Saturday, April 25, 2015

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman, Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore, Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew and Dayshift by Charlaine Harris

I'm trying not to be frustrated today with two books that I picked up and could not read. One I have absolutely no clue as to why I even ordered it, (Here if You Need Me by Kate Braestrup) and the other, Dream Lover, by Elizabeth Berg, which is a fictionalized account of the life of author George Sand, is just so dreadfully dull it gives me a headache whenever I attempt to read more than a few pages. I've read and adored most of Berg's fiction, so I can't imagine why her usually stellar prose has become so stilted and dull in this book. However, my mother, who loves Berg's books, would also find it uninteresting, so I don't feel comfortable just passing it on to her. Nor do I think she would find Here if You Need Me any good, as she's an atheist, and the book is about a female pastor who works with Search and Rescue teams and the police to bring comfort through prayer to those in emergency situations. Insert gusty sigh of resignation here.
Anyway, on to the reviews.

Alice Hoffman's Nightbird is a YA title that is simplistic in it's joy and beauty, yet complex in its message of accepting who you are, even when you're very different from those around you in a small community. Here's the blurb, from Publisher's Weekly:
Once again, Hoffman (Green Angel) works her magic to transport readers to a realm where enchantment intermingles with everyday realities. Sidwell, Mass., is famous for its apples, “so sweet people come from as far as New York City during the apple festival,” and the mysterious winged monster rumored to reside there. Twelve-year-old Twig Fowler leads an isolated existence in an ancient farmhouse with her mother, a skillful baker. The two of them rarely venture into town because no one must discover their family secret: that Twig’s older brother (whose very existence they’ve kept secret) has been afflicted with a 200-year-old curse. Twig remains friendless until she meets new neighbor Julia Hall and her older sister, who might be able to help reverse the spell plaguing the Fowler family. The book’s evocative setting and distinctive characters will immediately hook readers, and the history of Twig’s family, uncovered bit by bit, will keep them engaged. The risks Twig takes in reaching out to the Hall sisters bring gratifying rewards and unexpected connections to others in the community. 
Twig was my kind of outcast, a smart and compassionate teenager who loves the people in her community and loves to read books. But because she has a brother cursed with wings, she isn't allowed to have friends over, or to go out, until the neighbor girl moves in, and then everything changes, as Twig and her friend Julia work to break the curse that has kept her family in the shadows for so long. Having read at least 5 or 6 of Hoffman's other books, I expect her prose to be impeccable, beautiful and slightly melancholy, but in Nightbird Hoffman seems to unfetter her prose so that it becomes light and bright and aids the swift plot to a very satisfying HEA ending. A lovely book that deserves an A, and a recommendation to those who enjoy remodeled fairy tales.

Born With Teeth is actress (and fellow Iowan) Kate Mulgrew's highly anticipated memoir that just came out this month. I was able to snag a ticket to hear Mulgrew read from her book at Town Hall in Seattle last week, and a book was included in the ticket price. Having met Kate Mulgrew in 1983, when she came to speak to the Clarke College theater majors, I knew her to be an expert storyteller, full of the "gift of the gab" so delightfully common among people of Irish heritage. In the 80s, I had seen her on TV in a soap opera, and in movies and TV as Mrs Columbo, but at that point, she hadn't yet taken on her most famous roles, first as Captain Kathryn Janeway in Star Trek Voyager for 7 years, and now as Red Reznikov, a prison inmate among the crazies in the addictive Netflix series, Orange is the New Black. Yet still Kate captivated us in the lounge area of Mary Josita Hall at Clarke, regailing us with tales of naked David Bowie rambling around during an audition, and lusty Richard Burton chasing her mother around the set of the movie Tristan and Isolte. I remember being amazed at how petite she was in real life, as she seemed to be an amazon on television. I also remember how beautiful she looked, and how kind and gracious she was to answer our questions and laugh with us. In subsequent years, I'd seen her at her second Star Trek convention, when she actually told the crowd how much money she made per episode during that first year of Voyager, which was a huge no-no due to the NDAs of Paramount (it was 330,000 per ep, and I'd imagine that number went up each year, so that by the time she completed 7 seasons, she was doubtlessly a millionaire and wouldn't have to work again for years.) I'd also seen her backstage at a fundraiser for the Seattle Rep Theater Company, and she had graciously signed a menu for me when she was in town in the late 1990s via my husband, who told her I was a Clarkie, like herself.
That brings me to one of the very few problems I have with Kate's memoir. She gives only one sentence to her Clarke College experience, though I gather she attended Clarke for 9 months about 5 years before I got there. According to the book, her father forced her to attend "a local all women's college" as a punishment for her wild ways as a teenager with a ton of talent who wanted to move to NYC and make a name for herself as an actress. I can understand being itchy to get out of Iowa, as I wanted to get out, too, but I don't think anyone forced her to play the lead in "The Plow and the Stars" at TDH at Clarke, and I gathered from Sr Carol Blitgen, head of the Drama Dept, that Kate was quite the diva, but because she was so talented, everyone put up with her shenanigans. So why no Clarke love, Kate? Why pretend that you hardly know the name of the place when you were a commencement speaker back in the 90s, and I gather you've given money to Clarke more than once? I am tremendously proud of having graduated from Clarke, it made a reasoning adult from a child riddled with guilt by her parents divorce.
Still, I must give major kudos to Kate for her sublime prose, riddled with delicious insights into theater, television and movie-making, as well as stories from her exciting and fascinating life with her wild Irish Catholic family to her many relationships, both good and bad, and her desperate search for her daughter, whom she'd given up for adoption. Danielle, her daughter, who is now a 38 year old woman, was there at the reading Kate gave in Seattle, and seeing how much the two look alike was heartwarming. Danielle is also a lovely person, warm and kind, and it was wonderful to see Kate's face, full of pride and joy as she watched her daughter field questions at Town Hall that night. Born With Teeth is a fast read, a page-turner that doesn't let up until the final paragraph, which is open-ended enough that no one would be surprised if there were a sequel in the works. There should also be a trigger warning in Born with Teeth, for anyone like myself who is a rape survivor. Kate details a brutal rape and robbery that she experienced in New York. She never says whether or not they caught the bastard who hurt her, but I felt an extra kinship with her for her honesty about the horrors of rape and the strength that it takes to get back to your "normal" life after it's over. The fact that she managed to marry a couple times and have two sons stands as a testament to her courage and grace under fire. She has said that the reason she wrote this book was because she wanted people to know her, as a person, through her honest and startling revelations about her life. Mission accomplished, Captain. This book gets a well deserved A, and I'd recommend it to anyone who is interested in women in theater, in Star Trek or in just a ripping good read. Nicely done, Kate. Here's a link to one of many interesting interviews with Kate Mulgrew:

Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore is a marriage of the graphic novel Constantine and Jim Butcher's "Dresden Files" series, featuring Chicago's favorite wizard, Harry Dresden. Eric Carter is a necromancer, a guy who can see and talk to (and use) the dead, no matter what form they may take.
Here's the blurb:
Necromancer is such an ugly word, but it's a title Eric Carter is stuck with.
He sees ghosts, talks to the dead. He's turned it into a lucrative career putting troublesome spirits to rest, sometimes taking on even more dangerous things. For a fee, of course.
When he left LA fifteen years ago, he thought he'd never go back. Too many bad memories. Too many people trying to kill him.
But now his sister's been brutally murdered and Carter wants to find out why.
Was it the gangster looking to settle a score? The ghost of a mage he killed the night he left town? Maybe it's the patrion saint of violent death herself, Santa Muerte, who's taken an unusually keen interest in him.
Carter's going to find out who did it, and he's going to make them pay.
As long as they don't kill him first.
Turns out, as it did with Harry Dresden, that Santa Muerte is willing to kill Eric's sister and do just about anything to get him to be her "consort" or willing indebted servant. Though with Dresden it was Mab, winter queen of the fae, it's no less brutal for Eric to give up his freedom in order to banish a really bad spirit, Boudreau, who is killing and possessing his friends to try and reclaim life among the living. Hence we are set up for more mayhem in the future with this series, but I won't be reading any more of these books. Not only because it was full of f-bombs and cursing, but also because Eric Carter, while getting the snot beat out of him repeatedly, doesn't have the same charm or good intentions or decent nature that Harry Dresden has. He's lonely, bitter, alcoholic and cruel. There's also gore and violence on every page of this book, which makes me nauseous and tired. I do not like the horror genre. But if you do, I'd recommend this B grade book to you.

Proper disclosure, I received an ARC of Charlaine Harris' Day Shift from Ace/Roc/Penguin publishers this month. Having read all of Harris' Sookie Stackhouse paranormal romance/mystery books,I had certain expectations of Day Shift, which is "A novel of Midnight, Texas" and comes out in May. Unfortunately, though characters from the Sookie books make appearances in Day Shift, the book itself is uneven, with staccato-like prose and a disjointed plot. I didn't really fall in love with any of the characters, as I did with poor psychic Sookie and her vampire paramours. Everyone in this novel seemed to be at odds with themselves or others, and there were more than a few nasty people, bitter, mean and/or violent that I can only assume we are supposed to love, whom I just pitied or disliked. Here's the blurb:
In Midnight Crossroad, Charlaine Harris “capture[d] the same magic as the world of Bon Temps, Louisiana, and [took] it to another level" (Houston Press). Now the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels returns to the one-traffic-light town you see only when you’re on the way to someplace else…
There is no such thing as bad publicity, except in Midnight, Texas, where the residents like to keep to themselves. Even in a town full of secretive people, Olivia Charity is an enigma. She lives with the vampire Lemuel, but no one knows what she does; they only know that she’s beautiful and dangerous.
Psychic Manfred Bernardo finds out just how dangerous when he goes on a working weekend to Dallas and sees Olivia there with a couple who are both found dead the next day. To make matters worse, one of Manfred’s regular—and very wealthy—clients dies during a reading.
Manfred returns from Dallas embroiled in scandal and hounded by the press. He turns to Olivia for help; somehow he knows that the mysterious Olivia can get things back to normal. As normal as things get in Midnight…
Since this is the second book in the series, I can only assume that Harris will go on to write about each resident of the town, what their powers are, what their problems are, etc. Unfortunately, she hasn't made them good enough to warrant a book focused on them, or given us enough background to want to delve further into their lives. Sadly, I have to give Day Shift a C, and I would recommend it to those who don't mind anti-heroes or books without a clear protagonist to root for. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Why Bookstores Are Important, All the Light We Cannot See Wins a Pulitzer, and Check it Out Video

I cannot help but agree, though I am not, lamentably, a bookseller. I really enjoy sharing my love of a good book with others, which is why I am always excited for my monthly book group meeting at the library. 

"I am not alone in my desire to press a good book into someone's hands.
We employ a host of talented booksellers who, like me, believe that
recommending books is the birthright of every zealous reader. No matter
how much we love a book, the experience of reading it isn't complete
until we can give it to someone who will love it as much as we do."

--Ann Patchett, author and co-owner of Parnassus Books, Nashville, Tenn., in a Washington Post op-ed piece headlined "Owning a bookstore means you always get to tell

I also agree with this...Bookstores are an important part of the community. This is part of why I am dismayed at the difficulties that Finally Found Books in Auburn is having staying open. They're currently fundraising to become a non profit, but they need money and volunteers to keep the place from going under. I wish that I had money to give, but I can only help get the word out. That is why quotes like this have so much meaning.

'Being in a Bookstore is Like Getting a Passport'
"In the ease of the Internet, in the promise of instant, I looked away
from bookstores for a minute and when I looked back some had
disappeared. They were closed. They were gone.

"We didn't just lose a bookstore though, we lost a bit of magic. We lost
a bit of wonder. We lost a safe haven where it's still OK to dream big
dreams. To walk down aisles and aisles of 'what if?' Books are not
collections of paper, they're invitations to different worlds. And being
in a bookstore is like getting a passport....

"Bookstores matter to authors, but more than that, I think they matter
to humans.
 "They offer something no Internet site can deliver, they offer space.
 "A room where 40 people or 4 people can get together and discuss an
 "Long live the local bookstore."

--Jon Acuff, author most recently of Do Over, in a blog post headlined
"Why I fell back in love with bookstores

 I know that there's a lot of linkage in this next bit, but it's totally worth it for the "Check It Out" video spoof on "Shake it Off" Nicely done, librarians!
Noting that 57 years after its launch, National Library Week
"is still going strong with a variety of celebrations and awareness
campaigns," Bustle featured 17 librarians
past and present, who made this year's theme, "Unlimited Possibilities @
Your Library," possible.
staff from the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library
clever parody of Taylor Swift's song "Shake It Off." The librarians
believe "there's no better soundtrack to some copious library love than
Taylor Swift, pop star, reader and outspoken library and literacy
supporter. We love that Taylor has lent her talent to the library cause,
and this video is, in part, an homage to her. But it's also a pop homage
to library supporters and libraries everywhere."

The production stars three library staff members dancing, singing and
acting, and features the vocal talent of local actor and singer, Ashley
Young. Nearly a hundred library staff members and Topeka community
members were involved in the production. They also helpfully offered a
guide to all the "Taylor Swift references in this video

We had a bookmobile in a couple of the small towns that I lived in when growing up in Iowa, but these awesome book conveyances put them all to shame!
Yesterday was National Bookmobile Day, and to celebrate Bustle
highlighted "12 amazing bookmobiles that show the power of books and
noting that "bookmobiles have gained popularity in recent years, but
have been around since the early 1900s, and maybe even before that.
Today, there are not only mobile libraries but boats, bikes, even
something known as the Biblio Burro, all dedicated to bringing books to
children. These programs do amazing work for families who might not have
the financial resources necessary to purchase books."
I adore the Maisie Dobbs books, and I've read them all, so I am thrilled that they're being made into a TV series!

SLAM TV, a new production company based in the U.K. and headed by actors
Stephen Mangan (Episodes) and Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead), has
acquired the option to develop a TV series based on the Maisie Dobbs
historical mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear.  

"We are hugely excited to be working with Jacqueline Winspear," said
Mangan. "There has never been a female character like Maisie Dobbs in
period drama; she has huge appeal for a modern television audience and
the potential to be a truly iconic screen figure. We can't wait to get
started on these wonderful stories."

I also loved All the Light We Cannot See, so I am happy to see that the Pulitzer judges found it wonderful as well. Nicely done, Mr Doerr!
Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, an indie bookseller
handselling favorite since its release last spring, was among the 2015
yesterday in the Pulitzer World Room, Pulitzer Hall, Columbia
University. You can view the official announcement here
each of whom receives $10,000, and finalists in the books category

Fiction: All the Light We Cannot See
(Scribner), "an imaginative and intricate novel inspired by the horrors
of World War II and written in short, elegant chapters that explore
human nature and the contradictory power of technology."

Sunday, April 19, 2015

RIP Gunter Grass, Orange is the New Black with Kate Mulgrew, Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine and Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert

I was once a fan of Gunter Grass, and I read a lot of his work when I was in my 20s.
He passed away this past week, and his loss was keenly felt by the literary community. Here's some obit and tribute information from Shelf Awareness:
Gunter Grass
the author, social critic and Nobel Laureate who "became one of
Germany's foremost intellectuals and gadflies," died earlier today, the
Washington Post reported, adding the "themes that consumed his
literature--guilt, atonement and hypocrisy--were also central to his
political commentary." He was 87. Grass's many books included The Tin
Drum, Cat and Mouse, Dog Years, Crabwalk, The Flounder and his
controversial autobiography, Peeling the Onion.

In awarding him the 1999 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy
praised Grass
for embracing "the enormous task of reviewing contemporary history by
recalling the disavowed and the forgotten: the victims, losers and lies
that people wanted to forget because they had once believed in them."
The Academy also called his landmark 1959 novel The Tin Drum "one of the
enduring literary works of the 20th century."
The Guardian noted that Grass "was surprised
by the strength of the reaction" to his 2006 autobiography, Peeling the
Onion, in which he recounted being conscripted into the army in 1944 at
the age of 16 and serving as a tank gunner in the Waffen SS.
Translator Anthea Bell praised Grass as "a literary figure of the most
enormous stature in postwar German letters, and throughout the world."

On Twitter this morning, Salman Rushdie
"This is very sad. A true giant, inspiration, and friend. Drum for him,
little Oskar."

Nicholls has a point here, and I would never "showroom" at a bookstore, which is what people do when they go into a bookstore, find books they want to read and own, and then go shopping for them on instead of buying them at the bricks and mortar store.

"For all the ease and convenience of online shopping or the digital
download, I still feel a town without a bookshop is missing
something.... For much of the early nineties I worked in bookshops
myself, running the children's section in Waterstones Notting Hill with
a rod of iron and believing, like all booksellers, that books are
somehow special, that the expertise and enthusiasm of booksellers is
vital, that if you love bookshops you should spend money there, and that
to discover a book on display in a well-staffed, lovingly-maintained
shop, to hold it in your hand then to sneak off and buy the same book
online is really just a genteel form of shoplifting."
--Author David Nicholls
speaking at the London Book Fair Digital Minds Conference

On Tuesday, I will be attending a Town Hall reading of Kate Mulgrew's memoir "Born With Teeth." I am really looking forward to it, as I've read and watched several interviews with Kate already, and she's so fascinating and erudite that I fully believe she will bring even more viewers to her current show, Orange is the New Black. I have watched the first two seasons and am looking forward to the third, which is coming this summer.

The first trailer has been released for Season 3 of the Netflix series
Orange Is the New Black,
based on Piper Kerman's memoir and starring Kate Mulgrew,Taylor Schilling and Uzo Aduba. reported viewers can expect to see more of Adrienne
C. Moore (Cindy Hayes), Selenis Leyva (Gloria Mendoza), Nick Sandow (Joe
Caputo) and Samira Wiley (Poussey Washington), "who were upper to
regular during the past year." Season 3 will be released June 12.

First, in full disclosure, I've been named as a "Super Reader" by Penguin/Roc/Ace Publishers, so every month they will be sending me 4-5 ARCs of science fiction/fantasy, paranormal mystery, romance and thriller books as well as YA titles for me to read and review. I am not required to review these books, especially if I don't enjoy them, but I can and will review the ones that I find extraordinary or interesting. Of the four science fiction/fantasy/YA titles that I was sent this month, the first one I read, Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine, was a winner.
Ink and Bone, subtitled "The Great Library" is a delicious marriage of Harry Potter, (JK Rowling), Divergent (Veronica Roth) and Cornelia Funk's Inkheart, all set in a Steampunk universe where the Library of Alexandria became a ruling force in the world because the librarians controlled all the information disseminated to the public.Here's the blurb: 
In an exhilarating new series, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine rewrites history, creating a dangerous world where the Great Library of Alexandria has survived the test of time.…

Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.

When he inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn.…
Jess, though he has a parent, feels like Harry Potter in his search for people he can trust and in turn, come to love. He's been cruelly used by his father, and his sociopathic brother, who appear to have no feelings for him other than what he can do for the family smuggling business. Jess is a bookish kid who loves to read "real" paper books, which are contraband, and his desire to become a library scholar stems from that, rather than his fathers insistence that he find a way to smuggle books from inside the school. His surly and intimidating instructor (rather like the heads of each house in Harry Potter) Wolfe has many secrets, and his compatriots, Thomas the "tinkerer" who engineers a forbidden printing press, Khalila who is the smartest of them all, Dario, the rich and snotty member of the crew and Glain, who is Welsh, Anna, Morgan and Portero all soon discover that anyone who is even thought to be rebelling against the Library and its rules soon dies a convenient, inexplicable death.  Unlike the kids in Harry Potter, though, the positions that these teenagers will eventually take within the library aren't all voluntary. When Morgan turns out to be an "obscurist", a rare and specialized mage who can mirror books onto the reading devices for the public and teleport people and books, she is told that she will be virtually enslaved, forced to wear a collar and forced to breed a new generation of obscurists while never leaving the "iron tower" for the rest of her days. BTW, in the above blurb it says that Jess creates a device that could change the world, but in my ARC, it was good-hearted, naive German Thomas who creates a printing press and is murdered for it. Though this "steampunk" world has more of a dangerous feel to it than HP, there's a still a remarkably beautiful, delicate story herein for teens and adults, written in sterling prose on a plot that glides along like a sailboat during a blustery day. An obvious A+! I honestly could not put it down, and I eagerly await the next book in the series. Ink and Bone's pub date is July 7, 2015, and I'd recommend all fans of Harry Potter and Divergent and The Mortal Instruments run to their local bookstore and grab a copy before they sell out, because I forsee this series becoming a huge success.
Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert is a book I found at my local KCLS branch library book sale. It's a British book, which means that those who find the British/UK spellings of words to be difficult will be a tad peeved by the time they're a third of the way into the novel.Having grown up watching British TV shows and loving the accents and the sense of humor/wit displayed therein, and having read a great deal of British authors by the time I was a teenager, I was not at all put off by the spellings or by the more "chatty" prose of the novel. Here's the blurb from Publisher's Weekly:This spellbinding tale of magic and seduction from Mostert (Windwalker) shows that the unfettered pursuit of arcane enlightenment can sometimes come at too high a price. William Whittington, a terminally ill London investment banker, hires Gabriel Blackstone, a rakish "information broker," to find Robert, his missing 21-year-old son. Whittington's wife, who happens to be Blackstone's ex-girlfriend, knows Blackstone once belonged to an organization, Eyestorm, that used psychic methods to find missing objects and persons. When Blackstone draws on his remote viewing powers ("slamming the ride"), he discovers that Robert was murdered by one of two sisters-raven-haired Morrighan or flame-haired Minnaloushe Monk, direct descendants of Elizabethan occultist John Dee, who dabble in alchemy and the "Art of Memory." As Blackstone woos the suspects to discover which one is guilty, he falls desperately in love. Mostert, a South African writer now living in London, has produced a feverish tale that's goth SF at its finest.     
Though I found Gabriel to be a jerk and an egotistical cad for most of the novel, I understood his desire for arcane knowledge and understanding, which became, for him, mingled with the desire to possess both of the Monk sisters. It is obvious that Mostert, a South African, did extensive research into not only remote viewers, but also into witchcraft and the arcane alchemy, magic and mysticism of the 16th century. Combining the magic of old with the "new magic" of technology, computers and the internet is no mean feat, and Mostert pulls it off like a pro, seamlessly interweaving the codes of witchcraft with the codes of computer language.Her prose is jubilant, yet rarely excessive, and the plot has a few lovely twists and turns to keep readers engaged. A well-earned A, with the recommendation to anyone who finds psychic powers and magic as fascinating as the unseen world of computer hackers.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Indie Bookstore Challenge, RIP Ivan Doig, Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne, The Mermaid's Sister by Carrie Anne Noble, and At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

My husband wants me to go to a March of Dimes walk on May 2, but I would rather venture into one of my favorite Independent bookstores, like Island Books or the Sequel and browse among the stacks in support of Independent Bookstore Day. My husband asked me "What is more cuddly, babies or books?" And like Jack Benny, I had to reply, "I'm thinking, I'm thinking!"

Seattle Indies Set 'Indie Bookstore Challenge' for May 2

Seventeen Seattle-area independent bookstores have teamed up to create
the Indie Bookstore Challenge. The one-day promotion will run as part of
the broader Independent Bookstore Day festivities on May 2, and winning customers will receive year-long 25% discounts at all participating stores--plus the title of Indie Bookstore

Customers can compete by picking up a bookstore passport from any of the
participating stores, then have it stamped at that and the other 16
stores. Then they can turn in filled passports and be entered to win the
year-long discounts. For those who can't make it to all 17 stores,
visiting at least three will make them eligible for other prizes such as
gift certificates, signed books and more.

Participating stores include Eagle Harbor Books, Elliott Bay Book Co.,
Phinney Books, Third Place Books, University Book Store, Queen Anne Book
Co. In addition to stamping passports, the participating indies will be
hosting all sorts of events on May 2; more information on participating
stores and specific plans can be found here

We've read Ivan Doig's books in my book group, and everyone loved them, which is unusual for my diverse-opinionated group. I was so sad to hear of his passing. Though his writing was similar to Wallace Stegner's, he was still his own man and his prose was poetic and rich. His unique voice will be missed.

Author Ivan Doig
who was known for his stories of the American West, died yesterday. He
was 75 and had battled multiple myeloma for eight years.

Beginning with English Creek in 1984, he "wrote a number of novels set
in fictional Two Medicine Country, Mont., based on the region where he
came of age," the Los Angeles Times said. His other books included the
memoir This House of Sky (1979), a finalist for the National Book Award,
and Last Bus to Wisdom, which is scheduled to be published in August.

Doig won the Wallace Stegner Award in 2007, the Western Literature
Association's lifetime Distinguished Achievement award and "is the
from the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association than any other
writer," as the Montana Standard put it.

"Ivan was one of the greats," said Riverhead publisher Geoff Kloske. "We
have lost a friend, a beloved author, a national treasure."

I only picked up Heir to the Jedi because it was written by an author I adore, the jovial and fun Kevin Hearne, whose Iron Druid series I've read with great pleasure. I don't usually read books that are based on a famous movie or television series, because I generally find that they're too close to fan fiction for my comfort. (Just to be clear, most fan fiction that I've encountered is total crap, written by wannabes who are desperate to put themselves into that movie or tv show's environment to be next to characters that they're way too fond of. It is akin to stalking, and it makes me nauseous.) So I was slightly nervous picking up this book, based on the first Star Wars movie that I saw when it came out when I was 17, and I empathized with that young Luke Skywalker who wanted to get out of Tatoine and start his life of adventure. Having adored Atticus and Oberon in the Iron Druid series, I assumed that Hearne would be able to write a novel of what happened to Luke between the first movie and the second without it devolving into fan fiction.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. Though his prose is professional-grade, this story is hampered, actually hobbled, by long paragraphs of technical jargon and narrative about the places and surroundings of the alien worlds that never fail to bring the plot to a screeching halt. Every fussy little detail about ships specs, lightsabers and even phosphorus flares is discussed and gone over in minute detail, until the typical reader's eyes glaze over in boredom. An example, on page 147, was a horrendously long narrative on phosphorus flares, when to deploy them, the risks they pose, etc for a page and a half. It should have taken a sentence or two to explain their usage, and then we could have gotten to the action. Instead we are treated to pedantic lectures on things only Star Wars uber-geek-fans would find remotely interesting. Another example is on page 155, where Hearne goes into another 3 page digression on TIE fighters and Interdictors, ships of the Empire. Yawn. I nearly fell asleep by the second paragraph. But out of respect for Hearne, I finished the novel, though it took me longer than it usually would because of the boring technical narratives. If the story between them had been removed and laid out on it's own, I am sure it would have been a nice novella that might have been fun to read. Instead, I have to give this turgid tome a C, and only recommend it to engineers or people who are really, really into Star Wars technical specs and background details. 

The Mermaid's Sister is Carrie Anne Noble's first novel, and oddly enough, it doesn't show. This beautifully-written fairy tale glides along on a swift plot motivated by fascinating characters. Here's the blurb:
There is no cure for being who you truly are.…
In a cottage high atop Llanfair Mountain, sixteen-year-old Clara lives with her sister, Maren, and guardian Auntie. By day, they gather herbs for Auntie’s healing potions. By night, Auntie spins tales of faraway lands and wicked fairies. Clara’s favorite story tells of three orphan infants—Clara, who was brought to Auntie by a stork; Maren, who arrived in a seashell; and their best friend, O’Neill, who was found beneath an apple tree.
One day, Clara discovers shimmering scales just beneath her sister’s skin. She realizes that Maren is becoming a mermaid—and knows that no mermaid can survive on land. Desperate to save her, Clara and O’Neill place the mermaid-girl in their gypsy wagon and set out for the sea. But no road is straight, and the trio encounters trouble around every bend. Ensnared by an evil troupe of traveling performers, Clara and O’Neill must find a way to save themselves and the ever-weakening mermaid.
And always, in the back of her mind, Clara wonders, if my sister is a mermaid, then what am I?
This YA novel is another good example of YA fiction that is just as good, if not better, than adult fiction. Clara is a smart, yet innocent young woman who so desperately wants to save her sister, yet she's jealous of the hold Maren seems to have over O'Neill, who Clara loves.Though they encounter a horrendously evil man named Dr Phipps, who is reminiscent of PT Barnum or Ripley, from Ripley's Believe it Or Not, (he enslaves people he wants in his show by drugging their tea), karma makes short work of Phipps and his insane son Jasper so that O'Neill and Clara can return Maren to the sea god, her father, who rewards them with a casket of jewels. The HEA is satisfying and the story sublime, so I'm giving this book an A, and recommending it to those who enjoy old fashioned fairy tales and legends.
I had high hopes for Sara Gruen's At the Water's Edge, because I'd enjoyed her famous novel "Water for Elephants" so much. So I was surprised when I realized that I loathed all three main characters from the outset of the novel. Maddie, Ellis and Hank are spoiled rich young Americans who have spent the war (WWII) getting drunk, carousing and complaining, while their cold and disapproving parents watch their dissapation in horror. Maddie is married to Ellis, who is beautiful but cruel, and who relies on his income from his father, a wealthy former Army colonel who once stalked and photographed the Loch Ness Monster, but was later proven to be a faker. Hank claims his flat feet keep him from serving in the war, and Ellis claims color blindness as his excuse, which his father never fully believes. After reading about 90 pages of Maddie whining and Ellis being an immature, bitter idiot while Hank aided and abetted the two in getting drunk everyday, I was starting to despair of being able to continue reading. Fortunately, the trio get screaming drunk on New Years Eve, make idiots of themselves once again, and have a horrific confrontational fight with Ellis' father and mother, who have never approved of Maddie as their daughter in law. The Colonel cuts Ellis off financially, and in response, Hank persuades Ellis and Maddie to hare off to Scotland with him to hunt the Loch Ness Monster and get the proof the Colonel failed to get, which Ellis believes will land him back into his father's good graces, and the purse strings will open once more. Here's the blurb:
After disgracing themselves at a high society New Year’s Eve party in Philadelphia in 1944, Madeline Hyde and her husband, Ellis, are cut off financially by his father, a former army colonel who is already ashamed of his son’s inability to serve in the war. When Ellis and his best friend, Hank, decide that the only way to regain the Colonel’s favor is to succeed where the Colonel very publicly failed—by hunting down the famous Loch Ness monster—Maddie reluctantly follows them across the Atlantic, leaving her sheltered world behind.The trio find themselves in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, where the locals have nothing but contempt for the privileged interlopers. Maddie is left on her own at the isolated inn, where food is rationed, fuel is scarce, and a knock from the postman can bring tragic news. Yet she finds herself falling in love with the stark beauty and subtle magic of the Scottish countryside. Gradually she comes to know the villagers, and the friendships she forms with two young women open her up to a larger world than she knew existed. Maddie begins to see that nothing is as it first appears: the values she holds dear prove unsustainable, and monsters lurk where they are least expected. As she embraces a fuller sense of who she might be, Maddie becomes aware not only of the dark forces around her, but of life’s beauty and surprising possibilities.
Unfortunately, Maddie is incompetant and none too bright, and even after she moves into the small Scottish Inn, she is abandoned by her horrible husband and Hank as they go off on a futile quest to document the Loch Ness Monster, while she has nothing to do but sulk. By page 145, I was so tired of Maddie falling apart, being terrified of everything and having to be rescued, and of her ignorance and foolishness that I was ready to give up on the entire novel. Who wants to read about such a spineless protagonist, after all? I am glad that I stayed with it, though, because soon Maddie has persuaded the local women who work at the Inn, Anne, Meg and Rhona, that she can at least help cleaning the rooms and learn to cook what little food that there is. It is through her burgeoning competence that Maddie comes to realize that her husband is a drug addict and a lout who wants to have her committed so that he can have her money, and Hank enables Ellis' horrible behavior by believing that Maddie is crazy, when she's the most sane of the three of them. Maddie also falls in love with the Inn owner, a rough, sexy Scotsman who is a widower and veteran of the war. Everything wraps up nicely for an HEA ending, and Maddie flourishes under the care of the Scottish people, to become a real woman by the end. I'd give this novel a B, and recommend it to those interested in WWII tales with a twist.