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.

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