Sunday, May 24, 2015

Third Place Books, Anthony Doerr, Words With Fiends by Ali Brandon, Some Other Town by Elizabeth Collison, I am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Lost Lake By Sarah Addison Allen and Dorothy Parker Drank Here by Ellen Meister

I've visited Third Place Books more than a few times, and though it is in the snooty town of Ravenna, it has a funky, folksy feel to it that is enticing for bibliophiles and others. I am glad that Sher is as convinced of the permanency of real books as I am.

Ron Sher, owner of Third Place Books,with stores in Lake Forest Park and Ravenna, Wash., was interviewed by Crosscut
which noted that Sher "uses books to help build vital communities."
Among our favorite exchanges:
Can you speculate on the future of the book, and what that means for
stores like yours?
The book as we now know it will be with us for a very long time. Other
forms of reading and listening will most likely continue to grow as a
percentage of sales, but I feel growth will be much slower than in the
past. It will be interesting to see what happens when my generation
passes on. Will we be replaced by book readers or digital readers? For
me, browsing in a book store will always be much more thrilling than
browsing on line.

I loved "All the Light We Cannot See" and have been thrilled that it's won so many accolades and awards. Doerr lays a lot of that success at the feet of the Indie bookstore and booksellers.
"Everything! This novel would not have reached one-tenth of the readers
it has without the support of independent booksellers. They are the ones
who have blogged about it, set it in shop windows, hosted me all over
the country, and put it into the hands of readers.

"As a short story writer, my books have always been the kind of books
that don't usually find readers unless a bookseller or librarian
recommends them. Everywhere I've gone in the States, from Washington,
D.C., to Bellingham, Washington, when readers tell me how they
discovered All the Light, they don't say it's because of an event I did,
or because the book won a prize, it's because a friend, librarian or
bookseller convinced them to give the novel a try."

--Anthony Doerr, this year's winner of the Indies Choice Book Award
(adult fiction category) for All the Light We Cannot See, in response to
Bookselling This Week's question: "What has the support of independent
booksellers meant to you?"

Words with Fiends by Ali Brandon was an impulse buy while I was grocery shopping at my local Fred Meyer store. The cover, with a cat surrounded by books seemed a good omen for the contents, and though there seems to be a plethora of mysteries solved by cats with librarian or bookstore owners, I figured it couldn't hurt to read this as a mental palate-cleanser between the other books on my TBR stacks.
Here's the blurb:
Brooklyn bookstore owner Darla Pettistone and her oversized black cat, Hamlet, have solved a few complicated capers. But after a recent brush with danger, Darla needs to get Hamlet out of a feline funk…Lately, Hamlet hasn’t been chasing customers or being his obnoxious self—something Darla surprisingly misses. Concerned, she hires a cat whisperer to probe Hamlet’s feline psyche and then decides to get out of her own funk by taking up karate to learn how to defend herself in case the need arises again.But when Darla finds her sensei dead at the dojo, it seems that even a master can be felled by foul play. Darla decides to investigate the matter herself, and the promise of a mystery snaps Hamlet out of his bad mood. After all, Darla may be the sleuth, but Hamlet’s got a black belt in detection…
The prose of this novel is somewhat awkward, and there are cliches running throughout, which make it easy to know what is coming next. Darla doesn't seem to be too bright, and she is too easily frightened to make a great detective. The surrounding characters are also cardboard cutouts, (the neglected, lost teenager who loves animals, the old, wise African-American bookstore manager, the private-investigator/cop best friend who doles out advice she never takes herself...seriously, you have only to watch the Hallmark Channel's mysteries with a bookstore owner to see all of this in action) but the novel trundles along anyway, to a conclusion that isn't as satisfying as it is expected. I'd give this cozy mystery a C+, and recommend it to those who want a fluff read that isn't at all demanding.

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest is a graphic-novel-YA book hybrid, and was gien to me by my husband, who'd gotten a copy from Frank Shiers, a friend of ours who believed the book "inappropriate" for his 13 year old daughter. Having read this fascinating book in one sitting, I will have to find the time to tell Frank that he's wrong, and that if his daughter is anything like I was at her age, this book would thrill her and become a favorite.
Publisher's Weekly's blurb is better than the regular one:
Back in fifth grade, best friends May and Libby created Princess X, a katana-wielding heroine who wears Converse sneakers with her ball gown. Ever since Libby and her mother died in a freak accident, May’s life has been as gray as her Seattle home—until the 16-year-old spots a Princess X sticker in a store window, leading her to a Princess X webcomic that suggests that Libby might still be alive. With the help of Trick, a hacker-for-hire, May follows the trail that Princess X’s near-mythic narrative leaves for her, which incorporates Seattle landmarks like the Fremont Troll and characters like the dangerous Needle Man and the mysterious, helpful Jackdaw. Illustrations from the Princess X comic—skillfully rendered by Ciesemier and printed in purple—add greatly to this techno-thriller’s tension. Fresh and contemporary, this hybrid novel/comic packs a lot of plot in a relatively short book, but its strongest suit may be Priest’s keen understanding of the chasmic gap between the way teens and adults engage in the landscape of the Internet.
Priest deftly weaves the story of Princess X in graphic novel panels throughout the book, while telling Libby and May's story from the beginning to the present day. Though there is a kidnapping and a murder, they're not gruesome and there's no pedophilia or sexuality on the part of any of the characters, so nothing inappropriate happens to scare off readers 12 and up. Jackdaw, the albino hacker is described as being gay, but it is only mentioned in how he's bullied out of high school, and I know that Frank has a friend in broadcasting who is a homosexual, so I can't imagine that is what is keeping him from giving his daughter this book. At any rate, I loved this book, which surprised me at it's fresh, Japanese-folktale-inspired prose and plot. I don't believe I've read more than a couple of Priest's adult SF/Fantasy books, because she tends toward horror fiction, which I dislike. Still, if she continues to write this quality of YA fiction, I plan on becoming a fan. A well-deserved A, and I'd recommend it to young teenage girls interested in manga and graphic novels.
Some Other Town by Elizabeth Collison was recommended to me as a book about Iowa that was quirky and fun. Though it is never explicitly outlined as Iowa, the book does take place in the Midwest, probably in the 1960s or 1970s, at a publishing company that is supposed to be creating a line of educational children's literature from infants to grade school aged children. The protagonist, Margaret, is strange and has an internal dialog going throughout the book, commenting on her other bizarre office mates and on her own attempts to find love and a purpose. Here's the blurb: Margaret Lydia Benning, twenty-eight and adrift, still lives in the same Midwest town where she went to college. By day, she works at the Project, a nonprofit publisher of children's readers housed in a former sanatorium. There she shares the fourth floor with a squadron of eccentric editors and a resident ghost from the screamers' wing. At night, Margaret returns alone to her small house on Mott Street, with only her strange neighbor, Mrs. Eberline, for company. Emotionally sleepwalking through the days is no way to lead a life. But then Margaret meets Ben Adams, a visiting professor at the university. Through her deepening relationship with Ben she glimpses a future she had never before imagined, and for the first time she has hope . . . until Ben inexplicably vanishes. In the wake of his disappearance, Margaret sets out to find him. Her journey, a revelatory exploration of the separate worlds that exist inside us and around us, will force her to question everything she believes to be true.

Told through intertwined perspectives, by turns incandescent and haunting, Some Other Town is an unforgettable tale, with a heartbreaking twist, of one woman's awakening to her own possibility.
The meandering plot and the vague, almost drug-induced prose style hobbles this book by making it harder to read than it should be. Why, for example, Margaret can't call the police or stop her horrible, insane neighbor Mrs Eberline from continually trying to either burn down her house, steal everything she has or poison her is beyond understanding. Why she also insists on hiding the fact that all the women she works with are crazy and can't write or edit to save their lives is also confusing. There's even a woman who speaks through a puppet, just like the one on SouthPark, (or the many ventriloquists prior to her, such as Captain Kangeroo, or the wonderful Muppets of Sesame Street) and there's a brief mention of a puppet called "Floppy" which I assume is from the Duane Ellot and Floppy Show that I grew up watching when we lived in Des Moines, Iowa. In short, there's a lot of strangeness and weird characters who do a lot of bizarre things without any explanation. I assume this is meant to be amusing, but instead I found it frustrating.Which is why I'm giving this book a generous C, and I'd recommend it to those who find unhappy and weird characters interesting.
I could have sworn I'd read Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen before, but once I opened it up and began reading, I discovered that I didn't know the storyline at all.I've read all of Allen's other novels, and I've loved them all to a greater or lesser degree. Lost Lake is one of her best, fortunately, and as with her other books, replete with lovely prose, a swift plot and sterling characters. Here's the blurb:
The first time Eby Pim saw Lost Lake, it was on a picture postcard. Just an old photo and a few words on a small square of heavy stock, but when she saw it, she knew she was seeing her future.
That was half a life ago. Now Lost Lake is about to slip into Eby’s past. Her husband, George, is long passed. Most of her demanding extended family are gone. All that’s left is a once-charming collection of lakeside cabins succumbing to the Southern Georgia heat and damp, and an assortment of faithful misfits drawn back to Lost Lake year after year by their own unspoken dreams and desires.  It’s not quite enough to keep Eby from calling this her final summer at the lake, and relinquishing Lost Lake to a developer with cash in hand.
Until one last chance at family knocks on her door.
 Lost Lake is where Kate Pheris spent her last best summer at the age of twelve, before she learned of loneliness and heartbreak and loss. Now she’s all too familiar with those things, but she knows about hope, too, thanks to her resilient daughter, Devin, and her own willingness to start moving forward. Perhaps at Lost Lake her little girl can cling to her own childhood for just a little longer… and maybe Kate herself can rediscover something that slipped through her fingers so long ago.
At once atmospheric and enchanting, Lost Lake shows Sarah Addison Allen at her finest, illuminating the secret longings and the everyday magic that wait to be discovered in the unlikeliest of places.
Though you can see the ending coming a mile off, it's a well-earned HEA, and the characters, so lovingly drawn, make the journey worthwhile. I'd give this novel a B+, and recommend it to those who enjoy magic realism and the books of MJ Rose and Alice Hoffman.
Dorothy Parker Drank Here by Ellen Meister is the second book in her Dorothy Parker's ghost series, and, as usual, it's full of hijinks and hilarity, heartbreak and witty sayings directly from the dead diva herself. Here's the blurb:
The acid-tongued Dorothy Parker is back and haunting the halls of the Algonquin with her piercing wit, audacious voice, and unexpectedly tender wisdom.
Heavenly peace? No, thank you. Dorothy Parker would rather wander the famous halls of the Algonquin Hotel, drink in hand, searching for someone, anyone, who will keep her company on this side of eternity.
After forty years she thinks she’s found the perfect candidate in Ted Shriver, a brilliant literary voice of the 1970s, silenced early in a promising career by a devastating plagiarism scandal. Now a prickly recluse, he hides away in the old hotel slowly dying of cancer, which he refuses to treat. If she can just convince him to sign the infamous guestbook of Percy Coates, Dorothy Parker might be able to persuade the jaded writer to spurn the white light with her. Ted, however, might be the only person living or dead who’s more stubborn than Parker, and he rejects her proposal outright.  
When a young, ambitious TV producer, Norah Wolfe, enters the hotel in search of Ted Shriver, Parker sees another opportunity to get what she wants. Instead, she and Norah manage to uncover such startling secrets about Ted’s past that the future changes for all of them.
At first Norah Wolfe annoyed me too much to feel any sympathy for her show being cancelled (unless she get can get Ted Shriver to come on the air and be interviewed about his infamous plagiarism scandal), but once I realized that she was only seeking a connection with her father, I was able to enjoy reading about her and her quest. But the character who truly makes the book worthwhile is, as it was in the first book, the delightful Dorothy Parker, whose ghost is still as witty and salty and smart as she was decades ago at the Algonquin Roundtable. Meister's prose is clean and crisp, which serves to make her characters well-rendered, and the plot zoom along on fast tracks. I'd give the novel a well deserved A, and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Dorothy Parker and her set.

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