Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Cost of Being a Bibliophile, Amazon's Takeover of South Lake Union in Seattle, the Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen, The Witch of Painted Sorrows by MJ Rose, and Prudence by Gail Carriger

The cost of my book addiction? I spent at least a thousand dollars last year on books. I figure I've been reading an average of 200 books a year for the past 50 years (I started reading when I was 4, and I am 54 now) so that comes out to 10,000 books I have read so far. I have probably spent at least $25K on books in my lifetime. So yeah, that amounts to something, especially for just one bibliophile. 

Seattle's South Lake Union has become a hotbed of Geekery since Amazon decided to build some very spiffy offices there, and create a transportation system for their workers. 
Amazon's lease of a full city block in Seattle's South Lake Union
neighborhood, next to its headquarters, "puts the firm on track to
eventually occupy about 10 million square feet
in downtown Seattle--or one-fourth of the market's inventory of premium
office space," the Seattle Times reported. On Tuesday, the company
confirmed it will move into 817,000 square feet at Troy Block, a
two-building complex.

"We've agreed to lease the Troy Block and we're really excited to
continue growing our urban campus in the heart of Seattle," John
Schoettler, Amazon director of global real estate and facilities.

Amazon's "rapid growth has put pressure on rents for offices and
apartments in the area, even as it's ignited an unprecedented boom in
apartment construction," the Seattle Times wrote.

"Every Seattle office tenant who has negotiated a lease in the last
couple of years has felt the 'Amazon Effect,' " said tenant broker Brian
Hayden of Flinn Ferguson. "The rate at which Amazon has been absorbing
space has had a significant effect on Seattle's overall vacancy rate,
which increases landlord confidence and puts upward pressure on rents." 

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen is the 5th book of hers that I've read, and enjoyed. Allen's books are similar to Alice Hoffman's, in that they all contain an element of magical realism, and all have female protagonists attempting to deal with their powers of one sort or another in the real world. Here's the blurb:

It’s the dubious distinction of thirty-year-old Willa Jackson to hail from a fine old Southern family of means that met with financial ruin generations ago. The Blue Ridge Madam—built by Willa’s great-great-grandfather and once the finest home in Walls of Water, North Carolina—has stood for years as a monument to misfortune and scandal. Willa has lately learned that an old classmate—socialite Paxton Osgood—has restored the house to its former glory, with plans to turn it into a top-flight inn. But when a skeleton is found buried beneath the property’s lone peach tree, long-kept secrets come to light, accompanied by a spate of strange occurrences throughout the town. Thrust together in an unlikely friendship, united by a full-blooded mystery, Willa and Paxton must confront the passions and betrayals that once bound their families—and uncover the truths that have transcended time to touch the hearts of the living.
Allen's prose is addictive, so refreshingly clean and smooth that it glides along the greased rails of the finely tuned plot like a bullet train to happytown. Her books are easy, delightful reads that are replete with characters that most readers will recognize and feel comfortable with right away. In this instance, Willa has settled in her hometown to try and outlive her past reputation as a prankster and general ne'er do well. She encounters Paxton Osgood's brother Colin, and from then on, it's a race to see who will find true love first, Pax and Sebastian, whom everyone assumed was gay in high school because he dressed nicely, or Willa and Colin, who has tried to stay as far away from his hometown and its obligations as possible. Though Paxton's character is more than a little obsessive-compulsive, and her beloved Sebastian is more than perfect, the mystery of whose bones are found under the peach tree next to the "Madam", an old family estate that Paxton has refurbished, keeps the burgeoning love affairs from getting too Harlequin-romance-novelish. Though you can read this novel in a day, I'd still give it an A for excellent storytelling, strong female protagonists and grumpy grannies with secrets. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys "cozy" mysteries, chick lit, or wants a fun, relaxing read.

The Witch of Painted Sorrows by MJ Rose is a glorious, gorgeous novel of turn of the (20th) century Paris, redolent with beauty; beautiful characters, classic paintings, elegant clothing and the sparkle of France surrounded with the flowing, curvacious lines of Art Nouveau. Frankly, I've been in love with MJ Roses paranormal mystery-romance-suspense-thrillers since reading Seduction, the Book of Lost Fragrances and the Collector of Dying Breaths, all riveting reading. So it was with high hopes that I got my copy of The Witch of Painted Sorrows last week, and once I turned the first page, I was unable to put it down. Here's what I said in my Goodreads review:I was in raptures when I got this book in the mail, because I have loved all of MJ Roses recent novels of paranormal romance and suspense. This novel was thoroughly engrossing, with prose so evocative that I started reading it this morning and finished it this afternoon.The plot was breathtakingly swift, and the characters beautifully full bodied and intriguing. My only problem with the whole novel was the ending.
I was saddened that Sandrine was unable to rid herself of the witch, and that in the end, she felt it necessary and right to allow herself to be possessed by La Luna. Most possessed people in myth, legend and historical reference become insane and die young, and none lead a happy, fulfilling life. How can Sandrine still be inside herself when she's hag-ridden by a 300 year old prostitute? She intimates that none of her work is her own, by the end, so I don't see how this can be an HEA for the protagonist when she's just a vessel and her body contains someone else's soul. I can't imagine Julien would be too thrilled, either. But readers don't get to know what his response will be to Sandrine's revelation at the end.
Here's the book blurb from B&N: 
Possession. Power. Passion. New York Times bestselling novelist M. J. Rose creates her most provocative and magical spellbinder yet in this gothic novel set against the lavish spectacle of 1890s Belle Époque Paris.
Sandrine Salome flees New York for her grandmother’s Paris mansion to escape her dangerous husband, but what she finds there is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is mysteriously closed up. Although her grandmother insists it’s dangerous for Sandrine to visit, she defies her and meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing young architect. Together they explore the hidden night world of Paris, the forbidden occult underground and Sandrine’s deepest desires.
Among the bohemians and the demi-monde, Sandrine discovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. Then darker influences threaten—her cold and cruel husband is tracking her down and something sinister is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She’s become possessed by La Lune: A witch, a legend, and a sixteenth-century courtesan, who opens up her life to a darkness that may become a gift or a curse.
This is Sandrine’s “wild night of the soul,” her odyssey in the magnificent city of Paris, of art, love, and witchery.
Though I didn't like the ending, I still thoroughly enjoyed the book, and I look forward to Rose's next paranormal thriller. An A is the only grade one could possibly give such an evocative novel.  I would recommend it to anyone who loves historical romance, paranormal romance or suspense.

Prudence, the Custard Protocol: Book One by Gail Carriger is the 9th book of hers that I've read, and adored. Carriger's Steampunk world of Imperialist London and Europe is always so thrilling, bursting with werewolves, vampires, zeppelin airships and all manner of mechanical wonders. Then there's Prudence herself, the daughter of an Alpha werewolf and Lord, and a mother who is "Soulless," able to turn paranormals human at a touch. This has allowed Prudence the ability to "borrow" supernatural shape-shifting abilities from werewolves, werecats, weremonkies and vampires, again at a touch. While one would think that her parents and her foster father, Lord Akeldama the vampire, would be loathe to send her on a dangerous mission while she's still a teenager, they decide to use her as a secret agent anyway, and off she goes in her bespoke airship, the Spotted Custard, to India to solve the mystery and kidnapping of a general's wife by weremonkies. Here's the blurbs:
The new arc of the Parasol Protectorate steampunk series when Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama (a.k.a. Rue) takes off on a dirigible jaunt to India for, you guessed it, a cup of tea. This being a Gail Carriger (Waistcoats and Weaponry; Timeless) novel, her search for the perfect pekoe is soon interrupted by a dawning local rebellion, a significant kidnapping, werewolves, and some embarrassing wardrobe problems, none of which seem to fluster Rue or her pristine gal pal Primrose Tunstell. Definitely worth the ride; editor's recommendation. Barnes and Noble
Publishers Weekly
Carriger (Waistcoats and Weaponry) introduces fans of her Parasol Protectorate world to the next generation of madcap supernatural entities with the fluffy first Custard Protocol novel. Twenty-year-old Prudence “Rue” Akeldama and her best friend, Primrose Tunstell, have grown up in a version of Victorian England filled with vampires and werewolves. Rue, who can borrow the traits of any supernatural creature she touches, yearns for excitement and leaps at the chance to journey to India in search of a superior type of tea for her adoptive father, a wealthy vampire. She and her friends set off on a gaudy dirigible, only to run headfirst into danger, intrigue, and local politics. In a madcap adventure of manners, Rue veers from one threat to the next, always trying to maintain her dignity and composure. Fortunately for her, there’s never any sense of real danger. Carriger maintains a droll, tongue-in-cheek tone, and her protagonists are as concerned with witty banter and fashionable hats as they are with fighting for their lives. Series fans will enjoy this mischievous romp, which revisits old favorites while raising a new crop of charming characters.
I found some of the fussiness exhibited by Prim, Rue's best friend, to be trying, mainly because fainting young women stall the plot a bit. However, Rue's flirtation with Quesnel, Madam LeFou's son, make up for the fussiness quite nicely. I've found that reading Carriger always makes me head for my tea-maker and a nice cuppa. This particular book was no exception, and I was delighted by the discovery of a werelioness and the weremonkies. I look forward to the next book in the series, which I imagine will be just as much fun to read as this one. An A, and a recommendation to those who like dry British wit, tea and fascinating supernatural characters.

Friday, March 20, 2015

LOC Prize for Erdrich, B&N's New Bags, Saul Bellow, Bittersweet by Colleen McCullough, Wicked Business by Janet Evanovich, and Along For the Ride by Sarah Dessen

Congratulations to a wonderful author!
Author/bookseller Louise Erdrich has won the Library of Congress Prize
for American Fiction, which will be awarded at the National Book
Festival in Washington, D.C., on September 5, the New York Times
reported. The award recognizes writers with "unique, enduring voices"
whose work deals with the American experience. Erdrich is the author of
Love Medicine, The Round House and Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country,
among other books, and owner of Birchbark Books and Native Arts

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said that Erdrich "has
portrayed her fellow Native Americans as no contemporary American
novelist ever has. Her prose manages to be at once lyrical and gritty,
magical yet unsentimental, connecting a dream world of Ojibwe legend to
stark realities of the modern-day."

I want one of these bags in a bad way.

B&N's New Bags Feature Classics' First Pages
 Barnes & Noble has redesigned its shopping bags
to feature the text of the first pages of classic books such as Moby
Dick, The Wizard of Oz, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Alice in
Wonderland, according to Ad Age's Creativity, which commented: "The
designs are meant to promote Barnes & Noble as a physical destination
that provides a tactile shopping experience--part of which is the act of
leaving with a shopping bag."

"The bag serves as advertisement and reminder of the bookstore and thus
is an essential part of the brand's communications," Sagi Haviv, a
partner at Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, the design firm that created
the bags, commented. "However, this new shopping bag series does more
than promote the brand itself; it reflects the love of books and itself
provides a book experience--you can even start reading them on the way
B&N will begin distributing bags to its stores this month.

From Shelf Awareness on a new book about Saul Bellow: 
"Some essays are on Jewish writers: Sholom Aleichem (the "great Jewish
humorist"); Ben Hecht, "who roars like an old-fashioned lion"; Abraham
Cahan; and Bellow's good friend Philip Roth. In a 1959 piece on Goodbye,
Columbus, he calls the young Roth "skillful, witty, and energetic... a
virtuoso," and Bellow tended to be harsh on contemporary writers. His
favorites were the past masters Tolstoy, Mann, Proust and
Conrad--another immigrant writer. For Bellow, the most important element
in a novel (that "latter-day lean-to, a hovel in which the spirit takes
shelter," as he described it in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech) was
the "stature of characters." Bellow frequently commented on the absence
of such in modern literature. Two essays, more than 40 years apart, are
about Ralph Ellison: "He had a great deal to teach me."
Ah, the struggles only a bibliophile knows:
Bittersweet by Colleen McCullough was her last published novel before she died recently. I bought the novel because I gathered that it was a historical romance set after WW1 in Australia. What I didn't realize until I got the book was that it was written in passive construction and in an omniscient POV, so, though the characters were interesting, it was a tough slog through sticky prose in a slow, meandering plot. Here's the blurb:
Colleen McCullough’s new, romantic Australian novel about four unforgettable sisters taking their places in life during the tumultuous years after World War I is “just as epic as her ultra-romantic classic, The Thorn Birds” (Marie Claire).
Because they are two sets of twins, the four Latimer sisters are as close as can be. Yet each of these vivacious young women has her own dream for herself: Edda wants to be a doctor, Grace wants to marry, Tufts wants never to marry, and Kitty wishes to be known for something other than her beauty. They are famous throughout New South Wales for their beauty, wit, and ambition, but as they step into womanhood at the beginning of the twentieth century, life holds limited prospects for them.
Together they decide to enroll in a training program for nurses—a new option for women of their time. As the Latimer sisters become immersed in hospital life and the demands of their training, each must make weighty decisions about love, career, and what she values most. The results are sometimes happy, sometimes heartbreaking, but always…bittersweet.
Set against the background of a young and largely untamed nation, “filled with humor, insight, and captivating historical detail, McCullough’s latest is a wise and warm tribute to family, female empowerment, and her native land” (People).
 Though I found the sisters Latimer fascinating by various degrees, I thought their continual indecision, their waffling and petty cruelties and their horrible mother's interference in their lives to be off-putting. I loved the backdrop of the Australian hospital and the way it was run at the time, with so little money, by turns funny and fascinating.  I did have a hard time understanding the constant whining of the most beautiful sister, Kitty, about her beauty. All women struggle, and have throughout history, to be taken seriously and to be valued for more than their bodies and their looks. For her to be so horribly set against her looks that she was willing to maim or kill herself seemed a bit hysterical and ridiculous. Her sister Edda was the opposite, in that she let nothing phase her and was willing to enter into a marriage with a homosexual but wealthy man in order to get to medical school and become a surgeon. I also found the character of Grace to be annoying, as once she gets what she wants and marries a salesman, she discovers that when he's laid off, and she has to manage a home and raise and feed children on her own, she's incapable of taking charity or working, so she kvetches and rails against her fate until her husband commit suicide. Then, suddenly, she makes a total turnabout in character and goes to her sister's wealthy husband and begs him to give her money enough to start over in America and a stipend for her family so she doesn't have to work. Even after Kitty divorces/leaves this possessive troll of a husband, we are to believe that he still provides for Grace and her children. I found that unbelievable, almost as much as "Tufts" the scientific sister not wanting to marry or even have an affair with the man she obviously loves. I didn't find the book warm or wise, I found it bizarre and turgid. Still, I would give it a B-, and recommend it to those who find Australian history and love stories told between 1920-1934 interesting.

I found a copy of Janet Evanovich's Wicked Business at Goodwill during their 50% off sale, and though I have never been a fan of popular "Bestseller" authors who churn out several books a year, all formulaic, mostly mysteries with the same central sleuth, I picked this up because it was her first attempt at a paranormal romantic mystery, and I love good paranormal romance. This, however, was not good paranormal romance, it was a complete disaster. The prose is simplistic, not in a clear and concise way, but in a condescending fashion that really hacked me off by the second chapter. The characters are too stupid to live, especially the main character, Lizzy Tucker, who spends most of her time baking and b*tching and moaning about her partner, Diesel, whom she drools over constantly (not in an adult way, more like a Catholic schoolgirl way, where you almost expect her to draw hearts on her notebook with their initials in it) and who is supposed to be helping her solve the mystery of an ancient book of sonnets in order to get the "Luxuria" stone, just one of a set of stones each based on one of the seven deadly sins. Luxuria is, of course, Lust, and that provides the author with a host of jokes and asides that are so adolescent, they have pimples. Lizzy and Diesel actually help their nemesis Wulf and his ridiculous minion Hatchet, who talks in faux-medieval style and is, like everyone else, a complete rube, brainless and foppish. The book comes with two stickers, yes, you read that right, stickers, in the back of the book, but the book itself was such an abomination, with a transparent plot and idiotic characters, that no one thought to remove the stickers, probably out of embarrassment that they'd bought it in the first place. The book doesn't even have a decent ending, it just stops, with the characters having done nothing lasting, nor having solved the mystery or completed their ridiculous quest. If I were the kind of person to burn books (I'm not) I'd set a match to this piece of crap in a heartbeat. As it is, I just have to give it a D- and recommend that any reader with an IQ above 50 stay far away from this abomination. I doubt that I will ever touch another Janet Evanovich novel again.

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen was another book that I got at the Goodwill sale, and fortunately, it made up for the foul taste that Wicked Business left in my mouth. Here is the blurb:
Studious good girl Auden, named for the poet, makes a snap decision to spend her summer before college at her father's beach house rather than with her mother, a professor whose bad habits include male grad students. Auden's parents divorced three years earlier, a split she's not yet over. Her remarried father has already produced another heir, a colicky baby named Thisbe (after a tragic figure from Shakespeare), with his young wife, Heidi, who owns a boutique. Feeling sympathy for stressed-out Heidi, Auden agrees to do the shop's bookkeeping, providing her with an instant social circle-the teenage clerks plus the boys from the neighboring bike rental, including hunky, wounded Eli. Both night owls, Auden and Eli bond when he coaxes her to experience childhood activities-bowling, food fights, learning to ride a bike-that her insufferable parents never bothered to provide. Auden's thoughtful observations make for enjoyable reading-this is solid if not "top shelf" Dessen: another summer of transformation in which the heroine learns that growing up means "propelling yourself forward, into whatever lies ahead, one turn of the wheel at a time." Publisher's Weekly.
Want a change from fictional neckbiters and backbiters? Welcome Auden West, a studious good girl about to be sun-kissed…Confiding and dry-witted, Auden's voice is like listening to your best bud while splitting a carton of Haagen-Dazs. Author Sarah Dessen beautifully captures that sense of summer as a golden threshold between past regrets and future unknowns, a time that shimmers with the sweet promise of now.
—The Washington Post 
I was surprised that Along for the Ride was so well written and that Auden, the protagonist, was such an intelligent and compassionate young woman. She is, in fact, more mature than her squabbling parents, especially her father, who seems to want the joy of children without the work or time it takes to raise them. Her mother is cold, calculating and controlling, and at the same time has an immature desire to know the details of her ex-husbands new marriage so that she can gloat about what a terrible parent he is/was/will be. Auden manages to rise above most of the fray, and eventually she gets her immature father to realize that he's missing out on the life of his baby daughter, just as he's missed out on most of her life. The parts of the book where Eli shows Auden the secret cafe within the laundromat, and where they go on overnight adventures was sublime. I enjoyed Auden's blossoming, and her instinct to help those in need was lovely and heartfelt. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to those who enjoy a good coming of age YA novel.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Above Us Only Sky by Michele Young-Stone and Stone of Destiny, Amazon Across America

I've just finished reading "Above Us Only Sky" by Michele Young-Stone:
From the author of The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, which Library Journal called, “ripe for Oprah or fans of Elizabeth Berg or Anne Tyler,” comes a magical novel about a family of women separated by oceans, generations, and war, but connected by something much greater—the gift of wings.
On March 29, 1973, Prudence Eleanor Vilkas was born with a pair of wings molded to her back. Considered a birth defect, her wings were surgically removed, leaving only the ghost of them behind.
At fifteen years old, confused and unmoored, Prudence meets her long-estranged Lithuanian grandfather and discovers a miraculous lineage beating and pulsing with past Lithuanian bird-women, storytellers with wings dragging the dirt, survivors perched on radio towers, lovers lit up like fireworks, and heroes disguised as everyday men and women. Prudence sets forth on a quest to discover her ancestors, to grapple with wings that only one other person can see, and ultimately, to find out where she belongs.
Above Us Only Sky spans the 1863 January Uprising against Russian Tsarist rule in Eastern Europe to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Lithuania gaining its independence in 1991. It is a story of mutual understanding between the old and young; it is a love story; a story of survival, and most importantly a story about where we belong in the world.
I found the storytelling in this novel about WW2 Lithuania and the people that inhabited the small towns to be fascinating. The prose was a bit clunky in spots, but the strong characters more than made up for that, and the plot was regular as a railroad, so it all worked out well. I'd give it a B+, with the recommendation for those who enjoy historical fiction and magic realism, as well as war stories, to give the book a shot.
Stone of Destiny, with Robert Carlyle, Kate Mara and Charlie Cox was a delightful film about a group of young Scottish university students who, in the grip of nationalism in the 1950s, decide to steal the Stone Of Scone (also called the Stone of Destiny) back from the English who absconded with it 600 years ago. It is based on fact, which allows for a delightful "making of" segment after the film in which we meet the real Ian Hamilton. Here's the brief blurb:Prolific actor/director Charles Martin Smith takes the helm for this lighthearted adventure comedy recounting the theft of the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey. Based on the memoirs of Ian Hamilton, Stone of Destiny follows the determined student's reckless quest to make the ultimate symbolic gesture for Scottish independence. Charlie Cox stars in a film featuring Robert Carlyle, Billy Boyd, Stephen McCole, and Kate Mara.

Shipping Brown Boxes Across the Universe'

"Amazon was a fabulous company to be at. I learned so much. That's the
smartest team I've ever worked with. It grew me as an individual. But,
really, what I'm doing is helping ship brown boxes across the universe.
Is that useful to the world? I wanted the opportunity to give something

--Greg Russell who is leaving Amazon, where he oversaw corporate
applications, enterprise data warehouse and IT, to become chief
information officer for the Seattle Police Department, as quoted in the
SPD Blotter

Yet another time that I wish I could visit NYC!

On St. Patrick's Day, next Tuesday, March 17, the Irish Arts Center in New York City will "take to the streets to introduce and re-introduce New Yorkers to some of Ireland's
most celebrated writers" by giving away thousands of free books to
commuters and schoolchildren at transit hubs across the city.

At 7 a.m., volunteers will start handing out the books--hundreds of
titles--and keep going until the books run out. This is the fifth year
the Irish Arts Center is celebrating St. Patrick's Day in this way.

Poet Jane Hirshfield noted: “Poetry offers "new ways of perceiving" in complex and interconnected  ways, she argues. The poet sees or hears or feels something and, in an act of the imagination, uses the tools of craft--words, images and form--to turn it into something previously unsaid and unknown. Each
reader in turn re-creates the poet's imaginative experience. A poem
changes us because experience changes us, and so poetry provokes new
reactions to the familiar objects and concerns of life, connecting
writer and reader and showing both how to see or hear or feel.

Monday, March 09, 2015

POTUS Gives a Stirring Speech, Infinity Bell by Devon Monk, The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen and Siege Winter by Arianna Franklin and Samantha Norman

President Barak Obama gave a stirring speech on the bridge in Alabama this past week to commemorate Bloody Sunday, a march for the right for African Americans to vote 50 years ago in 1965. The wonderful Jane Yolen was moved to write a poem about it. I wish I had her talent, because I watched his speech and sobbed, it was brilliant and perfect for the moment. Here is the link to the speech and transcript:
Here's Yolen's poem:
Barack on the Bridge
There is no wind today
making the flag furl,
but his words lift us up,
let us soar.

There are no guns today,
no batons, or dogs,
but his voice shields
the memory.
There is no blood today,
no splintered bone,
but his speech gives us courage
and the nerve to use it.
Not the mountain top, perhaps.
but here in the valley,
this crevice moment,
this crevasse of history,
when we need it most,
fifty years forgotten,
words molten in his mouth,
Barack is on the bridge.
©2015 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Infinity Bell by Devon Monk is the second book in her "House Immortal" series, which is based on the book Frankenstein, or a Modern Promethius by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. It's actually a kind of re-telling or reboot, of that story in a dystopian world where the science fiction of bringing people back to life by putting their consciousness into a different body, one that has been stitched together out of parts of corpses, is reality. They call the stitched people the "galvanized" and they are, for the most part, immortal, unless they are assaulted with "Shelley dust" which disintegrates them at the molecular level. Here's the blurb:
Return to national bestselling author Devon Monk's heart-pounding House Immortal series, where eleven powerful Houses control the world and all its resources. But now, the treaty between them has been broken, and no one—not even the immortal galvanized—is safe....
Matilda Case isn’t normal. Normal people aren’t stitched together, inhumanly strong, and ageless, as she and the other galvanized are. Normal people’s bodies don’t hold the secret to immortality—something the powerful Houses will kill to possess. And normal people don’t know that they’re going to die in a few days.
Matilda’s fight to protect the people she loves triggered a chaotic war between the Houses and shattered the world’s peace. On the run, she must find a way to stop the repeat of the ancient time experiment that gifted her and the other galvanized with immortality. Because this time, it will destroy her and everything she holds dear.
Caught in a cat-and-mouse game of lies, betrayal, and unseen foes, Matilda must fight to save the world from utter destruction. But time itself is her enemy, and every second brings her one step closer to disaster....
The second novel has a plot so swift that if you stop reading you fear you'll miss some of the action as it rushes past like raging rapids. Tilly has to get her love Abraham to safety and then find a way to heal him, and in the meantime, figure out how to dodge all the heads of Houses who are after her and her genius brother Quintin. Fortunately, Quintin knows how to send her back in time to repair the rift that caused the galvanized to exist, while killing so many others. Tilly has to take back a revised equation and save them all. Unfortunately, she has very little time to do it in, as the Houses are closing in, and they want Quintin to be enslaved to them, while they want Tilly and Abraham dead or enslaved or caged. Tilly discovers that she can only go back in time by entering the body of a child in 1910, and then discovers that, after changing the equation, things are still not quite right back home. As usual, Monk's prose is clean and crisp and her characters brilliant and fascinating. I can hardly wait for the third book, coming out in September. A solid A, with a recommendation to anyone who enjoys steampunk and retellings of classic stories.
I found a copy of The Sugar Queen at Goodwill during their 40 percent off sale, and I was thrilled, because I've enjoyed all 4 of Allen's other books that I've read in the past. There are two other novels of hers that I would like to get copies of, so that I can say I've read her entire ouvre, but money is a bit tight right now, so I will have to try and find used copies. The Sugar Queen, however, proved to be a lush and lovely novel about a lonely young woman, Josey, who has been cowed into taking care of her disgruntled, mean old mother. The highlight of her day is the arrival of the mailman, Adam, who is a disabled ski bum afraid to move out of his comfort zone because of his accident. Meanwhile, Della Lee Baker, who, it turns out, is Josey's half sister ( Josey's father apparently had multiple affairs and bastard children) shows up in Josey's closet, where she hides her sugary snacks, and proceeds to work to change Josey's life for the better. Chloe, whom it turns out is also a half sister, meets up with Josey at a time when she, too, is vulnerable and struggling to figure out whether to forgive her beloved for an indiscretion. Here's the blurb: In this irresistible novel, Sarah Addison Allen, author of the New York Times bestselling debut, Garden Spells, tells the tale of a young woman whose family secrets—and secret passions—are about to change her life forever.
Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds her closet harboring Della Lee Baker, a local waitress who is one part nemesis—and two parts fairy godmother. With Della Lee’s tough love, Josey’s narrow existence quickly expands. She even bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who is hounded by books that inexplicably appear when she needs them—and who has a close connection to Josey’s longtime crush. Soon Josey is living in a world where the color red has startling powers, and passion can make eggs fry in their cartons. And that’s just for starters.
Brimming with warmth, wit, and a sprinkling of magic, here is a spellbinding tale of friendship, love—and the enchanting possibilities of every new day.
 I love the way that Allen blends magic into the everyday happenings in her books, so that these paranormal romances seem more like magic realism in genre. I was especially envious of Chloe's ability to have books appear around her all the time, whenever she needed them. They were like ducks imprinted on her, and they responded to her talking to them and threatening them, like they were sentient creatures. What a delightful, longed-for ability! (For me as a bibliophile, anyway. Chloe doesn't seem too fond of the books that follow her around). All of Allen's books have HEAs, thank heaven, and her prose is mesmerizing. The plots of her books all move at a swift pace, and I've yet to find one of her novels that isn't a page turner that keeps me up at all hours to finish it. A well deserved A, with the recommendation to all who enjoy good stories interwoven with magic and love.
The Siege Winter by the late Arianna Franklin and finished by her daughter Samantha Norman, was not, to my sorrow, the last Mistress of the Art of Death book. I had really enjoyed that series, written by Franklin (the pen name of Diana Norman) about a 12th century woman who was a trained doctor and the first medical examiner/coroner in England. So it was with a heavy heart that I read the first 50 pages, realizing that this was about the politics of 12th century England and the wars that raged at the time. All the political and social details of living in a castle under siege really slowed down the first 75 pages, too, but fortunately, by page 100, things have picked up and the novel proceeds apace. Here is the blurb:
England, 1141. The countryside is devastated by a long civil war that has left thousands dead. With no clear winner in the conflict, castles and villages change hands from month to month as the English king, Stephen, and his cousin, the empress Matilda, battle for the crown.
Emma is the eleven-year-old redheaded daughter of a peasant family. When mercenaries pass through their town, they bring with them a monk with a deadly interest in young redheaded girls. Left for dead in a burned-out church, Emma is one more victim in a winter of atrocities until another mercenary, Gwil, an archer, finds her by chance. Barely alive, she cannot remember her name or her life before the attack. Unable to simply abandon her, Gwil takes her with him, dressing her as a boy to avoid attention. Emma becomes Penda—and Penda turns out to have a killer instinct with a bow and arrow. But Gwil becomes uneasily aware that the monk who hurt his protégée is still out there, and that a scrap of a letter Emma was found clutching could be very valuable to the right person . . . or the wrong one.
Maud is the fifteen-year-old chatelaine of Kenniford, a small but strategically important castle she's determined to protect as the war rages around them. But when Maud provides refuge for the empress, Stephen's armies lay siege to Kenniford Castle and Maud must prove that she's every bit the leader her father was. Aided by a garrison of mercenaries— including Gwil and his odd, redheaded apprentice—they must survive a long winter under siege. It's a brutal season that brings everyone to Kenniford, from kings to soldiers to the sinister monk who has never stopped hunting the redheaded girl . . .
Penda and Gwil's story is the most riveting, of course, and while that of Lady Maud and Alan is interesting, the common people had more of a story to tell, in this case. Penda is actually a girl who was gang raped and nearly killed by a serial-killer pedophilic monk whose taste for red-headed children to rape and murder can never be fully asuaged. Though he is kept at a distance for much of the book, when he finally comes into the castle with Penda and Gwil, I was horrified and yet certain that he would get his comuppance, if not at the hand of Gwil, then most certainly at the hands of Penda. I was glad that the Empress and Maud both were able to survive and thrive, and I was glad that Maud's disgusting husband (and his grotesque mistress) died terrible deaths. But I was unsurprised when William turned out to be...well, that would be a spoiler. So I will just give this book a B+, and recommend it to those who love English history and stories of triumph over tragedy.

Friday, March 06, 2015

RIP Leonard Nimoy, Book Prizes, Shakespeare and Co Website, Friendship by Emily Gould and Miss You Most of All by Elizabeth Bass

Having been a Star Trek fan for all 50 years of it's existence, I was sad to read of the death of Leonard Nimoy, a talented actor who played Mr Spock on the original series with such deftness. As noted, though, he did, indeed, live long and prosper. I read two of the books that he wrote, and found them nicely written and full of good humor.

Obituary Note: Leonard Nimoy
 As most of the universe knows by now, Leonard Nimoy, best known for
playing Mr. Spock on Star Trek, died on Friday. He was 83. Happily, he lived long and

A man of many talents and interests beyond the role that defined him to
the public, Nimoy wrote two memoirs: I Am Not Spock, which appeared in
1977, followed by I Am Spock (1995). He also published several volumes
of poetry that were illustrated with photographs he took. A Lifetime of
Love: Poems on the Passage of Life was published in 2002. He also
published several books of photography, including Shekhina (2005), a
collection of pictures with a spiritual, Jewish theme, and The Full Body
Project (2007), featuring his photos of full-bodied (Plus sized) women.

I love most modern Shakespeare adaptations for movies, they're usually so creative and fascinating, and having met Ethan Hawke, I can only imagine this stellar cast will rock Cymbeline.
"Shakespeare gets rocked" in a new trailer for Cymbeline
starring Ethan Hawke. Indiewire reported that director Michael Almereyda
(Hamlet) "once again dips into the Bard's work, and rounds up Ethan
Hawke, Ed Harris, Milla Jovovich, John Leguizamo, Penn Badgley, Dakota
Johnson, Anton Yelchin, Bill Pullman, Delroy Lindo and Kevin Corrigan
for this tale of a brutal battle between corrupt cops and a biker gang."
Cymbeline will be released in theaters and to VOD March 13.

I have long been a fan of Maggie Atwood, and LeVar Burton, as well as TC Boyle.
So I am glad that they're all being recognized for their good works.

Poets & Writers magazine announced that Margaret Atwood, Cheryl
Boyce-Taylor and Christopher Castellani have won the 2015 Barnes & Noble
which recognizes "authors who have given generously to other writers or
to the broader literary community." Barbara Epler, president and
publisher of New Directions, will receive this year's Editor's Award.
The winners will be honored March 23 in New York City at Poets &
Writers' annual benefit dinner, In Celebration of Writers.

Finalists in 10 categories have been named for the 35th annual Los
Angeles Times Book Prizes, which will be awarded April 18 on the eve of the L.A. Times Festival of Books.
This year's Innovator's Award goes to LeVar Burton "for inspiring
generations of readers with Reading Rainbow." The winner of the Robert
Kirsch Award for Lifetime Achievement is author T.C. Boyle, whose
"stature within our community is unique, from the breadth of his novels
and stories to his engagement with his students and role as a mentor,"
said Times book critic David L. Ulin.

Visiting Shakespeare and Company would be one of the very few reasons I would ever visit France, but now I can have some of the experience by shopping at their online store, which they so eloquently discuss here:
"Here, you're not likely to find cut-rate bargains, but you may find
something you didn't even know you were seeking, like a rare title
recommended by our biblio-insatiable staff. Or you may discover a first
edition that we ourselves discovered in a private collection, a book
hitherto tucked onto a shelf of an elegant Parc Monceau flat. Or you may
read on our blog about a singer/songwriter's passion for Swedish
literature and then decide to sample a new author or two.

"In return for your online purchase, we'll endeavor to give your books
that certain je ne sais quoi. It could be with the bookstore's official
stamp, a vintage postcard of Paris we found in a second-hand book, or a
pocket-sized poem typed by a Tumbleweed at the desk looking onto
Notre-Dame. Each package will be carefully, beautifully boxed and
shipped, sent like a message in a bottle to you or perhaps to a friend,
a message of warmth and solidarity that wherever you may be, in whatever
town or city, there's always a home for readers and literary wanderers
at Shakespeare and Company."

--The Shakespeare & Company, Paris, France, blog announcing the store's

I love cats, and this book trailer is pretty adorable:
Cat Out of Hell: A Novel
by Lynn Truss (Melville House), a trailer that features a fake
investigative news report shot at the Meow Parlour, which is the cat
cafe located on Hester Street in New York City. In it, some very cute
Cats Rights Activists protest the book, because it portrays cats as
evil--until the author herself arrives to quell their anger.

Friendship by Emily Gould was recommended by either Book Riot or one of the other book pages that I follow on Facebook. It was mentioned as a riveting read, and while I can't say that I found it enjoyable, it was well-written enough that I felt compelled to finish it.
Here's the blurb:
A novel about two friends learning the difference between getting older and growing up
Bev Tunney and Amy Schein have been best friends for years; now, at thirty, they’re at a crossroads. Bev is a Midwestern striver still mourning a years-old romantic catastrophe. Amy is an East Coast princess whose luck and charm have too long allowed her to cruise through life. Bev is stuck in circumstances that would have barely passed for bohemian in her mid-twenties: temping, living with roommates, drowning in student-loan debt. Amy is still riding the tailwinds of her early success, but her habit of burning bridges is finally catching up to her. And now Bev is pregnant.
     As Bev and Amy are dragged, kicking and screaming, into real adulthood, they have to face the possibility that growing up might mean growing apart.
     Friendship, Emily Gould’s debut novel, traces the evolution of a friendship with humor and wry sympathy. Gould examines the relationship between two women who want to help each other but sometimes can’t help themselves; who want to make good decisions but sometimes fall prey to their own worst impulses; whose generous intentions are sometimes overwhelmed by petty concerns.
     This is a novel about the way we speak and live today; about the ways we disappoint and betray one another. At once a meditation on the modern meaning of maturity and a timeless portrait of the underexamined bond that exists between friends, this exacting and truthful novel is a revelation.
Gould's protagonists are both shallow, stupid, immoral people whom I loathed after the first two chapters. When Bev becomes pregnant, Amy gets cruel and jealous and begins to deteriorate further into selfish narcisism. Then Bev and Amy (but moreso Bev) befriend a wealthy socialite who wants a part-time baby, and is willing to pay Bev for the privilege,  Amy proves to be even more of a horrible person by sleeping with Sally the socialite's husband Jason, who comes off as quite a creep.  Neither Bev or Amy seem to have any problem sleeping with married men, or sleeping around on their boyfriends, or lying, cheating and stealing. They have no morals and their thoughts are vapid and selfish, with no regard for others. The two friends inevitably have a parting of the ways, and only at the end of the novel, when Amy realizes that she's been a jerk (though she only thinks she has been a jerk about not attending the birth of Bev's baby, when it will be obvious to readers that she's been an egotistical jerk for most of her life) does she finally write an email to Bev, seeking forgiveness. Bev responds with an emoticon heart, and that's the end of the novel. I assume that means that the two become friends again, but to be honest, by the time I'd waded through this morass of idiocy, I didn't really care if they became friends again, I just wanted the novel to be over. Gould's prose is tidy and spare, allowing the zigzagging plot to move along at a decent pace. But one of my questions about any book that I want to read is whether or not it contains a story worth telling, a story that brings characters or a situation to light that are important, or entertaining, or informative. The characters in this book made for a story that wasn't any of those things, but instead provided lots of frustration and disgust on the part of the reader, who just wants them to make a choice and go with it and do something decent with their lives. I didn't want to spend any more time with Amy and Bev than I had to. I'd give this book a C, and recommend it to those who like contemporary fiction about contemptible people, because it's a trope of many modern authors that "good" characters aren't realistic, nor is happiness a plausible state of being.

Miss You Most of All by Elizabeth Bass also has a contemptible character in it, and a selfish and shallow pre-teen, who, along with a dim-witted stepsister provide most of the agony of the book. However, Bass manages to weave in a couple of decent characters and lots of sparkling dialog to keep the book from becoming a stinker.
I got this copy of Miss You Most of All from the Covington Dollar Tree, where I sometimes manage to find books that are surprisingly good for a buck.
Here's the Publisher's Weekly blurb (because the regular blurb doesn't say much):
Bass's sparkling debut will inspire laughs and tears as the sisters of Sassy Spinster Farm experience one of the most memorable summers of their lives. Cancer survivor Rue Anderson; her sister, Laura Rafferty; and military veteran Webb Saunders run a successful Sweetgum, Tex., farm where boarders can learn “hands-on about planting, harvesting, canning, and storing.” Despite some problems—Rue's just out of chemo and sharing custody of her 11-year-old daughter with her now engaged to be married ex-husband—things have a way of running themselves until the unexpected arrival of Heidi Dawn Bogue, Rue and Laura's bratty little stepsister, who's all grown up, on the run from a Brooklyn “psycho embezzler mobster,” and seeking sanctuary even though she knows Laura despises her. With bountiful grace and a real feeling for her characters, Bass creates a three-hanky delight by finding the earthy, homespun humor the women learn to embrace even in the most difficult situations.
 I was surprised that a book with such a promising premise would put itself in danger of killing the story by having a bitter, mean, cruel and ugly character at its center. Rue is almost the polar opposite of her sister Laura, probably because she's had to negotiate and even things out whenever Laura caused disaster to strike. Laura's bitter vitriol really mar this otherwise interesting novel by causing readers to want her dead after the first 50 pages. Even though she nearly killed her sweet and kind sister Rue in a car accident that was completely her fault (for driving at a reckless speed when she didn't have a license), Rue still insists on keeping her around, poisoning everything around her with mean-spirited remarks and drunken licentiousness. A handsome farm hand, Webb, makes it clear that he is in love with Laura and wants a relationship with her, but she spurns him at every turn. Then when fluff-headed Heidi shows up, on the run from a mobster boyfriend, Laura gets even more vituperative and does her dead-level best to make everyone around her miserable. Meanwhile, Rue's preteen daughter falls in with a nasty young gal who wants her to try and break up her father's engagement to a local 5th grade teacher (who is pregnant with his child) in favor of the friend's mother. Realistically, their scheme never would have worked, but for some reason, here it does, if only for a brief time. Erica (Rue's daughter) only realizes her mistake too late, when it is obvious that her mother's cancer has metastisized and that she is going to die. Although everything seems to be headed for disaster, there is an HEA for Laura at the end, though I am unsure why the author felt she deserved such a thing, when she had been such a pill and remained so right through to the end. Still, she saves a chicken and Heidi from being killed, and she finally admits that she does have a heart, though it takes her sister's death to get her to a final reckoning. I'd give this novel a B-, and recommend it to those who like "chick lit" and Southern contemporary stories.