Friday, May 15, 2015

Secrets of the Bookstore, RIP Wm Zinsser, Dream a Little Dream by Kerstin Gier, Lock In by John Scalzi, Jinn and Juice by Nicole Peeler and Dove Arising by Karen Bao

This is true, when it comes to bookstores, it's best to learn the 'secrets' and work with the staff for a more satisfying buying experience. I've never had a problem with booksellers, myself, but this might be a handy guide for those who try to work the system or showroom books.

"For book lovers, there's no more magical place than the local
bookstore. And while most of us have probably spent a significant amount
of time wandering the aisles, few of us know what goes on behind the
scenes," Mental Floss observed in revealing "17 behind-the-scenes
secrets of bookstores"

I read a copy of Zinsser's On Writing Well in 1984, when I was in grad school, and I loved it. I was not quite as big of a fan of the Elements of Style, but I recall being impressed that Zinsser wanted writers to read a great deal and learn from other writers.

William Zinsser,
a writer, editor and teacher whose 1976 book On Writing Well has sold
more than 1.5 million copies, died yesterday, the New York Times
reported, adding that even though he wrote 19 books, "it was his role as
an arbiter of good writing that resonated widely and deeply." Zinsser
was 92. On Writing Well "became a book that editors and teachers
encouraged writers to reread annually in the manner of another classic
on the craft of writing, The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and
E.B. White," the Times noted.

I am a huge fan of Orange is the New Black, not only because it stars Kate Mulgrew, my fellow Iowan who famously portrayed Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek Voyager for 7 years. On this show, she's developed a great following for her Russian character Red Reznikov, a tough cook. I plan, like most of America, to binge-watch series three when it comes out in June.

A new trailer has been released for season three of Orange Is the New
based on Piper Kerman's memoir. Variety noted that the new season "will
no doubt further explore the backstories of our favorite inmates, but
those nostalgia trips won't include Jason Biggs, whose character, Larry,
isn't slated to appear in the new season. That doesn't mean the cast
will be down a member, though, with Mary Steenburgen joining the Netflix
comedy this year." Orange Is the New Black returns June 12.

Dove Arising by Karen Bao is yet another dystopian YA novel, this time set on the moon, which has been colonized primarily by Asians and Eastern Europeans. Here's the blurb:
Phaet Theta has lived her whole life in a colony on the Moon. She’s barely spoken since her father died in an accident nine years ago. She cultivates the plants in Greenhouse 22, lets her best friend talk for her, and stays off the government’s radar.
Then her mother is arrested.
The only way to save her younger siblings from the degrading Shelter is by enlisting in the Militia, the faceless army that polices the Lunar bases and protects them from attacks by desperate Earth dwellers. Training is brutal, but it’s where Phaet forms an uneasy but meaningful alliance with the preternaturally accomplished Wes, a fellow outsider.
Rank high, save her siblings, free her mom:  that’s the plan. Until Phaet’s logically ordered world begins to crumble...
Suspenseful, intelligent, and hauntingly prescient, Dove Arising stands on the shoulders of our greatest tales of the future to tell a story that is all too relevant today.
From Publisher's Weekly: Generations ago, Phaet Theta’s ancestors fled an environmentally damaged Earth for the Moon; now, Lunar colonists live carefully regulated lives under the governance of a strict, anonymous Committee and authoritarian Militia. When Phaet’s journalist mother is forcibly quarantined (ostensibly for medical reasons, though dark purposes are clearly afoot), the 15-year-old and her siblings face living in the filthy, dangerous conditions of Shelter, where Lunar residents without resources are exiled. To keep her family safe, Phaet gives up her bioengineering dreams and her work in the Moon’s greenhouses with her best (and be-smitten) friend Umbriel and becomes the youngest volunteer to join the Militia. Fortunately, she’s smart, motivated, and—once she starts working out with equally driven cadet Wes Kappa—physically fit. In other words, well-equipped to navigate the now-familiar path of a dystopian heroine, gathering allies and identifying powerful enemies. Newcomer Bao’s off-world setting and worldbuilding details are intriguing, but readers may struggle with Phaet’s curiously emotionless affect, as well as some of the more formulaic elements at play in this series opener.
Publisher's Weekly is correct in that Phaet is rather like a Vulcan from Star Trek or Katniss from the first Hunger Games book, she seems to be without emotion, and when she does get emotional or feel sympathy, it is quashed rather too quickly for a teenage girl. There's a lot to like about the world that Bao has built on the moon, but the characters that live there aren't as arresting and interesting as their environment, and Phaet is difficult to like because she seems to ruthless and distant.
Still, this book will appeal to those who love the Hunger Games and Divergent, and I'd give it a B+. 

Jinn and Juice by Nicole Peeler was recommended to all his fans by author Kevin Hearne, who writes the Iron Druid series. Though the publishing house decided to put a bad pun on the cover of this book, along with artwork of a scantily-clad young woman who looks vaguely Middle Eastern (she also looks remarkably like the actress who plays Mary Queen of Scots on the TV series "Reign"), the actual story inside is very well told in prose that is by turns spicy and comedic. Here's the PW blurb: Peeler (the Jane True series) kicks off a series with this entertaining urban fantasy, which populates Pittsburgh with all sorts of interesting mythological creatures. For 1,000 years, Lyla has been cursed to live as a jinn, serving whoever can bind her with the right spells. But now the end has come: if she’s unbound in a week’s time, she’ll be human once more. So when Ozan “Oz” Sawyer captures her, she’s rightfully miffed. But he needs her power and help to rescue the missing daughter of an old friend, and despite initial objections, Lyla is surprised by how much she likes Oz. As they work together, they discover that something weird is happening in Pittsburgh, and the entire magical community is at risk from those who would enslave, exploit, or destroy its members. Mindful of her impending deadline, Lyla must rally her friends and unleash her full power to save the city. Peeler gets points for the originality of the premise, but loses some for the predictability in both the urban fantasy plot and the obligatory romance. 
Though Peeler does use many urban fantasy tropes, I still felt that Jinn and Juice was original enough that the fae/otherworldly characters didn't put me off of the story or slow down the zippy plot at all. Oz and Lyla's romance was inevitable, yes, but again, not overdone or too syrupy-sweet, as it can be in urban fantasies and YA dystopian fiction, which this book hews closely to. As with Jaye Wells urban fantasy series, which Hearne also recommends, there is a bit too much swearing, but in this case, it didn't seem out of place as much as it did in Wells series. I noticed that in a lot of the fantasy novels that I've been reading of late that I often enjoy the 'sidekick' or 'scooby gang' characters almost more than the protagonist of the novel, and this holds true with Jinn and Juice as well. The ending left things wide open for a sequel, which I will pounce on when it comes out, of course.  I would give this novel a B+, and recommend it to fans of Kevin Hearnes and Jaye Wells books.

Dream a Little Dream by Kerstin Gier is more of a middle-grade book than a strictly YA fantasy, so kids as young as 11 or 12 would enjoy it and be able to understand its plot.I've read Gier's previous "Ruby Red" trilogy, and while I found the teenage girls in that triology to be a bit more fluff-headed and boy crazy than is normal, I enjoyed the world building and time-traveling aspects of the books themselves. Here's two blurbs:
Mysterious doors with lizard-head knobs. Talking stone statues. A crazy girl with a hatchet. Yes, Liv's dreams have been pretty weird lately. Especially the one where she's in a graveyard at night, watching four boys conduct dark magic rituals.
The strangest part is that Liv recognizes the boys in her dream. They're classmates from her new school in London, the school where she's starting over because her mom has moved them to a new country (again). But what's really scaring Liv is that the dream boys seem to know things about her in real life, things they couldn't possibly know--unless they actually are in her dreams? Luckily, Liv never could resist a good mystery, and all four of those boys are pretty cute....
From Publisher's Weekly:Liv Silver’s dreams take on a life of their own in this first book in this Silver Trilogy. Shortly after moving to London and meeting her soon-to-be stepbrother Grayson, both Grayson and his friends begin to appear in Liv’s dreams, performing an occult ritual. Before long they have asked virginal Liv to join in the dangerous game of black magic, including a blood offering that opens a portal into each other’s nocturnal musings through a series of doors. In Liv, Gier (the Ruby Red trilogy) has created a smart heroine who loves a good mystery and has her wits about her. But her precociousness and the fact that most of the action takes place in dreams robs the story of its sense of peril; Olivia remains flippant even in the face of real danger and human sacrifice. The romantic pairings of the main characters and a subplot involving a student with an anonymous Gossip Girl–style blog will likely be explored in more detail in later books, but the main plotline resolves without generating a driving force toward the sequel.
I found some of the YA tropes, of finding boys with blond hair so alluring and thrilling that girls become speechless in their presence, for example, to be a bit much, because honestly, I don't think most teenage girls react that way to boys, especially nowadays. Liv Silver is supposedly particularly immune to the charms of boys, and even asks her sister to throw things at her if she starts being another moony-eyed fluff-head around Henry, one of the aforementioned "perfect" blond boys from her school. Mia tossing things at Liv has no effect on her becoming sheep-like with Henry, however.  Still, I liked the fact that Liv doesn't believe in demons or witchcraft or ghosts. She was similar to Nancy Drew in her approach to life and mystery and figuring things out, which is good, because as in many YA novels, the parents of the teenagers come off as stupid and clueless. Liv and Mia's mother is particularly awful, as she seems to want her daughters to have sex and do drugs and drink alcohol because she was herself a "wild" teenager who made bad choices that she now romantisizes. This novel was translated from German, or a Scandinavian language, I assume, and whomever did the translation did a fairly decent job of getting the English slang down on the page. For that reason, I'd give this book a B, and recommend it to those who enjoy the YA novels of Cornelia Funke.

Lock In by John Scalzi is a wonderful stand-alone science fiction novel by an author who has become a master of the genre. I've read Scalzi's "Old Man's War" series, and loved it, which is surprising, as I have never been a fan of military fiction or war stories in general, or SF military novels in particular. Scalzi, though, is such a fantastic storyteller that his work transcends the genre and becomes a page-turner that is un-put-downable. 
It should also be noted that Scalzi won a Hugo last year for his SF novel "Redshirts" which I've not had the chance to read yet. But Lock In had a "near future" premise of post-plague people who upload their consciousness into robots, or "threeps" and go about their business in the world that I found intriguing, so I bought a copy that arrived this past Wednesday. Here's the blurb:
A blazingly inventive near-future thriller from the best-selling, Hugo Award-winning John Scalzi.
Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent - and nearly five million souls in the United States alone - the disease causes "Lock In": Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge.
A quarter of a century later, in a world shaped by what's now known as "Haden's syndrome," rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is paired with veteran agent Leslie Vann. The two of them are assigned what appears to be a Haden-related murder at the Watergate Hotel, with a suspect who is an "integrator" - someone who can let the locked in borrow their bodies for a time. If the Integrator was carrying a Haden client, then naming the suspect for the murder becomes that much more complicated.
But "complicated" doesn't begin to describe it. As Shane and Vann began to unravel the threads of the murder, it becomes clear that the real mystery - and the real crime - is bigger than anyone could have imagined. The world of the locked in is changing, and with the change comes opportunities that the ambitious will seize at any cost. The investigation that began as a murder case takes Shane and Vann from the halls of corporate power to the virtual spaces of the locked in, and to the very heart of an emerging, surprising new human culture. It's nothing you could have expected.
I loved this novel's protagonist, the snarky and smart Chris Shane, and his cynical partner Vann as they plow through red tape, prejudice and stupidity, as well as greed and corruption to solve the murder mystery that is at the heart of the book. Brilliant prose and a lightening-fast plot make for a book that is a joy to read, as most will want to devour it in one sitting. Lock In read like a Patterson thriller married to a Philip K Dick novella, full of twists and turns and shady business deals. I plan on passing this book along to my son, who loved "The Martian" and is just ready for another fast-paced SF novel with a sense of humor. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who liked Andy Weir's Martian, or any of John Scalzi's other fine science fiction novels.

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