was unable to steal money from Claire, or shake her conviction in her heritage. And Sydney was going to get a baby, one way or another, I knew, but I hope that she doesn't run into trouble down the road. That can only be answered by Allen writing another Waverly sisters/cousins/children novel!
Please, Ms Allen, can we (readers) have some more? A solid A for this wonderfully magical realism book, and I find myself hoping that author Sharon Lee picks up a copy, because I have a feeling that she and Ms Allen are kindred spirits in the writing world. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys books by MJ Rose, Sharon Lee's fantasy novels or the works of Alice Hoffman.

Speaking of wonderment and joy, Carousel Seas, Sharon Lee's third Archer's Beach novel, was a true delight, filling in the last parts of the story begun in Carousel Tides, and continued in Carousel Sun. Here's the blurb:
Sequel to National Bestseller Carousel Sun. A gripping contemporary fantasy thriller from master storyteller Sharon Lee, award-winning cocreator of the highly popular Liaden Universe® saga.
Welcome to Archers Beach in the Changing Land, the last and least of the Six Worlds, where magic works, sometimes, and the Guardian husbands the vitality of the land and everyone on it — earth spirit and plain human alike.
Kate Archer, Guardian and carousel-keeper, has been busy making some changes of her own, notably beginning a romantic relationship with Borgan, the Guardian of the Gulf of Maine, Kate's opposite number, and, some would say, her natural mate.
Oh, and she's been instrumental in releasing the prisoners that had been bound into the carousel animals — which she's inclined to think is a good thing. . .
Until a former sea goddess sets up housekeeping in the Gulf of Maine, challenging Borgan's authority; endangering Kate and everything she holds precious.
. . .because the goddess has fallen in love in Borgan; and she'll stop at nothing to possess him.
Archers Beach is about to suffer a sea-change — and the question is whether Kate can survive it.
Nationally best-selling co-creator of the Liaden Universe® saga, Lee brings high energy action and romance to this tale of contemporary fantasy and redemption.
Sharon Lee, much like Sarah Addison Allen, has a way of crafting prose that is elegant, simple and yet enthralling. Her characters, though magical, seem more real, somehow, than real people, and their troubles and trials make them fascinating, in an almost voyueristic fashion. I kept wanting to jump in and help Kate and the Fun Country folks, and I wanted to strangle the goddess who wants to steal the power from Borgan and who thinks nothing of murdering the goblins of the seas. Though everything turns out okay in the end (and I am not going to spoil the book by telling you how), there were times in the reading when I was not certain that everything wasn't going to go down in flames, including our hero and heroine. I think this novel deserves an A, and I'd recommend it to those who enjoy urban fantasy and more realistic magical characters.
The Observations by Jane Harris was a book recommended to me because I'd read some books that had Irish and/or Scottish heroines, and also because I'd read books recently about the Victorian era. I was surprised by the gritty and gruesome aspects of the book, however, and found myself being less than thrilled by the fawning relationship between Bessy the maid and her mistress Arabella. This is a kind of epistolary novel, with Bessy writing a journal/diary account of her coming to work for Arabella, who is writing a "scientific" treatise on servants, and how inferior they are,both physically and mentally, and how to train them properly so that they're docile and will do as they're told. 
Here's the blurb:The Observations is a hugely assured and darkly funny debut set in nineteenth-century Scotland. Bessy Buckley, the novel's heroine, is a cynical, wide-eyed, and tender fifteen-year-old Irish girl who takes a job as a maid in a once-grand country house outside Edinburgh, where all is not as it seems. Asked by her employer, the beautiful Arabella, to keep a journal of her most intimate thoughts, Bessy soon makes a troubling discovery and realizes that she has fled her difficult past only to arrive in an even more disturbing present.
Though I believe it is meant to be "gothic" in style and tone, the novel creeps into the horror genre several times, and leaves readers unsettled and revolted. Especially when Bessy's mother, an alcoholic whore, shows up and Bessy relives some of the horrors her mother has visited upon her during her short life, putting her to work as a prostitute when she was only 9 years old. And if that's not enough to make you queasy, there's the repeated discussions of two characters being cut in half by railroad engines when they were pushed onto the tracks by Arabella, who is obviously insane (though somehow her beauty is supposed to mitigate any feelings of revulsion for her character.) I was also not aware that there were "nice" and "comfortable" lunatic asylums available during the Victorian era. Most of the places I've read about in the past were horrific Bedlam-style madhouses where terrible experiments were done on patients and where they had no protection from the ravages of other, more violent crazy people. Be that as it may, the prose, written in poor English by Bessy, is readable and moves the plot along at an even pace. I'd give this novel a C+, and recommend it to those who are fascinated by the Victorian era and how servants lived and died and were considered disposable.
After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson is the follow up to her first novel, Somewhere in France, which I read last year. These novels take place during and just after World War 1, and are fascinating in the detail that Robson brings to bear about life in a Liverpool, England that has lost so many of its young men to the ravages of war. Here's the blurb:
The internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France returns with her sweeping second novel—a tale of class, love, and freedom—in which a young woman must find her place in a world forever changed
After four years as a military nurse, Charlotte Brown is ready to leave behind the devastation of the Great War. The daughter of a vicar, she has always been determined to dedicate her life to helping others. Moving to busy Liverpool, she throws herself into her work with those most in need, only tearing herself away for the lively dinners she enjoys with the women at her boardinghouse.
Just as Charlotte begins to settle into her new circumstances, two messages arrive that will change her life. One is from a radical young newspaper editor who offers her a chance to speak out for those who cannot. The other pulls her back to her past, and to a man she has tried, and failed, to forget.
Edward Neville-Ashford, her former employer and the brother of Charlotte's dearest friend, is now the new Earl of Cumberland—and a shadow of the man he once was. Yet under his battle wounds and haunted eyes Charlotte sees glimpses of the charming boy who long ago claimed her foolish heart. She wants to help him, but dare she risk her future for a man who can never be hers?
As Britain seethes with unrest and postwar euphoria fattens into bitter disappointment, Charlotte must confront long-held insecurities to fnd her true voice . . . and the courage to decide if the life she has created is the one she truly wants.
I really liked Charlotte, though I found her to be a bit wimpy at times. Still, she was passionate about the poor, and about helping others and showing the upper classes that they needed to help, too, not just ignore the way that society was changing around them. I also loved John Ellis, the newspaper editor who sees the talent and passion that Charlotte has for the poor and disenfranchised, and allows her to write a column in his paper, which ends up helping a number of people who would have otherwise slipped through the cracks.The character whom I failed to fall in love with was Edward, the Earl of Cumberland, who seemed like a great big whiny baby for most of the book, and he didn't seem to have the nerve to go against his parents wishes and realize that he loved Charlotte until the final chapters. Granted, I get that he was wounded and shell shocked and all of that, but for heaven's sake, man, get a grip and realize that it is your life, and you can do with it what you want, nobody is going to jail you for loving someone of another class! Money does confer a certain amount of power on those who have it, and I would think that he'd take what he could, marry whom he wanted to and get on with helping Charlotte get his life in order. At any rate, the prose was delicate and yet sturdy enough to keep up with the plot, which marched along at a brisk pace. I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to those interested in what happened in England after the Great War.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

PNW Book Awards, Happy Birthday U Bookstore, Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder Mystery series, As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust by Alan Bradley, and The Paris Winter by Iomgen Robertson

I have read two books on this list (Jackaby and the Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender) and I want to read All the Light We Cannot See, as soon as I can afford to buy a copy. So congrats to these authors, who are all very talented. My book group read a book by Molly Gloss called "The Hearts of Horses" which I read and thought interesting, but not really my thing, as I am not a horse person.

The winners of the 2015 Pacific Northwest Book Awards, sponsored by the
Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association <>, are:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Scribner)
A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories by Renee Erickson
(Sasquatch Books)
If Not for This by Pete Fromm (Red Hen Press)
Falling from Horses by Molly Gloss (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Jackaby by William Ritter (Algonquin Young Readers)
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
(Candlewick Press)

Happy Birthday to the wonderful UW Bookstore, where I've met many a famous author and enjoyed many a book signing.
Congratulations to University Book Store
which is celebrating its 115th anniversary with a 25% off sale today and
tomorrow, bookmark-making in the kids' department, birthday cookies
today and free tote bags to customers who spend more than $15. "It's
going to be crazy in here," Pam Cady, manager of general books, said.
"And so much fun."
We read the Chocolate Chop Cookie Murder last year in my library book group, and though it was something of a lightweight book, it was fun and interesting.I know that my fellow book group bibliophiles are excited to see how this series goes!

Hallmark Movies & Mysteries will launch an original TV movie franchise
based on Joanne Fluke's bestselling Hannah Swensen culinary mystery
series, and starring Alison Sweeney (Days of Our Lives) and Cameron
Mathison (All My Children). The first film, Chocolate Chip Cookie
Murder, is scheduled to premiere this spring. The project is produced by
Brad Krevoy Television and Stephanie Germain Productions, with Brad
Krevoy, Stephanie Germain and Eric Jarboe as executive producers.

"I am absolutely thrilled that Crown Media and Hallmark Movies &
Mysteries have chosen to film Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, " said
Fluke. "It's what the Hannah fans have always wanted, and I know that
Hannah Swensen has found the perfect home."

Fluke's Hannah Swensen mystery series debuted 15 years ago with
Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder. The 18th book, Double Fudge Brownie
Murder, will be released February 24 by Kensington.

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust is the 7th book in the Flavia deLuce mystery series by Alan Bradley. I dearly love Flavia, who is a funny, smart teenage girl who manages to beat every adult around her to the punch when it comes to finding the clues and figuring out who dunnit. Here's the blurb: Flavia de Luce—“part Harriet the Spy, part Violet Baudelaire from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” (The New York Times Book Review)—takes her remarkable sleuthing prowess to the unexpectedly unsavory world of Canadian boarding schools in the captivating new mystery from New York Times bestselling author Alan Bradley.

Banished! is how twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce laments her predicament, when her father and Aunt Felicity ship her off to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, the boarding school that her mother, Harriet, once attended across the sea in Canada. The sun has not yet risen on Flavia’s first day in captivity when a gift lands at her feet. Flavia being Flavia, a budding chemist and sleuth, that gift is a charred and mummified body, which tumbles out of a bedroom chimney. Now, while attending classes, making friends (and enemies), and assessing the school’s stern headmistress and faculty (one of whom is an acquitted murderess), Flavia is on the hunt for the victim’s identity and time of death, as well as suspects, motives, and means. Rumors swirl that Miss Bodycote’s is haunted, and that several girls have disappeared without a trace. When it comes to solving multiple mysteries, Flavia is up to the task—but her true destiny has yet to be revealed.
It was nice, this time, to see Flavia "out of her element" at a boarding school, away from Buckshaw, her family's estate in England, and from her tormenting sisters, Daffy and Feely. Unfortunately,Flavia is also far from her chemistry equipment and therefore unable to do many experiments on the bits and pieces she finds in relation to the murder.  However, being Flavia, she doesn't let that stop her from sussing out the truth and making sure that the bad guys (or bad women) are caught and brought to justice. I found the ending to be very satisfying, and now I am primed and ready for the next installment of this grand series, written in rigorous prose (and with a tight plot) by Alan Bradley. It deserves nothing less than an A, and I'd recommend it to anyone who loves British mysteries and smart young women.

The Paris Winter, by contrast, is the first book I've read by Imogen Robertson, who has apparently written other novels, but she worked in television/radio and film before settling down to authorship. Here's the blurb:
Maud Heighton came to Lafond's famous Academie to paint, and to flee the constraints of her small English town. It took all her courage to escape, but Paris, she quickly realizes, is no place for a light purse. While her fellow students enjoy the dazzling decadence of the Belle Epoque, Maud slips into poverty. Quietly starving, and dreading another cold Paris winter, she stumbles upon an opportunity when Christian Morel engages her as a live-in companion to his beautiful young sister, Sylvie.
Maud is overjoyed by her good fortune. With a clean room, hot meals, and an umbrella to keep her dry, she is able to hold her head high as she strolls the streets of Montmartre. No longer hostage to poverty and hunger, Maud can at last devote herself to her art.
But all is not as it seems. Christian and Sylvie, Maud soon discovers, are not quite the darlings they pretend to be. Sylvie has a secret addiction to opium and Christian has an ominous air of intrigue. As this dark and powerful tale progresses, Maud is drawn further into the Morels' world of elegant deception. Their secrets become hers, and soon she is caught in a scheme of betrayal and revenge that will plunge her into the darkness that waits beneath this glittering city of light.
I enjoyed Maud's descriptions of painting in Paris, and the characters she encounters while honing her art are fascinating, but what really drives this novel is what happens when a woman is conned out of everything, including her life, and yet manages to wreak revenge on her own terms? If Maud hadn't encountered the evil Morels, she might have stayed a timid innocent woman who couldn't imagine thieves and cutthroats planning their cons and setting upon people like herself to carry them out. During the course of her revenge, Maud grows up and sees the world with adult eyes, which informs and adds to her paintings. Robertson's prose is lush and sensual, and her plot moves at a sedate, yet measured pace. I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to those who enjoy books set in Paris during the Belle Epoque, and artists who enjoy mysteries.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Finally Found For Sale, Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer, Dreamwalker by Rhys Bowen and CM Broyles, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer, and A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

Oh how I wish I had money! I would buy this bookstore and move it to Maple Valley, but I am in no position, financially or healthwise, to own or run a bookstore right now. So I hope that someone reading this will take up the torch and help keep an independent bookstore within SE King County.

Finally Found Books, Auburn, Wash., for Sale
Calling it "a very difficult and personally emotional decision," Todd
Hulbert, owner of Finally Found Books, Auburn, Wash., has put the store up for sale, he wrote in an e-mail to customers and others.

Hulbert called the last three years "the most enjoyable and challenging
of my life. First to build the store from the ashes of others that had
closed, then to move it to its current location, and finally to have
built it into a profitable and viable business that will serve our
community for years to come....

"This is a wonderful opportunity for the right person. Someone who loves
books, people, and has a desire to own their own business. A new owner
that has the drive to continue building a world class bookstore and take
it to the next level. If you or anyone you know has a serious interest
(and please be sure it is sincere), please contact me or stop by the
store to talk about this rare chance to take over a turnkey, profitable

In early 2012, Hulbert bought Baker Street Books
Diamond, Wash., closed it to install new shelving, reconfigure the store
and absorb some 100,000 volumes he had in storage. In July, he reopened
the store as Finally Found Books. In September 2013, Finally Found Books
sales were too low in Black Diamond. The store sells new and used
Hulbert may be reached at 253-246-7376 or

Actually, Amazon's offices and complex of buildings are in South Lake Union area of Seattle, which is pretty far from the Phinney Ridge neighborhood wherein lies Phinney Books, but the sentiment is spot on.

An Indie Bookseller in Amazon Territory' Burmesch's video, "An Indie Bookseller in Amazon Territory," profiles Tom Nissley,
owner of Phinney Books, Seattle, Wash.
"If you thought about the typical characteristics
of an independent bookstore owner, you probably wouldn't guess that they
used to work for the biggest, and most frequently controversial online
bookseller on the planet," she wrote at Flip the Media.

I just finished Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer,and I was fairly impressed with this epistolary novel that was inspired by the relationship of Flannery O'Connor and Robert Lowell, the poet. The witty banter and the gorgeous prose combine to make the reader feel like you're sneaking a peek at your mother's racy love letters from long ago. But that's not all that make this novel so delicious. It's the insight into the minds and hearts of writers and their families in the late 1950s and early 1960s, an era of tremendous change in literature. Here's the blurb:
Frances and Bernard meet in the summer of 1957. Afterward, he writes her a letter. Soon they are immersed in the kind of fast, deep friendship that can change the course of our lives.
They find their way to New York and, for a few whirling years, each other. The city is a wonderland for young people with dreams: cramped West Village kitchens, parties stocked with the sharp-witted and glamorous, taxis that can take you anywhere at all, long talks along the Hudson as the lights of the Empire State Building blink on above.

Inspired by the lives of Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell, Frances and Bernard imagines, through new characters with charms entirely their own, what else might have happened. In the grandness of the fall, can we love another person so completely that we lose our dreams?

In witness to all the wonder of kindred spirits and bittersweet romance, Frances and Bernard is a tribute to the power of friendship and the people who help us discover who we are.
Though Frances can be prickly and judgmental, Bernard, who has a mental illness, can be a complete, immature jackass, which made it easier for me to understand why Frances won't marry the man. It takes a strong woman, especially in the 1960s, to be able to say that she values her work above taking care of a man for the rest of her life. She discovers, later, that he also has a problem with infidelity that has nearly lost him his teaching position. So I was glad that she missed the bullet of being shackled to Bernard. Still, it was brilliant that both of these amazing writers found people who could live with them and love them, and care for them when the need arose. I find it hard to believe that this is the author's first work of fiction (she has a published memoir) and that she's so accomplished at such a young age. A strong A for the wonderful Frances and Bernard, with the recommendation to anyone who loves epistolary novels and a beautifully-written story that will keep you turning pages long into the night.

Dreamwalker is the first book in a new YA series by historical mystery author Rhys Bowen and her daughter, CM Broyles. It starts out with prose that is a bit amateurish, but as the story gains momentum, much of that melts away like a dusting of snow in April. There are a few editing problems (as in there should have been an editor to rid the text of redundant phrases and awkward construction), but even with those, the story is imaginative and fun to read. The plot sags once or twice, but then picks up speed and rockets to the finale. Here is the blurb:
Seven Children, Seven Powers. One Enemy.

Addy Walker is a normal California surfer girl until her mother dies and her British aunt enrolls her at a boarding school called Red Dragon Academy in Wales. At first the school seems okay, if a little weird. Which other school has a sun-day when it's not raining? But when Addy stumbles upon a hallway that leads to a different and horrible part of the school she begins to have her doubts.

Addy has always had vivid dreams but now these dreams are becoming frighteningly real and she has a hard time telling dreams from reality. Was it really only in a dream that she visited the cold palace and met the man who wants her captured? He calls her a dreamwalker and it seems that this is a special and dangerous power. Is Addy really able to move between two worlds or is she finally cracking up?

Dreamwalker is the first book in the Red Dragon Academy series and in it we meet Addy, as well as snooty Pippa, brainy Raj, cheeky Sam, serious Coby, shy Gwyllum and worldly Celeste—all who may have been brought to the school because of their special powers. All of whom may be in mortal danger from a terrifying tyrant who calls himself The One, in a land that seems a lot like Wales, but isn't.
I found Addy and her gang to be a bit too much like characters from other famous children's books, yet they were charming enough that by the time Addy is on a rescue mission to gather her friends form the "other side" of the mirror, she has distinguished herself enough that it doesn't matter if she's something of an archetype. I loved that Addy's friend Celeste was able to 'create' things, like Prada shoes, by singing, and that one of the talents is to fly or move through time. A book that deserves a B+ and a hearty recommendation to those who like Harry Potter, or Mercedes Lackey or Jane Yolen (the latter two are authors with great YA books).

Speaking of time travel, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells takes on time travel in a new and interesting fashion, when the protagonist, Greta, finds out that her electroshock therapy in the mid-1980s sends her back into the bodies of herself in 1918 and 1941. Each woman is different from her counterpart in the other eras, and each is living a life that the others can't imagine until they have to live it. Greta in 1918 is in love with another man, Greta in 1941 is still in love with her husband and has a child, and Greta in 1985 is mourning the loss of her gay twin brother and her marriage, which has ended in divorce.   Here's the blurb:
After the death of her beloved twin brother, Felix, and the breakup with her longtime lover, Nathan, Greta Wells embarks on a radical psychiatric treatment to alleviate her suffocating depression. But the treatment has unexpected effects, and the Greta of 1985 finds herself transported to remarkably similar lives in different eras—as a bohemian and adulteress in 1918, and a devoted wife and mother in 1941—fraught with familiar tensions and difficult choices.

Traveling through time, the modern Greta learns that each reality has its own losses and rewards, and that her alternate selves are unpredictable, driven by their own desires and needs. And as the final treatment looms, one of these other selves could change everything.

Magically atmospheric, achingly romantic, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells beautifully imagines "what if" and wondrously wrestles with the impossibility of what could be.
While it wasn't exactly a carbon copy, I did find that this book reminded me in tone and in construction of the Time Traveler's Wife. There was the same 'dreamy' sense of displacement, the same internal wrestling that marks the kind of writers raised on contemporary literature, writers workshops and feel good TV shows like Friends. I know that it is popular for protagonists to malinger in their grief, because it shows that literature is serious when it's all about suffering (there is no happiness in literature!) Yet I found myself wondering why the author didn't just write a book about the gay twin brother, since he was so important to all the Gretas throughout the novel that she was willing to do almost anything to allow him to lead a gay lifestyle, even when that could have gotten him put in jail and tortured or killed. Felix (the brother) didn't seem to have quite as much concern for her as she did for him, however. Still, the prose was sterling, and the plot moved along at a nice waltz pace. I'd give the novel a B+ and I'd recommend it to those who like stories of time travel and what life was like for gays during various eras.

A Thousand Pieces of You is the beginning of another series by Claudia Gray, a pseudonym for a lovely young woman named Amy Vincent (whose name seems like more of a non de plume than Claudia Gray). This YA science fiction series also involves time travel to different "dimensions" that are layered all around us, and only require a pendant called a "Firebird" to pop your consciousness from your body in one dimension to another. Here's the blurb:Marguerite Cain is the daughter of two famous scientists behind a device called the Firebird, which allows people to travel to other dimensions where they occupy the bodies of their alternate selves. When a graduate student named Paul murders Marguerite’s father and escapes into another dimension, Marguerite and another graduate student, the handsome Theo, risk their lives by trying to catch him. As they move among multiple dimensions, Marguerite contends with a roller coaster of dangers, stress, and unexpected romance, while questioning the ethics of taking over the other Marguerites’ lives. Her feelings about Theo and Paul are also thrown into flux as she meets alternate versions of these young men. Gray (the Evernight series) gets her Firebird series off to an action-packed start; while certain plot points resolve too easily and predictably, the fascinating worlds and eras Marguerite visits make these drawbacks easily forgiven. Marguerite’s foray into czarist Russia as a member of the House of Romanov is a particular highlight as Gray effortlessly moves between the SF, historical, and contemporary aspects of her story.
I completely agree with the blurb that the Russian Marguerite was truly fascinating and her romance with Markov lovely, but I also found the ultra-modern gadgety London interesting, because hologram-telephone rings have that effect on me. I loved that the bad guy was a corporate genius ala Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, and that they are after Meg specifically because she doesn't forget who she is as she jumps from dimension to dimension. Because the prose is so clean and snappy, and the plot a whirlwind, this book is a real page-turner that will keep you up late into the night reading. Here's hoping the author does just as well with the next book in the series, which I anxiously await. I'd give it an A, and recommend it to all those who like Divergent and other YA series that are somewhat futuristic.

Friday, January 02, 2015

My 2015 Reading List, Jackaby by Willian Ritter and Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland

For my birthday and Christmas this past year, I was given several Barnes and Noble and Amazon gift certificates, which I used to purchase 12 books that I have been wanting to read for several months.
Here's the list, in no particular order:

1. Jackaby by William Ritter
2. The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer
3. Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
4. The Observations by Jane Harris
5. A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray
6. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
7. The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson
8. Dreamwalker by Rhys Bowen
9. Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
10. Zodiac by Romina Russell
11. Carousel Seas by Sharon Lee (on pre-order, from Amazon, whose warehouse is less than 20 miles away from Maple Valley, but they can't get the book here for two weeks! Ugh!)
12. Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland

I've just finished Lisette's List and Jackaby this past few days, and I am now halfway through The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells.  I really want a copy of the latest Flavia deLuce mystery, (As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust) by Alan Bradley, which comes out on the 6th of this month, but I don't think my husband is going to be amenable to buying more books when I have 10 of the above still sitting about awaiting my attention.  There's also a Jo Walton book I want called The Just City and a copy of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr that have been calling my name, but since the holidays have passed, the bank accounts are too slender for more book purchases. Still, there's always anniversaries and Valentine's Day coming up and I would rather get a book than flowers any day.

I really enjoyed Jackaby, as it was rather like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and the intrepid Flavia deLuce from Alan Bradley's wonderful mysteries. Here is an American counterpart to Sherlock Holmes, operating in the same time period, but with the added advantage of "Second Sight" or the ability to see supernatural creatures. The prose is top notch, and the plot moves swiftly to a satisfying conclusion. Jackaby's assistant, or his Watson, is a young woman named Abigail who thirsts for adventure, which is refreshing. Here's the blurb:
Jackaby sighed and drew to a stop as we reached the corner of another cobbled street. He turned and looked at me with pursed lips. “Let’s see,” he said at last. “I observed you were recently from the Ukraine. A young domovyk has nestled in the brim of your hat. More recently, you seem to have picked up a Klabautermann, a kind of German kobold attracted to minerals. Most fairy creatures can’t touch the stuff. That’s probably why your poor domovyk nestled in so deep.”
Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary--including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail hasa gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police--with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane--deny.
Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre.
I am not too sure where the Doctor Who aspect comes in, other than Abigail being somewhat like Amy Pond or Clara (though she's not nearly as whiny as Clara has been this past season) and serving as a balance to Jackaby's eccentricities. Still, this is a paranormal mystery that goes down easy and is fun to read. I had the villian figured out well before the final chapter, but that's probably because I watch television shows like Grimm and have read and studied mythology, legends and fairy tales. I'd give this debut novel a well deserved A, and recommend it to those who enjoy Sherlock in its present incarnations on American TV as Elementary and the BBC as Sherlock with the delicious Benedict Cumberbatch. 
Lisetttes's List is the 5th book of Susan Vreeland's that I've read out of the 8 that she's written. I started reading her works after discovering The Forest Lover, which is a marvelous novel about painter Emily Carr, whose works I viewed at the Vancouver Art Museum back in 1995. I followed with the Girl in Hyacinth Blue and The Passion of Artemisia, and was only stopped by Clara and Mr Tiffany, which, despite its fascinating subject matter, failed to engage me for some odd reason. I also couldn't get into Luncheon of the Boating Party, no matter how hard I tried. So it was with great relief that I discovered that Lisette's List is actually more like the Forest Lover than it is the Boating Party or Mr Tiffany. The prose is full of scintillating dialog, and the plot flows gracefully to a peaceful conclusion. Here's a small blurb from Library Journal: Since the elegantly conceived The Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Vreeland has written a string of best sellers that typically blend art and history with strong character study, and her new book is no different. At the time of the Vichy regime, a young Parisian ends up in Provence, caring for her husband's grandfather. Through the works of Cézanne, Pissarro, Chagall, and Picasso, she uncovers the glories of Provence despite wartime hardships. Not just art history, this book evokes key ethical questions, including the currently timely question of art stolen during World War II.
While I enjoyed Lisette's interactions with all the characters in Provence and Paris, I found that one character in particular was so awful that I found myself wishing for his death. Bernard, the local constable, is a crude bully and almost rapes Lisette, while he's stolen her grandfather's paintings and hidden them, and not seen fit to tell her because he wants to continue to leer at her and nearly sell her out to the Germans. He's craven and cowardly and disgusting, and Lisette should have stabbed him or had someone beat him up for his treatment of her. When Maxime does finally give this creep a few good whacks, Lisette (and one assumes the author) seem to have unending bouts of sympathy for him, because he didn't turn in other members of the town's resistance when he could have. Still, he stalks Lisette and doesn't deserve any kindness, as far as I can see. Creeps like Bernard need to realize that women aren't prizes or objects for them to "earn" or "take" as they see fit. Lisette has every right to spurn his advances, when he continues to make her afraid and feel unsafe in her own home. And his singing to her in the graveyard is somehow romantic? No, it's not, it's just him being his disgusting stalker/creeper self.  Other than that, though, I liked Lisette's List and it's lush descriptive prose, and nicely-paced plot. I'd give the book a B+, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys painting and stories of the salvaging of great art both before, during and after World War II.
Finally, I'd like to leave you with this tidbit:
A trailer has been
released for the six-part series adaptation of Hilary Mantel's Man
Booker Prize-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, which
will air on BBC Two this month and PBS in April, Entertainment Weekly
reported. Wolf Hall
stars Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell and Damian Lewis as Henry VIII.
Versions of the novels are also heading to New York City soon, with the
Royal Shakespeare Company's stage adaptations hitting Broadway in March.