Saturday, February 28, 2015

Nebula Award Nominees, Bookstores Around the World, Maya Angelou Stamps, Secret Libraries and Royal Harlot by Susan Holloway Scott, and A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor

I have always been interested in the Hugo and Nebula awards because I've been a science fiction and fantasy reader for 50 years. 
Nominees have been announced for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers
of America Nebula Awards
the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation and the
Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book.
Winners will be named in June at SFWA's Nebula Awards banquet at the
Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, Ill.

I would love to combine my love of travel with a visit to unusual and interesting bookstores in other countries. Perhaps I will, someday!
In showcasing some "charming and unusual bookstores around the world
Smithsonian magazine wrote: "For travelers, these shops go beyond
well-curated selections of books: they pack in an abundance of beauty,
quirky character and local history within their walls. And they serve as
community hubs, where you can tap into the creative pulse of a

Maya Angelou remains one of my favorite poets, though she's passed from this mortal coil USPS to Honor Maya Angelou with Forever Stamp
 Maya Angelou will be honored with a Forever Stamp by the U.S. Postal
Service, which said it will preview the stamp and provide details on the
day and location of the first-day-of-issuance ceremony at a later date.

"Maya Angelou inspired our nation through a life of advocacy and through
her many contributions to the written and spoken word," said Postmaster
General Megan J. Brennan. "Her wide-ranging achievements as a
playwright, poet, memoirist, educator, and advocate for justice and
equality enhanced our culture."

I wish I would have known that there were secret libraries when I lived in Iowa, as I would have visited as many of them as possible while on theater trips to Chicago when I was in college at Clarke in the early 80s.
In featuring the "secret libraries of Chicago
Atlas Obscura's Illinois Week noted that the city's "vibrant network of
public libraries opened its doors in the wake of 1871's great fire. But
long before that, private libraries were the norm. These days, Chicago's
small and private libraries still serve niche communities with
specialized resources and knowledge. Try one of these little-known spots
and immerse yourself in a unique, curated collection."

I love books about the saucy Dotty Parker, and I will be keeping an eye out for a copy of this one, which sounds like fun.
Ellen Meister, author of Dorothy Parker Drank Here (Putnam, February 24)
held a launch event Tuesday night at New York City's Algonquin Hotel,
the literary landmark where the book is set. The novel reimagines
Dorothy Parker as an apparition who's been wandering the hotel for 40
years, hoping to convince a drinking buddy to join her in limbo rather
than disappear into the eternal white light. Meister also runs a popular
Dorothy Parker Facebook page

A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor was recommended to me by one of the authors I've friended on Facebook, and I am thoroughly glad that she did. It was a fascinating account of two impoverished orphan sisters who were flower sellers in London in the late 19th century. 
Here's the blurb:
From the author of the USA Today bestseller The Girl Who Came Home comes an unforgettable historical novel that tells the story of two long-lost sisters—orphaned flower sellers—and a young woman who is transformed by their experiences
"For little sister. . . . I will never stop looking for you."
1876. Among the filth and depravity of Covent Garden's flower markets, orphaned Irish sisters Flora and Rosie Flynn sell posies of violets and watercress to survive. It is a pitiful existence, made bearable only by each other's presence. When they become separated, the decision of a desperate woman sets their lives on very different paths.
1912. Twenty-one-year-old Tilly Harper leaves the peace and beauty of her native Lake District for London to become assistant housemother at one of Mr. Shaw's Training Homes for Watercress and Flower Girls. For years, the homes have cared for London's orphaned and crippled flower girls, getting them off the streets. For Tilly, the appointment is a fresh start, a chance to leave her troubled past behind.
Soon after she arrives at the home, Tilly finds a notebook belonging to Flora Flynn. Hidden between the pages she finds dried flowers and a heartbreaking tale of loss and separation as Flora's entries reveal how she never stopped looking for her lost sister. Tilly sets out to discover what happened to Rosie—but the search will not be easy. Full of twists and surprises, it leads the caring and determined young woman into unexpected places, including the depths of her own heart.

l loved Flora's story, and Rosie/Violette's rise in the house of a wealthy, childless couple. I was also delighted by the kindness and decency of Albert Shaw, the man who created the homes for disabled and homeless orphan flower sellers, while also making creating an industry where they could learn and trade and live a decent life. Amazing that a man of that era could do so much to help so many starving street kids. I sincerely wish that there were something similar that could be employed today in cities for runaways and other kids who need a place to stay off the streets and food in their bellies. There were epistolary sections of this novel that were written in the style of the characters that blew me away in their sincere voice. Sterling prose keeps the plot flowing along beautifully until the tale reaches a satisfying conclusion. It's obvious that Gaynor did a great deal of historical research, but thankfully she avoided the trap of many authors who write about a specific time period, by not going into extreme detail and slowing the plot to a crawl. An A for this delightful novel, with a recommendation to anyone who enjoys historical romances and well-told tales of London at the turn of the 20th Century.
Royal Harlot by Susan Holloway Scott was quite the saucy novel, about King Charles Stuart's mistress Barbara Villers Palmer, who was one of the few women who benefited from her long-term liaison with the King. Here's the blurb: 
London, 1660: Ready to throw off a generation of Puritan rule, all England rejoices when Charles Stuart returns to reclaim the throne. Among those welcoming him is young Barbara Villiers Palmer, a breathtaking Royalist beauty whose sensuality and clever wit instantly captivate the handsome, jaded king. Though each is promised to another, Barbara soon becomes Charles's mistress and closest friend, and the uncrowned queen of his bawdy Restoration court. Rewarded with titles, land, and jewels, she is the most envied and desired woman in England--and the most powerful. But the role of royal mistress is a precarious one, and Barbara's enemies and rivals are everywhere in the palace.  Publisher's Weekly's blurb: As in her popular Duchess, about Sarah Churchill, Scott captures in her latest historical romance the brilliance and hard beauty of Barbara Palmer (Lady Castlemaine), the Merry Monarch's most famous and enduring mistress. A young but far from innocent Barbara marries rich but proper Roger Palmer, whose Royalist politics set them on the path that will make her a famous courtesan and favorite of King Charles II. Lusty, bawdy and cunning, she's a fine match for the king, whose reign is portrayed as fraught with great expectations that go largely unfulfilled. Both Charles and his court are pleasingly debauched, and Charles, though well-intentioned, proves himself to be "a very poor king as kings went." Charles's court is frequently depicted in this genre, but Scott finds a careful balance in Barbara, not salvaging her as a sinner, but giving her something of a heart under all that reputation.
What I found fascinating about this book was that while many women are reading 50 Shades of Grey and thinking that all that raucous sex is something new, Scott is writing about the real bawdy sexual escapades of 17th Century England, which were more wild and debauched than anything they can dream up in 21st Century America. Unfortunately, women of the 17th century had no access to birth control or antibiotics for STDs, so a there is time spent on Barbara's 6 children, 4 of whom were sired by King Charles and one by Barbara's husband Roger, while the other was supposedly the get of John Churchill, a handsome soldier. No fool, Barbara manages to get titles and money for all of her children, who marry well and lead good lives. Barbara doesn't fare as well, unfortunately, and dies of venereal disease, but my guess is that a number of men and women of all strata in society probably died of venereal disease, if they didn't die of plague or in a war, due to lack of medical treatment and science. Of course they used other euphemisms for STDs, because they didn't know any better, so people were recorded to have died of "consumption" or dropsy or some other odd thing that was really a cover for horribly progressed syphilis or gonorrhea. Still, it was interesting to read of Barbara's wild appetites and her steamy romps with the King and other men were legendary. A B+ for this engaging historical romance, with a recommendation to those who like strong female protagonists in their historical fiction.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Bookseller Questions, Reading Aloud, The Diabolical Miss Hyde by Viola Carr, The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff and Lucy the Movie

I agree that these aren't stupid questions at all. And yes, booksellvers and 'Absolutely Not Dumb Questions to Ask a Bookseller'
 In a blog post headlined "An incomplete list of absolutely NOT dumb
questions to ask a bookseller or a librarian, both of whom are, indeed magicians!

the Booksellers at Laurelwood
"we spend much of our day answering questions posed by you, our
customers. Many of those questions are presented almost apologetically,
with the implied preface 'I recognize this may be a dumb question,
but....' Others are more direct, preemptively begging pardon with a
preamble along the lines of, 'this may be a really stupid question,
The logical conclusion: "[I]n the realm of books, we're magicians."

This is an interesting video about the importance of reading aloud to children, something that my mother did for me, and something that I did for my son as well. Of course there was story time at school, which I loved, and my son adored as well (at the MV Library with the Story Lady, Sharon Chastain!) 
Video: Kate DiCamillo on 'Reading Aloud to Children'

Ambassador for Young People's Literature and two-time Newbery winner,
"discusses the importance of reading aloud to children and celebrates
teachers and parents that take time to read aloud to the young people in
their life, to share stories and connect with great books together."

I am a big fan of Ewan MacGregor, and I look forward to seeing this film.
Actor Ewan McGregor will make his directorial feature film debut with
based on Philip Roth's novel and starring McGregor, Jennifer Connelly
and Dakota Fanning. reported that he is replacing Phillip
Noyce, who had been with the project "for more than a decade, when he
was first set to helm for Connelly, Paul Bettany and Evan Rachel Wood.
Fisher Stevens also had been attached as director at one point."
American Pastoral begins shooting in September in Pittsburgh.

Poet Philip Levine died on February 14. Here’s a tidbit of one of his poems:
From "Naming":
it's winter in Michigan with snow falling
in the twilight and hiding the stalled cars
on Grand River. Head whitened with snow,
Eugene lets the receiver slip from his hand.
I can see his eyelashes weighted with ice,
his brown eyes slowly closing on the image
of who I was, who I will always be.
The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff was a book recommended to me by an author I admire on Facebook. Here's the blurb:
Life is a constant struggle for the eighteen-year-old Nowak twins as they raise their three younger siblings in rural Poland under the shadow of the Nazi occupation. The constant threat of arrest has made everyone in their village a spy, and turned neighbor against neighbor. Though rugged, independent Helena and pretty, gentle Ruth couldn't be more different, they are staunch allies in protecting their family from the threats the war brings closer to their doorstep with each passing day.
Then Helena discovers an American paratrooper stranded outside their small mountain village, wounded, but alive. Risking the safety of herself and her family, she hides Sam—a Jew—but Helena's concern for the American grows into something much deeper. Defying the perils that render a future together all but impossible, Sam and Helena make plans for the family to flee. But Helena is forced to contend with the jealousy her choices have sparked in Ruth, culminating in a singular act of betrayal that endangers them all—and setting in motion a chain of events that will reverberate across continents and decades.
I had serious problems with one of the twins, Ruth, right from the start of the book. She seemed like such a coward, so weak and wimpy, yet with a cruel streak that seemed bizarre, given her general lack of guts. Unfortunately, Ruth's cruelty leads her to sleep with her sister's beloved for no good reason, and then leave the child to be raised by Helena after she dies in a concentration camp. I found it hard to believe that Helena, who was smart, strong and brave, would so easily forgive her sister for all the horrible things she had done, including tipping off someone as to where the Jewish soldier was hidden so that he could be captured and killed. Her decision to do this so thoughtlessly ends up in the death of her brother, and the only decent and good things that Ruth seemed able to do was to take care of her young siblings prior to that, so it made little sense that she would endanger her entire family out of petty jealousy for Helena. Still, the book was fairly well written, with a plot that only slowed down a couple of times. I'd give it a B, and recommend it to people who read Kristen Hannah's The Nightingale, or other books about people coping with starvation and hardship in Nazi-occupied France or Poland.
The Diabolical Miss Hyde by Viola Carr was also recommended by an author on Facebook, and this Steampunk adventure fantasy/mystery was truly a delight, though it was a bit gory for my tastes. Here's the blurb:
Magic, mystery, and romance mix in this edgy retelling of the classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde–in which Dr. Eliza Jekyll is the daughter of the infamous Henry
In an electric-powered Victorian London, Dr. Eliza Jekyll is a crime scene investigator, hunting killers with inventive new technological gadgets. Now, a new killer is splattering London with blood, drugging beautiful women and slicing off their limbs. Catching "the Chopper" could make Eliza's career—or get her burned. Because Eliza has a dark secret. A seductive second self, set free by her father's forbidden magical elixir: wild, impulsive Lizzie Hyde.
When the Royal Society sends their enforcer, the mercurial Captain Lafayette, to prove she's a sorceress, Eliza must resist the elixir with all her power. But as the Chopper case draws her into London's luminous, magical underworld, Eliza will need all the help she can get. Even if it means getting close to Lafayette, who harbors an evil curse of his own.
Even if it means risking everything and setting vengeful Lizzie free . . 
Carr's prose sparks and darts around the streets of this dystopian fantasy London, and the plot moves at such a lightening-fast pace that I found myself unable to put the book down, because something was always happening that was crucial to the story or the characters. Lizzie is just as fascinating as Dr Eliza, with her street smarts and passions that overwhelm Eliza's scientific attitude and cold common sense. Readers will know Captain Lafayette as a werewolf long before it is revealed, and yet his dual being doesn't slow him from trying to catch the Chopper serial killer, whose ties to Dr Frankenstein become all too clear. I sincerely hope that Carr will keep this series going for at least a few more novels, because there are so many classic horror movie tropes for her to excavate, dust off and make new in her fascinating Steampunk London. A solid A, and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes mysteries and Steampunk and classic horror monsters or classic dark fantasy fiction.

I want to make mention of a movie that I watched this week called "Lucy" starring Scarlett Johansson. My husband, who is a fan of classic science fiction and horror films, said that he'd heard the movie was panned, and he didn't think it would be worth my time to watch. 
He was wrong.
I found the movie to be an interesting study of how we think, how we evolve as a species and how we currently use our brains. My guess would be that the reason it was panned by so many male critics was because ScarJo wasn't sexualized as women usually are in these movies, where it is only a matter of time before we cut away to the female star of the movie having sex with some guy, often the one who 'saves' her from some dire fate. Lucy started out as just a grad student in Taiwan who hooked up with a nasty, grubby Chris Pratt and found herself regretting it the morning after when Pratt handcuffs her to a briefcase full of something (he says he doesn't know what is in there, so neither does she) valuable and tells her to enter an office building, ask for a Mr Jank and then hand over the case and leave. Unfortunately, a Korean mafia don comes rolling downstairs, shoots Pratt and drags Lucy upstairs, only to force her to open the briefcase while he cowers behind a bunch of thugs in case the briefcase is booby-trapped, and then taking the four bags of some kind of drug that is inside and implanting it into the abdomens of four people, Lucy and three guys from other countries. They're all given passports and told that when they reach the airports in their cities (Rome, Paris, etc) they will be met by someone loyal to the ugly Korean don who will take the substance out of them and they will be set free (which we know from the outset is a lie. These guys don't leave behind people who can identify them, so this is a death sentence). For some reason, (we are never told why) Lucy is separated from the rest of the drug mules and taken to a filthy prison where she's groped by two hideously thin and greasy Asian guys who don't speak English. When she tries to keep from being violated, one of the greasy guys punches and kicks her in the stomach, thereby breaking the bag of the drug, which leaks into her body and transforms her brain, so that she's using 30-40 percent of it, and can therefore become a badass and fight her way out of the prison. She finds Morgan Freeman, a brain scientist, reads all of his work on the evolution of the human brain, and soon realizes she will have to take more of the drug to keep her body from degrading into a mass of cells. She reaches 50 percent usage and is able to disarm people and works with a French policeman to get the other three packages of the drug from the hands of the Korean thugs. After she gets all of the drug into her system, she tells Morgan Freeman that she will be able to use 100 percent of her brain, which means mastery over time and space, but she won't be able to survive in human form, so she promises to leave her knowledge on a computer thumb drive for Morgan Freeman and his scientists to excavate for future generations. Watching Lucy go back in time, seeing her use the full power of the human mind was awesome. Though she disperses into cells that are "everywhere," Lucy left behind quite a legacy of taking a horrible situation and turning it into an advantage not just for herself but for everyone. Truly a fascinating tale well told. I'd give it an A, and recommend that teenage girls watch it to realize that women are valuable for more than their bodies. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Library Hotels, Book-Related Jobs and Jaye Wells Deadly Spells, plus The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

I would LOVE to stay in any of these lovely library hotels! What a great idea!
In honor of the recent National Libraries Day
featured its picks for "the best Library hotels
including New York City's Library Hotel 
where "each floor of this 60-room Manhattan hotel has been assigned a
category of the Dewey Decimal System and kitted out accordingly. The
eighth floor, for example, is 'Literature' with rooms entitled 'Fairy
Tales,' 'Poetry', and even 'Erotic Literature.' All rooms come with a
range of books, but bibliophiles can also hunker down in the communal
Reading Room or the rooftop Poetry Garden, which offers spectacular
views of New York--if they're not too engrossed in a novel, that is."

These are, indeed, some great jobs that involve books, but many of them don't pay a living wage, which is something that Reading Rainbow neglects to mention. Also, journalism, at least in its print form, is a dead career path. I should know, I am one of many journalists who can't find work anymore because magazines and newspapers aren't paying much of anything, if they pay writers at all, and if they're still actually printing a physical paper instead of just going online. Typsetting is another job listed here that is as dead as Latin.
Reading Rainbow: 'Book-Related Jobs and Hobbies'
"Hey kids (or adults, we don't discriminate), do you LOVE BOOKS? Do you
love books so much that you want to surround yourself with them? Sleep
with them? Swim in them??" asked Reading Rainbow
in a blog post headlined "Book-Related Jobs and Hobbies: How to Surround
Yourself with Books."

Noting that "sometimes when you love books as much as I've described
above, you want to make it official," Reading Rainbow wrote: "Believe it
or not, there are jobs out there that allow book-lovers such as
ourselves to live, breathe, and talk about books all day long.... These
jobs may be book-related, but they aren't all fun and games. These jobs
still require diligence, hard-work, and creativity. But the rewards are
worth it--you get to surround yourself all day long with books, and just
as important, surround yourself with other PEOPLE who love books as much
as you do!"

The Nightingale is Kristin Hannah's 22nd novel, and it's truly a riveting read.
Taking place in Nazi-occupied France in 1939-40, Vianne and Isabelle are two very different sisters who must each make heart-rending decisions to survive during the war. Vianne is mostly concerned with the survival of her daughter, while Isabelle, who is "impetuous" and selfish, feels compelled to take incredible risks to help the French resistance. Here's the blurb:
In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.
FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front.  She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth.  While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can...completely.  But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war.   The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France--a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women.  It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

Perhaps it is because of my age (54) that I found Isabelle not quite as charming as I was meant to, but it seemed to me that she put her sister and her niece at risk of capture, torture and death all too often. I understand being passionate and hating what the evil Nazi troops had done to her home and to her country, but there was little reason, I felt, for Isabelle to be so unconcerned of other's health and happiness.  She seems to be rather like a petulant child who refuses to believe that she's as cruel as she really is. Vianne's warmth and good sense are a fine balance for Isabelle, however, and as the story goes on, we learn about the grueling day to day scramble for survival that was the hallmark of WW2 France. 
Bravery of many kinds are on display, and eventually Isabelle lands herself in a concentration camp. When she's finally released, she manages to once again embrace the man she has loved for years, who rejected her out of fear several times. The ending is gorgeous and worthy of all the tears I'd shed. I've read a number of fictionalized accounts of WW2 and the occupation of France and of Poland and other countries. In fact, I am currently reading another book about Polish sisters trying to survive in Nazi-occupied Poland, while harboring a British pilot (The Winter Guest by Pan Jenoff). But while many of these WW2 novels get bogged down in the horrific details of the war and the cruelty of the Nazis, Hannah manages to avoid that trap with beautiful prose that glides along the gently flowing plot. It's like listening to a symphony perform a classic piece of music for the 20th time. They know it by heart, yet you can enjoy the expertise they bring to the table. A solid A, with the recommendation that history buffs and Francophiles, as well as romance lovers should seek out this lovely novel that turns a horrific subject into something beautiful.

Deadly Spells is Jaye Well's third urban fantasy novel in the Prospero's War series.
As I've written about the first two novels in this series, the characters are nicely drawn, full bodied and realistic, while the plots seethe with action and adventure in the magical slums of the big city. My only real problem with these books has been the excessive use of profanity that made the characters seem stupid, or at least not smart enough to realize that there are other, better words to use. Still, the rest of the prose, the characters and the zingy plots make the novels nearly impossible to resist. I started Deadly Spells this morning around 9:30 am and was finished by 3:30 pm. Other than taking bathroom breaks, and rest stops for food and to clean up a bit, I didn't put the book down the whole time. Here's the blurb:


After the grisly murder of a dirty magic coven leader, Kate Prospero and The Magical Enforcement Agency team up with the local police to find the killer. When a tenacious reporter sticks her nose in both the investigation and Prospero's past in the covens, old ghosts resurface.

As the infighting between covens turns ugly, an all-out war brews in the slums of Babylon..
Deadly Spells is the third novel in the Prospero's War series that started with Dirty Magic and Cursed Moon!

When her commander is in trouble and Kate's brother ends up getting in fights at school to defend his girlfriend against a wealthy young rapist, Kate ends up having plenty of hard choices to make. I loved that she was able to see her old friend Volos for the evil political creep that he is, and I was also glad to see Kate realizing that Morales is a good guy who is interested in more than just sex...he's in love with her and wants a relationship. I was also glad that some things in Kate's past were cleared up, but it was the ending that had me pumping my fists and shouting "heck yeah!" I also have to say that I noticed considerably less swearing and cursing in this book, vs the previous two.  So all around, an A for Deadly Spells, with the recommendation that those who like gritty urban fantasy give this series a go.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Madame Bovary Movie, New Harper Lee Novel, RIP Suzatte Haden Elgin, Shadow Study by Maria V Snyder and Wildalone by Krassi Zourkova

This looks to be an exciting movie adaptation, starring one of the cast of Downton Abbey.
The first trailer has been released for Madame Bovary
a film adaptation of Gustave Flaubert's classic novel, Film & Stage
reported. Directed by Sophie Barthes (Cold Souls), the movie stars Mia
Wasikowska, Rhys Ifans, Paul Giamatti, Ezra Miller, Logan
Marshall-Green, Henry Lloyd-Hughes and Laura Carmichael.
I was thrilled to read that there is a new book coming out that is a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird, called Go Set A Watchman. Unfortunately, author Harper Lee is said to be suffering from a stroke, and isn't able, according to some, to make rational decisions. So her lawyer and publishers are putting out statements attributed to Lee that some doubt came from her, and many are uncertain if she really knows that they are publishing this work that hasn't seen the light of day for 55 years. Still, I will happily read the book when it comes out, no doubt lining the pockets of those same lawyers and publishers.
Rediscovered Harper Lee Novel to Be Published
Harper has acquired North American rights to Go Set a Watchman, a newly
discovered novel by To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee. The book
will be published July 14 this year.

In a statement, Lee said the novel, which she completed in the
mid-1950s, "features the character known as Scout as an adult woman and
I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the
flashbacks to Scout's childhood, persuaded me to write a novel from the
point of view of the young Scout. I was a first-time writer, so I did as
I was told."

After To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, Lee set aside Go Set
a Watchman and never returned to it. The manuscript was unearthed last
fall by Tonja Carter, Lee's lawyer, who found it attached to an original
typescript of To Kill a Mockingbird.

"After much thought and hesitation I shared it with a handful of people
I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of
publication," Lee said. "I am humbled and amazed that this will now be
published after all these years."

Go Set a Watchman features many of the characters from To Kill a
Mockingbird, but is set 20 years later. Scout has returned to Maycomb
from New York to visit her father. She is forced to grapple with issues
both personal and political as she tries to understand her father's
attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she
was born and spent her childhood.

"I, along with millions of others around the world, always wished that
Harper Lee had written another book," said Michael Morrison, president
and publisher of HarperCollins US General Books group and Canada. "And
what a brilliant book this is. I love Go Set a Watchman, and know that
this masterpiece will be revered for generations to come."

Calling the discovery "a remarkable literary event," Jonathan Burnham,
Harper senior v-p and publisher, added that it is "an extraordinary gift
to the many readers and fans of To Kill a Mockingbird. Reading in many
ways like a sequel to Harper Lee's classic novel, it is a compelling and
ultimately moving narrative about a father and a daughter's
relationship, and the life of a small Alabama town living through the
racial tensions of the 1950s."

Early reaction to the news was generally enthusiastic, though doubts
were raised as well
Charles J. Shields, who wrote a biography of Lee, told the New York
Times: "We're going to see what Harper Lee writes like without a strong
editor's hand, when she's, quite honestly, an amateur." The Times also
noted that "some critics and observers were skeptical" of Lee's role in
approving the deal, since the author suffered a stroke in 2007 and has
been living in an assisted living facility. Marja Mills, author of The
Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee, said, "I have some concerns
about statements that have been attributed to her."

But Burnham countered: "We talked to her through her lawyer and friend
Tonja Carter," adding he was "completely confident" Lee understood and
approved of the deal and that speaking directly with her "wasn't

In the Guardian, author Jay Parini summed up a common response to the
discovery: "One rarely gets a high-voltage shock in the literary world
a bolt from the blue.... It's important to celebrate a fine American
novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, which has introduced half a century of
American students to the pleasures of fiction.... It seems unlikely that
the publication of another novel by Harper Lee at this stage will make a
big difference to anyone, although it will certainly find curious eyes,
like my own, eager to read it. And why not?"

This should be interesting, too, since no one has adapted a Steinbeck novel (my favorite classics author) for years, as far as I know.
Literary adaptation wunderkind James Franco has added another book, John
Steinbeck's novel In Dubious Battle
to his growing list of projects. According to the Hollywood Reporter,
Franco "has assembled an all-star cast that includes Selena Gomez,
Vincent D'Onofrio, Robert Duvall, Ed Harris, Bryan Cranston and Danny
McBride" for the film, which has been adapted by Matt Rager (As I Lay
Dying). Principal photography will begin in March.
I remain a huge fan of Elgin's Ozark trilogy and her Native Tongue books, as well as her Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense books, which helped me find ways to defend myself against constant mockery and derision. RIP, Ms Elgin.

Science fiction author and poet Suzette Haden Elgin
who was best known for her Gentle Art of Verbal Self-defense books and
the Native Tongue trilogy, died January 27. She was 78. Locus magazine
noted that Elgin's "interest in linguistics is apparent in her SF,
particularly in the Native Tongue books and A First Dictionary & Grammar
of Laadan (1985), a work of nonfiction about the language she
constructed for the Coyote Jones series. She was widely published as a
linguist as well."

In an Amazing Stories magazine tribute
Severson wrote: "I was profoundly affected by her novel Native Tongue,
which was read and discussed by the Feminist Science Fiction Fantasy &
Utopian Literature ListServ/Bookgroup many years ago, when I was just
rediscovering my love for science fiction. When I discovered science
fiction poetry and the Science Fiction Poetry Association I was delighted to find it had been founded by,this extraordinary writer, linguist and poet." 

JMS is a legend among those of us who were dedicated Babylon 5 fans in the 90s. I imagine he will do the Mars series justice, and I hope to see it soon on TV. 

J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) will write Red Mars
a series based on Kim Stanley Robinson's bestselling trilogy that is
currently in development for Spike TV. reported that the
show "has been on fast-track development at Spike since the network took
in the project in October with HBO's Game of Thrones co-executive
producer Vince Gerardis as producer and Robinson as consultant."

Shadow Study by Maria V Snyder is a very welcome new book in the "Poison Study" series Snyder began years ago. I discovered Snyder through that first book, Poison Study, and I couldn't read everything else she'd written fast enough. Snyder is a talented storyteller and a fantastic writer whose prose flows like liquid gold through the swift river rapids of her plots. But readers really stay with her books for the magnificent characters she creates, who are so real, so fascinating and intelligent that you mourn the fact that you can't meet them outside of the books. Yelena and Valek and Janco and Ari and Opal and the rest of these sublime characters stay with readers long after they've read the last page.I was fortunate enough to win a pre-publication copy of Shadow Study from Ms Snyders Facebook page, and I was thrilled when it arrived on a Monday and I'd read it by Wednesday. The 6th book in this series is a real page-turner, and I loved it. Here's the blurb: 
New York Times bestselling author Maria V. Snyder wowed readers with Poison Study, the unforgettable story of poison taster Yelena. Now she's back with a new tale of intrigue. Once, only her own life hung in the balance…

Oddly enough, when Yelena was a poison taster, her life was simpler. But she'd survived to become a vital part of the balance of power between rival countries Ixia and Sitia. Now she uses her magic to keep the peace in both lands—and protect her relationship with Valek.

Suddenly, though, they are beset on all sides by those vying for power through politics and intrigue. Valek's job and his life are in danger. As Yelena tries to uncover the scope of these plots, she faces a new challenge: her magic is blocked. She must keep that a secret—or her enemies will discover just how vulnerable she really is—while searching for who or what is responsible for neutralizing her powers.

Yes, the days of tasting poisons were much simpler. And certainly not as dangerous.…
Yelena tells one chapter, while Valek tells another, and Janco tells yet another. While the change in perspective is great, I found that it did chop up the plot enough to be a bit jarring at times, but because Snyder is such a skilled writer, the action keeps the change in POV from making the plot lag or sag in the just steams along like a swift train on greased rails. Yelena is such a stubborn character, so smart and compassionate that I enjoy the way that her mind works almost as much as I love the way that Valek, her soul mate, manages to get things done with elegance and stealth. There were flashbacks to his life as a child and during assassins training that were horrifying and fascinating in equal parts, making one admire him even more for having survived. Even the arrival of her gluttonous brother Leif couldn't sour me on the story, though I've not liked him in any of the books where he previously appears (he's too much of a pain in the rump, sexist and none too bright, but he reminds me of my own brother, so I can't complain too much). I don't want to give too much more away, because it would be a shame to spoil the book for other fans. Suffice it to say that this is an A+ novel that I would recommend to anyone who has read Snyders previous books, or even those who haven't, and want to dive into her wonderful fantasy novels for the first time. You won't be disappointed. 

Wildalone by Krassi Zourkova was recommended to me because I'd read some of Anne Rice's vampire novels, and because it was supposed to be a novel that combined myth and mystery, romance and fantasy. Unfortunately, this first novel from Princeton grad Zourkova read like a Greek version of Twilight, which was one of the most detestable novels to be published in the last 25 years. The prose is stilted and amateurish, the plot rambles and at times makes little sense, and the characters are ridiculous and horrible, by turns. Here's the blurb:
In this enchanting and darkly imaginative debut novel full of myth, magic, romance, and mystery, a Princeton freshman is drawn into a love triangle with two enigmatic brothers, and discovers terrifying secrets about her family and herself—a bewitching blend of Twilight, The Secret History, Jane Eyre, and A Discovery of Witches.

Arriving at Princeton for her freshman year, Thea Slavin finds herself alone, a stranger in a strange land. Away from her family and her Eastern European homeland for the first time, she struggles to adapt to unfamiliar American ways and the challenges of college life—including an enigmatic young man whose brooding good looks and murky past intrigue her. Falling into a romantic entanglement with Rhys and his equally handsome and mysterious brother, Jake, soon draws Thea into a sensual mythic underworld as irresistible as it is dangerous.

In this shadow world that seems to mimic Greek mythology and the Bulgarian legends of the Samodivi or “wildalones”—forest witches who beguile and entrap men—she will discover a shocking secret that threatens everything she holds dear. And when the terrifying truth about her own family is revealed, it will transform her forever . . . if she falls under its spell.

Mesmerizing and addictive, The Wildalone is a thrilling blend of the modern and the fantastic. Krassi Zourkova creates an atmospheric world filled with rich characters as fascinating and compelling as those of Diana Gabaldon, Deborah Harkness, and Stephenie Meyer.
Stephanie Meyer is the author of the Twilight series, which was so poorly written I was unable to finish the second book, and I gagged my way through the first book, incensed and disgusted by the idiotic Bella Swan and her dead amour, the vampire Edward.  Zourkova's Thea isn't much brighter than Bella, unfortunately, though Thea is supposedly a music prodigy and had the grades to get into Princeton from her native Bulgaria. She spends very little time studying, though, instead she's bullied into concerts by her professors, and she spends most of her time agonizing over finding the time to practice the piano inbetween obsessing over Rhys, a wealthy jerk who, it turns out, isn't even a student at the college anymore but is, instead, a daemon who was brought back to life by Thea's dead sister who is a Samodivi, a kind of forest witch who, if viewed during her ritual moonlight dance, kills and rips apart the viewer. Apparently, in return for bringing him back to life, Rhys must do whatever Elza, the Samodivi wants once a month during the full moon, and Elza wants to have sex with him, which, while it would normally make him happy, now suddenly repulses him, probably because he can't dominate and control Elza as he can all the other women he's abused in the past, as well as Thea, whom he bullies and treats like crap throughout the novel.  Rhys has a brother whom Thea seems to love as well, Jake, but whom she vacillates back and forth with, the more she learns about Rhys's past with her dead sister. Jake is a huge wimp, unable to stand up to his brother at all, preferring to sneak behind his back with Thea. There is nothing mesmerizing, irresistible or addictive about any of the characters in this book. Thea acts like an idiot who doesn't know her own mind or how to decide between two men, neither of whom is really worth her time, as both treat her like she's a possession that must be purchased, conquered and tamed. Neither seems to have any respect for her as a woman, student or as a musician, only insofar as it effects them and their libido (both make note of the fact that listening to her play the piano makes them "hard.") They abuse her, emotionally and physically, and somehow this is supposed to reflect their love of her, when it only makes her seem stupid and weak to allow herself to be treated this way and to throw away her academic career for these miserable, cruel brothers. Then Zourkova does what even most rookie authors know better than to do, she just leaves the characters hanging at the end, without even a semblance of an actual finale. We have no idea which man Thea has chosen, what happened to Elza the "wildalone" and whether or not Thea is going to continue at Princeton or go running home to Bulgaria whining and crying about Rhys and Jake. I can only assume there will be a sequel to this horrible novel, (which was watered-down mythic romance), that will strive, and probably fail, to answer some of the questions left by the first novel. I won't be reading it, however. I'd give this novel a C- and I would recommend it to those who actually liked trashy Twilight, though the characters in Wildalone aren't as well drawn as Meyers characters.