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. 

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